Last night close to 300 people gathered in Bartow to celebrate the 2016 Polk Emerging Leaders Awards recipients. This was the 6th Annual Polk Emerging Leaders Awards and was once again a collaborative event between the 3 established young professional groups in Polk County – Emerge Lakeland, Engage Bartow and the Endeavor Winter Haven. This event was founded in 2011 by the Winter Haven Chamber Foundation.
There were 30 outstanding young professionals recognized during the ceremony (see below) and five Polk Emerging Leaders Awards were bestowed - Greta Dupuy, Andy McEntire, Tiffani Gozdur, Clint Edwards and Billie Hutto (read more about each award winner below).
Thank you to our sponsors of the event – showing their dedication to developing a strong "next" generation of community leaders.
Greta Dupuy, Publix Super Markets
Born in Miami to Haitian parents, Greta grew up in a home where French was the primary language. On her first day of school she didn’t know a single word of English. If the language barrier wasn’t a big enough hurdle, her parents’ jobs also required the family to relocate several times during her childhood.
Despite these challenges, Greta credits her childhood with helping develop her into a leader. Learning a second language taught the importance of active listening, and family relocations taught her at a young age the important skills of how to meet and engage new people.
She received her bachelor of arts degree in Psychology from the University of South Florida where she spent her junior year studying abroad in Spain.
Today, she works for a "local" grocer - Publix Super Markets. Her time at Publix began in 2003 when she was hired as a retail staffing specialist. In 2014 she was promoted to the position of Manager of Associate Services where she manages the company’s service awards program, Publix’s United Way program (the 3rd largest in the world), and assists in allocating resources to ensure company projects are completed efficiently and to the high “Publix standard of excellence” we’ve all come to know. She also serves as a translator for Publix in both French and Creole.
Beyond her “day job” Greta also uses personal time to enrich our communities. She currently serves on the United Way of Central Florida Board of Directors as secretary, the PACE Center for Girls State Board of Trustees, as secretary, the Academy of the Holy Names Board of Trustees, as secretary, the Polk State College Foundation Board, and is a member of the United Way’s Young Leaders Society. She also served as “mama swan” as the chair for the Leaders of Lakeland Swan Derby race benefiting Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine earlier this year which raised more than $50,000.00 for LVIM in only thirty days.
Perhaps Greta’s qualifications can be best summed up by Mary Marx, president and CEO of the PACE Center for Girls, who described her by saying, “She is all that one expects in a community leader. She is passionate, committed, competent, and confident. She is an advocate for education, a skilled problem solver, a savvy businesswoman and an engaged and responsible citizen. And she is much more.”
Andy McEntire, Indie Atlantic Films/Concord Coffee
Andy works hard and plays hard. He seeks advice and gives encouragement. He creates and strives to inspire. Simply put, he recognizes the importance of a well-balanced life.
During his time in college, Andy began his working life by filming families on their vacation travels. It was at this early stage of his professional development that he realized his calling was not about making money, but about making a positive impact in the community and world around him and, in 2006, Indie Atlantic Films was born. Located in Dixieland, Indie Atlantic Films is, in its own words, “a collective of visual storytellers that are passionate about quality, relationships and leaving a legacy that we’re proud of.” Indie Atlantic counts among its clients such well-known brands as: Publix, Redbull, and Visit Central Florida. But he is about more than taking beautiful shots, he’s also about giving back.
Each year, Indie Atlantic Films partners with two to three local nonprofits with stories to tell, but no budget to tell them. Together, Indie Atlantic and the nonprofit develop and create meaningful videos – at no cost to the nonprofit. The films receive the same level of attention and care as “paying clients” and are used by the nonprofits for awareness and fundraising purposes. To date, fifteen organizations, including United Way, Top Buttons and Achievement Academy, have been the beneficiaries of this generous initiative.
So, how does Andy find the energy to accomplish everything on his agenda? The answer is really quite simple – coffee. In 2014, this recipient also cofounded and launched Concord Coffee. Created as a place of “peace and harmony” where all types of people could feel safe and inspired to having meaningful conversations, this coffee and tea shop has become a symbol of the resurgence and vitality of the Dixieland community. Our recipient sees Concord Coffee, and coffee in general, as a bridge bringing together those with differing backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. The “vibe” he and his businesses bring to Lakeland has undoubtedly been a part of changing the brand of Lakeland to that of entrepreneurial hub.
If that wasn’t enough, Andy uses his personal time speaking to groups about finding passion through entrepreneurship. He sees collaboration as the key to our communities continued ascent and believes it is instrumental for us to all work together to strengthen our communities and towns. In his own words, he summed up his view on leadership by saying, “We can improve the lives of those around us by giving opportunities to those with less resources, inspiring those who are hesitant and investing in our future.”
Tiffani Gozdur, Citizens Bank & Trust
To use her own words, “Great leadership can only be derived from the positive influence of others.”
It is through the support of her mentors and teammates that she has derived her own style of leadership aimed at motivating others while also thinking outside of the box to address challenges. Her mission is to ‘pay it forward’ and give back to the community as it given so much to her as well as mentor other young professionals wishing to do the same. A mother of two, she is proud to see her daughters taking on leadership roles in their own circles of influence.
A lifelong resident of Polk County and graduate from Lake Gibson High School, Tiffani is described by one of her nominators as a natural-born leader who has made a tremendous impact on our community over the past several years. She started her career in the banking industry as an administrative assistant and has worked her way up to Assistant Vice President and Private Banker.
