We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristin Connor and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristin, what do you attribute your success to?
The most important factor behind the success of CURE Childhood Cancer is our relentless and authentic focus on our mission. Our drive to improve survival for children with cancer and serve the critical and urgent needs of patients and families is at the core of every decision we make. We don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the “noise” of the day to day or pressures that would cause us to get off track. Our team – from staff to board – is united in the need to be mission focused at all times and accountable to the children and families we serve. The authenticity in this focus truly sets us apart and drives our success.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1991, I attended law school at the University of Georgia. Upon graduation in 1994, I joined a large law firm in midtown, where I practiced as a business litigator for ten years. In 2001, my world was turned upside down when my newborn son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. At the time, this type of childhood cancer had a 40-50% five year survival rate. It was devastating and life-changing. I was immersed into a world of suffering I knew virtually nothing about. My son’s cancer journey was two years long. In November 2003, he was declared cancer free. While we were thankful he had beaten his disease, I was forever changed. I had made many friends “in the trenches” of the childhood cancer war zone and seen tremendous suffering. In 2004, one of my friends lost her son. This was the first (with unfortunately many more to come) death of a child I experienced. It was completely life-altering to watch a child endure such pain as his disease progressed – and to watch his parents desperately try to find some form of treatment somewhere in the world to save him. Heartbreakingly, there was nothing, and in September 2004, this little boy died. It was then that I knew I had to direct all of my time and energy – and my skills as an advocate – to fighting childhood cancer. In 2004, I transitioned from law to the nonprofit sector. First, I worked for a national childhood cancer organization. In 2006, I became Executive Director of CURE Childhood Cancer, an Atlanta based non-profit founded in 1975 by the city’s first pediatric oncologist. My goal was and still is to do everything I can to advance scientific research so all children have a chance to grow up and realize their dreams. Since 2006, CURE has raised more than $60 million. We have invested this money in innovative research which is moving the needle on survival rates of children with cancer. We have tremendously expanded our support of patients and their families in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. I am proud of what this wonderful organization has accomplished, but there is still much work to be done. It definitely has not been easy. When I joined CURE’s staff, the organization was very small. I was only the third person on the team. There was not a consensus in terms of direction and goals among board members, many of whom were parents who had children with cancer. In many ways we had to start over – go back to the foundation and assess and agree on what we wanted to accomplish and then how to get there. Change can be very difficult to lead, especially when well-meaning people believe change isn’t needed. But I knew the organization could be doing so much more, and I was passionate about increasing the impact. I wanted to make a difference against the disease that was taking the lives of children I loved, and I believed (and still do) firmly in research as the only path to better treatments and cures. At the time, we were investing about $250,000 annually in research. Now, our annual investment exceeds $4.3 million. It’s not enough, so we keep pushing. In addition to leading change, it’s difficult to manage the many different personalities and styles of volunteer board members and volunteers, in general, without whom we do our work. Nonprofits are virtually always under resourced, as well, so contrary to what many people assume, the hours are extremely long…the work is all consuming. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. My work is my calling. The most difficult challenge is being witness to the suffering of children and families. We strive to develop relationships with the families we serve which is what enables us to understand their needs and be able to respond to those needs, whether by providing financial assistance, counseling, meals or other services. The relationships are authentic and meaningful, so the suffering is personal.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would not go to the typical tourist spots. I would get my 22 year old son who lives downtown to give them a tour of all the wonderful downtown neighborhoods – Grant Park, Cabbagetown, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, Little 5 Points, etc. We would walk the Beltline and share the history of the transformation of downtown. We would eat at the amazing cafes and restaurants in the area – not a single chain all week! I would also take my guest to the Chattahoochee River for a float or canoe trip. We would drive to North Georgia for some hiking and maybe visit a few wineries. We would spend a day on one of the gorgeous lakes near Atlanta. If we weren’t in the time of covid, we would find a great concert or live music spot.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The success of CURE Childhood Cancer is about so many people…board members who have devoted decades to serving families of children with cancer, doctors and scientists who devote their lives to pursuing cures for cancers affecting children, staff who work tirelessly without the resources they need to do all they can to help these children, nurses who become family to our families, companies which genuinely care about our mission, volunteers who serve with their whole hearts, and most of all, the children who must fight this disease and do so with courage, resiliency and resolve.
Lynn Crow Photography