For about an hour every day, Kate Manners sits in front of a window looking out her Lancaster Township home and paints.
At 32 years old, she hadn’t really painted too much but had always loved art. It’s relaxing to her, and she says it brings her happiness.
Manners was born with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that affects movement, muscles and posture. She is also legally blind.
Like many others in Lancaster County, Manners picked up a new hobby when COVID-19 cases were first reported in Pennsylvania in March. Thanks to her mom, Beth, she began painting birdhouses.
Eight months later, Kate's newfound passion has blossomed into a way to raise money for over two dozen charities and nonprofits, while still giving her an outlet to be creative.
“Kate’s Custom Creations,” has given Kate a new sense of purpose, Beth said.
It began after Beth went on a shopping spree at Michaels craft store, stocking up on paint, tie-dye materials and other craft supplies she thought Kate might like, anticipating that the adult program was going to close down as the coronavirus outbreak loomed.
Among those supplies was a birdhouse.
“She was pretty resistant at first, just when I brought home a birdhouse, she was like, ‘Really?’ ” Beth said.
Kate said art helps her express herself and how she feels.
She had a great art teacher in elementary school, Kate said, but her grandmother, Gurley Manners, was also an artist and art teacher. A large portrait of Manners hangs next to Kate’s desk, and her artwork is peppered throughout Kate’s room.
Kate’s desk sits in front of a window in her room, with one of her first painted creations hanging from a rhododendron bush outside her window. The birdhouse was alive with visitors on a Friday last month.
Kate uses sponge brushes to paint, as it helps her control the process. With an apron full of splattered paint, Kate calls out new colors she wants to use, and Beth fills her easel. She spends about an hour working on each birdhouse, usually spun around by Beth who stands nearby.
“Just to see her excited about something, and to really have that satisfaction that she’s doing something of purpose,” brings joy to Beth, she said.
When Kate sold her first birdhouse, she wanted to use the money to donate back to some organizations that have helped her.
Now, for every $200 she makes, she donates half. The first donation went to the Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development, a physical therapy center in Lancaster.
Kate spent the first half of her life at the Schreiber Center, from the time she was 11 months old until she was 19.
“It was really fun when she gave her first check to Schreiber’s,” Beth said. “They happened to have the ducky (the mascot) out that day and … that was just really neat.”
Kate has also donated more than $1,000 to 24 different organizations, from Hospice to COVID-19 response funds to Lancaster Public Library to Habitat for Humanity.
Kate's venture has also turned into a family affair — from attaching the hangers to the tops of the birdhouses, adding a coat of wood sealer or seeing the final package off to its new home, Kate’s mom, dad and brother all help out.
To date, Kate said she has shipped painted birdhouses to eight different states, including Texas and Florida.
Every so often, Kate gets a photo from one of her clients — that small gesture always makes her smile, she said.
“My clients, they absolutely love my work,” she said.
Kate’s always been a huge fan of the ABC reality TV show “Shark Tank,” where businesses and ideas are pitched to high-profile investors.
When asked who she would love to partner with, Kate said either Lori Greiner or Barbara Corcoran.
Beth said that Kate’s favorite line for months was, “I just gotta grind it out.”
She’s marketing herself on her Facebook page, sharing videos and pictures when she’s preparing for a sale.
When Kate first started producing the birdhouses. she would sit at her desk all day. Beth said they had to start to put limits on the time spent painting, because, Kate interjected, “I would do absolutely nothing else.”
“It’s important for people to have a creative outlet,” Kate continued.
Now, Kate has expanded her creations to include Christmas ornaments, wooden boats, trees, and other wooden accessories. She smiles while painting and often debates with her mom which color to add next and when a certain creation is done.
Or, when it’s time for the finishing touches, which are usually added by either Beth or one of Kate’s attendants.
“It’s neat to see her creativity,” Beth said. “But I think the other part is, we’re so proud of her that she’s willing to give back.”