Throughout South Georgia, there are people of all ages and varying levels of professional experience that are dedicated to making their communities a better place to live and work.
Nominations for Team South Georgia 2018 were accepted for individuals representing a variety of areas including agriculture, business and industry, economic development, education, government, healthcare, leadership development, public service, tourism, community service, and the arts.
The inaugural class of Team South Georgia recognizes 26 community champions for their innovative spirit and ability to obtain positive results.
South Georgia Business + Culture Magazine has selected Dr. Tina Anderson, president of Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, as this year’s Team South Georgia coach.
Dr. Tina Anderson
Ensuring that Wiregrass Georgia Technical College is meeting the workforce needs of businesses and industries within its 11-county region is Dr. Tina Anderson’s biggest mission.
“I meet with business and industry leaders to make sure that Wiregrass Tech is producing highly trained workers,” said Anderson, who became Wiregrass Tech’s president in 2013. “I am proud that we have a 99 percent job placement rate for our students. Not just getting them a job but a job within their field.”
Growing up in South Georgia, Anderson understands the importance of education and having a trained workforce to support the needs of businesses and industries.
“When you think about opportunities, it can be difficult for students in rural areas to receive the same opportunities as students in larger metro areas like Atlanta,” said Anderson, who is from Ellaville a small community of fewer than 2,000 people located near Americus. “This is why what we are doing here at Wiregrass Tech is so important. We are building partnerships and sharing resources so that our students have the same advantages as those in larger cities.”
Anderson arrived at Wiregrass Tech in 2013 and immediately began knocking on the doors of local industries.
“I wanted to hear from our industry leaders,” said Anderson, who served as president of Moultrie Technical College for ten years. “What I heard was they were in desperate need of more technical workers, especially welders, which is still an area that is at a deficit.”
Leveraging Wiregrass Tech’s resources with the needs of businesses and industries is one of Anderson’s most significant missions.
“One of the worst things I could hear from a business owner is that we are not teaching the skills their employees need to be successful,” she said. “If we are not offering the right classes then if, at all possible, we need to start that program.”
Team South Georgia 2018
Her roots run deep within South Georgia, a graduate of Valdosta State University and former teacher at Lowndes High School, Amy Carter is now serving as the deputy commissioner for the Rural Georgia Initiative, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. In her new position, Carter will assist rural Georgia communities in becoming more competitive for economic development projects and identify new strategies for attracting jobs and investment opportunities. Carter has been an advocate for rural issues for many years, from 2006 to 2017, Carter served as State Representative for District 175, which includes Brooks County and parts of Lowndes and Thomas counties.
A champion for tourism within South Georgia, Jerry Connell was instrumental in the development of Georgia Grown Trail 37, the state’s first official agritourism highway. The success of Trail 37 has served as a model for creating other trails that promote Georgia’s agritourism industry. Under Connell’s leadership the Georgia Grown Trail 37 Association received the Bill Hardman Tourism Champion-Product Development Award in 2015.
After retiring from his official duties as president of the Adel-Cook County Chamber of Commerce, Connell continues to serve Cook County and the region in various capacities including as a member of the Adel Cook County Tourism Authority and Downtown Adel Development Authority.
When he is not helping recruit and retain new industries in Lowndes County, Stan Crance, existing industry coordinator with the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority, is supporting numerous civic organizations. As president of Leadership Lowndes, which has been in existence for 30 years, Crance is working with members of the organization’s board of directors to develop a strategic plan. He also serves on the board for the Boys & Girls Club of Valdosta and the Valdosta Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Citizen’s Advisory Committee. An active supporter of Valdosta’s downtown development, Crance is co-owner of Art and Soul, a family-owned business that includes his sister Rylin Crane, and parents Wade and Angela Crance.
John Crawford is leading Valdosta State University’s effort to provide more scholarship opportunities for students seeking a college degree. Valdosta State’s first comprehensive capital campaign, Invest. Ignite. Inspire: The Campaign for Valdosta State University has surpassed its goal of $53,250,000 more than a year ahead of schedule. Crawford credits the University Advancement team in helping exceed the campaign’s goal. The financial impact of the campaign will allow Valdosta State to double the number of scholarships that have been awarded in the past five years. Last year, the Valdosta State University Foundation provided $1.1 million in student scholarships. In addition to the scholarships, campaign funds established the Terry Center for Experiential Learning. Through the center, Valdosta State students will have the opportunity to gain real-world experience by applying lessons from the classroom within communities in Valdosta State’s 41-county service area.
