Dr. Brandon J. Thurston

age: 30 | Principal | Liberty-Eylau Elementary School

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For Dr. Brandon Thurston, it is important that his faculty, staff, and students at Liberty-Eylau Elementary School follow him for the right reasons. “As a campus leader, there is a massive difference in people responding to you because you are the campus administrator and them following you because they support your vision, love you as a person, and trust your judgment and your heart,” he said. “I’m grateful that I have experienced the latter [at the schools where I’ve led].”

Full trust in a leader’s judgment and heart is hard to come by, but Dr. Thurston has the receipts to show his commitment to his post, colleagues, students, and community. He has spent his adult years studying and working to become the best school administrator he could be—and it hasn’t always been easy. “I never thought I was smart enough to actually graduate with an undergraduate degree,” he said. Still, with his mother’s insistence, he attended Henderson State University and, post graduation, earned a master’s from UT-Arlington and a doctorate from TAMU-T. With each pursuit came doubts: “I didn’t think I could do it, but I did,” Brandon said. “These are the lessons I learned [through my experiences in higher education]: hard work does pay off; people will help you if you let them; and, most importantly, don’t quit— keep moving! If I, a black boy from College Hill, can do it, anyone can.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“GET YOUR LESSON.” THIS WAS THEIR WAY OF SAYING, “TAKE CARE OF THE IMPORTANT BUSINESS FIRST BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE.” – BILL AND MARY GRADY, BRANDON’S GRANDPARENTS

This perspective makes Brandon an ideal leader in his district. He leads from a place of experience, passion, and hard-earned confidence. But his educational goals are far from completed: he plans on one day attending law school and continuing a career in either public or higher education. He would love one day to mentor administrators and teachers.

For now, though, Brandon’s focus is on the almost-700 elementary children at LE whom he considers his own. His current professional aim is to increase parental and community involvement in his school by forming relationships with local businesses and churches. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I love onions and The Golden Girls.”

Michael Stephenson

age: 28 | Coordinator of Student Life | Texas A&M University – Texarkana

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Institutions of higher education bolster local economies, empower citizens, and enrich communities. But in order for these schools to succeed, their students must succeed. At TAMU-T, that’s where Michael Stephenson comes in.

“Did you know that 30% of first- year college students drop out? That is why positions like mine exist,” Michael said. “We facilitate activities, programs, and events that foster campus engagement and community. Statistically, students that are more connected to their campus are more likely to graduate. Our efforts facilitate student development in various ways including new student orientation, student organizations, Greek life, and volunteerism.”

A Texarkana transplant, Michael garnered much of his fund-raising and organizing experience at his alma mater, Northwestern State University, where he worked under the Director of Student Activities and devoted countless hours to his favorite national nonprofit, St. Jude. “While I was an undergraduate student, I focused my co-curricular efforts on collegiate fund-raising for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Michael said. “Throughout my tenure, I assisted the university in raising over $100,000 for the kids of St. Jude. In addition, I was awarded the Danny Thomas Leadership Scholarship, awarded to only one undergraduate student for their dedication to the mission of St. Jude. All of this cumulated to an internship opportunity where I was given the opportunity to fund-raise on a national level and helped with three Dream Home giveaways.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“WE LIVE IN A WORLD IN WHICH WE NEED TO SHARE RESPONSIBILITY. IT IS EASY TO SAY, ‘IT’S NOT MY CHILD, NOT MY COMMUNITY, NOT MY WORLD, NOT MY PROB- LEM.’ THEN THERE ARE THOSE WHO SEE THE NEED AND RESPOND. I CONSIDER THOSE PEOPLE MY HEROES.” – MR. ROGERS

These experiences and others prepared him well for his current position. In 2016, he was charged with overhauling the university’s community service programming. His team decided to bring “The Big Event,” a nationwide community service event, to Texarkana, and in April of 2018, the one-day event “boasted nearly 300 volunteers that performed over 1,000 community service hours,” benefitting 25 different local nonprofit organizations. “Being the lead staff member spearheading this event has been my greatest professional accomplishment because it has given me the opportunity to leave my mark at TAMU-T,” Michael said.

Married to Chase, Michael enjoys traveling, shopping at flea markets, antique shops, and garage sales, and renovating or building something at home. In addition to his work at the university, Michael also serves on the board of the Friends of the Texarkana Parks and is a member of Texarkana Young Professionals.

Name something about you that very few people know:
“I like candles (a lot). Some people may consider it an addiction. My candle closet inventory is probably around 50 or more. I just enjoy offering my house guests a diverse experience depending on what room they’re in. I call it southern hospitality.”

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I like candles (a lot). Some people may consider it an addiction. My candle closet inventory is probably around 50 or more. I just enjoy offering my house guests a diverse experience depending on what room they’re in. I call it southern hospitality.”

