Aspirational Chat with Kyler Olejnik
Kyler Olejnik is the Director of Transitional Housing, Maryland Village, Operation Homefront. Through this program, she works daily with wounded warriors to help them transition back into civilian life while keeping some stability for their families. The program is amazing and so is Kyler. Her passion for her work comes through the minute you meet her.
I enjoyed meeting her in her charming home, where she shared her other passions — family and travel — with me. Her warm personality is present throughout her home. We chatted about her down time (as a new mom she doesn’t have much!), her favorite city and vacation spot (it’s down South) and what she may drink in the shower!
AFP: Your home is so charming. How long you've lived here?
KO: We're coming up on two years!
AFP: What was it about this neighborhood that attracted you?
KO: It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods of Silver Spring. They do all types of events here. They have a Christmas tree lighting, 4th of July parade and a garden walk every year. It's a really nice community. Really what sold us is the yard. Most of the yards here are not very private and you've got a bunch of neighbors looking in, but this one backs up to a park. It's really green and pretty.
AFP: So tell me, what's your favorite room in the house?
KO: I would say, my daughter’s room is probably my favorite just because I did everything. It's really just me, I picked everything out.
AFP: It's really sweet, I love the flowers on the wall.
KO: I just had total free range with it. Some rooms in the house are a compromise of my husband & I, but this was all me. There are special touches here from my sister and my husband bought that "C", shortly after she was born, it was just sweet. Every little thing in the room is special.
AFP: How would you say the home reflects you and who you are?
KO: Each of us has different touches in the house. We don't like clutter, we definitely like more of a minimalist approach. I think it is just a combination of both of us; our individuality and then things we like together. It's fun when you get to put a house together with little touches from each of us and things our parents have given us. Everything has a story.
AFP: So what I always find with homes is that it’s not really about the things it's about the stories behind them. Or the people that they remind you of. You enjoy the things because they were done with or remind you of the people you care about.
KO: Yes! For example, when we bought the house this table was sitting on the curb. And we didn't have a dining table, we didn't know if we were going to put a table in here or not since we already had a kitchen set. So, my husband decided, "What the heck. I'll redo it." He likes working with wood, so he redid this table and then his parents gave us these chairs. They have an old historical house in Pennsylvania, where the chairs have been sitting for years, not getting any use. These chairs are from the the 1930s, my husband sanded them and refinished them and we had them reupholstered.
AFP: I love the lines of the chairs, wow!
AFP: So let’s talk about your kitchen. Do you guys like to cook? What's your favorite thing to cook?
KO: I’m not going to lie [laughter], I don’t cook nearly as often as I used to or at least not the way I used to. Since having our daughter, we seem to be in the "how quickly can we get dinner on the table" stage of life. Right now my husband grills a lot and we just throw together some sides together. I'll get back to it!
AFP: Of course you will! It doesn't mean it's gone, it’s a stage. What’s the most treasured thing in your home?
KO: This globe is actually my husband's favorite thing. It’s from his parents house growing up, and they just recently gave it to us.
AFP: It's beautiful! It's like such a functional piece, but it's gorgeous. That rich, blue color and copper are amazing.
KO: My favorite things in our house are our photos! We have this little gallery wall and we have another one downstairs, kind of similar. Honestly, that's my favorite thing - our photos.
AFP: As you know, more than anyone, part of what I've been trying to do in the business now is to give back. Talking to interesting women and sharing their stories, and the combination of their home, and what’s important to them is part of my giving back. Sharing others aspirations inspires others! When you think of your aspirational life how do you define that? What does that mean to you? Not just your home, but general aspirations for how you want to live.
KO: It's all about quality of life for us. Especially since having our daughter, she puts everything into perspective and really helps me to focus on what’s truly important in life. Which for me is spending time with my family and setting the example of giving back.
AFP: That's wonderful.
AFP: You and your husband - who is a police officer - both work in fields that involve heavy, life-changing issues involving other people. Your days can carry a lot of weight. What do you do to relax and unwind and let some of the daily issues go?
KO: Previously, I was really big runner. I worked out five days a week, and that was my biggest release when I needed me time. It’s not something I’ve found the time for since having my daughter, but I look forward to getting back there one day. We like to travel and try to plan a couple of trips a year, even if it’s just a weekend that always helps to recharge my husband & I. I’m really fortunate to work for an amazing organization and have very supportive colleagues who are always there when challenging situations present themselves. I'm definitely aware that burn out is a real thing in in my field, it’s something I’m conscious of, and would not hesitate to seek therapy for myself if need be. Most days the families I have the privilege to work with inspire me, many of them have very difficult journeys and their ability to persevere lights a fire in me and keeps me motivated to do all I can to support & serve them. And so, I don't feel the weight of it as often as you might think.
