Rallying Around the Kids’ Chance Mission
Welcome to the A.I.M. Mutual Insurance Companies’ podcast. I'm Mark Millett, the senior manager of Human Resources here at A.I.M. Mutual, and I want to welcome all of our listeners, and thank you for taking the time to check out our podcast dedicated to the emerging issues in workers' compensation. So today we're talking about an initiative all of us here at A.I.M. Mutual strongly believe in and one that aligns so closely with what we do, and that's Kids' Chance. Here with me today is Dan Landers, A.I.M. Mutual's President and CEO, and, Dan and I have had the opportunity to do a few of these together. So, it's great to have him back but we're really excited about our special guest today, and that's Vicki Burkhart. In addition to being the Founder and CEO of The More Than Giving Company, Vicki continues to serve as the Executive Director of Kids' Chance of America. She and Dan have worked together before and share a commitment to the Kids' Chance mission, and we hope by the end of this podcast, everyone out there will be inspired to help us get the word out across the workers' compensation insurance community. So, I want to welcome you both, Dan and Vicki.
Thanks, Mark. Good to be back.
Thank you, Mark. And thanks for having me.
Absolutely. Vicki, it's a real pleasure to meet you and learn a little bit about your background and impact on so many important non-profits. To get started, can you tell us a little bit about Kids' Chance, in general terms? How did the concept get started and gain momentum and capture the attention of workers' comp professionals all over the United States?
We really owe that all to Bob Clyatt who is a workers' compensation attorney in Valdosta, Georgia. And he founded Kids' Chance in 1988, almost 35 years ago now. In his work, I think he witnessed and he shares often at some of our public conferences, the stories of seeing children who were really shattered by the serious or fatally injured parent and the repercussions that came from that event. He took it upon himself really to engage the workers' comp section of the Georgia Bar to work towards incorporating a Kids' Chance of Georgia. He will tell you the story of endless hours in the non-profit charitable organization Office of the Georgia State commerce and all of the obstacles that he had to overcome to actually found the organization. But once he had the 501c3 and was able to begin to raise dollars, he really started a series of scholarships for children of injured Georgia workers so that they could pursue educational plans. He actually, with another industry icon, Doug McCoy, began to reach out to other states. It really started primarily in the South, from Georgia to the Carolinas, across to Alabama, Louisiana; the bar associations were often involved. The workers' comp sections in those states were often involved, but we really give the credit I think to Bob Clyatt as the Founder and Doug, his Johnny Apple Seed partner, for planting the seeds of Kids Chance, really throughout the country.
So how did you become involved?
Well, that's a really funny story. (laugh), actually, it goes back to my Maid of Honor College pal for four years who ended up creating a nursing company that took care of injured workers. So she was in the workers' comp space. She introduced me to a colleague in Pennsylvania who was working with a group of volunteers trying to create a Kids' Chance organization. And at that point, it was very early in the More Than Giving days, and I was just getting started with my own company. And I drove out to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and met with these volunteers and became immediately enthralled with the Kids' Chance mission and the vision that these volunteers had for making an impact on students. They had very little money. I think there were seven of them at the time, maybe $7,000 in their treasury. I took a chance on them because they certainly didn't have a lot of money to spend. They took a chance on me, and I'm happy to tell you that I'm going be traveling out to Kids' Chance, Pennsylvania next Friday to celebrate their 25th anniversary. They're now funding about 63 scholarships to the tune of 300 plus thousand dollars a year. So that's where I started and ultimately navigated to the national organization.
Awesome. From that one person in Georgia. Right.
One person in Georgia to that one person in Pennsylvania, and it's been 21 years with Kids' Chance
Yeah. Your passion is obvious.
It's, it's just a great organization with great people in a phenomenal industry that has now taken on such a national presence that you just feel like you're in with family no matter what state you're in. No matter where your conference is. So it's just a fabulous, a fabulous place to support as a non-profit professional.
Yeah, absolutely. Dan, I know Kids' Chances is, a passion for you and personal for you. And you were directly involved in starting the New Hampshire chapter back in 2017. So talk about how, why this cause resonates so much with you and where does it fit in with the A.I.M. Mutual business philosophy?
