Michelle Sorrells Talks Kids’ Chance Awareness Week, What Industry Can Do to Lessen the Lingering Burden of Workplace Fatalities and Permanent Disability

This week (November 2nd to the 6th) is National Kids’ Chance Awareness Week. Kids’ Chance is a scholarship program operating on a state by state level that provides funds for college or vocational school to the children of workers who were killed or rendered permanently and totally disabled in a workplace accident. Although Louisiana is one of the safest states in the nation to work, 120 people were killed in workplace accidents in 2014. The effects of a fatality or permanent injury on families and children are well known among workers’ comp professionals and can be immense as family income drastically declines. As a result of the financial burden, a child’s educational goals might have to be sidelined. Kids’ Chance tries to remedy this problem by partnering with workers’ comp stakeholders. Louisiana Comp Blog sat down with Michelle Sorrells, Co-Chair of Kids’ Chance through the Louisiana Bar Foundation, to discuss awareness activities and more details about the program.

Comp Blog: How did you get involved with Kids’ Chance?

Sorrells: I’ve been actively practicing workers’ comp law for twenty years and I solely represent injured workers, so I’m always interested in causes that can help my clients. I first heard about Kids’ Chance back around 2004. My law partner at the time, Chuck Davoli, got involved with the Louisiana Bar Foundation to try and establish a state chapter for Kids’ Chance and I joined that effort and got involved myself. The Louisiana Bar Foundation administers Kids’ Chance through the Louisiana Bar Association. Initially, I was on a committee organizing a gala for the Foundation, but I requested a switch to the Kids’ Chance Committee because that was something about which I was personally passionate. I eventually became the co-chairman of the Kids’ Chance Committee in 2013, along with my fellow chairman Sherry Watters.

Locally, I also co-chair the workers’ comp section of the Baton Rouge Bar Association, and we hold an annual fundraiser for Kids’ Chance here as well.

Comp Blog: What’s the history of Kids’ Chance?

Sorrells: Kids’ Chance began in Georgia in 1988 with the effort of an attorney representing injured workers named Robert Clyatt. Clyatt saw how devastating fatal and permanent total injuries can be and he wanted to do something active about the problem. With the assistance of the Georgia State Bar Association, Clyatt incorporated Kids’ Chance of Georgia and began raising money to fund educational scholarships. Eventually, Kids’ Chance of Georgia began reaching out to other State Bar Associations and encouraging them to establish their own programs. In 2002, the first Kids’ Chance Annual Conference was held in St. Louis, Missouri, with the goal of creating a national organization – that officially happened in 2007. Thirty two states in the nation now have a Kids’ Chance chapter of their own. The Louisiana chapter of Kids’ Chance was founded in 2004.

Comp Blog: How many scholarships have been awarded under Kids’ Chance in Louisiana?

Sorrells: The Louisiana Bar Foundation has been able to distribute 235 scholarships to Louisiana students, totaling $459,600 in aid since our chapter was founded in 2004. Last year, we awarded scholarships to 17 children totaling $52,500. Typical scholarships range from $500 to $3,500. Anyone who is interested in the personal side of what we do can go to the local Kids’ Chance website (raisingthebar.org/kidschance) and read about each scholarship recipient. This program really has the ability to better the life of the next generation.

Comp Blog: So what is the national Kids’ Chance Awareness Week all about? What can the industry do to help?

Sorrells: First of all, we want to be able to identify the kids who need our help. If you’re an adjuster or work in another capacity for a carrier and come across a fatality claim, we encourage you to give the family information about our program. We suggest the same for all of the judges and attorneys out there. Obviously, representatives of injured workers and their families are in the closest position to pass along information about Kids’ Chance, but defense attorneys, if you are preparing settlement documents for a death claim, and you see a child is involved, give the family a pamphlet or direct them to our website. Those materials are available, just contact us.

Comp Blog: What else can comp professionals do to benefit the program?

Sorrells: Obviously, monetary contributions are accepted and appreciated. The national organization has also offered several suggestions for offices and law firms, like a blue jean day where everyone who contributes five dollars can wear blue jeans, or a change collection, a raffle with half of the proceeds to the winner and half to Kids’ Chance. Even just holding an info session for people in the office to learn about the program is a great way to get involved and help spread the word. We also highly encourage anyone with marketing responsibilities at their company to shout out Kids’ Chance on Facebook or with #KidsChance on Twitter and Instagram.

Comp Blog: On that note, is there anyone you want to shout out for their efforts to help Kids’ Chance locally?

Sorrells: LWCC is one of the carriers that has really embraced the program. They hold an annual golf tournament benefiting Kids’ Chance that gets great participation and is a lot of fun. The twelfth one was held just a couple of weeks ago and raised $31,000.

Comp Blog: If an office or individual holds an event this week or just wants to donate, who should they contact?

Sorrells: They can contact me, Michelle Sorrells, at sorrells@lawbr.net. Any checks should be sent to the Louisiana Bar Foundation and made payable to “Louisiana Bar Foundation, Kids’ Chance.” More information about the program and the application process, which starts December 1st and ends on February 20th, 2016 is available on the Kids’ Chance website.

 

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