PITTSBURG — Kari West “makes a difference” by making connections.
Westar Energy and KCP&L Customer Solutions Manager Kari West was recently recognized as a 2019 Woman of Distinction by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce. She and 11 others have a short biography and their photograph in the Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 community calendar. People may find the calendar at the chamber office.  
“I am extremely humbled and honored to be a part of such a supportive group of women in our community,” she said. “I don’t do things for the recognition, I do them because it is my way of paying it forward.”  
West is the customer solutions manager for all of the counties in Southeast Kansas and with the recent merger with KCP&L, along with Vernon and Barton counties in Missouri. Her role is to provide customers with the resources they need to help their businesses grow, she said.
 “Two days are never the same, which makes it extremely interesting and sometimes very challenging,” West said, “I was not looking for a job when this one found me. I was recruited to apply by a good friend who talked me into applying.
 “I love working with people, and have always had a position in community relations, economic/community development and marketing.”
The position has allowed West to use her networking resources to build new relationships, engage more people and help grow Southeast Kansas, she said.
“I am a life-long Southeast Kansan and my career goal has always included finding new ways to help the region grow,” she said. “I am blessed to have a job in a company that encourages community service and getting involved.
“As part of our company culture, when our communities do well, so do we. I didn’t realize the direct impact our volunteers make every year in the communities we serve. It makes me proud to be a part of the Evergy family.”
One of many organizations she is involved with is Project 17-Together We Succeed.  West has been on the board of directors for Project 17-Together We Succeed since nearly its inception. She has served as an agriculture representative and now fills the role of a utility representative.
“Our team works together as a region find revenue sources, new programs and provide leadership training to the 17 counties involved,” she said. “I work with our executive director and manage the day to day social media posts.
“We share a lot of great stories about the people of the region, projects that are going on, and how people are making differences in their respective communities.”
West is also on the K-State Research & Extension’s Wildcat District Board of Directors. She is serving a four-year term as a representative from Crawford County.
The Wildcat Extension District is made up of Crawford, Wilson, Labette and Montgomery Counties and provides 4-H, Family and Consumer Science Programs, Horticulture, agriculture and other programming, West said. The organization was also recently named the top district in the state.
“It is all about providing the programs and development opportunities for the taxpayers we serve,” West said. “I grew up in 4-H from the time I was 7 until I graduated from high school. It gave me leadership opportunities, taught me about diversity, provided opportunities for community service.
“The reason I ran for the board is because I wanted to make sure those programs were available for future generations.”
She is also on the board of directors for Southeast Kansas Inc., a regional organization she has been involved with for the past 12 years.
“We are working to redefine who we are, what services we can provide and how to grow the region,” West said.
West, along with her sister and best friend have been volunteering together for over 15 years during the Crawford County Fair.
“Back to my 4-H years, the fair was an important part of my life, and this is just a little way that I am able to give back,” she said. “In addition, I spent nearly 10 years volunteering time to do marketing, public relations and social media management.”
West serves as the United Way of SEK/SWMO Campaign Chair.
“I agreed to be the 2019 campaign chair because I have worked in Labette and Crawford Counties and I wanted to re-introduce the programming to the public,” she said. “With that, my co-workers at Westar Energy joined us in creating a new UW fundraiser, the Burger Bash.
United Way of SEK/SWMO partnered with Marrone’s and the Pittsburg Knight’s of Columbus to host this fundraiser, which the organization plans to make an annual event. All of the proceeds from this event is donated to United Way of SEK for Crawford County agencies, West said.
“Giving back is extremely important to me,” she said. “I learned from a young age that if you can do something nice for someone, you should.”
West credits her family, especially her “Grandma Brown” for her passion for “paying it forward.”
“As a kid growing up, she was always making things for the Shriner’s Hospital, donating lap robes to area nursing homes, quilting with the groups to make items for those in need,” she said. “When you grow up seeing others make a difference, you find ways to join them … there are so many people along the way that have helped to shape who I am today. I couldn’t even begin to pinpoint just one, every one brought a unique opportunity or perspective to help shape my life, and for that I am grateful.”
Her passion for community service was solidified by high school where she was an active member in the Crawford County 4-H program and the Girard FFA.
“My involvement in these organizations paved the way I think about community service and making a difference,” West said. “I volunteer because it makes me happy to be able to do something to help someone else.
Outside of work, West has several hobbies. One includes her own business, Custom Creations by K.
“I am an avid outdoor photographer,” she said. “Sunsets and agriculture photos are my favorite, but I can find beauty in random things.”
West and her husband, Matt, also run a small cow-calf operation just outside of Girard, and they also help their family farm. The Wests will be celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.
“My husband would tell you I am a work-a-holic, and always have been. But I prefer to think of it as staying busy,” she said. “I am motivated by those around me and seeing all of the great things happening in our region.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.