Staff Spotlight: Kristin Garner
Let’s get to know the director of our High Hopes Pediatric Therapy Clinic: Kristin Garner. Kristin has served on the High Hopes Board of Directors and as our Clinic Director for more than 13 years, in addition to being the proud parent of three High Hopes alumni. She lives in Franklin with her husband Todd, their three children (eldest son Carson, and younger daughters Dylann and Emmy), and their “little white fluffball” of a dog (Ozzy). We sat down with Kristin to learn about the journey she took to get here, the role she plays in our organization, and the adventures of her life outside these walls. This is what we learned. Originally from the Cleveland, Ohio area, Kristin completed her undergraduate studies as well as her PT schooling at Ohio University. It was there that she met her husband Todd, who was also studying to become a physical therapist. After graduating from PT school, she and Todd moved together to northern Ohio and worked there for a year. “But it was a really cold winter, lots of snow,” she remembers with distaste. They had been to visit Nashville, because Todd’s parents had retired to the area to follow Todd’s sister and her husband, who is in the music industry. They had always liked the area, so they decided to relocate to Nashville the following year, to see how they liked it. That was in 2001, and they’ve been here ever since. Before joining High Hopes, Kristin worked as a physical therapist in both Akron and Nashville. She worked in a children’s hospital in Akron, as well as working with some schools to provide physical therapy services to students there. Once in Nashville, Kristin began work as a PT at Vanderbilt, where she stayed for five years. At Vanderbilt, Kristin worked in the Newborn and Pediatric Intensive Care Units. She also worked a little in the outpatient department and specialty clinics. It was during her time at Vanderbilt that Kristin was introduced to High Hopes while searching for childcare for her own children. “The staff at High Hopes were so welcoming and caring and I valued the inclusive environment for my children. I was confident that I found the perfect place for my kids to grow and learn while I worked.” She became involved as a parent and was soon asked to serve as a parent representative on the High Hopes Board of Directors. After a short stint on the Board, the Executive Director and Clinic Director asked Kristin to consider leaving Vanderbilt to head up the Therapy Department at High Hopes. So, in November of 2006, she made the move to High Hopes. She has worked as the Clinic Director ever since. Now, almost 12 years later, Kristin is still excited to be here. She’s passionate about these families and these kids. She works with her friends. She loves what they get to do every day. “I really do enjoy coming to work and doing what I do.” As the clinic director, Kristin’s role is challenging and varied in nature. “I get to organize the craziness of the clinic!” she jokes, and that is no small task. There’s a lot that happens behind-the-scenes of any therapy session: medical records, prescriptions, how things are paid and reimbursed, insurance issues, session notes, and more all fall under Kristin’s authority. She is always looking for ways to make the clinic more efficient. “My role is to figure out what’s in the best interest of the kids and the mission, but then, being fiscally responsible at the same time.” She is grateful to work at a non-profit, where the mission is the bottom line. The clinic has grown leaps and bounds under Kristin’s leadership, but it is a top priority for her to keep the close, welcoming, family environment High Hopes has always enjoyed. “We try and keep all the benefits of a big clinic, with the feel of a small practice,” she says. “For the most part, we all know every kiddo’s name, and we know who’s got new baby brothers and sisters, and we know who’s just gone to Disney World. I love that when people call, they know Debbie’s name. That’s the feel that we still want to have, even though the clinic numbers are getting larger.” A typical workday for Kristin can start as early as 6:00 AM, while she’s still trying to get her own kids out the door. As the director, it’s her job to juggle the unexpected surprises the day may present with the needs of the clinic. Once in the office, Kristin is there to make sure everything is running smoothly, to answer any questions, to make decisions and consult with her staff when necessary, and to provide leadership and collaboration with the other directors. She attends meetings about subjects like the expansion, construction, community happenings, and High Hopes events, as well as directors’ meetings dealing with the different programs, their activities, and how they are impacting each other. But that’s not all she does. About 25% of Kristin’s work-week is actually hands-on, treating patients in physical therapy sessions and documenting those sessions.
