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Ready Set School director, set to depart, reflects on Winona organization’s growth

September 26, 2018

Darst

The director of the local nonprofit Ready Set School will leave her position after two years of expanding the organization’s visibility within the community.

Board members of Ready Set School, which provides both funds and physical school supplies for students in Winona County who need them, were seeking to grow and modernize the operation when they hired Jessi Darst during the summer of 2016.

Since then, Darst has focused on establishing a social media presence — asking donors to snap a photo with the supplies they’ve contributed, for example — and making sure folks across the county knew it was an available resource.

“I’d kind of heard of Ready Set School, but I hadn’t felt like I had ever accidentally been to one of their events,” she said.

Today, businesses will call her to let her know a donation is ready to pick up, and not just the businesses that have always contributed. By extending Ready Set School’s presence to different areas of the community it serves, like a silent auction at Island City Brewing Co. and a collection event in partnership with the local school bus service, she said their name is recognizable to an extent it wasn’t before.

Darst’s impact reached both large-scale and small, including a logo change.

“It had been a backpack for so long,” she said. “People think of Ready Set School and they think of crayons. About half of our kids are sixth grade and up, and those kids don’t need crayons. It’s different needs for different kids.”

Families can apply to receive resources from Ready Set School each April. This year, Darst said they distributed funding vouchers to 500 children and handed out 200 backpacks during the summer alone. It’s rare that someone who applies would get turned down, she added.

The search for a new director has just begun, but Darst is hopeful that whoever replaces her will only keep the organization growing. With a 12-person board and closets fully stocked with supplies, she said it’s a good time to hand the position over.

Darst said she aims to keep up the connections she’s made as a part of Ready Set School as she departs to seek a more full-time position. As for what she’ll miss, she said it’s the community buy-in and the gratefulness of the families they’re able to help.

“I know there are lots of organizations that help people, but one of the things I like about this job is you will get a parent who will stop by the office and you’ll hand them what they need, and that one-on-one interaction is really satisfying,” Darst said. “They smile at you and say thank you, and you know you did a good job.”

“People think of Ready Set School and they think of crayons. About half of our kids are sixth grade and up, and those kids don’t need crayons. It’s different needs for different kids.” Jessi Darst

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