Increasingly Columbia is an attractive hub for young adults to continue education, establish meaningful careers, lay down roots, give back, and become immersed in local culture and activities. These Top 10 Finalists for CMM’s third Capital Young Professional Awards are men and women who have chosen to pursue goals and dreams — onward and upward — despite challenges and obstacles along the way.
Speaking of challenges and obstacles, we at CMM had hoped to honor these extraordinary young professionals in April of 2020 at our CYP Awards Banquet. But after rescheduling the event three times due to the lingering threat of the COVID virus, we felt that it was long past time to give our honorees their due.
So it is with great excitement that CMM honors these inspiring individuals, following an extensive and thoughtful nomination, evaluation, and interview process. We considered each nominee’s success in their career, philanthropic passion and service, as well as community leadership. Columbia is fortunate to have such tenacious and motivated individuals moving and shaking our city for the better.
We are pleased to congratulate the 2021 Top Ten CYP Finalists included in this feature and to announce the 2021 CYP Awards winner — Thomas Rhodes.
The 2021 CYP Awards Winner – Thomas Rhodes
By Deena C. Bouknight
Since 2006, Thomas Rhodes has been president of Rhodes Graduation Services, considered to be the largest Jostens distributor in the United States, serving more than 40,000 customers and more than 100 school districts annually. Under his leadership, the company’s revenue has grown by more than 200 percent in the past 15 years and successfully expanded into Georgia and Florida.
As if that were not enough to keep one person busy, Thomas is also the co-founder of Rhodes Branding. He credits several family members and friends with having influenced and motivated him to achieve from a young age into adulthood. He points out that they have not only molded his character but have also taught him that being an effective leader requires listening and getting to know people — not commanding leadership.
“I have a team of people I’ve pulled from, and it’s ever-changing — my wife; mother; father; a great former neighbor, Lyles Glenn — all of whom I use as a sounding board. My grandfather was a role model,” Thomas says. “He was a politician and a farmer, and he really served his community. He gave back more than he took, but my father is way up there as a mentor.”
From influential role models, Thomas has learned that being servant oriented in a community is just as important as pouring time and energy into work and career. Thomas is on the board of directors of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and serves as chairman of the Small Business Council. Plus, he is a deacon of his church, Eastminster Presbyterian, and serves in varying capacities for many other organizations, such as the board of visitors for Clemson University, his alma mater, the board of directors for the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, and the board of directors of Rexanna’s Foundation for Curing Lung Cancer.
“This is a very giving community,” says Thomas. “I’ve seen that working with The Salvation Army.” He has served as the chairman of the board of The Salvation Army of the Midlands for 2020-2021. “I’m a Christian. I care about the community, and I have a passion for people, especially children. I’m a visual person, so if you think of Williams-Brice filling up and emptying out four times, Salvation Army serves that many meals per year in Columbia. People with a solution are closest to the problem. The Salvation Army is able to meet needs, and it’s very fulfilling. Their heart is exactly where it needs to be.”
He has been inspired by how much people reinvest in Columbia. However, Thomas sees the tax structure as a challenge for the area, and he is involved in the chamber to help provide input and direction regarding property tax rates. “We can’t have a system that picks winners and losers. We need to have a competitive tax structure. People shop tax structures, especially young entrepreneurs.”
Ted Pitts, former CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, says, “Thomas’ perspective and leadership on issues important to the state’s small businesses has a real positive impact for businesses across the state. Thomas has helped lead the way to advocate for improvements in the complex and burdensome business license tax system.”
Thomas has also persevered through personal trials. His first child, Lee, was born with a rare health condition in which his pancreas continually produces insulin. The condition is so rare, he says, that only around 1,000 reported cases exist in the United States.
“Finding this out about your first child when he’s a week old … that was a pretty harrowing experience.” As a newborn, Lee was in intensive care for almost a month at Prisma Children’s Hospital. He was then taken to a children’s hospital in Philadelphia, and Thomas and his wife, Caroline, met with a world-renowned surgeon/specialist, who was able to find a solution.
Thomas says additional challenges during the time of his son’s illness involved managing a new business and being there for his father, Dusty, who had battled cancer. “They’re both doing well now, and I’m so thankful.” Lee is currently a fourth grader at Hammond School.
