The Ayers Foundation was created in 1999 to sustain and/or significantly improve the quality of life in Tennessee. This is accomplished through financial support for college scholarships, medical services for children, research into pre-cancer detection and diagnosis, continuing education for teachers and other charitable donations and grants.
Meet Our Founder
James "Jim" Ayers grew up in rural West Tennessee in the town of Parsons and early on he was introduced by his parents to the rewards of an honest day of hard work. As he grew up to become one of the state’s most successful and admired businessmen, as well as a leading philanthropist, he never forgot the lessons he learned as a young boy. In fact, he has thrived on them.
Just as Ayers has remained in constant touch with his roots, so has FirstBank – the financial services company that he nurtured from a single branch in Scotts Hill, TN, into Tennessee’s largest independently owned and operated bank, with more than $2 billion in total assets and more than 40 locations.
After building successful health care and real estate ventures, Ayers and a business partner bought Farmers State Bank in Scotts Hill in 1984. Two years later, after moving the home office to Lexington, TN and acquiring First National Bank of Lexington, Ayers changed the bank’s name to FirstBank and also became its sole owner. Since that time, the bank has grown tremendously, in terms of both assets and the impact it has had on the communities it serves.
Despite his enviable business successes across several industries, Ayers is perhaps most proud of his contributions to increasing educational opportunities for young people.
In 1999, he established The Ayers Foundation, which supports a wide range of programs and institutions, with an emphasis on education in Henderson and Perry Counties, as well as his home county of Decatur. He also established and funded theAyers Institute at Vanderbilt University, which conducts advanced cancer research, the Ayers Children’s Hospital in Jackson, TN and the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb University.
In addition to his business interests, Jim is active in a number of civic, educational and charitable organizations. He is the recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2007 Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America, the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and the 2007 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Memphis.
Ayers was named a Leader in Banking Excellence by the Tennessee Bankers Association, and holds honorary doctorates from Freed-Hardeman University, Union University, Bethel University and University of Memphis.
A 1961 graduate of Parsons High School, Jim Ayers received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting from Memphis State University, becoming one of the first in his family to attend college.
Meet Our President
Janet Ayers is a recognized business leader and philanthropist throughout the State of Tennessee, with over twenty years of experience in health care administration.
In 1987, Mrs. Ayers began her career in Health Care Administration at Four Oaks Health Care Center. After five years of service, she assumed the Administrator position at Erwin Health Care in Erwin, TN, a position she held for the next 15 years. She was an active member of the Tennessee Health Care Association (THCA) and received the Distinguished Professional Service Award and the Distinguished Association Service Award. She held multiple statewide positions at the organization, including President of THCA. She also served as a commissioner of Tennessee Health Facilities Commission for five years.
In addition to her health care interests, she is active in a number of civic, educational and charitable organizations. Mrs. Ayers is an active board member of Centerstone, Centerstone Research Institute, Abe’s Garden, The Ayers Foundation,Nashville Symphony, Unicoi County Economic Development Board, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville and United Way of Unicoi County. She and her husband are the shared recipients of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’2007 Philanthropists of the Year Award.
In 2007, Mrs. Ayers became the President of The Ayers Foundation. The Ayers Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of Tennessee with a special emphasis on Decatur, Henderson, Perry and Unicoi Counties. The Foundation believes this is best accomplished by providing grants for scholarships, counselors, programs and related projects for educational enhancement, innovative health care and by supporting organizations dedicated to the preservation of our natural resources and wildlife habitats for hunting and fishing.
Mrs. Ayers received her bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration from East Tennessee State University in 1986.
Meet Our Director
Susan Rhodes became director of The Ayers Foundation in 2012. She served as the College Access Counselor at Perry County High School from 2009-2015 and continues to be located inside Perry County High School. Susan graduated from the University of North Alabama in 2006 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and earned her Masters of Science in Continuing Education with a concentration in Guidance and Counseling from the University of West Alabama in 2009.
Susan currently serves on Advise TN Advisory Committee, FAFSA Frenzy Committee, TN Promise Planning Committee, Drive to 55 Advisory Committee, and the University of Tennessee at Martin-Parsons Center Higher Education Committee.
Meet our Director of Post-Secondary Success
Michael "Mike" Meadows is the Director of Post-Secondary Success and the Ayers TN Promise Coordinator. Mike has been working with the Ayers Foundation since 2011. He was first hired with the Ayers as the College Access Challenge Grant Coordinator then moved into the counselor position at Lexington High School until 2014.
Mike received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2008 and his Masters of Arts in Community Counseling in 2011, both from the University of North Alabama.
Lexington High School
Recey Williamson is one of the college access counselors at Lexington High School. Recey has been working with the Ayers Foundation for 2 years. Prior to working for the Ayers Foundation, she worked at the University of Memphis for nine years in various roles such as: Admissions Counselor, Academic Advisor, and Financial Aid Counselor.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi in English and her graduate degree from the University of Memphis in Leadership and Policy Studies..
Jesse Turner is an Associate College Access Counselor for Lexington High School. Jesse graduated from Bethel University with a Bachelors of Science in Organizational Leadership in 2013. He is currently working on his Masters of Science in Continuing Education with a concentration in Guidance and Counseling at the University of West Alabama.
Jesse worked for Bethel University as an Admissions Counselor before joining the Ayers Foundation in 2015.
Perry County High School
Mary Lauren Garner is the College Access Counselor at Perry County High School located in Linden, TN. Mary Lauren graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Health and Human Performance with a concentration in K-12 licensure (which is a fancy way of saying she can teach health and PE). She then graduated from the University of North Alabama in 2014 with a Masters of Arts in Education with a concentration in School Counseling and graduated again in 2016 with her EdS in Curriculum Director from Arkansas State University.
She began working with the Ayers Foundation in 2011, then moved over to the GEARUPTN Grant in Wayne County, TN. She then worked for Northern Virginia Community College as an advisor before she came back to Tennessee to continue working with the Ayers Foundation.
Riverside High School
Brianna Morton is the College Access Counselor at Riverside High School in Decatur County, Tennessee. Brianna worked in the counseling field as a mental health counselor for 4 years and a clinical supervisor for 1 year. Brianna joined the Ayers Foundation in November 2011.
She graduated from the University of North Alabama with a major in Psychology and double minor in Criminal Justice and Spanish. She also obtained a Masters degree from the University of North Alabama in Community Counseling where she also worked as the Graduate Assistant for the Counselor Education Department.
Scotts Hill High School
Belinda Reed is the College Access Counselor at Scotts Hill High School in Henderson County and Director of Outreach Services for The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program. Belinda is a career educator, retiring from the Lexington City School System with 32 years of service where she held positions as 8th grade science teacher, school counselor and administrator. Belinda joined the Ayers Foundation in October 2008. She graduated from Union University with a double major in Education and Psychology and holds a Masters degree from the University of Memphis in School Counseling.
Unicoi County High School
Jodi Lane Bradford is the College Access Counselor at Unicoi County High School in Erwin, TN. She graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Services and Early Childhood Education. Jodi Lane worked as the manager at a local business for two years and then went on to obtain her Masters of Counseling from East Tennessee State University in 2014. Jodi Lane began working for the Ayers Foundation at Unicoi County High School in August 2016 and is already loving the position and wonderful school. Jodi Lane lives in Johnson City, TN with her dog and 2 kittens.