Rachel Scott

age: 34 | Magnet Director | Texarkana Arkansas School District

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Rachel Scott is in the business of transforming ideas into actions, wishes into goals, and imaginations into realities. “I help make the visions and dreams of students, teachers, and administrators possible,” she explained. Under Rachel’s leadership as the Magnet Director for the Texarkana Arkansas School District, her office “provides support for the magnet programs at College Hill 6th Grade Academy, North Heights Junior High School, and Arkansas High School,” she said. She is responsible for guiding decision-making regarding recruitment, marketing, curriculum and instruction, and community and parent engagement. Rachel also oversees the TASD “Montage Project,” a $14.7 million initiative funded by a Department of Education grant, for which Rachel was on the grant writing team. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“IF YOU HAVE TO EAT A FROG, EAT IT IN THE MORNING.” THIS MEANS TACKLE THE THINGS YOU DREAD FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, SO YOU DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THE DAY. — RACHEL’S MENTOR, ROBIN HICKERSON

In her free time, Rachel can be found gardening, beekeeping, spending time with her husband, William, and children, Maggie, Emmy Lou, and Millie, or giving back to Texarkana. One way she does this is in her role as board member for the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council. “Serving as a board member for TRAHC has helped me to see beyond just the amazing impact that programs like ArtSmart and the Kennedy Center Partnership have on teachers and students, but to the larger impact of TRAHC on building and sustaining community in Texarkana,” Rachel said. She also is a volunteer teacher with the children’s ministry at First United Methodist Church of Texarkana, Arkansas.

Happy with her life, Rachel hopes to continue serving Texarkana, Arkansas, students for years to come. “I am passionate about magnet schools because I know that they provide public school choice options for students and parents that are engaging while preparing students for post-secondary success,” she said. “In 10 years, I hope to be continuing my work in the TASD Magnet Office to ensure all students have access to high-quality instructional programs.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I cannot watch scary movies. I get so anxious that I have to stop. I will try to watch them with my family and never can make it past the first 10 minutes without leaving the room.”

Chalissa Russell

age: 31 | Small Business Owner | Fizz Bizz LLC

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Working with her hands has always been something Chalissa Russell enjoys. And owning her own small business, Fizz Bizz, lets her do just that while making bath bombs.

Chalissa enjoys being the face of her business and seeing the joy her customers get from using products she has created. “We design our products to help as a way to relax and escape from the stress of our everyday lives,” she explained. “And we couldn’t be happier with our results.”

Chalissa also works on Sunday mornings at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church, serving coffee for the church members. She and her boys also enjoy delivering bath bombs to local businesses in town who are nominated to receive them as part of challenges she hosts on Fizz Bizz LLC’s Facebook page. She donates $1 of every item sold back at any local charity event Fizz Bizz participates in. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“REMEMBER TO CHOOSE YOUR BAT- TLES WISELY, BUT MOSTLY, REMEM- BER TO KEEP YOUR BOYS LITTLE AS LONG AS YOU CAN!” — LACY MCMILLEN, REGARDING MOTHERHOOD

Moving her business into a building of its own is a priority for Chalissa. She works hard to get her brand noticed and looks forward to being able to say she owns a nationally-recognized bath bomb company in the future.

Spending time with her husband, Garreth, and sons, Garren and Stryder, is Chalissa’s favorite pastime – especially on a Carnival cruise ship. Being a mother is her greatest personal accomplishment, and Chalissa cherishes every moment spent with them. “I try to live my best, remembering that my boys are only this little today,” she said. “Tomorrow they will be older and bigger!” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“Fizz Bizz LLC started as a Bunco gift cop-out and an itch to try something new. We never knew it would go as far as it has! Garreth and I are truly blessed.”

Mason Rostollan

age: 22 | Graduate Teaching Assistant/ Researcher | University of Central Arkansas

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Texarkana native Mason Rostollan epitomizes the adage “think global, act local.” Currently a student at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Mason volunteers weekly at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and serves as a scholarship advisor for Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity at UCA. But while his hands work in Arkansas, his head is 8,000 miles away, as he thinks about his current research project.

“I am currently researching environmental health risks in a small village in Rwanda,” he explained. “I am analyzing the residents’ air and water quality as well as their personal statements to help improve their livelihood and health in the long-term. I hold this project important to myself for its potential to help not just one person, but an entire village to have healthier, longer, and more enjoyable lives. When I visit, I listen to the adults of the village who tell of the struggles they face daily, but also the children who will inherit these burdens if interventions are not made.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“SET YOUR GOALS AND DON’T LET ANYONE DETRACT YOU, AND REMEMBER: IF IT WERE EASY, EVERYONE WOULD DO IT.” – MASON’S GRANDPARENTS, CAROL AND GARRY HODGSON

A Texarkana Troop 19 Eagle Scout, Mason exemplifies the values he learned in Scouts every day, as he devotes his time and energy to solving health crises that will never affect him personally. Academia has time and again acknowledged his leadership: he was named the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year for 2017-2018, for having gone above and beyond in teaching anatomy and physiology labs at UCA. And, just this month, he is attending a by-invitation conference in Vienna, Austria, where he is presenting his research.

