It’s 50 days until Christmas, and my mind goes back seven years ago to a June day in Valdosta, Georgia, a hazy Wednesday. I was driving through the slash pines across South Georgia flatlands to Valdosta to interview Bob Clyatt. A defense lawyer, Bob represented employers and insurers. He was on the opposite side of injured workers.
I met Bob, a gracious man, my recorder began to run, and a beautiful story unfolded.
“I was taking a deposition from an injured worker in Albany,” said Bob, “and the deposition dragged on a long time. I didn’t know his daughter was sitting in the lobby. All of a sudden, the door burst open and here comes his little girl. She was the same age as my youngest child.”
It was around Christmas time and Bob noticed that the little girl had dirty clothes and looked like a pitiful ragamuffin.
“She ran in and stood between me and her daddy and put her arm around him. She was worried about him.”
The little girl’s plight hit Bob hard. “Here was this child who’s caught between the two forces in Worker’s Compensation—the injured worker and the employer/insurer. It struck me how this child’s life would be forever changed. She’d lose a lot of opportunities in her life. Her father had herniated discs in his back and he had very little education and was never going to work again.”
Bob kept thinking about how this little girl’s life was changing. He called the man’s attorney. “Let’s get that little girl some Christmas presents.” And they did.
Bob thought about the many kids whose injured parents couldn’t work. He thought hard and the words “kids need a chance” kept going through his mind. He formed a corporation, KIDS’ CHANCE, to help the kids of injured workers but ran into an IRS roadblock getting a tax-deductible donations status. “Things kind of crawled along and I started getting lazy about it. I put it on the back burner.”
Time passed and passed.
One Sunday Bob was sitting in church and the preacher’s sermon was Things I Have Left Undone. “The preacher said that if God has told you, and I don’t mean a booming voice coming down from Heaven,” said Bob, “but in so many ways He’s told you what He wants you to do and you know you’re supposed to do it, then it’s a sin if you don’t.”
Bob said the more the preacher talked, the further he slid down in his seat. “He was talking to me.”
Bob got a copy of the sermon. “I read it every day fifteen times or more. I called up the Internal Revenue Service and said, ‘Have you approved it?’ A lady said, ‘No, you’ve got problems.’ I said, ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’ She said, ‘Come if you want to but I’m not going to see you.’ ”
Bob got up at 4 a.m., drove to Atlanta to the Internal Revenue Service, and when the doors opened, he told them to tell the lady he was there. She came out to see him. “We don’t need to meet,” she said, “I just approved it.”
“I was stunned,” said Bob. “She took it off the back table, looked at it, and saw that it was right. After we got the tax-deductible status, the money started coming in, and it took off.”
And take off it did. KIDS’ CHANCE has spread to 29 states. Since 1988 more than $3 million dollars have been raised in Georgia alone. “We’ve got people now who are lawyers, ministers, a doctor, a broad spectrum of people who have gone through school,” said Bob. “All they needed was a chance and they got it.”
Bob has a hard time accepting the nice things people say to him for starting the charity. Why? Because he knows he almost didn’t do it. He’s glad he did and it is an emotional thing for sure. “I talked to a father who walks with a cane and he started crying when we gave his daughter a scholarship. The man said, ‘You’ll never know what effect this has had on our family.’ He broke down crying and I had to get up and go to the bathroom. I started crying. I thought I can do more since there are so many hours in the day when I’m not doing something. There are thousands of children out there we could be helping.”
KIDS’ CHANCE is not a give-away welfare kind of thing. The money comes from lawyers and other contributors. It gives children the opportunity God intended them to have—a chance. “God’s given them a certain amount of ability,” said Bob, “and if it’s to graduate from high school or to be a plumber or a heart surgeon or whatever, as a Christian I have an obligation to do everything I can do to help them.”
People tell Bob all the time that KIDS’ CHANCE was his idea. He tells them “it was God’s idea and for some reason he chose me to do it and I don’t know why.”
It’s a good thing. No disputing that. Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes and the Georgia Legislature recognized KIDS’ CHANCE for outstanding service. The Wall Street Journal covered it, and an ABC “Peter Jennings Special” broadcast a 15-minute segment on it. KIDS’ CHANCE is 20 years old now, and all of it started very simply.
A little girl, worried about her daddy, ran into Bob Clyatt’s office. When she did, she planted a Banyan tree, a giving tree of innumerable trunks, one whose widening canopy continues to shelter children from life’s harsh realities.