Meet The State’s newest 20 under 40 in the Midlands. Do you know any of them?

Kimberly Tissot, Twenty Under 40
Kimberly Tissot, Twenty Under 40

For 15 years, The State has annually honored 20 young people who are making a difference in the Midlands. I’m a bit biased, but I think we’ve made some excellent choices through the years. The 280 people we honored during the first 14 years not only achieved success before the age of 40, but continued their great work in the years after we spotlighted them.

They became — or continued to be — successful politicians, business people and educators. Their efforts, both on the job and in their spare time, have made the Midlands better. We continue to salute them.

This year’s group of honorees is no different. They are lawyers, engineers, school administrators, franchise owners and health care professionals. They fight human trafficking, volunteer in local schools, support those with disabilities, raise money for cancer research, and help military veterans adjust to life back home.

The class was chosen from a strong field of 85 people nominated by readers of The State and thestate.com. The 20 were chosen by a panel of newsroom employees. Thanks to everyone who took the time to prepare and submit a nomination. Your devotion to the nominees made our decisions difficult. All 85 deserve recognition.

Our 20 under 40 program is one of the most inspiring projects we undertake each year. It confirms what we’ve known for years: the Midlands has a lot of good people. This year’s honorees are featured inside this special section. We believe you will be as impressed as we are by them and their work.

Kinli Bare Abee

Assistant attorney general, S.C. Attorney General’s Office

Age: 32

Education: Bachelor of Arts in government, minor in philosophy from Wofford College, Juris Doctor from The Charlotte School of Law

Family: Husband, Matt

Community and professional highlights: Secured the first local human trafficking conviction in South Carolina in 2015; 2015 Prosecutor of the Year for the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators; 2016 Palmetto Center for Women Honors in Government and Law Enforcement; member of the 2018 Leadership Academy for the South Carolina Bar; South Carolina Bar Law Related Education Committee and Children’s Law Committee; University of South Carolina School of Law mock trial coach; W.A. Perry Middle School mock trial coach; Zeta Tau Alpha province president and Alumnae Chapter member for Columbia and Spartanburg; Wofford College Terrier Club Athletic Board member; Wofford College President’s Advisory Board; certified forensic interviewer

What saying do you live by? Why? “Be nice … until it’s time not to be nice.” – Dalton, the movie “Road House”

Everyone thinks the legal profession is constantly adversarial, and it doesn’t have to be. Sure, there’s a time to fight for your client or your case, but generally, being nice will get you so much further. There is a huge place for civility in our profession.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I was raised in a really small town and was skeptical about coming to the Midlands because of how much larger it was. I love that I get big city amenities but still keep that small town feel that I grew up with. It’s also extremely dog friendly – who doesn’t love that?

My life changed when: I’m the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college. When I graduated, my brother told me: “You set the bar for your nieces and nephews. Aim high.” It was at that moment that I realized just how big of a deal graduating college was for my family. Since then, I’ve tried to encourage my nieces and nephews to set high expectations. I want attending college to not be a foreign concept. This Thanksgiving, my niece was accepted at my alma mater and will be a Terrier starting this fall. It was so rewarding to see her accomplish that goal.

Why is your work with special victims’ cases at the attorney general’s office so important? I’m privileged to act as a voice for so many people who have never had a voice in their life or never had the courage to use it. I get to tell victims, sometimes children, that I believe them – something they likely have not heard before. Giving those victims hope is more rewarding than any other job I can think of.

Kassy Alia

Founder and chief executive officer, Heroes in Blue

Age: 30

Education: Bachelor of Arts, experimental psychology, University of South Carolina, 2009; Master of Arts, clinical-community psychology, University of South Carolina, 2012; doctorate in clinical-community psychology, University of South Carolina, estimated graduation 2018

Family: Son, Salvatore; engaged to Mitch Ray

Community and professional highlights: Seeing my late husband Greg Alia’s legacy of service live on through our work to foster strong police and community connections is a tremendous honor. It brings me great hope to see how our community has embraced efforts to promote unity in response to the tragedy of his loss, and I am humbled to serve as chief executive officer of Heroes In Blue to help that work spread in collaboration with outstanding police and community leaders. Top honors include: South Carolina Law Enforcement’s Citizen of the Year (2016), Central Carolina Community Foundation’s Individual/Family Philanthropist of the Year (2017), the Post and Courier’s Golden Pen Award (2017) and the Columbia Police Department’s Citizen of the Year (2018)

What saying do you live by? Why? Different words speak to me at different times. Presently, my words of inspiration are: “Find beauty. Help it spread.”

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The empowered, engaged community. Our community is one that is committed to solutions. If you are passionate and have a vision for how to make the Midlands a better place, there is always an abundance of support from others that can help turn that vision into a reality.

My life changed when: My late husband, Officer Gregory Alia of the Forest Acres Police Department, was killed in the line of duty. I know firsthand the deep pain of loss. Since his death, I have been called to do all I can to prevent that pain from happening to others. I believe strong relationships with others – especially those seemingly most different from ourselves – is the key to making that happen. I believe when we work together, we accelerate improvements in our community that prevent crime and promote positive well-being for all people.

You spend a lot of time working to improve the health of people around the world. Are you winning that fight? I believe all people should have access to the tools and resources they need to live healthy and safe lives. Thankfully, there are passionate leaders worldwide who also believe this sentiment and are working tirelessly to promote healthy equity. Important strides have been made towards this end. However, far too many people still suffer from preventable adverse health outcomes and poor well-being, and these numbers are even greater for minority populations. When you see what these statistics look like up close – when you see the humanity in the numbers – you see how desperately important this work is. We can’t stop fighting to create communities that allow people to live their best lives.