Lyles Glenn, principal with Keenan Development, says, “I admire and value Thomas’ selfless, energetic commitment to his family, church, friends, and businesses, as well as his passion and work for the improvement of the state’s economic and educational condition. Many people and entities look to and depend on Thomas. Notwithstanding, Thomas never takes his eye off those he sees as his greatest responsibility and love — his wife, Caroline; sons, Lee and Norris; and daughter, Virginia. Somehow, he makes the time to support them, encourage them, and be with them, whether at their events or at play in their yard and home.”
Thomas says he plans to continue to focus on growing Rhodes Graduation Services, Rhodes Branding, and a soon to launch new company in 2022 while balancing community service and family. He tries to be hands-on in all capacities, overseeing and managing day-to-day business functions within the company, streamlining sales, operations, and sundry other responsibilities.
“I’m so blessed in my life, and it’s special to be in situations to help others because that’s what life is about. My real challenge is that I feel like I’m in a race. The book The Infinite Game by psychologist Simon Sinek explains that we’re not in a race. We don’t apply finite rules to an infinite game. My challenge is to slow down.”
Capital Young Professionals is not the first time that Thomas has been singled out as a distinctive achiever. In 2014 he was a recipient of a Roaring Ten Award by Clemson Alumni Association, which recognizes people who have made an outstanding impact in business, philanthropic, community, educational, and leadership endeavors.
Lyles says, “Thomas is an entrepreneur of worthy, realistic ideas and useful products, particularly those meant to enhance the condition of people he encounters and each entity in which he is involved. Among his many gifts is the ability to improve a concept or product’s value for its user and affected audience, most particularly the broader educational community, while making the concept or product effective and financially viable.”
Baron Davis, Ph.D., says, “Thomas is an all-around great person — a man of high character and a humble spirit. He has a heart for service and passion for helping others. He is full of energy, and he always has a positive attitude. He brings an undeniable positive energy and aura to the world, improving the vibe wherever he goes.”
The 2021 CYP Finalists
Lauren Saleeby Barron, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist in the areas of general, child, and adolescent psychiatry, co-founded Spero Psychiatry to better serve the mental health needs of the Columbia area. Lauren is also an assistant professor with Prisma Health-USC Medical Group, having obtained her doctor of medicine degree from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. As an assistant professor, Lauren supervises and teaches psychiatry residents enrolled in Prisma Health-USC School of Medicine, Columbia’s Psychiatry Residency Training Program.
Although dedicated to her career and to contributing her expertise to the mental health community, Lauren, a South Carolina native, is also focused on doing her part to support and enhance the greater Columbia community, mostly through her heavy involvement with St. Joseph Catholic Church, where she is a founding member of its Family Fellowship program.
Lauren is a proud wife and mother and counts motherhood as one of her greatest achievements.
Columbia native Lindsey Griffin embarked on a new career in 2019 with Bank of America Private Bank as a private client advisor, senior vice president. With a BA obtained in 2006 from Presbyterian College, she completed the American Politics and Public Affairs/Policy Program at American University in Washington, D.C., where she served as legislative policy fellow to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and then enjoyed a 15-year career in economic and major gift development with such organizations as the University of South Carolina and South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics Foundation.
Then Bank of America came calling, and Lindsey says she is loving her Act II. At Bank of America, Lindsey coordinates extensive resources to provide clients tailored strategies, including asset management, multi-generational wealth transfer, philanthropic giving, and debt financing. Lindsey believes that to be successful one must be servant oriented and kind through communication and leadership. She enjoys Columbia’s welcoming environment and is also the creativity behind the successful @colatownfoodieandfun account on Instagram, with 22,000 followers.
Amanda Grover is the philanthropy coordinator for Aflac Group Insurance, responsible for the launch, promotion, and overall management of all company-wide fundraising events. Among many other tasks, Amanda oversees the management of community relationships, meets with community leaders to discuss ongoing needs and partnerships, and builds and maintains relationships for the company. She also plans and executes two grant cycles each year and works directly with Aflac’s community partner, Central Carolina Community Foundation.
Amanda is a graduate of the College of Charleston with a degree in corporate communications; however, she and her family decided to settle in Columbia due to the city’s energy, community mindedness, and volunteer opportunities. An organization near and dear to Amanda’s heart is the LRADAC Foundation where she serves as a board member. Amanda also serves on the board for Habitat for Humanity. She is most energized by spending time with her family which includes her husband, Don, daughter, Winston, son, Arlo and goldendoodle, Wells.
University of South Carolina graduate David Medley’s last decade has been dedicated to the growth of more than five South Carolina based businesses. In the role as owner and co-owner, he is hands-on with his all of his companies but spends the majority of his time as sole proprietor and BIC of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Medley (formerly Medley Realty LLC), which he started in 2016. He credits his father, Barry Medley, who died in February 2019, with instilling in him an entrepreneurial spirt and work ethic.
