2012 Polk Emerging Leaders

The Winter Haven Chamber Foundation held the Second Annual Polk Emerging Leaders Awards Banquet on August 28. Hosted by Polk State College the banquet honored twenty-five nominees and six selected for 2012 awards. Those selected are pictured below along with their biographies.

2012 Polk Emerging Leaders (l to r): James Sidou, Jennifer Sturgis, Kemp Brinson, Christina Criser, Jeff Kincart and Stacie Rine

Kemp Brinson

Kemp Brinson

Kemp describes himself as an advocate at heart. He advocates for his community. He advocates for children. He advocates for the arts. He has passion for a wide variety of topics from electrical engineering to the law to the bass guitar.

A graduate of North Carolina State University with a degree in electrical engineering as well as a law degree from George Washington University, he relocated to Polk County in 2004 and joined Straughn, Turner and Smith in Winter Haven. It didn’t take him long to become an advocate for the community. From the start of his time in Polk County he joined the Guardian Ad Litem program through the 10th Judicial Circuit. For those of you who may not be familiar, a guardian ad litem is a volunteer who is court-appointed to advise the court about the best interests of an abused and neglected child who families are under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families. You do not have to be a lawyer or have specialized knowledge, just a passion for helping people. In 2011, he was name the “Guardian ad Litem of the Year” for the 10th judicial circuit.

In addition to being a voice for children in need, Kemp dove head first into the business community completing Leadership Winter Haven class 27 and Leadership Polk Class 5. He also served on the Main Street Winter Haven board of directors, founded and authored the Polk Law Blog, a site featuring independent legal commentary related to Polk County issues and served as a volunteer writer for Lakeland Local, a hyper-local online and print news magazine. In 2008, he joined Clark, Campbell and Lancaster as a business litigation attorney and has on many occasions shared his knowledge of business and human resource law through seminars to chamber of commerces and different civic groups.

Perhaps some of you have seen our recipient as the burgeoning young actor that he is on the stage of Theater Winter Haven. He is not only a volunteer bass player in the orchestra for their musical productions, but also made a on stage appearance this past spring as a member of Buddy Holly’s band in the production of the Buddy Holly Story.  Back stage, he continues his community advocacy by serving as Chairman of Theatre Winter Haven’s Board of Directors during the process of potential relocation of the Theatre.

He believes his experience and training as an electrical engineer, lawyer, musician and thespian have enabled him to be the best lawyer he can be. He stated in his application, “Theatre uses the dramatic arts to tell stories that are poignant, persuasive and inspiring. Engineers solve highly technical problems using specialized tools that are so complicated that it takes a special kind of person to decipher and apply them. A good lawyer does both.”

Christina Criser 

Christina Criser

Give. Advocate. Volunteer is not just the tagline for the employer of our next recipient. It is her life motto. From an early age she credits her parents for instilling in her the obligation to give back to the community and to those who were not as fortunate as she was. They often took her to homeless shelters to serve dinner. This prompted a summer food drive in middle school that led our recipient and her two sisters on a door-to-door mission through neighborhoods asking for canned food donations right then and there. And who could say no to three young dough-eyed girls? At her family reunions they still tease her about how determined she was to feed ALL of the homeless children throughout her community.

That tenacity and passion to help others has carried through to her adulthood. She is a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in non-profit administration and completed a masters degree in Family, Youth and Community Sciences with a specialization in Nonprofit Administration and a minor in Decision and Information Sciences.

Her community involvement includes Emerge Lakeland in which she served as a volunteer committee member, a Peer 2 Peer mentor and is a graduate of their EMERGE serves program. She served on the board of the Associations of Fundraising Professionals and the chair of the Leadership Counsel for the George W. Harris Youth Shelter. She also serves as the provisional, or new member, chair of the Junior League of Greater Lakeland.

