Places & Faces
SWLA's Thirteen Thriving Thirty Somethings
4/1/2019 1:00:00 PM

Thriving Thirty Somethings

Chairs . . . we generally take them for granted, but where would we be without them? We sit in chairs to eat; to visit with friends and family. We often sit in chairs to work. We sit in chairs to relax; to read. We travel while seated in cars, planes, trains, buses. We take care of ourselves while sitting in chairs at the offices of healthcare providers. We are entertained while seated in theaters, concert halls, and our own living rooms. What would we do without chairs?

The word chair can also imply leadership, as in chairperson. Our annual Thirteen Thriving 30-Somethings contest features young dedicated leaders in our community; individuals who have achieved success in their profession and exhibited a commitment to community service that often defies a 24-hour day. If the chairs these people sit in could represent the positive impact our winners have made in their workplaces and neighborhoods, they would be very large chairs indeed, figuratively speaking. 

Like the chairs we sit in every day, we need caring, compassionate, enthusiastic, high-achieving people in our communities. Read on to learn about how this year’s winners have strived to make a difference in their world.

Amber Ewing, 35

Director of Business Development, DeRouen Girola & Associates

Amber graduated from South Beauregard High School and McNeese State University with a B.S. in Family & Consumer Sciences/Concentration in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing. Initially, she considered a teaching profession – she enjoyed babysitting and many in her family were teachers. But a stint as a substitute teacher changed her mind. "After that, I decided to stick to retail,” she says. She worked for several local businesses during college and after graduation – Party Time Store, Dress Barn, and Claire’s Boutique – working her way into management positions.

Retail gave Amber a foundation in customer service, which led to positions with Allstate Insurance and then banking, first at Capital One followed by First National Bank DeRidder. "At Capital One, I received tons of training for people management that would prove to be beneficial in my personal life and throughout my journey.” In 2016, Amber joined Lofton Staffing & Security where she worked in Business Development and was quickly promoted to manager. Earlier this year, she joined the team at DeRouen Girola & Associates as Director of Business Development and also handles their marketing. "I love being able to get out in the community and tell friends and new colleagues about how Derouen Girola & Associates can be a life-changing experience.”

In 2014, Amber was introduced to Fusion Five. "I began networking and growing professionally because of the group of young people I was surrounded by and the events I attended. I feel strongly that I am where I am today because of my Fusion Five connections.” Amber has served on several committees is now Fusion Five’s President. She is also a Chamber SWLA Board member and Ambassador. "I enjoy being plugged into the community.”

If you could sit at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why? 

I would turn back the clocks and have a round table discussion with some of the most influential women in history. Mother Teresa devoted her life to serving the poor. Eleanor Roosevelt led the framework for human rights issues. Marie Curie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for her development of the x-ray. Diana, Princess of Wales was inspiring with her natural sympathy and humanitarian charity work. Rosa Parks became the leading figurehead and spokesperson for equality and the promotion of civil rights. Women like these made the noise, overcame hardships, blazed trails, and showed us that being a strong woman is beautiful.   

Morgan Turpin, 30

College of Business Internship Director, McNeese State University

Morgan completed her undergraduate double degree in Marketing and Management and earned an MBA at McNeese State University. She is proud to serve her alma mater as Internship Director in the College of Business. "In my role, I help connect students with internship opportunities, so they may obtain practical experience in their chosen field,” she says. "I am also a faculty member teaching Marketing Principles. My role includes fostering student engagement and outreach to the business community.”

Morgan’s first job after finishing graduate school was at the SWLA Economic Development Alliance. "The Alliance taught me the impact that a group of people can make with a collective mission and voice. The organization instilled in me the importance of being engaged in your community and the difference you can make through active involvement and volunteerism. My primary role at the Alliance was economic development which consisted of research, fundraising, and coordinating the Leadership SWLA Program. While there, I was also a visiting lecturer in the Burton College of Education at McNeese for the course Office Systems and Business Communications 105. This experience helped me stay connected to my university and revealed how much I enjoyed teaching and working with McNeese students. As a former student, I know that the faculty and staff at McNeese changed my life for the better and I am proud to pay it forward.”