Upon completing his formal education, Mason plans to return to Texarkana as a physician. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I was a tap and ballet dropout by age 5!”

Connor Ribble

age: 27 | Real Estate Developer/Property Manager | Columbia Property Management

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Developer Conner Ribble takes great pride in the work he does throughout Texarkana. “I enjoy bringing a sense of creativity into each project I work on,” he said. “It is always fun seeing a person shocked at the before and after photos of projects, whether it is an empty piece of land or an old abandoned house. I find it very gratifying to not only improve a property but to give a person a place to live that they can happily call home.”

In his role, Conner oversees and manages all sorts of real estate projects, from property renovations and multi- family complexes to restaurant franchises. One of his top priorities is “providing excellent customer and maintenance service for the families in our complexes,” he said. “This is always important to me because so many people have a negative stigma toward landlords. My number one goal is for someone to see a sign that says ‘Columbia Property Management’ and to be excited about the work being done.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“ALWAYS HAVE HONESTY AND INTEGRITY.” – CONNER’S GRANDFATHER, RONNIE RIBBLE

Naturally, seeing Texarkana develop and grow fuels Conner’s fire. Outside of work, he serves on the Eagle Impact Board for Texas A&M-Texarkana, a budding university Conner is proud and excited to support. “Our board is always working on new and innovative ways to raise funds in order to give back to student life at A&M,” he explained. “I have enjoyed watching and being a part of a University that is growing at such a fast rate with a positive presence in the Texarkana community.”

At home, Conner and wife, Whitney, are busy with their new son, 8-month-old Palmer. “I know I am just beginning, but I can easily say my greatest personal accomplishment is raising my son, Palmer, with my wife,” Conner professed. Name something about you that very few people know:
“I am ambidextrous.”

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I am ambidextrous.”

Natalie Reeves

age: 30 | Interventionist/ESL Instructor | Pleasant Grove Independent School District

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Natalie Reeves is passionate about teaching children. For the past eight years, she has taught elementary students in the general education classroom, and this year, she will get to work with struggling learners, as well as ESL students. She enjoys building relationships with her students while teaching them. “Every child deserves to know someone cares about them. I also have a love for watching children learn and grow!” she explained.

Raising her son, Barrett, in a God-centered home with her husband, Malachi, is Natalie’s greatest personal accomplishment. When she’s not busy teaching students, Natalie enjoys hanging out with her family and friends while cheering on the Arkansas Razorbacks, and she also enjoys crafting.

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“BE JOYFUL ALWAYS, PRAY CONTINUALLY, AND GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.” — 1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-17

Completing her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and going back to grad school to obtain her certification in Educational Administration while having a newborn at home and working full-time is Natalie’s greatest professional achievement. She looks forward to making her way up the education administration ladder in the future.

A member of the Junior League of Texarkana, Natalie enjoys being able to give directly back to the community. This year, she will serve as the New Member Educator and will help grow the League. She is also involved in her church, First Baptist Church Texarkana, where she and Malachi volunteer in the pre-school department. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“In high school, I was a member of a youth choir, and we sang the National Anthem on the field of the San Diego Padres before a game.” 

Levi Ponder

age: 36 | Vice President, Lending | Commercial National Bank of Texarkana

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Caring and compassionate, Levi Ponder has firsthand experience transitioning from one position to another within a company. He began working as a part-time teller at Commercial National Bank and is now the Vice President of Lending.

“As a lender with Commercial National Bank, I get the opportunity to work with all types of individuals and businesses in the Texarkana area,” he explained. “I especially enjoy helping our customers achieve their financial goals whether it be starting a new business, growing their existing business, or building a new home, just to name a few.”

Levi’s greatest personal achievement was accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, followed by marrying his wife of 11 years, Elizabeth. He enjoys spending his free time with Elizabeth and their three children, Luke, Lincoln, and Emerson. For fun, he likes golfing, hunting, working out, and doing yard work. “My oldest son, Luke, has recently started going to the golf course with me, so it has been fun seeing him learn the game,” he admitted. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“IF YOU TELL SOME- ONE YOU ARE GOING TO DO SOMETHING, THEN DO IT!” — JIMMY PONDER, LEVI’S FATHER

Levi is a member of the Oaklawn Rotary Club and helps out with the club’s Flag Project. He helps put out flags on the six “flag” holidays throughout the year. He also serves as a board member of the Four States Fairgrounds as treasurer and is also a board member of Temple Memorial Rehabilitation Center.

