Jessica Adams joined the RSP team in 2018 as a Rural Fellow, supporting the coordination of both the Appalachian Funders Network and the Central Appalachian Network. She is currently finishing up her Master’s degree in Social Work at Western Carolina University and pursuing a macro-practitioner track.
Jessica grew up in rural Pennsylvania and stayed in Pennsylvania until relocating to Asheville. She earned a B.A. in Sustainable Urban and Community Development while delving into the public-school system in Harrisburg, PA. After graduation, she engaged in a service corps program where she rallied community stakeholders and developed a pilot after-school Makerspace program that provide learning opportunities for students in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Her path to Asheville brought her to work in Wilderness Therapy, where she provided behavioral interventions for youth while teaching wilderness skills. Her time working in Wilderness Therapy directed her to return to school and dive back into development work.
Kathryn Coulter Rhodes, Senior Project Manager
Kathryn has been with RSP since June 2013, focusing primarily on coordinating the Appalachia Funders Network’s efforts to engage national philanthropic organizations in regional efforts that support economic diversification in Central Appalachia. Other projects include facilitating a participatory evaluation of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship Program and leading research around creative placemaking in Central Appalachia. Kathryn currently serves on the board of Meals on Wheels of Asheville and Buncombe County.
Kathryn grew up outside of Chicago and was driven to understand a more rural perspective after a semester abroad in Mali, West Africa. After earning a B.A. in both International Studies and French, she was drawn to Appalachia during a year working with a watershed restoration organization in the Anthracite coal mining region of Pennsylvania through AmeriCorps VISTA. She then earned her M.A. in Geography from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where her thesis explored the factors helping and hurting the ability of small-scale farmers in Burkina Faso to produce organic and Fair Trade cotton. She used her knowledge of community-based rural development domestically leading a team of VISTA members to promote local community development and environmental stewardship across Appalachia. Rural Support Partners has become the place where she combines her graduate research in West African rural livelihoods and the cotton value chain with her experience working closely with rural communities in Central Appalachia.
Andrew Crosson, Director of Regional Initiatives
Andrew has been at Rural Support Partners since June of 2012. As Director of Regional Initiatives at RSP, Andrew works with leaders, organizations, and networks to support regional strategies that advance Appalachia’s transition towards a just and sustainable economy for all. A native of Appalachia, his path to sustainable economic development work began in a small farming community in the mountains of rural Western North Carolina. His occupations over the years have included everything from carpentry, fence-building and saw-milling to working at his family’s local food retail business in Fairview, NC. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned Bachelor’s Degrees in History and Political Science with Honors, a minor in Environmental Studies, and was a founding member of campus groups devoted to local food systems and community gardens. Andrew’s international experience includes a semester of study abroad in Spain, a summer of independent field research in South America, and two years teaching English in Spain, as well as travel in over 25 countries and 5 continents. He completed a Master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Granada in Spain, where his thesis research focused on the role of agriculture in rural development and sustainability. Andrew is on the board of directors of Just Economics of Western North Carolina, a non-profit supporting living wage employment, policy advocacy for equitable housing and transportation, and grassroots leadership development. He serves on the advisory board of The Lord’s Acre, a non-profit community garden for the hungry. Andrew is also one of the 2016-2017 BALLE Local Economy Fellows.
Thomas M. Watson, Executive Director
Thomas is a social entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience in nonprofit and business management, community economic development, network building, and philanthropy. He is the Owner and Executive Director of Rural Support Partners (RSP) – a social enterprise working to advance the economic transition of Central Appalachia, grow new business models, and innovate the field of rural development.
Prior to founding RSP, Thomas served as the director of the Grassroots Support Project at the Southern Rural Development Initiative (SRDI) where he worked to deepen the impact and scale of grassroots economic development organizations in the Deep South and Central Appalachia. Thomas came to SRDI after working as a Senior Program Consultant / National Program Officer focused on grassroots leadership and social enterprise development within The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connection Initiative – a 10-year $500million initiative to create better outcomes for kids living in 22 low income cities across the United States. As the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Participatory Change, he worked hand-in-hand with grassroots groups across Western North Carolina to create economic opportunities and increase equity for rural and marginalized people. Thomas’ first community organizing job was in Minneapolis, MN where he organized public housing tenants, churches, and homeless individuals toward a city-wide effort to increase affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and limit gentrification.
During his tenure at RSP, Thomas has served on the Ford Foundations Rural Wealth Creation Management Team and participated as a strategy team member for the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation’s Healthy Place NC Initiative – a 10-year $100million initiative to improve the health and overall quality of life for people in rural NC. He currently sits on the Community Investment Council of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank. Thomas is also responsible for managing RSP’s overall body of work, which includes serving as the backbone support organization for the Appalachia Funders Network and the Central Appalachia Network. RSP has also played a significant role in the development of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship Program, operated by the Highlander Center, and Impact Appalachia – a blended capital platform to increase investments to support economic transition in Central Appalachia.
After growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, Thomas’ early career included being a factory worker, alternative school teacher, hotel manager, and banker. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he completed internships with Grassroots Leadership and the Highlander Center. He’s also a graduate of both Guilford College in Greensboro, NC and Wytheville Community College in Wytheville, VA, where he studied business management and finance.
Lindsey Wilson joined the RSP team in 2018 as the Project Manager focused on network coordination for the Appalachia Funders Network. She brings more than a decade of organizing, managing, policy, and fundraising experience on local, state and federal political, social justice, and environmental campaigns. For the past seven years she worked for the Campaign for Southern Equality, a regional LGBTQ Civil Rights non-profit. There, she spearheaded organizing work for marriage equality, managed daily non-profit operations, and led donor engagement efforts. She currently serves as Chair of Sustainability of the Board of Directors for the YWCA of Asheville. From her professional and volunteer experience she brings key skills in project management, event planning, financial management, fundraising, public policy, facilitation, community based grantmaking, and membership engagement.
Lindsey’s personal experiences with poverty helped shape her passion to work for opportunity, equality, and justice. She grew up across the small-town South and moved to Asheville, NC in 2002. Outside of work and volunteering, her passions are her daughter, cooking Southern food, Carolina Panthers football, and Christmas.