“I don’t know how you do what you do.”
Our Kids staff hear that often when people learn that they spend their days caring for sexually abused children. Their work is difficult and constant and life altering — and it’s not for everyone.
Supporter Dr. Charles Bell has seen that firsthand in his career as a physician, both during his time at HCA and now as Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Parallon Technology Solutions.
“Having worked in critical care, I know a lot of people handle the pressure by separating themselves from it emotionally,” he says. “And that can be effective for the medical side of things. But at Our Kids, they do anything but separate themselves from it. They never become callous. They are immersed in what their patients are going through, and they deal with it right beside them.
“They are such a small crew; They never get a break from it. And that’s what makes their passion — and their compassion — so exceptional.”
Finding a fit
Bell came to Our Kids in 2010 through HCA. His family had recently moved to Nashville from Arizona, so when he was asked to participate in the company’s community day, only a few choices were available.
“By the time I signed up, most of the quote unquote ‘good projects’ to sign up for had been taken,” he recalls, laughing at how little he expected from volunteering at an organization he’d never heard of. “It was pure happenstance that I ended up at Our Kids — except it wasn’t.”
After the 2010 flood, Bell helped with cleanup at the Our Kids office, which had been hit badly by the storm. He had an SUV, so he was tasked with loading up and hauling off debris. He met Executive Director Sue Fort White and the rest of the team. He started volunteering at other events, eventually recruiting his wife and teenage sons to help load in equipment for Soup Sunday. Soon after, he joined the board, serving six years before taking a mandatory off year in 2017. As of January, he’ll rotate back on.
“For me, Our Kids was divine intervention,” Bell says. “I experienced things when I was a kid. So to know what they deal with at Our Kids, and to face my own fears and situation after many years, was cathartic. For me, Our Kids was the right place at the right time, and I know the children and families we help feel the same way.”
A singular commitment
When Bell talks about Our Kids, he talks about being active, about making a lifetime commitment. Those are not uncommon themes when talking to supporters of Our Kids.
“Everybody just contributes and cares so deeply about being involved,” he says. “I like to think of it as a wheel — on the outside, we are so different, yet we all focus on the organization and what needs to be done. The backgrounds are diverse, yet the commitment is singular. As Sue says, ‘We are small but we are mighty,’ and I agree. Together, we are a force.”
Harnessing all those different powers is crucial to changing the conversation about child sexual abuse, Bell says. In fact, the biggest step is actually having the conversation.
“Empirically, we know it’s hard to solve world hunger, but no one is afraid to talk about world hunger, and that makes a huge difference,” he says.
“Child sexual abuse is such a taboo that it’s easier to just ignore it, and that is tragic — especially if you think of the one in four girls and one in seven boys who will experience it.”
Bell has committed years of his life to destroying that stigma. Along with Our Kids supporter Dr. Ty Berutti, he’s used his role as a healthcare professional to educate pediatricians in and around Nashville about child sexual abuse and where to turn when they see it.
“Just recently a patient showed up in the ER at Centennial, and they called Our Kids,” he says, beaming. “To me that was that moment when you pump your fists and say, ‘I’m getting there!’ With Ty I hope to carry this across the finish line, and to help everyone in healthcare and beyond understand: We cannot run from this. Knowing what Our Kids stands for and what it provides to the community it serves — both survivors and their whole families — we cannot turn our heads. We have to know the resources because for that one child, it’s so huge. It’s their whole life.”