Experience has shown Kiwanis International President Katrina Baranko that everyone has potential — and an opportunity to fulfill it. 

For many Kiwanis members, the path to leadership doesn’t start with a grand personal ambition. In fact, a leadership journey often begins with someone else’s encouragement. Even the first step comes only after a little nudge from fellow Kiwanians.  

That’s how it began for Katrina Baranko. Now the 2023-24 Kiwanis International president, Baranko was about a year into her membership with the Kiwanis Club of Albany, Georgia, U.S., in 1994 when she was asked to be a committee chair.  

She didn’t reject the request, but she wasn’t sure what the role required — and she said so. Fortunately, her fellow club members understood that leadership roles often come with a learning curve. 

“They assured me they’d support me, show me what to do, give me my little task list,” she says now. “And they did.” 

That support was decisive for Baranko. It was also an early insight into what makes leadership roles seem possible for Kiwanians. 

“I hope we encourage and emphasize mentorship this year,” she says. “It’s so important that we tap people on the shoulder and ask them to step up, but also assure them that if they do, we’ll be there to support them and help them do a good job. That’s what my Kiwanis mentors did along the way.” 

Commitment and community
That sense of being needed was a big reason why Baranko felt persuaded to join Kiwanis. She had worked as an educator for 15 years before leaving the profession to start her own business in women’s apparel. But her previous work with young people made her a natural prospect for the Albany Kiwanis club. 

“A friend of mine asked me to join — at least six times — before I said, ‘Fine, I’ll go to lunch,’” Baranko says, smiling at the memory. “She wasn’t going to give up.”  

“I was brought up that you give back to the community that supports you. So, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a win-win. They’re doing that kind of work and I can get on that vehicle and be part of it.’”

As it turned out, the club had recently raised money to purchase a van for a local shelter for kids who were victims of abuse — and they were presenting the key to the organization’s director at the club meeting Baranko visited. It was an eye-opening moment regarding the club’s impact, she says, but it also resonated with her belief in community. 

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