Questioning the Locals: TJ Atkins

chatting with the executive director of The Community Table

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

TJ Atkins became executive director of The Community Table in Eau Claire in February 2020, taking the helm of a nonprofit that serves free meals to anyone in need. “I am a servant leader always looking to better my community in any way I can,” she says. “I am a friend, sister, wife, and boss. I consider myself a ‘Jackie of All Trades’ ... as I have worked in a variety of industries, which enables me to see not only the big picture, but the people who make up that picture.”

What’s your name?

TJ Atkins. (TJ is short for “Tashai Janine.” Most people slaughter my name, so I have found TJ to be simpler!)

Where do you live?

Jim Falls, which is a lovely 25 minute commute north of Eau Claire.

How long have you lived in the Chippewa Valley?

I became a resident of the Chippewa Valley 20 years ago when I moved to the area with my now husband, Tim. I love the area and it gives me a nice mix of urban and rural.

What’s the most positive local development since you moved here?

Because I am music and art fan, I would have to say the addition of music in the park and the downtown artwork. I really like that it’s accessible and affordable to everyone in the community. Growing up in Florida, my family made those things essential to my development, and I feel it’s important to all of us as we learn, grow, and express ourselves positively.

What frustrates you about the Chippewa Valley?

I think the thing that frustrates me most are silos that exist throughout our community. I see often a duplication of efforts, which seems wasteful to me, especially when those resources could be used more efficiently to better the community as a whole. I also am frustrated by the lack of community engagement we have in some areas. This past year I would hope we learned the importance of knowing we are all in this together and we can and should operate as islands. I like the saying, “We do better when we all do better.” I just hope after this past year it sticks and drives us to do better.

What is one of the best cultural experiences you’ve ever had in the Valley?

I would have to say attending the International Fall Fest downtown. It was so nice to see the diversity within the community, and the food was great too.

If you had an unlimited budget, what’s one piece of public art you would create locally?

A huge tree like at Epcot that would be accessible for everyone and have one of the water fountains around it for kids to play in during the summer.

If COVID-19 suddenly vanished, where is the first local place you would go?

I would have to say ECDC with my favorite cup of coffee. I love that space with the fireplace and the superhero portraits on the wall. I’ve had some of the best conversations in that space. Not to mention, I love to sit and imagine why other people are there and just people watch.

What is your favorite piece of local trivia?

The story of Maud Phillips, the poet and later local cave lady, and the fact that the cave still exists.

Death bed, one meal from a local restaurant, what would it be?

I have to say it would be a waffle from Jewelstone Café and Waffle Bar. Oh mercy, I am salivating just thinking about those waffles. I have a few favorites!

What book, TV show, or movie would you recommend to the members of the City Council?

The movie The Public! It really gives you different perspectives on homelessness and community.

TJ’s Shoutouts:

Pride Week. For the unicorn in all of us! A great place and time to see all that we can be when we love and accept each other where we are at.

Lake Street United Methodist Church. How I miss you and your glorious stain glass windows, particularly the ones which say “hope” and “faith,” as they always calm the chaos of a busy week for me.

Silly Serrano Mexican Restaurant. A slice of heaven in the hustle and bustle of Eau Claire with your nice view of the park and river topped off with your delicious shrimp salad.