The List - May/June 2015
Aaron S. Graffius has lived in many parts of the country but he has called Alabama home for 19 years. Aaron graduated from Auburn University Montgomery in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and achieved his MBA from the university in 2004. Currently, he leads as the systems engineer for Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air University. However, all work and no play makes for a dull time. That’s why Aaron seized the role as Montgomery community coordinator for WAKA Kickball & Social Sports, an organization for coed adults (21 years old and up) to release their inner child. Leading the charge, Aaron has grown the league over 300% in three years using “inspired passion to foster a healthy, fun adult environment to spark social relationships and effectively give back to Montgomery's River Region through local charities and volunteering.” Between spending time with his wife, Gretchen, 8-year-old stepdaughter, Breeze, and community volunteering efforts with Journey Church in Prattville and WAKA, Aaron is a busy guy; but soon his life will slow down slightly as he steps down from his WAKA position and looks forward to exploring more exciting and blessed opportunities. Aaron is involved in mission work, is scuba diving certified, enjoys Steelers & Auburn football and has completed two Tough Mudders mud runs and a half marathon.
Autumn Lewis is a woman of many talents, and you’ve likely seen her planning stellar events at Central restaurant, or on television as the top finalist in season seven of “Hell’s Kitchen.” As the event director at Central restaurant, Autumn says that every day is a different challenge. “My job is part therapist, part interior designer, computer tech, bartender, fashion consultant, menu designer, party planner, you name it... nothing is outside of my duties,” Autumn says. After working a demanding job for many years for prolific music producer Tricky Stewart, Autumn says she owes him for everything she is today. “I learned that when under pressure, the most important thing is not to panic and instead try and find a solution,” she says. Although culinary school wasn’t Autumn’s first stop, once she enrolled, she never looked back. Prior to culinary school, she received a Master of Arts from Georgetown. S he was on the path to become a professor and had a full ride to a Ph.D. program at Northwestern. While enrolled in the program, she says she experienced a “quarter-life crisis” and realized cooking and entertaining is what she enjoys most. While moving to a small town could make one feel like an outsider, the people of Montgomery have done nothing but welcome Autumn with open arms. “Bringing my talents to Montgomery has been a blessing, and the community has embraced me fully,” she says. Autumn is an avid yogi who loves to travel and is always hopping on a plane. As a former military brat, she lived in Spain while growing up and fluently speaks Spanish. She used to be a traveling speed-reading instructor, and she still sneaks in at least 30 minutes of reading a day, anywhere she can.
Rev. Dr. Brian Miller
Rev. Dr. Brian Miller didn’t believe he had a calling to be a pastor. In fact, he received a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications from Auburn University before deciding to pursue ministry. “I felt that I had nothing to share and certainly had nothing that others wanted to hear. However, I slowly began realizing that God isn't reliant on my creativity. I simply get to tell and be a part of the best story ever told,” he said. Now as the senior minister at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Brian gets to use his calling to impact the lives of others. Upon leaving Auburn, Brian went on to earn his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Biblical preaching and church leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Since then, Brian has served churches in Wetumpka, Mobile and Montgomery. Brian and his wife, Christina, have been blessed with four children: Brasher, Phoebe, William and Wesley. The couple and their children are very involved with school programs and can often be found participating in extracurricular activities in the community. Brian’s favorite part of Montgomery is its rich history. “In this year where we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, our shared history is on display. Our history should help us to be a unified community. We have come so far, but we still have much work to do,” Brian said. Brian loves movies and is a huge college football fan.
Carly Minor is definitely a familiar face at one of Montgomery’s newest hot spots, Blackfinn Ameripub, where she serves as the sales and marketing manager. A graduate of Troy University, she obtained a Bachelor of Science in print journalism and public relations. Carly says that to achieve great success, one must take risks, just as she did by packing up her life and moving to Montgomery. Never regretting her decision and only moving forward, taking this risk has given her the opportunity to grow in her career. While working in a profession that allows Carly to be social and meet so many great people, she enjoys not only how it allows her to put people first, but also how it combines all her sales, marketing, public relations and hospitality skills into one profession. Carly says that her favorite thing about Montgomery is the people, all of whom have been so welcoming from the beginning. “Every day I meet someone new, and it’s like meeting an old friend,” she says. Carly is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and Emerge Montgomery. A lover of fitness and believing that living a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise is an absolute must, Carly enjoys running and any outdoor activities. She has also played kickball for several years in Birmingham and looks forward to playing with the Montgomery league. Carly classifies herself as a “foodie” and says she will always take the time to test out a new restaurant or prepare a new dish, which explains why working for a restaurant is her perfect fit!
