"My plan was to never leave college,” says Jaimie Trussell, CEO of Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc.
Fortunately, for Trussell, things didn’t go according to plan. After working at Drury and Missouri State universities, she started a career in nonprofits, at Convoy of Hope and Adult & Teen Challenge USA. But she felt compelled to fulfill a greater calling. “I knew that I was created to help feed hungry kids,” Trussell says.
Earlier this year, the board president of Council of Churches of the Ozarks asked Trussell, 44, to consider filling the position of CEO, a title previously held by Mark Struckoff, who retired in 2019. Despite multiple recommendations, she was hesitant.
“I said, ‘I’m not Mark,’” Trussell says. “Mark is quiet and gentle, and I’m loud and enthusiastic. I’m a cheerleader; he’s a pastor.”
But Trussell says a cheerleader is exactly what the nonprofit needed. The 51-year-old organization wanted someone to grow its network of 70 churches, increase fundraising and tell the stories of the work CCO is doing.
CCO has a $5.2 million operating budget for 2021 and 59 employees. The organization has nine outreach services, including Ambassadors for Children foster care outreach, Crosslines food pantry, Connections home repair service and Safe to Sleep women’s shelter.
She assumed the role in August, and it was not without challenges. “Who wants to take over a nonprofit in the middle of a pandemic?” she jokes.
During the shutdown, CCO saw demand for food assistance go up by 46%, she says. Trussell’s main goals for her position are to “do good well and safely,” and to streamline efficiencies while serving as many people as possible.
This year, Trussell assumed another challenging role: board president of the Springfield-Branson National Airport.
“Again, who wants to be chair of the airport during a global pandemic?” she says with a laugh.
Trussell says the staff and their ability to manage the situation has far surpassed her expectations. Trussell also is a member of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks Advisory Board, the Chief of Police Advisory Board and the Junior League Advisory Board.
“When I’m not working long hours, I’m at home playing in the dirt,” she says.
She and her husband, Robert, live on a hobby farm in Fair Grove with their two children, Connor and Carson. Although her plate is full, Trussell embraces the chance to do this work.
“The opportunity to bring my private self fully into my work self, that seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass,” she says. “It’s like getting paid to have your personality.”
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