Morgan says she loves Southwest Louisiana and feels a deep sense of civic responsibility to her community. Her volunteer activities include serving as 1st Vice President of the Arts & Humanities Council Executive Board, the Board and Events Committee of Fusion Five Young Professionals Organization, CHRISTUS Ochsner LiveWell Advisory Council, Chamber SWLA Quality of Life Task Force, Chamber SWLA Women's Business Network Advisory Group, and Chamber SWLA Education and Workforce Committee. "Volunteering gives me purpose and I have gained many meaningful friendships through working toward a common goal. I believe that if everyone pitches in, we can build an even greater SWLA.”

Crystal Briscoe attended Barbe High School and McNeese State University, where she had an internship at Sasol and earned a B.S. in Liberal Arts. Her past employment includes roles as Morning Show Co-Host with KZWA Vibe 104.9 Radio Station, Promotions Director with KVHP FOX29 TV, Promotions/Marketing Coordinator with Delta Downs Racetrack Casino Hotel, and Public Relations and Communications Manager at L'Auberge Casino Resort. "Over the course of my career, I worked for great companies that allowed me to dibble and dabble in areas outside of my job scope. Through those types of opportunities, I tested the waters and found my sweet spot in community relations focused on corporate social investments.”

Now as Corporate Affairs Advisor for Sasol, Crystal feels confident in her career. "I will always continue to learn and grow in my field, but after putting in some years, I have a greater sense of confidence about my job, responsibilities, and expectations.”

Growing up, Crystal watched her mother volunteer with organizations and she began tagging along. When she was in high school, she worked in the guidance counselor's office and volunteered with the Red Cross teaching toddlers how to swim. She has carried this early foundation of serving into adulthood and says volunteering is a part of her life. "It’s who I am,” she adds. "Sometimes I feel I don't contribute enough to community organizations, but then I remind myself to do what I can no matter how small the task and hope my children will be community-minded, too.”

Crystal’s long list of volunteer efforts include CHRISTUS LiveWell Women’s Network Advisory Council, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Oasis a Safe Haven Board Member, SWLA AIDS Council Board Member, Christian World, and a former member of the following: SWLA Economic Development Alliance’s Quality of Life Task Force, Ethel Precht Breast Cancer Foundation Board, Children’s Museum Board, Foreman Reynaud Community Center Board, Literacy Council Board, Fusion Five, and Ad & Press Club.

 If you could have a seat at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why? 

Oprah Winfrey. I'm in awe of her; she is an African-American female powerhouse. A young girl with a rough start in life blossomed into a journalist, TV personality, philanthropist, and business mogul with her own network. Oprah accomplished all this and more while remaining true to herself, her goals, and faith. I would love to have a conversation and discuss her thoughts on being a successful business woman, self-care ideas, and ways she overcame adversity.

Dr. Donald "D.J." Higgins, 32

Family Physician/ Wound Care Specialist, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital/Memorial Medical Group. Medical Director/Harbor Hospice 

Growing up, Donald had a huge interest in medicine and sciences and his parents encouraged him in these pursuits. After graduating from Barbe High, Donald attended LSU in Baton Rouge where he was blessed with opportunities that led him closer to medicine. "I gained some experience as an EKG tech in Lafayette, La. at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital while studying for my MCAT, then decided to step way outside of my comfort zone and travel to Grenada, West Indies to study at St. George's University School of Medicine,” he says. "Exposure to several cultures outside of my own have deeply enriched my life and my practice. After spending two years in the Caribbean for course work, and then two more in New Jersey for clinicals, I was again blessed to finish my training as a Family Medicine Physician here in Lake Charles through LSU-Health Sciences Center and Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.”

Donald enjoys his profession and says he is privileged to help local people improve their lives. "I try to treat each of my patients the way I would want my family to be cared for. I take a special interest in caring for minorities due to increased risk of several health issues and evidence of improved medical care and outcomes when directed by a culturally-similar physician. I am also able to "wear many hats" and stay flexible as a doctor – I practice primary care, wound care, and end-of-life care (still a very taboo subject in SWLA).

In addition to caring for his patients, Donald appreciates the continuing education required to be a healthcare provider. "Medicine is practiced and not mastered for a reason. It is simultaneously rewarding and humbling, and the knowledge is constantly evolving. I have also never been satisfied with a single subject, so it’s exciting to not know where my next venture may take me – both in medicine and in life.” 

