Compassion Through Inclusion

By Jane Bae

A father of three, husband of 28 years, Chief Human Resources officer, and experienced recreational coach, Chris Lilley has changed the lives of many.  Although he experienced darkness before getting to where he is today, he has achieved great personal accomplishments and has found ways to help others by using his personal experiences to spread kindness through inclusivity. 

Lilley says, “Inclusion is the core to compassion, generosity, and kindness. People need to feel that they’re safe, heard, and taken care of.” This is the mentality that he practices on a daily basis, in all endeavors, including in his professional life as Chief Human Resources officer at Crutchfield Corporations and in his personal life as a father and a coach. However, he didn’t always think this way. While he was a football player for the University of Virginia, he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. During this dark time in his life, he excluded everyone and everything - his family, school, work, and more. But when he looks back on his recovery, he appreciatively recalls his powerful peers who helped him learn how to return to himself. His transition from darkness to light was central to his current philosophy about the importance of inclusion, and this mindset has been fundamental to the apparent impacts he’s had as a basketball, baseball, and softball coach. 

On the field and on the court, it’s a common sight to see Lilley beaming with pride as he watches his players express themselves through sports and improve their technical skills. But more importantly, it warms his heart to see their character growth outside of practices. Experienced players excitedly cheer on their less skilled teammates. Kids graciously sacrifice their own playing time for the sake of allowing others to practice new techniques. Some of the athletes repeatedly face failure, but consistently stand up and prepare for the next challenge. Many of these qualities can be attributed to Lilley and his emphasis on compassion. While his leadership in sports have had clear impacts on the students he interacts with, his impacts reach beyond just his players. When asked about how he has influenced her, Lilley’s daughter Kirstena - a first year at the University of Virginia - notes how her father’s focus on inclusivity, understanding, and compassion has helped her become a more patient and generous person today, and she is certainly not alone in feeling this way. 


At one point in Lilley’s coaching career, a nine year old boy with extreme behavioral issues joined Lilley’s team. Due to his angry and violent tendencies, the boy was never selected by other coaches, but Lilley and his co-coach Dale Crutchfield saw potential for change, and they were right. The boy worked tirelessly everyday to keep himself in check and Lilley researched ways to best work with his new player. However, surprisingly the boy was not his greatest challenge - it was the other players’ parents. They were worried for their own children’s safety and held numerous meetings where they discussed this at length. Lilley handled this in a similar way to how he resolves other conflicts - by communicating his philosophy about the importance of inclusion. He emphasized that this child was just as integral a member of the team as the others and strove to generate understanding and compassion. To this day, Lilley sees him and his mother around Charlottesville and sees that the boy - now a man - has made incredible progress and has grown up to become a great person.

This boy is just one of many individuals whose lives have been impacted by Lilley. By focusing on the practice of inclusion and empathy, Lilley has played an essential role in his players’ lives. He has instilled confidence and compassion in the characters of many young people in the Charlottesville community and he continues to do so today by adhering to his important motto: “Practice active inclusivity by making efforts to include people, and be kind and generous.”

If you're inspired by Chris Lilley's work, you can donate to his charity of choice that provides food to families in need.

Surya Mehta