Kendall Hampton, '21, Addresses Diaper Insecurity as Founder of the Empower Parenthood Project
By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Kendall Hampton, '21, is pursuing her M.P.A. at NIU while working as a graduate assistant and serving as president of the nonprofit she founded. (Photo credit: Andrew Miller Photography)

Kendall Hampton, ’21, a driven and enthusiastic member of the DeKalb County community, was actively searching for ways she could better serve its residents.

In 2023, she discovered her purpose.

Hampton founded the Empower Parenthood Project with a clear and simple mission to ensure that DeKalb County parents in need have access to disposable diapers. She uncovered this "critical resource gap" by meeting with family-serving community organizations.

"Knowing I wanted to work with and in my community, I met with various directors of organizations to better understand what they do and, most importantly, why they do it," Hampton said. "I learned about diaper insecurity when reading Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending U.S. Poverty. Having never encountered the issue personally, I began to dig deeper to learn more about it. I read about its pervasiveness and its effects on health and wellness."

Hampton's idea for the Empower Parenthood Project intrinsically grew from her desire to serve her community.

"No organization was able to reliably provide disposable diapers to the community—not because of a lack of effort or awareness on the part of the organizations, but because of other priorities or program initiatives," Hampton said. "Due to this gap, I wanted to create an organization that reliably and continually provided diapers."

The Empower Parenthood Project receives its diapers through donations from the community.

"Being acutely aware of the pulse in DeKalb, I understand that people want to help others in their community," she said. "By establishing diaper donation boxes in the community during drive initiatives, we enable the community to serve their neighbors in a tangible, crucial way."

Hampton says she has seen tremendous support and is inspired by her community "showing up" for others. As a new—and small—organization, the Empower Parenthood Project has limited funding to pursue future goals. Hampton dreams of establishing a diaper bank location where people in the community can go to pick up free disposable diapers. Her goal is for the organization to become a pillar of support in DeKalb County. Until then, she is operating her nonprofit out of the goodwill and generosity of others and the kindness of her parents, who allow her to store an inventory of thousands of diapers at their house.

Educating others who are unaware of the issue of diaper insecurity has been the cornerstone of its success thus far.

"If someone does not have children in diapers or hasn't faced the financial hardships leading to diaper insecurity, they may not know how debilitating and impactful the struggles can be," she said.

Diapers have a significant impact outside of hygiene. Hampton says when a mother doesn’t have diapers to send with her child(ren) to daycare, they often cannot attend. The mother then cannot go to work to financially support her family and purchase the necessary diapers.

"The problem is cyclical in nature, and we are trying to break the cycle," Hampton explained. "Reading numerous articles and studies, I've learned this is a nationwide problem that is not isolated to our county."

Hampton is pursuing a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree with an emphasis in nonprofit management at NIU. ​​She is an Engagement Research Assistant for NIU’s Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development (OERD). In her role, she is working to advance NIU's "Centering Engagement, Driving Impact" campaign by researching systems to track engagement and partnerships in the community. She helped develop a survey and analyzed the responses to learn about faculty and staff's experiences engaging in the community. Also, by organizing a brown bag lecture series, she is helping to promote specific engagement opportunities. 

"This role has been so exciting to me, as I get to learn so much about NIU's community engagement and contribute to finding new and meaningful ways to further promote community engagement," she remarked. "I appreciate the fact that I am contributing to a sustaining project that will impact the university long after I graduate. I am also very grateful for my team at OERD, who constantly challenge me and push me to learn and grow."

After earning her M.P.A., Hampton hopes to use her graduate degree to expand the Empower Parenthood Project. She also aspires to combine her affinity for the outdoors with her love for her community and pursue an outdoor educator role at a museum or state park.

Hampton's admiration for the outdoors is what first sparked her appreciation for her community and community engagement. Living near the community park district grounds of Hopkins Park, she often heard the music playing from the nearby summer concerts in the bandshell. The noise and proximity to her house naturally led her to attend the public events at the park whenever she could.

"As someone who was always outside exploring around town and looking for things to do, I loved discovering events put on by the Ellwood House, the DeKalb Park District, and the DeKalb Public Library," she said. "I wanted to attend any community gathering I could. As I learned how much went into planning those community events, I appreciated them even more and understood what kind of passion and drive is needed to coordinate them."

Hampton later secured an internship in education and interpretation at the Ellwood House Museum before moving into a resident intern position there. She assisted the museum curator in developing and executing the programs offered to the community. She also worked as a seasonal museum educator at the Downers Grove Museum, leading the development and execution of community programs.

"I loved seeing the response from community members to the programs I had a hand in developing," she said. "Most of the programs and activities we put on were outdoors, but the lessons and themes all tied back to the museum. As an outdoor educator, I want to allow the lessons and themes to tie to nature."

Hampton says her future professional positions may involve camp development, leading outdoor activities, or promoting nature education, such as safety protocols, teaching the benefits of being in nature, and historical perspectives.

For now, Hampton is joyful connecting people with resources and raising awareness, but she believes her most substantial impact goes beyond handing someone diapers or helping enhance community partnerships.

“My personal mission is larger than diapers or any other resource," she said. "It is my goal to empower and build up the people in my community. Whether I make connections as a student, alumna, graduate assistant, nonprofit founder, or community member, I want to encourage people to pursue their passions, find what fulfills them, be kind to others, and be kind to themselves.”