25 years ago today, I started a journey that would forever change my life.
In May 1989 I graduated from William Jewell College with a psychology degree and a passion for helping children. My first 2 ½ years out of college, I worked with runaway youth. The challenge was to send runaways back home to their family and provide the appropriate support services, or take children away from their family and place them in to state custody and find living arrangements until they were old enough to be on their own. I will admit…it was a depressing and frustrating experience. The state-run system was not working and I rarely witnessed a positive outcome. One Saturday afternoon, I sat down with a 13-year-old boy who was running away from an ugly situation. He needed to be placed into state custody. When I told him that he would most likely never see his family again, he responded with, “Can I still see my big brother?” From conducting the interview, I knew that he did not have any siblings. I then learned that he was talking about his “Big Brother” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program. I was inspired. This was my first exposure to the BBBS mission. In a moment of complete chaos and crisis and change, this boy truly only cared about a volunteer. I had no idea that a volunteer could be that impactful. I watched this boy’s Big Brother interact with him over the next few weeks and knew that I had to get involved with BBBS. When I shared this story with one of our counselors, she informed me that she had a friend who worked with BBBS and knew there was an opening at the BBBS agency for an entry level Case Manager position. So, I applied for the position.
On March 16, 1992, I started my first day with BBBS as a Case Manager. The first day was a brief orientation and some paperwork. The next day was St. Patrick’s Day and our office was located in Westport. Because of the disruption of the parade, the office closed early and I joined a few co-workers for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities down the street. 48 hours on the job and I had found my home!
The real connection started the next day when I started reading all of the files for the Bigs and Littles in matches that I would be responsible for supporting and encouraging. I couldn’t believe the amazing stories and the positive feedback from the Bigs, Littles and Parents. It seemed like everyone I talked to had great things to say about BBBS. It was a unique social service setting to be in a situation in which everyone wanted to be a part of the program. I was so ready to interview children and adult volunteers and start matching the two right people together to create life-changing friendships.
Meeting the children and families who sought out the BBBS program and then meeting the adult volunteers who were eager to share their time to make a difference was energizing. The BBBS mission was based on common sense and logic. The outcomes were impressive. I had clearly made the right choice. Obviously, not every match was perfect. The challenge to help strengthen a match or find a resource for a child or family facing adversity was appealing and rewarding. I took great pride in my new career and set out to be the best Case Manager possible. At the time, we were a staff of 12 people serving about 250 children annually. I was the new guy on the team, until the next new person joined the staff in July 1992, when Tina Hurlock was hired. This new hire would change my life (more about that later).
As a Case Manager, I was motivated to make an impact on the agency. I immediately created a new Child/Family Orientation program to update and refresh our materials. Our agency shared this new program with other BBBS agencies and after presenting at a national conference, several agencies across the country adopted the materials I had created. I was proud to have an impact within the first few months on the job.
In the first year, I developed the largest caseload and set records for the most new matches made in a day, week and month. In the second year on the job, I was also exposed to our largest annual fundraiser, Bowl For Kids’ Sake. I was intrigued by special event fundraising and recruited a few of my family and friends to be part of the event in that first year. The following year, I took a new approach and started recruiting even more friends and family, along with every Big Brother, Big Sister and agency supporter I could contact. As a staff member, we were given a goal to recruit 10 Bowl For Kids’ Sake captains. By the time the event ended, I had recruited 50 teams. The next year, I expanded my approach and set the all-time record by recruiting 111 team captains. Naturally, I started getting more involved with special events and volunteered to help the fundraising staff by creating new recruitment materials and even building an elaborate score board system that was used to display fundraising results real-time at the event.
In 1994, I went through a challenging time in my personal life. Going through a divorce with two small children was tough. My two boys were the most important part of my life. I was a young Dad who was committed to being a father above all else. With my boys by my side, we learned to balance schedules and find ways to get everything done. My boys, Tyler and Blake, became intimately familiar with BBBS. It is amazing what can be accomplished with the right priorities and drive. I was able to keep moving forward as a Case Manager and took on even more responsibilities at the agency, volunteering to help in every department.
In 1995, Tina Hurlock was advancing through the agency ranks and was playing a large role in special events fundraising (among many other things). I spent a great deal of time with Tina and we eventually started dating. Tina and I became an amazing team. I have often said that Tina is the single-best employee and co-worker I have ever met. She is also the most remarkable person I know. We got engaged in 1995 and married in 1996.