When asked what Levi sees himself doing in the next 10 years, he replied, “I hope to have continued to grow in my banking career.” Well said from someone who enjoys what he does and looks forward to continuing on his chosen career path. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I enjoy waking up every morning at 3:45 a.m. to workout. It’s a great way to get the day started!” 

Claire Northam

age: 26 | Senior Accountant | Holliday, Lemons & Cox, P.C.

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Senior accountant Claire Northam does tax and audit work for Holliday, Lemons & Cox, P.C. What she really enjoys about her job is that regardless of the engagement, each client presents a different challenge. “Accounting is a profession, like many others, that is constantly changing,” she explained. “Every year, new laws are passed and new best practices are issued. It keeps it interesting, keeps me on my toes, and I love that I get to keep learning.”

Claire currently serves as president of the Texarkana Chapter of the Texas Exes, The University of Texas at Austin’s alumni organization. This group hosts events for local alumni and Texarkana area students attending the university. Last year in Junior League, she served on the Mistletoe Fair Committee as Merchants Co-Chair, and this year she is Tickets Co-Chair. “It’s a whirlwind, but it’s rewarding to see the fair be financially successful since that means we get to help the Texarkana community that much more,” Claire acknowledged. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“YOUR PARENTS ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN LIFE WHO KNOW YOU’RE SPECIAL. FOR EVERYONE ELSE, YOU’LL HAVE TO PROVE IT.” – QUOTED BY DR. WANDA NORTHAM, CLAIRE’S MOTHER

“In 10 years, I’d like to be on the partner track at our firm, and Chris, my fiancé, and I plan to have started a family,” she explained. “By that point, I’ll have long since passed the CPA exam, which will free up my time outside of work to be even more involved in the community and my church, as well.”

Buying a house was a great personal accomplishment for Claire. Knowing that she earned the cash to pay for it and maintaining it herself is very empowering to her.

Claire’s greatest professional accomplishment is fighting hard to get what she deserves. “I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t had the courage to walk away from some things. Sometimes not getting what you’re asking for can be a great learning opportunity, I’ve found. I’m in a really good place right now, literally and figuratively, where I know my worth and know I’m appreciated,” she added. “I’ve had some great mentors along the way, both at work and at home, who helped me see what a woman can accomplish when she works hard.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“When I was 17, a year after having heart surgery, I played in the USA Junior Olympic Volleyball Nationals.” 

Zach Norment

age: 33 | Senior Media Consultant/Karate Instructor | CableONE Advertising/Lacy’s Shotokan Karate

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As a Media Consultant, Zach Norment’s goal is to help area businesses develop content and reach their customers in as many ways as possible to drive sales and help them grow. “I am fortunate to work with an extremely talented creative team and have fun doing what I do,” he said. “In the evenings, I help teach martial arts in our family’s dojo, Lacy’s Shotokan Karate. Karate is my passion, my stress relief, and my motivation.”

Since the higher one goes in karate, the more work it usually takes, Zach is very proud that he has earned his 2nd degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. He admits that it has taken him a lot of years of hard work and dedication to reach this goal, but it has definitely been worth it. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

Best advice you’ve ever received: “TALENT YOU HAVE NATURALLY. SKILL IS ONLY DEVELOPED BY HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS OF BEAT- ING ON YOUR CRAFT.” – WILL SMITH

For fun, Zach enjoys woodworking and upholstering furniture. “There is nothing better than turning a simple sketch into a beautiful piece of furniture for someone to enjoy for years to come,” he said. “I also love being outdoors and, most importantly, spending time with my wife, Whitney, and children, Raidyn and Westin.” He also stays busy volunteering in the community as a board member for HandsOn Texarkana, a Chamber Ambassador, and a 2015 graduate of Leadership Texarkana, where he serves on the Leadership Team. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I will do almost anything in public to embarrass my kids and niece, including randomly yelling ‘Bingo’ or dancing! My beautiful wife is no longer affected by this behavior.” 

Casey Nichols

age: 38 | Superintendent | Ashdown School District

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Casey Nichols has worked his entire adult life for the benefit of students. “As a lifelong educator, I have had the opportunity to touch thousands of lives in the Texarkana area, hopefully creating community leaders who will continue to make Texarkana thrive for generations,” he said. “Over the last 16 years, I have had the opportunity to work directly with kids as a teacher and principal before moving into central administration as a director, executive director, chief operating officer, and superintendent, which has allowed me to expand my influence, regarding decisions that make a positive impact on students and our community.” 

