Last night we gathered at the Bartow Civic Center to honor the young professionals across Polk County making a difference in their communities. We had the privilege of honoring 21 nominees this year, as well as the 5 recipients of the night. The 2022 Polk Emerging Leaders Awards recipients were Antionette Pollard, Chad Barron, Kevin Albaum, Nick Plott and Lauren Albaum.
Antionette Pollard was the first recipient of the night. Antionette is known for her excellent communication skills, creativity and passion for mental health. She has made it her mission to improve mental health in Polk County and leads the charge every day with her small business and non-profit organization.
Antionette graduated with her Masters in Counseling from Webber University in 2011 and later went on to become a licensed mental health counselor in 2015. Most recently, she received her Aerial Yoga Teacher Certification to give local women an outlet to build confidence and pursue self-care.
She believes that leadership is the ability to inspire change and motivation to action. Open communication and active listening are two of her keys to a kind of leadership that doesn’t domineer, but comes alongside those she leads. One individual shared that she, “has spent countless hours in leadership trainings, continuing education, serving as a board member and meeting new community partners…” These hours of dedication are all in an effort to not only grow professionally, but to create a mentally healthy Polk County.
In her application, she shared that the most satisfying part of her career was being the first in her family to complete a four-year college degree program. This milestone helped her develop the ability to overcome fear and take risks. It also taught her to not be afraid to seek help! While walking in uncharted territory in that season of her life, she learned that collaborating and reaching out to community leaders for guidance is paramount. Coming to terms with the fact that you don’t have to know everything to be successful can free you to be all that you can be!
She is currently a part of many committees and boards. She is a member of the Polk County Efficiency Committee, the National Alliance of Mental Illness Polk County Chapter, the Polk County Community Health Improvement Plan, member of the Agency of Connection and the Melanin Families Matter. She has served as a judge for Polk County School Board’s Teacher of the Year since 2017 and is also the Executive Director of Sista Yoga Selfcare.
She expressed her gratitude for all of the local programs, such as Leadership Winter Haven and Leadership Polk, that have helped her become a better leader and truly connect with her community. Because of her persistence, passion, creativity and heart for others, she has earned this prestigious designation.
Chad Barron was the next recipient of the evening. Chad has truly woven leadership into every aspect of his life. From his career, to his family, to his church and community, this emerging leader exemplifies what it means to lead with care and authenticity. He values integrity and honesty, and is always caring for the people around him. For this recipient, actions always speak louder than words.
Chad attended Polk State College in 2016 for Managerial and Fundamental Accounting. He has been with his current employer for over 20 years and rose through the ranks with his impressive leadership qualities. During his time there, he has become a part of the management team that helped this company become one of the highest volume selling dealerships in the Southeastern US with over $230-million in annual sales. He has led teams in finance and accounting with what he calls contagious efficiency. It’s through this that he is able to collaborate with team members to facilitate exponential growth.
One common thread in some of his most satisfying moments in his career is the many times he has been thanked by staff members for caring for them personally and challenging them professionally. Through these encounters, he has learned that people are always watching. This has given him a greater passion to be someone who talks the talk and walks the walk.
His commitment to being a leader expands beyond the walls of his job. Several years ago, he graduated Leadership Bartow which gave him a deeper understanding of the value of the people and assets of his community. In May of this year, he graduated from Leadership Polk Class XV that further challenged him to step up his role in the community. He was shocked when his classmates elected him to lead them as they developed a legacy as a leadership class in Polk County. Outside of his adventures with local Leadership programs, he serves on many boards such as, The Mission of Winter Haven, the Lakeland Habitat for Humanity and the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team.
He continues to pursue leadership personally by coaching nutrition and wellness. Over the last year, he has lost 100 pounds and continues to fight for optimal health and helps others do the same. In his application he shares, “Nutrition further fuels my desire to be a leader in our community. It inspires me to be a leader that not only leads, but serves in every phase of my life.”
Kevin Albaum was the next emerging leader of the night.
Kevin graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Florida State University. He then went on to receive his Juris Doctor and his Certificate of Concentration in Elder Law from Stetson University College of Law. Currently, he is an attorney in Lakeland, where he manages the elder law department and much more. It's not just clocking in and out for him. While he’s on the job, he is constantly looking for ways to support his staff and encourage them take pride in the work they do.
Kevin finds immense value in getting outside of his comfort zone. While most people would assume that he enjoys public speaking, that is not the case! To further sharpen his leadership capabilities, he is currently the President of the Lakeland Bar Association where he speaks to 80-100 fellow attorneys every month. He explains that this is a great way to lead by example, encouraging others that it’s okay to do something new or try something you may not be comfortable doing. Getting uncomfortable builds tough skin and characteristics that only make a leader better.
In the summer of 2021, he became the youngest board-certified elder law attorney in the State of Florida’s history. At the time, this felt like the very pinnacle of his career. But, he experienced something that far outweighed this designation. In December of 2021, he lost his first trial. He expressed that in that moment he realized it’s okay to lose, fail or fall on your face, as long as you did your very best. While a loss isn’t what he wanted, it made him a better lawyer, leader and person. He saw it as another opportunity to learn and grow!
