Kim Mitchell has shared her story in People magazine and speaking engagements around the nation. Now, she's been tapped to speak at her alma mater, Solon Springs School.
"I'm pretty excited," Mitchell said. "I've got a lot of classmates who have reached out to me, folks I haven't seen in years."
Mitchell will be the guest speaker for the launch of the nonprofit Solon Springs Educational Foundation, which was incorporated in October. Her presentation is titled "You can change the course of a life."
"I don't know how you can find a more perfect person," said Chuck Walt, a member of the foundation board. "I've known Kim since she was a little girl. It's an incredible story."
Adopted by a U.S. Airman out of an orphanage in Da'Nang, Vietnam, Mitchell was raised in Solon Springs, attended the Naval Academy, served in the U.S. Navy and at the White House under presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. She's rubbed elbows with dignitaries and celebrities, including Neil Diamond, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Paul McCartney's family. She holds a bachelor's degree in ocean engineering, a master's degree in organizational management and now serves homeless veterans as president and CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego.
"I've been very blessed to be at the right place at the right time to do so many things," Mitchell said.
In 2011, she was reunited with the Bao Tran, the man who carried her, as a tiny baby, 60 miles to that orphanage.
"His assistance in the war changed my life," Mitchell said. "That's what I'm asking the people of Solon Springs to do, to provide opportunities for the children of Solon Springs."
Today, she advocates for homeless veterans, connecting them to resources and services that set them on a new path.
"I believe every veteran has the capacity for greatness," Mitchell said. "Just as every student at Solon Springs does."
They just need the resources.
"Given the right opportunity, the right chances, students at Solon Springs can go out and change the world," Mitchell said.
The fundraiser takes place April 20 at Solon Springs School. It begins with a fish fry at 5 p.m. Mitchell will speak at 6 p.m. in the same gymnasium where she used to play basketball. She suggested that audience members bring a box of tissue.
"My goal is to make them cry, and I can do it," said Mitchell, who's given more than 500 presentations. "When you bring emotion out in an audience, that's when they feel, respond, connect."
A small school like Solon Springs offered plenty of opportunities for Mitchell to be involved. She ran cross country, played basketball and softball, played French horn in the band and sang in the choir.
The community has always supported education, Mitchell said.
"This is bringing their support to a new level."
The mission of the foundation is to provide the students, staff and school district with financial support to enrich educational opportunities and programs. Walt said the funds could support outdoor programs, arts programs, robotics, technology and other areas that don't always fall in the school funding cycle. Teachers will supply the ideas; the foundation will provide the funds.
Area veterans are especially encouraged to attend the April 20 event. Mitchell has been authorized to give out Department of Defense pins to Vietnam veterans who attend the event, and all veterans will be recognized.
Tickets for the dinner and presentation are $10 for adults, $5 for students, $30 for a family of four or more; children under 5 attend free. National Bank of Commerce has stepped up as a major sponsor of the event. Walt said the foundation hopes to attract an audience of 250.
"I think there's a lot of interest," he said. "Her story is really a national-type story."
Advance tickets are encouraged at (715) 378-2263. They can also be purchased at The Little Gift House, Solon Springs School or from board members. Community members have purchased a number of tickets specifically for veterans. Veterans can call the number to request a free ticket, Walt said.
Visit the Solon Springs Educational Foundation Facebook page for more information.