On August 29th, over 200 people met at the Bartow Civic Center to celebrate the 9th Annual Polk Emerging Leaders Awards! This award ceremony awarded 5 recipients for their significant contributions and dedication to their communities. Guests enjoyed delicious food from Terri Lobb Catering, a cocktail reception sponsored by Citizens Bank & Trust, networking opportunities with professionals from across the county, all while celebrating the hard work and dedications of the young professional community.
After a warm welcome from Heather Jaeger, the Polk Emerging Leaders Awards Committee Chair, and a delicious dinner, Katie Worthington Decker, President of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, took to the stage to share the history of PELA, as well as introduce the 22 nominees of this prestigious award. Every year, our Presenting Sponsors have the honor of announcing the 5 winners of the Polk Emerging Leaders Awards.
Our first speaker was Dr. Krista Lewellyn, with Florida Southern. She announced that Callie Miller, President of LifeShare Management, was our first recipient of the night to be awarded the Polk Emerging Leaders Awards.
Callie graduated from Liberty University with a Masters of Business Administration in 2012. Upon graduating, she went on to be the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Union Hospital District in South Carolina, where she started her career. She later occupied two other positions in South Carolina until 2015 when she moved to Florida to be the President of LifeShare Management Group in Lakeland.
Although it would be easy to choose her promotion as the President of LifeShare Management as the most satisfying moment of her career, she shares a different perspective. One moment in particular that stands out to her was when her and her team were able to assist a gentleman with significant physical and intellectual difficulties. Tyler had shared with his Care Manager that he wanted to be a cowboy. After many people told him no, this recipient was able to assist him in securing a paid position at a stable, where the owners of the stable agreed to teach him to ride a horse. They were able to make a dream a reality and it was this moment that brought her to the realization that her purpose is to help people understand and access their full potential.
From that story alone, we know that Callie is task-focused and people-oriented. As a leader in her organization, she strives to encourage collaboration by fostering positive relationships and open communication. Because she sees the value in her team and cares deeply for them, she strongly believes in personal development for not only her employees, but for herself. She feels that she can only accomplish this by reading books and surrounding herself with people who she can learn from.
This Lakelander admits that her community is one of the most philanthropic and generous communities she’s ever lived in. After moving to Lakeland 6 years ago, she found herself being drawn to a number of organizations and causes. She became invested in the Junior League of Greater Lakeland. She serves as the Chair on the American Cancer Society Cattle Baron’s Ball event committee, participates in the Spivey Society with Florida Southern College and is involved with the President’s Circle for Women in Philanthropy with Lakeland Regional. She also finds great fulfillment in helping support families with young children who have received a recent diagnosis. A little over a year ago, her three-year old was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Because of this diagnosis she longs to help those around her dealing with a similar situation.
As a multi-passion entrepreneur, Callie doesn’t stop helping others outside of her work. Two hobbies that she has adopted are Carilly, an application and website she created where families can search for and immediately book babysitters and pet sitters who have been recruited, interview, screened and trained, as well as being a health coach. This emerging leader wastes no time when she sees a need! It’s through this tool that she is excited to bring convenience to local families while building community among those who use it.
Derek Oxford, with CPS Investment had the honor of introducing the next emerging leader of the night, Eric Pospichal.
In 2014, Eric earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of South Florida. During his college career, he was a Senior Staff Appraiser at Groover Companies, Inc. In this position, he spent his time educating company appraisers for compliance. In 2015, he began his journey as the Co-Owner of Winningham and Pospichal where he maintains client relationships, continues to educate company appraisers and used his extensive knowledge macroeconomic factors, income analysis, forecasting models and so much more.
Eric's most satisfying moment in his carrer was when he was a Store Manager at Finish Line. This store he inherited had staff members who had very little passion which was contrary to one of the company’s mantras, “Make the day.” Our recipient decided to drive this mantra as hard as he could with his team by leading by example. He worked open to close and, despite the long hours, he would leave the story open after hours if they didn’t meet their goals as a team. At first, his team resented this decision because it meant they had to work longer hours. However, after months of consistency, the passion for “making the day” rubbed off on them. They began asking to work later if they hadn’t met the goals of the store. Thus, a new culture was born in their team. Our recipient feels that this moment further encourages his belief that passion is contagious.
