Porch Talks: An Unexpected Gift
Updated: Aug 19
Every time I go out in the community to meet people, I am inspired. I am inspired by their stories, by their struggles, and the capacity of everyday folks to make a difference. I am inspired by the very kind and welcoming nature of my fellow human beings, and I am grateful for the opportunity to talk to people, even in these times of COVID-19.
Every single person I’ve met on my journey to become County Clerk has been kind, patient, understanding, and in surprising ways have welcomed me into their lives. Not one encounter has been negative. I always make a point to ask if folks are comfortable with my presence, take precautions by wearing a mask, and step far off the porch when we talk. What I’ve witnessed are people starved for real connection, face-to-face contact, and the very kind of conversations that happen when we make ourselves open and available to others.
This weekend in Valley Center, I met a man we can all take a lesson from. I was dropping literature in an older area of town where many residents don’t have air conditioning, storm doors, or fancy Ring doorbells. I made a point to knock at a few houses and soon found myself engaged in conversation with a junior at Valley Center High School. I talked with her about the stark difference between 58,000 Republican voters turning out for the Primary Election as opposed to 29,000 Democrats and how many people were running for office unopposed. As I left my handbill for her to look at, I said that I had some yard signs in my car if her family would like to host one. She told me she would have to check with her dad, and they would let me know.
Almost 2 hours later as I was walking back, a man eating half an avocado with a spoon flagged me down and hollered, “Hey, are you Kelli Reid?” I answered with a smile and crossed the street, sweat dripping and head pounding from the heat of the day and feeling weary and exhausted. We talked at the edge of his driveway in the sun about what I would do if I were elected to be County Clerk until he noticed I needed a moment to rest. He invited me to sit with him on his porch, where I gladly welcomed the shade and the cool of the concrete beneath me. We sat physically distanced but socially connected, and as we talked with one another, it became very clear just how much we share that connects us rather than divides us.
Eddie told me of his life, and his struggles as a single parent raising two twin girls. Many years ago he fought for custody of his children and won, understanding that their life may have been very different had he not. He said it hadn’t been easy being able to provide for them and talked about how he had tried to go back to school as an adult to finish his degree and make a better life. I also understood the drive to finish my degree, which I did at the age of 30, and was proud to share with Eddie that I would soon complete my first advanced degree at the age of 50. Like so many other students, the general education coursework was more difficult than he remembered, and after nearly 50 credit hours and taking a semester with a full load while working 40 hours a week, he withdrew from his classes and lost his tuition money. For him, protecting his GPA was more important than receiving credit, and he did not want his grades to reflect anything less than what he was capable of.
Eddie also shared that he had raised his girls to be kind and welcoming of others and to care about everyone deeply as a human being. He said he had been somewhat distant from his two sisters who were Republican and wondered how they had such different perspectives being raised by the same mother. Eddie wanted his girls to have the values his mother instilled in him and knew that the world would be a better place if he raised them to think about other people, which is exactly what he did. I shared how vastly different the perspectives of my family members are too and how I'd seen people's political beliefs tear families apart all too often.
The struggles of getting ahead in life are very real to Eddie. He’d recently taken on a new role in the shop and had received a small bump in his salary, but it still wasn’t enough to save for a rainy day, as he lived paycheck to paycheck to put food on the table. We talked at length about how hard it is to get ahead, to get promoted, and to earn enough money to make ends meet. But, Eddie and I also found that we differed on one or two things. Where I felt as though I could make a difference in encouraging and supporting first time homebuyers in my role as Clerk, Eddie had a different experience. His experience being a homeowner was one of struggle because of the increased cost of living and maintaining his home. He told me that rising property taxes, utility bills, and homeowner’s insurance were pricing him out of being a homeowner and said that he would likely be selling his property after his girls moved out. This was such a stark contrast to my personal perspective and desire to help others become first-time homeowners, because I truly believe homeownership is a pathway to wealth, success, and retirement.
