If you’ve ever heard Michelle Kinder speak, you’ll not soon forget it. She’s the executive director of Momentous Institute, the AT&T Byron Nelson’s tournament beneficiary—an organization that provides educational and therapeutic services that build and repair social emotional health.
Give Kinder five minutes, and she’ll chronicle how Momentous is “changing the odds” for children and families. Whether she’s telling the story in English or Spanish, she’ll do it with such conviction that it is obvious that Momentous is much more than just a job to her.
So, we wondered, where did this charismatic leader get her servant’s heart, and that flawless Spanish accent? Come to find out, they both took root almost as soon as she shot out of the birth canal.
Right at Home—A World Away
Kinder was born and raised in Guatemala, the fifth of six siblings. By the time she was born, her parents had been working as missionaries there for nine years, and would continue to do so for another 21 more.
“My dad had been a CPA, and was the pastor and also ran the business end of the mission. My mother was a speech therapist,” Kinder said. “From a very early age, I understood that my parents made a decision to pack up the family, and change from a more typical life to a life of service. “
Not that Kinder really knew what a typical life was like.
“The way it worked was we lived in Guatemala for four years, then had a one-year furlough in the United States,” she said. “Although I looked different from the people in Guatemala, I felt the same. And when I came to the States, I looked the same, but felt different. So, I was a super weird kid.”
She went to a school for missionary children where she learned both English and Spanish, as well as the right time and audience for each. But, according to Kinder, her greatest education occurred outside of the walls of the classroom.
“I think one of the biggest gifts of growing up as I did is that I was never exposed to a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way of doing things. In a multicultural environment, there were always two or three versions in front of me,” Kinder said. “That experience gave me a huge appreciation for diversity, and different ways of living—and did a lot to shape who I am today.”
A Strong Negotiator at an Early Age
As much as she related to the people in Guatemala, by age 12, Kinder knew she needed something more. So, unbeknownst to her parents, she started researching U.S. boarding schools.
“I’m not even sure exactly how I did it, since this was before the Internet even existed. But, I found a boarding school in San Marcos (Texas), and wrote them about attending, on my own,” Kinder said. “Since I was part of ‘round two’ of two sets of siblings, 15 years apart, I think my parents were more laid back by the time I approached them about leaving. They said I could go, but that they didn’t have the money to send me. So, I wrote to the school to get scholarship money.”
Which she did. Kinder, and later, her brother and sister all ended up attending the school on full scholarships.
Kinder thrived in the new environment.
“It was absolutely the right move for me. I found a place where I could be myself, and develop into the person I wanted to be,” she said.
Not that being two countries away from her family was easy.
“I see pictures of myself the summer before the ninth grade in the Texas heat wearing jeans and long-sleeved shirts while the other girls were in sleeveless tops and shorts. I had no concept of seasons. In Guatemala, there is ‘rainy’ and ‘dry,’” Kinder said. “I also was so homesick at times that I listened to Air Supply and thought about my parents—which qualifies me as the greatest nerd ever.”
From College to True Calling
Because of the growth and change she had in boarding school, Kinder’s move to college life at Baylor University was anticlimactic. In a way, she had already had “the college experience,” while the rest of the student body was experiencing it for the first time.
“I was frustrated; I needed self-expression. So, I joined the theater department,” Kinder said.
It ended up being the perfect training for what was to become her major in psychology.
“In theater, you’re taught to respond and react in the moment, and do it all naturally. That’s critical to being a good therapist,” Kinder explained. “You can’t anticipate what you’re going to hear. You have to experience it and respond.”
Kinder graduated and was accepted into the educational psychology program at The University of Texas at Austin. She met her husband Patrick three weekends before her first class, right before he started his job as a lawyer in Dallas.
“He called me after we met at a wedding and we talked for four hours,” Kinder said. “We’ve never stopped talking.”
Kinder found her true love. The only thing left after graduation was to find a job she loved in Dallas.
“I imagined being connected to an organization that served populations with less access to mental health programs. To serve the underserved,” Kinder said. “I also wanted a place where I could make the greatest impact; where I could contribute and learn—and a place that had the least amount of adult drama.”
So, in true Michelle Kinder style, she got a book that listed every non-profit organization in the area, and called every one of them, to see who was hiring.
“I was bilingual, and had a Masters in educational psychology, so I thought I was a good candidate. But, person after person blew me off,” Kinder said. “Then, I called Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers (former name for Momentous Institute), and got ahold of Delane Kinney, who was executive director at the time. She was so kind. They didn’t have an opening, but she connected me with a lead for a job. I decided that I wanted to work at an organization that treated people like she treated me.”
So, three-and-one-half-years later, with her license and work experience under her belt, Kinder called Kinney back, and was hired for a split position of school counselor and family therapist. Thirteen years later, Kinder became Momentous Institute’s executive director.
In many ways, she’s found her mission.
“I am surrounded by all of these extraordinary people who create change for children and their families. Very little gets sucked into bureaucracy here. That’s a testament to the Salesmanship Club and their leadership,” Kinder said. “In a world where fear-based thinking is the norm, we have an abundance mindset that pushes toward innovation. Everyone here has one purpose, one goal: we want to help the most kids possible in the best way possible.”
So, whether you’re attending or watching the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament this year, know that its reason for being is more than great golf. It’s about the kids; their families, and the lives changed by the work of Momentous Institute and the Salesmanship Club of Dallas.
If you have any doubts, just ask Michelle Kinder. This former missionary kid will make a believer out of you.