After nearly 5 years as a Case Manager, I was hitting my stride and was enjoying the additional challenges of being involved in multiple departments. I was approached by then Executive Director, Roy Morrill, who asked me to consider filling the open position of Special Events Director. I initially passed, pointing out that we needed an experienced professional as the agency had missed special events goals and was struggling financially. Roy convinced me that I was the perfect person for the job and I accepted the challenge. Giving up my Case Manager responsibilities and no longer working directly with the children and families was an adjustment, but I was excited about taking on something new and important to the agency.
I started as the Special Events Director in 1997 and was responsible for leading all event fundraising for the next decade. I thoroughly enjoyed this new challenge. I was able to develop a whole new skill set and loved the thrill of a successful event. I learned to enjoy asking for donations and coordinating staff and volunteers to achieve a goal. There were two different special event seasons when the marketing staff position was unfilled. This gave me an opportunity to use my creative side to develop logos, create event flyers and posters, generate newsletters, etc. Our Bowl For Kids’ Sake event was revived and grew tremendously. Our struggling auction became a success and favorite of our supporters. We were able to introduce the Legacy Invitational as one of the regions premier client entertainment golf events. We gained the reputation of an agency that conducted fun, first-class events. Tina was a tremendous resource during this time, while also advancing her role, serving as the Finance Director and also managing all IT systems and data base management.
In 1999, while still managing all agency special events, I was also asked to take on the role of Program Director. Serving as the Program Director allowed me to oversee our largest team and develop my management skills. I was able to create new systems for employee accountability, and we developed a whole new process for volunteer intake and improved our customer service. It was a unique challenge to take on both special events and programs, but it gave me invaluable experience as a leader. In 2002, the position of Associate Executive Director was created in hopes that I would eventually serve as the agency Executive Director.
When Roy Morrill announced his retirement in 2007, I was pleased to be given the opportunity to move into the role of CEO of BBBSKC. My many different roles during my first 15 years prepared me to be a well-rounded BBBS employee. Once again, Tina was there for me to prepare me to better understand the financial statements and financial needs of the agency. However, we had to make a difficult decision. To avoid any perception of a conflict of interest by having the CEO and Finance Director as a married couple, Tina agreed to leave the agency. This was the greatest challenge I have faced over the past 25 years. Not only was I losing our best employee, but also I was losing my most reliable friend and co-worker over the past 15 years. Not to mention that Tina absolutely loved her job and was proud of all that she had accomplished as she also advanced through the agency from entry-level to a senior leader. Our family is committed to the mission of BBBS and Tina was willing to make this change to help the agency. Tina and I became a Big Couple that summer and we were matched to our Little Brother, Jesse. Jesse was in the 2nd grade when we met. He is now a Junior in high school and is very much a part of our family. Tina and I grew up together at BBBS and we will forever be grateful for the opportunity to work closely together for 15 years.
The last ten years in the role of CEO have been absolutely incredible. We have received numerous local and national awards. We have nearly tripled the operating budget, paid off debt, doubled the staff count, and increased our services to children by 80%. We have moved into a remarkable new building, and we have elevated the status of BBBS in this city. But I am most proud of the team we have developed. This is a remarkable team of professionals who share a passion for the BBBS mission. Today we are a staff of 45 serving nearly 2,000 children annually. I have enjoyed many different roles over the past 25 years, but watching the staff develop and grow is my favorite role to date. With low turnover and high employee engagement, we have many long-term staff members who can also tell their story of growing up with BBBS.
We are poised to do great things as an agency in the upcoming months and years. I am so proud to have been able to share this journey with my family. When you come to a BBBS event, expect to see Tina, Blake and Tyler…and now our daughter-in-law, Lauren, and our grandson, Addison. We are in this as a family and we are just getting started. One of my proud BBBS moments as a father came in 2013 when we introduced a fundraising campaign at an event. Two of the very first founding members of the Match Makers monthly giving program are my two sons, Tyler and Blake.
My family has done well over the past 25 years. Tina now serves as an Associate Vice President at TranSystems Corporation. Tyler is an attorney at Adam & McGrevey. Blake founded his first company at age 20 and now serves as the Founder and CEO of his second company, OpenDorse. Lauren is an English teacher and the head basketball coach at Shawnee Mission East, and Addison is simply the cutest grandkid ever.