Kelly Bird was born in Americus, GA, and currently resides in Athens, GA. She is a Regional Admissions Counselor for Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) in Americus, and is responsible for recruiting, counseling, and enrolling students from Metro Atlanta and North East Georgia. She is a 2009 graduate of Georgia Southwestern State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in Recreation. Kelly completed her Masters in Business Administration in 2010 and is slated to receive her second undergraduate degree in Accounting from GSW in December 2013. Kelly has a variety of work experience that includes tourism and recreational management, retail merchandising and sales. She is a member of the Georgia Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers organization, Alpha Chi National College Honor Scholarship Society, and the national Society of Leadership and Success, Sigma Alpha Pi chapter. She was the recipient of the Service Leadership Award for the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization and helped lead her SIFE team to a regional championship that competed nationally. She has also been involved with community projects such as the UGA Archway Partnership Bridging Campus to Community Initiative in Sumter County, GA. In her free time, Kelly enjoys traveling, running, spending time with friends and family.
A Dublin, Georgia native, Matthew Bradshaw works as a Civil Engineer for the City of Dublin. Matthew was salutatorian of his high school class, an Eagle Scout, and one of the youngest recipients of the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership. He attended Georgia Southern University, and after graduating cum laude in 2009, Matthew returned to his hometown to begin work and start a family. Matthew devotes much of his time serving his community. He is a volunteer firefighter for the Laurens County Fire Department and serves as the Assistant Chief of the Poplar Springs Fire Station. He is a member of the Exchange Club of Dublin and a 2013 graduate of Dublin-Laurens Leadership. Matthew enjoys spending time outdoors and is a John Deere enthusiast and collector. Matthew is married to Tara Bradshaw, also a member of Young Gamechangers. They have a 10 month-old daughter, Maggie Claire.
Tara Bradshaw is the Main Street Director for the Dublin Downtown Development Authority. She has a passion for economic development and historic preservation and enjoys her work immensely. She is a 2006 graduate of Valdosta State University where she received her Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing and Management. Tara is originally from Cordele, Georgia and relocated after meeting her husband in Dublin while working aboard SAM Shortline Excursion Train. She is now proud to call Dublin home. She completed the Dublin-Laurens Leadership program in 2013 and serves on the Executive Committee for the St. Patrick’s Festival. Tara is married to Matthew Bradshaw. They have a 10 month-old daughter, Maggie Claire.
Brent Buice is the Executive Director of Georgia Bikes, a nonprofit organization working to improve bicycling conditions throughout the state. He grew up in Cobb County, just a few miles from Kennesaw Mountain. Brent graduated from Harrison High School and is an alumnus of the Governor’s Honors Program. Prior to working with Georgia Bikes, Brent volunteered as a Board member with the Athens-Clarke County bicycle advocacy organization, BikeAthens, while working for the University of Georgia. Though mostly using a bicycle as a sensible, fun transportation option, he has worn bike shorts to ride the statewide Bike Ride Across Georgia, traveling from Atlanta to Savannah over seven days in June 2011. Brent is a certified safe cycling instructor, and he holds a Masters in Nonprofit Organization Management and an AB in Anthropology from the University of Georgia. He lives in the Newtown neighborhood of Athens where he runs errands, enjoys downtown, and totes his three-year old daughter to daycare by bike.
Christopher J. Cooper (Chris Cooper) is one of the most dynamic, engaging and accomplished authors, coaches, trainers and speakers in America. With three academic degrees, numerous professional certifications, book smarts and street smarts this young man of vision, passion and charisma has done it all! From being the youngest Senior Manager ever with a major Fortune 100 Company to starting three businesses, to running with the bulls in Spain and even Walking on Fire, Chris’ life has indeed been and continues to be an exciting adventure. Chris’ recent accolades include being a two-time Who’s Who in Black Atlanta honoree, being featured in The IMPRINT Magazine as “Young & Relentless”, being featured in Dunia International Magazine, and being featured on the UNCF Empower ME Tour. Chris has also been featured in the AT&T 28 Days Movers & Shakers Campaign as well as being named one of Power 30 under 30, as well as one of GXL Magazine’s Most Influential People. Additional Honors include: being selected as just one of 31 individuals selected from a pool of over 500+ of the world’s best business and life coaches to become a Tony Robbins Elite Results Coach. Chris is also a past recipient and former Board Chair for Outstanding Atlanta as well as a graduate of LEAD Atlanta. Chris has worked and consulted for over 55 Fortune 500 Companies saving them millions of dollars and has transferred that success to his own practice in which he achieves outstanding results for his clients by implementing a customized need-focused approach utilizing best-in-class coaching tools and techniques.