Having recently accepted his position as superintendent of Ashdown School District, Casey is looking forward to meeting the needs of the district’s students. “I view [this new appointment] as an amazing opportunity to expand my positive influence and do great things for kids,” he said. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“TREAT PEOPLE WITH RESPECT, AND BE FAIR TO EVERYONE.” —PAUL NICHOLS, CASEY’S FATHER

A husband to Megan Rose, and dad of two young children, Abigail Rose and Emily Rose, with a baby boy on the way, Casey’s future surely holds many moments with his family, to whom he is primarily devoted. He also sees himself continuing his legacy as a dedicated public educator. “My passion is education,” he explained, “and I fully intend to continue making a positive impact on the lives of our youth for years to come through my involvement in public education.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“Since I was a kid, my father and I have worked on cars together. Over the years, we eventually got into drag racing, and then started building cars ourselves. This is something that I would not trade for the world and has proven to be very special to me as time has passed.” 

Holly Mooneyham

age: 30 | Teacher 9th–12th grade STEM | Texarkana Independent School District

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Iconic educator Rita Pierson said, “Kids can’t learn from teachers they don’t like.” Holly Mooneyham of Texas High has a different take on this philosophy: kids can’t learn from teachers they don’t relate to. “Sometimes students have misconceptions of teachers,” she said, “and letting them know the struggles I faced and how that led me to achieve my success . . . it allows us to bond for life. I’ve been led to use my story and influence to push my students and reach them on levels that are important to them.”

Holly’s experiences as a student are what propelled her into her career as an educator. “I had a troubled childhood that included a stint in foster care and family chaos with wicked stepparents, alcoholism, and drug addiction,” she explained. “I was one of 10 children. My refuge was school where teachers built relationships with me that made me feel loved and wanted. They were the calm while family life was the storm. My mom has always said that I wanted to be a teacher from the beginning, and experience in high school only solidified my career choice.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“IF YOU DON’T BEND, YOU’LL BREAK.” — FELLOW TEACHER TESSA RAY

Many of Holly’s students will be the first in their families to graduate high school, and this is another way they relate to their teacher: Holly was the first in her family to obtain a high school degree—and then a bachelor’s, and then a master’s. “I want [my students] to know that having an education is so beneficial,” she said—a lesson she teaches with her life.

Holly’s greatest professional achievement to-date has been being named the Region 8 Teacher of the Year in 2016. “I had only been teaching for four years and thought I was dreaming,” she recalled. But even greater honors are sure to be in her future; Holly says, through teaching, she is “living [her] dream,” and she hopes to continue her career for many years to come.

Holly has been married to her high school sweetheart, Johnny Mooneyham, Jr., for 13 years. As a couple, they enjoy travelling and taking road trips to Dallas Cowboy football games and to concerts. She also enjoys reading for pleasure, gathering with friends, catching up on her favorite Netflix shows, playing games, and floating in her new pool.

Besides her daily service in the classroom, Holly gives back to the community through other on-campus roles, as National Honor Society sponsor and former Key Club sponsor. In these positions, she has led students in service work for Race for the Cure®, Relay for Life, CASA 5K Run, and Dash 4 Cash, and the local foster care system. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“What others may not know about me is that my guilty pleasure is watching reality TV shows like Big Brother of which I’ve been an avid fan for years!” 

Summer Mills

age: 39 | Vice President | Texana Bank

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Accounting, finance, and operations leadership make up Summer Mills’ career as vice president of Texana Bank. “Using analytical skills to improve decisions and building processes to solve problems is something I’ve always enjoyed,” she confirmed. “Combining that with helping people makes a position satisfying to me. I’m fortunate to have all of those aspects in my current role.”

Summer has been married to her husband, Mark, for 16 years. They have two children, Xander and Addax, who are her greatest personal accomplishments.

A 2002 Texas A&M University- Texarkana graduate, Summer received her BBA and MSA while working full- time. “I was the first person in my family to attain a college degree,” she said. “That was a proud accomplishment, and without my college education, the success I’ve experienced in my career would not have been possible.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“WHEN TALENT AND ABILITY ARE EQUAL, THE PERSON WHO WILL STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD IS THE ONE WHO CAN SUCCESSFULLY MOTIVATE OTHERS TO DO BETTER. IF YOU FIGURE OUT HOW TO LEAD OTHERS TO SUCCESS, YOU WILL, ULTIMATELY, BE MORE SUCCESSFUL.” – COACH MURPHY, SUMMER’S HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL COACH

Currently the president of the Kiwanis Club of Texarkana, Summer has the opportunity to give back to children through the organization’s fund-raising proceeds that are distributed as grants and scholarships. She also participates in numerous service projects through the club. As an employee of Texana Bank, she helps coordinate community involvement opportunities and has volunteered this year with the United Way, Harvest Regional Food Bank, and Mission Texarkana.

