Betsy Hawkins came out West for the first time when she was nine years old, and she was hooked. “I threw a snowball on my birthday in mid-June,” she says. “I knew I would come back one day.”
Originally hailing from Woodbury, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Hawkins now serves as Teton Valley Community Resource Center’s executive director.
Hawkins’ dreams of moving out West finally came true when her husband found a job as a field engineer for Silver Star Communications in Teton Valley, Idaho. Until then, she had always lived within a one-mile radius of her family home. The couple uprooted themselves nearly 2,000 miles away from their small house on the back of her grandparents’ property to move to Idaho. Community came naturally to them and their two children, and Hawkins’ Southern drawl is often an icebreaker.
“What drew me here was the landscape,” she says. “The community was a real bonus. I felt an immediate sense of home.”
Hawkins is no stranger to hardship. She became a mother at just 16. As a young woman, she had to utilize government services, including WIC, the Women, Infants, and Children Food and Nutrition Service.
“It would be harder to relate to people who struggle if I hadn’t struggled myself,” Hawkins says. “I can remember not having a dime to do what I needed to do. I have been poor. I managed to bring myself up. Having a network is what allowed me to succeed.”
Hawkins persevered through young motherhood and received a full ride to Middle Tennessee State University. After she graduated, she worked in hospital nursing for 10 years, and later public health and home health. In 2014, she completed her master’s degree in education with a nursing focus. After a short stint as a school nurse, she found her current role. “I feel fortunate that my background has really played into the work we do with clients,” she says.
The organization provides client services, referrals, case management, advocacy, and oversees the food rescue program. Hawkins works to connect people with programs and agencies that help residents secure housing, food, transportation, employment, and health care.
“People often need assistance, but they don’t know what kind of help or where to find it,” Hawkins says. Clients usually survive on basic wages, with no cushion to fall back on when something unexpected happens like an accident, acute crisis, health condition, or job loss. There is no eligibility process for assistance from the Teton Valley Community Resource Center, and Hawkins is partnering with several organizations to increase awareness of its services. The overall goal is to help people become more sustainable. “Anyone who needs extra food should come,” she says. “You don’t need to be hungry to take extra food, and you don’t need to pay us back.”
She helps clients meet their needs, and she also helps them look ahead. “Sometimes it’s just the small victories,” she says. “If I can give them some hope at the end of the day, that is my overall takeaway.”