Chase Daughtrey was sworn in as probate court judge of Cook County in January 2009. When he took office, at the age of 26, he was the state’s youngest probate court judge. Since taking office, Daughtrey has been honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for his support in the organization’s South Georgia campaign to keep roads safe. He was named Probate Judge of the Year in 2014, and in 2016 he was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve on the Board of Commissioners for the Probate Judges Retirement Fund. Active within the Cook County community, Daughtrey serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Cook Medical Center and on the Advisory Board for the Georgia Department of Community Supervision.
With a passion for regional partnerships, Jason Dunn, executive director of the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority, is an active participant in Locate South Georgia, a collaborative effort that promotes economic development in 21 South Georgia counties.
The mission of Locate South Georgia is to market and brand the region as a globally competitive location for business and industry, work toward the recruitment of new jobs and capital investments, and educate and foster community leaders.
Dunn is also instrumental in creating a bridge between industry and education through the WELD program. Dunn, along with other community leaders, formed WELD, a collaborative program that works to establish additional avenues of employment, reduce unemployment and poverty rates, and improve the overall quality of life in Ben Hill County. The WELD partnership includes the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority, Fitzgerald High School, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, and Communities in Schools of Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County.
“Simply put, WELD is providing young people with an entryway into a career,” Dunn said. “One of the best things it has done is create partnerships with education, the development authority, and industry. This has led to careers for young men and women that are likely to remain in Ben Hill County upon high school graduation.”
The WELD program has increased placement of high school students in local industry jobs, facilitated an essential railcar car repair curriculum with Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, and has created community awareness on the importance of industry and education collaborations to strengthen workforce development.
Actively involved in the Valdosta North Rotary Club, Courtney Gooding exemplifies Rotary International’s motto of “Service Above Self.” Courtney Gooding, who is director of client services with Bush Wealth Management, is a volunteer in numerous community organizations including the Lowndes Associated Ministries to People (LAMP) Board of Directors, Community Partners in Education Advisory Council, and Board of Trustees for Leadership Lowndes (class of 2017). In 2016, Gooding received the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year Award.
A teacher, an actor, and the person that takes care of whatever needs to be done. H. Duke Guthrie spends his summer bringing musical performances to South Georgia as part of Valdosta State University’s Peach State Summer Theatre (PSST!). Recognized as the official Musical Theatre of the State of Georgia, PSST! provides locals and tourists with entertainment from a professional summer stock theatre. In addition to serving as managing director for PSST!, Guthrie is a professor of theatre at Valdosta State, where he works with student theatrical productions throughout the year.
Guthrie received the Valdosta State University 2010 Faculty Excellence Award and the Georgia Theatre Conference Leighton Ballew Award for Distinguished Service to Theatre in Georgia.
Working as an agent of change, Keyara Hamilton, who is career center manager with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers, works to provide people with resources that empower them to achieve their career and personal goals. Goodwill Industries generates opportunities for people to gain economic stability and build strong families and vibrant communities through job training, employment placement services, and other community-based programs. Through her job with Goodwill Industries and her commitment to community involvement, Hamilton serves on the Lowndes Associated Ministries to People (LAMP) Board of Directors, Literacy Volunteer Program Board of Directors, South Georgia Coalition for Employment, National Association of Workforce Development Professionals, and the Georgia Prisoner Reentry Steering Committee. Hamilton is a 2017 graduate of Leadership Lowndes.
After returning home to Quitman, Lindsay Herring-Rados wanted to find a way to bring the arts to her community. She opened SweetE’s Dance Studio to offer a variety of dance classes including ballet, tap, jazz, and modern. Her students, which number more than 80, perform throughout the community at various events and have danced and performed in New York City and at Walt Disney World. With a mission to do more than teach dance, Rados is helping to shape the confidence of her students and provide them with opportunities to have cultural experiences. In addition to classes at her studio, Rados is teaching dance and theatre to students at Brooks County High School, and recently established a competitive dance line at the high school.
As executive director of American Red Cross of South Georgia, Terri Jenkins is responsible for volunteer recruitment and development, fundraising for humanitarian services, blood donor sponsor recruitment, community relations, and developing strategies to raise awareness about disaster preparedness in 20 South Georgia counties.
Jenkins also works with the South Georgia Chapter of Red Cross to focus on recognizing community heroes. The Hometown Heroes annual award dinner helps to create an awareness of the importance of the American Red Cross and educate the community on disaster preparedness. Through the years, Hometown Heroes has showcased the extraordinary acts of individuals who have gone above and beyond the normal scope of their day-to-day job by helping others, sometimes in extremely tense situations.