Meredith G. Atkinson

Executive director, Vista Guild

Age: 33

Education: Bachelor of Arts, communication studies, Clemson University

Family: Husband, Daniel; daughter, Collins, 15 months

Community and professional highlights: Columbia Rotary Club, board member, two terms; Columbia College Hospitality and Tourism Management Advisory Board; managing the Congaree Vista Guild’s Clean and Safe team; growing revenue and sponsorships for the Vista’s largest annual event, Vista Lights; introducing permanent public art in the Vista; Trenholm Road United Methodist Church; Junior League of Columbia; Salvation Army volunteer; Harvest Hope Food Bank volunteer; CycleRow and YMCA of Columbia group fitness instructor

What saying do you live by? Why? “Don’t try to please everyone. Just do what you know is right.”

When I know I’ve done the right thing, which isn’t always the easiest route, I try not to be disappointed, even if someone disagrees with me. I try to remember that I was given a task because I was qualified to do it. I also love: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done” by Lucille Ball. It’s a great reminder to never stop short of your dreams.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? There is so much to do here, and even the entertainment options we have are growing and changing all the time. I can’t believe I still hear people say that there isn’t enough to do in Columbia. We are so blessed with exciting restaurants, music venues, parks, festivals and the Congaree River. I love spring weather and strolling through the Vista on a beautiful afternoon. Live music outside on a warm afternoon with a cold beer, my family and great friends is just perfect.

My life changed when: My daughter, Collins, was born. I had no idea how much fun being her mother could be. She is the most precious person, and watching her play and laugh is the most wonderful thing in the world. I am blessed to be her mother.

My professional life changed dramatically when I joined the Vista Guild as executive director. I don’t know how many people can say they have a job that was absolutely made for them, but I feel exactly that way, and I love my job. I feel very fortunate to work with a range of folks from the city of Columbia and business and property owners as well as artists, gallery owners and hotel and restaurant managers on a daily basis.

The Vista has enjoyed tremendous economic growth during the past few years. What are its next opportunities? The Vista is absolutely booming, and we’ve seen nearly a billion dollars in development investments in recent years. We will see more growth and development near the Congaree River. The river is an incredible asset in the Vista’s backyard, and we must take full advantage of it. The new Stormwater Studios on Huger Street will also be a new home to many of our renowned Vista artists. Though we have more hotels than any other area in Columbia, we need more options for people coming here and will likely see construction of another hotel or two very soon. More and more tourists and business travelers enjoy coming to Columbia and staying in the Vista because of our neighborhood’s location, restaurants and entertainment and walkability.

Joseph Bias

Managing attorney, Vernis & Bowling

Age: 33

Education: Bachelor of Arts in humanities, Wofford College, 2006; Juris Doctor, University of South Carolina School of Law, 2010

Family: Father, the late Norbert Bias; mother, Mary Bias; siblings, Maria, Joshua, Angelica (sister-in-law)

Community and professional highlights: S.C. Lawyer Weekly Leadership in Law honoree, 2018; S.C. Bar Law Related Education Lawyer of the Year, 2017; James Clyburn Political Fellowship, 2016-2017 class; co-chair of S.C. Bar Young Lawyers Division Protecting Our Youth Committee; volunteer attorney coach for Richland Northeast High and Longleaf Middle mock trial teams; attorney adviser for USC Black Law Students Association mock trial team; board member of Kemopalooza Committee; fantasy football champion; Wofford College Young Alumni Council member; Wofford Bench & Bar Society member; former chair of Brookland Academy Child Development Center board of directors

What saying do you live by? Why? “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way, fake it until you make it.” Leo from “The West Wing” talking to Jed Bartlet

That saying is pretty cool, because I try to be optimistic ... if someone else has done it, why can’t you? (And if no one else has done it, that just means it’s time.)

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? It sounds so cliche, but it’s definitely the people. Specifically, I’ve been able to work with the most amazing students through my work with the S.C. Bar’s mock trial program, kids who I will definitely be working for one day.

My life changed when: A few years ago, I started a concerted effort to fill my inner circle with people who are positive, funny, smart and want to see me succeed. I am so blessed to be able to have family, friends, co-workers and employees who constantly are challenging me, encouraging me and supporting me. Learning to appreciate what I have instead of bemoaning what I don’t was a big part of my maturation and has enabled me to enjoy my life in ways I didn’t in my twenties.

You help lead the Protecting Our Youth Committee of the S. C. Bar’s Young Lawyers’ Division. What does the committee do? Over the past four years, my colleague Clarke Newton and I have been able to organize Protecting Our Youth panels in area schools to have attorneys, law enforcement and judges talk to kids about the real-life consequences of their actions as a minor. It’s the difference between an adult saying “don’t do drugs” and hearing a prosecutor talk about the effects that a criminal conviction can have on the child’s education and career, how much time they could serve and how it would impact the child’s future. Our panels have presented in front of thousands of students across the state, which is a testament to the dedication the bar’s attorneys and committee members have to our communities and their students.

Micah Caskey

S.C. state representative, lawyer

Age: 36

Education: University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, International Master of Business Administration; USC School of Law, Juris Doctor; University of Florida, Bachelor of Arts

Family: Fiancee, Erin Harris

Community and professional highlights: State representative, S.C. House of Representatives; owner, Caskey Law Firm, P.A.; captain, U.S. Marine Corps; assistant solicitor, 11th Judicial Circuit; special assistant attorney general, domestic violence pro bono prosecution; Eagle Scout; volunteer, Hidden Wounds; Leadership South Carolina; S.C. Bar Leadership Academy

What saying do you live by? Why? “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

I memorized this verse for a Sunday School assignment because, as the prophet’s namesake, I liked quoting “myself” to the other kids. What started as a sophomoric jest, though, really sowed a seed in my heart. As I’ve grown older, whenever I’ve had tough decisions – whether as a prosecutor or in combat or wherever – I find guidance and direction in these words.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? Our rivers. We have three amazing rivers right in the heart of the region. In less than 20 minutes, I can be enjoying the West Columbia/Cayce Riverwalk along the Congaree River, fishing from my kayak above Harbison State Forest on the Broad River or tubing down the Saluda River near Riverbanks Zoo.