ReKasa Deen is a graduate of Valdosta State University where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Speech Communication. Deen began her career as a Business Development and Expansion Coordinator with the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce where she held several positions and eventually became Business Development Director. In January 2012, Deen was appointed City Manager for her hometown, the City of Homerville. After working with the city for nearly two years she decided to accept a position that would allow her to explore her passion for economic development. Deen is currently the Executive Director of the Clinch County Development Authority. Deen is the recipient of Valdosta State University’s 2012 Graduate of the Last Decade Award. She is President of the Clinch Cultural Arts Association, serves as Chairperson of Clinch County Family Connection, serves on the Okefenokee Technical College Adult Education Advisory Board and is a 2012 graduate of the Georgia Academy of Economic Development.
Austin Dickson is the executive director of Literacy Action, the oldest, largest, and leading adult basic education nonprofit in the Southeast. There he oversees management, fundraising, and advocacy efforts for the 45-year old organization. Literacy Action is a grassroots driver of economic development and provides various levels of educational services to advance adults towards employment, better wages, technical college, and the University System. Previously, he worked as the Director of Philanthropy for Action Ministries, a statewide homeless services and basic needs organization. He has also worked for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta on its regional and environmental initiatives. A Texas native and TCU graduate, Austin earned master’s degrees in religion from The University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Emory University and in public policy from Georgia Tech. Austin has taught philosophy at Clayton State University since 2008. He currently serves in a leadership role at the East Lake Family YMCA, the Atlanta Music Project, Community Farmers Markets – operating the Grant Park, East Atlanta Village, and Decatur farmers’ markets – and the East Atlanta Community Association
Jason Dollar resides and works in Dublin, GA. He graduated summa cum Laude with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Accounting in 2004 from Georgia Southern University. He obtained his Certified Public Accounting (CPA) license in July 2006. From 2004 through 2011 Jason was an audit manager with Nichols, Cauley and Associates, LLC in Dublin, GA specializing in audits and consulting works primarily for financial institutions and governmental entities. In August 2011, Jason joined the Bank of Dudley as its Credit Analyst Officer. Jason is a past president of the Heart of Georgia Chapter of CPA’s, and is a current member of the Dublin Exchange Club. He is also an active leader in his local church Christ Chapel Dublin. Jason was married in 2004 to his wife Mindy and they have one child Molly Kate born in 2012.
Odie Donald is the Executive Director of Coastal Workforce Services, where he is responsible for developing and managing innovative solutions to solve regional workforce issues within the nine-county coastal region. Originally from Atlanta, Odie holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Masters of Business Administration from Georgia State University. A native Georgian, Odie is committed and active in the community statewide. His affiliations, volunteer work, and civic affiliations include the Georgia Workforce Leadership Association (GWLA), Atlanta Public Schools Career and Technical Education Advisory Board (CTAE), National Black MBA Association (NBMAA), Jenkins High School Business & Education Advisory Committee (BEAC), and the Georgia Energy and Industrial Construction Consortium (GEICC).
Amy Duke, Ph.D.
A native of Dublin, GA, Dr. Amy Duke has over sixteen years of experience as a classroom teacher, Assistant Principal and Principal. She has served in the public school systems in Houston County, Bibb County, and Laurens County. She was the Principal of the award-winning Springdale Elementary School in Macon, GA for seven years, and was recently appointed Principal of Northwest Laurens Elementary School in Dudley, GA. She is nationally certified as a principal mentor by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and served on Governor Nathan Deal’s 2013 Principal Advisory Board. She is on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals where she serves as federal relations director and state editor. She is a 2010 graduate of Leadership Macon. In May 2013, Dr. Duke was named Georgia’s 2013 National Distinguished Principal by NAESP and the United States Department of Education. Dr. Duke earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Georgia College and State University and a Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Columbus State University. Her doctoral degree was awarded for research in Curriculum Studies at Georgia Southern University in 2007. Her dissertation focused on literacy strategies and empowering teachers to improve instruction. Dr. Duke is married to Brad Duke. They recently relocated to Laurens County with their three children.