Donald’s community involvement includes sports medicine coverage for local high school football teams, the March for Babies fundraiser, NPHC Literary Extravaganza 2019, and he assisted with Hurricane Harvey Medical Relief.  

If you could sit in someone else’s seat for a day, whose seat would that be and why?

U.S. Senator John Lewis: Civil Rights leader, U.S. Senator, and my fraternity brother – member of Phi Beta Sigma, Fraternity, Inc. He has and is still helping to shape American Civil Rights. 

Melissa Hill, 34

Owner, Niche Creative Studio

Melissa Hill says she’s been creative her whole life. She grew up sitting on the floor of her grandmother’s sewing room, watching her mother and grandmother work.

Though she loved sewing and crafting, Melissa never imagined it could be more than a hobby. She graduated from LSU with a degree in Public Relations and has worked with non-profits such as the Big Buddy Program and CASA, a non-profit that advocates for children in foster care. "Organizing events and connecting with people was my passion, and I loved the opportunity to help build awareness for non-profit organizations,” she says.

During that time, Melissa married, had two children, and continued working her "real job.” She’d stay up late sewing, hot gluing, and dreaming of owning a craft business one day. She started a side business with her mom that focused on making t-shirt quilts. She hosted Pinterest parties and taught sewing classes. "I discovered I really loved teaching others how to find their creative niche in sewing, painting, or crafting.”

In 2013, Melissa and her family moved to Lake Charles, where she connected with another non-profit, the United Way of SWLA. That marketing position gave her insight into the SWLA community. She felt a need to offer a creative outlet to people in the area. "After much prayer and long talks with my husband, I took a leap of faith and opened Niche Creative Studio. I believe everyone needs some form of creative outlet in their life.” 

Melissa uses her creativity and her business to volunteer for organizations such as DeWanna’s Closet, Angel Gowns of SWLA, and the Ethel Precht Breast Cancer Walk. She works with local Girl Scouts troops and schools to teach basic sewing skills and crafting techniques. "It’s inspiring to see a new generation discover the value of sewing and creating. Now more than ever our kids need an outlet to design and create, and I believe sewing and crafting can pave the way for the makers and engineers of the future.”

If you could have a seat at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why?

My favorite table to sit at is the one my family is around. As a family, we are very busy. Our quality time looks different than other families, and that’s okay. Meals might happen sitting around the work table at my store or in seats at the ballpark. No matter the table, having my family with me makes it all worth it.

Charley Lemons, 39

Superintendent of the Cameron Parish School System

 Charley attended McNeese State University and earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. His first job was as a special education teacher and coach at Kinder High School.  After nine years, he became an assistant principal at Kinder High for three years, followed by three years as Kinder High principal, which led him to his current role in Cameron Parish. Lemons went into the field of education because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. He loves his job because he enjoys the people he works with, whether teachers, students, or parents. "I have been very fortunate to have worked with many GREAT people along the way and those people, the ones who I worked for and the ones who worked for me, made it easy to be successful. The old saying of ‘If you want to be successful, surround yourself with good people’ is absolutely true. It truly takes a group effort from all individuals involved in the educational process, whether you are a student, parent, classroom teacher, or a superintendent, with common goals to achieve success. It’s really a team effort and that is what I like about it!”

Charley has moved through the ranks in the education system because it’s important to him to show his own children how to balance a successful career with everyday family life. "I want them to understand they can achieve whatever they want, especially with support from those around you.”

Charley’s community involvement includes years of volunteering as a coach for youth baseball, softball, and football. He’s volunteered with SWLA Special Olympics and served as Parish Director for Allen Parish. He is currently an active member of the Cameron Lions Club. He says, "Community involvement shows your commitment to doing something that not only benefits you, but the community as a WHOLE.”

Justin Holt, 36

Executive Vice President, Lakeside Bank

As a young boy, Justin worked at his grandfather’s gas station in DeRidder. "I believe Pawpaw thought he was teaching me how to change oil, fix flats, and wash cars, but in reality, he taught me the things I have used daily that have brought me to where I am today in my career,” says Justin. He graduated from DeRidder High and McNeese State University with a degree in Business Management. During his senior year, he embarked on what would become a stellar career in banking when he started a mortgage company out of his grandparent’s garage. The garage office led to a DeRidder storefront, which led to a position at First National Bank DeRidder (FNBD). "Hard work and long hours began to pay off early in my career as I expanded my knowledge and reputation as a young banker providing the best service and products to all of Southwest Louisiana.”

