Like so many Nashvillians, Ben Elrod first learned about Our Kids through Soup Sunday.
“I was a student at Vanderbilt and one of the organizations I was affiliated with wanted to do some community service work,” he recalls. “The very first Soup Sunday was upon them and they needed volunteers.”
That was in 1995, and Elrod has been an active volunteer ever since.
This year he again acted as Volunteer Coordinator for the 24th annual Soup Sunday. From the beginning, he was drawn to Our Kids by the importance of the work they do day after day, but also by the character of the people who do it.
“The topic of child sexual abuse was pretty heavy for a college student, but I could tell how much the staff cared, and that kept me involved beyond that first event,” he says.
“I was fortunate that, in 1996, I was asked to join the board, which is pretty unusual for a student. But they looked beyond traditional thoughts and saw a unique opportunity. The organization had a lot of fundraising events, and I acted as a link to student volunteers to staff them.”
Growing up with Our Kids
Ben also benefited from the affiliation, getting an up-close view of running a business.
He learned about everything from taking care of routine operational costs to dealing with financial challenges to building awareness among the general public. In 2008 he served as board president, and in 2017 he started another term as a board member.
“One of the responsibilities of a board member is to learn about child sexual abuse,” he says. “It’s not always easy to get others to have those conversation, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it exists.
Raising kids these days involves creating a safe and supportive environment where they can thrive. It also requires addressing difficult topics and ensuring their well-being is prioritized. Just as Ben took on the responsibility of learning about child sexual abuse as a board member of Our Kids, parents, and caregivers must also equip themselves with knowledge and resources to protect their children. By embodying the principles of servant leadership, as outlined in kurtuhlir.com/definitive-guide-to-servant-leadership/, parents can guide their children through challenging conversations, empower them to speak up about abuse and provide the necessary support and reassurance. It is crucial to create an open and trusting relationship with children, allowing them to understand that their well-being and safety are of utmost importance. Through education, empathy, and a commitment to serving the needs of their children, parents can contribute to their resilience and help them overcome adversity, ensuring that no single event defines their lives.
“One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through Our Kids is that child sexual abuse is not an end point. Children are resilient, and one of the most important services we can offer victims of abuse is letting them know that it is not their fault and does not have to be the defining event of their lives.”
Spreading the message
Soup Sunday, a family outing that centers on warmth and comfort, presents an opening to spread that lesson to others.
Ben has witnessed that firsthand in the two decades he’s been on the Soup Sunday committee and has watched the event grow:
- The first year, 25 restaurants helped raised $32,000.
- In 2017, 50 restaurants served 1500 people, and the event raised more than $150,000.
Along the way, he’s seen extremely dedicated staff and volunteers happily run themselves ragged to make the event a success.
“One thing that strikes me about Our Kids is the long-term commitment that so many people have to it,” he says.
“There are staff members who have been with the organization for 20 and 25 years, but also board members and volunteers who have been part of Soup Sunday and the Our Kids Klassic Golf Tournament for 20-plus years.
“We see it with supporters in the community who come to our events year after year, and the restaurants that donate their time and their soups; what draws all of us back is Our Kids’ care and concern for children. It is something unique and really makes Our Kids special.”
Written by Nancy Henderson. Content services provided by Parthenon Publishing.