The Tyler Loop Interview: Jim Nipp of Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County

Listen to the audio or read the full transcript, below.

“I want more justice for the kids. I want more kids to get past this, and the only way that that’s gonna happen is to just shine the light on it,” Jim Nipp said. 📷photos courtesy Jim Nipp

Jane: My guest today is Jim Nipp. A resident of Whitehouse, Texas, and graduate of Lindale High School, Jim is president of The Genesis Group, a Tyler-based company specializing in software for public safety. Jim is a veteran of the United States Air Force and worked with a burgeoning Dell Computer Corporation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But, Jim is also a community leader and volunteer in Tyler in East Texas. He’s invested in multiple nonprofit organizations and serves on the board of The Mentoring Alliance, the Children’s Advocacy Center, the Tyler Area Business Education Council and the Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation.

Additionally, he is involved with The Fostering Collective, Children’s Village, Living Alternatives, Champions for Children, Bethesda Health Clinic, St. Paul Children’s Clinic, CASA of East Texas and Grace emBEDded.

Jim, welcome.

Jim: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Jane: Well, Jim, I’ve asked you to narrow it down, and tell me about one nonprofit you want to highlight today. So, here’s the big reveal.

Jim: You know, I’m passionate about all the nonprofits that I serve with, but probably the closest to my heart is the Children’s Advocacy Center — the CAC of Smith County.

Jane: Yes. Tell me how you learned about the Children’s Advocacy Center and then how you became involved.

Jim: We adopted a girl when she was 15, a girl from Whitehouse, and she had involvement as a client with the CAC of Smith County. So, I had that exposure; that knowledge knowing that she’d had this traumatic event and had gone through the CAC.

But it was really through the sheriff, Larry Smith. He has a golf tournament every year on his birthday, and that golf tournament is in support of the CAC of Smith County. Our software company, Genesis, sponsored that golf tournament. Spending time talking to Terry Smith and Deanna Sims and the people on the staff at the CAC, I learned about what their mission was.

The newly remodeled Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County at the East Loop 323.

We decided to get involved at Genesis. That year, they were doing a drive to collect teddy bears and blankets, and I think we collected 1,000 teddy bears and 1,000 blankets for them to use at the CAC. We got involved that way, and I just really fell in love with their mission and the people that work there —selfless people.

Jane: Fantastic. Can you tell us a little more specifically about what the CAC does and why its presence is important, particularly in this region of East Texas?

Jim: Every year children and caregivers, they walk through the doors at the CAC looking for safety and hope and and healing and and justice. That happened 1,034 times last year.

The CAC provides the services from forensics; interviewing a child that’s made an outcry or an adult that’s made an outcry on behalf of a child through the medical exams, through connections with the District Attorney and protective services.

All of those are done in one place, one hub, so the child doesn’t have to relive the event over and over. Then, downstream — the counseling and the family advocacy — it’s the least traumatic way a child can go through the experience and then find that hope and that healing they’re looking for.

Our CAC in Smith County has an educational arm that goes into the local schools. They teach things like trauma-informed schools and community education. They teach caregivers and teachers and bus drivers.

Jane: I see that one thing you’re passionate about is this upstream mentality: Let’s be preventative and fix problems before they become bigger.

Jim: That’s right. Without a CAC, they get interviewed at the school. Then, they get interviewed again by the police department or sheriff’s office. Then, they get interviewed again by the Child Welfare Agency. Then, they get interviewed again by the District Attorney’s office and the prosecuting attorney. Then, they get interviewed again in court. Then, they get interviewed again by a therapist, hopefully, that they’re seeking afterwards — and they relive that trauma over and over and over.

And the beauty of the CAC is that they bring them in. They have trained forensic interviewers that build a rapport with the child and get the child to open up and tell their story in their own words.

An artistic rendering reveals the interior of the Children’s Advocacy Center’s new location on the East Loop. “Everybody that drives to the East Loop will see that building and know what it is, and I think it’ll bring more recognition to the size of the problem,” Nipp said.

On closed circuit television and in the same building, the District Attorney and the police officers and CPS investigators — all those people are watching that interview from outside that room — they can, in one room, make a decision and take action. So, it really shortens the time between the outcry and the prosecution, and it shortens the amount of time the kid has to retell that story.

[Smith County] is really a model CAC for the state of Texas. They’re in place all over the state.

Jane: What do you know about the stats or the needs that the CAC touches, and what would you like to see happen in the future to enlarge the reach of the CAC?

Jim: In the latest stats that came out this year, one in 10 children will have been sexually assaulted by the time they reach adulthood. One of the things that I’m most proud of is the CAC in a couple of weeks will move into their new building. So, they’ve been in a building that almost looks like daycare centers stacked on top of each other, hidden out of the way.

And now, they have a new five story, 30,000 square foot building on the East Loop that’s just finishing remodel. That building will serve as a reminder to the whole community about how big the problem is.

Every other month at the CAC board meeting, community members, people from the District Attorney’s office, the sheriff and the police chief all come in and they present a case from the multidisciplinary team — family therapists, medical examiners, the police officers doing the investigating, the District Attorney’s office — and they go end to end on a case.

So, you really get personally connected with these cases. It’s impossible to know about it and not want to do something about it.

One of the biggest impacts for me at the new building is an entire floor that has these cutout, multi-colored handprints on the wall. When a child comes in and they’ve been interviewed, they have them write their first name and their age on this handprint.

So, there’s red and blue and green, and there’s all different sizes. So, an 18-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old.

A really small handprint caught me off guard, and I said, “What are all these handprints?”

And they said, “These are the children that we’ve seen.”

And I thought, “Oh man, how many years?”

And they said, “No, just this year.”

