The journey into nonprofit work for Kristin Trulock -- the executive director of Home for Healing -- started with the birth of her second son, Wilson.
After earning a degree in human resource management from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Trulock moved back to Little Rock to work for First Commercial Bank as a human resources specialist. First Commercial became Regions Bank -- where she met her husband, Greg. She eventually moved on to Dassault Falcon Jet, a job that took her all over the world.
Wilson's birth changed everything. He was very sick -- RSV, bronchitis, pneumonia -- and she spent weeks in a hospital with him.
"We were in the hospital for a long time, and when we left the hospital, he was never the same," she says. "He didn't sleep until he was almost 5 years old. He almost looked like an Ethiopian child because his stomach was hard and round and everything else. So by 11 months old, they were bringing up the words Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis and colitis."
At 18 months, Wilson was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. At that time, he was the youngest to be diagnosed in the state, Trulock says. She quit her job to take care of him.
Around that time, Trulock and Greg participated in a Crohn's and Colitis fundraising walk in Memphis. Greg's employer, Raymond James, was one of the sponsors.
"I just cried and cried and cried the whole time," she says. "It was just so emotional thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this is what his life looks like. And he's going to struggle for the rest of his life.' It was just really, really hard."
The couple participated in another walk in San Diego, where Wilson was seeing a specialist. In 2009, the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America -- Arkansas Chapter asked Trulock to join a committee that was working on setting up a walk in Little Rock. The committee accepted her offer to be its corporate sponsor chairwoman. They also wanted to make Wilson the poster boy for the inaugural Little Rock walk.
She and Greg did a lot of prayerful thinking before making their decision.
"I told him that the only way I'd let my son be the local honor hero is if they let me run the whole thing as a volunteer, because I wanted it done right," she says. "If my family's name is going to be attached to it, it's got to be successful. It's got to be run right."
The goal of the walk was to draw 300 participants and raise $30,000. Trulock had no experience running a nonprofit event. She had five months to plan before showtime.
"We had 1,300 people and raised $100,000. So [the foundation] said, 'OK. Where's the next city in Arkansas that we can do with you?' So we brought it up to Northwest Arkansas just a few months later. And the goal for that one was 150 people and $15,000," she says.
"And up there, I raised $40,000 and we had about 500 people. So that's how I landed a full-time nonprofit job that I wasn't intending for."
In January 2010, Trulock became the community development manager of the foundation, a position she held until November 2016. She helped raise more than $750,000 for the organization. After those six years, Wilson did not want to be the face of Crohn's and colitis in Arkansas any more, and Trulock resigned.
But she didn't sit still for long. That same month she went to work for the Parkinson's Foundation as its national coordinator of signature events.
Wilson is now 19 and a student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Her older son, Walter, 21, is a student at Mississippi State University. Stepdaughter Carly Trulock Davis, 30, is a dietitian at a hospital in Denver.
'I NEED MY MOMMA'
At the Parkinson's Foundation, Trulock started walks all over the country -- Nashville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; Charleston, S.C.; Baton Rouge, La. -- and helped with walks in Las Vegas; San Diego and Fresno, Calif.; Omaha, Neb.; and Dallas. She says the job was intense, but she loved it. She eventually started walks in the Natural State and managed an annual budget of $500,000.
But the constant travel was taking its toll on her family life, and Wilson told her, "I need my momma at home." She took a job as development director in 2019 for Susan G. Komen -- Arkansas Affiliate. By the next year, Komen changed its mission to more of a national presence and closed the Arkansas branch.
After a few months off, Trulock moved on to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Family Home, now known as Home for Healing. She was already familiar with the organization. She provided it with free consulting advice before becoming its executive director.
The home was in financial trouble. When Trulock took over in September 2020, it only had $3,500 in the bank and a lot of debt. By the end of that year, the organization had raised $114,000 and paid all of its bills. Trulock raised the money through donations, grants and other efforts.
Other changes also happened quickly. Brooke Vines of Vines/Brookshire advertising agency offered to help re-brand the house free of charge. Its old name -- Family Home -- did not reflect its mission. The logo was of two adults holding the hands of two children. But the home did not allow families or children. The name was changed to Home for Healing.
"She is so charismatic and she believes in what she is doing so much that you cannot tell her no," Vines says. "She took that job. They needed her help and she brought in all of the right resources to help her. She is just so charming. I would do anything in the world for her."
Vines adds that Trulock is not trying to climb a career ladder.
"She know she is connected. She knows she is efficient. But she wants to put her talents where they are going to get the most benefit," Vines says. "She saw this need and these poor parents who needed a place to sleep while their babies were in the [neonatal intensive care unit], and these poor cancer patients who just needed a place to crash, and it just broke her heart and she knew she could help.
