20 Under 30 Class of 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to meet the 2012 class of 20 Under 30.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

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When George White IV was in middle school, the youth pastor at his California church promoted an opportunity for students to travel to Missouri and volunteer at Camp Barnabas, a Christian camp for kids, teens and adults with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities. Little did he know then, that week sparked an opportunity that he could not ignore, and went back every summer to volunteer. White continued growing up in California, and he earned a degree of Arts in Christian Studies from California Baptist University. After he graduated in 2010, he was hired to be on Camp Barnabas’s summer staff. A camp director approached him about helping the camp develop a new life-skill development program. He jumped on the opportunity to move to Missouri. In addition to working for a charitable organization, White is supporting a project by Southwest Special Care Homes called the Branches at Brookline, a Christian group home in the Springfield area.
 
417 Magazine: How would you define the secret to success?  
George White IV: Being passionate about what you are doing.

417: How did you end up at your current job/profession?
G.W.: I have volunteered with Camp Barnabas since 2002, flying out every summer to volunteer for a week. In 2010, I finally applied and was hired to be on summer staff. I had just graduated with my undergraduate degree a few weeks prior to arriving for staff training and did not have any obligations following the summer. While I was serving as summer staff, I was approached by one of the camp directors, Jason Brawner, about helping camp develop this new life-skill development program. I had nothing holding me back in California, so I jumped on the opportunity to move to Missouri, and am so grateful that I did so.

417: Where do you find passion to do what you do?

G.W.: Back in middle school, the youth pastor at my church was promoting this opportunity to travel to Missouri and volunteer at a camp that serves people with disabilities. Honestly, to that point, I had not interacted much with people with disabilities. I was really interested in this opportunity simply because some of my friends were going and I thought it would be fun. Unbeknown to me, that one week would soon spark a passion in me that I could not ignore. Volunteering at Camp Barnabas became a routine for me. I did not have a summer after that which did not include Camp Barnabas. Year after year I went, and little did I know, God was molding me little by little into the person He wanted me to become. By the time I entered college, I had a passion and fire for people with disabilities that I had no idea what to do with. At first, I had no idea what direction to take my life. My first year at college I majored in elementary education to be a school teacher. My second year I changed to major in Christian Studies with a focus on youth ministry. However, that would all change when I crossed paths with an amazing man, Dr. Jeff McNair. Dr. McNair is a professor at California Baptist University who is in charge of the Special Education department. After explaining my passions to our career services department, I was encouraged to visit Dr. McNair in his office. I went up to his office and explained my passion to work with people with disabilities, and he instantly took a liking to me as he explained that he rarely sees guys, as opposed to girls, walk into his office. He instantly started piling on article after article for me to read as he started to teach me about the past and present state of disability advocacy and disability ministry. I owe my entire career to Dr. McNair. My passion began to develop from my time volunteering at Camp Barnabas, however, that passion really took a direction once I got into contact with Dr. McNair. He brought me along with him to many places, including a History of Social Services conference and a Disability Ministry Summit. I finally started understanding what people with disabilities face in society, and Dr. McNair gave me the tools and the fire to want to do something about it. My life is now devoted to liberating people with disabilities from the injustices they face in the community they live in. I think people can go through their entire life without realizing the hardships that people with disabilities face because they are so segregated in our communities. I probably would have done the same thing if it hadn’t been for Dr. McNair. I am now earning my master’s degree under Dr. McNair in the Disability Studies program. He has become my most significant mentor and I am now devoting my efforts to focus on the inequality that people with disabilities face within the Christian faith community. I desire to see people with disabilities have the freedom to worship and fellowship along with the rest of the universal church without the hindrances and barriers that they face today.

417: What are your hobbies (when you’re not working)?