Since giving back to the community is near and dear to Summer’s heart, she and her sisters carry on a family tradition their grandfather started when they were young. They collect and distribute food baskets to the elderly and needy in their hometown every year. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I have time-space synesthesia. I ‘see’ the days of the week, months of the year, and times of the day as distinct visual patterns with specific spatial representation. Go ahead, and Google it!” 

Holly Nicole Jones

age: 34 | Assessment Coach & Trainer | Arkansas State University

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Holly Jones is a former teacher with “a passion for kids, and kids that have been through trauma at a young age,” she said. After spending some time in front of the classroom, Holly transitioned from teaching children to teaching teachers. “I’m an assessment coach and trainer,” she explained. “I coach preschool teachers in their classrooms on how to assess their students through play and observation. In the summer, I train new hired teachers on assessment and refresh veteran teachers on new research about assessment.”

It is her passion for children that drives her work every day. “At the end of the day it comes down to helping and bettering the lives of children. That’s where my heart is at,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that, no matter a child’s circumstance, if they have one positive influence in their life, then they are capable of success, and sometimes it may just be a teacher who is that one person. I also relate to the flawed education system, and the amounts of stress and pressure our teachers are under with little pay. If I can help ease that stress and make a teacher’s life easier in their classroom then I have accomplished my goal.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“RESPECT AND MANNERS WILL TAKE YOU FURTHER IN LIFE THAN ANY EDUCATION EVER WILL.” –DALLAS KELLER, HOLLY’S GRANDFATHER

A single mother of three children, Kullen, Karsyn, and Kollyns, when Holly’s not at her day job, she is juggling her part-time jobs at Fox Sports Texarkana, ESPN Texarkana radio stations, and 9 Round gym. She recently joined the Junior League of Texarkana and is a regular supporter of the Randy Sams’ Outreach Center. She is accustomed to being busy: for example, to earn her master’s degree, she completed the program in one year, while maintaining full-time employment and raising two children. “That has been my greatest professional accomplishment so far,” she said.

Looking ahead, Holly has dreams of serving the homeless population— literally. “My goal is to remodel my grandpa’s old horse trailer into a food truck,” she explained. “I’d travel to concerts and big events to serve people food and drinks. I want to name it ‘The Crazy Heifer’ and set it up once a month to feed the homeless at no cost. That’s my little pipe dream.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I was born nine weeks early, and the doctor told my mom not to count her chickens before they hatched, meaning I might not make it. The only issue I had from being a preemie was I couldn’t bend my legs completely. Shriner’s Hospital fixed my legs at the age of 10. I couldn’t ride a bicycle until then. I have huge scars on my thighs, so as a kid when people would ask me what happened, I would tell them a shark attack.” 

Morgan Jerry

age: 37 | Small Business Owner | Big 5 Investments, LLC dba Jackson Hewitt Tax Service

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Helping families through what is sometimes the biggest financial undertaking of their year, preparing their tax return, is very satisfying for Morgan Jerry. “Helping people is what really matters,” she said. “Being in a position to help people through unknown and sometimes difficult situations is a blessing!”

After Morgan’s brother, Nathaniel, began calling around asking about business opportunities within Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, he and Morgan and her twin sister, Brooke, formed Big 5 Investments, LLC (a great play on words for their family of five and the Big 5 Game in Africa). Their business provides income tax preparation, business services (from payroll and quarterly reports to full bookkeeping services), and business consulting and advisory services. Even though working with family is sometimes hard and stressful, Morgan is so proud that she gets to work in this Christian family business. She feels very strongly that their business is a success because of their family putting God first in their lives and living out their Christianity in all that they do ... work included! 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“I HAD A COACH IN HIGH SCHOOL, AND HE ALWAYS SAID, ‘I DON’T WANT EXCUSES! I WANT RESULTS!’” —ROGER HOOTEN, MORGAN’S FATHER

In describing her greatest personal achievement, Morgan explained, “I have been greatly blessed by God in my personal life. He gave me a loving Christian family to raise me and now a devoted Christian husband, Corey, who puts God first and two healthy little boys, Cage and Colt, who are 7-year- old twins! Through God’s grace, my greatest personal accomplishment has to be my three boys. Yes, I know one is my husband, but let’s face it, they are all boys!”

An avid volunteer who caught the “volunteer bug,” Morgan enjoys giving of her time to assist numerous local organizations. She works with the Public Relations committee for the Texarkana Race for the Cure®, the Parents’ Club of St. James Day School, the Dine on the Line annual event, Junior League of Texarkana, St. James Day School board of directors, and is currently a board member of the Independent Association of Jackson Hewitt Franchisees.

