Thomas Watson, Executive Director
Thomas M. Watson is a social entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience in nonprofit and business management, community-based economic development, and organizational capacity building. Currently, he is the owner/director of Rural Support Partners – a social enterprise working across the Southeast to strengthen anchor organizations, develop collective impact networks, and help move rural sustainable economic development efforts to scale. Prior to founding Rural Support Partners, Thomas was the director of the Grassroots Support Project at the Southern Rural Development Initiative (SRDI). At SRDI, Thomas worked to strengthen grassroots economic development organizations across the Southeast through the provision of hands-on organizational and leadership development support, development of regional networks, and the implementation of grassroots trainings. Thomas came to SRDI after working as a Senior Program Consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, MD where he managed national funding initiatives focused on grassroots leadership and social enterprise development. He also co-founded the Center for Participatory Change in Asheville, NC and served as Co-Executive Director for five years. CPC supports grassroots groups in Western North Carolina through organizing, capacity building, network building, and a small grants program.
Thomas grew up in rural Appalachia and worked in manufacturing factories, as a teacher in an alternative school, and a banker before receiving his Master of Social Work degree from UNC-Chapel Hill - where he completed internships with Grassroots Leadership and the Highlander Center. He also has a BS in Business Management from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.
Carter Florence, Director of Community Initiatives
Carter was born and raised in rural, Southeastern Kentucky where she developed a great sense of community through her family’s active roles in civic organizations and individual work that helped to shape the fabric of the community. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Centre College, where she had the opportunity to work as a resident advisor, study abroad in France and India, and begin to connect and engage in meaningful community development. After teaching chemistry for a few years in New Orleans, she earned a Master of Public Health in Community Health from East Tennessee State University. Throughout that degree program, she developed the desire to do deep community work to help improve health in collaboration across health sectors with community leaders and non-traditional partners.
She has a special commitment to improving the health of individuals living in Appalachia through community-led and based initiatives. Through her work at East Tennessee State University in pursuit of her Doctorate of Public Health and her experience growing-up in rural Appalachia, she has seen the creativity that communities possess in assessing, naming, and solving problems, and which leads to success, growth, and greater resiliency.
Andrew Crosson, Director of Regional Initiatives
Andrew has been at Rural Support Partners since June of 2012. 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. 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. His occupations over the years have included carpentry, fence-building, saw-milling, and working at his family’s local food retail business in Fairview, NC.
Andrew's international experience includes a semester of study abroad in Spain, a summer of independent field research in South America, two years teaching English in Spain, and travel in 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. 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. Andrew is also one of the 2016 BALLE Local Economy Fellows.
Kathryn Coulter, Project Manager
Keverlee Burchett, Project Associate
Keverlee is a communications professional with a diverse background in writing, teaching, and project management. Her love of language and proficiency as a writer and editor has allowed her to successfully contribute to the vision and goals of many organizations in the nonprofit, education, and business sectors. After earning her M.F.A. in Poetry from Purdue University in 2008, she returned to her hometown of Charleston, SC to teach writing with a focus on sustainability and food-related issues at College of Charleston. Her interest in sustainability and agriculture landed her in the Blue Ridge mountains where she spent a season as a WWOOF intern at a farm in Celo, NC. Upon moving to Asheville in 2012 she worked as proposal manager at an IT company, where she led her department in winning over $13 million in government contracts. In her spare time, she volunteers with local non-profits such as MANNA FoodBank and Blue Ridge Pride.
Leah Ferguson, Senior Program Manager
Leah was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in a small rural community of farmers, agricultural workers, and ranchers. After years of wanderlust that included an extended staty in South America, she obtained a Masters degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked in organizational development for over 20 years with a variety of social justice organizations. She has worked as a development director, nonprofit consultant, and executive director for organizations ranging from domestic violence prevention to a community-based education foundation. She arrived at RSP after leading a sub-region of the Community Transformation Project in Burke, McDowell, Rutherford, and Polk counties. This grant, funded through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was a state-wide initiatie to improve health through policy, systems, and built environmental change.