Through the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, DeWayne and Amanda Johnson oversee the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program that provides middle and high school students with the tools to start and manage their own business. The Johnsons work with the young entrepreneurs to help them pursue their passions, build confidence, and improve their public speaking skills. Under the guidance of the Chamber, the YEA! program is an essential part of the community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Cadence Kidwell had a vision when she opened a yarn shop in downtown Thomasville. The worn out neglected building, which is now part of the community’s revitalized Creative District, is home to Fuzzy Goat, an eclectic yarn shop that has turned knitting into a popular activity for people of all ages. As a way to give back to her community, Kidwell shares her entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge with elementary school children through Fuzzy Fiber Days, which provides the children with an introduction to the rewards of being a small business owner.
She also started a yarn amnesty program in 2017, where customers donate their full or partial skeins of yarn. Kidwell then takes the yarn to the Emanuel Women’s Facility in Swainsboro, where the women knit items that are donated to the Department of Family and Children Services, nursing homes, and children’s hospitals.
As regional director for Georgia Power Company, Audrey King considers her commitment to community service as an essential part of her professional and personal responsibilities. Through her work with Georgia Power, King is focused on helping the community prosper, now and in the future. Her contributions impact areas including education, economic development, non-profits, and volunteer efforts through the Citizens of Georgia Power organization.
King is co-chair for One Valdosta-Lowndes, a multi-faceted and implementable strategy to guide community and economic development through the next 15 years. Partners in the strategy development include Georgia Power, Valdosta State University, City of Valdosta, Lowndes County, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, and South Georgia Medical Center.
King also serves as an honorary commander at Moody Air Force Base, is a member of the Valdosta State University Foundation Board, the Wiregrass Georgia Technical College Board of Directors, and the South Georgia Medical Center Foundation Board and Corporate Giving Committee chair.
A protector and advocate for children, Ashley Lindsay, executive director and forensic interviewer at the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) of Lowndes County, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for each and every child that comes to the center. In partnerships with agencies in Lowndes, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, and Lanier counties, Lindsey works to minimize the trauma the trauma of children that are victims of abuse. She was instrumental in assisting the CAC staff and board members achieve its goal to build a new facility, which opened last year. In 2017, the CAC served 737 children and provided more than 1,200 mental health services to children and families in need.
A lifelong resident of Douglas, Francis Lott was one of eight alumni recognized at this year’s Georgia Tech annual Gold & White Honors Gala. A former chair of the Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce and past board member for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Lott has been instrumental in the enhancement of economic growth for Coffee County for several decades.
A champion for education, Lott and his wife, Diane, established an endowed scholarship to assist qualified students in attending Georgia Tech. The Francis and Diane Lott Promise Scholarship Endowment gives priority to residents of Coffee County, and then to students from 64 other counties within the South Georgia region. Lott not only provides the financial backing for the scholarship, but he also visits local schools and encourages students to excel in their academic studies, especially within the areas of math and science.
Jonathan Miller returned to his hometown of Valdosta in 2011 to work alongside his father, Dutton, and brother Richard, in the family business. Miller Hardware Company was established in 1908 in Lakeland and then moved its flagship location to downtown Valdosta. As a young business owner, Miller understands the importance of a highly trained workforce. He recently started an awareness campaign to showcase graduates of Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, and how their skills are making a positive impact within the communities.
“I believe it’s important for young business people to recognize that each and every objective, or accomplishment if you will, that you diligently work toward and obtain the ability to compound and positively impact others around you,” he said. “For a community of our size, positivity can easily and quickly magnify.”
Miller is active in various community organizations including serving on the United Way of Lowndes County Board of Directors. On a national level, Miller serves on the Board of Directors for the Evergreen Marketing Group, which is a cooperative of 60 independent construction and industrial tool distribution companies located throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Zoe Myers, executive director of the Cook County Family Connection, has been instrumental in building and directing a collaborative partnership that seeks to positively impact the lives of families needing assistance in Cook County.
The collaborative effort involves more than 40 sectors of the community including schools and colleges, child care providers, public agencies, private businesses, healthcare providers, civic clubs, faith-based groups, government agencies, and literacy advocates.
Recently the Cook County collaborative group was one of 29 communities in the nation that was recognized by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading with Pacesetter Honors for their work in 2017.
“The Pacesetter recognition is a great honor as our partners are working creatively and passionately to improve literacy,” said Myers, who has worked for Cook County Family Connection for almost 20 years. “Our efforts are based on the premise that a child’s potential, imagination, and educational possibilities should never be inequitable because of their geographic location. We are honored to receive this recognition, and it helps to motivate further our community partners to facilitate change.”
