A tapestry of love
SHELBY COUNTY — As we navigate through life, the strands of who we are intertwine with those of others and form relationships of the tightest and strongest fabric. Each year, the Mother of the Year Award recognizes one mom from each state across the U.S. For the second consecutive year, a Harlan area mom has been selected for this honor: Kayla Weis represents the 2024 Iowa Mother of the Year, as a mother who has brought communities together and woven strong and beautiful supports around her family.
Weis has seamlessly connected her impact in many areas of the community, serving as a teacher at the Harlan Community High School, the high school theater director, the founder of the Harlan Community Theatre, a coordinator of a moms group called MOPS, a church member who sings in the choir, and a cancer survivor. She does this all while embracing the journey of motherhood.
“There are so many people behind me. This award is a reflection of how much my family, friends, and community have allowed me to do while still being a mother. I cannot do any of what I do without them.”
Weis lives in the home she grew up in with her husband Jason and three children: Georgia (7), Emmett (5), and Jonah (8 months).
“Behind this mother of the year, there is a father of the year,” she said of Jason.
Weis grew up with her two brothers, Randy and Michael Kaufmann, and sister, Mary (Hoch), on their family farm outside of Westphalia. Her parents, Lee and Julie Kaufmann, raised their children to work hard for their goals, but above all, they wanted them to feel loved.
“My mom always says, the most important thing you can do as a parent is make sure your children know they are loved. You can make mistakes, as long as they know they’re loved. Growing up, we definitely knew we were,” Weis attributed to her parents, who are a large influence and support.
When asked how being a mom shaped her life, Weis reflected that it has not so much shaped it, but rather added to it. Weis models for her kids to go after goals, dreams, and passions; Weis has many of these. She makes it work to have her children be a part of it all. She recalled how she wore Georgia in her sling while volunteering as the co-director of the high school theater in 2016. The next year she took over the program, and baby Emmett would be strapped in next.
In 2019, Weis started the Harlan Community Theater which has since grown to be a vibrant and thriving part of the community. Her kids are surrounded by the discipline and magic of the productions each year.
Weis also became president of the Harlan Area MOPS and continues to help lead the group of moms. Both Weis’s sister and mother participate in the group, and it has become a family in many ways. “I love how we have created an environment where we uplift and encourage one another and give advice and support motivated by love and friendship… I’ve learned that you can’t do it alone. As humans, we need to support and lean on each other.”
When Weis was diagnosed with cancer in 2022 just a few weeks after having found out she was pregnant with Jonah, she stitched together another chapter of silver linings and deeper relationships. Through blogs, she became a light of inspiration to those following her story as she fought cancer, carried her growing baby, and continued on with teaching and directing. During this time, Weis did one of the hardest things to do and asked for help. An outpouring of responses from all the places she had given to came back to her.
“Because of chemotherapy and surgery to remove my breast cancer, I’m unable to breastfeed. But every few hours, I fill my baby’s bottle with donated breast milk from wonderful, generous women -- friends, acquaintances, and women I don’t even know who want to help. [It] fills my heart to overflowing,” Weis said, tearfully.
The more life hands her, the more Weis’s compassion has grown. She looks at her largest legacy as always trying to do her best to make positive impacts and to support and connect to those around her, especially those who need it most.
“I think the biggest hardship isn’t some tragic incident. It’s growing up or living in a situation where you don’t have support. Because I have so much support, no one needs to feel sorry for me. It’s the kids who don’t have supportive home lives who most need our sympathy and help.”
Every day, Weis defines herself by striving for excellence – as a devoted mom, a passionate teacher, and an exceptional individual. Embracing the messy, unpredictable craft of motherhood, she leads with vulnerability, weaving threads from the community into a beautiful tapestry. The Mother of the Year award and her battle with cancer are mere fragments; it’s the daily, concerted efforts that shape a picture of support and connection. When her kids see their mom, they do not just see her; they see the villages she has wrapped around them, a testament to the warmth of her touch and the power of her love.