With a growing business and health concerns, Billy Vickers was being judicious about how he spent his time. Joining the board at A Kid Again was a must-do, it turned out.
The young boy in the wheelchair with an Ohio State University basketball player towering over him caught the eye of businessman Billy Vickers. The boy laughed and grinned as his pain and illness faded away for a few minutes, replaced by the unbridled joy of seeing his Buckeye heroes in person.
Standing nearby, the boy’s father nearly wept.
At that moment, Vickers knew he wanted to be part of A Kid Again, a Columbus-based nonprofit that hosts free events like the basketball outing for children with life-threatening illnesses. “They had an opportunity to go out and do something normal,” marveled Vickers in recounting his experience at the event. “The father of the kid in the wheelchair said he’d been waiting forever to see that look on his son’s face because he was so excited to be there.”Stay up to date with the region’s thriving business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
Vickers, CEO of Modular Assembly Innovations in Dublin, attended the event a few years ago at the invitation of Jeffrey Damron, then the CEO of A Kid Again. Damron was trying to convince Vickers, a thriving businessman who’d grown up on a North Carolina cotton farm, to join their board of directors and share his expertise.
While Vickers believes in being a good steward of the community, he is selective about where he volunteers his time.
“I believe we should give back and, as good men and women, we should be helping,” he says. “Jeffrey wanted me on the board, but our company was still growing and I had cancer and had to deal with that, so I put it on hold for awhile.”
Three years ago, however, Vickers’ youngest son had a premature baby and Vickers saw firsthand how such an event could impact a family. “I felt like it was a sign from God because I was on the fence about A Kid Again, and when that happened, it touched my heart,” he says. “It made me think about A Kid Again and then, after seeing the kids at the OSU basketball event, I felt like God was asking me to do this.”
So he volunteered to be on the nonprofit’s 21-member national board.
Since then, Vickers has been a mainstay, working on strategic planning, obtaining financial gifts and recruiting others who can help the organization flourish.
A Kid Again grew out of A Special Wish Foundation, a group that grants a single wish for children with life-threatening illnesses. A group of Columbus residents felt that those children and their families needed ongoing help, so they created Adventures for Wish Kids in 1995.
The group, eventually renamed A Kid Again, has grown from helping a few dozen families 24 years ago to helping about 4,000 now at activities ranging from trips to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to go-cart races to the OSU basketball team visit that Vickers witnessed.
Until a few years ago, the group’s sole focus was on Central Ohio. But its board wanted ill children everywhere to benefit, so A Kid Again began to expand. In 2017 the board brought in Oyauma Garrison, an insurance company executive, as CEO and president. Now it has chapters in northern Ohio, southwest Ohio, Indiana and Philadelphia, with plans to eventually grow nationwide.
Throughout his career, Vickers has helped start up four facilities at various levels, including his own business providing engineering services to the automotive supply base and Modular Assembly Innovations, the parent corporation of a group of companies that provide modular assembly manufacturing and supply chain management services.
He is sharing the wealth of knowledge he’s gained, as well as a process for growth, with A Kid Again.
“He’s very actively involved with us,” Garrison says. “I don’t want to have people in board seats just to have people in those seats. We need people who have a heart for the work and bring their best self to the table. People like Billy, who are willing to challenge us.”
National board members also are expected to raise or donate at least $10,000 a year; Garrison says most raise much more.
Despite a two-year tenure on the board, Vickers says he’s still “in the learning stage” with the organization. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to bring forward best practices that have helped his businesses succeed. <
“If I’m on a board I want to be engaged and be a part of it,” says Vickers, who is married and has three grown children. “This is a commitment you make with your time, and you’ve got to be convinced that it’s a good cause because you’re taking time away from your family.”
Vickers tries to involve Modular Assembly and its employees with A Kid Again, too. Last Christmas the company stopped giving gifts to associates, vendors and suppliers, opting instead to donate the budgeted money to A Kid Again.
“One part of our company’s core values is community involvement,” he says. “If we can make our community stronger, that makes it stronger for us, so we’re involved and engaged.”
Some employees volunteer for the nonprofit and the company pitches in when a special need arises. Recently, employees sent notes of encouragement to a 10-year-old child undergoing brain surgery and the company sent the family a Kroger gift card.
“It’s not a big thing,” Vickers says, but he hopes the notes urging the boy to hang tough gave him one more reason to fight for his survival.
Garrison is looking forward to many more years of help from Vickers, who is on the organization’s expansion committee.
“It’s very strategically made up of thought leaders and business leaders who have the experience in building out,” he says. “Having people like Billy at the table who know that and how to measure success has been absolutely instrumental in the process.”
Kathy Lynn Gray is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.