RSVP Montgomery

The List September 2010


Armed with a kitchen knife and explosive spices, Ham and High chef Jon Sanchez has made the Hampstead community a little sweeter with his vibrant Southern cuisine. Jon's journey to culinary genius began in the Midwest before he was old enough to use a saucepan. After farming the family garden and cooking alongside his grandmother, the young chef became a devotee to fresh, all-natural ingredients.
After his first position at a private country club, Jon left Missouri for Sin City to take an internship at BOUCHON. He then spent time in the kitchens of the prestigious restaurants Bradley Ogden and the White Barn Inn, before venturing to the Old Edwards Inn in North Carolina, the venue responsible for first sparking his passion for Southern flavors. Now the chef at Ham and High, Jon thrives on creating original recipes to delight his guests. When he is not working his culinary magic in the kitchen, the Atlanta Braves fanatic can be found spreading his expertise throughout the community by educating Montgomery .


Our capital city was lucky enough to snag one of South America's leading tennis players. Hampstead Director of Tennis Jan Gelabert, Panama Republic's former No. 1 player, began his teaching career in Montgomery 17 years ago. After being awarded a full tennis scholarship at Auburn University in Montgomery, Jan was a member of the team that earned AUM's first national championship title.
Upon graduation, the certified instructor stayed in the River Region to pass on his skills to eager tennis beginners of all ages and skill levels. With a background that includes playing on tennis courts all over South America and Europe and competing with the Panama Davis Cup team for three years, we'd say Jan is more than qualified for the gig. "Being a teaching tennis pro at Hampstead gives me the opportunity to pass my knowledge and my passion of the game to others around me," says the life-long athlete. "That's what I love most about what I do."


After six years of closing deals and taking names, Cornelius Jones, nurse manager at Baptist Medical Center South, traded in his business cards for stethoscopes. Although he was a success in his sales career, Cornelius couldn't shake the desire to help others and switched professions in 2005. After receiving his bachelor's degree in nursing from Auburn University at Montgomery in 2007, he began his upward career track at Baptist South, beginning as a registered nurse.
After only three years with the hospital, the Montgomery Biscuits buff was promoted to nurse manager for the cardiovascular step-down unit in 2010. Revved up by the opportunity to revamp and revitalize Montgomery, Cornelius also serves as community outreach co-chair of EMERGE Montgomery and actively participates in serving the community. Cornelius attributes his problem-solving skills and strong work ethic to his mother, who, along with his wife Charlisa and two daughters, continues to inspire him every day.


A born and raised advocate for an "honest day's hard work," Meg Lewis worked her way from intern to marketing director at Alabama Shakespeare Festival. After receiving her bachelor's degree in English from Auburn University at Montgomery, Meg's stellar work as an ASF intern led to a position as marketing assistant.
Meg continued to climb the ladder and is now the director of marketing and communications for the theatre that has long brought Montgomery entertainment ranging from the best of William Shakespeare to Disney classics. Also highly involved in Emerge Montgomery, the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, the Public Relations Council of Alabama and the American Advertising Federation, it is amazing that Meg has found the time to turn her favorite pastime into a small business, Megalicious Cupcakes. With a menu full of decadent cupcake flavors such as chocolate covered cherry and salted caramel butter cream, the up and coming dessert chef can please even the richest sweet tooth.


Ashley McDonald, chief meteorologist at CBS 8, will quickly discredit anyone who believes the 'ditsy weather girl' stereotype. The Junior League member received her bachelor's degree from Auburn University's prestigious school of engineering before obtaining her master's degree in meteorology from Mississippi State University.
Ashley snagged the chief meteorologist position after only five years in the field and is thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the community through her daily forecasts and work with local philanthropies. The avid recycler is also a co-host for the annual MDA telethon and will take any chance to travel, including a mission trip to Cambodia she took last year. Even though Ashley served as a morning and weekend meteorologist at CBS 8 and a meteorologist at NBC's 11 Alive in Atlanta before taking her current position, her experience didn't begin there. The former War Eagle Girl began giving her grandparents weather forecasts at the world map in the McWayne Center in Birmingham.


