“Indispensable and heroic.”
When Sue Fort White talks about the importance of John Curtis, that’s how she starts. After 14 years of service, it’s no wonder.
“Anyone who knows John knows he’s fun and cool and quirky,” says Fort White, Our Kids Executive Director. “But what so many people don’t know is that he helped change the conversation about child sexual abuse in Nashville by getting so many construction companies — and in turn so many men — involved.”
Was that Curtis’ master plan back in 2001 when he walked into Soup Sunday at Vanderbilt? Not exactly.
“I wound up at Our Kids purely by accident,” he says. “We moved to Nashville from Indiana in the ’90s, and I heard about this soup tasting. I like wine tastings, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ That’s where I heard about Our Kids mission. Two people in my life who I care about very much are survivors of child sexual abuse, and I’ve seen the toll it has taken on their lives. I knew it was something I wanted to commit to.”
A little while later, Curtis came to Our Kids for a Nose to Toes tour. He didn’t know anyone. He met other people who were there for the first time and saw just how Our Kids does what they do. He felt comfortable, and knew it was a place he could make a mark.
“I’m not super spiritual, but the good Lord found the right place for us in Nashville and at Our Kids,” he says. “It’s the best move I’ve ever made.”
When Curtis joined the board in 2004, there were about four times as many women members as men. Child sexual abuse is a tough thing to talk about, and in a male-dominated industry like construction, that difficulty is compounded. But women alone can’t stop child sexual abuse, so Curtis was determined there was a way to break through and get men involved.
So he started with what he knew: his company could build a patio outside the building. Emotional moments are frequent at Our Kids, so a place for staff to decompress was welcome. One year later, that was done. Curtis wasn’t. He got involved with the Our Kids Klassic Golf Tournament. Immediately, he saw that golf was the perfect entry point for men, and he brought on his company, Irving Materials Inc (imi), as title sponsor in 2005. To say their impact has been dramatic is an understatement.
“Golf has been a great avenue for pulling men in,” he says. “About 90 percent return year after year, and you can see them responding to what Our Kids stands for.”
The tournament brings in serious — and seriously needed — cash for Our Kids. When imi came on, the tournament netted roughly $47,000 per year. It grew steadily, and in 2016, it shattered all records, bringing in $225,000. Over imi’s twelve years of title sponsorship, the Klassic has raised 1.3 million dollars to help children and families affected by child sexual abuse. It’s a fact Curtis holds onto when the world gets him down. Oh, and that four-to-one ratio of women to men on the board? It’s a 50/50 split now, in no small part because of Curtis’ efforts to diversify. He’s proud of that, but he’s always quick to point back to the real reason people are drawn into the Our Kids family.
“When I have a bad day and I go by Our Kids for half an hour, I feel better just being in the presence of people who are so totally selfless,” he says. “And it always makes me think: they’re never allowed to have a bad day, even when they’re having a bad day. They have to be there for the kids whether it’s 3 a.m. on a Tuesday or Christmas morning. It provides a lot of perspective, seeing what they do. Everyone’s dealing with something, but knowing the lives they touch puts what matters in your own life into focus.”
Acceptance and change
Those lives, he says, are what everyone associated with Our Kids focuses on when the subject matter gets dark. Survivors are everywhere, and Curtis wants them to know that there are folks out there like Our Kids trying to make sure other children don’t suffer the same fate. He may never get to look a child in the eye and tell them it’s all going to be OK, but hearing stories from staff, he knows kids can heal and grow up to live happy, productive lives. It’s a crucial message for those who are overwhelmed by the reality of child sexual abuse.
“People who let the stigma and tragedy get in their way are letting themselves down,” he says. “It’s a choice, and people are often stronger than they think. This is a reality, whether we run from it or not, so we have to accept it. And once we accept it, we can change it.
“The people at Our Kids — board and staff — are smart and passionate and committed and kind. They’re the type of people who make you want to work your a** off. And once you start doing that, you’ll find yourself asking what I ask myself every day on behalf of Our Kids: What’ve you got next?”