Jordin Putnam never had to question his decision to pursue a career in cosmetology. His mom, also a cosmetologist, had a huge impact on his decision to enter the field. When he was younger, Jordin loved going to work with his mom to watch her in action and developed a love for cosmetology himself. He moved to the River Region after being affected by the storms in April 2011 that hit north Alabama. Shortly after relocating, he began working at GAB Salon in Wetumpka, and currently, he holds a position at Olivia A Salon in Montgomery. Making the move to the capital city was a scary process for Jordin, but he got through it with the help of those around him. Jordin Putnam never had to question his decision to pursue a career in cosmetology. His mom, also a cosmetologist, had a huge impact on his decision to enter the field. When he was younger, Jordin loved going to work with his mom to watch her in action and developed a love for cosmetology himself. He moved to the River Region after being affected by the storms in April 2011 that hit north Alabama. Shortly after relocating, he began working at GAB Salon in Wetumpka, and currently, he holds a position at Olivia A Salon in Montgomery. Making the move to the capital city was a scary process for Jordin, but he got through it with the help of those around him.
Dr. Kimberly Ogletree, D.C.
Dr. Kimberly Ogletree always knew she wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana and earning her Doctorate of Chiropractic from Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Kimberly began practicing chiropractic care. She has been practicing in Alabama for 8 years, 4 of those years at Mission Square Chiropractic, where she is currently. Kimberly developed her passion to become a chiropractor when her father sustained an injury on the job and suffered complications that left him in a wheelchair for several years. Eventually a referral to a local chiropractor led to a treatment plan that facilitated his ability to walk again. Kimberly was very impressed with the physician’s knowledge of the human body. Kimberly’s mission is to educate the community about the spectacular benefits of chiropractic. I want to help people unlock their innate ability to reach their full potential without the use of drugs or surgery,” she says. Kimberly is an active member of her community, and she is a member of First Assembly of God in Montgomery. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated and Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity for Women. With the help of her twin brother, Kimberly is working on starting a nonprofit organization called Red Wagon, where the two of them will take actual red wagons and walk door to door in communities to collect nonperishable items to restock local food banks and churches. In her free time, you may find Kimberly at a family event, likely held at the riverfront. Kimberly has a three-year-old daughter, Mckenzie, who is the absolute joy of her life!
Linda Gleason, president of LogoLand Marketing, is a self-made entrepreneur. Linda says that her customers have made the biggest influence on her success thus far, and she has learned so much through each and every one of them. Linda previously worked for SouthernLINC Wireless and says that her sales manager, Zach McElvy, also made a big influence on her life, as he was an awesome leader and showed her perseverance. In 2008, after the birth of her daughter Anna, Linda had some health issues. While this was a major obstacle she faced, she believes God has truly healed her heart, and she prays for good health every day. This setback encouraged Linda to work even harder, and helped her get to where she is today. I love everything about what I do,” Linda says. “I love to shop for people and get to see customers profit from what we do, and it happens every day.” LogoLand works with many nonprofit organizations and is very active in the community. When taking a break from creating fabulous items for her customers, Linda enjoys spending time with her husband Michael and her daughter Anna. She also enjoys photography, playing golf, going to the beach, and camping. An interesting fact about Linda is that she is a twin and has 8 other siblings.
Marla Taylor Crow—The LIST Marla Taylor Crow’s career path has taken many turns through the years—each one leading to a bigger and better opportunity. After graduating from Prince Institute of Professional Studies in Montgomery, she worked as a freelance court reporter for 10 years, owned Taylor Reporting Service for 5 years, and now serves as an independent consultant with Rodan and Fields Dermatologists. Through her work with Rodan and Fields, Marla has been able to use her strong work ethic and passionate spirit to help clients meet their skincare needs and directly see the result of her work. “Our community has supported me with this new journey of almost 2 years, and I am so thankful that they have trusted me with their skincare needs. This job is truly a blessing, and I am totally passionate about it,” she says. Marla is also extremely involved in the community, working with organizations such as the Friendship Mission, Just Keep Smiling, Meals on Wheels, The Montgomery Humane Society, YoungLife and more. Though work and her community involvement keep Marla busy, she also enjoys running marathons, tennis, watching Alabama football and being with her husband, Mike, and their two children, Cade and Carson Ann. Together, they love visiting Lake Martin, Santa Rosa Beach, and hiking in the mountains near their home in Highlands, North Carolina.
