10 Young Ozarkers with Bright Futures

January 12, 2018

The future is bright in Springfield. Our business community is thriving and has received some pretty great accolades recently. Our arts and creative communities are vibrant centers for culture and contemplation. A lot of this is due to a new generation of Springfield residents and their efforts to help build our community.  There are so many talented young people with great futures ahead of them in our community. We wanted to shine a light on a few of them and let you know who to watch out for in the future of the city!


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The creative community in Springfield is booming. Whether it’s building the internet, creating unique art and sculptures or advertising in the business world, there are flocks of talented people from all backgrounds and age groups participating. Nathan Gregg is one of those folks. He currently serves as the President of a local Creative group called Springfield Creatives, a distinction that he earned at the tail end of 2017.  Gregg has participated in the group for several years now, contributing a new program that matches young creatives with experienced local professionals to learn the ropes. The Student Committee of Springfield Creatives Mentor Network program is a shining example of the group’s overall effort to foster growth and connect the creative community.


Gregg is no stranger to organizing new efforts, as he currently serves on the advisory board for the local chapter of 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneurial organization that aims to provide resources and networking for startups. He’s also an advocate for Downtown Springfield, where lives works and plays.  One of his goals in the future is to capitalize on his bar and restaurant experience (he once managed the bar at Civil Kitchen) into a bar of his own. Maybe two. Gregg cites the recent wave of improvements in Springfield as one of the reasons he loves this area. He sees a strong potential for Springfield’s continued growth in the creative space. “The drive here is incredible,” says Gregg, “I’m extremely grateful for how quickly a community I was new to, took me in and accepted my help to grow the community.” His efforts to lead a new generation of creatives in the city is inspiring and we look forward to seeing what he does in 2018 and beyond.



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Lillian Stone has many interests in Springfield. She’s the communications manager for Downtown Springfield, she’s a comedy writer and she’s a big fan of the Coffee Ethic on the square Downtown. But her biggest interest is definitely her Boston Terrier, Turtle. At this point, Turtle is basically an internet superstar, gracing the web on Stone’s social media accounts. When she’s not hanging out with Turtle, she’s busy marketing events like Cider Days and Artsfest in her position at the Downtown Springfield Association. She’s leading an effort to invigorate the buzz around the area, recently launching a new website designed by the websmiths at Mostly Serious and a new program for people who love downtown called the Downtowner Program.  It offers businesses and individuals alike opportunities to save on Downtown essentials, get free stuff, and promote local businesses! You can learn more about the Downtowner program right here!
Stone is also a prolific writer, penning articles for 417 Magazine, itsalldowntown.com and plenty of short fiction.  She was recently published in the national magazine McSweeney’s with a hilarious missive about a young man who really loves cured meats. It’s gonna be fun to see where her many interests take her in the future.

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Jhasmine Watson isn’t playing around. This is a woman on a mission. She is the Operations Manager of Care to Learn, a local non-profit that provides immediate funding to meet emergent needs in the areas of health, hunger, and hygiene so every student can be successful in school. Not to mention she also serves on the Springfield Little Theatre Associate Board, the Professor Powers Science Symposium Board, the Springfield Regional Arts Council’s Artsfest Committee, and the Springfield Chamber’s Network, Rosie, and the Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Ladies Group. No big deal. She’s involved in just a few things in our community.


When asked what she hopes to accomplish with the massive amount of commitment to our community, Watson said, “I’d like to be an integral part in helping position Springfield as a leader in the nonprofit industry. As a location and supporter of all the nonprofits based here and in the region so those nonprofits have both an ongoing and sustainable impact on the lives of those in the Ozarks and across Missouri and become benchmarks for the industry.” She says she loves how the community is growing and that the people of Springfield are so welcoming, philanthropic, and innovative. She was recently invited to sit on a philanthropy panel presented by Care to Learn and the Network to discuss ways young professionals can give their time, talent, and treasure to local nonprofits. The panel will be on Tuesday, March 20th. We’re sure that will be only one of many initiatives she’ll be involved in moving forward.


