Lost And Found: After A Wrong Turn, An Aggie Finds What He Was Missing
Laura Sanders '07
March 6, 2014 11:26 AM
1. Childers and his sister Sarah Beneze ’98 after the accident that could have ended his life
2. Childers (center) and the high school students who raised money to buy a replacement Aggie Ring for him. From left: teacher Tina Barcak ’01, Lane Schweitzer, Erin Free, Olivia Bocanegra, Childers, Jacey Jerman, Taylor Pickett, Kelsey Ford and Alicia Palacios.
3. Childers with the replacement Aggie Ring, secretly purchased by a group of high school students
4. Childers writes each day on his arm to represent the time passed since his accident, representing how long he has been sober.
The highway of life is a busy place. Sometimes you get caught in the fast lane and it takes a serious wake up call to make you slow down.
Curtis Childers ’98 was born to be a leader. In high school, he was active in FFA and held numerous leadership positions at the local, regional and national levels. As a student at Texas A&M University, he was involved in Old Army Gentlemen’s Society, Starkie,
and served as student body president. Dr. Craig Rotter ’92, assistant director of Residence Life And Housing at Texas A&M, is a close friend of Childers and served on his student body president campaign in 1996-97. “Curtis was someone that a lot of people
admired and adored,” Rotter said. “He just had an energy that made you want to get out there and be involved and do all you could, no matter what it was.”
After graduating in 1998 with a degree in agricultural development, Childers had a successful career as a software consultant in Los Angeles, Calif. He was earning a six-figure salary before he was 35 years old. It seemed like he was heading in the right direction,
on a path to success.
It was during his time in L.A. that he took a dangerous turn and developed a drug addiction. On June 24, 2008, he was severely injured after he fell three stories—30 feet—from a building and landed on his head in a parking lot. Childers suffered traumatic brain
injuries and it was not clear whether he would survive. The accident left him in a coma for five weeks during which he underwent several surgeries and even required life support the first week.
After waking from the coma, Childers relearned how to breathe, talk, eat and walk. Even though the road was long and hard, Childers persevered. “One thing that I really applied that I learned [at Texas A&M] was, no matter what, keep trying. Don’t give up, because
it’s not over!” he said. “It was that kind of passion that allowed me to get through so much.”
Through his accident and recovery, Childers said he rediscovered the strength of his family. He knew he had survived the accident for a reason and his life found new purpose: to help others. “[Childers] has always had a message of, no matter who you are, you
can get out there and make a difference,” Rotter said. “And that has definitely stayed with him.”
Today, Childers is studying to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and intends to work at a treatment center. He travels throughout Texas to speak to high school and college students on his new platform: Just One. He believes that if he can keep
just one person from starting down the path that he chose, then his mission will be a success. On his website,
CurtisChilders.com, the banner “Just One” is front and center, representing his mission and desire to help others. “I just want to encourage people that they can get through something,” Childers said. “It doesn’t
always have to be a drug issue or some other negative issue. But they can get the support—the support is there for them to get through things.”
In 2012, he spoke to students at Rockdale High School in Rockdale, Texas. After addressing the school, Childers visited with one particular group of seniors who were moved by his message. They wanted to learn more about his journey. “After he spoke to the whole
student body, we had lunch with him and he mentioned having lost his Ring,” Jacey Jerman said. “Right at that moment everyone was like, ‘We need to do something about that.’”
Jerman and the other seniors were part of a Peer Assistance and Leadership class—Pals, for short. Tina Barcak ’01, who teaches Pals, had an idea. She knew what she and the students needed to do to help Childers. “I know what a big deal [the Aggie Ring] is so
I knew how much it meant to him,” Barcak said. “I wanted to do that for him.”
In October 2012, the group started raising money to replace the Ring. By selling sausage wraps and hosting a donkey basketball game (you read that correctly), the students worked for seven straight months to come up with enough money to purchase the shiny piece
of gold. They also received a donation from the
Milam County Aggie Moms’ Club. In May 2013, Barcak and her students had raised $1,094—just enough for a replacement Aggie Ring. “A lot of teachers donated money,” Erin Free said. “So we raised the money by the help of our community, faculty and staff.”
But it wasn’t until September 2013 that they were able to arrange a surprise meeting with Childers to present him with his new Ring. He visited Texas A&M campus and see former mentors and Classmates, and to share his story with
Texas Aggie magazine. He even stopped in the Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center to ask the Aggie Ring Office for information about replacing an Aggie Ring.
What he didn’t know was that Barcak and her students were in Aggieland that day, too. They were waiting for him in the Haynes Ring Plaza, and they had a shiny piece of gold that was burning a hole in their pocket. Childers wanted to have his picture taken by
the 12-foot high bronze Aggie Ring Replica, but instead he got the surprise of a lifetime.
When Childers saw Barcak and her students, he was taken aback. What a coincidence that they would all be in Aggieland on the same day, he thought. Then Barcak told him why her group was there—for him. “I know your goal was to have an impact on only one person,
but you can tell from these kids that you’ve impacted at least seven,” she said. “I want you to know that you’ve accomplished your goal. And to show our appreciation for what you’re doing, we replaced your Aggie Ring.”
“No way! I thought this was completely random,” Childers said. “I had no idea!”
It was Childers’ spirit of leadership and self-motivation that inspired this group of high school students. Tina Barcak and her students gave of their time and resources to do something meaningful for a man they had only met once. Most of them have probably
never heard of Texas A&M’s core value of selfless service, nor of the Aggie Spirit, but they felt it that day in Aggieland. Childers found his compass and got back on the right path, and now he uses that experience to help and encourage others. “One thing
I love is the fact that we stand during football games. That’s representative of the fact that we’re so supportive of each other,” he said. “You can visibly see that Aggies support Aggies.”