My life changed when: I began wrestling for coach B.D. LaPrad at Dutch Fork High School. Other than my dad, no man has ever taught me more about life. Coach LaPrad taught us that real success only comes if you’re willing to work hard when no one else is watching. When I started, I was a mediocre wrestler, at best, and by the time I graduated, I was a state champion – all because Coach drilled in us the need to work hard even when other people weren’t looking.

Why is your work with Hidden Wounds important to you? Having gone to war three times (twice in Iraq, once in Afghanistan), I remember what it was to see, hear and smell some of the worst of humanity.Earlier generations used terms like “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” to describe what we now call traumatic or combat-related stress. Society is doing a better job at knocking down the stereotypes associated with mental health treatment, but studies show we’re still losing 22 veterans every day to suicide. Government-run mental health treatment services are inadequately resourced to deliver immediate, individualized care. Hidden Wounds provides emergency counseling and resources to veterans and military personnel that start to feel the effects of combat stress until other agencies can implement a long-term treatment program. Combat-stress injuries are real – but not permanent – wounds.

Stephen Creech

Assistant vice president of health care strategy, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina

Age: 38

Education: Wofford College, Bachelor of Science; Medical University of South Carolina, Master in Health Administration

Family: Wife, Lindsay; three children: Caroline, 8; Mack, 7; and Elizabeth, 4

Community and professional highlights: Prior to working at BlueCross, Stephen worked as vice president of Cardiovascular Services at Providence Hospital and completed HCA’s Chief Operating Officer Development Program at Trident Medical Center in Charleston. He is board certified in health care management as a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Stephen and his family attend St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. He is the chairman of the Board of the Carolina Children’s Home Foundation and president-elect of the Columbia Rotary Club. He has served as a division captain of the BCBSSC United Way Campaign and is a 2014 graduate of Leadership Columbia, where he was awarded the Glenn Jacobus Leadership Award. Stephen also serves on the Wofford College Alumni Advisory Board.

What saying do you live by? Why? “The best kind of pride is that which compels a man to do his best even though no one is watching.”

My mother wrote that down for me when I was in high school, and likewise, my grandfather always said that “anything worth doing is worth doing right.” This taught me that it’s not the measure of the task but the measure of the effort that matters most. I’ve always felt that the little things in life add up, and how you conduct yourself in small matters carries over to your performance on larger ones.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I grew up in Sumter, and living in Columbia is like living in a bigger small town. It is easy to get to know people, and there are lots of good organizations and activities to be a part of that make it fun to live here. We have so many good friends, and it’s nice to raise our kids close to family.

My life changed when: My two biggest life-changers are when I met my wife, Lindsay, and when I changed careers. My wife shows me every day what it means to live selflessly and put others first. And when I left the hospital and needed to negotiate a career change, she helped me keep things in perspective. That ultimately led to our staying in the Midlands, and I’m very grateful that we did.

Why did you choose the health care field as your profession? I chose health care because it is exciting. Health care is always changing, and now there is greater need than ever for effective solutions to balance access and affordability. The spoils of the future will go to those who can deliver value in health care.

Elliott B. Daniels

Attorney, Murphy & Grantland Law Firm

Age: 31

Education: 2008, Bachelor of Arts, history, George Washington University; 2011, certificate, international law, Oxford University, New College; 2013, Juris Doctor, George Washington University Law School

Family: Married to my better half, Amber, and proud of our 11-month-old Ansley, our first

Community and professional highlights: I’ll always look back fondly on my time at International Justice Mission and in South Sudan combating modern slavery. Both shaped who I am and what drives me today. I was sure that chapter was closing when moving from D.C. back to South Carolina. Happy to say I was wrong. While enjoying a dynamic civil defense practice at Murphy & Grantland, I’ve had the privilege of co-founding and leading Legal Assistance for Survivors of Trafficking, a statewide network of attorneys who provide direct representation to survivors of human trafficking pro bono. Last year our firm and the network served 22. I also chair the Legal Innovations Subcommittee of the S.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, which is led by the Attorney General’s office, and I serve as an S.C. delegate to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services work group that coordinates states’ responses to trafficking — all great ideas when you have a newborn. Our highlights wouldn’t be complete without Shandon Baptist Church, where we’ve found our home in Columbia.

What saying do you live by? Why? “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7.

It is what I hope is said of me when my work is done.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? How much cheaper the parking tickets are than in D.C. We’ve also loved our neighborhood, my colleagues at Murphy & Grantland, Columbia’s small-town feel, and the extraordinary opportunities our capital city has afforded. And it’s great to be able to spend weekends in the Lowcountry again.

My life changed when: I was a high school sophomore in Hilton Head when a friend bothered enough to take me to breakfast (a good start) at Sunrise Café and share the gospel. My life hasn’t been the same since. It’s been a source of life and purpose in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Also, this last year with our first-born Ansley has been a treasure. We think she hung the moon.

A large part of your legal practice is devoted to fighting human trafficking. What about that problem would most surprise the public? That physical restraint is not required, and often not present. Instead, it’s often about coercion, and when the victim is a minor in commercial sexual exploitation, even that is not required. Generally, you’ll find something made the victim vulnerable, someone exploited that vulnerability for profit, and that’s when all bets are off. But the most powerful part of the story is to see that the inherent dignity and value of each survivor really never was taken away. It’s a testament to who they are, and who we all are.

