On any average day at Tennessee Tech, onlookers may spot a few activities occurring: students studying in the library, friends laughing over lunch in the cafeteria, professors furiously grading assignments and dedicated staff working tirelessly to make sure Tech continues to run like a fine-tuned engine. Within the walls of Oakley Hall, onlookers would have quite a different experience. The multi-million dollar non-profit organization, the Tennessee Future Farmers of America Foundation, is nestled up on the second floor of Oakley Hall, and Kelsey Rose, along with her dedicated staff, works every day to raise money and support the over 14,000 middle and high school members of the Tennessee branch of the National FFA Organization.
Through challenges and successes, Rose, 30, has taken the helm of this non-profit. As a young professional in the agriculture and non-profit industries, Rose shared some insight into her experience as Executive Director of the Tennessee FFA Foundation and some thoughts on her life in Cookeville.
What is the mission of the Tennessee FFA Foundation?
KR: The Foundation is the fundraising arm of Tennessee FFA. Our responsibilities are primarily to obtain sponsorships and work with donors, and we work with multiple stakeholders across the state, and sometimes even out of the state. We bring that money back to our members. We do this through scholarships, doing contests and helping with that, and just providing cash prizes to our members. We recently introduced a grant, which is an opportunity for our members and advisers. We are always thinking of new ways that we can help the future of our students and further their agricultural experience, be it in the classroom or outside of it.
How long have you served as the Executive Director?
KR: Just over a year, November 2017.
What experience did you have that prepared you to take on this role?
KR: One thing I am thankful for is that I worked for two major agricultural organizations in the state of Tennessee: The Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and Farm-Credit Mid-America. Having relationships with former co-workers from those two organizations has really been beneficial as I have stepped into this role. I also have some non-profit experience. In addition to Farm Bureau being a non-profit, I worked with the Tennessee State Fair Association, doing marketing there. I think another thing that really helped though, which is more volunteer-based than professional-based, is I have been active on the Tennessee FFA Alumni Council. I sat on the council for years before taking on this role, so I have stayed connected with Tennessee FFA. So I understood the inner workings, but ultimately doing this role is so different than anything else I have had experience in.
What was the most challenging part of taking on this role?
KR: Learning your way around the non-profit aspect of the role. Doing fundraising is always an important task. We were already getting really good support from the Tennessee agriculture industry, and luckily that’s something we can always count on. What is harder is finding support outside of that community and pulling new donors in to be supportive of Tennessee FFA. That’s still a challenge that we have to face, and it’s something that I have to work toward breaking those barriers and developing more relationships outside of the ag community.
Do you feel support from the Tennessee Tech community?
KR: Absolutely. Tennessee Tech has been tremendous to provide us the beautiful office space that we have. Additionally, the support they provide Tennessee FFA as a whole, giving our members the opportunity to come and participate in workshops here or participate in contests here. I know that’s a financial burden that the university takes on, but it’s one that we really appreciate and has a huge impact on the members of Tennessee FFA.
You aren’t a native of the Cookeville area, and moved here as a part of taking this job. What has it been like relocating and living in the Cookeville area?
KR: I really enjoy Cookeville. My husband and I loved the area we were in before, Maryville, Tennessee, and felt very much at home there. But living there south of Knoxville, we were both so far away from our families. Moving to Cookeville, our drive is about two hours shorter going back to my family farm or to see my father-in-law. Cookeville is such a sweet little town. I love that people are so invested in their community, and they rally around that. It is so great for families. Something I really look forward to as I prepare to grow my own family is the incredible school system here. I’ve heard such great things about it, and it reinforces how excited I am to experience that firsthand.
What has been the most rewarding experience you have had since taking the helm of this position?
KR: Last year at my first State FFA Convention, I started a campaign called 90 at the 90th, setting the goal of gaining 90 new donors to donate $20 each. The money raised there was used to provide scholarships for students who had never had the opportunity to attend our leadership training camp to attend during the following summer. We raised enough money to send seven students to camp for the first time for each of our seven weeks of camp, sending 49 total students to camp. I have to say, reading those scholarship applications last year was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. I get to work with some pretty incredible FFA members regularly, but reading about those students who may never be recognized in any other capacity and what challenges they have faced in their lives so far was humbling. It was a cool moment remembering how special our job is here.