I saw a video about an amazing woman on a mission. It so inspired me, I contacted her. We had a wonderful conversation. This is Kaziah’s story.
In her small house in Utah, on a fifteen-acre ranch, Kaziah lives alone, paints and raises goats. In 2003, she watched a news report about James W. Calway, Utah’s first fallen soldier in Iraq. Kaziah was a basket case. She sat on the floor and cried, as the story spoke of James’ life.
Due to ovarian cancer, Kaziah is unable to have children of her own. This young man could have been her own son. I need to do something for his family, she said to herself.
Kaziah contacted them. They sent her photos of their son and Kaziah painted his portrait free of charge. It was the beginning of what would be known as Project Compassion.
She didn’t stop with this one painting. Each time she learned of another death in the war, she contacted the family and painted a portrait of their hero. “Kaziah, what are you doing? You can’t paint a picture of every fallen soldier!” A friend said.
It was a challenge she hadn’t considered. She thought about it for less than five seconds and said, “Yes I can. I will!”
An accomplished artist, Kaziah donates her valuable time and talents to what she likes to call “my kids.” The family of any fallen soldier only has to write Project Compassion, and they will paint portraits of their lost loved ones for free. She started Project Compassion with five thousand dollars and soon was in debt for another five thousand. She got on her knees and prayed, “Lord, I need your help, because I cannot and will not turn down a mother’s request.” Soon after, a generous donor heard of her mission and volunteered to pay the cost of supplies. The paint, canvas, and frames for each painting costs between two hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars. Kaziah recruited four other artists for her project. To date, they have completed more than twenty-four hundred portraits. Kaziah has personally painted seven hundred and sixty-six. And she does her best work on each of them. One afternoon, she was ready to varnish several paintings to prepare them for shipment. One stood out. The background wasn’t right. It was a replica of the photo the family sent, but she didn’t like it. She refused to send it to the family as is. She set it aside. Days later, she walked in the room, picked up the painting, and was inspired. Her brush flashed over the canvas, and in a few minutes, she had a painting worthy of her talents and the family who would receive it.
Her work has not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized by the State of Utah, the VFW, American Legion, DAV, DAR, and many other organizations for her generosity.
“My joy is in knowing that I have tried to give the nicest gift I could give and let them know how much I appreciate what they gave up.” Kaziah told me. Not for the first time since we spoke, I heard her tears in her voice. She is passionate about her work.
In 2007, Kaziah received the Utah Artist’s Guild Humanitarian Award. She sat on stage with others who were being recognized that day. She noticed a large screen behind her and wondered what it was for. Kaziah sat as others on the stage received awards. One lady had donated twenty million dollars to the arts of Utah and was recognized for her gift.
“Now we would like to introduce our next guest,” the master of ceremonies said. The reason for the screen became clear to Kaziah. They played the video a news program had done about Project Compassion. Kaziah stood. The crowd rose to their feet, and Kaziah cried. “I was a blubbering mess,” she told me. When I composed myself, I spoke for five minutes and the crowd stood again, and I cried more. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. One person told me, ‘Kaziah, what you give is worth more than all the millions that were donated to the arts.”
Kaziah has been awarded the Sword of Loyola, which is symbolic of the Ignatian vision of service and has been selected as Saint Louis University’s highest honor for individual achievement. The Sword of Ignatius Loyola Award is given to those who have given of themselves to humankind for the greater glory of God.
Previous recipients of the award include U.S. President Harry S. Truman, entertainer Bob Hope, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, dancer-choreographer Katherine Dunham, Olympic champion Jackie Joyner Kersee, and more.
A television reporter asked, “What does it mean to receive this award?”
“It’s a beautiful thing to be appreciated, but I don’t care. I just feel a need to do what I do.”
It is said, Kaziah was the most reluctant person they ever considered for the award.
Kaziah’s assistant, Kenna, wrote me:
Kaziah is an amazing woman! I have known Kaziah for going on twelve years now! I live on a farm with my eighty-one-year-old dad and my two children. We are located about 400 yards northeast of Kaziah’s small, log cabin. Project Compassion headquarters is located in the basement of her small art studio/one bed room/office home. That way Project Compassion’s electricity, rental space, etc. can be paid by Kaziah, so that money is saved for what we need it for: MATERIALS! Frames! Etc. Although I have only been with PC for two years, it has been the most gratifying position I have ever held.
Through the years I have known Kaziah—as she bought this little piece of land and lived in a “Tuff Shed” for a while until she could build her own little home. When she moved to this area, she introduced herself to my father. He was living in our old farm home alone and she made arrangements with my dad: she would cook breakfast and dinner for him (clean up after) then, clean my dad’s house for a few hours a day. In return, she would have a room downstairs where she could shower and change her clothes!
About the time Kaziah’s home was completed is when I moved to the farm with my children. And ever since, Kaziah’s and I have been wonderful friends. My father drove a school bus for twenty-four years while he was gone on bus/school trips. I would lamb the sheep and calf the cows! Kaziah, being a goat farmer herself, came to help me when I needed it. One cold winter night, seven of my sheep had their lambs. I was out in the dark, in the blizzard, trying to gather them all up and get them in the barn, to feed and water the mothers and get the newborn lambs warm and up to eat! Kaziah came over without hesitation and helped! Thanks for all!
Project Compassion is a nonprofit and survives solely on donations in order to continue the project. Some links are provided here for information regarding Project Compassion and the Hero Paintings Gallery. Information is provided on the website for donations should you desire to help this project.
A mother’s fear is that her son or daughter will be forgotten. Kaziah makes sure they live on for the parents.