And to see the size of it, the impact of it is just huge. The kids, when they come out, they see all these handprints, and they know they’re not alone. They’re not alone in this. It’s one of the tools the perpetrators use: to isolate these kids, and they think that they’re all alone. But they can see that they’re not all alone.

Everybody that drives to the East Loop will see that building and know what it is, and I think it’ll bring more recognition to the size of the problem.

Jane: I love this notion that the community becomes informed about what’s important to them by the size of the building.

The Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County at its current location on Frankston Highway.

Jim: That’s right. It’s a huge monument to the people that go in. There’s 35 people that work at the CAC. The police department has multiple officers stationed there. The sheriff’s department has multiple people stationed there — the District Attorney and Child Protective Services — all those people that go in everyday.

Jane: So looking at the CAC’s reach, what would you wish for them in the future?

Jim: Schools in the local area that don’t open their doors for the CAC to come in for these pieces of education are doing a disservice to the very kids they’re responsible for. I want more justice for the kids. I want more kids to get past this, and the only way that that’s gonna happen is to just shine the light on it.

Not educating and not shining the light on it; not learning all the facts is not making it go away. It’s doing just the opposite; it’s just allowing it to continue.

Jane: As you said earlier, you have this understanding that, “If not me, then who?” So, when you start educating staff, everybody from the person behind the lunch counter to the teacher, to the counselor —hopefully, there is this collective feeling of responsibility that, “Yes, this is for me. This is for me to help take care of.”

Jim: Twenty percent of the kids the CAC saw last year for forensic interviews were 5 years old or less. These are kids that don’t have a voice of their own. It’s our responsibility to provide them that voice.

Jane: What else is important to you that hasn’t come up yet?

Jim: The CAC gets a majority of its funding from state. The things like the new building that I talked about, those things are funded by local people. The way the community can get involved with the CAC is through that capital campaign, through creating break rooms in the building that are great for the employees that work there or waiting rooms that are friendly for the kids waiting to be interviewed.

If you have influence with school boards or school superintendents, asking them to have conversations with the CAC or asking what their involvement is with the CAC is a great way to open discussions and open the door for the CAC maybe to get into places and talk to the schools.

Jane: What gave you the eyes to see that you could change the world through making a break room or making a playroom or the decor of a building? Not everybody sees that.

Jim: At our company, we give people a place to work that they’re proud of and that is light and inviting and open; a place with beanbag chairs, bright lights and music and fun things happening. That was the idea behind it.

But coming from the building they’re in now, kind of crammed in on top of each other, and looking at the space being created for them, it is a huge difference. It seems subtle and it seems non-mission oriented. Creating these spaces for people that are working night and day to make a difference on our behalf just seems logical. It’s just a logical step for me.

Jane: Is there anything else you want to add; anything you wish people knew or understood?

Jim: Well, whether you get involved with the CAC or you get involved with The Mentoring Alliance or The Foster Collective or any of those: Just be involved. Make a difference.

When I sit at a funeral and and I’m listening to the eulogy, I think, “You know, this guy didn’t really matter.” He was here his whole life and didn’t really matter. Mattered to his kids and mattered to his wife — that’s it. He didn’t make a big difference. As adults that have led this blessed life, if we don’t speak up for children, who’s gonna do that?

They don’t have a voice of their own to speak up and defend themselves. So, that’s what really draws me to things surrounding children.

Jane: Well, we know you are super involved and super focused on the future of children and Tyler in East Texas. And what is your hope for Tyler in East Texas?

Jim: I wish there didn’t need to be a CAC. I wish that evil would go away. I wish no child would ever have to go through that. That’s probably an unrealistic goal.

So, more realistically, I wish that no child had to go through this and feel like they were alone and feel like the community didn’t stand with them; that justice wasn’t on their side. That’s what I wish.

Jane: I don’t know many people who are in the world you’re in and still able to come across as so human-centered and human-focused.

Jim: Yeah. It’s pretty rare in the software industry. We have a thing at work called Genesis Gives Back, where we have an entire department — the Beyond Business manager and Beyond Business employees — and their goal is to figure out ways to plug us into the community.

Food insecurity, children’s issues, and education: Those are the three that resonate with our software developer crowd we work with. So we plug into things like that.

We have a Meals on Wheels route that we’ve run for seven years now. Every Thursday, it stays signed up probably two months in advance. Every Thursday, we run the same Meals on Wheels route, but we take flowers to those people.

We could just drop off the food, but I want the people that go to actually connect with the people we’re serving. So, we take them flowers, we take them fans in the summer and blankets in the winter, and at Christmas, we rent a big bus and we bring Santa Claus. We sing Christmas carols at all 16 houses on our route.

It’s about really making these human connections to the things they care about.

Look, I want to care about the things you care about, because I want you to care about the things I care about. That’s how it works. If somebody gets involved with something, we’ll completely wrap around that.

I can’t tell you the number of T-ball games and soccer games and dance recitals and stuff that I’ve been to. I didn’t go because I wanted to go or I cared about it. I went because they cared about it. It was important to them. And then, when I want them to wrap around something — I want them to be a mentor with The Mentoring Alliance — it’s an easier ask, because I cared about something they cared about.

Jane: How many employees at The Genesis Group are involved in the giving back?

Jim: There are 54 here. We have about six in the U.K. and then we have four in our Melbourne, Australia office. All of them are involved in one way or another, but the heaviest involvement is obviously from here.

Jane: Okay, wonderful.

Jim: Everybody here has the capacity to make a difference. Think of the force multiplier if everybody just did one thing — what a difference, what an impact.

This is a great place to live. How great would it be if everybody just did one thing?

Jane: It has been inspiring and challenging and delightful to talk to you. Jim Nipp, thank you so much.

Jim: Awesome. Thank you, guys.

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