Standing: Courtney Newgard, Chief Demario Boone, Corey Dolan, Tamara Meister, Brooke Miller. Seated: Justin Kauffman, Brent Baker, Nicole Sutherland. Photo by Kelli Drake/DRAKEphoto.
We asked our 2019 class of 40 Leaders Under Forty about the causes they hold near and dear to their hearts, the people who have inspired them, and what they would bring to Peoria if they could. Here were some of their answers… perhaps they will inspire you, too!
What social issue fires you up? Or, what is your favorite cause or nonprofit?
Brent Baker: As our generation prepares to come into power, we are facing some incredible existential threats, including climate change and socioeconomic inequality. Both of these threats have deep roots that continue to inequitably shape not just our community, but our entire country. The decisions we make in the next two decades will be the most important of our entire history.
Hannah Ramlo: Shelter and food are fundamental human rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Homelessness and food scarcity should be immediate political concerns. When I’m able, I dedicate my free time to political campaigns and efforts that seek to promote human rights and justice.
Demario Boone: My favorite cause is police and community relations. I want to break stereotypes on both sides to address the needs of the city. No matter how dark or tough things get, I think of the Chinese proverb: “It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.”
Erica Robinson: A lot of people want to change what is going on in our city regarding violence, but they are not always willing to put in the work to change things. We tend to give up easily if things don’t go our way immediately. We have to be willing to meet people where they are, and work with the individuals who are willing to accept the help right now.
Wade Blumenshine: I have seen how simple legal problems can absolutely ruin people because they don’t understand the legal system or are unable to afford any help. It is nice to have Prairie State Legal Services in our community and other communities in the Land of Lincoln. They employ great lawyers who truly make an impact in the lives of others and give people a well-deserved second chance. For example, in the arena of expungement, Prairie State is helping people who made mistakes, have paid their dues, and are now eligible to have a clean record if they go through the court.
Kimberly McGhee: My favorite organization is the Tri-County Urban League. They have a program called TSTM (Tomorrow’s Scientists, Technicians and Managers) for fifth through twelfth graders. It promotes community service and educates the students about different college opportunities. As a TSTM alum, it helped shape the path that I travel today as a manager.
Brooke Miller: Animal rescue, especially TAPS, is something I am passionate about. Spaying and neutering pets is so important. It is tough seeing so many adult animals in the shelter that need a home, as well as the large numbers of puppies and kittens. It never seems to slow down.
What local figure or person inspires you?
Mitch Gilfillan: I am inspired by Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth. She is a trailblazer, and I appreciate how passionate she is about her job and social issues impacting our community.
Dr. Paul Jeziorczak: I have known Dr. Rick Pearl for over a decade. His work here in Peoria and the establishment of JUMP Simulation and OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois have changed the landscape of Peoria and central Illinois. Most importantly, he always had the time to be a mentor and a friend.
Anthony J.B. Strickland: Every time I see Dr. Sharon Kherat and the work she is doing with Peoria Public Schools, I feel like I should be doing more, both professionally and in the community. The impact that she makes with students in 20 schools in development, education and confidence will have a lasting impact on the Peoria area.
Tamara Meister: I am inspired by strong, professional, poised women who have excelled in their careers through grit and integrity. While there are many individuals who fall into said categories, I am blessed to work with a team of women who support each other every day and strive for excellence. I also gain inspiration weekly from the local female judges in the Tenth Circuit. I am grateful for those local female attorneys who have paved the way… and have broken gender stereotypes—all while balancing careers, family lives and community service.
Brent Baker: Ms. Creamolia Jackson was one of the first people I met during my AmeriCorps service, and I often think of her when I get discouraged or lose hope. For all intents and purposes, Ms. Jackson was the matriarch of Harrison Homes. The first time we met it was the dead of winter; she invited me in and offered me some coffee—we talked for over an hour. Over the following two years, Ms. Jackson led a master class in compassion and servant leadership that I had the privilege of participating in. Her lifetime of dedication to her community and the people in it, despite her personal hardship, is an endless source of inspiration to me.
Wade Blumenshine: I am really partial to the Hon. Joe Billy McDade of the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. His life story is remarkable in itself, but I am most inspired by the efforts he makes to be a positive influence in the community and the lives of others—something he has done for many years. From a legal perspective, I appreciate how he is able to command a room without resorting to yelling or intimidation tactics. He knows how to measure his words and candor to be extremely effective, as evidenced by his ascension to the top of the judiciary. I someday hope to practice in his courtroom.
Audrey Williams: I’ve met a couple local researchers, and I think the work they are doing right here in Peoria is incredible. Dr. Craig Cady at Bradley University is working with students on Parkinson’s disease research, and Dr. Kiran Velpula is doing research on brain cancer at UICOMP. It’s amazing to have such talent here!
What is one thing you would bring to the Peoria area if you could?
Dr. Paul Jeziorczak: There is an initiative through Disney to bring an interactive experience to children’s hospitals to ease the stress of being admitted. They have their initial pilot at Texas Children’s Hospital to create an interactive environment for the children. It would be amazing to bring the Disney Team of Heroes here for the kids.
Justin Kauffman: I would love for the Peoria area to realize the opportunity we have to be a leader in the agricultural industry. We live in an area with some of the most productive farmland in the world, and have a number of individuals, schools and organizations that are on the leading edge of agriculture. I know we can continue to grow that influence as the whole community becomes aware of the opportunity.
Tye N. Smith: More technical jobs.
Anthony J.B. Strickland: I would try to bring more concerts, entertainment and nightlife to attract and retain young professionals in the area.
Jake Turner: A sense of pride for our community. There is so much good that is happening in Peoria and our surrounding communities that we as residents can be very prideful of. It’s important that we find a way to highlight and celebrate these accomplishments. Our residents should be proud to say they are from Peoria, and I want to be part of making that happen.
In your opinion, what makes someone a great leader?
Stephanie AlKhafaji: Servant leadership is about inverting the pyramid such that you are there to support, serve and allow your team to be successful. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve come to realize how true this is. A powerful leader is compassionate, leads by example and always puts their team first.
Andrea Campbell: A great leader listens not only to spoken words, but the actions taken. They enable others to do their best and be their best at home, at work and out in the world. They inspire, they care, and they influence.
Justin Kauffman: Leadership isn’t about having all the answers, but rather clarifying a vision and creating a culture to enable a group of people to work together to become the best version of themselves they can be, which results in the achievement of great things. People want to know that their leaders care about them as people, and that the work they are doing every day matters to the organization and the community they are part of.
Camille Yameen: In order to lead people, you have to understand people and in order to understand people, you have to listen to people. A great leader is someone who actively listens to the needs of their team and then focuses on making sure the people around them have the tools necessary to succeed.
Brent Baker: Humility. The ability to empower others, to acknowledge when you have wronged, and to honor the humanity in all people, especially in times of adversity, is our supreme purpose.
Hannah Ramlo: Self-reflection, self-awareness, emotional honesty and tact. Recognizing how our own emotions arise and affect our work and relationships is essential for recognizing how to work with others’ emotions. Encouraging dialogue around difficult and conflictual issues is necessary and must be done with compassion.
Jake Turner: Being a good storyteller. The ability to communicate a message or a collective goal through the use of effective storytelling holds so much power. PS