By: Jenny B. Davis
| photography by Alex Lepe |
Fort Worth community leader and hands-on philanthropist Kelsey Patterson fights for the underdogs—two-legged and four-legged varieties. As a board member of the Saving Hope Foundation, Patterson educates the public about the importance of spaying and neutering pets, as well as fostering and adopting. Enlisting the help of a sweet pit bull named Georgina she saved from the street, Patterson taught George C. Clarke Elementary students how to care properly for their pets.
As a board member of The Gary Patterson Foundation—her husband, TCU head football Coach Gary Patterson, founded the non-profit organization in 2002—Kelsey has changed the trajectory and leveled the playing field for economically disadvantaged children.
Clarke Elementary became a key focus after the Foundation’s involvement in SLANT 45 during Super Bowl XLV. Through the Foundation’s initiatives and Kelsey Patterson’s passionate leadership, the school’s passing rate on the state exams has grown from 40 percent to 95 percent. Clarke has been recognized as an exemplary campus – one of only four in Fort Worth Independent School District.
The Foundation implements several programs at Clarke including college scholarships for fifth graders, after-school Scrabble, college field trips, college savings accounts, and books. Patterson’s favorite is Scrabble. “We have 30-40 kids who come to play with us every Tuesday or Wednesday. They learn math skills, strategy, and spelling and have fun learning,” she said.
“So that’s what I do on Tuesday afternoons, but I am up at the school all the time working with David Rush, who is a really great teacher over there.”
David Rush teaches fourth and fifth graders at Clarke. He thinks Kelsey Patterson hung the moon and the stars.
“Kelsey makes sure that all of our students have 50 books in their home by the time they are in third grade,” Rush said. “They are put in a place of prominence in their home on bookshelves created by the child and the parents at Clarke. This is something Kelsey has always worked with and is very passionate about—that all of our third graders are on level in reading.”
College field trips are important because college becomes a goal for the child and parent, Rush said. “Kelsey ensures that all of our students and the families have three college tours before they are even in middle school. She also helps our students start saving for college starting in Kindergarten.”
More than 100 Clarke students have college savings accounts, which increases the likelihood of graduating from college by 400 percent, Rush said.
“Kelsey is helping our students learn delayed gratification in a way that’s fun,” he said. “She’s helped George C. Clarke to become the only school in America to give college scholarships to fifth graders. She knows that a student is likely to drop out in sixth grade. Kelsey helps us to get college scholarships to 25 percent of our fifth graders.”
Rush said that Patterson is not a “knight on a white horse” coming in and changing things in the school. “She asks, ‘How would this work?’ She has quiet ideas that make us feel like we can say, ‘Kelsey, that is a bad idea.’”
Patterson considers TCU football players as her children—120 of them. “With Gary’s boys, you have to fill the role that the situation allows. You can’t force anything. With some of the players, I’m very close. With others, they have family support, and they don’t need you as much. I want to be there for the ones who need it and want it. Just like being with the elementary kids, there is a special energy. I think that’s why Gary loves what he does.”
“It doesn’t take much work to talk about Kelsey,” Gary Patterson said. “She is well-liked by my football players. You know, a lot of these kids grow up with just moms, so they are used to talking with women. They know that Kelsey has their back, and when these players go on to the NFL, she has made a difference in their lives.”
The most challenging part of being a coach’s wife is also what she loves the most about her husband. “He is so passionate about his work, and I love that,” Patterson said. “But he is gone a lot, being passionate about his work.”
Patterson describes herself as a practical, matter-of-fact woman and realistic optimist. “I like to know the worst-case scenario, but I am an optimist about it,” she explained.
And fortunate, she added.
“I have the really good fortune of not having to go to a ‘job’ every day. “I get to be around kids and help them develop their lives and life skills. What a great job.”
By: Jenny B. Davis