South GeorgiaLEADS Capstone Alumni Experience a Success for South Georgia

Staff Report

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

South GeorgiaLEADS (SGL) celebrated a milestone event in March with the completion of its SGL 2.0 experience for alumni. With 14 alumni from across the previous five years of regional leadership programming, participants were tasked with creating regional action plans around three, self-selected priority and challenge areas facing South Georgia. The teams chose to focus on the following issues:  1) Workforce Development, 2) Regional Capacity, and 3) Health & Wellness of the Region. With evaluation and feedback from a team of judges from around the state with subject matter expertise within each of these areas, SGL 2.0 was a first of its kind leadership alumni program in Georgia. 

Alumni participant and 2018-2019 South GeorgiaLEADS class member Dr. Renata Elad, Dean of the Stafford School of Business at ABAC, shares her reasons for reengaging with SGL, “I returned because I wanted to improve my understanding of critical issues impacting economic growth, and for a chance to contribute to positive change in our region.”

The class was tasked with the rigorous effort of working together in what some may call a “sprint”—with only five months to get to know each other, settle on a concept, conduct interviews and research their topic areas, the program utilized a design-thinking model to address issues, invited potential funders across the state to hear their concepts and offer feedback, and ultimately had each team present in a “Shark Tank” style closing session in March.

Dr. Elad echoes her classmates in reflecting on the impact of the 2.0 experience, “Regionalism is the core competency of SGL. Within that framework we were able to use our diverse backgrounds and perspectives to investigate and come up with solutions to tangible issues that impact our lives.  Each team worked on a different concern and had a different approach to the solution. But universally, we came to the same conclusion that with a little help we have the resources within the region to advance our economic growth and bring to light the aspects that continue to draw people to South Georgia.”

The three teams were paired with mentors from the South GeorgiaLEADS Board. Rachael Oliver, Regional Manager for Georgia Family Connection Partnership, was one of those mentors. Oliver reflects on the test of leadership the program was not only for participants, but for the mentors themselves, “SGL 2.0 was an amazing experience because, as a mentor, I was able to get to know the class participants more in depth and work closely with them by providing my own skills, knowledge, and leadership to help in the process and ultimately in the creation of their own unique project.  This class was a true test of putting leadership to action and creating a viable project that could be sustainable in our region with great benefits to improve pertinent issues.”

The fourteen SGL alumni who committed to impacting change in the region are:







Sarah Adams

UGA Archway Partnership



Tommie Beth Willis

Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce



Rob Collins

NEOS Technologies, Inc. 



Bridges Sinyard

Adams Exterminators



Brianna Wilson

Southern Point Staffing



William Hancock

Webb Properties



Patsy Shirley

Lee County Family Connections



A.C. Braswell

City of Valdosta



Angela Ward

The Game Changers



Michael Smith

Greater Valdosta United Way



Elena Carne

T31 Inspired Handcrafted Apparel



Jessica Sinclair

J. Nicole Sinclair LLC / K.E.Y.S. to Transformation, Inc.



Renata Elad

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College



Eric Larson

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College



Retired President & CEO of the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce and sitting Chairman of the State Department of Driver Services, David Connell was the keynote speaker during the final celebration held at Ocean Pond Fishing Club in Lake Park.  Challenging the alumni teams to think and act strategically for long-term growth of the region, Connell was equally impressed by the ambitious effort the teams put forth and the passion with which each team shared their plans and love for South Georgia. 

Georgia Power Area Manager in Metro West Atlanta and Chair of the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta, Trevor Quander was one of the judges on-hand during the final presentation of action plans. Quander congratulates SGL for the model put forth through 2.0, “What a brilliant concept! To have past graduates comeback through the program and provide real time solutions for pressing community issues and problems is ingenious! This will most likely become a best practice and model standard for other regional and strategic leadership programs. This not only helps identify current leaders in the community but provides metrics when certifying and validating a groups’ energy and effort to contribute. Hats off to South Georgia LEADS 2.0!”

Guest judges for the final presentations included: Steve Card, Executive Director, Georgia Recreation and Park Association; Austin Chancy, Housing Policy Analyst, Georgia Department of Community Affairs; DeAnnia Clements, President, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College; Kimberly Hobbs, Community & Economic Development Director, Southern Georgia Regional Commission; Andrea Schruijer, Chair, Locate South Georgia Board of Directors and Executive Director, Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority; and Trevor Quander, Chair, Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta and Area Manager, Metro West, Georgia Power Company.

South GeorgiaLEADS Chair Barbara Grogan is proud of the 2.0 experience, what it means for the region and the program. Looking ahead to the future impact of the alumni program in conjunction with the traditional SGL program, she reflects, “When LEADS launched, we all knew there would come a day we would need to take a next step, answer the “so what” question of why we do this. SGL 2.0 is the first step in answering that question. Participants thought critically about needs of region, crafted responses and ideas to meet the needs, and formulated their ideas into a possible process for response. Now, with our network of over 160 alumni, leaders and supporters across the region, we have the capacity to operationalize the ideas.  SGL 2.0 ideas will continue forward as we launch the 6th cohort of LEADS, driving the topics forward and leading Southwest Georgia.” 

Sponsors of South GeorgiaLEADS 2.0 were: Sustaining Sponsor Georgia Power Company, Presenting Sponsor Electric Cities of Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, AT&T, Collins Event Space, Colony Bank, Cordele-Crisp County Industrial Development Council, First National Bank, Fitzgerald & Ben Hill County Development Authority, Georgia CEO, Greater Valdosta United Way, Leadership Worth, Lee County Chamber of Commerce, Locate South Georgia, Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority, One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Southern Regional Technical College, Sumter Electric Membership Corporation (EMC), Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce, Upland Wealth Advisors, and the Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority. 

South GeorgiaLEADS is supported each year by program implementation partners: Center for South Georgia Regional Impact at Valdosta State University and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia. 

South GeorgiaLEADS will return to its traditional programming in August, with recruitment for the 2022-2023 class to begin in June. For more information about South GeorgiaLEADS, please visit; or contact South GeorgiaLEADS Chair Barbara Grogan at 229.921.1457; or