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January 29, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Former UTK track and field star still reaching for new heights, helping others to better themselves

Diondre Jackson and his wife have a number of interests in Jefferson City that range from a co-working facility to a 10-month residency leadership program targeting at-risk young men.

As an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), Diondre Jackson was a captain on the track and field team where he was a high jumper.

Today, he has not stopped reaching for new heights as is evidenced by his involvement in Jefferson City where he and his wife have a number of business and non-profit interests along with his title of Chief Servant Officer of Penultimate Development and The Penultimate Group LLC, the latter working with nonprofit organizations in strategic planning, leadership, and business development.

One of the group’s subsidiaries is Penultimate Development, a 10-month residency leadership program targeting at-risk young men between the ages of 18 and 24. Launched in 2019, the program and the overall group draw their names from the second to last step that high jumpers take which allows them to get off the ground on the next step, which Jackson says is the plant.

In addition to the 10-month program that is focused on personal, professional, and spiritual development for six young men at a time, the Penultimate Group also operates a co-working facility in downtown Jefferson City named Penult Place and a custom woodworking business named Penultimate Woodworks.

Jackson comes by his commitment to servant leadership naturally. For 12 years starting in 2005, he was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Williams Creek Youth Foundation overseeing the First Tee of Greater Knoxville, Williams Creek Golf Course, and The Wee Course Academic Learning Center. Before that, soon after graduating from UTK in 1999, he started mentoring guys as a leader in Young Life.

Cover of The Tennessee Magazine with Jackson on the right.

Jackson shared that early work in an article that appeared in the June 2023 edition of The Tennessee Magazine  from the Appalachian Electric Cooperative. “Through the years, I’ve had guys even live with me. My wife Adia and I have taken guys to college, we’ve taught them to drive, we’ve bought them cars and paid tuition. It’s just always been a part of our lives,” he told the writer. When talking about Adia, he says, “She is the best choice I’ve ever made, and she’s totally on board with what we’re doing. A big part of our success is because of her.”

Another individual who drew his praise was Jim Bush whom he credits with teaching him how to run a business. “When I left (Williams Creek) in 2017, I had enough money to buy a building or operate a business,” Jackson says.

He bought a 5,000-square-foot building in downtown Jefferson City that houses Penultimate Group, turning 1,500 square feet into co-working space and the balance dedicated to the non-profit’s work with at-risk young men.

“If co-working fails, I’ll have a really big office,” Jackson thought. He outfitted Penult Place with surplus furniture from the UTK library that he was able to get for pennies on the dollar – 18 desks for $6 to be exact, refinished them, and quickly landed a couple of architects and an accountant.

“Co-working worked,” he said, adding that what was supposed to be an eight-week renovation project took 18 months to fully restore the building. That process, however, caused Jackson to gain a new appreciation for woodworking which led, in turn, to launching Penultimate Woodworks last spring after purchasing another nearby building in downtown Jefferson City.

He says that the woodworking business was founded from what became a love for seeing others create something special from wood and as a way to provide an opportunity for young men to develop the skills needed to establish financial security for themselves and their families.

Now, after a stint as Interim CEO of Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Jackson chairs the non-profit’s Board of Directors. He’s also a member of several other boards including the East Tennessee Foundation, Mossy Creek Foundation, Tennova Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and Thrive Knoxville.

Of his involvement in the community, Jackson says, “It’s exciting to be part of the growth and change in Jefferson City.”

As far as his businesses, the Tennessee alum says he has just completed a plan to raise $1.5 million to further fuel growth for Penultimate Development. Jackson’s plans include the possibility of replicating the program in other communities.

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