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Washington Voices

Grad says hardship taught her hard work

Thu., June 4, 2009

Riverside’s Kaila Hilde hopes to be tattoo artist

When you ask Kaila Hilde what she wants in life, her answer is simple and direct – it’s her desire to be able to work for the things she wants and needs and for the economy to improve enough so she can find a job. She’s been looking hard, but she hasn’t been finding.

Sure, she has longer-term goals, but the economic realities of life loom large for this 18-year-old Riverside High School graduate, who neither hides the details of the hardscrabble life she has had nor puts it out there to garner sympathy.

Hilde, her three younger siblings and her mother, Sheri O’Kert, have had a tough road economically, often living with relatives or acquaintances, some of whom turned out to be less than upstanding individuals, to be able to make their expenses. Once the house they shared with some people burned down in an arson fire. Another time they were days away from living in their car when they faced a raise in rent.

And for the past several years, she was responsible for the care, feeding, bathing and bedtime needs of her brother and two sisters, who are much younger than she is, when their mother went to work at a new swing-shift job.

“I’m not really resentful of all that,” she said. “I’m kind of proud of it. It’s helped get me ready for life and would do it again if I had to.”

However, between the child care and spending whatever time she could with friends, she kind of blew off schoolwork when she was a freshman. “I felt bad about that and have kept working to get better,” she said, “and I’m glad to be graduating on time. Not everybody in my family has done that.”

Her big passion is art – painting, drawing, sketching – especially acrylics on canvas, and part of her art is expressed in how she dresses and adorns herself. Self-taught, she specializes in dragons. She likes them because “they’re beautiful and strong.” And she hopes some day to be a tattoo artist, though she doesn’t have any tattoos of her own just yet.

“I’ve been working on a spectacular design for eight years now that I want to have done,” she said. “It’s a dragon, and it will cover my whole back.”

Active in DECA at school, she created the model for her own tattoo shop for a business project that she entered into the area competition. “I’ve come to understand the costs involved in getting a business off the ground, but my project showed it could work,” she said.

Hilde has had to work hard for most of the things in her life. “I’m real close with my mom, and she sees that I get the necessities,” Hilde said, but any extras she has had to earn. She did custodial work at Riverside High School until the program that paid for student workers ended. She currently babysits for a teacher and has held numerous jobs.

Hilde is aware that her look is unconventional and that she is sometimes judged badly for it. “I don’t do drugs,” she said. “I don’t want that to be a part of my life. I express myself this way instead of all that bad stuff. I’ve got my own rules and don’t need that whole drugs and party scene.”

Her Spanish teacher Mary Ressa said Hilde is a person with a genuinely good heart. Ressa recalled that last year when a secretary who had been at the school for 30 years retired, Hilde did a beautiful portrait of the woman, had some help from the shop teacher to frame it and got as many students as she could to sign it as a gift.

“What a wonderful and kind thing for her to do,” Ressa said. “It was so touching, and we all remember it. This is a young woman who has overcome some significant obstacles that were beyond her control. What a great kid.”

Hilde hopes to attend Spokane Falls Community College this fall, where she’d like to study art. A big dream out in the future would be to attend Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.

“What I want really is to be able to go to college and live a good life,” Hilde said. “But the first thing I’ve got to do is get a job.”

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