Thanks Mark and Vicki, you know, great story. Love it. And, I kind of call you our Johnny Appleseed because you really you were so instrumental in helping us in New Hampshire get this going. So thank you very much. Yeah. So, Mark, I was approached by a longtime, very good friend of mine who's one of our partners at A.I.M. Mutual, who does some utilization review and case management -- Sebastian Grasso from the Windham Group. And he talks to me on the phone, he says “Hey, what are you doing next week” or whatever day it was. And I'm like, “Hey, nothing, what's going on?” He's says “Well, we're going to start a chapter for Kids' Chance in New Hampshire.” Now, I had heard of Kids' Chance, I didn't know a lot about it, but you know, if Sebastian has an idea it's going to happen.
So just let me know when to show up and I'll be there. So we got a group together. I think there were six or eight of us, maybe, something like that. And it was a great mix. And, Vicki, you said it, this, this cause brings everybody together. So I was there, there were some of my competitors there, there were some defense attorneys, there was a regulator you know, everybody shows up for this because it's a great thing and it's a great organization for a cause that, you know, you can't find a bad thing about helping people in that situation. And, for me, you know, I've been in the workers' comp business for a long time and I've been at A.I.M. Mutual for a long time, and part of our mission is to always take the best care of our workers that we can.
And we do that, but why not take care of their families too? It really, it was just the next step and it's such a good one and logical one and it was just a natural fit. So, you know, we worked very, very hard for a long time to get everything established. And Vicki and her folks at the national association were so helpful. And I know we had a number of calls with Vicki and other folks and we say “We feel like we're not getting anywhere. We don't know what we're doing.” (She says) You guys are doing fine. You're fine. And by the time we get everything done, you know, we've given out I think three scholarships over the last three years and to three different people, but that's a running, right? So we give scholarships now, and the support is great.
They appreciate it, they love it. We get to feel pretty good about ourselves for helping folks. And it was a great experience for me. I've since stepped away from the board and actually was succeeded by Andrew Burton, one of our claims supervisors at A.I.M. Mutual, because he was one of those guys that I always kind of went to to say, Hey, we need a scholarship recipient, we need this, we need that. And he just started going. I said, You know what, Andrew? You're the guy. Let's go. So, again, it's spreading the word organically that way, but, it's been a great experience for me. It's been a great experience for A.I.M. Mutual, starting New Hampshire, and we've been supporting the Massachusetts chapter as well. And, just this past year in one of our company-wide meetings, I made a commitment to support all of the New England chapters, which is our footprint business. So we've become active in all the chapters. And, we'll continue that and increase that as time goes on.
So, fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Awesome. So let's talk a little bit about the scholarships. My understanding is that families can apply for a Kids' Chance scholarship at any time. And, they don't need to wait until kids are seniors in high school. A child could be a toddler at the time a parent is seriously or fatally injured on the job. So, Vicki, can you tell us how that works and was that always the plan from the beginning?
I don't believe it was the plan from the beginning, Mark, and I was there when we started to struggle with how to reach the kids. You know, even after 35 years under our belts, we still struggle to find the students that are eligible for the state scholarships. I think what we came to determine was that many of the dependents were just simply falling through the cracks because they were so young at the time of the injury or the fatality that no one was thinking about college at two years old in the middle of a crisis. The last thing you're thinking of is, how am I going to send my kids to college and still these kids are all eligible for Kids' Chance scholarships. So we created a program called Planning for the Future, and this allows dependents to enter into a database at any age, newborn through college age.
We maintain their contact information and we actually reach out to the guardian who gives us the email and contact information twice a year to make sure that that information stays current. And then the system itself will tag a submission when that dependent reaches 16 years of age. And that record is then sent directly to the state in which the workers' comp claim was made. They then take over the stewardship of that potential applicant, and see he or she through the application process, answering questions, etcetera. All you need to enter the Planning for the Future program is a workers' comp claim number; that really is the only determinant that unlocks the online system. It's what is included in any of the paper forms that are submitted. It's as simple as just adding the guardian's contact information, the first names and ages of the students, and then we take it from there. We have seen just under a thousand submissions come through Planning for the Future since we began the program in 2014. We've got an initiative right now where we're really trying to build out that program, in more ways because we're still fairly convinced that we miss a lot of eligible kids.
Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, it's not the first thing you think about.
No. Right. No, and even at that point, what we're finding with some of our research is even giving a family the materials right at that point, again, there's so many other things going on, right. It almost needs a process with it.
