These dark days, it’s soothing to pause and salute a century-old company that carries forward to this day its founders’ simple yet remarkable goal of “caring for and protecting others.”
The company is Security Benefit Group and its president and CEO, Kris Robbins, says the credo has stayed alive in many ways down the years, but there’s a recent example I want to tell you about.
It’s called “Securing Better Youth,” a program for “at risk” inner-city kids which recently earned the Topeka, Kan., company a Donald F. Barnes Award for Public Service.
The awards are a joint annual endeavor of Life Communicators Association and National Underwriter. Their late namesake was a columnist of note for this magazine and a long-time member and mover at LCA. I was among the creators of the honor and I’ve served as a judge since its inception, which is how I came upon the Security Benefit program.
By way of background, Security Benefit began life in 1892 when 11 men anted up a dollar each to form a fraternal benefit society, The Knights and Ladies of Security. This, remarkably for its time, provided life insurance to people who couldn’t afford it and admitted women on the same basis as men. During the Great Depression, the company operated facilities for children, for the elderly and for the infirm, and throughout its long history has backed many other efforts to further the education, health and safety of Kansas youth.
It was no surprise then that the company answered the call from the Topeka Public Schools to sponsor its “YouthFriends” program. Early on, 22 employees signed up as full-time mentors (another 10 were alternates) to sixth-grade, “at-risk” inner-city students. Topeka, not incidentally, is among the top 10 U.S. cities in per capita crime statistics.
The school year began with a tour of the home office. Students met their mentors, saw new technology at work and learned about different vocations. Each week thereafter, they were bussed to Security for concentrated tutoring in their area of greatest need, doing homework, and discussing topics of interest.
“These were children needing another figure in their life to help them,” says Kris Robbins. “There are those from broken homes, who weren’t performing well, who weren’t tied into after-school activities, who seemed to be straying toward the wrong side of the tracks, maybe toward the crime scene, disengaged from moving forward with life.”