Deborah Roberson is a family nurse practitioner with Clayton Medical Associates. She and her husband Blake have nine-year-old triplets, Meredith, Noelle and Kirby. The Robersons created a non-profit organization through which they have donated over $120,000 to schools and research foundations in Johnston and Wake Counties aimed at helping children with autism. In their spare time, she and her family are triathletes.
Q: Why did you and Blake want to set up the Hit it Far for Kirby foundation?
Our son Kirby was diagnosed with autism when he was 23 months old. In 2007, when the triplets were four we decided to hold a golf tournament to raise money that we could give back to the autism community at large. We were so pleased with how well Kirby was doing. After the first year of doing the tournament we decided we needed to incorporate into a non-profit. All of the tax laws and receiving of donations and disbursement is challenging if you’re not a non-profit. It’s much cleaner as a non-profit.
Q: How does Hit it Far for Kirby raise funds?
It’s a one day golf tournament in June at River Ridge Golf Club. In the spring, preparing for the tournament really becomes a pretty full time job for Blake. We start in early spring trying to get sponsors and sending out information to various organizations and people that want it. We’ve developed a big database on the computer so that we haven’t had to do any advertising beyond email blasts and word of mouth for the past two years.
Q: To whom do you give the proceeds from the tournament?
Originally we were donating all of the proceeds to the Foundation for Autism Research and Remediation (FARR), but they have disbanded so we’ve chosen to split our money equally between the Johnston and Wake County school systems. It’s not given directly to the school system, but given to a non-profit in each county that administers grants to the teachers who apply and qualify.
The non-profits that receive the equally divided monies are the Johnston County Education Foundation and Wake County Education Partnership. Each non-profit administers and awards the grants. That way we’re not responsible for judging the merit of the proposals.
We decided to focus on the public schools after FARR disbanded because Kirby has had such great success and such a great experience in the public schools here in Johnston County. They have been so easy for us to maneuver and navigate with our special needs child. The Johnston County schools have been supportive of him being in mainstream classrooms the whole time. He’s gotten all the support he needs.
Q: Since he attends school in Johnston County why do you make donations to Wake County?
A lot of our sponsorship comes from Wake County and we’re both from Wake County so we wanted to give there too.
Q: What kinds of grants are awarded?
We just found out that in Johnston County four grants were awarded totaling $9,000. One is at Selma, one at Corinth-Holders High School, one in Benson and the last is at West Johnston Elementary. Six were distributed in Wake County totaling $9,000, too. So, each distributing non-profit has received $18,000 in the last two years.
Q: Does each grant go directly to helping children with autism?
We have a clause in our charter that each grant has to touch at least one child with autism. The grant that was just received at West Johnston Elementary is going to the library. The money they receive will touch the typically developing and the autistic children at the school. We didn’t want the money just going to the autism classroom at the school. We want the money to benefit everybody. By writing the clause that way it opens the doors for the P.E. teacher, music teacher, art teacher, anybody to request that money. We can help the kids in cool ways. The teachers come up with such creative and innovative programs.
Q: Your job outside of the Hit it Far for Kirby Foundation is as a family nurse practitioner. What do you like about working at Clayton Medical Associates?
After I finished my undergraduate studies I worked at UNC, which is a teaching hospital, in the cancer ward. It was very challenging and fascinating. But, it’s obviously a very sick patient population. With Joan (Meehan) I get to see whole communities. Recently when our family went to Disney World people would call my nurse and say, “I know Deborah’s not in this week, because she always takes vacation this week each year...” People know me, and I know them. In some situations I treat three generations of one family: grandparents, parents and kids. I get to see all of them. I also get to know the day to day stuff about my patients. I see subsets within the community of different people that know each other. I’ve also treated kids that I’ve seen grow up from elementary school to high school and some in college. I did their sports physicals and now I’m doing their college physicals. It’s more connected. Being in family practice is fun. I love getting to see kids, babies and adults.
Q: What are the challenges of working there?
I really hate having to tell parents that their child is very sick. Last winter I had a run of three Wednesdays in a row that I had to tell people they had very sick children. Insurance can make life hard, but I can deal with that. When you have to tell someone that you really care about that they have a really bad illness, it’s rough. The flip side, then is that you get to be there for that person through the hard time.
Q: In your free time you are a runner. How did that start?
I ran in high school. I ran cross country in high school. I’m into doing triathlons now as much as running. The whole family does them, Blake and the kids. We’re big proponents of kids being active. I see so many overweight kids. So many of my patients suffer from childhood obesity. Kids not getting outside, playing too many video games. So, the whole family runs, bikes and swims. We swim at Riverwood, but the running and biking we can do wherever. I have an indoor trainer for my bike so I like to watch a Disney movie with the kids while I train. Most Disney movies are about 90 minutes long, so I can get a good ride in while I watch the movie with them.
Q: Are the kids on a swim team?
No, it’s completely independent. They’ve done events in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.
Q: What kind of events do you participate in?
I did a half Ironman triathlon last year. So, it’s a 1.2 mile swim which is 42 laps in a pool. Then I biked 56 miles and ran a half marathon, 13.1 miles. I did that in five hours and 14 minutes.
The kids are mostly doing like a 100-yard swim, then a two-to-four mile bike ride and a one mile run. It’s fun to watch the kids do it. The look of accomplishment on their face is so rewarding. I love to see them feeling so successful and proud.
Q: How many triathlons have you done?
I’ve done six triathlons this year. The kids have done six, too. I’ve done three full marathons and numerous half marathons.