Kris is a Lafayette native who graduated from Harrison High school and went on to attend Butler University. He is a second generation jeweler working at his family’s business, which is celebrating 70 years in Greater Lafayette. He is married to his lovely wife, Janessa and has two beautiful girls, Klara and Ruth. Kris has a passion for his faith, family community and loves to help others succeed and improve their circumstances. 

My name is Kris Kessler, and I am privileged to be this year’s United Way campaign chair. I was born and raised in Lafayette and graduated from Harrison High School in 2003. After high school, I moved to Indianapolis to attend Butler University where I studied Management Information Systems.

Through experiences on campus and in the city over the next four years, it was evident that there was a stark contrast between socio economic groups. Neighborhoods had extreme differences. The kids who attended the IPS school system were completely different from the kids who attended the more rural and private schools. This seems obvious, but it was more noticeable as I was closer to it.

Not long after finishing at Butler I started to feel a pull toward the not-for-profit world and decided to start working for Goodwill. It was there that I developed a passion for the underserved. People who grew up without much hope and didn’t believe their lives could change, therefore continuing the cycle of the previous generation. I worked with addicts, convicts on work release and people who didn’t speak English. Generational drug addiction, patterned criminal activity and language barriers were common stories told by many folks employed by Goodwill. Cycles that would continue without extreme personal initiative or outside intervention causing challenges for themselves, kids and loved ones for decades to come.

Around the same time, I lost a former classmate to drug addiction. We shared commonality through our fraternity, and he grew up in my mom’s hometown. He came from a loving family, was an incredibly talented individual with a bright future, yet his last choice was the one that ended his life. Losing a friend who was such a young age was paradigm shifting. Soon after, a similar situation happened to a different friend. This time, it was a family friend who I had grown up with. His personal challenges made a lasting imprint on my life and many others around him.  

How do you reconcile these two pictures: people caught in generational, cyclical life challenges with seemingly overwhelming barriers while others who have been given so much still struggle with life-altering challenges?

The point is this: regardless of family situations, socio economic status or generational cycles, each person is a soul going through this thing we call life. We can be summed up by what we do together as individuals and as a society. How we do it is often how we are defined by this world. As a community, we are here to not only help each other, but to use our knowledge and experiences to help make the next generation a better place. We need to build a way over the once untraversable caverns in people’s lives preventing forward momentum. We are way makers. Life changers. Bridge builders.

In my opinion, the bridge to a better future is investing in our youth. Many d behaviors start at an early age. According to the CDC, between the ages of 2 and 8 are critical in developing a foundation for future learning, health and overall life success. If we want to leave our community better than we found it we have to continue investing in the future of our youth. The investment in our community’s youth is the key to our long-term success, not only as a community but as a society as a whole. The impact

Through United Way’s partner agencies, many are focused on early childhood development and investing in the youth of our community wherever there are gaps. From enriched daycare, after school programming, food programs and even mental health programs, United Way helps fund agencies in ways that they would be unable to operate otherwise. Furthermore, United way is exclusively responsible for Read to Succeed and Kindergarten Countdown Camp. Programs that are funded and operated solely by our local United Way.

Join me in investing in the future of our Greater Lafayette Community and surrounding areas by sharing your resources: time, money and energy into our young people. Your selfless sacrifice will help countless lives taste the beauty of the cause, our united cause, through United Way.