Meghan Duke currently serves as Public Relations and Marketing Manager for the Valdosta Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA). In this role Meghan plans, develops, and implements internal and external communications for the Industrial Authority, building community awareness and interest through web, print, social media and other communication outlets. She is involved in a number of professional and civic organizations, including the Georgia Economic Developers Association, Easter Seals Southern Georgia, Inc, Valdosta Junior Service League and the Valdosta North Rotary Club. A native of Georgia, Duke was born in Albany and raised in Leesburg. She holds a Mass Media Arts degree from Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication degree at the University of Georgia.
Jonathan Dye is the director of communications at Macon Arts Alliance in Macon, Georgia. He serves on the College Hill Corridor Commission, the College Hill Public Art Committee, and in other civic and community organizations in central Georgia. He is a 2012 graduate of Leadership Macon and a 2011 graduate of Leadership Bleckley. Dye began his career as a graphic artist at The Courier Herald in Dublin, Ga. where he went on to be online manager and creative director for the daily newspaper. He was editor of two weekly newspapers, The Cochran Journal and The Twiggs Times New Era, and was a Photoshop instructor at Heart of Georgia Technical College (now Oconee Fall Line Technical College.) Dye has been a social media consultant for multiple organizations, and was the social media director of a statewide political campaign. He was co-founder and curatorial director of the Three Cities Group Artist Collective, the gallery curator at the Contemporary Arts Exchange in Macon, and a member of the art committee at Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery in Atlanta. Dye holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in Scientific Illustration, from the University of Georgia
A native of Charleston, SC, and ten-year resident of Macon, Chris Floore serves as Assistant to the County Manager for Public Affairs in Macon-Bibb County. In this role, he works closely with administration, department heads, and community agencies to develop and assist with communications plans, facilitate media coverage, manage intergovernmental communications and relations, and direct special projects. Major projects include the Mayor’s Office Strategic Plan and communication plans for the Mayor’s Office, the Macon-Bibb County Consolidation Transition Task Force, and the City’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). Previously, he managed the Bibb County School District’s public relations and communications efforts for 8 years, including media relations, crisis response, and executive communications. During that time, he and the core Crisis Team implemented a crisis communication plan that has been recognized statewide and was the basis for an article published in PRNews’ Crisis Management Guidebook, Vol. 6. Chris has also been recognized at the state and national level for his communication efforts. Chris is a member of the City-County Communications & Marketing Association and the Public Relations Society of America, is on the Executive and Endowment Committees for the Southern Interscholastic Press Association, and has served as the Communications Director for the Georgia School Public Relations Association. Chris serves in Macon-Bibb as the Co-Chair of the College Hill Corridor Commission, as a member of the American Red Cross Central Georgia Board of Directors, and as a member of the American Cancer Society South Atlantic Division’s Leadership Council. He is also a 2010 Graduate of Leadership Macon.
J. Charlie Garbutt
Growing up in a construction family and working in the family business from an early age, it was an obvious choice when J. Charlie Garbutt pursued the field professionally and eventually returned home to Dublin, Ga. On the Garbutt Construction team since 2009, “JCharlie” oversees the company’s marketing and business development efforts including promotion, public relations, marketing communications, and proposal and qualification responses. JCharlie is a LEED accredited professional, a member of the USGBC Georgia Chapter and OSHA 30 Hour certified. She is an active member of AGC Georgia’s Young Leadership Program having served a term on their Leadership Council in 2009. She is also a member of the Dublin Rotary Club and was a member of the 2010 – 2011 Dublin-Laurens Leadership class. In 2013, Charlie was elected to the Dublin-Laurens Co. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and will serve a 3 year term beginning in November 2013. JCharlie is a 2002 honor graduate of Dublin High School. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in construction management gained from Georgia Southern University in 2007.
Emily Haar is a Program Manager in the transportation department of the Midtown Alliance. Working towards connecting communities and easing mobility, Emily works with companies in the Atlanta region to promote alternative commuting and improve job accessibility. She is passionate about the walkable, urban experience and has decided to live a car-free life in the city. She is currently working with additional organizations to start up a pedi-cab service in Midtown. Emily enjoys traveling, planning events, and performing community service. She serves as the National Service Program Director for Omega Phi Alpha, National Service Sorority, and guides the service programs of collegiate chapters nationwide. Emily grew up in Atlanta and graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Management in 2009.