His passion can also be seen actively making a difference in his community. He is involved in Lakeland’s young professional program, EMERGE. He is also the President of the Rotary Club of Auburndale and through his service there he has helped with raising funds for the purchase of school supplies for the teachers at Caldwell Elementary, painting of the Boy Scout building, raising funds for the Boys and Girls Club, assisting in a clothing drive and book drive for those in need, along with a can food drive. He has helped with raising funds for Alzheimer’s research and has assisted with multiple Veterans Day breakfast events. As President, he most recently lead their most ambitious fundraiser for the construction of “The Rotary Butterfly Garden.”
Eric finds that his most important work is including his wife and 8-year-old daughter in all the work that he does. His daughter has attended many Rotary meetings, aided at the children’s book drive, helped plan trees to beautify the city of Auburndale and much more. It is his hope that she will learn to serve others the same was that he was blessed to learn by watching his parents do the same.
Although he thoroughly enjoys his work, he prides himself on achieving a work/life balance. One way he does this is through managing his stress by performing Yoga at a minimum of 4 days a week which has taught him to meditate, breath when he’s stressed and remain confident while conducting business. He also enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter at Disney World. This time together allows them to unwind together and create memories that will last a life time.
The third emerging leader, Sarah Breed of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, was presented by Christina Criser Jackson, President of United Way of Central Florida.
Sarah graduated from Southeastern University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and is currently pursuing her Masters of Business Administration. Since 2016, she has been working as the Director of Initiatives at the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce where she works with volunteers from among the membership to create and implement quality initiatives that further the Chamber’s mission and so much more. In this role, she does her best to help others and the organization thrive.
The drive she has to do her best for those around her doesn’t stop once she clocks out of the office for the day. She spends her extra time with The Rotary Club of Lakeland. This club has given her the wonderful opportunity to utilize her own skills for the betterment of the organization. In her three years of being involved in the Rotary Club, she has served as club co-chair, club chair and district chair of the Speech Contest. She is also the program director for Leadership Lakeland and the creator of a new initiative called Nod to Nonprofits. This initiative is designed to spread awareness about our local nonprofits. Because of her dedication to quality, the people around her are more willing to follow her example because they trust her and her character. She feels establishing trust is necessary to making sure the work gets done and gets done well!
One example of Sarah's rapport with her community took place in 2018, when a new initiative was started called The Longest Table – Lakeland. This initiative was designed to build unity and foster goodwill within the community and bring hundreds of Lakeland citizens together. However, she only had eight weeks to bring the concept to reality. Because of her dedication to her best and her ability to create trust, she was able to father a committee in just a matter of hours. This was one of the strongest and passionate committees she has ever worked with. She feels that leadership is meaningless if people are not willing to come alongside you and trust in your vision.
When she isn’t volunteering her time to community organizations, she enjoys traveling. Traveling has led her to value and respect her own culture and the cultures of others around the world. She visited her fourteenth county and will visit her fifteenth next year, where she will help build a water well for a community in need, as well as teach them about personal hygiene.
Sarah has a true dedication to her community and to making true change in the lives of those around her. It is because of her passion for community and servant-leadership that we presented her with the Polk Emerging Leaders Award.
President of Polk State College, Dr. Angela Falconetti, approached the stage to honor Lauren Donalson with this prestigious award. Although unconventional, she was not present to accept the award because she was giving birth to her baby boy on the same day! Kevin Ashley with Peterson & Myers, accepted the award on her behalf.
In 2016, Lauren graduated from Stetson University College of Law with her Juris Doctor and many other accolades. She was awarded Best Advocate Award, a finalist in a trial competition, semifinalist in an opening statement competition and a South Regional finalist in the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. She was also involved in the College of Law’s “Wills for Warriors” Program. In this program, she worked alongside other students and faculty to provide free simple wills and advance directives for low income veterans and their spouses.
