Future 10 2021 – Part 2

by Jan 12, 2022People, South Brunswick

Meet 5 of the young leaders of Brunswick County Future 10 recipients.

There is no shortage of definitions for what a great leader is. But in the simplest terms, it’s someone you want to follow. In this annual feature, we share the stories of those leading by example in our communities. Meet this year’s Future 10 under 40.

John Fitzgerald has a passion to help people live pain-free lives. Cherell Frink offers victims of domestic abuse hope and advocates for financial independence. Da’meshol Grissett is driven to bridge the gap between job seekers and employers. First Sgt. TK Nowell wants women in the county to feel safe, secure and empowered. Karmen Smith has found a way to help herself heal by helping others heal.

Nine years ago, Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce and South Brunswick Magazine introduced the first Future 10 leaders under 40. Each year since, we’ve continued to recognize 10 new leaders as part of this esteemed group, all of whom live up to the chamber’s motto of “Building Community and Supporting Business.”

This isn’t a competition, but a nomination-based search in which we invite coworkers, supervisors, employees, business owners, friends and family to recommend exceptional men and women under the age of 40 who not only contribute to the current and future success of our county with a proven commitment to excellence in their careers, but also provide inspiration and leadership for other young people.

In the following pages you’ll learn their personal stories, dreams and goals and come to see that they, like Future 10 nominees before them, are champions for their communities and committed to making a positive impact on Brunswick County.

Meet 5 your 2021 future leaders of Brunswick County.

Da’meshol Grissett, Work-Based Learning Specialist
Brunswick Community College
Age: 28

Damashol Grissett Future10 2021

Da’meshol Grissett is the epitome of a hometown success story. She is a product of Brunswick County’s K-12 system and a Brunswick Community College (BCC) graduate. Like many others trying to figure out what they want to do with their life, as a student Grissett found herself at the same crossroads. That’s when she went through the NCWorks Career Center and found her calling.

“I thought I was going to be a nurse,” Grissett says. Then she took the career assessment and scored high for a career coach. “I didn’t find my career. My career found me.” Today, she encourages job seekers and students alike who want to make a life change or get training assistance or who need help just “figuring it out” to utilize the great resources in the county.

“That’s why I’m here,” Grissett says. “I truly love helping and supporting community members and also the employers in our area.”

Over the past two years at BCC, she has built a strong employer network, created work-based learning placements and established internships, all of which help bridge the gap between job seekers and employers.

Her career journey began at NCWorks, and then after a year she accepted a newly created position at BCC as a career navigator. Through her forward-thinking initiatives and motivation, she worked tirelessly to ensure that families in our communities had the resources they needed to earn sustaining wages.

In her new role as the work-based learning specialist, her mission continues. She works directly with students and job seekers to access their skills, recommend additional training they might need and connect them with employers. What makes Grissett uniquely perfect in her role is her natural ability to connect. If someone comes in feeling defeated or lost, “I just give them a pep talk and remind them that we’re to help, so you don’t have to feel like you’re doing this by yourself,” she says.

Grissett’s Future 10 nomination has “lit a bigger fire for my passion to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “I really want to help people get out of poverty, whether it’s through training, assistance finding a meaningful career or individual counseling.”

There are two contributions that Grissett would like to make during her tenure at BCC. First, encourage the integration of agencies and organizations within the county. When mutual goals are shared across all stakeholders, it improves the knowledge of and access to the resources that are available to her clients and all residents. Second, offer financial wellness programs. Grissett is currently working toward her financial literacy certification so she can provide practical financial literacy classes to the underserved communities in the county.

When Grissett is not at work, this wife and mother of two children partners with Victory Baptist Church to distribute food to communities in need and is very active in her own church, Highest Praise Worship Center.

Karmen Smith, Executive Director
Hope Harbor Home, Inc.
Age: 31

Karmen Smith Future10 2021

As executive director, Karmen Smith is the face of Hope Harbor Home — Brunswick County’s only domestic abuse shelter. A big-picture thinker, Smith is credited with expanding the organization’s outreach to victims of domestic violence in the area and bringing more awareness to the community at large. Her compassion and sincerity for the Hope Harbor message comes from an honest place.

“I know what it feels like to be in a relationship that is not full of respect and love,” she says. Smith didn’t seek the help of Hope Harbor’s services when she was being abused by her now ex-partner, but she decided to volunteer with the organization as a way of “helping myself heal, while helping others heal.”

After a few months of volunteering, a position within the organization became available for an advocate, and Smith knew she had found her purpose. For four years, she worked selflessly to help address the needs of women and children from violent homes through emotional, safety, medical and court support. Her contributions earned her a promotion to community resource director, and now, since 2019, as executive director. She now oversees all the operations and funding. Additionally, she created a new thrift store in Supply that directly financially benefits the organization. Smith relies on all her experiences to move Hope Harbor forward.

“I’m incredibly blessed to have started out here as a volunteer and moved my way up,” Smith says. “I have the ability to just be everything I’m needed to be, from a volunteer to an advocate to a community resource to a grant writer and everything in between. I’m not limited to one way of helping people.”

Smith says there has been a 25 to 30 percent increase in those seeking help from domestic violence over the past year, but she considers it a silver lining.

Domestic violence didn’t just start happening,” she says. “It’s more about the fact that our name and services are getting out there, and that people are more comfortable reaching out for help.”

Humbled by the Future 10 recognition, Smith says it’s a team effort. “I feel like this nomination means that I’ve tried to be the difference to those in my community,” she says.

One of the ways she has helped is by proving there is no specific “type” of person that experiences abuse. By sharing her own past, she’s made others feel more comfortable in doing the same. And she has some words of advice for the community.