Nick Haigler

Partner and workers’ compensation team leader, Sowell Gray Robinson Law Firm

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor of Science in political science from Presbyterian College; Juris Doctor from Mississippi College School of Law

Family: Wife, Lauren; Eliza, 6; Mollie, 4

Community and professional highlights: The community moment I am most proud of and thankful for is my assistance in the recovery from the 2015 flood with my F3 brothers. In the week following the flood, more than 100 F3 men provided immediate assistance to our neighbors in the Columbia area, salvaging more than 80 homes and providing food and water to those in desperate need. My professional highlight was being elected a partner in 2014 by the firm I consider to be among the very best in South Carolina.

What saying do you live by? Why? “You are what you want to be.”

Coined by my father-in-law during a sermon (he’s a United Methodist minister), I’ve used this phrase as a way to help me with those difficult life decisions that often keep us indecisive and discouraged. I believe that if you completely devote yourself to any goal in life, and have the passion to achieve it, you will reach the goal. Of course, sometimes failing to meet a goal requires you to reflect on whether you were truly devoted to the goal. Applying “you are where you want to be” allows me to do both.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is home. It’s an incredible place to raise a family, develop amazing friendships, and be at your best professionally. From the lakes and rivers to the stadiums, restaurants and parks, to the small businesses and beautiful buildings, I have always considered myself blessed to be part of this community.

My life changed when: In 2003, when my dad helped me understand the importance of handling adversity. I wanted to go to law school but was not accepted to the school I thought I needed to attend. At the crossroads as a young adult, I was forced to deal with failure. I’ll never forget my dad saying: “If you want to go to law school, go to law school.” I traveled the Southeast touring schools and ultimately found a new home in Jackson, Miss., 600 miles from my fiancee and family. I decided to follow my dreams and spent the next three years pouring my heart and soul into my passion. The decision to handle and overcome adversity changed my life.

In your law practice, you specialize in workers’ compensation cases.Why is that important to you? I have always been driven by the idea of providing passionate counsel and advocacy for my clients. The workers’ compensation arena provides me with that opportunity while also providing me with the chance to represent both large corporations and small businesses, working with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Drew Tompkins Hampton

Owner of multiple Midlands restaurants

Age: 39

Education: Bachelor of Science, University of South Carolina

Family: Spouse, Suzanne Smith Hampton; children Jillian, 8, and Olivia Hampton, 5

Community and professional highlights: Present, board member of Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, City of Columbia Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee, Camp Cole, Columbia Children’s Theatre; vice president of Forest Acres Restaurant & Merchant Association. Previous, chairman, EUG Franchise Advisory Council; board member, Richland County Council Accommodations Tax Committee; president, Forest Acres Restaurant & Merchant Association

What saying do you live by? Why? “A great man is always willing to be little” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Living my life by this statement reminds me to treat others with respect, stay humble, and show integrity. A truly great leader is willing to put in the same amount of work that he expects of others. I have developed an incredible group of employees over the last 17 years who have enabled my businesses to grow. My success is largely because of them, my team.

What do you like most about the Midlands? I grew up in Columbia and graduated from the University of South Carolina. My grandparents lived just around the corner from my parents’ home. Being surrounded by family has always been of great importance to me. I’ve seen Columbia develop and grow to become the sophisticated and vibrant city it is now. My wife and I enjoy the wide range of arts and culture the Midlands has to offer, and of course, cheer on the Gamecocks. People of the Midlands are very passionate and always willing to lend a helping hand. I witnessed firsthand the kindness and generosity of our city during the flood of 2015. I am a proud Columbian.

My life changed when: My life changed when Suzanne and I were married. It changed again once I became a father to two precious daughters. It also changed when I lost my father to cancer.

You began working in the restaurant business as a high school senior. What’s the most important lessons you learned in the first job you still apply as the owner of multiple restaurants? I had the privilege of working with the Miller family while I was in high school. Many of the lessons they taught me I still practice on a daily basis. They instilled in me at a young age that consistency and excellent customer service are the keys to success in the restaurant industry.

Kaaren W. Hampton

Assistant principal for instruction, Irmo High School

Age: 38

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Winthrop University; Master of Education, Columbia College; Doctor of Education, Nova Southeastern University

Family: Husband, Gerrick Hampton; daughter, Kennedy; son, Garrison

Community and professional highlights: Irmo High School Teacher of the Year, 2005; Superintendent’s Award for Outstanding Management, 2016; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. member; Nursery Road Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, vice-president; Irmo High School Education Foundation, alumna representative; George Rogers Foundation of the Carolinas, scholarship coordinator currently in second year of service fundraising for scholarships for high school students who will be the first in family to attend college. The George Rogers Foundation of the Carolinas has awarded more than $100,000 to first-generation college students from across the state. With Saluda Shoals Foundation, board member since 2016, promoting and fundraising for the building of an all-inclusive playground. This unique playground will create opportunities for endless exploration and enable children and adults of all abilities to play and socialize with each other: all abilities, all ages, all welcome!

What saying do you live by? Why? Do your best. No matter what you do, do your best.” – My grandmother, Marjorie Mitchell, South Carolina Mother of the Year, 2004.

She made sure her words took root, because I learned just as much watching her as I did from listening.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I love being able to live and work in the community that my family and I serve and that has served us. When my father retired from the Marine Corps in 1995, our family took a vote on where we should settle permanently. Columbia made the list for a number of reasons: great schools, access to arts and culture, kid-friendly outdoor spaces, but mainly because Columbia had become a landing spot for other family members. When the final straw was drawn, Columbia was our choice. I had never heard of Irmo before nor did I know how to pronounce it at the time. However, ever since it has made an indelible mark on my heart. Over the years, colleagues have turned into friends and friends have morphed into family, which made the decision for the Midlands to be our forever home an easy one.

