Amazing Dad: Russell Jackson

Filed under: Amazing Parents

Russell Jackson gets a show of support from his two children. Credit: Mary W. Jackson

Amazing Dad: Russell Jackson, founder of Kid One, an organization that transports medically-ill children and expectant moms to doctors and hospitals across the state of Alabama

Russell's Family: Wife: Mary, married 12 years; Kids: Harrison, 8, Mackenzie Grace, 3

Russell Lives In: Hoover, Alabama

Why Russell Is Amazing: Like many crusaders, Russell's mission was born of personal experience. After a 2-year-old child died in his arms while he was on the job as a firefighter, he coped with the subsequent mass of emotions by volunteering in one of Alabama's poorest communities. On one of those volunteer days, he met a 4-year-old boy who didn't speak. Instead, he grunted. His parents explained that the boy was retarded, but from Russell's limited training, he suspected that wasn't the case.

When he asked the parents what the doctor said, they said they'd never taken him to the doctor.

"Oh, so you don't have health insurance," Russell said. "No," they explained. "We have Medicaid, but we don't have a car."

So Russell put the boy in his car and drove 45 minutes to the closest hospital. A doctor discovered a lesion on the boy's brain, which was promptly removed. Russell and a friend took turns taking the boy for follow-up care and speech therapy. Soon after, other social workers began calling Russell to drive their child patients as well. And so, on his days off, that's exactly what he did.

Along the way, he discovered that this lack of medical transportation was a statewide problem in Alabama. But as the demand for his services grew, he began to feel overwhelmed.

So, in 1997 he left his firefighting job and founded Kid One, an organization dedicated to transporting Alabama kids and expectant moms to doctors and hospitals, all of which is funded by donations from the private sector. Since then, tens of thousands of sick children and expectant moms all over Alabama have been transported to doctors and hospitals across the state thanks to Russell's organization.

For the first seven years it wasn't uncommon for Russell to work seven days a week. Often he would rise at 2:30 a.m. to get a child into early morning dialysis or chemotherapy. Then, in 2004, a realization hit.

"I had a two year old boy at home who did not know me, who I loved more than life itself," he says. "And a wife who I was never seeing, who was very supportive."

But what ultimately made Russell decide it was time to pass the baton, "was when I heard my little boy say to my father, 'I think dad loves the kids at Kid One more than me.' I don't want my legacy to be Kid One. I want my legacy to be my family."

After helping to find his successor, he took a year off and did nothing but play with his son ("It was the best year of my life," he says) and followed that up with other kid- and parent-centric activities: He was the first male president of his son's elementary school Parent-Teacher Organization ("I'm ready for Congress now," he quips) and formed the Deer Valley Dads, a group that raises money for the school while engaging dads in service, development and networking opportunities at Deer Valley Elementary School.

This past January, Russell became the director of member services for the Alabama Association of Nonprofits. Although he says he misses being a firefighter, he's happy that he's still able to fulfill his passion of helping others. Indeed, his wife Mary says, "Russell is the real deal and possesses a true servant's heart. He is the one person I know who is truly living his dream because his dream is to help others and make a difference."

Russell's Wife Mary Says: "Russell is an amazing person and that transfers over to his parenting. As busy as he is and as many things as he is involved in, when he is with us he is there 100 percent. The kids adore and respect Russell and always know how much they are loved; he is a fine example to his children. One day, I believe, our kids will look back and agree that the words of the writer Clarence Budington Kelland, described their dad well: 'My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.'"

Russell's Son Harrison Says: "My dad is amazing because he is always helping people and I really think it's cool that he quit his job to spend time with me and Mom."

Recognition: Kid One was recognized in 2005 by Johnson & Johnson as "One of America's Most Innovative Healthcare Programs;" 2008 CNN Hero; profiled in the July 2009 issue of The Costco Connection as a member who's changing the world.

Russell's Guilty Pleasures: Watching NASCAR and eating any dish originating from a Paula Dean recipe -- "you know, the ones with 12 pounds of butter in them," he says.

Russell's Best Advice: "Do your research: What is the need and if you're duplicating services or providing similar services to another organization, why are you starting a competing entity? Those are the two things that funders -- the people who are going to bring your dream to life -- will want you to justify."

Related: Amazing Dad: Bill Krissoff

Want to see who else made the list? Click here for the rest of AOL's 2010 Amazing Dads!

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