When asked what aspects of her job are challenging, Kristin sobers and explains that one of the most challenging parts of being in her position is trying to stretch the minimal insurance reimbursements for therapy services to continue to provide the top notch services that our kids deserve. “We fundraise to help bridge the gap.” She reports that, “It is also really hard to see the financial challenges of some of our families when insurance policies deny paying for services. We try to run as efficiently as we can to keep costs down, so that therapy can be as affordable as possible. We also seek out grant funding sources that are willing to provide financial assistance for families." Here, Kristin adds, “Some people would think that the biggest challenge would be the kids. That’s what I hear a lot. ‘Isn’t that sad what you do?’ No!” She goes on to say, “These are the most inspiring kids and families that you could ever meet. They have challenges, yeah, but they persevere. So no, it’s not sad at all. It’s inspiring.” She also insists that her job doesn’t feel all that challenging because of the fantastic staff around her. They make her job easier than it should be, so she says, by just being themselves and doing what they do. “They are all so passionate, and they are very professional. So I just handle the details of making sure everybody gets what they need, and that we have everything running. But they really make it super-easy for me.”
As we move on, Kristin begins to talk about what it was like having her three children attending preschool where she worked. Both Carson and Dylann attended from early ages, and “Emmy was just born into Ladybug.” She loved having her children so close. She also feels that the preschool prepared her children in ways far beyond the scholastic. In fact, Kristin tells a story of both girls’ kindergarten teachers, at two different schools and years apart, as Dylann is older than Emmy. In their very first parent-teacher conference of the school year, both these teachers commented to Todd and Kristin about how empathetic the girls were, and how well they interacted with the kids with special needs in their classes. “I think they’ve always just had friends that walked different, or needed equipment, and they were just friends!” She says even now, they will tell her stories of friends at school, and there won’t be any hint until minutes into the conversation that a friend might have a special need. “It doesn’t even register to them to think that their friend is different or any less.” Sitting in the corner of her office during the interview is a bag with a softball bat sticking out of the top. All three of Kristin’s children are very athletic, and as such are involved in a plentitude of competitive sports! They’re always going, going, going. “It’s a bigtime commitment,” she says. Carson plays baseball on a travel team and for his school, and hopes to play in college as well. He plays basketball for fun, and football in the fall. He has even played lacrosse, although he’s had to cut back on that one just due to time constraints as he gets older and sports programs intensify. Dylann plays travel softball and will try out for the school team in the spring. She also plays basketball on a travel team and the school team, as well as playing volleyball on the school team and recreationally. Emmy, the youngest, plays basketball, and is trying volleyball for the first time this year. She also plays on a travel softball team. At the age level Emmy is playing for, a “coach pitch” is standard, so Kristin lends her throwing arm to pitch softball in Emmy’s games.
Kristin and Todd both played sports in high school and continue to enjoy them today. Kristin has coached softball and volleyball for her kids’ teams, and Todd has coached basketball. She also serves on the Board for the Grassland Athletic Association, the association where her children played a lot of their early sports, and she is the fundraising representative for the Franklin High School Baseball Booster Club. Outside of sports events and High Hopes, Kristin can most likely be found at home with her family. She also loves visiting the beach, any beach, and even says her favorite color is ocean blue.
Shockingly, they often have sports on the TV in the Garner house, and Kristin loves to root for their favorite teams (including the Buckeyes, the Titans, the Indians & the Cavaliers, the Predators, and even, though she is slightly hesitant to admit it, the Browns). She also likes to spend her time reading, though she says it’s mostly “fluff.” She confesses that she has one major indulgence when it comes to TV shows. “I do watch The Bachelor. Really, after a busy day, and a busy week, and craziness of kids, I don’t want to have to think anymore. So the shows I watch on TV have to require no brain cells. Because I’ve used all my brain cells, there’s nothing left.” As we wrap up the interview, Kristin says again how grateful she is to work with these families. She loves the kids and the stories and the relationships. But she especially loves the sense of teamwork. “If you’re attacking this challenge, you’re getting all of us. We’re going to help you up this mountain.” Kristin is such a huge part of everything that we do, and we don’t know what we’d do without her leading the therapy clinic and contributing to the High Hopes mission at every turn. Her expertise and steady guiding hand will continue to be crucial supports in our organization as we soar to new heights in times to come.