Justin had achieved significant success at that point, but knew continuing education was key to further advancement. He graduated from the Graduate School of Banking at LSU in 2012. A year later, he was promoted to Chief Lending Officer of FNBD. In 2017, he was promoted to Regional President at FNBD and in the spring of 2018, he was hired as Executive Vice President of Lakeside Bank. Around that same time, he graduated from Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Wharton.

"Looking back at my first few years at McNeese, I would have never imagined I would be in the banking field. But I love the experience of helping others. I truly believe God has placed me where I am today for that reason. The reward of leading a team of amazing people and seeing their success is priceless to me.”

Justin has served as local Rotary Club president and currently serves as Rotary Club secretary. He has co-chaired the DeRidder Delta Waterfowl Organization and coached Dixie Youth Baseball and Softball. Justin participated in the 2018 Real Men Wear Pink of SWLA and was recognized as one of the top 10 fundraisers in the area. He says, "SWLA is home. The ability for me to show my four children the importance of giving a helping hand to your neighbor is one of the main reasons I strive to give back to this community.”

If you could sit in someone else’s seat for a day, whose seat would that be and why? 

My grandfather’s. The knowledge he has taught me over my life I’ll forever be grateful for, but what an experience it would be to see life through his eyes.

Dr. Michelle Swift Corcoran, 37


Michelle lives in Lake Charles with her husband Sean and three children – John Francis, age 4, Zizi, 3, and their recently adopted son Henry. She attended Barbe High School, earned a B.S. degree in Biological Sciences at LSU, and then LSU School of Dentistry in New Orleans in 2010.

Interestingly, Michelle had a fear of getting dental work done for many years. During her college years, she went to a dentist who offered a kinder, gentler, relatively pain-free dental visit. Originally planning on attending medical school, this positive experience sparked her interest in dentistry. "I wanted to help others get over their dental phobias, not with heavy sedation, but with patience and empathy,” she says. "Since then, my mission is to make everyone's dental experiences as comfortable and relaxing as possible.” 

 Michelle is passionate about "whole-body dentistry” – also called Biological Dentistry. She uses the safest materials possible, such as BPA-free fillings and ozone gas. She can examine teeth above the gums with a special light instead of traditional x-rays if a patient is pregnant or chooses to limit their radiation exposure. "I'm passionate about staying on top of my game in dentistry and thoroughly enjoy when I can help someone realize that their dental visits are important to their overall health.”

Michelle has been President of local dental societies and served on the Louisiana Dental Services board. She’s on the board for the Children's Museum in Lake Charles. She volunteered at the Remote Area Medical Clinic at the Civic Center last year, providing free dental services for many in our community. "I feel my purpose here on this earth is to remain humble and serve the Lord.  Being a dentist provides me this opportunity every day.” 

If you could have a seat at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why?

Pope Francis. I admire his kindness and loving nature. He speaks his true heart and mind, even if some of his opinions are revolutionary to the Catholic church. I feel he is a great leader.” 

John Viator, 31

Owner, Southern Bicycle Company (Lake Charles), Acadiana Bicycle Company (Lafayette), Southern Golf Cars (Westlake), and OAKE Properties

John Viator attended Sulphur High and McNeese State University. He graduated with a B.S. in Advertising Design/Marketing. He self-admittedly had difficulty discovering what he wanted to be when he grew up. In high school, he worked at Subway; during college, Office Depot and a local bike shop. A year after graduation, he worked at Dashiell as a high voltage tester, Arthrex as a medical device sales rep, and briefly sold insurance for a local financial advisor. "I learned quickly after college that I wanted to work for myself and it all started at the bike shop,” he says.  

John started cycling in college. As he became more involved in the sport, he worked at the bike shop to learn how to fix his own bikes. "That decision turned out to be one of the best decisions for my career,” he says. Soon after he left the insurance business, the previous owner of the bike shop called John to say he’d be interested in selling the shop at some point. John jumped at the opportunity to once again work there. He managed the bike shop for three years and purchased it in 2015. "Being self-employed gives me the freedom to know I will get back what I put in, even though there are uncertainties. I get to do something I truly enjoy every day.”

