Tacoma community benefits from educator’s eccentricity

Staff writerOctober 23, 2013 

Kathleen Casper has organized a “volunteerism swap meet” that will take place Saturday at Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma.


Kathleen Casper leaves no vapor trail as she passes, though that might be because there isn’t enough time for one to form.

She has taught school in Florida, Olympia and now Tacoma, where she is the facilitator of the school district’s Highly Capable Program. She has been a practicing attorney and worked for the Pierce County Housing Authority.

Casper, 38, found time to have four children with husband Brad, and three still live at home — along with two horses, an ever-changing contingent of cats and dogs, birds, a guinea pig, a turtle and a bearded dragon.

“Kathleen is very high-energy, very determined,” said Patrick Johnson, her supervisor. “As I say about my 2-year-old nephew, I’d like to bottle and sell that energy.”

Being one of her children, for instance, has never been boring.

“I’ve always had the kids involved in my activity,” Casper said. “They grew up going to law school with me. They’ve done volunteer door-belling, sat through meetings with me.”

“I’ve always taken the kids to rake leaves for someone, to visit seniors,” she said. “This year, I thought, ‘Why not do more?’”

More than her volunteer work with the Hilltop Action Coalition, Habitat for Humanity, food banks …

Casper thought she could squeeze more in, and had an idea.

“What if we made Tacoma Make A Difference Day a day when nonprofit agencies all had booths in one place, somewhere where people in the community could come and volunteer or find services they need,” she asked.

All it would require would be a lot of work. Casper dove in.

She began by finding a place to hold the event — a public place where weather couldn’t ruin the day. Casper got permission to use one school, but had to move when it needed construction work. She landed Jason Lee Middle School.

Then she went after nonprofit groups throughout the city.

“Even if we only had a handful of booths, I thought it would be worthwhile,” Casper said. “What I wanted was a volunteerism swap meet.”

On Saturday, she and Tacoma will have one.

Using the telephone, social media and contacts she’d made over a lifetime in Pierce County, Casper brought in one group after another. Now, more than 40 have requested space.

And when it kicks off at 10 a.m., the Tacoma mayor and City Council will be there to open the event. There will be music, poetry and dance.

If you’ve ever wondered what kind of volunteer organization you might want to give time to — or where to turn for help — this is your dream swap meet.

Need an example? Casper starts rattling them off.

McCarver Peace Makers, Hilltop Garden Explorers, Habitat for Humanity, Read to Me, Peoples Center/Metro Parks, United Way, Ladies First, The Tears Foundation, Shared Housing Services, Hilltop Artists, Collectiva Legal Del Pueblo.

Changing Rein, Tacoma Community House, Peace Out, Tacoma Power, REACH Center, Paint Tacoma-Pierce Beautiful, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Disaster Response Care Teams, Parents and Friends for Tacoma Public Schools.

Yes, there are more. One after another, Casper pulled them in.

Don’t know what some of them do? That’s the point. At each table, an organization will have people available to explain what they do, what help they can use and what they can offer if you’re in need.

Casper will be there, too, although it’s probably not healthy to try to keep pace with her unless you’ve warmed up first.

She’s hoping students and their parents will come out, see the opportunities for community involvement together.

After Saturday, it will be on to something else for Casper, who has no shortage of things to keep her busy. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t thought about adding to that list.

Writing, for instance.

“My grandmother was a romance novelist with a pen-name – either Blair Cameron or Katherine Blair,” Casper said. “I’ve written articles on gifted education, and there’s a lot of fiction I’d like to write — historical fiction, fantasy. I have a book in concept form, about clocks and time.”


What: Tacoma Make A Difference Day volunteerism swap meet.

Where: Jason Lee Middle School, 602 N. Sprague Ave., Tacoma.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

Who: More than 40 area nonprofit groups will staff tables.

Why: To give folks a chance to learn about volunteer opportunities or services organizations provide.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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