We talked a little bit before we came on air about innovating and pivoting and, there's a great example. You both alluded to this a little bit earlier, but what strikes me about Kids' Chance is seeing the makeup of the board of directors and all the people who turn out for the fundraising events. I was fortunate enough to participate in the Kids' Chance of Massachusetts Golf Tournament a couple weeks ago. It was a blast. It was a great event well attended and it's really a cross section of the whole workers' compensation industry. Everyone united on behalf of a family whose life has changed due to a workplace accident. Dan, have you been surprised about the support and especially in the New England states we're involved in?
Yeah, there's no stone left unturned here. Right. I've been to events for certainly New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut personally, and it runs the gamut. And, now you have your attorneys and all the other members of the workers' comp community, but it's bleeding into other communities now, which is fantastic because you don't have to be in the workers' comp industry to know someone that has been in this unfortunate situation of having a serious or fatal injury. And, I've seen pockets of these folks that it's become their passion and they don't know anything about workers' comp. So it's a great networking success I think for the organization. And as Vicki said, the hardest thing we find is let's find a candidate that needs the money.
I mean, it's really difficult to do. And I think their efforts in keeping that database with the younger folks is fantastic. And, one of the other events that really for me crystallized it, and I think it was maybe 2019 when first had our charter in New Hampshire and we went to the NCCI meeting down in Orlando that year in May. And Kids' Chance has become a big deal for NCCI which has really helped promote it nationally. And that's one of the benefactors of their big charity golf tournament. And it's everywhere down there and it makes you feel really cool. You know, we all wear these little Kids' Chance pins and all that stuff and it really ties the entire industry together, not just New Hampshire, Massachusetts or New England, but the country.
Yeah. And you mentioned earlier the different areas of workers' comp, defense attorneys, you know, competitors, right? So that's awesome.
Well, it was always great when we were establishing our chapter up in New Hampshire, of course, you know, we said, “Oh, we need to become an official nonprofit. How do we do that?” One of our attorneys says “I can take care of that.”
Yeah. Right, right.
How do we find this? And there's someone there and sometimes it's, well, I don't know, but I know someone that can do that, and those people become board recruits. So, it's been great.
Awesome. So Dan, you and I both know that for whatever reason, people don't necessarily associate the insurance industry with community outreach. But Kids' Chance can really help us with that, right? To create a broader understanding about what workers' compensation is and does.
I agree. You know, many, many folks view workers' compensation as it's just them. They're going to pay the bill or they're not being nice to me. And you know, that's not what we're all about. And when I say we, I mean our company for sure, but Kids' Chance and the industry and the folks that I know, all of us in our industry, I think we do this because we care about what we're doing, care about the people that are in it. And, you know, there are many different areas to be given attention to in our business, but none more important than the folks that are getting hurt and their families. That's what we're here for. We're making a promise to take care of these folks. And, I do, I feel very strongly that is not just the individual. That's their family and it's their extended family, it's their community, the whole deal. And if we can make that a better experience and have better outcomes, that's what we should do.
Yeah. Love that. So the average scholarship award is close to $5,000, is that right?
Just under $4,500 right now.
Okay. Vicki, talk about the difference that can make for a student when they're considering a college or choosing a school.
Well, you know, it's that kind of money that really is the catalyst between sometimes whether a student goes to a public university or a private university. And in some cases, the earlier the scholarship award is made, really allows the students with greater choice when it comes to school. And of course, every state organization's program differs just a little bit. We've got some states, Virginia being one of them, that gives $10,000 scholarships for four years. So they're making a hefty commitment to the kids that are coming through their program. We also support vocational, technical, other sources of post-secondary education. So, I think the idea that we have at the national is to be able to even give kids, and this is where the Planning for the Future program becomes a little bit more critical, is to give kids who may not have considered post-secondary education at all, the idea that there is support for them to move forward, and that it's okay for them to look at dreams. We have a lot of kids that come through our program that end up supporting the family and if not supporting the family, taking care of siblings who are younger while the parent is working. So, we've found that the earlier that they know that scholarship support may be available, the greater impact it has on their future.