John says giving back to our community is important. "We live in a fast-paced world. I feel sometimes we lose touch with how short life is and why we are here. I want to do as much as I can to help anyone who truly deserves it. My wife, Lindsay, and I want to teach our daughters, Olivia and Kallie, compassion and not to judge a book by its cover.”

John has served on the Tour Lafitte board for several years and is currently president. Through his shop, he sponsors many events and organizations. He and Doug Sherman participate in a program that refurbishes used bikes and returns them to the community. "I feel as a business owner, I have an obligation to help those in need, even if it’s just fixing their bike.”

If you could sit in someone else’s seat for a day, whose seat would that be and why?

Guy Raz, the host of my favorite podcast How I Built This. I’m obsessed with how successful entrepreneurs build their businesses and what happens along the way. I would love to sit across from great entrepreneurs and ask how they got to where they are now.  

Megan Norris, 37

Plant Manager, Entergy-Lake Charles Power Station

Megan’s first paying job was as a lifeguard at age 16. During high school, she was very athletic and later played soccer at McNeese State University, serving as team captain her sophomore year. She graduated in 2004 with an Engineering degree and again in 2012 with an MBA. "While earning my MBA at McNeese, I realized I had leadership capabilities that would benefit my company and found I truly enjoy the process of mentoring others and helping them find their own niche. I found I was better at my job, better at decision making and overall a better manager when that measure of success shifted from 100 percent task-driven to a more team concept of success.” Her degrees led her to various management and supervisory positions, first at Sasol and then Entergy – each one a step up the ladder that led to her current plant manager role. 

As manager of a brand-new, still-under-construction plant site, Megan has had the unique opportunity to hire staff and create a plant culture that is diverse and inclusive. "This plant culture is very different than what most people picture when they think about a majority white male industry. Changing the way these industry jobs and our culture is perceived is critical to ensuring we open the competition for these jobs to the most talented people regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, and sexual orientation.”

Megan was a founder of SWLA Pride. "I founded this organization in 2009 to help increase the acceptance of LGBTQ people in this area and help educate the general public on LGBT issues.” She participated in McNeese Lunch and Learn lectures on Women in Engineering and assembled a panel of three successful McNeese engineering graduates to discuss their career paths. And she’s been active in the CrossFit community for 10 years. Her mother was a middle school basketball coach, so she grew up in the gym. "Coaching is a hobby and a passion that translates into managing a power plant. Most of the volunteer work I do is personal in the ways I wish I would have had the type of acceptance and visible female/open role models and coaches.”

 If you could sit in someone else’s seat for a day, whose seat would that be and why? 

The president of the United States of America. I am always curious as to why someone aspires to be the president. I would like to understand the true stresses of that job and how much or how little power the president has to make meaningful change. 

Jenny Bono, 37

Chief Financial Officer, Jennings American Legion Hospital

Jenny started college at McNeese State University with the goal of pursuing a career in physical therapy. During her first semester in college she worked a part time job at a hockey rink where she assisted in the office with the bookkeeping. This sparked a passion for business and accounting. The following semester, Jenny changed her major to accounting. She interned at a local CPA firm and after graduation, accepted a position at a CPA firm where most of their clients were in the healthcare industry. This early introduction to healthcare shaped her career. "In my mid-20s, I led the finance team of a growing healthcare company, then went on to work for several Fortune 500 companies that provided valuable experience in leadership, business analytics, and strategic management.”

As CFO of a hospital, Jenny combines her interests for both accounting and community. "I love that my passion for our community can come through by the strategic plans we implement. I have the opportunity now to work directly with our employees, patients, and medical providers in order to find new ways of providing the best care and valuable jobs to the community. This keeps me excited about the future in an ever-changing industry.”

Jenny’s love of community is evident by her list of volunteer endeavors. She’s a past Board Member for Susan G. Komen- Acadiana and SWLA affiliate and a current Board Member for Fusion Five - co chair of the membership committee and co-treasurer. She’s volunteered for various local walks to fundraise for non-profit organizations and participated in the Susan G. Komen Big Wig fundraiser in 2016 where she was named the SWLA "Big Wig" for raising the highest donations. Jenny has volunteered at various school functions and class events for both her sons. She attributes her commitment to community to her small-town upbringing. "My father was in public service as a Police Juror after Hurricane Rita to assist in the rebuilding of his hometown of Cameron. This inspired me to become more involved. I feel it's important to find your passion and give back to your community. We all have something to provide and with each of our efforts we can build a stronger community.”

