In honor of Women’s History Month, we are continuing to recognize and celebrate women through our Top Ten Most Inspiring Women Series. We’ve interviewed many amazing women and we’re excited to introduce you to Kyra Hoffner, a volunteer lobbyist with The League of Women Voters of Delaware.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
So I moved to Delaware exactly 20 years ago now. I’ve been in senate district 14 the entire time. So I know my district, love my district, love the people in my district. In 2008, I worked in embargo, and then of course the housing crash happened. So I took a couple years, for health reasons, off. The first time I went to DC and I wanted to advocate for something, I was so nervous and intimidated by the building and meeting Nancy Pelosi. I just stood there not saying anything; I basically verbally threw up on myself. Then something happened. I realized, ‘wait a second, they work for me. I’m the people. They work for me.’ I started really noticing nobody getting involved in, and speaking up to these legislators, or people that were speaking up weren’t being heard.
Then we fast forward to 2016. I am a former New Yorker; I did not like the administration that was voted in, and I would say that pushed me further to get more involved. Realizing that everything is connected, if you don’t have clean water, you don’t have good health. You don’t get people to vote, we’re not going to get anything to change. If you’re working on the environment, you don’t realize, you’re really working on health also.
Cannabis legalization is extremely important to me. It’s a $318 billion dollar industry, and only $11 billion is being spent in the legal market. Healthcare is big business. I feel like everything is connected from voting to clean water, to people’s freedoms, and the rights of cannabis. Everything is connected, and everyone’s fighting each other, and I want to bring everyone together so they understand that when you’re fighting for help, you’re fighting for people’s freedoms. You have to vote. If you don’t vote, we can’t change anything.
“Everything is connected, and everyone’s fighting each other, and I want to bring everyone together so they understand that when you’re fighting for help, you’re fighting for people’s freedoms.”
What change do you want to see in the world and how are you aiding that cause?
Poverty. We’re the richest country in the world. Why do we have so many children and families in poverty? And the pandemic, I started working on it before this, and then I noticed the pandemic is just amplifying it. There are college students living in their cars. This family’s not asking for help because if they go to social services, social services are not very nice to them. I’ve gone in the building with people who needed help, and I was just shocked at how they were treated. We have empty houses up and down the state, yet we have people living in the street. I can’t understand that. I really want to make sure that we create self-sustaining families and individuals, so we don’t have this problem.
I started working on a bill last year for people experiencing homelessness. I definitely try to educate myself on that. When I say educate myself, I understand what the legislators want. I understand what the companies want. But the people who are actually experiencing homelessness, we need to know what they want, how is it going to help their lives. In the beginning, I wanted to build tiny houses and gardens around their houses. And they really don’t want the upkeep of doing this. They would like to live in an apartment where they could walk to social services and job training to get back on their feet. So definitely getting out there and talking to people who I’m trying to help, and find out what they want instead of deciding what I want them to have.
Everybody experiences homelessness for different reasons, and there’s a lot of judgement out there. People want to say that people are homeless because they’re unstable. No, they’re unstable because they’re homeless. If you don’t have a place to sleep, or food to eat, you become a little crazy. You need food, you need proper sleep so you can heal. You can’t think if you’re not sleeping, so I want everyone to stop making a judgement when they don’t know their situation.
Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be one of the most significant in your career.
I have one in the mortgage business. This woman worked with the post office and I worked with her for nine months getting her credit right. She was about 54 years old, never owned a home before. We got her credit right and she was able to buy her first home, and not in a loan that somebody else was trying to ram her into where she would have lost the home in five years. That makes me happy when I can give somebody the opportunity and let them see that they can have what everybody else has. I feel that society is always putting people down saying, ‘oh no, you’re too young, you can’t have a house.’ Or you’re too this, you can’t have that. But why not? Why can’t we? Right now, we have the first black woman Vice President. You could do anything. Society has to stop labeling people. I think if I get that to change, that would be a really great success. I think that my satisfaction is always when I know somebody that didn’t have a bed to sleep on has a bed to sleep on that night. Or they didn’t know they could own a home, and I helped make it possible for them. I’m just there to guide them, I’m not actually doing for them, they’re doing it for themselves. You’re just encouraging them to do it the right way.
