Those looking for rising community artists need not look further than Woodbury resident Kayte Barton. She started painting when she was looking for a calming outlet that could center her when she was moving too fast, but soon discovered that her still lifes—particularly holiday-themed pieces—were popular among family, friends and community members. Just a year later, Barton is receiving requests for holiday card designs. Though “artist” is a new title for Barton, it’s just one of her many earned titles, along with advocate, Olympian, mentor, delegate—just as autism is just one part of Barton’s identity.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Barton has a Midas touch; her name appears among the lead credits for some of Woodbury’s most beloved events. Bringing the Polar Plunge to Woodbury was Barton’s dream for the 18 years leading up to 2015, when the first icy plunge took place at Carver Lake, with all proceeds going to the Minnesota Special Olympics. Barton led the charge for fundraising, and around 550 people joined the cause for a record-setting attendance.
When Barton saw the need for a Special Olympics basketball team in Woodbury in 1998, she led fundraising to start the Blazing Stars and looked to community leaders for help. Gene Johnson, executive director of the Woodbury Athletic Association, remembers first working with Barton to purchase the team’s first set of uniforms. Johnson has since worked with Barton on numerous projects including Woodbury Days, where Barton was named 2011 Volunteer of the Year. “It is Kayte’s path to make sure everyone is good and to make good things happen,” Johnson says. “She’s an incredible asset for our city.”
Barton’s athletic talents rival her leadership; she attended the Special Olympics World Games in 1999 and came home with two gold medals and a silver in swimming and was awarded the Special Olympics Female Athlete of the Year award. She later received the Athlete of the Year award in 2008 from the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program.
“The Special Olympics made a huge difference in who I am and my confidence,” Barton says. “Those experiences helped me learn I could be a leader and make things happen.” Along with competing, Barton has made it her mission to improve the Special Olympics program by implementing athlete leadership and health and wellness programs. In 2017, the mental health initiative she started for Special Olympics Minnesota will be part of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. Special Olympics Minnesota vice president of area programs and initiatives Mike Kane has worked closely with Barton to develop these programs. “Kayte is absolutely instrumental in not only our state’s Special Olympics program progress, but national and global level progress,” Kane says. “She inspires every one of us to make things better.”
It’s Barton’s mission to make Woodbury better, too. In June, she attended the All America City Conference in Denver as a Woodbury delegate, making Woodbury the first city represented by a delegate with a disability. There she presented initiatives Woodbury has implemented to become more inclusive. “I’ve grown up in Woodbury, and when I first moved here it was not very inclusive,” Barton says. “In the past five years I have seen this city change so much. It’s now a community that accepts everyone, regardless of disabilities.”
Next on Barton’s list is the expansion of adaptive leagues in Woodbury, which she undoubtedly will achieve. Barton’s advice for dreamers who want to become doers? “Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. Take action and be patient—change takes time. Be patient and you’ll start to see it.”
Woodbury Polar Plunge
On February 11, join hundreds in the great plunge into frozen Carver Lake to raise money for the Special Olympics teams. Sponsor a jump or take the plunge at plungemn.org.
Woodbury’s Special Olympic teams are always looking for new volunteers. Learn more at the website here.