G.W.: I am a die-hard San Francisco Giants and San Francisco 49ers fan. I love sports, and I like to always be in the know when it comes to sports. I also like to stay active. I play a lot of basketball, go to the batting cages every once in awhile, play a round of golf here or there. I am not very good at sitting still and reading or something like that, so I like to get up and moving. I really enjoy movies as well. My favorite genre is drama, and I am an avid Denzel Washington fan.

417: What charitable organizations are you involved in?

G.W.: I am involved with several church organizations. I work for Camp Barnabas, which is very much a charitable organization. In every church I have attended, I have gotten involved in some sort of ministry, which has lately been disability ministry. I am supporting a great project by Southwest Special Care Homes called the “Branches at Brookline,” which is going to be a Christian group home in the Springfield area. I also financially support a missionary back home in California.

417: What’s your favorite thing about your career? 
G.W.: Knowing that I am actually making a difference; not only in the lives of my students, but in society as a whole. Barnabas Prep is focused on providing people with disabilities tools and skills towards leading an independent and productive lifestyle.  This idea, independence and productivity among people with disabilities, contradicts a major perspective held by the majority of society. People with disabilities hear one specific phrase more than anything else throughout their life: “You can’t.”  We, at Barnabas Prep, challenge this phrase by empowering our students with various life and job skills. This will first change their own lives by giving them a certain confidence that they never experienced before; a confidence to pursue dreams and never give up. This very confidence is what can change society. Just imagine…people at work, church, sporting events, gyms, movie theaters, etc. will look left and right and see people with disabilities alongside them contributing and participating in the same capacity that they are. And for me, in my current position, this change starts one student at a time. That is what keeps me going in my career.

417: What’s your favorite thing about working in 417-land?
G.W.: I am from Sacramento, California and went to school in Riverside, California. I am used to living in bigger cities and so moving out to Missouri was a big change. But I really enjoy it. I enjoy experiencing all four seasons. I enjoy the smaller communities. Almost weekly I will drive from our camp in Purdy to Springfield and back. I love making that drive. I have it down like the back of my hand: Purdy, Monett, Verona, Aurora, Marionville, Billings, Republic, and then Springfield. I like driving through the small towns… I don’t know why, but I find it enjoyable.

417: If you could go back and give the high school version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
G.W.: Get off the couch! Get involved with the community. There is such a rich society that surrounds us and we can miss out on so much if we don’t get out and experience it. Sometimes when I am driving, I think about the other people in their cars and how each and every one of them have a deeply complex life just like I do. I think we forget that sometimes. We start thinking that we are the center of everything and don’t take the time to look around and see the complexities that surrounds us every day.  I wish I took advantage of that more often…met more people, visited more places, etc. We can learn so much from interacting with others.

417: What was your “dream job” at age 5?
G.W.: I remember that I always wanted to drive tractors, like the big yellow Tonka ones that little boys always play with.

417: List three traits that define a successful career:
G.W.: Passion, Confidence, and Awareness

417: Why are you a 20 under 30?
G.W.: Honestly, I was kind of surprised when I heard about me being selected for this achievement. I am sure that I can speak for the rest of the 20 under 30s in saying that I can be really hard on myself.  Sometimes, it is difficult to step back and see success in yourself because you are fighting these little challenges everyday and they overshadow the progress you have made. I think this is God’s way of telling me, “Good job.” I am a 20 under 30 because I set goals for myself and don’t give up until I find a way to complete them.

417: What projects do you have on the horizon at your job that you’re excited about?
G.W.: Well, we are extremely excited to start our Barnabas Life program in the fall. Barnabas Prep is only step one of our dream to reach our campers beyond the one-week of summer camp. Step two is to provide a residential program where residents with disabilities can live at our camp for an extended period of time and take part in skilled work as they live in a thriving community comprised of people with and without disabilities. We are looking to start this program in the fall with some of the graduates of Barnabas Prep.