Important to David is his involvement in his church ministries as well as with Habitat for Humanity and the Oliver Gospel Ministry. He says that Columbia is an ideal city for economic growth and business development, especially for those willing to use patience and creativity. Although his businesses are priority, David admits that a more important focal point is his wife, Jordan, along with their two children, Ellison and Cannon.
Lee Patterson obtained a Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina and then went on to become library social work director at Richland Library. Prior to working in various capacities with Richland Library, Lee was the director of health programs for The Cooperative Ministry as well as a child service professional with Billie Hardee Home for Boys.
Lee was most recently a board member of The United Way of the Midlands, and her involvement with other nonprofit organizations and social work associations is extensive. In 2017, she received the Unsung Hero Award by Sisters of Charity Foundation and in 2016 was given the Heart of the Midlands Award by SC Thrive. She has been involved in the Junior League of Columbia for 10 years. Lee’s greatest strength has been garnered from her role model, her mother, currently battling dementia. Her mother, child, foster children, and her husband all live together under one roof, and Lee believes that maintaining her “hodgepodge” family is her greatest achievement.
Drew Schiavone is a commercial banker and vice president with First Citizens Bank. Responsibilities in Drew’s current role includes developing relationships with commercial banking clients and providing them with the right financial tools and services for their business. He also provides industry specific analysis across a diverse client portfolio, including manufacturing, logistics, health care, and nonprofit sectors. Drew was equipped to enter the banking world after graduating from the Moore School of Business with a double major in finance and economics. He is continuing his education as an MBA candidate at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Drew has served as the chairman of the United Way Young Leaders Society, a graduate of Leadership Columbia, and as a board member for Richland County First Steps. He is passionate about the importance of early childhood education and how it can transform communities for the better. Drew believes Columbia’s sense of community is its greatest strength, but his vision is for the city’s vibrant economic story to be more widely expressed.
Kimberly Snipes, as Young Lawyers Division and diversity coordinator for the South Carolina Bar, is tasked with managing the young lawyer events and programs as well as leading the Bar’s efforts in diversity. A graduate of Claflin with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, Kimberly obtained her master’s in organizational management and leadership from Columbia College in 2014. She believes Columbia is moving in the right direction and that the opportunities available encourage young people to become involved and not leave the city.
Community activities are varied; she served on the steering committee with United Way Young Leaders Society, was a member of the Signature Chef Auction Committee for March of Dimes, and served as the president for the Family Shelter board of directors. Currently she serves on the Homeless No More board, is vice president of the Ivy Heritage Foundation, co-chair of the National Association of Bar Executives Diversity Committee, and is president of the Dutch Fork Elementary PTO.
An undergraduate degree in biology from Wofford and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of South Carolina helped prepare Thomas Tafel for his current position as community outreach manager for Lexington Medical Center. Thomas manages a hospital outreach budget of more than $1 million for external community, health-related organizations. He also addresses public health issues by collaborating with both internal and external groups.
Thomas is currently involved in community leadership with United Way of the Midlands, The Free Medical Clinic, the Greater Cayce-West Columbia Chamber of Commerce, and Leadership Lexington County. Thomas is also a Midlands Reading Consortium tutor. He meets a first grader weekly at 7:45 a.m. and has enjoyed seeing the progress made by his young student. He received awards for his community service from Leadership Lexington County (2017), Blueprint for Leadership (2018), and Leadership Columbia (2021). His single mother encouraged him and his siblings, all of whom now have master’s degrees, to establish a strong work ethic.
Bria Wigfall, AIA, works with the architectural firm LS3P Associates. Specializing in K-12 programming and design, her skills derive from a bachelor’s degree in architecture and two master’s degrees, one in architecture and another in urban design. She is heavily involved in the American Institute of Architects, both on the local and state level, where she focuses on programming for the Kids in Architecture program while also serving on the communications and equity in architecture committee.
Bria’s professional affiliations are architecture-related as well, including the National Association of Minority Architects, the American Institute of Architects, and the Equity in Architecture Committee of AIA South Carolina. She was part of the inaugural class of the Talented Tenth Du Bois Fellowship. She is an active member of the Junior League of Columbia, along with her church where she faithfully serves on the AV Ministry and Young Adults Ministry. Bria’s skills in architecture and her general enthusiasm have transferred into community volunteerism.