The Board of Directors and staff of The Land Connection are pleased to introduce to you our new Executive Director. Jacquelyn joins us from her previous position as Executive Director for the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony, a non-profit based in Springfield. Jacquelyn brings with her an extensive background in non-profit management, fundraising, and organizational development. She exudes focus, drive, and an eagerness to learn everything there is to know about The Land Connection, our constituents, and the local and regional agricultural landscapes and food systems.
A welcome message from Jacquelyn
As I begin my transition into the role of your Executive Director, I wanted to share a little bit about myself and how I found my way to The Land Connection and agriculture.
My story begins with a confession: I’m a music teacher.
I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. (Though my family also did a stint in South Carolina and a longer period of my life in a Chicago suburb… which is how I ended up in Central Illinois!) Growing up, we had a piano in our house and at about seven years old, I decided I wanted to begin piano lessons. I quickly grew to love music and found myself joining my elementary school’s choir and band. My 5th-grade band director told me girls couldn’t play saxophone and so, with the help of my mom, I began my journey towards always getting my way. Just kidding, but I did actually get to play saxophone and that was a game changer for future me.
While the rest of my childhood girlfriends were dreaming about their wedding dress and wedding colors and wedding things, I was dreaming about band instruments. I LOVED BAND! That love ultimately led to me deciding to become a music teacher. After graduating college from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I took my first teaching job in Bethany, Illinois, a small town outside of Decatur. While my time in Bethany was short-lived, I took away two important life lessons — deer generally travel in pairs and “white-out” conditions during a snowstorm in rural Illinois actually means white… everywhere. Truthfully, this was the first time in my life that I was living in an area primarily made up of farmland and undeveloped fields, it was a time when I started learning about the agriculture industry in Central Illinois, and it was a time when I realized I preferred this environment over the suburbs (where most of my classmates aspired to teach).
After I left Bethany, I found myself teaching in St. Joseph, Illinois. I taught a much larger population of students that lived on farms and the relationships I built with these families helped me to start understanding the different elements of farming in that community. It also meant that a few bags of produce showed up on my desk throughout the summer and fall! I left St. Joseph-Ogden High School to pursue a career in nonprofit management with Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony. I had an end goal of finding a position that would help me create funding sources for teachers to use for special projects with students, but what I quickly realized was that I actually just loved the day-to-day work of managing a nonprofit that has a mission close to my heart.
At this point, you may be wondering how organic and sustainable farming is a mission close to my heart when essentially none of my life has been oriented in an agricultural direction. And that is a really great point. Well, the truth is, for the last five-plus years I have been slowly finding myself more and more interested in growing foods, as well as local foods, but without the extra time to explore those interests. I found myself drawn to The Land Connection because not only is this an opportunity for me to challenge myself in a new industry doing the things I have truly enjoyed doing in “Nonprofit World”, but it is also a chance for me to finally dig deeper into something that has interested me since moving to this part of Illinois. While I know I have a great deal of learning ahead of me and my biggest challenges have yet to be overcome, I can’t help but focus on how welcoming, understanding, and encouraging the staff and board at The Land Connection have been during this transition. Those qualities are how I know this is the right position and organization for me.
I look forward to not only meeting each and every one of you but also learning more about our community’s food sources!