My life changed when? Twice: When I married my husband and the birth of our first child. Both afforded me the opportunity to slow down and cherish the moments from the front row seat of our ever-changing sitcom!

At Irmo High School, you’ve overseen the transition of the school to an arts magnet. Why is the arts magnet so important? In 2014, Irmo High School became a performing arts magnet that changed the landscape of our school’s identity. Our students are actively engaged in theater tech and design, instrumental and vocal performances, and dance-focused partnerships, all of which are unique opportunities for a one-of-a-kind school. The change has proven to be a beneficial partnership between school and community by providing access to quality arts events and community service opportunities. The implementation of the arts magnet amplified my personal mission to assist in graduating our students and leading them to be productive global citizens at #theoneandonlyIrmo.

Sabrina Puckett Hasty

Senior project engineer, Rhythmlink International

Age: 33

Education: Bachelor of Science in materials engineering from Clemson University; doctorate in biomedical engineering from Brown University

Family: Wade Hasty, husband; Olivia Hasty, daughter; Kelley Puckett, sister; Pam and Mike Puckett, parents; Claire Hasty, stepdaughter

Community and professional highlights: Working as senior product engineer at Rhythmlink International, where we strive to change patient care for the better. Developing products that help the lives of many people is very rewarding. Rhythmlink strives to be an active participant in the community. As a result, I volunteer and participate at Transitions, Harvest Hope, and the Families Helping Families program. Each year, I go to Honduras to share the love of Jesus and help the local community. I am the women’s ministry leader at Fellowship Bible Church. One of my favorite aspects of this role is that I can serve and help women connect with others in the church and the community. I have volunteered with Bible Study Fellowship as a group leader, Upward Basketball as a referee, Oliver Gospel Mission house, Lexington Interfaith Community, and Samaritan’s Purse.

What saying do you live by? Why? My love for Jesus guides and directs everything I do. I look to him for wisdom and guidance and aim to live my life by his standards. Two verses I daily try to live out are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) and “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? Friends and family are at the top of my list. You will always meet a friendly face, whether out exercising, filling your car with gas, or at the grocery store. There are countless opportunities to serve others and help the community. Restaurant choices are endless. There is plenty of entertainment, from sports, theater, and concerts, so bored is never an option.

My life changed when ... I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior; I met and married my husband, Wade; I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Olivia; I went on my first mission trip to Honduras; I went to Clemson; I received my Ph.D.

You take a mission trip to Central America every year. What are your responsibilities on those trips? This trip is always one of the highlights of my year. Each trip is different, and I always come back with more humility, love and energy to help serve others. These trips require physical endurance as we hike to villages scattered throughout the mountains of Honduras. Our main responsibility is to love the people in any way possible, share with them the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and encourage them. We bring basic supplies, such as hygiene products, school materials, and Bibles, as well as provide an eyeglass clinic. One thing that never gets old is seeing a face light up with a basic pair of reading glasses. They can finally see how to do basic tasks, from sewing, cooking, reading, and working in the fields.

Sara Rentz Krisnow

Community relations manager, Lizard’s Thicket

Age: 31

Education: University of South Carolina, Bachelor of Science in business administration with a management and marketing concentration and minor in sport and entertainment management

Family: Married to Seth Krisnow, two children, Olivia and Irby

Community and professional highlights: I am a founding member of The Cavalry, which is an affiliate group of young professionals for Palmetto Health Foundation’s cancer centers. We are a giving society that values supporting the foundation. I am a Palmetto Health Foundation Cancer Centers board member, and I chaired the Palmetto Health Foundation’s Walk for Life in 2013 and in 2014. I am a longstanding committee member for the Palmetto Health Foundation’s Walk for Life and Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon.

What saying do you live by? Why? “Just do it.”

I’m a go-getter, and I like to put my best foot forward and accomplish tasks ahead of deadlines. I try to really think long and hard when asked to commit to a cause or anything else and decide if it’s important to my family and me. That way, I know that I can accomplish any task that I’m given and meet goals.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I grew up here, so this is home, and I hope it always will be home. This area is growing so much, and we have more cultural and entertainment opportunities than ever, but my husband and I also think it’s a great place to raise our children. Lake Murray and all of our rivers are nearby, and we love exploring the outdoors.

My life changed when? When I lost my mother at age 15, I had to mature quicker than many of my peers as I grieved my mother’s death. But this ultimately led me to becoming a devoted advocate for breast cancer awareness and research at a young age. And then in 2014, when I became a mother, my life changed completely again. My children and motherhood are such a blessing.

Why is your work in the fight against breast cancer so important to you? Awareness and raising funds for research are so important to me because I don’t want my children to grow up without a mother. I don’t want families to experience loss like my family has. And I see the effects of my advocacy and others’ advocacy here in the Midlands. Our efforts are funding research that’s improving outcomes and diagnoses and we’re buying technology to treat these diseases.

Merritt McNeely

Director of marketing, South Carolina State Museum, 2013-2018

Vice president of marketing, Flock and Rally, starting April 2

Age: 38

Education: Bachelor of Arts from University of South Carolina, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, public relations major

Family: Husband, Chaston; stepson, Jacob, 16; son, Bolt, 11 months

Community and professional highlights: Being named one of Columbia’s 50 Most Influential in 2011; Five Points Celebrates Hootie art sculpture, concert and dedication ceremony; the South Carolina State Museum Windows to New Worlds grand opening in 2014; the “RACE: Are We So different?” exhibit; the eclipse! The steering committee will forever share a bond for leading the efforts to create the greatest economic impact from a single event in the history of Columbia.

