It pays to pay it forward - interview with Caitlin Crosby

river bennett ( photography river bennett)



His story had been one of depression and suicide attempts. He bought a key that was engraved with the word "survivor" on the first anniversary of his second suicide attempt, but after wearing it for a year he sadly lost it. He saw it as a sign because he could feel himself slipping back into his old ways and didn't want to be a survivor anymore. During this time someone found the key and gave it back to him to wear. He refused. He struggled through depression and suicide attempts that landed him in ICU, and then a psych ward for 52 days. As he recovered he remember the key. It was true - he was a survivor. He continued treatment and got well enough to leave. He noticed a girl in his ward who didn't speak, except for a few words. He remembered the key and decided that now it was time to pass it on. He wrote the girl a note that said how strong she was and that they both would survive. He wrapped up the key and gave it to her. 

Having lunch with Caitlin Crosby at Fred Segal in West Hollywood was a meeting I had been looking forward to for quite some time. She intrigued me - who was this woman who grew up in amongst Hollywood’s Who’s Who, a celebrity daughter who had been exposed to the real and ‘unglamous’ side of fame and "bombarded with a vanity world"? She rebelled against the mindsets that fame and celebrity status can bring. Instead of heading to the prestigious parties where everyone gathered to take the latest selfie, she went to Youth Group. It was there she discovered who she really was and why she was on the planet. 

As a singer/songwriter Caitlin wrote lyrics about her passions and toured the country with her songs. She was determined to love her personal flaws and start a movement that would encourage others to do the same. So she began to push the parameters of self-awareness and dig a little deeper. 

But it wasn't until one day on tour, when a hotel manager gave her an old, antique-looking key to unlock her room that the idea for a new project began to unlock in her heart. 

Caitlin had put the key on her necklace for safe keeping and after receiving so many comments on it throughout the day, she decided she was going to buy some keys, engrave words on them like ‘courage’, ‘hope’, and ‘love’ and sell them on tour on her merchandise table. She wanted people to buy a key that had a word on it that meant something to them personally.  She encouraged them to wear it, and own it, and when the time was right to pass the key on to whoever they thought needed it. The keys became known as The Giving Keys.

After noticing her top-selling product was the hand-engraved keys and "not my CDs!!" She decided to take the idea further but wasn't sure how. 

"I kept being told incredible stories of how people lives were being impacted by these keys. Stories like the one about a person passing a key on to a friend who was about to commit suicide and because of the key and the word that was represented didn't go through with killing themselves. I couldn't believe what I was hearing so I started a website where people could write their stories around The Giving Keys and share them with others." 

As The Giving Keys started to grow and the idea behind these stories of hope began to ripple across America, Caitlin wondered how she could make the vision move forward even more.

"I came out of church one Sunday and was walking down Hollywood Blvd. when I saw a homeless couple sitting under a umbrella with a sign that said, "Broke, Ugly and Hungry." I wanted to know their stories and offered to take them out to dinner." 

During this dinner Caitlin discovered that the girl was a Jewelry Maker. Straight away she knew this was the missing link to The Giving Keys project, and immediately offered them a business partnership. 

Over the last 3 years The Giving Keys has gone from strength to strength. It has employed 28 people who have struggled with homelessness, helped 22 move into permanent housing and collected thousands of pay-it-forward stories. Today The Giving Keys employs over 50 employees, and their products are sold at Nordstrom, Anthropology, Fred Sagan, Kitson and nearly 2000 retail stores around the world. 

So, sitting down and shooting a bunch of questions to Caitlin in West Hollywood at Fred Segal was always going to be a hit. I walked into a warm welcome of waitresses and waiters - everyone seemed to know her. I remember someone saying to me that she was the ‘Belle of LA’ and everybody loved her. Caitlin pointed out that this was her very first place of employment - "right behind that bar" and, "this was the first retail store that took on the giving keys".  She was everything I knew her to be. She was beautiful that's for sure, determined (I could see it raging in her eyes), and beautifully down-to-earth – all which gives any woman a sense of balance. 


My childhood was ... Creative. 

My mother always told me ... To help those less-fortunate. 

As a teenager I ... Was awkward. 

Women are ... Beautiful & complicated.

Flaws are ... Perfect.

The Giving Keys is ... A gift from God.

The main thing my job has taught me ... That I need to slow down and train myself to be present in the moment. 

I wish people knew ... Most people are more insecure than we know (like me). 

The love of my life is ... My hubby, Colin Benward.

First impressions are ... Sometimes helpful. 

Using your platform to invest in others is ... The only good way to use a platform.

I never knew ... How much non-stop work went into being a founder / CEO.

But now I know ... That although I still need to hustle and keep everything on track, I also need to work on having a healthy work/life balance. 

The best advice I was ever given ... Don’t be so hard on yourself. 

My defining personally trait is ... Hmm.. Quirky & loving?

I'm obsessed with ... Cheese.

I'm happiest when ... I'm with my best girlfriends eating dinner and talking at a cute restaurant.

'Must have' foods while pregnant ... Bagel & cream cheese, Greek yogurt with apples, banana bread.

Motherhood is ... A whole new world and journey I'm soooo excited to embark on.

Things that keep me awake at night ... Work emails and stress from balls being dropped at work.

The last, someone-pinch-me-moment was ... I met Oprah and she put her hand on my pregnant belly:)

I know I'm home when ... I can take off my makeup, get in sweats or a bathrobe, and lay on the couch zoning out watching reality television.

Music is ... Soothing to my soul.

Lyrics are ... Important. 

Humanity is ... Beautiful but in need of care.

My motto in life is ... "Be wise as a serpent but gentle as a dove." and a quote by Mother Teresa - "Don't wait for leaders. Do it alone. Person to person."

The future is ... Hopeful






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