“Our profound impact is that it’s the small things that make a big difference,” Krystal Simon says. “What we do is so simple.” From Simon’s personal philosophies to the life-changing aspects of her professional work, the CEO of nonprofit Care to Learn might be making big differences, but she’s mindful that they happen one child at a time.
Care to Learn is Springfield-born and currently has 38 chapters statewide. Its services address health, hunger and hygiene needs for children. Following shutdowns and hybrid learning models, many children returning to school last fall had unmet needs in each category. Care to Learn provides staples including deodorant, body wash and shampoo in addition to food and clothing.
While recipients often receive packages of pre-selected items, Simon recognizes the small joys children feel when they get to choose their own items—whether that’s a pair of shoes or their favorite foods. She credits the incredible work of chapter liaisons in making these experiences happen.
“That’s what’s great about Care to Learn; there is no red tape,” she says. “We can make it happen that day.”
Although changes happen incrementally, Simon also has big-picture plans. She wants to continue to share the Care to Learn mission across the state, with the goal of doubling in size in two to three years. She aims to raise $1 million to continue to support feeding programs, pantries, hygiene items and medical expenses, and she’d like to establish matching gifts for new chapters.
Simon’s goals are ambitious, but she credits her professional experience with reminding her of what’s possible—and what’s important. As the former COO of Camp Barnabas, she praises that program with shaping who she is today. Her day-to-day might now be different, but the lessons are universal.
“Recognize that not everyone will agree with decisions you make, and that’s okay,” she says. “I lean on my faith. I remind myself that whatever it is, unmet expectations, other people’s opinions—none of it is going to last.”
Checking in with her personal “why” and Care to Learn’s mission gives her confidence in her strategies, and she credits three mentors who have remained steady advocates. Those include Jack Stack, whom she worked without of college, Debbie Shantz Hart, a 15-year friend and mentor, and Camp Barnabas board member Peter Herschend. Additionally, her family and her faith are her motivation, and her hope.
One piece of professional advice serves as a reminder during times of doubt. “Choose your hard,” she says. “It’s the best advice I ever got. Regardless of the choices you make, you’re going to have struggles. It’s what I go back to again and again. Everything is temporary.”