In 10 years, Morgan hopes to be still working at her desk just like she is today. “I will be bit older; I will have older children, but I plan to be me!,” she said. “The only change I desire is growth ... and not in my waistline! I want to grow as a wife, as a mom, as a volunteer, as a leader, and most importantly, as a Christian!” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I have been hunting on four continents ... my favorite was taking over 1,000 birds in one day in Argentina. Big game hunting is a part of conservation and a passion of mine!” 

Dr. Omar Ishaq

age: 33 | Radiation Oncologist | CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System

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Radiation oncologist Dr. Omar Ishaq loves what he does. “It’s my passion to deal directly with patients and help eliminate their fears for what can be a very scary journey,” he said. At the W. Temple Webber Cancer Center, Omar uses cutting-edge scientific research and a well rounded perspective to care for his patients.

“Treating cancer from a holistic perspective is what I aim to do,” he said, “providing sound treatment plans and other suggested ways to improve chances of survival and quality of life. Radiation oncology is an intellectually challenging and exciting career at the cutting edge of patient care, technology, and research, and it gives me the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of cancer patients while working with a fascinating, technologically advanced, and constantly evolving form of treatment.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“EVERY MAN DIES, BUT NOT EVERY MAN TRULY LIVES.” — FROM BRAVEHEART

Omar takes pride not just in his career but also in his status as a Texarkana resident, considering his greatest professional accomplishment to be “receiving the opportunity to represent Texarkana as a ‘Fabulous 40 and Under,’” he said. “I’ve been amazed by how much the community continues to thrive when giving back. I see Texarkana as a united community that effectively operates as a whole, supporting each other and giving everything that we can to one another. I am blessed to be a part of the wonderful community here and am honored to serve on the board of the Northeast Texas Chapter of the Red Cross and as a Pink Tie Guy for our local Komen Race for the Cure®.”

Outside of the Ark-La-Tex, Omar loves to travel, a passion that was ignited when he studied abroad in Greece, Japan, Mexico, and South Africa through a selective scholarship at the University of Florida. “Those life experiences taught me more than anything I could have learned in a book,” he reflected. That experiential education continues today, as Omar spends his free time exploring new places, cooking foreign cuisines, and just “creating new life experiences” with his loved ones. 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I love to dance, although I sometimes struggle with rhythm. I look forward to meeting you out on the dance floor!” 

Dr. Kevin R. Hayes

age: 37 | Cardiac Electrophysiologist | Texarkana Cardiology Associates

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Dr. Kevin Hayes’ wife, Deedee, will tell you that her husband is “an electrician of the heart.” That’s the easiest way to describe his role as Texarkana’s first and only cardiac electrophysiologist. “I get to help cure people of often debilitating heart rhythm disorders,” he elaborated. “I get to work with an amazing team of professionals every day in the EP lab. We, quite literally, restore the rhythm of life.”

The Hayes family moved to Texarkana in 2015 and have since established themselves as volunteers and supporters of their church, St. Edward’s Catholic Church, as well as First Choice

Pregnancy Center. Kevin can often be seen participating in local 5K and 10K charity races. “That way, I get to be supportive and enjoy a nice run in the process,” he laughed. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“ALWAYS ANTICIPATE PROBLEMS.” – KEVIN’S FATHER, KENNETH HAYES, WHEN HE WAS TEACHING HIM TO DRIVE

Kevin’s few free hours are usually spent with his big family. “I somehow convinced a beautiful woman to marry me, and together we had four (usually) wonderful kids – Brielle, Caroline, Rhett and Remy,” he said. For the foreseeable future, Kevin hopes to continue doing what he does today: “spending time with my family, running, and treating patients with heart rhythm disorders here in Texarkana.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I used to be a professional musician. When I was in high school, local funeral homes hired me to play Taps to honor our veterans.” 

Christina Guzman

age: 33 | Marketing | Ledwell

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Christina Guzman has always had a love for marketing. However, she didn’t realize it until joining DECA her senior year of high school. It even took a few years after that for her to realize that she wanted to pursue a career in marketing, but now she loves her job handling all marketing for Ledwell, Ledwell Machinery, and Ledwell Office Solutions.

Other than the day she got married to her husband, Geoff, and having her two children, Olivia and Adrian, obtaining a bachelor’s degree is Christina’s greatest accomplishment. “I started out attending college right after high school, but life happens,” she explained. “I decided to finish my degree when my daughter was a year old and finished after my son was born. Working full-time, raising two small children, and attending school full-time was an experience I will never forget.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“HE HAS A PLAN.” –SHANNON FLOWERS

The Alzheimer’s Alliance Tri-State Area holds a very special place in Christina’s heart. She volunteers for two of the organization’s special events, Twice as Fine Wine Festival and Over the Edge. She is also the social media manager for the ArkLaTex 100 Club and co-chaired its first self-run fundraiser, Pull for Heroes, held last March.

