A Conversation with Jessie DuBose

A passionate leader and advocate for Southern Oregon youth, FBO’s new Board member has “one foot in the C-suite and one foot in the dirt.”

Jessie DuBose (right) with her daughter Abby.
Jessie DuBose (right) with her daughter Abby.

Louis Wheatley is Strategic Communications Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon.

Louis Wheatley is Strategic Communications Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon.

Foundations for a Better Oregon (FBO) is thrilled to welcome Jessie DuBose to the FBO Board of Directors. Based in Klamath Falls, she is a longtime leader and advocate working at the intersection of youth development, food systems, and community-wide well-being.

Jessie is a program manager with the Southern Oregon Educational Service District, working alongside community members to support student success through the ​​Southern Oregon STEAM Hub, dual-credit coordination, and the Klamath Promise initiative. She was born and raised on her family’s multigenerational farm and ranch, where she is now raising her two children as the fifth generation. To learn more about her leadership, read our announcement of Jessie’s election to FBO’s Board of Directors.

In a new interview with FBO, Jessie shares why recognizing place matters in systems change work, what to listen for while in a truck stop, and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’re a rancher and entrepreneur as well as a leader in the education and health sectors. How has braiding these identities together shaped the way you think about systems change?

I can't take credit for braiding them together. Something wonderfully unique about small-town America—especially in the West, where we have huge mountain ranges that we take for granted that keep us geographically isolated—is that we are all braided together. And so it's really a reflection of how rural Oregon is: We all work together, we all take our kids to the same ballet class or tee-ball practice or whatever it might be.

So it's a really natural next step to work really closely together across what would maybe traditionally be more firm boundaries between sectors. Everything goes beyond the boardroom. You don't just know the people you're sitting with across a table. You know their kids and how they did at their last hog show.

This is a big part of how things get done because it's really easy to have conversations with people about what needs to happen. Those conversations might pop up in the grocery store, they might pop up at a gas station, or they might pop up in a scheduled meeting. We build our relationships everywhere from professional settings to Home Depot. Everybody knows everybody's cleaning-out-the-garage outfit around here.

Can you sometimes get more done in an aisle at Home Depot than in a meeting?

Definitely, you can get a lot more done running into somebody off-chance. It also becomes quite a bit harder to balance your time pollution and work-life balance. From a relationship standpoint, you have to take a very respectful approach when you bug somebody in Home Depot. You respect the person in their role and you respect the person in their whole life. But we really can't silo much here and still get anything done. That includes your personal life in a lot of ways.

How has living and working on a multi-generation family farm shaped your outlook on how change gets made?

I consider myself always having one foot in the C-suite and one foot in the dirt. You have to have a lot of respect for both perspectives. Trucking is a good example: There are a lot of logistics behind licensure, fuel, and so on, that maybe somebody in a corporate office would know but not necessarily a truck driver. And yet, there are a lot of logistics to how many right or left turns you make, or how you back into a space, that only the driver is going to know. So both of those perspectives—and understanding the value of the information that both bring to the table—is critical in my mind to making effective decisions. Decisions that actually create change and do more good than harm. 

When you come from any type of multigenerational business, you also have a long-term lens on everything. Your hope is long-term—for instance, I'm hoping to be one of the middle generations, not the last. But you don't have to be from a multigenerational farm or ranch to have a purpose or find something that really drives you. Everybody has something long-term they're looking at. Finding that common ground is how we move forward together.

What does finding that common ground look like? There’s probably no easy answer—

I have a really easy answer. You just seize every opportunity to shut up. It’s some of the best advice I've ever gotten. Normally, if you do more listening than talking, you get a lot further.

Jessie DuBose (left) and her son Wesley take in views of the southern Klamath Basin from the side of Stukel Mountain.
Jessie DuBose (left) and her son Wesley take in views of the southern Klamath Basin from the side of Stukel Mountain.

From the Blue Zones Project to the Klamath Promise initiative, so much of your work is network-based. What draws you to networks as a medium or mechanism for change? 

It’s along the old adage that it takes a village. It takes a village to raise a village. It definitely takes a village to raise my kids. So your village really matters, and you don't have to be in a small town to have a network.

In my mind, it's ineffective to only look at one piece instead of the whole puzzle. Scope matters: You can't always build the whole puzzle at once. You’ve got to do it one piece at a time and figure out what piece goes next. But you can’t forget that it’s a whole puzzle, and that what we do is going to impact somebody else.

Nothing happens in a bubble. If you want to be successful, you need foresight into who you’re going to impact and then figure out how to involve them in the conversation. I don't think people realize how networked they are, or how to use that appropriately and kindly to make positive change.

