35 of Georgia’s Brightest Come Together as Young Gamechangers

Georgia Forward

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

GeorgiaForward kicks off its second annual Young Gamechangers program on Thursday, January 9th convening 35 of the state’s most promising young leaders in Dublin, Laurens County, with the goal of revisioning the area as a vibrant 21st century community.

“In fulfilling our mission to promote smart policies, thoughtful leadership and deeper civic engagement throughout Georgia, I’m excited to announce the second year of Young Gamechangers,” says Howard Franklin, Executive Director of GeorgiaForward.  “Our participants’ careers span arts & culture, business, finance, education, non-profit, government, law, urban planning and economic development. They have plenty to offer both Georgia and Dublin, Laurens County. We’re excited to be in a community on the precipice of monumental changes, and that offers challenges that can be creatively solved by the state’s next generation of leaders.”

“As a participant in last year’s inaugural program, I had an opportunity to see what worked well and where there are areas for improvement,” states Kris Hattaway, Director of Place for NewTown  Macon.  “I was happy to be asked back in a leadership role as Director of the Young Gamechangers.  I’m excited to be working with these 35 energetic and talented individuals to make this year’s program a rousing success!”

Here’s an introduction to some of this year’s Young Gamechangers:

Jason Winters is Sole Commissioner of Chattooga County in NW Georgia.  He graduated from Berry College in 2001 with a degree in Political Science. After college he worked at Bankson Oil in Summerville. 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. Winters was named to Georgia Trend Magazine’s “40 under 40” in 2011. He’s a member of the Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce and the Summerville Trion Rotary and Optimist clubs. He was appointed Chairman of the Georgia Rural Development Council by Governor Deal and resides in Oak Hill on his family’s farm with his dog, Catfish.

“One focus of the Young Gamechangers is figuring out how to preserve rural Georgia,” says Winters. “Small communities are the heart of our state, but because of shifts in manufacturing and other industries, many are struggling. I’m particularly interested in Dublin and Laurens County because there are many similarities to where I live. I want to bring what I’ve learned as a local government official to this project, and explore ideas for retaining existing businesses, increasing employment opportunities, and attracting young people.  I know I’ll learn from them, too, and create new friendships.” 

Rebecca McWilliam serves as the Director of Tourism for the Dublin-Laurens Tourism Council, as well as President of Magnolia Midlands Travel Association. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, McWilliam has also lived in California and Colorado. She is a graduate of the University of California. She moved to Georgia in 2005 and has been a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Georgia and the Alcoa Architectural Products Community Advisory Board. She’s a mentor with Communities in Schools and in her free time she likes to hike, cook, and write poetry.

“One of the amazing things about Dublin is that all the organizations have a willingness to work together,” McWilliam enthuses. “We are united and open to different ideas and change. I love change. When it’s negative you learn and when it’s positive you grow. Change is what will move us forward.”

“It’s refreshing that most of the Young Gamechangers are volunteering outside of their own community,” she adds. “I’ve only been on the Tourism Council for four months so I’ll be learning right along with them.”

As Executive Director of Georgia Bikes, Brent Buice works to improve bicycling conditions throughout the state.  He holds a Masters in Nonprofit Organization Management and an AB in Anthropology from the University of Georgia. While working for the University, Buice served as a board member of BikeAthens before becoming involved with Georgia Bikes. Though mostly using a bike as a sensible transportation option, he wore bike shorts in Bike Ride Across Georgia, riding statewide from Atlanta to Savannah over seven days in 2011. He lives in Athens’ Newtown neighborhood where he runs errands, enjoys downtown, and totes his three-year old daughter to daycare by bike. 

“I wanted to work with Young Gamechangers because I’ve been to Dublin,” states Buice. “We spent the night there on the Bike Ride Across Georgia and I got see a little of the city. It was built strictly for automobile traffic, so I see this project as a huge opportunity to help them with a creative, multidisciplinary plan which encourages safe bicycle traffic with dedicated lanes and space for bikes. 

“I’m looking forward to talking with professionals in arenas that I don’t normally interact with who can help me can see things from a different lens,” Buice continues. “My organization is statewide so this is also a tremendous way to meet people my age who are doing great things around the state.”

Meghan Duke currently serves as Public Relations and Marketing Manager for the Valdosta Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA). She develops, and implements internal and external communications for the Industrial Authority, building community awareness and interest through web, print and social media. She is involved in a number of organizations including the Georgia Economic Developers Association, Easter Seals Southern Georgia, Valdosta Junior Service League and the Valdosta North Rotary Club. She holds a Mass Media Arts degree from Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication degree at the University of Georgia.

“A wonderful way to engage and learn is to give back so Young Gamechangers is a great fit for me,” says Duke. “I am a big idea person and it’s in groups like this that you need those. Other people will ground me, but I hope to bring lots of good ideas.”

Jonathan Dye is the Director of Communications at Macon Arts Alliance. He serves on the College Hill Corridor Commission and Public Art Committee. He is a 2012 graduate of Leadership Macon. Dye began his career as a graphic artist at The Courier Herald in Dublin, Georgia where he went on to be online manager and creative director. He was co-founder and curatorial director of the Three Cities Group Artist Collective, 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 from the University of Georgia.

“What I bring to the table is an understanding not only of the arts, but how creative industries affect economic development,” Dye explains. “I want to emphasize that what makes a difference in our communities are the people. They are a renewable and vital resource.”

Sponsors for this year’s Young Gamechangers program include the Georgia Municipal Association, the City of Dublin, Laurens County Board of Commissioners, Dublin Downtown Development Authority, Dublin-Laurens Tourism Council, Dublin-Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority and Alterra Networks.

Additional members are: Kelly Bird, Matthew Bradshaw, Tara Bradshaw, Christopher Cooper, ReKasa Deen Hart, Austin Dickson, Jason Dollar, Odie Donald, Amy Duke, Chris Floore, J. Charlie Garbutt, Emily Haar, Bo Harmon, Kelly Herrington. Cristi Jones, Kimberly Lawson, Tommy Lowmon, Dwayne Marshall, Amol Naik, Emily Patteson, Matt Poyner, Tremaine Reese, Sarah Roche, Ralph Staffins, Trayce Striggles, Beau Turpin, Ingrid Varn, Ben Vaughn, William John Wood, and Bryan Zulko.

GeorgiaForward is an independent, non-partisan organization working to improve the state of Georgia by engaging business, political, academic and civil leaders to collaboratively shape a statewide policy agenda.  For more information about the Young Gamechangers program and a complete list of the 2014 class, visit their web site: http://georgiaforward.org/young-gamechangers.