We are always inspired by moms who find unique ways to make a difference in other people's lives. Many know Caitlin Crosby as a successful singer, actress and songwriter ("Flawz"), but she's also the founder and CEO of The Giving Keys.
The Giving Keys, which Crosby launched in 2008, employs those transitioning out of homelessness to make jewelry out of repurposed keys. Each key is engraved with a message like "Hope," "Strength," "Courage"—and "Brave," which she also named her almost-1-year-old son. When the person wearing the key encounters someone else who needs the message, they are encouraged to pay it forward and give it to them.
According to The Giving Keys website, in the last three years, they have employed 28 people who have struggled with homelessness, helped 22 move into permanent housing and collected thousands of pay-it-forward stories.
Caitlin shares with Mom.me her inspiration for starting The Giving Keys, as well as advice for other working moms.
Describe the moment when you were inspired to start The Giving Keys.
Almost 10 years ago, I was passing through New York City on my music tour, and it all started with a hotel room key. I turned the key into a necklace and had the idea to start engraving other old, used keys with inspirational words. I encouraged everyone to "own" the word on their key and then keep their eyes open for someone who needed the message more than them. People started writing me the stories, and I knew I needed to start a website to post them so other people could read them too. Once that started taking off, I knew I wanted the money to go to some sort of charity. I then met a young homeless couple on Hollywood Boulevard. I took them to dinner and had an "aha" moment to employ them to engrave the words on the keys. When I met them, they slept in a cardboard box in a dumpster, but little by little they saved up enough money to stay in a motel and then got their own apartment, all from the sales of these keys.
As a mother as well as the founder and CEO of The Giving Keys, how do you make it all work?
I'm still learning to find a balance. I constantly battle with feeling like I'm not doing enough in the two different departments (motherhood and work), feeling like I could be a better mother by spending all of my time taking care of him, bonding with him, teaching him more, etc., or wondering if I'm doing something wrong that will negatively affect him in the long run. Trying to find peace and acceptance has been harder than I thought it would be. I usually wake up to a crying baby, so I try to squeeze in time to nurse the baby and spend time with him in between work. Even though it's something I'm still learning, I have a new focus and reminder of what's really important in life. Being a mother helps me get less stressed about work, and looking into his eyes and seeing him smile and hearing him laugh is the best remedy.
Did your career in music influence or inspire the creation of The Giving Keys in any way?
I grew up acting from a young age, and started writing songs about all the crazy things I saw behind the scenes in that world. I always wanted to turn whatever work I was doing into something that would somehow help people. Once I got signed, I experienced a lot of A&R label heads wanting me to write songs about parties, pop culture, fake IDs, affairs and subject matters that would push the envelope, but I always wanted to write songs that would inspire this generation of girls and help change the world. So, there was a lot of conflict and fighting for what I believed in during that season. So, yes. And I still try to get inspiring messages out in our marketing for The Giving Keys to hopefully also inspire our followers. And, of course, we are trying to help all of our employees transition out of homelessness.
When did you first feel successful?
I first felt successful when I got to meet Oprah, as I've always looked up to her. I love that the most important thing to her is what the meaning of life is and inspiring others. I love her curiosity and how she's been such an incredible leader and role model to women and this generation. A definite highlight was making her super soul 100 list, and I got to meet her and her staff!
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach your son about "girl power”?
Hopefully, one day, I'll have a little girl, and I want to teach her that it's beautiful to be different. Girl power is about owning your uniqueness and what you can bring to this world. In the meantime, I want my son to learn to be brave, loving, caring, encouraging of others, and a faithful man of character and integrity.
Has there been anything about creating The Giving Keys that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
I never expected it to get THIS massive. Because of the pay-it-forward movement, website traffic organically started to pick up and keys were being spread all over the world. Someone from Starbucks HQ wrote into our website to do a collaboration/exclusive product, and I still can't believe we made that happen.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Make sure you still work on staying present with your child/children, when it's so easy to constantly be on your phone hustling away. Create some boundaries where you shut off and make time commitments to both so you can switch gears instead of trying to do it all at the same time. The more I tried to work on business at the same time as being with my baby, I just felt like I was half-assing everything.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
Not being able to spend as much time with my baby and my husband as much as I would ideally like to. But a positive side of that would be that when I do spend time, I try to enjoy every moment and appreciate how cute he is with every breath he takes.
If you could have lunch with any business person/mogul/entrepreneur/nonprofit founder living or dead, who would it be and why?
Even though I already got to meet her: Oprah Winfrey. I love that she's a student of life and always wanting to gain more wisdom. I would pick her brain about all the spiritual revelations she's had through the years. What's the point of all this? What is true happiness?
Are there any new initiatives or products on the horizon for The Giving Keys?
Expanding to more apparel and lifestyle products, including journals, candles and fun statement pins. Also, an Airstream tour with a diversifying product line soon!
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