Her choice of profession aligns perfectly with her passion to make the world a better place. Through her career with the United Way of Central Florida, our recipient has led the way to increased giving, especially when it comes to outreach to young professionals. She developed a program through the Young Leaders Society in which individuals under the age of 45 can enroll in a step-up giving program to incrementally increase their gifts each year. This program, started in 2009 has grown from 150 members to over 500 members today.

One of her nominators described her this way, “Whether working with young children, young professionals or established community leaders, she makes a difference and motivates other to do the same.”

Jeffery Kincart 

Jeffrey Kincart

On the application for the Polk Emerging Leaders Awards, the nominees are asked to list their involvement in local or national volunteer organizations. Our next Polk Emerging Leader Award recipient began his bullet points with the letter A and went all the way through to letter X which read: See attached resume for any that may not have been included on this list. Suffice it to say, this individual has dedicated most of his spare time to our community.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the accomplishments of this young man is to use the words of one of his nominators, “What strikes me most about this individual is his commitment to his family’s business and the communities they serve. This is a young man who knows how important it is to engage in creating “quality of life” for everyone. He participates with many community-based organizations – some which provide critical services to Polk County residents, others that contribute to our area’s economic health, and still others, like the arts, that contribute to our humanity. In each case he engages wholeheartedly, bringing his passion and expertise to bear for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

In addition to joining his family business in 1991 and founding a second family business in 2003, our recipient earned his pilot’s license at the age of 16. Flying is more than just a hobby. He participates in the “Pilots and Paws,” program which rescues animals slated for euthanization and transports them to adoption facilities across the nation. He also plays the cello and he believes that because music was such an important part of his personal development, he acquired skills that allow him to employ creativity to business problem solving and planning. The arts is a cause for which he volunteers his time as well as financial resources of his companies in many ways including engaging his with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, public school music programs, Polk Museum of Art, Polk State College Orchestra program sponsorship and the Polk Arts Alliance, to name a few.

He is also a firm believer that area companies must be engaged advocates when it comes to our community’s economic development. He personally has participated in Leadership Lakeland, Leadership Bartow, Young Leaders Engage Bartow and is a member of the Winter Haven EDC, Lakeland EDC, Haines City EDC and the Central Florida Development Council. As an owner of his company he is grateful to be able to provide excellent employment opportunities for their team and encourage them through both policy and leading by example to engage in community initiatives and volunteerism.

Of all of his professional and civic accomplishments, he cites his greatest accomplishment, in cooperation with his wife of 15-years, as creating a wholesome, value-oriented home and family life for his three remarkable children – ages 8,10 and 13.

Stacie Rine 

Stacie Rine

Not many of our nominees can say that they received their college diploma directly from the President of the United States, but for our next recipient, that was the case.

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Stacie earned fifteen military unit and personal achievement medals during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her awards ranged from recognition of her tactical performance while deployed to recognition for capturing imagery that changed the way America dealt with sanctions violators and oil smugglers. She has her commercial and multi-engine instrument rated pilot’s license and instructed many student pilots in the United States Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the US, Mexican and Italian Navy. While the curriculum was certainly technical, much of her responsibility was grounded in teaching the students leadership skills.

After leaving the US Navy, Stacie opened three businesses in Jacksonville, FL, including two massage parlors and a small business consulting company. She cites implementing the perseverance and “adapt and overcome” attitude she had to employ in the military as getting her through the ups and downs of running a business through a tough economy.

After moving 13 times in her military career, she and her husband found their “Pleasantville” in Lakeland, FL. She volunteers her time as a Vacation Bible School teacher and over the years has been a volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Women’s Resource Center as well as the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In.

The award recipient says her greatest accomplishment is that of wife and mother. While it requires hard work to maintain her work-life balance, she states there is no greater reward than that of being a parent. Beyond imparting the knowledge of her life lessons on her children, she also sits on the board of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy Board and serves as a mentor for four of the students at the academy, interacting with them on a weekly basis during their extra-curricular activities.

