Like many Memphis parents, Karen Eskin ended up at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital during the worst day of her life. From the terrifying moment that her son Brendan was airlifted to the hospital, she put her entire trust in the staff and volunteers who brought him back from near-certain death. Since his incredible recovery, she has tried to help other parents in the same traumatic situations. Karen is now the president of Le Bonheur Club, the hospital’s fundraising arm in the community, a position she’s well-suited for as a professional organizer, entrepreneur and mother of three. Today, we’re thrilled to introduce her as our newest FACE of Memphis!
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Syracuse, NY, but did not live there for very long. My dad was a pilot in the Air Force, so we moved around quite a bit. I really grew up in south Florida, in Homestead, which is just before the Keys start. I am the oldest of five kids, and we’re very spread out – my youngest brother is 17 years younger than me.
You went from earning a chemistry degree to pursuing an MBA. How did that transition happen?
My husband did his residency at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, so we ended up moving there just shy of me finishing my master’s degree in chemistry. After that, we moved to Memphis. My scores were expiring, and it was kind of now or never, so I started at the University of Memphis’ MBA program and went there for a couple of years, and then my son was in a bad accident so I had to stop. Once I got him back on track, I ended up finishing there.
What drew you to entrepreneurship?
I think it’s just always been in my blood. I always have ideas, and I’m one of those people who can’t really sit still. I’ve always got to be doing something.
My organizing business really was just a couple of different worlds colliding. When my kids were young, the director of their preschool knew that I was very organized and loved taking organizing classes, and she said, “Hey, I’ve got this great project. Would you mind organizing our library for us?” And I said sure – not really knowing what I was getting into or that there’s a reason why people can get a degree in library science. They had 4,000 books, and I would take a box home every night. They have a full database now with every book they have in there.
At the same time, I had a couple of friends who were real estate agents, and they were constantly sending me pictures saying, “What do I do with this?” And my very best friend said to me one day, “Do you think maybe you should get paid for this at some point, because this is all you do?” So those two worlds collided, and the Commercial Appeal ended up doing an article about the library. That’s how it started.
What is the mission of your company, Organized Advantage?
The mission is to help people improve their lives. That means something different to everybody. For some people, that means getting their physical space in order. For other people, that means making more useful sense of their time. Certainly for every client that I have, everything is geared strictly towards what they need.
How does physical organization affect one’s mindset?
It’s amazing. It saves them time, it saves them money, it saves them stress. For a lot of people, it’s life-changing. My goal is just to get them to the place where they feel like they’re at their best.
How did you become involved with Le Bonheur?
My son was in an accident in 2002. It was a very serious, near-fatal accident. He was waiting in the carpool line in school, and somebody stepped on the accelerator and plowed through a whole group of kids. There were nine of them who were severely injured, and Brendan was the worst. He was airlifted to Le Bonheur – spent a month there. He is a miracle child in every sense of the word – should not have made it through the night, should have been quadriplegic, wasn’t supposed to see or hear.
How is Brendan doing now?
He’s almost 23 years old today. He’s a senior at UT-Knoxville, and — surprise, surprise — he wants to be a physician. I think he’ll be great no matter what he does because he understands what it’s like to be a patient. He went through years of surgery and rehab.
How did you first get involved with Le Bonheur Club?
The amazing thing to me at Le Bonheur was they didn’t just take care of Brendan, they didn’t just save his life – in a sense, they saved mine because they made me eat and sleep and try to talk about normal things, all these things that are almost impossible to do when you’re facing something like that.
Two years after Brendan’s accident, I was looking for a way to give back. I ended up working with someone, again at preschool, who was already at Le Bonheur Club. We struck up a conversation, and I started volunteering with them then. I’ve done many jobs in the club and was happy to be president when they asked me to be.
As a parent who went through having a child spend so much time at Le Bonheur, how is your perspective as a volunteer different?
I know what they’re going through. You can tell people what it’s like to be in that situation, but until you’re there, it’s very difficult to understand how catastrophic something like this can be to a family.
What can people expect at Le Bon Appétit?
People can expect an amazing culinary journey. Le Bon Appétit has grown from year to year – we do it every other year. This year, we’ve got 40 chefs coming in from all over the country. Now that we’re doing it here at Crosstown, it’s going to be even more exciting, because this space is just so unique and interesting to everybody who’s in Memphis.
What are you most looking forward to at this event?
I love the energy of Le Bon Appetit because you have a lot of people who, of course, are foodies and want to come because they’ve got all of these great chefs, but it’s also everybody who’s been touched by Le Bonheur, so the energy when you combine those two things is just incredible.
What is your best advice?
In relation to Le Bonheur, my best advice would be just to live every day – appreciate every day – because you just never know when something catastrophic could happen to you, your family or a loved one.
What three things can’t you live without?
I thrive on organization – I couldn’t live without my label maker. Volunteering, because it’s just a constant reminder to me of everything that I have and everything that I should be grateful for. And books – I love to read!
Thank you, Karen, for sharing your story and for serving Memphis and Le Bonheur Club so well – you are an inspiration! And thank you to Mary Kate Steele for these beautiful photos.
If you’re interested in attending Le Bon Appetit on June 9, you can find tickets and more information here.
Want insider tips from financial experts? Read our new Q&A series, “Ask Reliant,” in which Reliant’s dynamic team of financial experts cuts through all the dizzying fiscal jargon and delivers practical answers. Approachable financial information has never been easier! Click here to read the first article in the series.