What saying do you live by? Why? “The meaning of life is to live it.”

I enjoy taking big risks and living every day to the fullest. I rarely shy away from things that scare me, and I am thankful for all the experiences I have had as a result. From choosing to move away to boarding school at 16 to moving to England at 18 to staying in Paris when I was 22, these scary, exhilarating decisions to experience life make up the fabric of who I am.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? Columbia is an authentic place to live. I have traveled for most of my life, even living briefly in foreign countries, and I happily discover each day that Columbia has a lot of what I seek when I travel. The combination of big-city amenities but small-town feel makes Columbia the best place to live. Going to dinner on a Thursday night or heading to a festival on the weekend usually includes running into five to 20 people I know, and that hometown feeling is what keeps me here!

My life changed when: I had my son. Children were never really in my big life plan. I never saw myself as a mom when I imagined my future. When we found out we were pregnant, it was a total shock and demonstrated to us how our baby, Bolt, was meant to be here. It’s magical being a mother, and I feel things so much differently than before. Bolt has made me a kinder, more giving, more sympathetic person, and I will forever be grateful for that.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your work with Columbia’s observance of the eclipse? We thought hosting one eclipse viewing event would be a good idea, but after establishing the goals of the campaign – to create the greatest economic impact possible – it became clear that we needed to educate and inspire as many cultural organizations, attractions and businesses to participate and host eclipse events. The bringing together of this group was the most rewarding not only because the majority of who participated saw enormous success, but that for the first time, over 120 organizations came together and participated in a campaign with the same message, goal and objective.

David McNeice

Associate structural engineer, Stevens & Wilkinson

Age: 37

Education: University of South Carolina, Master of Science, civil engineering; University of South Carolina, Bachelor of Science, civil and environmental engineering

Family: Wife, Delacie; children, Parker and Emily

Community and professional highlights: I have been fortunate to be able to impact my community personally and professionally. As a member of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church, I have participated in several outreach and mission efforts along with leading, raising funds and participating in SVPC’s Habitat for Humanity Mission. I have also had the opportunity to get to know and impact great young athletes and their families through coaching youth baseball and youth soccer.

Throughout my career as a structural professional engineer, I have had the opportunity to work with many outstanding people and design structures that play a significant role in their communities. I have been fortunate to design structures at my alma maters: the Irmo High School Performing Arts Center and the University of South Carolina Honors College dormitories. As a senior associate with Stevens & Wilkinson SC Inc., I have had the opportunity to design many culturally significant projects within the Midlands, South Carolina and the Southeast.

What saying do you live by? Why? “Be a Good Man”

It’s a simple saying that implies a great deal and summarizes how I strive to live my life. I do my best to recognize the right path, have the courage to take it, and follow through in a positive way. My goal is to be the man that the people who rely on me need me to be.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is home. It is where I was raised and where I want to raise my family. Excellent people, schools, resources and opportunities abound in the Midlands. The Midlands is an area that is working hard to improve the quality of life for all of its residents and growing in a positive way. It is also the home of the Gamecocks.

My life changed when: My life changed when my first child was born. The responsibility to care for, teach and develop a child changed how I view and interact with the community around me. My community became something that I am a part of, not just where I live.

Why are you so active in the Habitat for Humanity effort? Habitat for Humanity has a profound impact on the lives of all those who are involved. Habitat for Humanity offers a “hand up” to candidate homeowners who are working hard to achieve the American dream of home ownership. Affordable, stable housing has a profound effect on the life of the homeowners and their children. Witnessing how hard candidate homeowners work to achieve their dream and having the opportunity to work alongside them is a truly rewarding experience.

J. Reyne Moore

Chief executive officer, Bull Block Advisory

Age: 35

Education: Clemson University, political science, communications; University of South Carolina, grant writing; Stanford University, advanced project management

Family: Husband, Michael; daughter, Wilder, 5 months

Community and professional highlights: Previous youngest female senior manager at Boeing SC, previous youngest female training and continuous improvement leader at GKN SC. Current CEO of Bull Block Advisory LLC focusing on industry-tailored workforce development. Founding member of The Calvary, Palmetto Health and Calhoun Area Revitalization Team; developer/instructor of the TradeUp! Program and adviser for NextGen Magnet School in Orangeburg, SC.

What saying do you live by? Why? “Be stubborn on vision. Be flexible on the details….” – Jeff Bezos.

I prepared to leave corporate America for six months prior to starting my business. I was ready to travel and creatively solve problems for major U.S. manufacturers. There is something enthralling about jumping off the cliff with a handmade parachute. Shortly after starting my business and wooing new clients, my husband and I learned we were expecting our first child. My entire paradigm shifted, but my vision to improve American manufacturing persisted. I refocused on the Midlands, planning around medical appointments and avoiding long flights. It turned out to be the best decision for my fledgling company and the local manufacturing workforce.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? We selected Calhoun County due to its proximity to both the Columbia and Charleston airports. Since then, we have found so many charming places to visit and organizations to join here. The Calhoun Country Market, Jones’ Country Meat Market, Calhoun County Library and Fort Motte Garden Club (to name a few) bring a value-driven, small-town community spirit to the area. We have the BEST neighbors.

My life changed when: I became a mother. The birth of my daughter required me to challenge myself to be in the moment. I especially enjoy her baby revelations – the latest of which includes understanding that she does, in fact, have TWO feet. She even attends meetings with me but is terrible at AV support.

You have worked with the Calhoun and Orangeburg County Libraries to tailor and deliver curriculum targeted at building a strong manufacturing and industrial workforce. Why is that work important?

