In many ways, serving the Billings community was just an extension of Katie Edwards' life.
She grew up in the small central Montana community of Denton, and it's the kind of place she said where neighbors just helped each other naturally, never really giving it a second thought.
And so she helped, not necessarily giving much thought when she moved to Billings in 2007.
But she certainly gave more than a second thought when she and her husband, Chris Klein, adopted their first family for Christmas.
"I was shocked and saddened by what the children asked for from Santa," Edwards said. "While most children were requesting toys or the latest technologies, this family requested coats, hats, gloves and gift cards for gas in order to get them from school or work.
"This was one of the first real eye-opening experiences for me and it broke my heart to think that these kids had to worry about staying warm versus simply being a kid. I realized that there are so many families in need in our community and although our support was minimal, we certainly felt that even the smallest contribution can hopefully make a difference in someone's life."
Edwards has tried to continue that outreach and difference making by volunteering for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County, the United Way of Yellowstone County and as a supporter of Family Service, YWCA, Special Olympics, Angel Tree and Relay for Life.
"I absolutely love it. It brings me joy," Edwards said.
For her volunteering and community service, Edwards has been named one of the 20 Exceptional Women in 2016.
She also credits her employer — First Interstate Bank — for allowing her and her colleagues to get involved in the community by volunteering. Not just that, they have opportunities to volunteer on company time.
You have free articles remaining.
"They encourage us to be involved. It's part of the culture of First Interstate," Edwards said. "And it helps me keep the pulse of what's going on in the community."
It was at a United Way "Day of Caring" that she began getting more involved.
She worked with the Special Olympics basketball team with her husband Chris Klein. Edwards had played basketball for the University of Montana. And, she was amazed at how much passion and practice the athletes put in during practice.
"That was some of the most fun six weeks we've ever had," Edwards said. "The work ethic was so amazing."
But it's not only Special Olympics she's passionate about; she speaks with the same kind of zeal for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"I believe in mentors and I believe in youth," Edwards said.
It was those mentors and coaches in basketball that helped her.
"Even during the tough decisions in life, I still find myself asking, 'What would make them proud?'" Edwards said.
It was University of Montana coach Robin Selvig who taught her and her teammates: "You may not be the best; you may not be the fastest; but you can always be the hardest worker."
"I probably wouldn't be as involved if it wasn't for the flexibility offered by First Interstate Bank as well as the encouragement from co-workers to join and volunteer with them," Edwards said.