“Society has to stop labeling people.”
How do you define success?
My success is not about money or material things. I feel really good when I’m helping somebody, you know, like changing their world for the better, seeing them in six months from now, and they’re feeling successful. That’s how I feel successful. Watching my kids grow and knowing that I raised them to 18, but now everything they do, that makes me feel successful because they’re so successful. I know a lot of people just want to measure success on money and material things, those things just don’t make you happy. The food banks make me so happy. I could be having the worst month in my life, but when I go and do my food bank, seeing the joy on people’s faces and the thankfulness that they have food for the next month. That’s success to me, just having them be happy.
Tell us about a turning point in your career or in your personal life.
In 2011, I had a heart attack and that changed what I was good at, that’s basically why I didn’t want to be in the mortgage business, and everything to be about money and stuff. I was like, I want to just do what makes me happy. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and say ‘I’m going to help somebody today,’ or ‘I’m going to go fight a bill that’s going to make a lot of people’s lives better.’ I think the heart attack changed me, it wasn’t about how much money can we put in the bank anymore.
I have to go back a little bit, when I was younger, I did have a little misstep. I was a little homeless bird for like a week. This woman took me in for the week, and by the end of the week, I was able to get myself together and get a one-room apartment. So I think subconsciously, I think back to that sometimes when I’m doing some things. I didn’t know this woman, there weren’t a lot of people helping me. We made instant mashed potatoes every day because that’s all we had money for.
When my daughter was born, I was still a little broke, but I wasn’t broke enough for food stamps. So I had to get Food and Nutrition, and I’m taking my new baby to wait on this line, and all the food they would give me was in black and white wrappers. So the food, I keep going back to the food bank, but it is important to me that people have food. I love the way the food bank is doing it now because when I’m giving people food, it’s food they can find in supermarkets. It’s fresh fruits, it’s not canned, we’re giving them stuff they could feel proud that they’re eating. So when the heart attack happened, something changed me and I decided I need to give back to those young people, or even people my age, that can’t make it on their own, or they just need that little help. It’s amazing how many people are experiencing homelessness that only need a little bit of help, there are some that need a lot of help, but some just need a tiny boost, and then they could be self-sufficient.
“I want more people to understand how much not voting is affecting them on everything. Taxes, schools, everything.”
What other issues are you advocating or lobbying for that you want people to know about?
Voting rights, I’m really concerned. This might be more of a federal issue, but there are 219 voter suppression bills out right now, federally. I don’t get that, and I think more people need to speak up. I think the public, even if they’re not going to get involved, they need to start writing their legislators, and you know we have to do something about that. If they want to do things federally, we got to make sure that our state is going to not get involved in that. Now states can have their own rules on different subjects, like cannabis is becoming a state issue, $15 an hour is probably going to become a state issue instead of a federal issue. But we need to start protecting people’s voting rights. I want more people to understand how much not voting is affecting them on everything, taxes, schools, everything. It really doesn’t take you much time to do your civic duty and cast that vote. And now with mail-in voting or absentee voting, it’s going to get even simpler.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get started, either with volunteering or getting into politics and lobby?
Join the League of Women Voters! I want everybody to join the League of Women Voters, but don’t just join the league. Join the advocacy corp part because that’s how you’re going to learn. Also Network Delaware. They’re only four years old, but they are so powerful in creating leaders and helping you find your path. If you have an idea in your head, they will take that idea and turn it into a policy. I believe between the League, Network Delaware, and Delaware Unite, all these groups are really trying to bring light to these issues. If you’re a woman, or a woman of color, join, we need your voice. We need you out there saying what’s wrong with these different systems that we’re voting through.
Why Kyra Hoffner is On this List
“Kyra is such an inspiration! She’s doing the work where it needs to be done — in the community and in our government. Kyra’s stories were so enthralling because she has experience with some of the issues she’s advocating for, and describes it in a way that makes you feel compelled to get involved. She’s right — voting isn’t just a civic duty — you’re fighting for people’s freedom.”
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