Since 2011, South Carolina’s manufacturing employment growth rate has impressively topped 19 percent. The Midlands area is announcing new manufacturing projects and expansions regularly. My work with the libraries provides awareness of skills critical to real-world manufacturing environments. If the candidates who attend are not best-suited for manufacturing, they are alerted to other career options. This approach to workforce development avoids wasted time and effort by hiring companies. It helps potential employees realize they may not be a match for manufacturing. I believe in hiring the right person for the job and quality over quantity. My program produces conscientious corporate citizens who may be previously unaware of opportunities in manufacturing or in programs offered by our S.C. Technical College System. Every day, I’m confirming that S.C. has a ready, willing and capable workforce.

Kara P. Simmons

Executive director, Columbia Bethlehem Community Center

Age: 30

Education: Columbia College

Family: Parents, Gerald and Lovie Howell, along with extended family in North Charleston

Community and professional highlights: Over a five-year period, transformed the United Way of the Midlands Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which offers free tax preparations to people who make a limited income. She grew the program from serving 1,200 households to 6,000 households, bringing nearly $5 million in federal refund dollars to the Midlands; named one of Columbia’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under 2016 and recognized in 2017 for continuous community involvement; co-founder of the No Boys Allowed Movement, which exposes middle and high school girls to college life; served as volunteer coordinator for Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s Pop Up Shop, which provided more than $1.5 million of household items and clothes to families affected by Columbia’s historic 2015 flood. She also is an adjunct professor at Columbia College.

What saying do you live by? Why? “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb.

In order to get anything done, you need the help of others. It’s no fun being alone, bring a friend.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The endless opportunities to thrive, the big city feel with the small city heart in addition to being in the center of the state.

My life changed when: While at Columbia College, I came across a quote that states: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I knew then that if I really wanted to check all the items off on my “Life To-Do List,” I would have to take chances, fail, try again, again, pursue and conquer.

What are your responsibilities at the Columbia Bethlehem Community Center, and why is the center’s work important to the Midlands? As the executive director for the Columbia Bethlehem Community Center, I work diligently to uphold the mission and values of the organization. With more than 75 years in the community, our organization has been known for being “a link to a better community.” This position has allowed me to lead efforts and connect the dots to enhance the lives around the community center.

Crystal Sox Smith

Speech-language pathologist/owner, Columbia Speaks Therapy

Age: 39

Education: Bachelor of Arts in theater and speech from the University of South Carolina; Master of Art in Speech-Language Pathology from South Carolina State University

Family: My high school sweetheart and now husband, Jacob Smith. We have three children: Jake, 16, Rebekah, 13, and Banks, 10. My parents, Pam and Roger Burrows, and my grandparents, Patricia and the late Jerry Sox.

Community and professional highlights: Owner of Columbia Speaks Therapy; Radius Church partner and community group leader; Lake Murray Young Life Committee; Lexington Kid’s Day partner; Lexington Sertoma partner; SCSHA member; SCSHA Friend Award recipient; ASHA member; NSSLHA SCSU Chapter President; Springdale Elementary PTO president; Lexington School District 2 Improvement Council; Cindy Roof Wilkerson Foundation Committee; Leadership Lexington graduate; Run Hard volunteer coach

What saying do you live by? Why? Our family mission statement. “The Smith Family will blaze new trails by living in love, not fear. We will build upon our gifts to better serve each other and those in our paths. We will allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in everything we do. And we will find adventure and joy in everyday life.”

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? It’s my hometown. My people, my places and my passions are all here. It’s such a joy to be fully invested in the community where I was born and raised.

My life changed when: I decided to follow my dream despite my circumstances. My dream was to become an SLP. Although the idea of working full time and commuting over an hour to grad school three nights a week seemed daunting, I knew I would never regret it. I was learning to be a wife, a mom, an employee and trying to manage school. The days were long, and I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I learned to pray harder than I ever had, because the strength I needed was beyond myself. I learned the meaning of hard work and dedication. I learned what real sacrifice looks like as I watched my mom give up her time to take care of my children while I was at work, school or just too tired to function. I learned what true commitment looks like as my husband loved me unconditionally through the toughest season of my life. And in the end, I accomplished my dream, and it continues to change my life.

Why are speech services such as the ones provided by your company important for our community?: We were created for community, and community isn’t possible without communication. As SLPs, it’s our job to provide those without a voice a way to communicate. This includes the late talker verbalizing “momma” for the first time or a nonverbal child learning to sign “I love you.” Although this is only a snapshot of what we do as SLPs, it shows the beauty of our profession. I can’t think of anything more important than giving someone the opportunity to be a part of what they were ultimately created for, community.

Kimberly Tissot

Executive director, Able South Carolina

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor of Science in human development from Wheelock College, Boston; master’s degree in social work from the University of South Carolina

Family: Husband, Christopher; son, Carter, 8

Community and professional highlights: Led the efforts of passing progressive disability rights legislation in 2017, S.C. Persons with Disabilities Right to Parent Act. She leads a group of amazingly talented staff at Able SC who work tirelessly to make S.C. a better place to live, work and play for South Carolinians with Disabilities. Additionally, she is a member of the S.C. Statewide Independent Living Council; appointed by the S.C. State Superintendent of Education to the Advisory Council for Educating Students with Disabilities, where she serves as co-chair; serves on the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living’s Board of Directors; and co-chairs the National Council for Independent Living’s ADA and Civil Rights Committee.

What saying do you live by? Why? I live by many, but there are two equally important sayings that I live by. The first one is to always exceed expectations. This is especially important when leading a nonprofit. We have to stand out, show our worth, make positive change and produce exceptional work. Being mediocre will not achieve this. The second is to never give up. If you believe in something and yourself, you can achieve it!