Several of her nominators noted that she has a knack for getting involved in an existing event, fundraiser or organization and taking it to the next level through her leadership. One example is her service to Girls Incorporated of Winter Haven. She chaired several of that organizations fundraisers including one of the most successful "Angels Among Us" Girls Inc. holiday auctions ever. She also served as Chairwoman of the Girls Inc. Board.
More recently she has breathed new life into what was a dwindling Kiwanis Club of Winter Haven. As president-elect during this past year, she chaired the Stuff the Bus campaign and completely revamped the Pancake Festival turning it into a local celebrity extravaganza involving many in this room, the current Miss Florida and, of course, Sheriff Grady Judd. This new-spin on a classic event raised over $13,000 which was a 100% increase over previous years. She has also recently been recognized by the Kiwanis Club Florida District office for the increase in membership to the Winter Haven club.
In May of this year, Tiffani was named the Employee Coordinator of the Year from the United Way of Central Florida, as her leadership of the Citizen’s Bank & Trust employee campaign resulted in an increase to the bank's employee donations by 15%.
Perhaps what Tiffani best represents is the accessibility to grow and lead within the Polk County community. Get involved. Be engaged. Be active. You don’t have to have to have most degrees, money or connections to make a difference in this community. Day in and day out there are people from every walk of life rolling up their sleeves and impacting Polk’s future.
Clint Edwards, Tom Edwards Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram
Every town has those people you see everywhere. You wonder how they do it. How they have enough hours in the day. Clint is that “guy” for the town he calls home.
Clint's nominations all consisted of common words –“enthusiastic”, “dedicated,” “passionate”, “community-minded” and “a positive force.” For anyone that knows him, there is no argument there. It would not be unusual to receive a text message from out of the blue, on some random day wishing you a good day or sending you a motivational meme. It’s that boundless energy and desire to make others happy that drives this recipient on a daily basis.
Clint’s community involvement is a long list. He is a member of numerous boards and clubs including but not limited to Main Street Bartow, the Polk Education Foundation and will become one of the youngest Chairman of the Bartow Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in January 2017. He is also one of the founding members of the Bartow young professional group, Engage Bartow. He doesn’t just sit on the committees he serves, he rolls up his sleeves to get things done, using the talents given to him at every turn.
As he said in his application, and I quote, “It’s so funny to me that the large majority of people who are so quick to point out issues and problems with the world are also the ones with the least amount of personal investment in the world around them. I truly believe that to make real impact you have to “buy in 100%” and have personal stake in everything you do. We as leaders have the responsibility to relay that message to those around us and show others what it means to truly influence those to make a change for the better.
He has life phrase of, quote, “Motion Creates a Motion” which he explained means that no matter how small or unimportant we feel something is, we must get out there and get the wheels of change moving. This will cause a chain reaction that will start moving things in a better direction.
Clint's dedication to Bartow doesn’t stop with his engagement in business organizations. For the last 14 seasons, he has been the VOLUNTEER “Voice of Bartow Yellow Jacket Basketball” performing the play by play announcing on 102.9 FM. He also danced his way into people’s hearts competing as a celebrity dancer for the Polk Education Foundation’s Stepping Out for Education in 2013 and now volunteers as DJ each year for that event. His passion is music and he volunteers his time as DJ for many charitable events across the county.
He started his working career as a Petty Officer 3rd Class in the United State Navy. Upon returning from the service he began working with his family’s business in Bartow – Tom Edwards Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, where he is now the Assistant General Manager.
Billie Hutto, P & J Recreation
In a world focused on celebrities and selfies our next recipient decided to instead focus on humility and sacrifice.
Billie’s leadership training began in 1999 when they enrolled in the military where they served almost a decade - including a deployment to Turkmenistan. This recipient was the recipient of the US Air Force Marksmanship Award, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the 325th Fighter Wing’s Airman of the Year Award, The Air Force Achievement Medal (twice), the Air Force Commendation Medal (twice), the Air Force Sergeants Association’s Airman of the Year Award, and the United States Air Forces in Europe’s Outstanding Enlisted Contracting Office award. The list could go on.
During this time in the Air Force, she received an associate’s degree in Contract Management and later went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Acquisition and Contract Management, and then her MBA.
Upon finishing her service to the county, she returned to Polk County where she is currently the co-owner and manager of P&J Recreation, a family owned restaurant in Frostproof. She credits her time operating the restaurant with teaching her that, “you cannot be seduced by the path of least resistance or avoiding conflict. Short-sighted action and decisions for convenience lead to larger issues down the road.”
It doesn’t end there. These accomplishments only begin to scrape the surface of the positive impact Billie is making in Polk County.
It’s almost cliché for today’s leaders to ask for change within their community; however, that is literally what this recipient has started to do. The “Quarters for a Cause” fundraiser, founded and hosted by Billie, is an auction-based fundraiser held periodically to assist local residents battling serious illnesses. The most recent Quarters for a Cause event, held in late July, raised more than $2,000.00 for a mother and grandmother battling Type 1 Diabetes and who, as a result, has endured a below the knee amputation and hemodialysis. The next “Quarters for a Cause” will be held next week on August 23rd, to benefit a thirteen year old boy who was born with Spina Bifida and Gastroschisis.
In addition to Quarters for a Cause, she serves as the President of the Frostproof Rotary Club, vice commander for the Frostproof American Legion Post 95, and coordinator of the Frostpoof’s Got Talent competition.
In all of her free time, she keeps busy as a wife and the mother of five children – three of whom she adopted at the request of her cousin who was battling and ultimately died of cancer in 2012. Billie admits adoption isn’t always easy, but that making a difference for a child is always worth it.
Congratulations to all of the nominees: