Student Alumni Spotlight: Kaitlin Johnstone

Student Alumni Spotlight: Kaitlin Johnstone
Posted on 02/03/2022
Student Alumni Spotlight: Kaitlin Johnstone

Ellenville Grad Spreads Kindness–and Literacy

Kaitlin Johnstone has accomplished great things since graduating from Ellenville High School (EHS) in 2004. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2014 and 2016 at two elementary schools in Florida, established a popular afterschool reading program, and founded Kind Cotton, a clothing company with a very special mission: to improve the lives of children, one book at a time. 

Johnstone said her empathy for others took root growing up in Ellenville. “It was a small town in which everyone knew each other and was friends with each other. But what was most unique about it was the diversity,” she remembered. “I would celebrate Hanukkah with one friend, Kwanzaa with another, and Christmas with yet another.”

Getting glimpses into the lives of others helped Johnstone develop an acceptance and compassion for all humans. It is an important perspective that she hopes more people will experience. “If everyone grew up in a community like Ellenville, the world would be a better place,” she said.

Johnstone recalled how her outspoken nature caused her to be viewed as a bit of a troublemaker in school. But there was one teacher who appreciated her tendency to ask questions and challenge the narrative, and thus, helped shape her into the kind of educator and philanthropist she would become.

“Mr. Warner was hands-down my favorite teacher at EHS,” she said. “I knew I could walk into his English class and escape to a world in which high school drama didn’t exist because he believed in treating us as if we weren’t just 16-year-old children; we were equal humans ready to embrace and exist in a realm of greater consciousness and being.” 

Sadly, Dennis Warner passed away in 2013, but Johnstone says she will never forget her connection to him and many others at EHS. “It was the overall experience I had growing up in this incredibly tight-knit community that has always inspired me to stand up for what I believe in, create positive change, and practice kindness,” she said.

Johnstone felt the call to do more for children when she realized how few of her students had access to books. She began fundraising and started a successful afterschool reading program. Once a month, she would bring a book to read at the school, do a lesson and a fun activity, and send each child home with their own copy of the book.

Johnstone was selective in her choices of books to bring to those sessions, always picking stories that focused on kindness, inclusion, diversity, and mental health. These themes resonate deeply with Johnstone, who feels that every child should feel seen, valued, and loved.

These principles, plus a bit of fate, inspired the idea for Kind Cotton. Johnstone wanted to raise money and promote her mission, and her husband Kevin already worked in the custom apparel business. Together, they built a partnership that combined their skills and their passion for the well-being of children. 

The concept behind Kind Cotton is simple: each time a customer purchases one of the T-shirts–each of which bears a message of kindness–a book is donated to a child in need. Now in its fifth year, Kind Cotton has donated more than 43,000 books to children and classrooms across the country.

Johnstone said she is looking forward to running more reading programs and book donation events in the future, all while continuing to expand her company’s mission. For now, she and her family are focusing on making a move to Maryland.
“Not quite Ellenville,” she said. “But getting closer!”