The origin of the idea was formed early when Jackie Joyner-Kersee was a youth in East St. Louis. Her after-school educational experiences helped her navigate her journey, as both an Olympic athlete and a community leader. The JJK FAN is a unique collaboration between four organizations committed to creating the next generation of scholars from an urban environment who are immersed in plant science, agriculture, and food innovation.

More than 25,000 jobs are expected to go unfilled each year in today’s high technology-based agriculture industry in the United States. The training and mentoring through this highly visible enterprise and well- developed affiliation is supported by the resources each entity brings. The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, Lansdowne UP, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign is working to open an entire word to students who may not ordinarily see themselves thriving in this sector of the economy.


Local Leaders Discuss a Shared Vision at Conversations.
On August 25, the leaders of three institutions came together at the Danforth Center’s Conversations event to discuss a new enterprise that will change the lives of young people in our region.

The three leaders were Dr. Jim Carrington, president and CEO of the Danforth Center, Robert J. Jones, PhD, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic legend and founder of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation.

More than 260 people attended the program with an additional audience watching via livestream. The evening’s discussion, moderated by Sarah Fenske, executive editor of Euclid Media Group, revolved around the partnership between the panelists’ respective institutions and their push to empower students across St. Louis through a new, groundbreaking education initiative.
“Being partners with Danforth—they took a chance investing in us, coming across that river and investing in our young people, and trying to make a difference..”

– Olympic Gold Medalist and Founder & CEO of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, Jackie Joyner-Kersee.


JJK FAN was founded on the idea that the key to transforming the community is by empowering the individual. That’s why the unique programs at JJK FAN won’t just educate, they will also inspire. Through hands-on research experiences developed the Danforth Center, JJK FAN will equip young people with the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to succeed in life – creating pathways for underprivileged students that lead to higher education, meaningful careers, and a stronger St. Louis region.

“We’re here to deliver on a vision that Bill Danforth set forth for us, and that’s to make an impact on the St. Louis region.”

– Jim Carrington, Phd, President And CEO, Danforth Center.

Partners in Collaboration


Founded in 1988 by Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the JJK Foundation is an iconic organization with a mission to carry out Jackie’s dream to provide youth in East St. Louis the opportunity to win in life. The JJK Foundation’s believes that youth can overcome obstacles and become successful through access to healthy lifestyles, quality educational opportunities, sports and recreation, and character and leadership development. The JJK FAN is rooted in Jackie’s commitment to expanding opportunities for youth to thrive and succeed. 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the state’s flagship, land grant university that conducts innovative research, delivers transformational academic programs, and translates discoveries and programming to people in communities through Illinois Extension. Campus efforts focus on college preparedness and expanding access, whereas Extension plays a key role in program development and delivery. 

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Its cutting-edge research, STEM education programs, and outreach efforts aim to impact food security and environmental issues and to position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Danforth Center is playing a pivotal role in the development and implementation of STEAM+Ag curriculum. 

Lansdowne UP

Lansdowne UP is a non-profit organization whose mission is to transform Lansdowne, East St. Louis, into a thriving neighborhood – one person, one property, at a time. Lansdowne is the impoverished urban neighborhood surrounding the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center. Lansdowne UP’s Lift UP initiative helps people thrive through workforce, personal, and spiritual development while our Grow UP initiative combats food insecurity by growing healthy food and providing the infrastructure necessary to support urban agricultural education.