Empowerment Via Footwear: Kari Thompson McCormick ’97

From teaching, to running a business, to the challenges of motherhood, McCormick is striving to make a difference in children’s mental health development.

On a spring break trip to Florida in 2006 during the famous Daytona Beach Bike Week, elementary school teacher Kari McCormick saw an enterprising idea amid the sun, sandals and bandana-clad bikers: handmade, bandana-covered flip-flops.

The next year, McCormick launched a side flip-flop business — Bella K — that grew until 2010, when she had her son, Cole. It wasn’t long after Cole was born that McCormick could tell something wasn’t right. Sunlight elicited screams. The motion of a stroller or car seat was torture. The feeling of bedding would keep Cole from sleeping.

McCormick’s skills as an educator and motivator served her well as the founder of a fledgling footwear business, but these skills kicked into serious overdrive during Cole’s early struggles.

“When Cole was a baby, I was a mom on the hunt to figure things out, and a mom who’s driven in that way is hard to stop,” McCormick says.

When Cole was 19 months old, a pediatrician diagnosed him with sensory processing disorder, and McCormick began to research the brain and neurological system. Following the diagnosis and McCormick’s research on the subject, Cole began to recover and manage his condition. Soon, McCormick recognized that Cole’s journey could benefit other kids:

“I learned how to change our thoughts and feelings on a more neurological level,” McCormick says. “I also learned how much easier it is for young children to make these behaviors an automatic response when you start teaching them before the age of 12. Even though [Cole] had sensory issues, these concepts that worked on him could easily transfer over to children and help them build healthy self-esteem.”

During Cole’s ordeal, McCormick revived Bella K with a new mission: fostering young people’s healthy mental development. Once Cole was back on track, McCormick used funds from Bella K to launch Selfie Style, a sponsored workshop in which young girls hear from inspiring speakers and engage in empowering activities.

“Cole’s experience sparked something in me,” McCormick says. “I want to use [Bella K] as a vehicle to share that spark — to make children feel cared for and brave in the way Cole eventually felt.”

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