James Sidou

James Sidou

Often times when economic development groups and businesses get together to brainstorm how to recruit and retain young professionals in Polk County, there is a discussion that if the person has no family ties or history here it can be difficult if not impossible. Our next recipient proves that false. Moving here with no connections to Polk County, he and his wife have shown that building a community is a tie that binds and he hopes this will be their home for many years to come.

James is native of Syracuse, New York. He received his undergraduate degree in 2003 from Grand Valley State University and his Juris Doctor degree from Michigan State University College of Law in 2006. Prior to joining GrayRobinson in Lakeland, this individual served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Bartow, Florida, which he describes as one of the most fulfilling times of his life. He states, “Every time I was able to secure a guilty verdict and keep thieves and drug dealers off of our streets or obtain justice for the victim of a heinous crime it filled my heart with pride.”

Very early in his time in Polk County, Sidou made it a primary goal to both professionally and socially give back to the community. One of his accomplishments he feels most proud of is his work on the YMCA of West Central Florida’s Puttin’ on the Blitz Fundraiser. The First Annual Puttin’ on the Blitz event partnered with former Lakeland Dreadnaughts/Florida Gators and current NFL Players Michael and Maurkice Pouncey. In the first year the event raised $40,000 for the YMCA general fund and Team Pouncey. In addition to the event participation, James is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work. His nominator referenced him organizing a group from his local Rotary club to give the YMCA teen center a fresh coat of paint and new light fixtures turning a dark and dreary space into a bright and inviting one. She notes that this individual is an “energetic and committed volunteer with a passion to help others.”

That is perhaps why he also volunteers his time to the Polk County Teen Court where he serves as a mentor. The Teen Court program allows youthful offenders, age 10 – 17, to be tried and sentenced solely by local high school students who are earning community service hours as well as gaining an inside look into the court system. The youthful offender is given the opportunity to minimize or eliminate a criminal record by completing this program.

He also serves on the events committee for EMERGE Lakeland, the program committee of the Lakeland Rotary Club and on the March of Dimes Chefs Auction event committee.

Jennifer Sturgis

Jennifer Sturgis

Our final recipient for the Polk Emerging Leader Award is no stranger to “building” a community. As one of the only females on the management and supervisory team at SEMCO Construction company, she has relied on her determination and “hard work” to advance to Vice President of the firm over her 15-year employment with the company. Her company’s website describes their philosophy to “strive to make our community a rewarding place to live by supporting programs and initiatives that directly impact our community.” It is clear that this Jennifer carries those principles through to her daily life.

She believes in constant learning and self-improvement. She cites one of her greatest accomplishments as completing her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Warner University, 15 years after receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida. While returning to school as a working professional entrenched in your career presents its challenges, she feels she was able to use the knowledge she had gained to provide perspective to theory’s she was being taught. She has been able to carry her business acumen through to her career and to the volunteer boards she sits on including the Bartow Chamber of Commerce. She is a graduate of Leadership Bartow class 13 and Leadership Polk class 5.

Outside of work, Jennifer donates her time to her community. For the last 15 years she has been an Adult Youth Leader at her church and has organized and led five mission trips for high school students. She strongly believes in giving back and these trips are opportunities for the students not only to help communities in need, but also to learn the impact one person can have on the life of another and the fulfillment one can gain from serving others. Leading by example, she has dedicated her spare time to the Bartow community. She serves as a board member of the Crickette Club in Bartow, a group of business and community female leaders who support youth programs. She also promotes the arts though her service as volunteer coordinator for the Bartow Bloomin Arts Festival. Most recently she has donated her time to the planning committee for the inaugural Polk State College Joggin’ for the Noggin’ spooky 5K being held Oct. 26th at the Lakeland Campus (mark your calendars!).

Sturgis is most often described as dependable and loyal and through her “get things done” attitude she has been able to help the Bartow and Polk County communities thrive.

This second annual program honoring Polk’s emerging young leaders was sponsored by: The Ledger Media Group; Polk State College, State Farm Insurance and SunTrust Bank.


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