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VIProfile: Chris Truelove

Executive Director of Special Kids

By Lee Rennick

Being the Executive Director of Special Kids is a calling for Chris Truelove, who is the first and only Executive Director of the non-profit organization that cares for medically fragile children. He was there near the humble beginnings of the dream of Dick Kleinau and his daughter, Carrie Goodwin, to create “a facility where special needs and medically fragile children would not be turned away regardless of their ability to pay for services, but rather be embraced by Christian love and healing arms.”

Founded in 1998, Truelove came on board Special Kids in 2001, however he had been a volunteer at the organization previous to interviewing for the Executive Director position. While serving as the Assistant Director at the PACE Center in 1999, he was asked to volunteer at Special Kids. “That fall, I was informed that Special Kids was going to interview for their first Executive Director,” said Truelove, “because one of the co-founders, Carrie Goodwin, was serving in four roles and the Board of Directors were seeking to help her.”

Truelove and his wife, Hailee, felt the pull of God to apply for the position. In January 2000, he was interviewed for the job and in early February he was offered the position. He started the job on March 1, 2000.

Since its founding, Special Kids has grown immensely. Part of that growth has come from being very connected with the community, initially through Truelove’s work at both the YMCA when it was first opening, then at the PACE Center. “That job afforded me the opportunity to make many lasting relationships,” he said, “some of which have led to supporters and friends of Special Kids.”

Now, developing relationships with other organizations has become central to their operations. They have a strong relationship with MTSU, especially the Speech Hearing Clinic, the Nursing School, Health and Exercise Science department and the Data Science Center. They have also recently partnered and collaborated with The Boys and Girls Club of Rutherford County, Barnabas Vision and The Salvation Army in a benevolence program in the community.

“One of the ways that we interact with other organizations is that we serve as an intern site for several colleges and universities where undergraduate and graduate students come and get hands on learning experience in their professional field while completing course work,” said Truelove. “Also, we seek opportunities to collaborate with other not-for-profits and for-profit organizations.”

Like other non-profits, Special Kids has been disrupted by COVID-19. It has changed their entire culture and way of life. Working with medically fragile children, keeping everyone safe has been a driving force. During their closure from March 17 until mid-May, Truelove praises his Board of Directors and the entire senior leadership team with working together to come up with a contingency plan to move forward.

“We adopted three objectives to use for our decisions throughout the pandemic,” said Truelove. “The objectives are: caring for our team members by keeping them safe and providing for their pay; protecting our patients and keeping them safe and healthy; and minimizing the financial impact of the pandemic on Special Kids.”

Cameron and Stephanie, their two patient care Senior Directors, crafted stringent health and safety guidelines with guidance from their Medical Director, Jerry Collins. “Our two greatest concerns were that someone on our team or one of our patients would contract COVID on our campus,” said Truelove. “With the fragile nature of some of our patients, we were not willing to take any unnecessary risks. Although we have had a few team members and patients test positive for COVID, none of those cases have been contracted on our campus. Our team members have done an excellent job in caring for each other and the patients.”

Truelove has seen some amazing positives come out of this pandemic. He quotes a piece of scripture from Isaiah that he believes speaks to the positive gains Special Kids has seen through the pandemic: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Faith, family and friends mean the most to Truelove. Originally from Cleveland, Tennessee, he went to the University of North Alabama for his undergraduate degree where he ran track. He came to Middle Tennessee State University to gain a Master’s Degree. Marrying Hailee Ring in 1997, they have three children, Dallas who is now 20, Bowen who is 18 and 13-year-old Chloe. When not working, he enjoys traveling, on-road bicycling, running with his wife, who also works at Special Kids, and playing golf. They are members of New Vision Baptist Church.

A 2003 graduate of Leadership Rutherford, he has continued his role as a servant leader by taking on volunteer positions at Belle Aire Baptist Church, Christ the King Bible Fellowship and with New Vision Baptist Church. He has also served as a volunteer assistant coach for Cross Country at Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School for seven seasons. But everything comes back to Special Kids.

“Jesus Christ started Special Kids through Dick Kleinau and his daughter, Carrie Goodwin” added Truelove. “As a grandfather of a child with special needs, Dick wanted to share his financial blessing to help children. Carrie worked as a nurse in a similar for-profit business. She saw many parents thrown into poverty when forced to quit their jobs to take care of their children who were medically fragile. Dick and Carrie prayed and asked God to direct them.

After research and prayer, this expedition of love and faith became a reality. Thank God, our Almighty Founder and His Son, Jesus Christ, for the inspiration and guidance.”

It is knowing he is on mission with Jesus, witnessing children being loved and cared for and seeing others succeed, that gets him through the hard times. And Jesus has given Special Kids an exciting and challenging vision for the future.

“I am anxious to see us grow,” added Truelove, “and strengthen our culture of caring, add more team members and care for more children as we do so.” 

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