A year before graduating, she became a summer clerk for Peterson & Myers P.A. While not knowing if her future would include Peterson & Myers, she ended up proving herself as a promising future lawyer while also, as a summer clerk, taking it upon herself to dive into being actively involved in the community. A community she had NEVER been to before, but wanted to be a part of! Five years later, she is an Associate Attorney at the same firm, where she practices corporate and business law, commercial transactions, civil litigation and real estate law. Her colleagues describe her as wonderful example of what a leader truly is and they are proud of her commitment to her community and her work.
She shares in her Polk Emerging Leaders Awards application that the most satisfying moment in her career occurred on a case that she took on pro bono. The client was in a position where he had attempted to help a friend but, despite his good intentions, his seemingly innocuous actions landed him in a position where he was facing serious fines and jail time. She dug into the facts and the law and advocated on her client’s behalf, appealing to the prosecutor for leniency given her client’s well-placed intentions. At the end of the case, her client was given the opportunity to complete a diversion program in place of paying fines and jail time. After seeing his relief and feeling his gratitude, she felt a sense of accomplishment. Witnessing his reaction to the good news, made her feel like she truly made a difference in someone’s life.
Since that moment, Lauren has been working to make a difference in the lives of those around her and her community as a whole. She serves on multiple boards and volunteers for an array of different causes. She assists with the Winter Haven Charity Challenge, the Annual Guest Bartender Bash, Main Street Winter Haven, the Women’s Resource Center of Polk County and also sits on the board for the Humane Society of Polk County, as well as the Endeavor Young Professionals board. With eagerness and dedication, this recipient is truly making an impact on the Winter Haven community.
While she was unable to attend the event, we were thrilled to honor her with this award. Her dedication to service and her love for Winter Haven has truly overflowed into the community around her. We also wish her much success and joy on her new journey into motherhood!
The final award winner, Kathryn Bevliacqua-Ely, was presented by Jeff Cox of GiveWell Community Foundation.
Kathryn graduated with her Associates of Science from Polk State College and went on to receive her Bachelors of Science from the University of South Florida. Upon graduating, she became a campaign coordinator until 2016 when she became an Account Executive for MADE. In 2018, she assumed her role as the Membership Services Director for the Bartow Chamber of Commerce and just last week was named the incoming Executive Director succeeding her mentor, Jeff Clark.
The most satisfying moment of her career would be Bartow’s recent participation in Shop Small Polk. In February 2018, one of the initiatives at the top of her list was to introduce a coordinated effort for Shop Small Saturday. She was able to partner with a winner of the 2018 Polk Emerging Leaders, Chrissanne Long with Lakeland Business Leaders to expand the program. Together, they established Shop Small Polk which expanded both Lakeland and Bartow’s reach into new communities and new audiences. This program has seen much success and our emerging leader is excited to keep that progress moving.
This recipient is all about collaboration. She loves coming to work and helping businesses and community members achieve their goals by working together and helping one another. She admits that none of us can reach success without working together. Community collaboration across city lines allows us to make amazing gains for Central Florida, and this recipient feels that we are making that happen right here in Polk County.
One way she is bringing collaboration to life is by serving on several boards and committees. She is currently involved with Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, the Lakeland Derby, Leaders of Polk Race, the George Harris Youth Shelter Leadership Council, EMERGE Serves, ENGAGE Bartow, the Advisory Councils for VISTE, the Achievement Academy and the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County. She hopes that, through her involvement in these boards and organizations, that she is contributing to their chance to succeed and make a difference in their community. Investing in the community and leaders of the future is a mission she holds near to her heart.
As she grows in her professional career, she wants to continue to reach down and help others reach their goals as well. She knows that even if she has only helped one person, she is successful. Because of her exceptional leadership skills and her love for helping others, she was honored with this prestigious award.