Bo Harmon was born in Atlanta and grew up in Macon, GA. He attended Stratford Academy and was an Eagle Scout in Troop 19. Bo graduated with degrees in Economics and Finance from Auburn University. While at Auburn he served as Treasurer of the Interfraternity Council, Treasurer of the College of Business Student Council, and as Assistant Director of Elections for the AU Student Government Association. He also graduated Summa Cum Laude with his Masters in Accountancy from Georgia State University. At GSU, Bo served as a Graduate Assistant with the Center for the Economic Analysis of Risk. (CEAR). While at CEAR, he helped launch the “Portfolios of the Atlanta Poor” project – a multi-year study analyzing the financial decisions of individuals living in impoverished communities in the city of Atlanta. He also active in community outreach through Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. Bo currently works in assurance services with Ernst & Young. He, his wife Sarah, and their pug Jojo live in Atlanta.
Kelly Herrington graduated from Appling County High School in 1995, Georgia Southern University in 1999 and the University of Georgia’s Banking School in 2005. He began his banking career with Wachovia Bank and spent 11 years working with 2 different community banks in Statesboro, GA. He moved to Dublin, GA 2 years ago to work as a Commercial Loan Officer with Morris Bank. Kelly has been involved with numerous civic and volunteer organizations, and is currently a member of Dublin Rotary Club and a board member of Dublin Laurens County Crimestoppers. In addition to his banking career, Kelly served six years with U.S. Air Force Special Operations as a Tactical Air Controller. He and his family are members of First United Methodist Church of Dublin. He is married to the former Melanie Deese of Fitzgerald, GA. They have 3 daughters; Libba (4), Charlotte (2) and Ellis (2).
Cristi Jones, CPA, CVA is a partner with TJS Deemer Dana LLLP located in Dublin, Georgia. She joined TJS Deemer Dana in 2003 after working as a tax associate in both a local Georgia CPA firm and a Big 4 International accounting firm. She serves in the tax and consulting division of the firm and provides financial and tax services to a number of individuals and businesses. Cristi is originally from Toccoa, Georgia but has lived in Dublin since 2003. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2001 with a Masters in Accountancy. Cristi is involved with numerous community organizations and has served on the board of directors for the American Red Cross and Special Olympics local chapters. Cristi is also an avid foodie and enjoys traveling, cooking with gourmet ingredients, and food blogging. She is married to Matt Jones from Dublin and they have an eighteen month old son.
Kimberly Lawson is a Georgia native, having lived most of her life in the suburbs of metro-Atlanta. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Furman University and holds an MPA from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. With a specialty in management and finance, Kim’s past work includes the Office of the Attorney General in Washington, DC and legislative work for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Currently, Kim works as a Credit & Risk Analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She also serves as the Chair of an employee resource network and is actively involved in the volunteer advisory committee at the Atlanta Fed. She enjoys weekend road trips and English horseback riding. Kim and her husband, Sean, have a Doberman Pinscher, Sheba.
Tommy Lowmon serves as the City of Blackshear’s Main Street Manager and Director of Economic Development. He has worked for the City of Blackshear since April of 2008. Before he became Main Street Manager for the City, he owned and operated a graphic design company which he sold to pursue his career in Community Development. Starting in a part time capacity for the City he quickly began several new projects and initiatives that landed him full time employment. Tommy leads the Main Street Board of Directors to help guide the City into a better tomorrow through grant writing, innovative marketing, strategic planning and creative problem solving. He has created many successful events, one of which won the statewide award for Most Creative Fundraiser for an Organization in 2012. Along with his many duties for the City, Tommy serves on the Georgia Downtown Association Board of Directors. In 2012 he was elected Secretary/ Treasurer and currently holds the office of Vice President for the Organization and is poised to take the office of President in 2014. He has achieved certification as a Georgia Downtown Development Professional and received National Accreditation for the City’s Main Street Program in 2012. He worked hard to help Pierce County receive its Georgia Work Ready designation and continues to pursue economic development in the context of historic preservation for the Community.
