Grad Story: Random Acts of Flowers Founder Earns EMBA, Expands Charity Nationally

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Larsen JayFor four years, Random Acts of Flowers has delivered smiles to the infirm in Knoxville’s hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices by surprising them with free repurposed bouquets.

Larsen Jay, the nonprofit’s founder and executive director, wants to take the charity nationally. Through skills he’s learned at UT, he’s poised to do just that. Jay graduates today from UT’s Executive Master of Business Administration for Strategic Leadership program.

Starting next year, the Knoxville-based charity will expand to one other city—Nashville, Indianapolis or Tampa—with plans to spread to twenty target cities around the country in coming years and eventually to expand internationally.

Jay has received requests from across the country and from people in Australia and England who are interested in his work.

“The goals are simple: Do another one and prove it can be successful again,” said Jay, a former television and film producer.

Since its inception in 2008, Random Acts of Flowers has delivered flowers to almost 20,000 people. The 100 percent recycling green charity receives donated used flowers from weddings, special events, churches, funeral homes, and retailers. The flowers are pulled apart and rebuilt into professional-looking arrangements.

“We’re trying to make one person’s day better with somebody else’s garbage,” Jay said. “We’re helping create an industry that’s a receptacle for the second-hand flower market. There really isn’t an industry that deals with what to do with used flowers. But it’s often the number one question brides and funeral homes have.”

Through UT’s intensive year-long executive MBA program, Jay gained “the ability to think on a much bigger level and an enormous toolbox of practical knowledge that’s going to help build this into a national charity,” he said. “I learned skills and made connections I didn’t have before.”

The organization’s business model, he said, is simple—an endless supply of free flowers, countless numbers of people who could use a smile, and a large team of volunteers.

“We fit into one little sliver of the market that no one else touches,” Jay said.

The idea for the charity was born out of one of the darkest periods of Jay’s life. In summer 2007, a ladder collapsed from underneath him while he was fixing the roof of his workshop in North Knoxville. He landed face down on the concrete, breaking his left arm, left and right wrists, right elbow, right femur, nose, and ten facial bones.

During his time in the intensive care unit, the trauma unit, and then a rehabilitation center, he received multiple deliveries of flowers every day from friends and family around the country. When he was able to leave his room via wheelchair, he noticed many of the patients on his hospital floor had “no flowers, no plants, no visitors, and no life” in their rooms, he said.

So he and family members loaded up his wheelchair with his excess flowers and delivered them room by room.

“The reactions from the people in the rooms were unbelievable,” Jay said.

A year later, he established Random Acts of Flowers. The organization has about 300 volunteers and a number of partner hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. The liaisons there identify people who haven’t had visitors or who are having a rough time. Deliveries are made several times every week.

The organization is supported through financial donations, fundraising events, and grants from corporations and foundations. It delivers 600 to 800 bouquets a month.

“I know virtually nothing about flowers. I’m a TV and film producer,” Jay said. “But I know about happiness and the impact a moment of kindness and compassion can have on a person.”

To learn more about Random Acts of Flowers, visit www.randomactsofflowers.org.

To learn about UT’s Executive MBA program, visit the program’s website.

CONTACT:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)

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