The collaborative group is a community-based, data-driven effort to identify and address the inequities and barriers that foster poverty and literacy disparities. Outreach projects include the delivery of free fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income children each month and access to free books, educational supplies, and reading materials. The collaborative recently co-hosted a Migrant Family Education Day at a local school, where more than 200 migrant families learned about the services, programs, and educational opportunities available.
From Willacoochee to Monticello, Ocilla Mayor Matt Seale is highlighting life in rural communities through his Small Town Podcast series. Giving small towns a voice is the primary goal of the podcasts. Seale travels to small towns across Georgia and sits down with local officials to discuss various aspects of the community.
Not originally from Ocilla, Seale moved to the community of approximately 3,400 people after meeting and marrying his wife, Roxie, who owned a local downtown shop. In 2015, he was elected as mayor in a special election and ran again in 2017 for a full four-year term.
Seale’s leadership as mayor was put to the test earlier this year when the community of Ocilla was faced with losing its only major grocery store.
“It is hard to imagine a town without a grocery store,” Seale said. “It is one of those things you might take for granted until something like this happens. It’s not just a hub of commerce in a small rural community, it is where you run into friends and neighbors.”
Seale, along with other community leaders began working to recruit another grocery store chain to invest in Ocilla. Within a few weeks, Ocilla had a commitment from owners of the Piggly Wiggly in nearby Ashburn to open a store in the vacant space.
“If we had not been able to turn things around quickly, I’m afraid it could have resulted in some real downward momentum for our community,” he said. “The blow to morale was felt throughout the town with the closing announcement, but the sense of pride when we were able to resolve it quickly felt like some kind of victory.”
State Representative Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) helped provide a boost for rural communities throughout Georgia when he introduced legislation that created the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation. The newly formed center, which is housed in Tifton on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, is charged with being the central resource for research and training on economic development opportunities in rural Georgia.
Rep. Shaw serves the citizens of District 176, which includes all of Atkinson and Lanier counties and portions of Lowndes and Ware counties. He currently serves as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation. He also serves on the Economic Development and Tourism; the Game, Fish and Parks; Industry and Labor; and Insurance and Small Business Development committees.
Inspiring young girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident is the mission of Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit organization with councils throughout the U.S. Claire Walton started Girls on the Run (GOTR) South Georgia in 2015. Serving as council director, Walton is passionate about teaching young girls to believe in themselves, work as a team, and help make the world a better place. The after-school program teaches life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons, and learning games. GOTR started at two elementary schools with 32 girls. This year, the GOTR program is offered at 11 elementary schools and serves more than 200 local girls. Using a researched and established curriculum, the volunteer coaches teach the girls lessons that show how setting goals and taking small steps will lead to positive results.
From her performance in the title role of “Hello, Dolly” to Ouiser Boudreaux in the play adaptation of “Steele Magnolias,” Jacque Wheeler has been delighting audiences for years. When not acting or teaching, Wheeler, who is a professor of theatre at Valdosta State University, also serves as the creative director for Peach State Summer Theatre! (PSST!), which recently completed is the 29th season of producing professional summer stock theatre. As artistic director for PSST!, Wheeler, is an advocate for the arts, not only for her students but also for improving the quality of life in the South Georgia region.
In 2011, Wheeler received the nationally prestigious Kennedy Center Stephen Sandheim Inspirational Teacher Award for mentoring and inspiring hundreds of students during her career at Valdosta State. She is also a recipient of the Leighton Ballew Award for Distinguished Service to Theatre from the Georgia Theatre Conference.
It’s concert time in Fitzgerald. Hal Wiley and Todd Damato started Grand Concert Promotions with three goals: provide quality entertainment for the community, bring visitors to Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County, and provide an opportunity to promote local talent.
Through the past few years, Wiley and Damato have organized a variety of concerts and events that have achieved their goals. From the Bellamy Brothers to the band Shenandoah, concerts in the historic Grand Theatre are packed. In addition to the concerts, Grand Concert Promotions recently hosted a rodeo and a summer music camp.
“The music camp was more of a rock and roll style camp,” Wiley said. “Not only did the kids get to work with local musicians but at the end of the camp they were the opening act for one of our concerts.”
Wiley explained that as part of the camp experience, the children performed as the opening acts for Grammy-nominated blues artist Kenny Neal.
“We have a lot of talented musicians in our community, so for the other concerts we give them an opportunity to be the opening act,” Wiley said. “This was a big part of our goal in starting the concerts.”
The concerts also generate tourism and economic development. “We sell tickets online for the concerts and so we can track what cities people are coming from,” Wiley said. “With the Shenandoah concert, we had about 45 different communities in South Georgia represented. They come and eat dinner and some stay overnight.”