After spending over 20 years in the insurance industry, Oyauma Garrison left the corporate sector to enter the nonprofit world with A Kid Again as CEO and president. The organization presents free adventures to families with children who are battling life-threatening illnesses. (Courtesy Photo)
By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Oyauma Garrison is a Baltimore-bred man. He attended Winston Middle School and went on to graduate from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 1992.
Throughout his younger academic years, Garrison was always involved in community service and outreach. His commitment to giving back persisted even when he left the city to attend Denison University in Ohio and then entered the workforce.
For over 20 years, Garrison bounced around from insurance company to insurance company, climbing the corporate ladder. While his career sufficiently supported his family, it also kept him away from them. At one point, Garrison was spending 60 to 90% of his time on the road visiting different agencies.
But, on Oct.1, 2016, everything changed for him. His 14-year-old daughter became critically ill and was rushed to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. After just two hours, Garrison’s daughter flatlined for 10 minutes.
“In a moment like that, you start to learn what’s most important to you,” said Garrison. “I was a corporate climber. I did really well climbing the proverbial ladder of success, but what I will tell you is there is nothing more valuable than your family, especially in a moment of crisis.”
After his daughter’s near-death experience, Garrison withdrew from the corporate world. He became a stay-at-home dad, and simultaneously, started reaching out to his mentors to learn how he could do more in the community.
In 2017, he joined Ohio-based A Kid Again as the CEO and president, after its principal founder retired. The organization focuses on families who are raising a child with a life-threatening illness. It allows the entire family to give illness a timeout with free local adventures.
“It’s been four years, and I got to tell you that day is the day I stopped actually working because it has been an incredible passion and purpose-filled journey ever since,” said Garrison.
When Garrison started, A Kid Again only had three chapters in Ohio, and now the organization has expanded to six chapters with families spread across 35 states. In the coming months, Garrison intends to create three more chapters, one of which will be located in the DMV area.
Garrison said bringing the organization to the Baltimore area is very special to him. While he presently lives in Ohio, his affinity for the community he was raised in remains.
“I always try to find ways to give back to the community, and this is an incredible way to be able to do just that because I know there are so many kids in that market that can benefit from this program,” said Garrison.
Some of the adventures A Kid Again provides to families include local trips to sporting events, amusement parks, aquariums and the zoo. They leverage partnerships with corporate sponsors, including Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, Nationwide and Pure Silk, to make all of the experiences cost free.
Although the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to pause in-person operations, A Kid Again quickly launched a virtual adventure program. It offered online scavenger hunts for families and delivered adventures in a box, which ranged from tie-dye to baking kits.
“Virtually, we launched what we believe to be the world’s first global online magic show that was free and included magicians from all over the world,” said Garrison. Fifty-thousand people tuned in to watch the two-hour magic show.
Currently, A Kid Again is running its national fundraising campaign. It’s less than $10,000 away from the $600,000 goal to support the ongoing efforts of the organization.
“This opportunity to make this difference in people’s lives doesn’t come easy, but what it does come with is what I like to call the easiest thing you can do every day you wake up and that is to center yourself around the ability to do some good,” said Garrison.
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