What do you like most about working in the Midlands? The Midlands is the heart of our beautiful state. I love being close to the State House, and the nonprofit scene is amazing! I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such kind people!

My life changed when: The day I became a person with a disability. I had cancer at the age of 2, and spent much of my childhood in the hospital during and after a leg amputation, chemotherapy and radiation. At a very early age, I noticed that people didn’t always treat me like other kids because they assumed I couldn’t do the things that kids without disabilities could do. This was when I started feeling the need to change perceptions and proving that people with disabilities are in fact ABLE.

What are the major challenges people with disabilities face in the Midlands? The major barrier is perception. Society has preconceived ideas of what people with disabilities can and can’t do. People with disabilities don’t need to be pitied or taken care of; we need access to the same opportunities to reach our goals as everyone else.

Ashlye Victoria Wilkerson

Franchise owner, Wine & Design Columbia; children’s author

Age: 34

Education:Graduate of Saint John Preschool, Richland 1 schools (H.B. Rhame Elementary, Saint Andrews Middle and Columbia High); Winthrop University, Bachelor of Arts; Hampton University, Master of Arts in Teaching; Ph.D. candidate in teaching and learning, University of South Carolina

Family: Husband, L. Kobie Wilkerson III; daughters, Alana, age 3, and Ariah, age 1

Community and professional highlights: Trustee at Winthrop University; founder of The Magic of Learning Foundation; charter member of Main Street Rotary Club; Junior League of Columbia member; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. member; National Association of University Women member; Jack & Jill of Columbia member; Leadership Columbia graduate; Blueprint for Leadership graduate; S.C. Education Policy Fellows graduate; founder of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Ministry at Brookland Baptist Church; Education Council of the United Way member; Heyward Career and Technology Center board member; Power in Changing Diaper Bank Board member; Girl Scout volunteer and member; Columbia College LeaderShift graduate; author of the Tori children’s book series that was adopted by former Gov. Nikki Haley, the city of Columbia, Richland School District 1, and honored by the S.C. General Assembly as well as city of Columbia City Council.

What saying do you live by? Why? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I believe that I am guided by my faith and that the challenges we encounter in life are designed to make us stronger.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands? In my beloved hometown, there are a lot of opportunities for personal and professional growth. There is a vibrant network of young professionals who are committed to serving and improving our community.

My life changed when: I attended Girls State my senior year in high school. Prior to that year, the school policy was to send the student body president and the senior class valedictorian to represent our school. It was decided to select a student who the school felt demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities as the third participant. I was the first student selected for that designation. I truly appreciated the opportunity and fully engaged in the weeklong experience. I served as the editor of the newspaper, won a seat in the House of Representatives, and ultimately won the Superintendent of Education constitutional office.

What inspired you to write three children’s books? I wanted to use my love for education and literacy to impact early childhood in a way that inspired children to learn and read. Additionally, I wanted to give children of color the opportunity to see themselves represented in the children’s books they engage with. It gives me great joy to be a part of the fun learning process with children all over the world.

Brittany L. Williams

Marketing and communications manager, Mead and Hunt Inc.

Age: 30

Education: Bachelor of Science in marketing and management, University of South Carolina

Family: Family is everything. I’m blessed with incredibly supportive parents, older siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents and more cousins than I can count. We gather together for Sunday meals every week.

Community and professional highlights: Certified Professional Services Marketer; client liaison for a 650+ national AEP firm; Leadership Lexington County 2018 class; active member in South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association, Society of Marketing Professional Services (past president, board member); Lexington Chamber of Commerce; American Council of Engineering Cos. and Central S.C. Committee of 100 (board member); Mead & Hunt CARES committee; Girls on the Run Columbia 5k committee member, substitute coach and running buddy; former Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Columbia; Central S.C. Habitat for Humanity – Women Build

What saying do you live by? Why?: “Never hope for it more than you work for it.”

At a young age, my parents set the example that you work for what you want in life – it stuck with me. Put in the hard work and keep going. I’ve learned firsthand that everyone faces challenges, obstacles and trials. I’ve also discovered that you are more capable than you know. Running a marathon taught me that anything is possible, and that preparation and persistence pays off. Keeping your focus on how far you’ve come and not on how far you have left to go can make all the difference. The power of believing in yourself, coupled with determination, can take you through anything. A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence.

What do you like most about living in the Midlands?

Everything. As a native born and raised in Lexington, it’s home. I’ve witnessed the vast growth and evolution of the Midlands over the years. From the people and local businesses to events and attractions, the Midlands offers everyone an opportunity to connect and enjoy our great city. I love that I see familiar and new faces around every corner. There is a real sense of community here. We also have unmatched running paths with views of Lake Murray, the State House, riverfronts and the downtown area.

My life changed when: I visited Kolkata, India, on a mission trip. I was expecting to make big impacts in the lives of others, but unexpectedly was the one left changed. Seeing the pure joy and happiness their people had with very little to no possessions opened my eyes to the downward spiral of materialism. I realized that things don’t make you happy. It’s people, memories and gratitude that matter most.

You have been involved in a lot of volunteer activities. Why is it important for you to give back to the community?: By working with a myriad of nonprofits, I’ve witnessed that all it takes is one person, conversation or small act to change a life. Knowing that I could be that change for someone makes it my privilege to serve. I’ve had individuals generously invest their time and talent in me, and it’s my goal to pay that forward. Girls on the Run Columbia, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Columbia and Mead & Hunt CARES are enriching lives right here in the Midlands – I’m proud to be part of the change. People matter, and it’s time they know it. As Romans 12:10 tells us: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”