Michael Carson, photographer and editor-in-chief of Shustring Magazine, can almost always be found behind a lens. Upon graduating from Auburn University Montgomery with a bachelor’s degree, Michael began his career working as a contractor and doing work for the United States government. Michael later began pursuing photography as a hobby and has now been a full time business owner of MCarson Studios for 10 years. When asked who has had the biggest influence on his success, Michael was quick respond, “God, my mother and father, wife and kids.” Michael says his Aunt Constance also deserves a special “thank you,” as she has been the financial investor in every business he has started. He is eternally grateful for his team members, Cocoa Denise, Megan Pence, Cici Bucheron, Kenya Crumble, Derricius Breon, Dominique Green and Cammy Davis, and anyone else who has helped him along the way As a business owner, Michael’s favorite part about his job is being able to travel, meet new people and make his own decisions. Michael feels that Montgomery has heavily embraced him and supported him as an entrepreneur. “The people in Montgomery have shown support in the form of recognition and word of mouth... I love my city,” he says. Michael is married to April, and they have two children, Jasmine and Jaylen. During his free time, Michael enjoys spending time with his family and traveling the world taking pictures.
Chef Miguel Figuera
Miguel Figueroa As the executive chef at Kudzu Noodle Bar and the A&P Social in Cloverdale, Chef Miguel Figueroa loves nothing more than a clean plate. Miguel’s love of food and customer service was mostly inherited from his parents. “Growing up with such hard working parents that cared about their business, fresh products and community affected the way I saw food- and good food at that. The importance of knowing your community and offering quality food has been ingrained in me since my birth,” he said. After earning a degree in marketing and public relations, Miguel moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico to become a volleyball coach. His cooking career began in Orlando, Florida at the Portifino Bay Hotel at Universal Studios. t was there that Miguel sharpened his culinary skills by working in the hotel’s various restaurants, specializing in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Miguel loves being a part of the up-and-coming food scene in Montgomery. “Montgomery is growing and being able to watch people support things that are a little bit off the traditional path while also being able to support the more traditional spots is inspiring,” he said. When Miguel isn’t in the kitchen, he enjoys building things out of pallets, browsing through IKEA and being with his wife, Mandy, and their four daughters, Mariana, Marley, Juliette and Kianna.
Samarria Dunson has been around the world and back again. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, Samarria attended both the University of Fribourg in Switzerland where she studied comparative law and the University of Alabama School of Law where she earned a Doctorate of Juris Prudence. Her strong educational background, ceaseless work ethic and interpersonal skills, inherited from her mother and father, equipped Samarria with all the skills she needed to become the director of the Office of Compliance and Ethics at the Alabama Department of Public Health. “The thing that I love most about my job is the opportunity to educate and train staff on the importance of compliance issues. I enjoy knowing that my work has a significant impact statewide,” she said. Samarria and her husband, Kendall, enjoy traveling and spending time with their children, Kenneth, Kendall and Kennedy. Here’s a fun fact about the couple: they got engaged in Paris, married at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and spent their honeymoon in Rome and Florence. Samarria is also involved with several civic organizations, including the Links, Incorporated and Jack and Jill of America, and loves giving back to the community that raised her.
Leah Farrah “Sunny” Paulk If you’ve spotted the mural on Montgomery Street that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, then you’ve seen some of Sunny Paulk’s most recent work. Along with being a freelance artist, Sunny also serves as a graphic designer at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Through both jobs, Sunny enjoys being able to continually grow and improve her art. “I love that I get to do something different as an artist every day and get to jump from a computer to a sketch pad to an outdoor brick wall,” she explains. You can almost always find Sunny with a smile on her face, and she feels that treating people with respect, no matter whom they are, has had the biggest impact on her success. Growing up, Sunny would visit her grandparents in Old Cloverdale, and she always said that Cloverdale would be the only Montgomery neighborhood she would live in. S unny loves the fact that she knows all of her neighbors, can walk down the street to eat at locally-owned restaurants and see a play at the nearby theater house or a film at the independent movie theater. Thankful that she’s been able to sell her paintings in Montgomery over the years, she feels this community greatly supports the arts. Starting her third year of Tai Chi at the Montgomery branch of the Taoist Tai Chi Society, Sunny feels that Tai Chi has improved many things about herself, inside and out. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with her three dogs. She’s also an avid cartoon watcher, loves low-budget sci-fi movies and is addicted to “Hungry Shark Evolution” on the iPad.