Kim Rowland: The spirit of service
By Chrissy Kline
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?” In her 29-year career with the UAW, Kim Rowland has unabashedly been pursuing opportunities to answer that very question.
Rowland was a member of the Teamsters union before coming to work at the Kansas City Assembly Plant. This gave her a good basis on how a union works and how important involvement is, so she dove in almost immediately by attending her first meeting and finding a way to be active. She wanted the opportunity to be a member of a standing committee, so she jumped in, joining the Women’s Committee and the CAP committee, helping with any events or projects they had. “I attended protests, helped work on Governor Nixon’s campaign and anything else I could get involved with,” she stated.
About twenty years ago Rowland got involved with the Local 249 Community Services committee and filled in as needed as an alternate benefit rep. She was eventually asked to take over being chair of the committee when the then chair Dean Freed became a committeeman. The committee was involved in many local charities and helping organizations all around the Kansas City area, some examples are Love Inc., the Clay County Industrial Park and various events around Breast Cancer Awareness.
Rowland was hungry to make a change out in the community, and also to prove herself within the plant. “I hired in with some older guys who showed me the ropes. I was the first woman classified as a metal finisher and the first or second woman classified as a dinger in this plant.” She also ran for alternate committeeman and won. Rowland met longtime friend Irene Rivera-Rule when working in body shop and the two became a powerhouse for women working in the plant.
Out of all the roles, positions and projects she worked on, Rowland said that the eight years she spent with the Wheelchair Ramp Crew were her favorite. Tears welled in her eyes as she spoke fondly of the times, she visited with the ramp recipients. “The ability to see the difference you make in real time, to visit and hear the life history of these people, from all walks of life, that you would never have met otherwise and to be able to give them a hug and see the sheer appreciation in their eyes, you can’t beat that.”
Sadly, the sun has set on that particular joint project between Ford Motor Company and the UAW here in Missouri, however that has not stopped Rowland from finding ways to make positive change. She has continued her work as the chair of the Community Services Committee and has sat on the board of organizations such as the Veteran’s Community Project, Healing Pathways, and Metro Lutheran Ministries. “I have learned that sometimes to make a difference it is important to have a say in where the money we donate goes.”
Through these connections with different charities and non-profit organizations Rowland has built relationships that may follow her into her eventual retirement. Rowland shared one major revelation is that strength in numbers not only applies to situations within the union, but also in the community when it comes to making the most effective change. She loves the idea of having many organizations come together to solve an issue that impacts a variety of different communities.
“If we have an event that involves the homeless in Kansas City for example, let’s get everyone to work together. Veterans are affected by homelessness let’s get VCP in here. Women end up homeless after leaving domestic violence situations. The list goes on but by setting egos aside a bunch of organizations can make a much bigger impact together.”
With this in mind, Rowland has applied for and received a nonprofit certification and wants to do something to benefit the homeless.
“I’m still working it all out and I’m not rushing into anything,” she says. “It will come together when the time is right. With the UAW behind me I can do whatever I want. Even just having those three letters next to my name got my foot in the door of places I never would have. All the good work I have done is because the UAW allowed me to get there and I’m grateful.”
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I think it is safe to say that somewhere along the way over the last 29 years Kim Rowland has found herself, time and again, in the faces of those she has helped and in the spirit of service. If you would like to get involved in these incredible acts of love and service to others, call the Local 249 union hall at 816-454-6333 for details on joining the Community Service Committee.