Palmer Home for Children has been a beacon of light for children in need for more than 125 years. With a faith-based mission to provide love, nurturing, family and community to those who need it most, Palmer Home gives holistic care to every child based on their individual needs. As the newly named Vice President of Marketing, Kristin Budzak has the challenge — and the joy — of developing a clear, cohesive message to explain Palmer Home’s leadership in solving the out-of-home child crisis in our country. “I wake up every morning very excited about getting our brand and our message out to the public so we can help more children,” she says. With a loving heart and strong faith, Kristin makes a very special FACE of Memphis!
Where were you born, and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi. I was raised in a small community within that small town, with lots of family very close. Growing up, I had no chance to be bored. We were encouraged to spend time outdoors and to be creative. My favorite memory is of making books. We would write and illustrate them ourselves and take them to a little local lunch place and sell them for about a quarter. Of course, we sold out daily! We were so proud of ourselves. We thought we were authors.
What brought you to Memphis?
After I graduated from Ole Miss, I came here looking for a job. One of my sisters was (and still is) here, and I had friends here. While interviewing, I took a part-time job.
I can see God’s hand in everything I’ve done, especially work-wise. I started working at Juve Salon in East Memphis. I met a customer who’d moved here from Louisiana after Katrina, and her husband was a vice president for Pepsi. Pepsi had just launched a small line of drinks, and her husband was hiring people to market it. That was my first career job, sales and marketing for a specific brand within Pepsi.
You had a major “bump in the road” about two years after you started working for Pepsi. What happened?
When I found out the beverage line I was promoting would be dissolved into Pepsi, I started to get my house in order. I lined up appointments with doctors and the dentist. I was very surprised to get bad results from a Pap smear – I was 27 years old! But I was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer.
The next three months were a whirlwind. I had successful surgeries, so I didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy. The risk, of course, was that I wouldn’t be able to have children. And I had just started dating my husband. He came over the evening I got my diagnosis – I told him I needed to talk to him. I told him about the cancer, that I wasn’t sure what the journey would be, but I wanted him to know. He leaned back in his chair, gave a big sigh and said, “I thought you were breaking up with me!” He told me as long as I was okay, we would be okay. We’ve been married 11 years in May, and I was able to have children – we are blessed with a 9-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.
Growing up, my family and church community often said, “Put your troubles on the Lord.” I never understood that completely until my cancer scare. I remember crying and praying, “I can’t do this alone. I need you to take this from me.” It was hard – I went through crying and being mad, but I really did feel the burden removed from me, and I ended up in a place of peace very quickly.
Where did your career path lead after your recovery?
While I was recovering, the director of marketing position for the South Division of Pepsi became available. I came out of recovery immediately into that role, and I was in the position for about six years. I left Pepsi Co. to work for the Carlisle Corporation, where I managed the marketing and brand strategy for 98 Wendy’s franchises, and that is where I met Karen Carlisle.
Karen is on the board for Palmer Home, and we supported them with our philanthropic endeavors within the corporation, along with two adoption agencies. I genuinely loved all three, but there was something about Palmer Home that was so special to me, and I started to realize how much I would love to work for a nonprofit. I left Carlisle Corporation very amicably, to spend time soul searching, enjoying time with my children and helping my sister who owns Social, a shop for gracious living in East Memphis. During that time, Palmer Home called, and I worked as an event consultant, which grew into a full-time position in community development, and then I became Manager of Special Events. About a year into that position, I started my current position as VP of Marketing.
What is the mission of Palmer Home, and why is it so important?
Very simply, we care for children in critical situations at Palmer Home. We do it through our Whole Child Initiative; we care for their emotional, physical, spiritual and educational needs. We try to repair the whole child from the effects of the trauma they’ve experienced so they can break the cycle of trauma.
We have four streams of care. Campus care is what most people are familiar with – children live on our Panther Creek Ranch campus in a Christ-centered family atmosphere where they are connected to trustworthy adults and supported as they grow and develop. Palmer Home also has its own foster care program where our certified foster families care for children in their own homes. If children are going to be with us long-term, this is the avenue we take to care for them. Transitional care provides a home and guidance for young adults heading off to college, teaching them life skills as well as giving educational help. In our Family Care program, we love and nurture babies of mothers who are incarcerated with the goal of keeping the bond between the mother and baby. And we offer support and help for the mother while she’s in prison and when she is released.
We have truly seen God’s providence and abundance in all four streams of care. In addition to providing for us financially, He continues to supply us with mission-minded employees and caregivers as the needs arise.
What we do is vitally important because the number of children in our community who need care continues to grow. Palmer Home bridges a gap for families that can’t care for their children. Part of our mission is to care for the families as well. A very important part of caring for children is making sure they have some sort of family tie if at all possible, so we try to make sure the relationships with family members are maintained.
Shifting gears, when you have visitors to Memphis, where do you take them?
We focus on food! Central BBQ and MemPops are two of our favorites. The Highland Strip and the surrounding area are fun places to visit. Our favorite dive bar is Alex’s Tavern, near Rhodes College. It’s the best cheeseburger in Memphis. The Orpheum is a very special place. We always try to make the shows and concerts there.
What do you do in the morning to get your day off to a good start?
I have quiet time. I read a devotional, and keep worry and anxiety at bay by understanding that God is sovereign over all things.
What’s your best piece of advice?
When I started to work at Palmer Home, one of our board members and my friend, Kirby Dobbs Floyd, told me I would need a different mindset from the corporate environment of competition and winning. At a nonprofit, there is still competition, but we don’t have a “how are we going to beat them” attitude. Kirby told me whatever God places on someone’s heart is what they are called to support and not everyone will have the same passion, but you always have to believe in God’s abundance. He will provide the gifts and opportunities for Palmer Home. It keeps me from becoming overwhelmed and feeling like everything rests on me. God has abundantly provided for me for 40 years and Palmer Home for 125.
RELATED: Kirby Dobbs Floyd: FACES of Memphis
Aside from family, faith and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Coffee, frequent trips to Mississippi, and depending on the season, beach trips (summer) or a good book in front of a fire (winter).
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