Dwayne Marshall recently served as Program Manager for The H.O.P.E. Institute for Leadership and Living (HILL). The mission of HILL is to provide a platform which enables youth to become social change agents that make a positive impact in the world. Through exposure to leadership development training, civic engagement opportunities and community service, The H.O.P.E. Institute for Leadership and Living, provides youth with the skills, resources and access necessary to become the next generation of inspirational leaders for local, national and global impact. In addition to HILL, Dwayne has been involved with various organizations that promote social justice, community empowerment and youth education. He previously served as an “Organizer-In-Residence” with the Southern Partners Fund. Dwayne also played a key role in launching the Young Leaders for Social Change (YLSC) convening and the Social Justice Institute (SJI). He is a recent graduate of the New Leaders Council, Georgia Stand Up Policy Institute for Civic Leadership and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) Leadership Program. Additionally, Dwayne is a member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship Selection Committee and a member of Ray of Hope Christian Church Men’s Council where he assists in the curriculum development of their Transformers Rites of Passage Program for Young Men. He has worked on local, state and national political campaigns to help further support candidates seeking to bring increased economic and educational opportunity to citizens in the state of Georgia. Prior to building HILL, Dwayne served as a Regional Field Director & Get Out The Vote (GOTV) Lead for the Obama-Biden Campaign for Change during the 2008 presidential election. Dwayne is a native of Savannah, Georgia. He is a graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory University with a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) in Organization Management and Marketing.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, NV, Rebecca McWilliam has also lived in California and Colorado, and moved to Georgia in 2005. A graduate of University of California, San Marcus, Rebecca serves as the Director of Tourism for the Dublin-Laurens Tourism Council, as well as President of Magnolia Midlands Travel Association. Rebecca has served as a board member of Golden Isles Parkway Association, the Boys & Girls Club of the Middle Georgia Region, Alcoa Architectural Products Community Advisory Board, and the Dodge County Historical Society, as well as a mentor with Communities in Schools. In her free time, Rebecca likes to hike, cook, and write poetry.
Amol Naik is Corporate Counsel on Google’s Global Ethics & Compliance team, where he is responsible for legal and regulatory compliance matters, principally for global political law, campaign finance, lobbying regulations, election law and government ethics. Prior to joining Google, Amol was senior associate at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in Atlanta. Amol has significant experience in politics at the federal, state and local level, previously serving as the lead outside counsel for numerous elected officials, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. In law school, Amol was Chief of Staff to the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus. Amol is a Marshall Memorial Fellow, American Council of Young Political Leaders honoree, Truman National Security Project Fellow and a graduate of L.E.A.D. Atlanta. In 2010, The Daily Report named Amol to its annual “On the Rise” list of 10 Georgia lawyers under 40 and Atlanta Magazine has named Amol to its list of “Georgia Super Lawyers Rising Stars.” Amol is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Emory University School of Law.
Emily B. Patteson is the Grants Manager for the Foundations & Endowments Specialty Practice at SunTrust Bank, which focuses exclusively on serving the financial, fiduciary, and administrative needs of not-for-profit organizations. She administers the grants management process for the group’s private foundation clients and serves as a liaison between those foundations and the nonprofit community. A native of Columbus, Georgia, Emily graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a B.A. in both Economics and Spanish. Emily now resides in Atlanta, where she serves on the Leadership Council and as a Career Coach for the Posse Foundation and on the executive committee of the Atlanta chapter of the Vanderbilt University Alumni Association.
Matt Poyner is the Executive Director for the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority. Matt serves as the single point of contact for Site Consultants and Project Managers who may be looking to relocate businesses and industries to this community. He is responsible for working with existing industries in Baldwin County as well as managing properties and buildings the Development Authority owns. His economic development background began as the Manager of Business & Industry for the Macon Economic Development Commission. He was responsible for creating and managing relationships with key stakeholders in the business community locally as well as those around the state. He assisted with new business recruitment by marketing properties to site consultants and the real estate brokerage community. He established a retention program to address business needs by identifying and resolving issues that may inhibit growth and expansion. He was also instrumental in establishing the Middle Georgia Manufacturing Council and the Safety & Environmental Group of Middle Georgia. Matt’s background is in urban design and land planning. Matt is a Registered Landscape Architect in the state of Georgia and has an extensive background in this field. He has designed and engineered subdivision, commercial developments and industrial tracts. He has also worked as the lead for communities on several TEA-Grant projects with the Georgia Department of Transportation. Matt has been a Board Member for the Macon Ducks Unlimited Chapter, was a charter member of the Uptown Macon Rotary Club, and was on the Advisory Board for the historic Hay House in downtown Macon. He currently is a member of the Georgia Economic Development Association, the Southern Economic Development Council, the International Economic Development Council, the University of Georgia Alumni Association, and serves on the board for the Baldwin County Career Academy and the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. Matt is a 2003 graduate of the University of Georgia and is married to his college sweetheart Laura. They have a 6-year old son named Walker and Labrador retriever that does not retrieve.