Outside the courtroom, he has invested much time in his community through time with EMERGE Lakeland, Rotary Club of Lakeland and more. But, at the moment, he has stepped back from some of his commitments. In his application he expressed that when you are juggling too many things at one time, it’s difficult to do them all well. Because of that and his commitment to his daughter, he has scaled back some of his community involvement. He still continues to serve as the President of the Lakeland Bar Association, as well as the time he has begun to invest in the VISTE board. He knows that being fully committed to a board while serving is extremely important and he always wants to give his best.
Nick Plott was our fourth recipient of the evening.
Nick graduated with his B.S.B.A in Business Administration and Law from Western Carolina University. While he and his family have only lived in Polk County for five years, its seems like they have lived here forever. He currently works for Tampa Electric, overseeing their community relations, their economic development team and much more.
In his role, he has learned so much about what leadership truly means. In his application, he expresses that leadership isn’t so much a title, but more of an action. Through his career, he has been blessed to be surrounded with many great leaders who have poured into him and now, he’s excited to do the same. Every day, he leads with honesty and a heart for collaboration, saying how important it is to let your team know when you have the answers AND when you don’t. Having this open line of honest communication leaves space for collaboration to happen organically. One other key component of his leadership style is saying yes to things that initially scare him. And he has said “yes” to so much!
One thing in particular that Nick said yes to was leading Leadership Winter Haven Class 41. In this position, he led local young leaders through the program where they would learn about their community, while also bonding with one another and creating lifetime connections. It was in this program that he experienced the most satisfying moment of his career. In his application, he shares that at their closing retreat the class was tasked with coming up with a philanthropy project of their choosing. Much to his surprise, the class chose to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. If you don’t already know, this organization is close to his heart because his wife has been afflicted with Type 1 Diabetes since she was 6. He is currently the President of the JDRF Tampa Bay Chapter and was completely blown away at their choice to give back to an organization close to his heart. He expressed that because of this, he learned that leadership is also about truly enjoying the people you lead.
He is immersed in giving back far beyond just the JDRF. He is currently sitting on many community boards like the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Florida, Polk Vision, Polk State Basketball Booster Club, Polk State College Foundation, Polk Education Foundation, Winter Haven EDC, Polk County Efficiency Committee and the Lakeland EDC.
One friend shared an impactful experience she had with Nick that speaks to the leader he is. She shared that they were recently on a City Benchmarking trip to Boise, Idaho when their flights got delayed. This meant that he would be getting home at 3:00 a.m. versus the planned arrival of 10:00 p.m. Even after an evening of delays, changed plans and no sleep, he woke up the next morning and drove to Orlando to make a JDRF fundraiser that started at 6 a.m. In her letter of recommendation she writes, “If he says he will do something, he’ll do it.”
Lauren Albaum was our final recipient of the evening.
Lauren graduated with her Master of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs in 2013 from the University of South Carolina. In 2016, she graduated with her post-graduate certificate in College Teaching from the University of South Florida. In 2020, she received her PhD in Curriculum & Instruction; Higher Education Administration Concentration from the University of South Florida
In her application, she shared that receiving her Ph.D. by the age of 30 has been the most satisfying moment of her career. Lauren is a first-generation college student who grew up in a low-income home due to the unexpected passing of her mother. This left her father, a cable-repairman, to care for two children. What her father lacked in education, he made up for in giving her and her sister a love for education and a commitment to excellence. According to her application, only around 3% of first-generation undergraduates pursue doctoral studies. Lauren has truly knocked down any statistics in her way! She was awarded the USC Cambell-Witten Fellowship in 2013, the Spirit of the Cornerstone Award in 2019, the Bridge to the Community Award by the Junior League of Lakeland and more.
Outside of her educational achievements, she has been a shining example of what it means to serve others. She serves on a number of boards and committees such as the Junior League of Greater Lakeland, Explorations V Children’s Museum (soon to be The Florida Children’s Museum), United Way of Central Florida, The Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lakeland Economic Development Council, Polk Vision and the Florida State University Young Alumni Council. She believes that a true leader should be embedded in their community so that they can identify potential partnerships and opportunities for growth.
Because she has immersed herself in the community, she has been able initiate projects or events that truly make a difference. One instance being when she presented an opportunity for the Junior League and Explorations V to collaborate on an event for children in Munn Park. It was through this collaboration that they were able to offer a completely free children’s event at the museum for over 2,700 people. More than 800 of those people indicated that they would not have been able to afford admission without this collaboration. This is only one of many stories where this recipient jumped into action for the betterment of those in her community.
With a resume like hers, we don’t really know how she has free time! But, one hobby that she has fostered that informs her leadership style is singing. With a Bachelor’s in Vocal Studies from Florida State University, this hobby that was once a career path, has ultimately taught her discipline, the importance of constructive criticism and more.
She is described to be one of the most inspiring, supportive and thoughtful leaders around.