Kaitlyn Leslie Smith, a sophomore at Denzel Washington School of the Arts, has helped create unity in the community through her organization, Kaitlyn Cares, which was launched in 2017 by then-8-year-old Kaitlyn with the help of her mother, Karen “Kay Star” Smith.
“I’m proud to represent the City of Mount Vernon in such a positive way and as a teen, it feels great to show the world that we can also do great things. We are concerned and passionate about some of the same things as adults. It’s just that some kids don’t have that support system to help guide them. I hope I can be that guide for them,” Kaitlyn shared with Black Westchester.
The Mount Vernon native’s goal was to create a brand that would incorporate her love of fashion, the arts, and community service by building on a core set of values that support her dedication and commitment to the well-being of children in her community and beyond.
When Kailtyn first began her organization, she started by selling T-shirts. When she got her first check, she was asked what she wanted to do with it. She said she wanted to put it towards throwing an event for her community. She uses the profits from her t-shirt business to benefit kids in her community who are struggling financially, academically, and socially.
“I started it very young with the help of my mom; I was around 8,” said Kaitlyn. “Originally, it was selling T-shirts and stuff like that. When we got that first check, my mom was looking to figure out what I wanted to do with the check. She was expecting me to get something like toys or new clothes. I was like, ‘I want to do an event; I want to do something to bring in my friends from school.’”
Ten-year-old Kaitlyn Smith, CEO & Fashion Designer of Kaitlyn Cares, held her first community event in December of 2017 at the Mount Vernon Public Library.
She hosted her first Pancakes and Pajamas event at the Mount Vernon Public Library, which is an annual event she hosts to bring the youth of Mount Vernon together. During these events, Kaitlyn Cares provides breakfast as children come in their pajamas to play games, sing, and bond with each other. Past themes for Pancakes and Pajamas include environmental change and being cautious of what we do and put into the environment.
Other programs Kaitlyn has organized include Teens to Senior Breakfast, where children from the Mount Vernon City School District and the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau volunteer to serve the senior citizens and spend time with them in exchange for community service hours. Additionally, Kaitlyn has run a program called Boss Up Through Entrepreneurship, where she spoke to other youth about how to start their own business and go after their dreams. She is hoping to relaunch it shortly.
“Back in 2019 before quarantine, we did a Boss Up Through Entrepreneurship where I spoke to other youth about how to start their own business,” said Kaitlyn. “A bunch of these kids have amazing ideas; they come from amazing people with even better ideas, but they don’t have the platform to do anything with it. That was very important to me—to talk with other people who have great ideas just like me.”
Currently, Kaitlyn is involved in the Smart Scholars Program at DWSA, where she is planning to earn college credits toward her associate’s degree through Mercy University. She will begin taking college classes in her junior and senior years but she is preparing for them now through after-school programs. Kaitlyn is currently taking AP World History and is planning to take AP Biology and AP Physics next year.
Throughout her academic career, she has been an honors student and is already thinking about where she wants to go to college. Her current top schools are American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Juilliard School, and Columbia University. She is undecided about what she wants to pursue but is interested in the arts, sciences, and politics.
This past summer Kaitlyn was an intern for Senator Jamaal Bailey. She was also the youngest intern they’ve ever had.
At DWSA, Kaitlyn is the treasurer for the sophomore class’s student government and is involved in the gospel choir and general choir. She also dances at her church and enjoys writing songs and poems to perform.
Kaitlyn has won numerous prestigious awards including the MLK Social Action Legacy Award and Scholarship from the African American Men of Westchester Committee, a silver medal in the NAACP Act-So competition and the Community Hero Award from the Mount Vernon City School District. She is a City Kids Foundation representative and has been on the Tamron Hall show for her community service in Mount Vernon.
On Thursday, May 18, 2023, Kaitlyn was featured on a Tamron Hall Show episode titled “Making a Splash” to talk about her amazing work she is doing in the community and more. Plus, Halle Bailey – who made history as the first Black star in “The Little Mermaid,” – also surprises Kaitlyn with an unforgettable moment that she will never forget. Disney sent Kaitlyn, her mom, and older brother Chad on a magical cruise to the Bamahas, aboard their newest ship, The Disney Rich.
Kaitlin was an African American Men of Westchester 2024 MLK Legacy Award Winner, a 2023 ACT-SO Winner, where she won 2nd place for her poem “A Black Woman Introduced,” and Miss Newflex 2019 through the Newflex Youth Program. Kaitlyn has accomplished all this while worrying about her mom who has been struggling with several debilitating autoimmune diseases and chronic kidney disease. The Mount Vernon Public Library, which was across the street from where she lived, became a safe space for her during a time when her mom was constantly in the hospital. That’s one of the reasons why, when it was time to give back to the community, we chose to team up with the library. Her brother Chad gave up a life in Brooklyn to move here to take care of her and her mom and even today he is still her biggest supporter.
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
“I’m truly proud of her; she has always been ambitious and a go-getter. My job as her mom is to guide her in the right direction, make sure she’s well-rounded and grounded, and protect her the best I can. I also surround her with lots of love, a safe space to be herself, and a supportive group of people which includes our church family,” Kaitlyn’s mom Karen shared with Black Westchester.
While the media shows us many negative aspects of Black Youth, BW shares this story of Kaitlyn because she shows us our future is in good hands, and she will most certainly be one of our future leaders.
Black Westchester proudly spotlights this High School community hero, Kaitlyn Leslie Smith, a true Black Westchester Living Legend, and we are all blessed to witness—history in the making!
To learn more about Kaitlyn Cares, go to Kaitlyn Cares Designs & Community Engagement Project – Leading Through Kindness.