Exceeding his own expectations has long been the driving force of Tremaine “Teddy” Reese. Born and raised in the very small town of Gordon, Georgia, Mr. Reese would become the first in his family to attend a college or university. He graduated from Albany State University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He later graduated with a Masters in Public Administration from Georgia College & State University in 2005. To further advance his career and ability, in May 2012, Mr. Reese graduated Cum Laude from Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, Florida. He is an active member of the Florida Bar and clerked forthe Honorable Marc L. Lubet with the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, Felony Division. Mr. Reese is also a member of the Georgia Bar. While at Albany State University, Mr. Reese served as Student Government Association President for two consecutive terms (2001-2002, 2002-2003). It was in 2002 that he founded and held the very first Student Leadership Conference at Albany State University. Mr. Reese served on committees at the request of former Governor Sonny Purdue, the former Secretary of State, Cathy Cox, and the University System of Georgia. His previous employers include GEICO Corporate, Wilkinson County, Georgia, and the City of Atlanta. Mr. Reese is actively involved in the American Bar Association and the National Bar Association since 2009. He is proud and honored to have served as the American Bar Association Law Student Division National Chair for the 2011-2012 year. He currently serves on the American Bar Association taskforce evaluating the future of legal education. Mr. Reese is currently employed with Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice as a Staff Attorney and Deputy Director of Projects in the Columbus Office. He is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and enjoys volunteering and working for the betterment of others. Additionally, he enjoys fishing, traveling, reading and playing softball.
Sarah Roche was born and raised in middle Georgia and in 2002 graduated from the IB program at Central High School in Macon, GA. She went on to study linguistics at the University of Georgia, where she was an active member of Circle K and graduated magna cum laude in 2006. In 2007, Sarah earned her master’s degree from Harvard University in Mind, Brain and Education. Since that time, she has held a variety of positions in the non-profit and education sectors including three years managing after-school programs in the DC public school system. Sarah and her husband Will returned to Macon in 2010, where she is currently working for a local Promise Neighborhood initiative. Promise Neighborhood is a collective impact strategy focused on significantly improving the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in our most distressed communities.
Ralph C. Staffins, III serves as the Executive Director of Forward McDuffie, which is the Economic Development Department for the City of Thomson and McDuffie County. Forward McDuffie encompasses the Development Authority, Tourism Department, Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Development Authority. He received his Masters of Public Administration, with a concentration in local government, from Georgia College in 2008. He also received his undergraduate degree in Political Science from Georgia College in 2006. Mr. Staffins is working towards becoming a certified Economic Development Professional from IEDC and plans to sit for his certification in December of 2013. Mr. Staffins is very involved in his community, participating in the Thomson Rotary Club, Board Member for the CSRA Regional Commission, as well as leading a small group men’s bible study at First Baptist Church of Thomson. He is also very involved with several national and state organizations: Vice-Chair for Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, Georgia Economic Developers Association, and the International Council of Shopping Centers. Though Ralph enjoys serving his community, he puts family first with his wife Rachel and daughter Evelyn.
Mrs. Trayce Striggles currently serves as the Associate Director of Nonprofit Development for the Chick-fil-A Foundation. In her role she evaluates applications, provides recommendations, and monitors funded program progress. Before coming to Chick-fil-A Trayce worked for Clayton County Public Schools System as a history instructor at the secondary level. Trayce is a graduate of Spelman College and received a Master’s of Science in Public Policy Planning from the Andrew Young School of Public Policy at Georgia State University. She also holds a Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is actively involved in the Sister to Sister Mentor Program at Spelman College, Mount Zion High School Teacher Mentor Program and Clayton County Public Schools’ US history curriculum redesign team. Trayce was voted “Top 25 Women of Atlanta” by Steed Media Group. Trayce is an Atlanta native and currently resides in downtown Atlanta. Her hobbies include swimming, reading, pastry arts, and travel.