That's great, Vicki. And I know, in our New Hampshire chapter, we started a little less than that, but one of the things we wanted to commit to in our situation, and I don't know about the national, you can maybe comment on it, but we didn't want to give a scholarship for one year for one person. We want to get them through. And so we're starting, I think now up there to get into a position where we've always committed to the full four years or whatever the term of the educational institution is. And depending on our availability of funds and performance and everything else, we'd like to escalate that too. So, you know, things get more expensive as time goes on and there are different needs. And, we're trying to recognize that and make our scholarship a very, very important and integral part of their education.
So, I don't know many tuitions that are going down, Dan (laugh). Thank goodness my three children are done and through. But you know, that was my Porsche and my summer home. So I know that the expenses are really out there. But, you know, I think we at the national are also partnering to the degree we can with the state organizations who actually allocate the funds and make the awards to keep funding coming so that for instance, in New Hampshire, Dan, have more flexibility as to how much money is available. I think last year we allocated just under $500,000 in nationally raised funding towards the states so that they have a little bit of a buffer. And we hope to continue to be able to do that and to do that even in a greater capacity as we move on. So the partnership in fundraising, I think is a strong one throughout the country.
Great stuff. You guys, the national has been so supportive and really, especially in the beginning has allowed us, I think to accelerate the awards of scholarships. And, you know, we've got the fundraising and stuff-- now you have to come to one of our cornhole tournaments, Vicki, (laugh). We did one last year. I think we're doing two this next year. So it's great. Everybody can do it. You can be my partner. That's the deal. We'll have more fun than anyone else.
Nice. So do either of you or both of you have any personal stories of student success you want to share?
I can just tell you that, you know, Mark and Dan, I'm in a position often at the national conference or with other opportunities where we're talking to students and doing videos. And you know, this past April when we were in North Carolina for the national conference, I had the opportunity to interview three of the students. And I can't tell you how heart-wrenching the stories are of these kids who have really come from a position of total devastation in their lives to outright success. One student, Hesakiah in particular, his father was permanently disabled, and I had the opportunity to meet him and his mother --champions they were --champions for this student. He has come full circle. He has gone through school, through graduate school. He's becoming a law enforcement officer. And, he spoke, I think from the heart about how not only the scholarship provided him support, but the North Carolina Kids' Chance organization provided he and his family support; his mother spoke openly about the fact that she now has friends within the Kids' Chance community in North Carolina that will continue on well past the length of the scholarship.
I think that's an example of what we hear from our kids. We're very cognizant of the fact that, you know, it's not always easy to relive these stories. In some cases, the kids have lost their parents and, and it's a void that is not going to be filled by Kids' Chance or any scholarship, but the opportunity to know that there is an extended family for them through the Kids' Chance organization, I think is somewhat reassuring for them.
Yeah, no, that, that's great, Vicki. And, again, you know, my experience is only the last few years, but the one thing I recognize you touched on was I know our first scholarship recipient, she's going into her fourth year, I think now. And, the appreciation that she showed was great, but I think what she really got out of this, other than the scholarship was just what you mentioned, the understanding. We get it, you know and we're in this and we know that, boy, we wish we weren't giving you this scholarship so you didn't have to go through all that trauma and experience. But I think the fact that we recognize how tough it is for them makes a difference for those folks.
Well, and I think they're all success stories, right. You know, just the fact that they're able to overcome any obstacle and get through. We have now nationally awarded 9,387 scholarships over the course of our 35 years. There's over 9,000 success stories out there.
That's fantastic. There you go. What an awesome cause. I just want to say for companies that believe in philanthropy as we do here at A.I.M. Mutual, there are many worthwhile charities to support, all of which can benefit from corporate partnerships. But if you're a company with touchpoints on an injured worker's journey, whether you're a broker, an agent, a vendor, a medical provider, I would strongly suggest that you take a look at the Kids' Chance initiative. It's out here making a tangible difference in the lives of deserving students in our communities. Like you just heard from both Dan and Vicki. Dan, Vicki, I'd like to thank you both for your time, your insight, but I think more importantly for your impact and, the impact you've made on these kids' lives, families' lives, just amazing stuff. It was a pleasure speaking with you both about this amazing organization. Thank you.
Thank you, Mark.
Thanks Mark. Appreciate it.
Thank you. And I want to thank all of our listeners for tuning in. You can always reach out with any thoughts or questions you might have about this topic or other workers' comp issues. And remember, you can check out all of our A.I.M. Mutual Podcasts on our website or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Take care, everyone.