417: What completed project are you most proud of?
G.W.: I am definitely most proud of Barnabas Prep.  We started this program from the ground up. A year and a half ago, it was simply an idea in someone’s head. Now it is a successful program that is changing lives every day. With any new program, there are going to be ups and downs, as you learn the right way to do things. I am so proud of not only myself, but my staff and my students for taking those down moments and learning from them and, in turn, making them positive. We have had such a great year and I am so proud of our accomplishments.

Fill in the following blanks with five words or less:

Love makes life worth living.

A day at work wouldn’t be complete without something going terribly wrong.

Ten years from now, I hope I’m a dad.

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would honestly, pay off loans and pay for my wedding (I know, not a fun answer).

The best part about being a 20 under 30 is finally feeling accomplished.


Having worn glasses or contacts since kindergarten, Dr. Emily Thomas knows what it’s like to have vision problems. “I have wanted to be an optometrist since I was 12 years old,” says Dr. Thomas, who is an optometrist at Vision Clinic. “I had a great eye doctor, who was my mentor and is now my boss.” After graduating from Seymour High School, Thomas spent seven years at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she earned her doctorate of optometry. And her secret to getting through those long hard years? Focus. “You must know what you want and have a clear goal ahead of you,” Thomas says. When she’s not working with patients at Vision Clinic, Thomas keeps busy with Springfield Rotaract, for which she is on the Board of Directors and holds the position as professional development chair, and she was in class XXV of Leadership Springfield.

417 Magazine: List three traits that define a successful career:  
Emily Thomas: Passion, service to others, always learning and growing.

417: How did you end up at your current job/profession? 
E.T.: I have worn glasses or contacts since I was in kindergarten, so I grew up knowing what it was like to have vision problems. I had a great eye doctor who was my mentor and is now my boss!

417: Where do you find passion to do what you do?
E.T.: See above answer! I have wanted to be an optometrist since I was 12 years old!

417: What are your hobbies (when you’re not working)? 
E.T.: Trying new recipes and restaurants, traveling, spending time with family and friends.

417: What charitable organization(s) are you a member of? 
E.T.: I have been a member of Rotaract since 2008, and have served a year as the Community Service Chair and am now on the Board of Directors as the Professional Development Chair.

417: Are you a member of any professional organizations?
E.T.: I am a member of the Greater Ozarks Optometric Society, Heart of America Contact Lens Society, Missouri Optometric Association and American Optometric Association

417: How would you define the secret to success? 
E.T.: Focus. You must know what you want and have a clear goal ahead of you.

417: What’s your favorite thing about your career?
E.T.: The variety in my day! I see every age of patient and they all have a different visual problem that I can solve. I love the amount of thought I have to put into each patient’s case.

417: What’s your favorite thing about working in 417-land? 
E.T.: I love the mix of city and small-town. We have most of the amenities of a bigger city, but it’s not unusual to run into someone you know when you go shopping or out to eat.

417: If you could go back and give the high school version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be? 
E.T.: Learn how to study! I remember trying to figure this process out before my first college biology test… It was not a successful attempt!

417: What was your “dream job” at age 5? 
E.T.: A ballerina!

417: Why are you a 20 under 30? 
E.T.: I think my community involvement with Rotaract and Leadership Springfield plays a part in it, but I also think my choice of career (and passion for it) helps too!

417: What projects do you have on the horizon at your job that you’re excited about?
E.T.: I am in charge of a lot of our social media marketing efforts, and we are focusing on doing more marketing in this area in 2012. I am in charge of our website and some of our social media marketing efforts.

417: What completed project are you most proud of? 
E.T.: I am always most proud of the job that I do when I am able to restore vision with specialty contact lenses to someone who would otherwise not see well at all.

Fill in the following blanks with five words or less:

Family and my career make life worth living.

A day at work wouldn’t be complete without a hearty laugh with a patient!

Ten years from now, I hope I’m able to travel more.

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would fly to Bora Bora.

The best part about being a 20 under 30 is the recognition of hard work.

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