AFP: I know it is hard when you have a young one and especially when you're solo parenting some of the time, so when you get that chance to have “me” time, what do you enjoy?
KO: Honestly? Biggest me time I have right now is a cup of coffee and a shower.
AFP: Maybe a cup of coffee in the shower? [laughter]
KO: I have brought a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the shower. [laughter]
AFP: What is your proudest work accomplishment? You do a lot of great things, so I would imagine there's a lot to be proud of ,whether you've acknowledged it or not.
KO:. I’ve worked for Operation Homefront for 5 years now, this being my third position. When I started, I attended orientation where I toured the San Antonio Village (Transitional Housing program). And I remember thinking, "This would be the most incredible job. This is amazing, this is my dream job." I was fresh out of college and it seemed out of reach at the time. I now have the privilege of executing and running my own program, it’s definitely a huge accomplishment and what I’m most proud of in terms of my career. It all fell together the way it was supposed it.
AFP: That's cool!
KO: One of the best parts of my job is when you put all of this work, time and love into getting a home ready for a family to move into and then you give them the keys and you get to see the look on their face and see how appreciative they are, it’s an awesome feeling!
AFP: It seems like it! You're doing so much for others and you do it well, so that's a great combination. What is the best advice you've ever received?
KO: A wise person learns from other peoples' mistakes. That's from my step-dad. It's the first thing that comes to mind and has always stuck with me.
AFP: You mentioned enjoying vacations and travel, and I know you spend a lot of time going to see family. Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
KO: Charleston, South Carolina.
AFP: Tell me more about that.
KO: My husband’s spent some time there in training and raved about it. When he turned 30, I finally made my way there, we met in Charleston for his birthday and I just fell in love with the city. I've been there several times now; it’s just such a beautiful city, I love the southern charm and the food; it's just such a special place for us. We went on a ‘babymoon’ there & he told his parents that he was going to ask me to marry him in Charleston as well. So there's a lot of sentiment there.
AFP: So there's lots of memories there. That's wonderful. You have a rather full life with your daughter, your job and your husband's job. Obviously your work involves a lot of support with wounded warriors. Are there any other causes that you support, are interested in or volunteer with?
KO: We're blessed to be a part of a great church community, St. Andrew’s Apostle Catholic Church.
When we lived in San Diego I volunteered for a food shelter program. Through my work, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with some other great organizations who are doing awesome work. I've also gotten to witness the positive impact that getting involved in the community and giving back has on people, especially children. It is definitely something I strongly believe in and look forward to volunteering with my daughter when she is old enough!
AFP: Alright, on to fun questions! Coffee or tea?
KO: Both! I have coffee every morning and tea every night.
AFP: Cats or dogs?
AFP: Are you a morning or a night person?
KO: Previously I would tell you a night person, but now I don't know... neither? We'll go with morning. It depends on how sleep goes for my daughter that night. [laughter]
AFP: Cake or pie?
KO: Pie. I actually request apple pie for my birthday. Apple pie with ice cream is my life
AFP: Netflix or a movie theater?
KO: I would love to go to a movie, I honestly don't know the last time I've been to a movie theater. Netflix is ideal most days.
AFP: Summer or winter?
KO: Summer for sure. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, I've had enough winter to last a lifetime!
AFP: Online shopping or shopping in a store?
KO: Online shopping.
AFP: What is your favorite holiday?
KO: Great question. I really love the 4th of July, but my husband and I were married on Valentine's Day. So I should probably go with our anniversary. I love the 4th of July, I do!
AFP: Favorite food?
KO: Shrimp and grits.
AFP: Favorite restaurant?
KO: That's hard. What city?
AFP: You pick.
AFP: If you could live in a different state or country, where would it be?
KO: San Diego or Charleston.
AFP: That’s a wrap! Thanks so much for your time and giving us some insight into your life.
One of my favorite take aways from this chat is that life really comes in stages. The new parent stage seems so long when you’re in it, but it quickly changes to a new stage with new challenges and rewards. Kyler is embracing the stage she’s in and that’s really what it’s all about, right?
I hope that you enjoyed learning more about Kyler as much as I did. Talking to her inspires me to continue to find ways to help others, as she does daily in her job. Please let me know what you think in the comments! What was your favorite thing you learned about Kyler and her life?