Ingrid M. Varn is the Executive Director of the Vidalia Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. She earned two degrees from the University of South Carolina, a bachelor’s degree in International Studies (2002) and a master’s degree in Public Administration (2004). Ingrid worked in legal marketing and owned a shipping store in Vidalia before starting her career in tourism in 2010. She plays an active role on the Vidalia Onion Festival Committee as the Marketing and Advertising Chair, and is certified by the Southeast Tourism Society as a Travel Marketing Professional. Ingrid is the vice-president of the Magnolia Midlands Travel Association, and serves on several boards throughout her community. Her passions include traveling to new places (dream trip…Zanzibar!), cooking outside of her culinary comfort zone, and spending time with her two wild little boys, Noah and Sam.
Ben Vaughn was born in Forsyth, Georgia and attended Stratford Academy in Macon. Upon graduation from Stratford, Ben attended Auburn University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry. Ben then went on to attend Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, where he graduated Cum Laude with a Juris Doctor. While in law school, Ben Worked for the firm of Michael A. Dillon, P.C. in Forsyth, Georgia as an associate. Following law school Ben continued to work for Michael A. Dillon, P.C., and in 2013 Mike and Ben started Dillon & Vaughn, P.C. Dillon & Vaughn, P.C. is a General Litigation firm handling a wide array of legal matters and represents Monroe County, the Monroe County Building Authority and the Monroe County Board of Education. Ben is the Vice President of the Towaliga Bar Association, and the Director of Club Administration for the Forsyth-Monroe County Rotary Club.
Jason Winters was raised in Chattooga County and graduated from Chattooga High School in 1997 and Berry College in 2001 with a degree in Political Science. Jason has lived and worked his entire life in Chattooga County working at his family’s business, Bankson Oil Company in Summerville after college. He was elected Sole Commissioner of Chattooga County in 2008 at the age of 29, making him the youngest Sole Commissioner ever elected in the State of Georgia. Jason is a graduate of Leadership Chattooga and Leadership Georgia and was named to Georgia Trend Magazine’s “40 under 40” in 2011. Jason is a member of the Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce, the Summerville Trion Rotary Club and the Summerville Trion Optimist Club. He was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal and serves as Chairman of the Georgia Rural Development Council. Jason also serves on the Georgia Northwestern Technical College Foundation Board of Trustees and on the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission Board of Directors. Jason attends Oak Hill United Methodist Church and resides in the Oak Hill Community outside of Lyerly on his family’s farm with his dog Catfish.
William John Wood
William John Wood is originally from Oklahoma but moved to the Georgia Coast 10 years ago to coach football at Bradwell Institute and teach Government and US History. He holds a Bachelors degree in History from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Masters in Educational Administration from Northeastern State University, and a Education Specialist in Curriculum Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. Currently, John is working towards a Masters of Public Administration from Valdosta State University. John has taught history and coached football, baseball, and basketball for the past 18 years in the Alaskan bush, Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. In addition to an educational career, he has been a professional journalist and photographer for a number media establishments covering everything from the OKC Bombing to sports and politics. He is the senior feature writer for Southeast Georgia’s In the Game Magazine, a high school sports magazine, he also serves as a football recruiting analyst to different groups. Politically, he has served as three term chairman of the Liberty County Republican Party and two terms as the Vice Chairman of the First Congressional District Republican Committee. Working in the political arena since a teenager, John has served candidates in every capacity and is currently the co-chairman of the Dr. Bob Johnson, Republican candidate for the 1st District Congressional District campaign. He is married to Dell McLean, and has two boys, John McLean, 5 years old and Baylor, 4 years old.
A native Texan, BJZ was raised in a small rural town in Deep East Texas. Always remembering his rural roots, Bryan continues to tirelessly advocate for rural communities all across the state of Georgia. Currently a Management Analyst for the United States Department of Agriculture, Bryan serves as Rural Development’s lead for Secretary Vilsack’s StrikeForce Initative, an USDA initiative which focuses on the eradication of persistent poverty and the creation of robust, thriving rural communities. With this position, Bryan has been afforded the honor of not just traveling through, but getting his hands dirty with community leaders in over 70 counties. Following graduation from Texas State University with a degree in International Relations, Bryan began his career in the world of politics. Beginning in the Foreign Policy office of the late great Senator Ted Kennedy, Bryan later worked as a Regional Field Director for the DNC, Field Representative for Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, and as Director of Field Operations in Congressman Bishop’s miraculous win during the Republican Typhoon of 2010. Ultimately a self-proclaimed Idealist without illusions, BJZ hopes to one day be considered the Leonardo da Vinci of Rural Renaissance.