Even though the story goes that all actors, musicians and artists are poor and poorer, that didn't scare Jonathan Matthews from painting his way to success. Now in the process of setting up workshops around the state, this artist definitely isn't starving. However, Jonathan's plans didn't always include a brush and canvas. It wasn't until 2003, after discovering the work of renowned artist Odd Nerdrum, that Jonathan first became inspired to challenge his artistic side.
He then embarked on a whirlwind of studying old master paintings and 19th century painting manuals to improve what soon became his primary focus, the human figure and portraiture. His big break came with an e-mail from Turid Nerdrum, the wife of his initial muse, who discovered Jonathan's skilled work on the Internet. In the stroke of a brush, Jonathan was in Norway studying alongside the man he admired, who soon became Jonathan's mentor and friend. Jonathan's work is now shown around the country as well as Venice, Italy and Norway.


A self-proclaimed go-getter, Chacolby Burns-Johnson, executive director of Partners in Education, is a steadfast fighter for student achievement in Montgomery public schools. After working for Governors Don Siegelman and Bob Riley, the Auburn University graduate left the political world after receiving her master's degree in public administration to excel in Montgomery's non-profit sector.
Chacolby's ambition and nothing-will-stand-in-my-way attitude has helped Partners in Education flourish in promoting community involvement and volunteerism in local public schools. A graduate of a Montgomery public school herself (Lee High School), she thrives on the opportunity to prepare the next local generation for greatness. "I am a true believer that success comes when diligent preparation meets a great opportunity along with having faith, courage and determination…" As an active member of local organizations including the Junior League of Montgomery, the Montgomery Capital Rotary Club and Delta Sigma Theta.


All local fashionistas thank Valerie Pittman, owner of The Look boutique, for her unique and trendy style she brings to the River Region. After dabbling in insurance and real estate, Valerie decided to take her love for fashion to the next level – owning a clothing store. She opened her first boutique in Prattville in 2006 and then in Cloverdale in 2008 and has plans in the works to open a third store in the Prattville High Point Shopping Center this September.
Despite a slumping economy and the understandable fear of failure, the young entrepreneur's distinctive eye for style has made her business a tremendous success. Valerie attributes this good fortune to her faith, family and loyal customers. "I love when my customers call while packing for a trip and need me to put their daily outfits together, that just puts a big smile on my face!" It is evident that the community has embraced The Look, as the boutique won first place in women's clothing in the Montgomery Advertiser's 2010 Readers' Choice Awards.


The secret to success for Tonia Stephen’s, captain of the United States Air Force and personal manager of the Alabama Forestry Commission, is always “Be Ready to S.O.A.R.” The inspirational acronym has pushed the Alabama State University graduate to achieve new heights and to be prepared for “the next tap on the shoulder.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from ASU, the proud mother of two attained her master’s from Auburn University in Montgomery and has since been serving our country in the U.S. Air Force for the past 22 years. Self- described as animated, Tonia takes any chance to share her knowledge and is actively involved in mentoring the young soldiers of JROTC. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to be an example of what possibilities are available for those that work hard and never hesitate from pushing themselves. When she can find the time to escape, the dedicated public servant never misses an opportunity to “ask for a window seat.”


The goal of Carolyn Kinney, the American Cancer Society's community representative for Montgomery and Autauga County, is to "create a world with more birthdays." The Huntington College graduate is thrilled to have the opportunity to work for a cause in which she is passionate about and has a personal interest invested. With family members that have battled the terminal disease, Carolyn is committed to the non-profit organization's mission of finding a cure for cancer.
The former college tennis player's career began with Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama, where she quickly learned that every rising young professional has to begin at the bottom of the corporate ladder. She steadily began her climb with positions at Auburn University at Montgomery and the Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama before she joined the American Cancer Society. As a strong advocate for the continued expansion of Montgomery, Carolyn serves as the president of EMERGE Montgomery.


To many of us, understanding life insurance and financial planning is like deciphering a foreign language, but Grant Griffith of New York Life Insurance Company has made a successful career of it. The Auburn University graduate came aboard the esteemed financial planning company in 1999. Because he was substantially younger than many of the other planning professionals, Grant knew that he must convince his clients that his age was not a liability.
He made a personal commitment to receive his Chartered Life Underwriter designation (CLU) and Chartered Financial Consultant designation (ChFC). He did just that in 2005 when he earned his CLU and his ChFC in 2007. Grant remains on top of issues by being a member of the Montgomery Estate Planning Council and the East Alabama Estate Council and is thrilled to have the everyday satisfaction of knowing that his clients will be taken care of should any unforeseen misfortune strike. In his spare time, the outdoorsman enjoys golf, hunting, showing his Auburn spirit.

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