We also talked about how my family had become homeowners, taking an early withdrawal of $14,000 from my retirement account (my entire life savings) so we could get a loan. Whereas, Eddie said that he hadn’t been able to save anything for retirement. Although he tried to save, he came to the realization that his income at retirement would be solely based on Social Security, so he planned to continue working through the maximum retirement age to receive the greatest benefits. I recognized my privilege in that moment, even though I could completely relate to Eddie's struggles during a time in my life as a single parent when I was barely able to provide for my daughter, much less put money away for our futures.
Eddie and I discussed the services of the County that might help him, and that it was the Clerk’s office who helped people with property tax appeals and Homestead applications which provides up to $700 in property tax refunds based on income and other criteria. He explained that the increase in property taxes on his home didn’t feel justified, because he didn’t believe the price the County valued his home at was accurate. He was pleased to know there might be something he could do to help save a few pennies, but also joked because he often found he made just a dollar more than the threshold for things like that.
Eventually, he asked me what I needed and said that he wanted to help. He asked specifically about my fundraising efforts, and I told him things were going slow, because I hadn’t been very good at asking people for money. I explained that in my family, one common thread we all share is a strong work ethic. I was raised to believe that if you want something in life, you work for it and put some skin in the game. It was clear in our conversation, Eddie had the same beliefs. I explained this is exactly why our personal campaign contributions have not been entered as loans, but as contributions that won’t be reimbursed. I invited him to make a small donation if he was interested, handed him a remittance envelope, and he immediately replied that he would be honored to help.
Eddie got up to go inside and said, “Hold on, wait here.” I sat alone for a few minutes, reflecting on the many gifts this campaign has provided in the form of connections with people just like Eddie. When he came back and handed me the envelope, he said, “Now there’s $100 in here. It’s not much, and I can’t donate to many things, but you’ve inspired me. This is my way of doing something good.” We talked at length about how $100 could help a campaign like mine, as many other campaigns often have the support of large-dollar donors. I thanked Eddie for his generosity and kindness and told him that we would be buying postage with his contribution so we could send out a mailing soon.
What Eddie told me next will forever humble me. With pride in his eyes and a smile on his face, he said, “Well, I’d been saving up to buy myself a new pair of work boots with this money, but I really want to give it to you instead.”
As I gazed upon him still in his work uniform and tattered tennis shoes from the day, tears swelled in my eyes, and I immediately felt guilty. I said, “Eddie, you do not have to do this. Even $5 or $10 would help. I want you to get your boots.” He insisted I take the donation and told me he wanted to give back. He said he believed I was up to greater things than County Clerk and that we need more people like me to run for office. The incredible kindness and generosity of this man has inspired me beyond words.
I sent Eddie a message later that day and told him what was an inspiration he and his daughters had been and that it was because of people just like him, working hard to provide for their families, that I was running for office. Below is an exchange that I had with Eddie the day after we met, and with his permission, I share it with you.
“Hi Eddie. I just wanted to reach out to let you know how inspired I am by our conversation yesterday. It was a really needed pick me up during a very difficult week. You are the reason I’m out here doing what I’m doing every day. I couldn’t be more grateful to know you."
I asked if he would be comfortable with me writing about my experience meeting him, and Eddie replied by saying, “You may use whatever you wish, Kelli! I think you have inspired my daughter to pay a little more attention to the world around her, and for that, I am grateful! Meeting and conversing with you last evening was pure enjoyment, and as you were walking off you looked back and I felt as though you touched my soul in that moment. So madam, whatever permission you feel you need, you have it!”
The lessons learned from the moments on porches of hard-working families across Kansas have been an unexpected gift that have truly touched my heart. Each and every one has taught me something new about what connects us as people. Without a doubt, the stories shared with me along the way will be a constant source of inspiration and serve as a reminder of why I’m running to represent the people of Sedgwick County.