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Mike Brothers is a busy guy. He doesn’t have much time to catch live music or Springfield Cardinals baseball games as much as he would like to. He’s the Executive Director of University Relations at Drury University, communications point-person for the Rountree Neighborhood Association Board and president of the Leadership Springfield board of directors. Plus, he’s a husband and a father of two. Brothers has been entrenched in community activity for a long time now, but still has a lot in front of him. He loves Springfield’s small town roots, but wants citizens to realize their potential to affect change in the lives of their fellows citizens. “Most people just aren’t aware that the keys to change are right there in front them and that you do have access to community leadership and the processes of decision making,” Brothers says, “You just have to be willing to listen and thoughtfully engage rather than pick fights or blast away on social media.”


In his professional work at Drury, Brothers is responsible for media relations and content strategy. He’s predicting a big year for Drury in 2018. He told us to look out for lots of new videos on social media, telling the stories of students and faculty and how they embody Drury’s mission to transform people’s lives. Keep your eyes peeled for new stuff from Mike and the team at Drury this year.Here’s hoping Mike can spare some time to catch a live show or a baseball game this year!


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The number one thing on Hector Cruz’s priority list isn’t his startup tech company Let’s Do Lunch.  It isn’t his role as Director of Alumni Engagement at Evangel University and it isn’t the course he teaches on personal leadership at Evangel. It’s dancing to the Moana soundtrack with his three kids. It’s having brief, but meaningful conversations with his wife while they do dishes during their busy schedules. It’s his family.  Cruz is dedicated to his family life and he shares his thoughts on raising kids and the lessons he learns from them on his blog Daddy Lessons.


In his professional life, Cruz is a trailblazer. He’s an alum of the eFactory where he was a participant in the second ever Accelerator program. His app Let’s Do Lunch has reached 1,547 users in just under a year in operation. It’s a mobile application that serves as a personal assistant to help you be more intentional and organized with the relationships that are important to you. And yes, it is available for free download on Google Play and the App Store. At Evangel, Cruz is tasked with raising funds and connecting with past students.  He’s also involved with the Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s The Network, which is a business networking group for professionals under the age 39. We’re betting Cruz will be doing cool stuff long after he graduates from the Network!



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Springfield has always been home to Kathryn Wall. She grew up here and chose to stay to pursue her career because she believes that even with the issues our community faces, she never forgets how great a place Springfield is to live. “I’ve always been impressed with how Springfield doesn’t hide from our issues,” Wall says, “When we recognize something going wrong in our community, we tackle it, head-on.”  This is especially true in her profession.  She currently serves as the Public Health Information Administrator for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. One of the big initiatives she’s undertaken is raising awareness and fighting against the opioid crisis in the Ozarks. She’s also been apart of creating a mental health needs assessment for our community. She considers it her job to help tell the stories of her coworkers, clients and the community, which she considers a great honor.


In addition to her 9-to-5, Wall is also a member of the Leadership Springfield Class 34, an exclusive group in the city that aim to groom the next generation of leadership. She’s also about halfway through Missouri State’s Master of Public Administration program, so free time is hard to come by, but when she does find some she enjoys going on excursions with friends. She recently made the trip to Crystal Bridges and found it amazing. We’re glad Wall has seen fit to stay in Springfield and look forward to seeing what she does next!


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When looking into the future, it’s also important to remember your past. Kaitlyn McConnell does that with the best of them in Springfield. Her blog Ozarks Alive recounts the history of our area with alluring articles on a weekly basis. Chances are, you either already know about her blog through her Facebook page (which has more than 23,000 followers!) or you know someone who regularly reads her stories about the rich past of the Ozarks. She started the blog in 2015 after returning to the Ozarks from overseas. “While away in Norway, I greatly missed writing about and preserving Ozarks history,” she says, “The desire was so strong that when I moved back in 2015, I decided I wouldn’t wait for a paid opportunity to write about the Ozarks: Instead, I would create my own.”


