Christina Fulsom receives Community Impact Leader Award

Christina Fulsom

Christina Fulsom's mission is to ease people's suffering.

"The idea that people are hurting upsets me to no end," she said. "The suffering that comes from poverty is invisible. People don't see it but I have seen it."

Mrs. Fulsom, who formed the East Texas Human Needs Network two years ago, believes that if people are made aware of the problems and work to solve them, people don't have to suffer. She wants people to be aware that there are problems in the community — but that there are also solutions if people work together.

After receiving the Community Impact Leader Award, given for the first time Tuesday by the Hispanic Business Alliance, Mrs. Fulsom said she was a bit overwhelmed, honored and excited.

She hopes the award will raise awareness of the East Texas Human Needs Network and will bring more people to the table to work together and effect change.

Several of Mrs. Fulsom's life experiences have led her to this point in her life.

 

CULTURE SHOCK

Mrs. Fulsom's parents came from two different worlds.

Her father grew up in an orphanage in Brooklyn and became homeless when he was released as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Air Force and was based outside of Madrid, Spain, where Mrs. Fulsom grew up. Her mother was Spanish and came from a family of means.

Mrs. Fulsom, 50, was studying French and knew a little Portuguese but did not know any English when the family moved to Kerrville when she was 15. Her father had retired from the military and became concerned Americans were no longer welcomed in Spain in 1979 because of the political climate at the time. The family sold everything and moved the five children, not knowing where they would land.

Moving to the small Hill Country town was a "big culture shock" for Mrs. Fulsom.

She didn't fit in or speak the language and she was bullied.

"I got pushed against lockers and pushed down stairs and I didn't know why. … I certainly believe in the resilience of kids," she said, adding that she adjusted quickly.

She learned English and, like her siblings, began helping out more at home since her mother had to adjust with five kids on four campuses, including a child who was mentally and physically disabled.

Mrs. Fulsom believes what she does now comes partly from "seeing the other side of the world I never knew existed," she said.

She got her first leadership role during high school, serving as vice president of the statewide Health Occupation Students of America. She wanted to be a doctor so she worked for several physicians during high school.

She went to Stephen F. Austin State University and worked nearly full-time as an interpreter at a hospital to help pay for school. Her sophomore year, she moved back to Kerrville, got married, had her first son and was divorced. After working there as a court interpreter, she went back to SFA, this time deciding to study Spanish Literature to continue interpreting in courts.

There she met a professor, Donald Fulsom, whom she has been married to for 23 years. She has two sons, Ryan, 27, and Drew, 19.

Her husband went to medical school to become a child psychiatrist in San Antonio, where she worked as court interpreter. In court, she saw so much lost potential and people losing themselves, she said. And even though they did bad things, she saw the good in everyone. She believes that work also led her to where she is now, teaching her that everyone deserves another chance, to be treated fairly and to not be judged.

The family moved to Virginia for her husband's residency. Mrs. Fulsom became editorial director for Lexis Nexis, a legal publishing company. There she started doing volunteer work in the community. She went to work for Monticello Area Community Action Agency, a nonprofit that had head start and youth development programs for people in need. She did research and made sure the programs were operating well.

 

IMPROVING LIVES

The family moved to Tyler in 2003, and for the first time in her life, Mrs. Fulsom didn't have to work. She was looking for a place to volunteer when she was introduced to C.C. Baker, who wanted her to become the executive director of PATH (People Attempting to Help). She took the job and led the organization for eight years.

Mrs. Fulsom said there was so much more she wanted to do, so in 2012, she left PATH. Three months later, she started the East Texas Human Needs Network to meet the needs that transcend the capacity of individual social services agencies. It is now made up of more than 60 organizations, including government, business and nonprofits.

She said she wanted to join all entities that work to improve people's lives together to increase the impact they have.

"We needed everyone at the table," she said. "If your goal was to improve lives, then we need to all get together and talk about that."

Mrs. Fulsom used her skills in research and statistics to help put together a survey targeting those requesting social services in the community to assess local needs. Through that information, different committees have been formed to work on needs in such areas as education, health care, housing and transportation.

Since it started, most of the work has been developing relationships with the nonprofit and government agencies and businesses involved. She believes the work each entity is doing has improved because of it.

She and the steering committee all volunteer their time with the East Texas Human Needs Network, which is not a nonprofit or for-profit agency.

Mrs. Fulsom also serves on the boards of the Texas Homeless Network, the Texas Balance of State Continuum of Care and East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind. She is a member of the City of Tyler Mayor's Homelessness Roundtable and the Veterans Roundtable.

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