Lifelong musician finds a new mission helping amputees
By Julie Whitsitt
Jim Suptic’s colorful career has taken him from European tours to northern Missouri riversides and, now, to the nonprofit sector. Through it all, his love of music has been a defining feature, and also what makes his life a little different than the average nonprofit worker’s.
Suptic (B.S. ’15) spent several months of this year on a world tour with his rock band, The Get Up Kids. He has played guitar with the band for the better part of 25 years, recording six albums and playing more than 70 tours in the U.S. and abroad.
The band’s indie, punk-influenced sound has earned them fans not just across the country, but around the world. Their 2019 tour included shows in Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Hawaii, as well as across the continental U.S.
When he’s not on stage, Suptic is working at Steps of Faith Foundation in Kansas City, an organization that helps uninsured or underinsured amputees get prosthetics. Even that experience, though, came to him through music.
Following the music
In the late 1990s, Suptic was a student at the Kansas City Art Institute. He had planned on getting his art degree, but when The Get Up Kids got the chance to go on a European tour, he decided to put college on hold and focus on music.
“In hindsight, we weren’t making that much money, but when you’re 19 and your rent is paid on time every month, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself,” Suptic recalls.
In 2004, while The Get Up Kids were on hiatus, Suptic launched a new band called Blackpool Lights with Brian Everard and Billy Brimblecom. While making their first record in 2005, Brimblecom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in his leg, which had to be amputated.
The type of prosthesis that could support Brimblecom’s active lifestyle turned out to be astronomically expensive, so Suptic helped coordinate a benefit, raising $30,000 to help his friend cover the costs.
The experience was just the first taste of nonprofit work to which Suptic would eventually return.
Back to Kansas City (and college)
By 2010, Suptic and his wife had two young daughters, and he decided to return to college. He earned his associate’s degree from Johnson County Community College, then turned to UMKC to pursue a degree in geology. He was drawn to the major because of his interest in the environment, but also because of his fond memories collecting rocks as a kid.
While at UMKC, Suptic had an internship with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, collecting and testing samples from Missouri rivers. In 2015, he graduated cum laude, something he’s not convinced he would have been able to do when he was young and lacked focus and determination.
Through his studies, he honed his skills in resource management, problem-solving and public health solutions that would serve him in a unique and unexpected way later in life.
“You learn a lot more than just getting a degree,” he says. “It’s all about time management and self-motivation. If you don’t help yourself, you’re going to fail miserably.”
Where music meets meaning
Around the time he graduated from UMKC and The Get Up Kids were winding down their 20th anniversary tour, Brimblecom moved to Kansas City from Nashville. He brought with him his foundation, Steps of Faith, created to help other amputees facing barriers getting the equipment they needed.
Suptic asked him to lunch and offered to help the cause. Today, he serves as the foundation’s operations coordinator, using his learned skillset to work with prosthetists nationwide who donate their time and prosthetic companies who give the organization wholesale rates.
Since its creation, Steps of Faith Foundation has grown significantly — from helping 20 amputees receive prosthetics in its first year to serving more than 100 in 2019.
“Our goal is to get people the prosthetic they need to get back to work. Then they’ll have insurance and a way to support their families, and they don’t need us anymore,” Suptic says.
Steps of Faith’s annual fundraiser, a benefit concert called Thundergong, includes celebrity guests like Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen and Wynonna Judd, whose husband, Cactus, is an amputee and on the Steps of Faith Board of Directors. The event allows Suptic to blend two of his passions — music and philanthropy — for a cause close to his heart.
As for his dual careers of rock band guitarist and nonprofit coordinator, Suptic says they’re not so different at all. His advice is to pursue your passions — all of them.
“It’s good to have a job where you’re doing something positive,” he says. “The music makes people happy, and it feels good to be making a difference in people’s lives through Steps of Faith.”