If you could have a seat at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why?

Ellen DeGeneres, a Louisiana native who is known for her generosity and commitment to her community after the devasting floods in New Orleans. Who wouldn’t also enjoy a laugh or two?

Brittany Manuel, 31

Program Coordinator, Second Harvest Food Bank

Born and raised in Opelousas, La., Brittany exhibited a strong work ethic from a young age. She tutored elementary school students and was a softball umpire during summers. Later, she worked at a local grocery store and McDonalds. During college at Northwestern State University, she worked with the Boys and Girls Club. Senior year, she interned at the Opelousas City Court House as a probation officer while working part time at Sears. After graduation with a B.S. in Criminal Justice, she worked at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). After over four years there, she was hired at Unitech Training Academy as the Placement Coordinator. "I assisted the students with completing resumes, mock interviews, and I networked in the community to locate jobs for the students once they finished their coursework,” Brittany says. A year later, she was hired by Second Harvest Food Bank as the Program Coordinator over six parishes. "My job at Second Harvest has been so vital to me. I help the community feed the less fortunate and the homeless population. I love giving back and having this job is definitely allowing me to fulfill my passion.” In May 2017, she obtained a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from McNeese State University and plans to pursue a doctorate.

Brittany founded the nonprofit Mothers in Action Lake Charles to empower and motivate mothers by providing significant and relevant information through resources, education, and support. She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and The National Association of University Women. She volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters and was named the 2018 Community Big Sister of the Year. She is Vice-President of PTO at T. S. Cooley Magnet School. Add Abraham’s Tent, Adopt-a-Spot, Catholic Charities, and Open Door (to mentor incarcerated women) and you’ve got one busy woman! "Giving back to my community is my passion. There is satisfaction in knowing I can make an impact in someone’s life. I often include my son, so he will grow to learn life lessons as well as continue to serve in the community. Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

If you could have a seat at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why? 

My father, Donald Clayton Bouyer, Jr. He passed when I was only eight months old. Everyone who knew him speaks so highly of him. If only I could see for myself what a great man he was. And to know what the saying "daddy’s little girl” feels like.  

Chef Michael Elliott , 37

Property Executive Chef, Golden Nugget Lake Charles

Michael Elliott has always loved food. As a teenager, he would often host small dinners with friends and family. After graduating from Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh PA., he worked for various hotels and casinos in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. He moved to Lake Charles in 2015 to join the Golden Nugget Lake Charles (GNLC) culinary leadership team as Executive Chef. He enjoys his work, as it affords opportunities to influence both his fellow team members as well as the customers. "I truly enjoy the ability to have an impact on the future of my team members through training, growth, and onsite educational opportunities,” he says. "And customer service is a GNLC Core Value that all culinarians must have to ensure our guests are pleased and happy each time they visit our establishments.”  

In the community, Michael volunteered to feed the National Guard in Orange, TX after Hurricane Harvey. He meets with school groups such as Chefs for College Street Prep, Sam Houston High School, Sulphur High School, and OLQHS onsite at GNLC, giving students a full tour, complete Q/A, hands-on demonstrations, and lunch. He has served as a volunteer judge for various culinary contests including Cookie Decorating with the Southwest Louisiana PROs and the GNLC Iron Chef. He judged the annual OLQHS Recipe Contest, which results in the winner having his or her recipe featured in The Buffet at GNLC. He’s partnered with CARC, Southwest Louisiana Independent Center (SLIC), Goodwill, and United Way to provide employment opportunities for those with special needs. Michael has also partnered with SOWELA and is a certified instructor. He supervises about a dozen incarcerated Work Force Team Members and another seven full time GNLC employees who will graduate soon with their culinary degrees. 

Michael gives back to the community because he was also given a chance years ago with his first few jobs. "I was young but eager and really wanted to be in the kitchen even though I had no experience. It’s important to give people a fair opportunity to achieve their own success stories. Never forget where you came from, how you got to your current role, and where you see yourself in five years.”

If you could have a seat at any table in the world, who would you sit next to and why? 

Michael Symon! I have dined at a few of his restaurants and love his creative style, drive for perfection, and charismatic persona.

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