Take It from Me: Safe Connections CEO Susan Kidder

Resilient. Passionate. Driven.

photo by Justin Barr Photography

By Diane Kline

Susan Kidder explains it was “professional destiny” that led her to a lifelong career in nonprofit management. Even as a child, she was inspired by other people’s needs.

Kidder is driven by a passion for the organizations and missions she has served, including Literacy Chicago and Chicago Hearing Society. Today, as chief executive officer of Safe Connections, Kidder is dedicated to preventing domestic and sexual violence while helping survivors reclaim their lives. While it began as a women’s group, Safe Connections is now inclusive of all genders, identities and orientations, and it actively work to transform boys and men into change agents.

Kidder, who was raised in Springfield, Illinois, graduated from Illinois State University and earned her master’s degree in education from Eastern Illinois University. She and Valorie Harris, her wife and partner of 13 years, make their home in Alton. Kidder’s journey up the nonprofit ladder was fueled by her personal passion to be of service, as well as by the life experiences she shares here.

I believe in the resiliency of people.

Everyone has rich potential, and they have the right to find their way. It may take a different approach, a different kind of advocacy, but they can be a contributing member of society. I have always been inspired by helping people, and even as a youngster, I was emphatic to the needs of others.

I am OK with changing my mind.

I’m a decisive “closer.” But when tough decisions need to be made, I want others to have a voice. I can think I’m right. I can think a lot of things, but by hearing different views and ideas, I can make an informed decision. And people know I will welcome their arguments.

Self-care is important.

At Safe Connections, we will deal with the trauma that domestic and sexual violence survivors have endured. Over and over, we hear and see what’s happened to them as we offer unconditional support. I’ve learned how important it is to take care of ourselves, to take time off and re-energize. That is a good lesson for many situations.

I am who I am, and I’m proud of who I am.

I dated boys in high school and went to the prom, but it wasn’t a fit for me. It was early in college when I could name it—that I was lesbian. But I kept it private for a very long time, especially professionally. You could be fired or ostracized. By my 30s, times were different, I held influential work positions and I’d matured. I could take the risk to be open, and that’s how change happens.

I’ve never been a quitter.

I am highly competitive and was inspired by my athletic coaches. As a kid, I was a court rat, playing tennis throughout all my school years. It’s a sport that forces you to count on yourself. I won a tennis scholarship to college and was a charter member of Title IX, in the first class to benefit from the changes it brought. Finally, the women got to move from the bleachers to the playing fields.

My dad didn’t force me into a gender box.

He believed that I could do things. While my mom taught me to sew, my father—who was an engineer—supported my development in athletics and course work. During homework sessions, I’d ask, “Why are we doing this math question?” and he’d say, “It’s to make you think.” Thanks to him, I had a rich blend of experiences that didn’t tie into stereotypes.

It’s my natural inclination to want to lead.

Even as a child, when I was part of a group, I liked to lead. It wasn’t about being bossy, but more about doing something as a kind of village. It was important to me that we move and advance, like you do with the mission of a nonprofit.

Integrity was the bedrock of our family.

My parents were faith-oriented, although not by immersing us in the bible. They instilled the Golden Rule in my brother, my sister and me by saying, “Be proud of yourself in knowing that you’ve acted honestly and treated others well.” The message lived in the heart of our hearts and in the gut of our guts.


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