Bob Clyatt, the man who started Kids’ Chance in Valdosta, GA back in 1988, can tell a compelling story. He told the audience at last week’s National Kids’ Chance Conference in Charlotte about the challenges they faced starting the organization and the fact that it almost didn’t happen at all. And his story was a much broader example of how seemingly unconnected events can cause huge ripples of improvement throughout a community, country, and world.
Kids’ Chance, in case you do not know, is a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to children of injured workers.
Clyatt, a workers’ compensation defense attorney, developed the idea for Kids’ Chance after meeting 2 children of injured workers in 1987 at hearings in which he participated. One was a young girl in clean, but worn and tattered clothing and the other was a 16-year-old boy who had to drop out of school to take his injured father’s job harvesting lumber. He told the audience that he simply couldn’t get those children out of his head and decided that something had to be done. The cycle of poverty for these people was untenable to him.
Setting up the corporation was easy. Getting the needed 501(c)3 status from the Internal Revenue Service, however, was another matter. Despite repeated efforts, the IRS continually rejected their efforts. They kept demanding more information, and Clyatt says he and the people he had recruited for the effort were flummoxed, as they had sent them everything they knew to send. He came very close at one point to giving up, thinking all the hassle simply wasn’t worth the trouble.
Clyatt is a very religious man and made numerous comments during the story about how he felt God was telling him to get this project done. Still, he stopped his attempts and let the project lag. Until, that is, one fateful day at church. It seems God was persistent and had amped up the message just a tad.
The sermon that day was “The Things That Are Left Undone.” The pastor preached about two types of sin: the sins of commission meaning active engagement in sinful activity, and the sins of omission, which Clyatt saw as his particular iniquity. He had failed to act on an idea he credited to God, and he resolved that day to remedy the situation. He was not going to leave idle that very important “thing that was left undone.”
The details are not important for this story but suffice it to say that Clyatt went the extra mile and successfully attained the 501(c)3 designation (actually, he went about 500 extra miles round trip. Clyatt drove to Atlanta and parked himself in the IRS agent’s office, assuring her he would not leave without the approval). Kids’ Chance became a reality, and today, 34 years later, the organization is in all 50 states and has awarded over 9,300 scholarships totaling $33 million dollars.
And they are just warming up.
I have heard Clyatt tell this story before, but each time pick up a bit more detail. The reason Kids’ Chance has been such a success is that it doesn’t just help kids. It improves society and makes stronger communities. It provides relief for families damaged by a traumatic accident. And the kids themselves go on to touch thousands of people, as doctors, lawyers, nurses, social workers, and more. The trajectory of their life changes completely, and their children, and their children’s children, along with the communities in which they live, will be far different than they otherwise might have been.
And somewhere in Valdosta, GA sits a minister who has no clue that a single sermon he delivered 35 years ago generated a tidal wave of change that has affected thousands of people and changed the world for the better. Or perhaps, in his heart, he knows. Such is the power of faith and the willingness to challenge the status quo, when better ideas exist just below the surface and are simply waiting to be “done.”