"For a person who career-wise could go out and write her own ticket anywhere, that's saying a lot. She's not doing work to impress anybody. She's doing work that she feels good about it," Vines says.
Before, the rooms in the house were mainly used by UAMS cancer patients and parents of babies in the UAMS neonatal intensive care. Now the house is open to patients and parents at hospitals all over Little Rock. And the $10 per night fee for guests was waived.
TAKING CARE OF THE CAREGIVERS
But during all of these changes, Trulock's had some health setbacks; she required surgery near the end of 2020. That same year, Ronnie Fehrenbach, the home's manager and only other paid employee, had a heart attack and was off work for several months.
Trulock's only sibling, Kevin Churchill of San Diego, died unexpectedly in June. Trulock's mother, Kathy, was recently diagnosed with a rare form of renal cancer, and her father, Spence, was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
"The one word to sum me up is driven. I'm very driven and very compassionate and passionate. My mom and dad told me this week that there are two words that they put next to me. ... They never said this to me before in all of my life. They said that I'm confident and competent," she says.
Trulock juggles her time between caring for her parents and trying to help them keep up with their business, Township Builders, plus her work at Home for Healing.
"It was a really rough year, but I will tell you it gave me a different perspective of this home," Trulock says. "I always focused on the cancer patient and making sure they were OK. Now that I'm a caregiver to both of my parents, I've changed my motto [to] the caregivers need just as much support as the cancer patients, because it's very, very, very hard on the caretakers."
Sandra Storment, Trulock's boss at the bank, says Trulock's dedication to her family and guests at Home for Healing reflects her personality.
"Our community needs bright-minded people who care," Storment says. "Kindness can be one of our greatest assets and can make a lasting impact within our community. It should set the bar for how we deal with others. Kristin is a bright, kind, caring person with a big heart and lots of compassion. This is especially critical in the nonprofit world. She is a leader with heart and soul. Who could ask for more?"
WALKING THE BRIDE DOWN THE AISLE
Trulock lights up when asked to recall some of the people who have stayed at Home for Healing.
There was a Spanish-speaking couple from Florida. He had been treated at UAMS for five years, and the couple made frequent trips to Little Rock. One day, Trulock overheard the wife speaking frantically on the phone in Spanish, which she didn't understand. The next day she spotted three young women in the parking lot. They told her the man was their father and he had been told he only had a week to live.
The middle daughter said she was getting married in six months and wanted her father to walk her down the aisle. This was during the covid-19 surge in fall 2021 and UAMS would not allow a ceremony in his hospital room.
Trulock made arrangements with UAMS to allow for a "promise to marry" ceremony in the hospital's chapel. A real wedding was not possible because the couple did not have time to obtain a marriage license.
With the help of UAMS and friends, Trulock made sure the couple had flowers, a cake, a photographer and a videographer. The next night, the soon-to-marry couple attended Home for Healing's Monster Bash and told the story. They also danced their first dance at the event.
"That's just what we do," Trulock says. "We go that extra mile for the guests of our home, no matter what that mile is."
The father recovered for a while but died in January 2022.
"She is probably one of the best directors of a nonprofit that I have seen in a long time," says Stuart Cobb, who has been a long-time supporter of the home. "Kristin is not just the director. She's the grief counselor. She's the fundraiser. She's the event planner."
Cobb recalls the mother with twin infants at UAMS. One of the twins died and Trulock was there to support the grieving mother.
"The mother was just devastated, naturally," Cobb says. "And Kristin says, 'We have to find her a grief counselor.' And everybody looked at her and said, 'You are the best grief counselor around.'
"She takes whatever she's gotten in life and turns it into lemonade for her family but also for all of the people who come and stay here."
Home for Healing is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a birthday party called Dessert First on Friday. While enjoying the festivities, Trulock will be thinking about former guests, including the first one, Walter Youngblood, who arrived in February 2003 and returned annually for treatment, for those 20 years. Youngblood died Dec. 19.
Since opening in 2003, Home for Healing has lodged more than 8,800 cancer patients, their caregivers, family members with a loved one in ICU and parents of babies in the NICU. Almost 800 babies were born to these parents, including more than 63 sets of twins and nine sets of triplets.
Home for Healing has welcomed patients from at least 37 states and seven foreign countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Trinidad, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.
"I'm very pleased that I was given this opportunity that God [placed] this into my lap, and I will never, ever, ever leave this house unless I have to because it is the best job in the whole wide world," Trulock says.