I’m Aili, an Oregon Native, who grew up camping, biking, hiking, skiing, and experiencing the outside world with her family. My Dad for vacation would say “Kids we’re headed to the woods.” I was generally disappointed because I wanted to go to Disneyland like normal kids. But being outside wasn’t so bad when I got to follow my two older sisters around all the time. Keelia and Meghan have been my role models and idols in everything I do. Both sisters worked as lifeguards at the local YMCA in High School, went to Europe after graduating, started school at Lane Community College and finished their education at Oregon State University, and of course fought fire in the summers in between. I always thought “Keelia made the clear cut, Meg paved the road and I got to drive on it!” There was never any pressure from them or my parents to follow in their footsteps, but I think as a youngest of three it was the easiest, as well as the simplest way to be like them.
While working on my degree, I also worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a Forestry Technician (aka wildland firefighter) from 2008 – 2013. During this time, I became a confident for three separate sexual assault survivors that were USFS employees. This knowledge was earth-shattering to me, I felt clueless, ill-informed, and helpless. These incidents provided me the fuel to create awareness surrounding this issue. As an ally to these survivors, I discovered the critical need for sexual harassment and sexual assault education for USFS employees. As I dove more into the topic it became apparent that this issue affects ALL communities and workplaces. Five years later, #MeToo was the evidence that I wasn’t singing to an empty concert hall.
As I finished up my degree in Public Health at Oregon State University (OSU), I created my OG (Original Gangsta’) SMART(R) — Sexual Misconduct, Awareness and Response Training. I implemented this training in the Willamette National Forest where I had been working at the time. Since 2012, these programs expanded and grew into the organization known today as TMI Action. We have been contracting with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, Oregon State University, and more.
I was never trying to start a business, far from it. I had wild hopes and ambitions of continuing in the footsteps of my sisters. I was seeking a seasonal work life full of adventure and travel – raft guiding in the summer and ski bumming in the winter.
However, after my senior project in 2013, I came to a fork in the road — follow in my sisters footsteps OR venture out into the unknown and start a business to provide meaningful training for a community I cared so much about. Well that was the day I stepped off the trail of my sisters and had to start clear-cutting and paving my own road. My mother finally said, “Honey, you don’t always need to do what your sisters do.”
Through tears, failure and growth, and just being downright stubborn, I began to etch away at building a business from scratch. I knew that this work was absolutely essential, yet hated the idea of being “The Sexual Violence Lady”, living, breathing, discussing and better understanding sexual violence and harassment on a 24/7 basis, almost crippled me into giving up the venture. But I didn’t.
My business has progressed slowly. I originally started as a sole proprietor, Aili Johnston: Public Health Educator, transitioned to a Limited Liability Corporation, Willamette Public Health, and have finally settled on TMI Action. Many might see TMI and think Too Much Information, which is what I love about the name. Seems like the perfect segue into a conversation about our company, one that transforms, motivates and inspires individuals to take positive action in the workplace. Our new name honestly feels like putting on a comfy old coat – It just makes sense. We push boundaries, we are always having hard conversations. Personally, my friends ask “You didn’t really say that!? Did you?” completely aghast. My answer, “Oh hell yeah I did. We need to be clear.” I want people to be empowered to stand up for what they believe in and have a voice.