Kattalistt Group president James Malphrus, left, talks with group member Anthony Luke about future plans. The Kattalistt Group volunteers and originates projects designed to make the Albany community better. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Not one given to grandiose gestures, statements or plans, when James Malphrus was putting together the nuts and bolts of what would become The Kattalistt Group, he took the low-key approach.
“One of the prevailing economic theories of American politics in recent years has been the ‘trickle-down theory,’” Malphrus, the president/CEO of the local Kattalists, said. “To obtain the nexus for what we wanted to do — to effect positive change in the community — I kind of came to the conclusion that we needed ‘trickle up,’ to impact the bottom and work up.
“I have very little hope that we’re going to do things that make changes nationally, and there’s little chance that our change will expand to the state level. But we can make positive changes on the local level. We can have an impact right here.”
Malphrus started the Kattalistt Group in December 2011, around the time the Occupy Wall Street movement was in full swing in New York. His interest grew from the outcry for change that became widespread on social media.
He recruited some like-minded individuals who were interested in helping bring about positive local change and started a vague, intentionally not-clearly-defined campaign to promote the Kattalistt concept. Malphrus settled on a name that is a variant spelling of the word “catalyst.”
“In chemistry, a catalyst forces a reaction between two inert chemicals,” Malphrus said. “That’s what we want to be, a catalyst for change. We’re interested in changing our community.”
As the interest in Malphrus’ nascent organization grew, so did its involvement. When the call went out for volunteers to help with Lee County’s cleanup of the Kinchafoonee Creek, 30 responded. And while the Kattalistts now include a group of 15-24 “core members,” the organic nature of the organization is such that it generally attracts plenty of volunteers for its projects who are not directly affiliated with the group.
“‘Organic’ is the perfect word for how the group has evolved,” Malphrus said. “We’ll put the word out on our Facebook page and other social media, and folks just jump in and help out.”
The Kattalistts have played major rolls in the Flint RiverQuarium/Darton State College “Zombie Run” and “Color Run” fundraisers and have helped out with FlintFest activities, cleanup of the downtown Art Park, the Albany Rivers Alive cleanup and the Pecha Kucha Nights Out events. Future plans include a masquerade ball, an event to kick off the “100 Block” celebration, a black-tie dinner and a possible “Get Mortified” writing symposium.
“We’ve got more irons in the fire right now than we know what to do with,” Kattalistt Group member Anthony Luke said. “We’ve developed such a positive background in the community, there’s not a month that goes by that we’re not volunteering to be a part of some event.”
The Kattalistts also hope to lease the former IRS building at 110-112 Pine Ave. and, in addition to managing their own retail/consignment space, sub-lease other rooms in the 44-room, 11,176-square-foot structure to interested groups and businesses.
“There’s this misconception some people have,” Luke says. “They say, ‘If you’re a nonprofit, why do you want to start a for-profit business?’ We’re not going to try and make a lot of money. Any money we make will go back into building expenses or to help us get involved in more community events.”
Malphrus admits that he’s heard the cynical comments of some in the community. That, he declares, doesn’t deter him or the Kattalistts.
“People have been burned here in the past, so there’s a great deal of cynicism,” he says. “It’s understandable. There are skeptics — there are always skeptics — but there are plenty of people who, when we talk with them about what we do, they say, ‘I get it.’
“I could make this real sweeping comment and say, ‘The Kattalistt Group wants to make the world a better place.’ But that’s not us. What we want to do is make this community a better place. We’ll plant the seeds, and from there we’ll see where they grow.”