Kelsey Nelson is currently the Director of Communications at the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) and WWPR 2023 Emerging Leader Award Winner in the Non-Profit category
Tell me about your background and what drew you to your new position.
I have worked in a variety of industries, including nonprofits, education, sports, and politics. My background draws from an array of strategic marketing, digital media, communications, and public relations disciplines. I also have a strong background in broadcast media, having worked as an on-air journalist and media lecturer at George Washington University. Essentially, I’m a storyteller, helping to bring purpose and cause to the right audience. Prior to my current role, I worked as the Senior Manager of External Relations for Learning Heroes, where I led a partnerships team and co-led a communications team.
In April of this year, I began my current role as the Director of Communications for the National Foster Youth Institute, a national youth development nonprofit with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. I was drawn to this position because I am a huge proponent of using your platform for a purpose. I wanted to be part of the organizational change occurring within the organization to help them achieve an even greater positive impact for current and former foster youth and their families, helping to positively transform the child welfare system.
I also loved the challenge of starting as a one-person communications department with the opportunity to expand, cultivate, and build upon the organization’s current framework.
Previously, I have spoken to foster youth through the DC Child and Family Services Agency as well as worked as a mentor to foster children in DCPS and DC area public charter schools, but I wanted the opportunity to work with foster youth on a larger scale to be able to have more of a direct and positive influence on their growth, journey, and development not just here in the DMV but nationally.
What is the most exciting or rewarding project you’ve done recently or in your overall career?
Most recently, a project I was very excited to work on with NFYI was our 2023 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day program. From June 11–15, the 2023 Congressional Leadership Academy (CLA) class participated in the annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day Experience on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This week-long event, which hosted current and former foster youth from across the country, provided 22 CLA delegates representing 20 states with the chance to directly impact policy and connect with members of Congress. Thirty members of Congress participated in this year’s Shadow Day programming. The week-long event included a congressional town hall, a gala, a congressional awards luncheon honoring members of the 118th Congress, a kickoff and opening session featuring Miss District of Columbia 2023 Cassie Baloue, and a congressional awards luncheon. Throughout the week, CLA participants also participated in a wide variety of workshops.
I’m also very excited to work on our #LostDaysJJ campaign, which will this year highlight the disproportionate number of Black and brown foster youth and their families who get torn apart due to being locked up due to minor drug offenses in the juvenile justice system. This will be the second year our organization runs the #LostDays campaign, and it will be my first time getting to be part of it.
We are also gearing up for the 3rd annual NFYI Virtual 5K, taking place October 6–8. The #NFYI5K is meant to bring awareness to issues and challenges that continue to plague the child welfare system. We have a goal to get individuals from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., to participate with a goal of raising $20,000. For this upcoming race weekend, I also just launched a newly created race ambassador program to highlight the stories of current and former foster youth to help uplift and amplify #FosterYouthVoices.
As an Emerging Leader Award Winner and member of WWPR, what have you gained from your experience?
First off, let me say I am still so thankful to be named a 2023 Emerging Leader Award winner by WWPR. This accolade was so special to me and one I hold near and dear to my heart. It was an amazing opportunity to be amongst and recognized by some of the best in the industry, as well as to hear an inspiring keynote by Devi Thomas. From this experience, I have had the opportunity to become an official WWPR member, which has given me a great opportunity to further connect with my peers in the communications and public relations space. Attending in-person events and having a chance to support New Endeavors by Women has also been great.
What PR trends do you see happening in 2023 and what kind of influence has it had or will have on professionals in the industry?
The PR field is always changing, always providing a challenge and new skills to learn, which is why I love working in it. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken the field by storm, while always leaving desired questions. How we use AI in a safe and effective way to help digital storytellers has been something I have been learning about to help run effective communications campaigns. Another trend to follow is social responsibility, especially as we continue to dive into a highly contested political election cycle. Some issues will require organizations to have a clear stance to not accept prejudice and bigotry, and publicly declaring that an intolerance of fairness will not be accepted. This trend will increase the need for public statements and op-eds. As trends change, I am excited to be able to lead a conversation with Meltwater on various topics in the industry on September 27th.
Is there any particular book, podcast or influencer you would recommend? How has it impacted your life?
The next book to read on my book list is “Belonging: A Daughter’s Search for Identity Through Loss and Love” book by Michelle Miller. I received a copy of the book this year during Essence Fest at the National Urban League’s Women in Harmony Awards. I believe so many of us are influenced by our families and how society views the construct of race. But before I read this book, what has truly captivated me was Coco Gauff’s U.S. Open win. I love quotes!
“Speaking things into existence is real. I’ve been trying to speak more positively of myself and actually telling myself that I’m a great player.” — Coco Gauff
“The more experience you get being pushed to these limits, the further I guess those limits can go.” — Coco Gauff
Coco’s story of perseverance, following her dream led her to this moment of being a Grand Slam champion, who won her first major at the US Open.
For me, it’s always remembering the journey and knowing that by staying steadfast, working hard, and being consistent, you can achieve anything! Quotes from inspiring figures like Coco Gauff, who has achieved so much at the mere age of 19 as a pro athlete, provide motivation for me daily. She also knows what it is to play from behind and has the mental fortitude, toughness, and emotional maturity to push through any obstacle or battle, which is so important when working in this field. You can always bounce back from a bad day or bad time! Don’t rush your moment.