Christina recently became involved with a initiative, started by Leadership Texarkana, to promote Texarkana. This project uses #gotxk for attractions, events, food, and everyday life in Texarkana. She said, “The goal is to not only attract visitors, but to attract locals to see everything our town has to offer. There are so many hidden gems in the community that people do not realize, and this is something everyone can participate in to spread the love of Texarkana by using #gotxk in their social media posts.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I love spicy food, but if something is too spicy, I get the hiccups.” 

DeMarcus Green

age: 37 | Principal of Kilpatrick Elementary School | Texarkana Arkansas School District

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DeMarcus Green’s primary obligation is to create a positive environment for both students and teachers that is conducive to teaching and learning. “In doing so, I assist in meeting the needs of students by helping other educators acquire knowledge of diverse population groups and developing culturally informed strategies to assist the student populations within the educational sector,” he explained. “This allows me to utilize my circle of influence to produce needed change within the educational community.”

Being a father, as well as a protector and provider to his daughters, DeUndra (19) and Autumn (13) is DeMarcus’s greatest personal achievement. “My greatest professional accomplishment is when I was recognized in 2017 as Magnet Schools of America’s Regional Principal of the Year, representing the states of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Mississippi,” he said. 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“YOU CAN TEACH SOMEONE HOW TO TEACH, BUT YOU CANNOT TEACH SOMEONE HOW TO LOVE KIDS.” —DAVID WALLS, DEMARCUS’S MENTOR

A graduate of Leadership Texarkana, DeMarcus has helped establish a plan for community excellence by engaging in strategic planning efforts between multiple sectors of the community. As an educator, he has coordinated and hosted a community 5K for the last two years, entitled “Hunger’s No Game” to help combat hunger in the Texarkana community. Registration for this event was the donation of 10 non-perishable canned food items. And the event has averaged over 10,000 food items each year, which were donated to Harvest Regional Food Bank and the Randy Sams’ Outreach Shelter.

DeMarcus is currently working on his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership at Texas A&M University- Texarkana. He concluded, “In 10 years, I hope to use the knowledge gained in this process to benefit me as I hope to become a school district superintendent.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“I love to sing and dance (when no one is watching).” 

Allie Grace Graves

age: 16 | Student/Titleholder | Texas High School/Miss Texas Outstanding Teen Org.

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In some ways, Allie Graves is a normal teenager. “I’m a 16-year-old girl, so I’m new to driving, and I love it,” she said. “One of my favorite things to do for fun is to drive my car out in the country with the windows rolled down, music cranked up, and sing my favorite songs. I also really enjoy dancing with my Texas HighStepper sisters and hanging out with my friends.”

In many ways, however, Allie stands out from her peers. As a successful competitor at the Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen pageant, she is often seen with a tiara on her head — but it’s what comes out of her mouth, and from her heart, that is truly extraordinary.

“I take great pride in competing within the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization. Through this professional development organization, I’ve developed a platform based on my life experiences of abuse, foster care, and adoption and turned them into a message of hope and healing,” Allie explained. “I receive so much joy and fulfillment when I invest in the lives of children and adults and encourage them to be difference- makers in our world. I strive to take every opportunity I’m given, whether I’m speaking in a crowded football stadium or I’m down on my knees in front of a group of foster children. I want to show the world that you are never defined by your circumstances and that God can use all things for good in the lives of others.” 

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“WHEN YOU ARE GOING THROUGH SOMETHING HARD AND WONDER WHERE GOD IS, REMEMBER THAT THE TEACHER IS ALWAYS QUIET DURING A TEST.” — LISA SPOONER, ALLIE’S INTERVIEW COACH

Allie has performed over 1,200 community service hours, giving her time to CASA, For the Sake of One, the Child Welfare System, Alzheimer’s Alliance, American Heart Association, Race for the Cure®, First Choice Pregnancy Center, TISD Dash for Cash, United Way, Run the Line, and others. Aptly, Allie has been awarded Leadership Texarkana’s Youth Wilbur Award and the Kiwanis Club of Texarkana’s Stuart Daniels Leadership Award.

In 2017, Allie was named the Overall Community Service Award winner (as well as the Overall Talent winner) at Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen competition. “I believe my life’s purpose is serving others,” she said. “I’d love to be a catalyst in the Child Welfare System to bring awareness to the epidemic of child abuse and helping to facilitate change in the lives of children who have gone through unthinkable circumstances.” 

Name something about you that very few people know:

“My life is truly an open book, but one thing that people don’t immediately realize about me is that I was adopted by my parents, April and Mark Graves, at the age of 5. It’s pretty hard to believe since I actually look (and sometimes act) a lot like my dad.”