Today I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Kelly, a contributor in my Chez series. If you missed my last Chez post, you can read more about the series here. After college (where I met Kelly!), she moved to New York City to pursue her career in fashion PR; but over the last couple years, it’s been neat to see her foster her true passion and dream: working with animals. Despite being in the city that never sleeps, Kelly manages to live a quiet and stress-free life in her darling studio apartment in the West Village. I love her artwork and decor as it’s the perfect extension of Kelly’s personality, representing her travels to Africa, love of animals, her many, many good books—and of course, her two fur babies! Scroll below to read my full interview with Kelly, where she shares her infectious philanthropic passions and favorite go-to places in New York City.
What’s it like living in New York City?
I manage to live a fairly simple life in the West Village with my two rescue kitties, Olive and SJ (you can follow them on Instagram @sjandchardonnay). But I mostly love New York because it’s the mecca of charitable organizations. I spend a large portion of my time supporting meaningful philanthropic causes that care for animals. Whether it’s volunteering at local shelters like Animal Haven and promoting #adoptdontshop, fundraising for organizations, attending lectures and movie screenings on conservation at the Crosby Street Hotel or Soho House, encouraging compassionate eating habits and cruelty-free fashion, and even getting involved politically by speaking up and lobbying for issues at City Council meetings, there is always something to do and new people to meet through these efforts. But I’m not sure any of this would have played out had I not moved to New York City 12 years ago after college. Since then I have met so many incredible people who inspire me to do something transformative every day, and who have ignited my passions to what they are today.
When I’m not volunteering my time, you can find me curled up with a good book under a tree in the park near the water- I rotate a fictional book with thought-provoking books usually by New York Times Best Seller, Dr. Tim Keller, who happens to be my Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian or Theologian novelist, C.S. Lewis. I also love enjoying wine and live music at City Vineyard with my friends; roadtripping out to Montauk or upstate to either Catskill Animal Sanctuary or Woodstock Sanctuary to be with the animals; taking a Pilates class or shopping on Bleecker street at the chic bohemian store, Sunni Spencer or at Le Labo, my favorite perfumery (they don’t test on animals!).
How did you get involved in The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)?
I learned about the work of the HSUS through a friend and was invited to join the Advisory Committee of the Humane Generation/Friends of Finn, a group of young social impact leaders whose mission is to eradicate puppy mills, and advocate for pet adoption. My involvement with this group has not only encouraged me to consider the needs of companion animals, but also led me to look at all animals more deeply. I also began to realize how caring for all creation intersects with my faith; through this realization, I decided to become an HSUS Faith Outreach leader, engaging with people in the faith community on the topic of stewardship. The HSUS empowers leaders and volunteers to help with life-saving work and I felt compelled to join in their powerful mission.
In addition to local animal-welfare issues, you’re passionate about African Wildlife. What keeps you motivated?
Africa is my favorite place on earth. The vast scenery, the people and of course the majestic African wildlife is all so breath-taking and I enjoy going on safari in order to experience these beautiful luxuries first-hand. But more importantly, I’m passionate about joining forces to help protect Africa’s heritage. On a recent trip to Kenya, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, Founder of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; she is a pioneer in elephant rescue, rehabilitating those that find themselves caught up in the poaching crisis, and then reintroducing them back into the wild. It was then I decided to orphan a couple elephants and further support this important cause.
My friend, Damien Mander, Founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, also supports African wildlife by equipping an army of rangers that serve as virtually the last remaining hope and defense a rhino or elephant has to living a natural life. This is just another example of wonderful humans, out on the ground, helping manage the hemorrhaging of innocent victims in the ivory and rhino horn trade.
Other organizations like Tusk and Empowers Africa work diligently to supply educational programming in Africa, as well as carry out impactful wildlife conservation campaigns. I admire the mission of Noonday Collection, an eCommerce boutique based in Austin, Texas supporting the work of artisans in the developing world, namely Africa. The courage, sacrifice and heart of the champions involved in all of these efforts motivates me to travel back this September and volunteer in Zimbabwe (with the IAPF Green Army)—I can’t wait!
After having such an extensive background in the fashion industry, how would you describe your personal style? And, how does this translate to your apartment’s aesthetics and décor?
I studied fashion design in college and went on to gain tons of exciting experience working in the ever-changing world of fashion public relations. Having worked for- and represented- such incredibly talented, luxury designers, I went through many personal fashion phases. Over the years, I settled into a style of versatility, comfort, and effortless femininity. I am extremely mobile around the city and love to Citibike, so my choice of clothing is usually conducive to running errands that may sneak up, catching a work-out class (on FitReserve) or considering a last-minute meeting downtown. My apartment is quite identical to my wardrobe in that it’s clutter-free, organized and intentional. Nothing lives there without purpose or beauty, (mainly because New Yorker’s don’t have a choice but to master the art of maximizing space) and most everything I own has a story: my late grandmother’s ceramic jewelry box, personal photography from Africa, a Leopard figurine signifying the only animal from Africa’s Big 5 I haven’t yet been able to see with my own eyes; and my kitties—both rescued with incredible stories of strength and resilience. Natural light and fresh air are a must, so you’ll likely find my curtains drawn and my windows open. I love the sound of chirping birds, and even have a resident Owl who lives in my courtyard and howls at night!
You have a thoughtful and healthy approach to eating, with a desire to alleviate the suffering of animals raised for food. Where do you eat in New York City?
I am vegan and lucky to have incredibly-tasty options in the city. I love The Butchers Daughter, Peacefood Cafe, and if you’re craving cheese but could do without the cruelty, check out Riverdel Cheese in Brooklyn. Cooking at home with wine is my favorite way to unwind; my new go-to ingredient is Beyond Meat which is sold at Wholefoods and is one of the best plant-based meat options around. To get my sweet fix, I bike on down to Erin McKenna’s Bakery– their donuts and other baked goods are to die for! I also enjoy yummy kale banana smoothies and feel good- both physically and mentally- about consuming all the wonderful food that keeps me and mother earth healthy, and doesn’t require taking the precious life of an innocent animal.
If you could give women in their 30s advice about pursuing personal and career goals, what would you say?
I find purpose in my work because it inspires me—I wake up and feel empowered by my gifts and excited about making a difference. Whatever your passions, I truly believe that if you’re not exhilarated by what you spend the majority of your day doing, it’s probably not what you should be doing. The world needs people to do more of what’s deeply-rooted in their spirit; to do more of what motivates them—what they feel is stirring in their hearts. I always take the meeting as you will never know where it will lead and who you will meet.
I think this goes for your personal desires in dating and relationships, as well. If you’re not true to yourself, the special parts of your soul cannot properly shine. Living with integrity can sometimes take a simple moral compass realignment. I align and realign daily, trying to keep my focus on the end goal while enjoying the little moments of trials and sweet successes. This has not always been easy for me, though!
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you move and what would you do for a living?
After having saved every last animal from needless suffering and abuse at the hand of the industries who exploit them, I would sell all of my belongings and take off for the African bush to establish my very own Safari camp. Angama Mara mixed with a little Giraffe Manor comes to mind.
Photos taken by: Monet Izabeth Eliastam
If you’re interested in donating to any of the causes Kelly mentioned, please click on any of the links below or reach out to her directly with inquiries via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @kellyvitko
- Donate to Animal Haven
- Donate to Catskill Animal Sanctuary
- Donate to Woodstock Sanctuary
- Donate to The Humane Society of the United States
- Donate to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
- Donate to International Anti-Poaching Foundation
- Donate to Tusk
- Donate to Empowers Africa