McConnell is a storyteller through and through. In her day job at CoxHealth, she tells the stories of the patients and doctors in her position as Media Relations Coordinator. While she may not be able to heal people with medical knowledge, she aims to provide value to the community in a different way.  She considers spreading awareness about medical information that can improve the quality of life of her readers to be a honor and one of the many reasons she looks forward to going in to work every day. She is also involved with the Writers Hall of Fame, Drury University’s Alumni Council, Missouri State University’s Ozarks Studies Institute and Springfield’s Landmarks Board and like Kathryn Wall, she’s also a member of Leadership Springfield Class 34.  We look forward to her work in the future, especially when it’s about our past.

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If you’ve read anything about our local government recently, chances are, Alissa Zhu had a hand in it. She’s the local government and politics reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, but she also helps keeps us informed on issues like business and, occasionally, crime. Her passion in reporting is to help people stay informed on local issues. “I hope I can get more residents, especially younger people, to pay attention to local government and community issues. Some of my friends’ parents read the paper every day. I appreciate them so much!” Zhu says, “Friends my age though? Not so much. It’s not that they don’t care about staying informed — they’re very knowledgeable about national politics and current events. I’m not sure what it would take to get more people interested in their local elected officials, but I sure hope I can crack the formula, even if it’s only for a handful of individuals.”


Zhu is also an avid hiker. She’s a big fan of the Ponca area in Arkansas especially, but she’s a Springfieldian through and through. “It’s nice living close to family and amongst childhood friends,”she says. She also cited that there’s always something new — restaurants, breweries or stores — on the horizon and that Springfield gets bonus points for how easy it is to live here.


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Larnelle Foster loves people. When we asked him what his favorite thing about Springfield was, that was his immediate answer. He loves that no one is too busy to stop and say hello in Springfield. He’s a good person to ask too, because he travels so often.  He splits time between Springfield and L.A., where he manages writers. Back in the Queen City, he operates Q Enoteca, a wine bar on Historic C Street. It’s a great place to enjoy a low key evening with friends and catch some excellent local music. Foster and his father Lyle have been involved with many different groups over the years. “I believe in any community all gestures are important,” he says, “and having my voice heard whether at a conference table or on a small bench…it makes an impact.”


Foster says he wishes everyone in Springfield could be modern day pen pals with someone who is completely different than they are. He believes that  if Springfield can realize that we are a community and we support each other, our city will be unstoppable. In his personal life, he enjoys a good documentary, a good book and a good friend. He’d never come right out and tell you, but one of his closest friends is future princess Meghan Markle, who he met while at Northwestern University. Foster notes that his time at Northwestern was very rewarding and that it prepared him to delve into his career in the creative world.  He’s also on the cover of 417 Magazine’s latest issue on the future of Springfield! Foster’s future is bright and we look forward to what he does next in Springfield.


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Tara Bailes recently won the 2017 Mary Jo Wynn Award with the Missouri Sports Hall Of Fame. She graduated from Missouri State University Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor of science in business In 2012. At Missouri State, Tara was a member of the honors college, the Women’s Soccer Team, and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She is now a member of Spencer Fane’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group and the Labor and Employment Group. “Spencer Fane represents some extremely innovative and talented businesspeople and developers, and I know they will continue to make this community a great place to live,” Bailes says, “As a young professional building my career in Springfield, I would love to be a part of it by helping those businesspeople and developers succeed.”


Bailes is also a member of the Women with a Mission Society of Mercy Health Foundation and of the Young Advocates Council of the Child Advocacy Center. Women with a Mission is a women’s giving society that combines resources, vision, and passion for helping others to support and improve health care in the Springfield Community. The CAC works with law enforcement, the Children’s Division, and other investigators to form a team that works the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases by placing the needs of the child first throughout the entire investigation. The CAC recently brought “Miracle on Walnut” (a holiday pop-up bar) to Springfield – which was a huge success and a great activity for the holiday season. She is also a member of “Rosie” which is a networking group for female leaders in the community, and the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association.


Posted in All Things SGF

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