We all slow down in school zones because we all want kids to be safe, and that's something we all do together. We all know how to wait in line at the gas station—and in Oregon, we know how to do it extra special because we do not want to pump our own gas. We all work together really well every day on all these little things, whatever they may be. It's not that hard to take that to the next level and work really well together on the bigger things.

So what do you think it takes to make caring for kids and their learning a true shared priority?

You have to break it down and show how people can share their passions in an everyday way. Eagle Ridge High School has an awesome new shop program, and the guy who is leading it is a unicorn. He’s fantastic, but he probably wouldn’t say caring for kids’ learning is a shared priority I hold dear. If you went up to him and said, “Hey, this kid’s had a rough go. He's in his third foster home this week. Can you help him? Maybe teach him how to use the table saw?” He's on it. He cares about that kid and he cares about that kid’s learning, even if he'd never phrase it that way. 

You’ve also described yourself as an interpreter. What do you mean by that?

If you're working with people in poverty, you have to see past the way they might speak. You really have to be able to interpret intent or really listen for what's behind the words. I think that principle needs to be applied across the board. 

I grew up in truck stops. It’s a farmer thing. I go to my favorite truck stop and it's fun to overhear conversations, get past the words, and just listen to where people's hearts and minds are at. And then find a way to connect: I've always said, if you are truly passionate about something, you can connect it to anybody. And if you can't, you shouldn't be the messenger for it. 

With the Blue Zones Project, not everybody wants to eat healthy, but I'll tell you what: Everybody wants more years with their grandkids. Everybody wishes they could have hugged their grandma one more time. When you listen to people's hearts and minds, you can find common ground. You can't do that with news nuggets and social media headlines, that's for sure.

What misconceptions do you find yourself fighting about children in your community? 

Any of the assumptions about what kids don't want. I think those are usually flat wrong. We have kids who raise livestock and are also ballerinas.

Kids also don't always know what they want. Their brains are literally still developing. We need adults who listen for what kids want, and also help guide them towards what they don't yet know they want.

Why do you think recognizing and honoring place is important in systems change work?

Place can be a huge part of people’s identity. Tribal communities have such a strong sense of place and a strong tradition of honoring place. Western European society does not.

There’s a real incongruence in the way many of us honor place. We honor it in old age, saying, “Oh, this family's lived here their whole life, isn't that wonderful?” But when you're 30 and under, that's looked down upon. It’s tied to another misconception about young people in rural Oregon: that they’re stuck here.

What we do well in rural Oregon is playing with the cards we're dealt. In systems change work, we need to recognize that place is one of the factors that we're working with as much as the system itself. We need to be very practical and very emotional about honoring place.

Jessie DuBose (far right) with the Basin Bombers Volleyball Club team, serving youth athletes in the Klamath Basin and surrounding areas.
Jessie DuBose (far right) with the Basin Bombers Volleyball Club team, serving youth athletes in the Klamath Basin and surrounding areas.

How are young people in Southern Oregon giving you hope right now?

Resiliency. They've been through a lot, and they're really positive. I think they're better people than I am, because I'm not sure I'd be so positive. I see their resilience in community meetings, playing sports, volunteering, or even just out and about.

Don’t get me wrong—I 'speak' a little bit of Snapchat and they’re negative too. But I think if there was ever a worldwide lesson in Hey, we're just gonna have to roll with this, they definitely got it. 

You’re also a volleyball coach. What’s your coaching philosophy?

My hope is that they'll have the confidence to walk into an open gym anywhere that they live and be able to be active and have fun. I do not care about college scholarships. If they can do that, then it’s a complete win.

What’s your best shot?

Definitely an outside hit (but 15 years ago).

What's your favorite truck stop? 

It’s the Cinders Cafe at the Worden truck stop. It’s a cool mix: farm business owners, truckers, and avid birdwatchers. Just a cool mix of people with a great bar.

What do you love to hate?

I like to say grants are a five letter word. I’m not a fan! They have a purpose, and they can be done right. But a lot of times you're creating a lot more work for people that don't have capacity.

When do you feel nostalgic, if ever?

I feel nostalgic about Klamath Falls over the last 10 to 20 years. There's been a lot of positive change here. It's been an amazing ride.

Who do you look up to?

Women that I call my ‘sheroes’—a group of really strong, positive, and chill female leaders. Most are local and regional. A few are on the national stage, who I don’t particularly know but admire and respect.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Always be willing to do the crappiest job.

What surprises you most about your life right now?

Probably how awesome my kids and their friends are. I'm pretty impressed with them. No one teaches you how to be a parent. When it feels good, it feels pretty good.