Debbie Strickland here, saying hello from Rural Resources, in Greeneville, TN. As I surfed facebook, I came across a post from one of our past teens that I want to share with you all today. The young lady is Rhiannon Williams, but she was Rhiannon Campbell during her time at Rural Resources. Here is a picture of Rhiannon when she first began our program, a picture of her family is our feature image:
Rhiannon began in 2008, as I began as the Farm and Food Teen Training Program Coordinator. Her older sister, Corina, also joined in 2008. In 2010 her sister, Faelyn Campbell who has been spoken off in the past on this blog. Faelyn began Berea College in the fall of 2016. Then, in 2015 the final youngest Campbell girl, Ren, joined. I have had the pleasure watching each of these girls grow, and still enjoying watching Ren, into members of society and women with determination; ethics; exceptional leadership and management skills; values; and career minded. These girls have had exceptional support from two loving parents that have tended these girls with love, support, and discipline. They were raised to overcome their struggles, to use their struggles to make them stronger and wiser, and to not put blame but accept challenges to shape their lives and values.
As Rhiannon’s 21st birthday came this past month, she was not thinking of the usual 21st birthday milestones to celebrate her birthday. Instead, she chose to honor Rural Resources and set up a fundraiser online for us! I would like to share her story with you all, as I cannot better say how Rural Resources has impacted the lives of others:
For my 21st birthday, one of those great milestones in life, I decided to give it up to an organization that has shaped and improved my life, and the lives of countless others, in unimaginable ways.
Rural Resources, a Greene County nonprofit run by Sally Causey, has been the positive change that set my life, as well as all my other siblings’ lives, on a path to success through farming and cooking skills.
The Farm and Food Teen Training Program, run by the incredible Debbie Strickland, helps at-risk teens to gain skills to work in agricultural and culinary fields. The skills learned along the way helped gain me entrance to my dream school and an incredible job that is the foundation for my future career. The farm also is where I joined my best friend in marriage and shared a beauitful summer night with my nearest and dearest.
In the photo included with this fundraiser shows my whole immediate family, all of whom have been changed for the better through this farm and the programs run out of it. Here is a very brief description of just a few ways Rural Resources has changed our lives:
My parents, Patty and Christopher, had access to fresh organic produce raised by their children for a fraction of the price of the local grocery stores. This was and continues to be life changing for a family living below the poverty line.
My older sister Corina, shown next to my father, is now the manager of a multi-million dollar store working in food service. The skills she learned from Rural Resources in management, conflict resolution, and kitchen skills allowed her to quickly grow in the company. She is also attending college part time, no easy task while working 70+ hours a week.
My first younger sister Faelyn, holding the rabbit, is a shining example of what a successful RR graduate looks like. She is a Sophomore at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, a prestigious liberal college with a focus on agricultural science. Her pursual of a BS in Biology is just the first step towards her goal of becoming a Marine Biologist. Through the close ties of Rural Resources and Berea College, she has a network of other group memebers from the program at school with her, allowing for an easier transition to out-of-state college life. During her time as a F&F training program, Faelyn ran her own business raising rabbits for both culinary and pet purposes. She now works as a councelor for the farm’s Farm Day Camp, a program that connects young children with the joys of farm life. She leads kids in sustainable crafts, teaches them about plant growth, and teaches them fun aspects of livestock care, such as milking cows. She, like the rest of our family, loves every minute at the farm.
My youngest sibling Ren, pictured holding the basket of produce, is a great example of the inclusion and love the program has for every teenager. Being a genderfluid teen, especially in the South, very few programs in the area are willing to be understanding and allow teens to express themselves as they are. Rural Resources focuses on the individual growth of each teen, no matter who they are, allowing them to grow as a person and expand their skills and world view. The staff at Rural Resources is an extended family for us Campbells, and they embrace Ren for who they are.
And finally, let me tell you about the importance Rural Resources has had on my own personal life. (It may surprise you, but I am the gal in the dress!) Starting the program in 6th grade, I worked for Rural Resources in the farming portion of the program, lasting two years. In that time I gained the knowledge of how to grow crops, deal with pests and weeds with organic pesticides and herbicides, and the process of harvesting and selling crops at local Farmers Markets. The final two years of the program covered the culinary aspects of the course, allowing us to cater large scale dinners with upwards of 200 guests. This whole process included everything from the planning of the meals, prep and cooking, to the serving and clean up. We also as a group started a baking company, where we served small cakes and baked goods for holidays. This program made me discover my love for cooking and baking, giving me something that I will never be able to thank them for. I also gain invaluable management and leaderships skills which allowed this quiet, shy kid to become someone who takes charge and wants to see their team succeed. This allows me to grow within my field, and helps me manage the various clubs I am apart of at college. And now, with the help and time of Rural Resources keeping me from resorting to drugs or crime out of necessity, I am completing my bachelors degree in English Literature and starting Graduate School at the University of Tennessee.
I have to thank you for just reading to this point. I know this hasn’t been especially brief, but there is no way to truly capture the scope of the impact Rural Resources has had on our family. There is no way that I could every repay the staff of Rural Resources, but I hope that this fundraiser will show just a fraction of how much they mean to me.
So many teens have crossed the thresholds of Rural Resources! I have no clue how the program is helping these teens and families till I read a story like this one or speak with a past teen who shares with me his/her experience. My heart is warmed knowing a difference is being made. I pray each day, sometimes multiple times, for guidance in directing these lives, and many special prayers going up for teens and their families. I see some of their struggles and try to help them or meet them on their ground and look through their eyes to understand their views or believes. God has granted this opportunity for me to serve Him. He has honed my strengths, taught me lessons on humility; love; and compassion. He has also given me gifts to share and minister to others. I love these teens and families!
We may do the foot work, but support from organizations like Grow Appalachia, allow us to fulfill our mission and to make these success stories. To some, it may seem little or not as meaningful to financially support missions of nonprofit organizations, but I say you are the reason we have the opportunity to serve and educate our youth, clients, farmers, growers, and low-income families. It takes everyone to make these stories happen. Thank you to everyone for your support!!