Kim Isenberg is a hard-working, fun-loving, mostly exuberant individual who just saw her world flipped upside down. Kim has just returned from Zimbabwe where she encountered stark poverty. She also saw heroic individuals – both kids and adults – who are using what they’ve got to survive.
“I knew the trip would change my life,” she says. “I just didn’t know what sort of punctuation mark there would be at the end.”
Isenberg came home committed to making a difference in the lives of people she met while touring Rotary Club of Knoxville projects in Zimbabwe. Like many things, this trip started as a grand adventure. Kim accompanied a couple of physician friends who were conducting trauma training classes for physicians from all over Zimbabwe. The classes were held at the Mater Dei Nursing School that was founded and is run by her fellow Rotarians.
“While they were in class, I visited some of the Rotary-sponsored projects there.”
Rotary Club of Knoxville, of which Isenberg is a member, sponsors the uniforms for students at the Adolph Schmitt Preschool in Bulawayo. That’s where a little girl with weary eyes attached herself to Kim. She followed her everywhere, never saying a word nor smiling.
Isenberg also toured the King George VI Memorial School in Bulawayo, a boarding school for kids and young adults with special needs. While Kim is positive about the care and programs for the children there, her photos show primitive conditions in the deteriorating facility.
“There are a lot of deaf children, the result of rubella. Rubella is highly contagious and vaccinations are scarce. There are also a lot of children who attend this school that have cerebral palsy caused by trauma births, lack of access and/or cost of medical care, and a lack of prenatal care.
She met the school principal, a former student of the school who went to the United States for college training and then returned to work here who herself is in a wheelchair from cerebral palsy.
“Before we entered each classroom she said, ‘Now, this is my favorite class.’ And it was easy to see why – the children beamed.”
Kim saw a boy, born without arms or legs, who holds a pencil in his mouth to draw and write. And a 16-year-old girl who was taught how to type on a computer keyboard using her tongue. In addition to academics, the school teaches its students to live independently. Its motto is “Never give up.”
Isenberg is forever changed. She’s making a PowerPoint to show when she speaks to church groups and clubs.
And get this. Even though her career is in real estate, her college training is not.
She grew up in West Hills, graduated from Bearden High School and from the University of Tennessee with a master’s degree in public health.
“My parents always taught me that if you have, then you give back – whether it’s time or money. I will make a difference (in Zimbabwe). It may be small. …”
The past 30 days have been huge for Kim Isenberg. She lost her mom and a degree of innocence. But she found her life’s purpose. And a motto: “Never give up.”
The Republic of Zimbabwe, previously the British colony called Southern Rhodesia, became independent under majority black leadership in 1980. Robert Mugabe consolidated power and ruled the country until his resignation in November 2017.
The country, once known as the “Jewel of Africa” for its prosperity, experienced private property confiscation, hyperinflation and massive corruption under Mugabe. Population actually declined from political turmoil, starvation and disease. AIDS is rampant, with many kids both orphaned and infected.
Four-Way award winner
In June, the Rotary Club of Knoxville recognized Kim Isenberg, a broker with Realty Executive Associates, as its 2019 Four-Way-Test Rotarian of the Year.
This award is given each year to newer club members who, in their personal and professional life, exemplify the qualities of Rotary’s “Four Way Test of the things we think, say and do” and embody the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self.” The questions of the four-way test are: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Isenberg, who has sponsored at least six new members to the club, chairs the Membership and World Rotary Day committees and is also serving at district level on the Membership Committee. As a former multi-year chair with the fundraising committee, she continues to serve and volunteer tirelessly in raising money for scholarships and other projects. She is also a weekly volunteer reader at Beaumont Magnet Academy, according to club publicist Brooks Clark.
While in Africa, Kim got word that her mother had died. Barbara Isenberg passed away on Sept. 16 of complications from HHT, a bleeding disorder. “She had been sick for years, but she always bounced back. She was like a cat that had more than nine lives.”
Barbara Isenberg was an account executive with WATE-TV until her retirement in 2003. She was active in the West Hills 10 O’Clock Gardeners, the West Hill Beautification Council and many civic and religious organizations over the years. She was a life member of Hadassah.
Survivors include husband Ron Isenberg; son and daughter-in-law, Kevin and Sarah Gelbman Isenberg and their son, Justin, of Atlanta; and daughter, Kim.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org