As we lead up to our 80th Anniversary celebration where we will proudly honor Donna Niester and Chuck Kelly with Distinguished Service Awards, we also want to celebrate and share stories of other remarkable role models and leaders. This month’s profile of amazing people who are making a difference every day, is our own Kevin Totty.
When Kevin Totty holds a high-quality hat in his hands – perhaps his beloved chocolate brown Cassini – he takes the time to notice the materials that are woven together with care, the stitches, the trim, and the brim. Each hat has its own character and speaks to him differently. A man of many hats, when Kevin is preparing to step out into the world to do his day’s work, his choice of hat plays into his mission.
“A good hat puts me in a good mood to do good things with good people,” he said. “It helps me to feel better. It protects you from the elements. It encourages you, and when you get close, you can really hear it. You can hear outside of yourself, and it humbles you to help other people. A good hat puts you in that spot. It really does.”
Like the care that went into creating that Cassini, Kevin has carefully crafted a meaningful life’s mission of bringing people together, weaving individual threads into a strong community element. Whether he is encouraging youth, providing resources to remove barriers to college success, or setting into motion things that will affect the community long into the future, he is doing it by listening to what people are saying, learning from it, and then leaning on everyone’s understanding to collaborate for a successful outcome.
Kevin grew up in Conant Gardens in Detroit, and that is where he learned the spirit of community, from his father and from those around him. His dad is also where he picked up his affinity for headwear. He even gets himself a new hat to commemorate milestones, such as the birth of his grandchildren.
“This all comes from my dad,” he said. “He always wore stunning hats.”
With larger brims come larger responsibilities, Kevin said, which means the brim of his proverbial hat extends far and wide. He wears many hats in the community, and yet, they are all interwoven under the umbrella of bringing people together, connecting them with resources, breaking through barriers, and strengthening the fabric of the community as a whole so that it can resist the challenges that come like a cold winter rain.
It was around eight years ago that Kevin first began volunteering for the Community Foundation, reading scholarship applications. Over the years, he had a number of opportunities to work alongside the Foundation before coming on board full-time three years ago.
“Out of all the jobs I’ve had, the Foundation really is the closest to the different assignments the Lord has put on my heart,” he said.
Randy Maiers, President of the Community Foundation, said “Kevin Totty is the embodiment of giving back. He’s more involved in the community, seven days a week, than anyone else on our team.”
Kevin also serves on the governance board and board of directors for the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s another opportunity to build relationships and connect people with others, particularly entrepreneurs.
He used to work at the St. Clair County Juvenile Center, taking kids to have different experiences and showing them that they can set the bar higher for themselves, therefore changing their lives for the better. He also works with SONS Outreach, and he and his wife Jessica are pastors with #c4yourselfchurch.
“I’ve known Kevin for many years and he is one of the most kind, caring and compassionate people I know,” said Joe Platzer, Port Huron Police Department Chief. “When he walks into a room you feel his presence.”
While his missions often intertwine, each endeavor can require Kevin to put on a different hat. It’s like speaking different languages, he said. Sometimes you have to get to know the dos and don’ts, listen and learn and communicate, before you are fully welcomed in enough to make a difference. Once that barrier is broken, though, the result can be quite beautiful.
“Sometimes a good hat will get you into a room that you wouldn’t normally be able to get into,” he said. “At the end of it, we’re all one.”
Whether it’s helping a mom who is trying to care for her children while going back to school to better their situation, showing youth that they are capable of reaching for the stars, or gently reminding men that their health and well-being need attention too, Kevin is comfortable meeting people where they are, wearing whichever hat is necessary, and trying on new ones when it’s called for. For him, it’s all about building those connections and fostering collaboration.
“Pastor Kevin Totty is a pillar of strength in our community,” said Theo Kerhoulas, Superintendent of Port Huron Area Schools. ”I’ll always remember the day I arrived early to lend support to our students and staff at a middle school, devastated by the tragic loss of a student the night before,” Kerhoulas added. “I found Kevin Totty already there in the parking lot. Alone in his truck he was connected to a group of pastors who were all praying together for our school community. I asked him to accompany me in the school, where his unwavering strength became infectious to our staff as they prepared to support the students who had just lost a classmate.”
“I believe folks are empowered already. They have the power they need. They need to be connected and have relationships to keep going,” he said. “I love it when people put all their opinions on the table. When we collaborate, we’re all one. We all wear different hats, and we all have different responsibilities.”
As a father of five, Kevin now has his children out in the world, passing on what they learned from him. He’s also passionate about mentorship and encouraging others to get involved in bringing the community together. The more those relationships can be facilitated, the stronger the fabric will be.
“You make an investment in a good hat and sometimes it goes out in the elements,” he said. “If you invested in quality, the resilience is there. My biggest dream is being able to mentor even more folks in doing these kinds of things. It truly is a way of passing the hat, no pun intended, because we all have something we can contribute.”
Working with the Community Foundation is where Kevin has found a strong connection, bringing like-minded people from all over St. Clair County together to truly make an impact.
“The impactful things are those which renew people’s sight and hope,” he said. “Even just making a simple connection to one helpful resource makes a difference. Impact comes from the trust that is built in the community. The Foundation crosses over into everything I do. It really is the relationship piece.”
Kevin likes to be transparent about his own life, too, because he finds that sometimes vulnerable human connection can be helpful to building relationships. He is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, but said his prognosis is very good, and he’s choosing to see the silver lining in this challenge as well.
“God is using it to intensify how I’m mentoring more folks so it can continue to grow,” he said. “It brings you to your knees, but in God, everything is possible.”
And it just wouldn’t be Kevin if he didn’t already have a milestone hat picked out to commemorate the end of his treatment. This one, he said, is full of symbolic meaning: It has a double band signifying a second chance, and a teardrop crown.
“This world thinks that men don’t cry,” he said. “Things hurt us, but there are also tears of joy.”
Our 80th Anniversary will celebrate those in the community that have made a difference and provided momentum for future generations. Please plan to join us for our anniversary celebration that will take place May 16, 2024, at the Blue Water Convention Center. Registration is now open https://stclairfoundation.org/80th-anniversary-evening/