“Victims of domestic violence don’t want sympathy,” she says. “They want direction and guidance. They want someone to tell them it’s not their fault and that they are not all the things their abuser tells them they are. I’m here to give them what, back then, I didn’t know was even available.”

When Smith isn’t busy at work, she spends time on the beach with her two dogs, Lambeau and Jordy. She’s also newly engaged, so she’s in the early stages of planning a wedding.

Cherell Frink, Administrative Assistant
Hope Harbor Home
Age: 31

Cherell Frink Future10 2021

Cherell Frink has always been that bright spot in someone’s day, boosting people’s spirits and helping whenever and wherever she can.

“I know it sounds cliché, but I really just enjoy helping people in general,” she says.

That’s one of the reasons she initially went into healthcare. She worked at Novant as a Registered Medical Assistant for nearly six years and also worked in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This background would prove beneficial when she started working with the clients and victims of domestic violence at Hope Harbor.

Nurses share an ethos for compassion and an appreciation that domestic violence is a legitimate healthcare issue — an issue that lands close to home for Frink.
“Someone very near and dear to me suffered abuse for a long time, and it was heartbreaking to see,” Frink says. “It was even more heartbreaking to see people choose to judge and make accusations instead of trying to understand and help out with the situation.”

In 2019, with a passion to help victims and survivors of domestic violence, Frink left her job in Healthcare to work as an advocate at Hope Harbor Home. As an advocate, she went to court with clients, helped victims find housing, transportation, or a lawyer, and provided emotional support. In February of 2021 she was promoted to administrative assistant, a position in which she manages much of the day-to-day finances for the organization and the thrift store including budgeting, donations and overseeing financial assistance for clients.

The Future 10 recognition confirms for Frink that her “efforts to help and just be the best I can be for everyone around me means a lot. This is where I grew up, and to know that I have the opportunity to make it an even better place to live inspires me.”

Frink isn’t just content at making an impact on her community through Hope Harbor Home. She is currently on track to complete her accounting degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro by the spring of 2024 and has plans to be a CPA — even opening her own firm. She wants to use her talents to help address the financial needs of others in the community.

“I have a passion to help people be more financially aware, whether it’s with tax assistance, financial planning or budgeting. I want to help facilitate that.”
Outside the office, Frink enjoys spending time with her significant other and her 12-year-old son, Zaccai, who recently attended the NYLF Explore STEM Envision Program. She also loves traveling together and planning for the future. She feels it is important to dream and plan with your family and that without a solid support system, there isn’t much any one person can accomplish on their own.

John Fitzgerald, Clinic Director and Physical Therapist
BenchMark Physical Therapy
Age: 38

John Fitzgerald Future10 2021

John Fitzgerald, who grew up playing sports, was no stranger to the injuries that come along with being an athlete. As a patient, he was drawn to the physiology and biology of the treatment and healing process. Inspired by his own experience, he planned to become an orthopedic surgeon. But after working in a physical therapy clinic at the beginning of his college career, he “saw the power of physical therapy, and how it allowed people to live active and healthy lifestyles.”

So, Fitzgerald began an accelerated undergraduate program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, where he completed his degree in three years, then started graduate school in their physical therapy program and eventually earned a doctorate in physical therapy. After working in New Jersey as a physical therapist, Fitzgerald moved to Ocean Isle Beach in 2009. He had vacationed in Ocean Isle Beach in the past, and his parents moved to the area after retirement. He partnered with BenchMark Physical Therapy in opening an outpatient practice there in 2017 and has opened a second location in Shallotte this year.

He’s made an impact on his patients lives, and that comes from his passion for them to live pain-free lives.

“I see patients who are recently retired, and they want to play golf three times a week, pickleball, hike or play with their grandkids, and their body starts to hurt, and they find out they have osteoarthritis or other degenerative issues that come with aging,” Fitzgerald says. “And that just discourages them. The last thing I want is to see people not able to enjoy their retirement.”

Committed to doing just that, Fitzgerald says “by expanding our services in several locations in the county, patients don’t have to travel far to reach us. That’s especially important for patients who come more than once a week.” As part of the BenchMark Physical Therapy family, Fitzgerald and his clinicians have excellent resources at their disposal, including cutting-edge services and advanced continuing education opportunities.

“It feels great to provide life-changing services with convenient access,” Fitzgerald says. “And it’s an honor to be recognized as one of the Future 10 this year. I’ve made this place my home, and this acknowledgement makes me feel like I’m part of the community.”

When Fitzgerald isn’t helping improve the lives of his clients, he loves golf and “daddy time.” He and his wife, Ariana, have two daughters, four-year-old Mackenzie and eight-month-old Madison.

Tabitha “TK” Nowell, First Sergeant
Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office
Age: 38

Tabita Nowell Future10 2021

What keeps First Sergeant Tabitha “TK” Nowell excited about going to work every day is knowing that her contributions make a positive impact on the wellbeing of Brunswick County citizens.

“I love the fact that I’m able to help empower and educate women, children, seniors and all citizens about how to protect themselves from harm, giving them tools and wisdom to respond to things that they see that may be off or that will keep them from getting into a situation that may cause them injury or some trauma,” she says.

When Nowell was just 21 and without a clear career path, a good friend suggested she apply for a 911 dispatch position with the Pender County Sheriff’s office. And that’s how it all started.

“When someone up above knocks and says, hey, I need you to go through this door instead of the door that you want to go through, you need to listen,” Nowell says. In 2007 she graduated from Brunswick Community College’s Basic Law Enforcement Training program, and 14 years later, she holds the rank of First Sergeant and is a dedicated member of the I.M.P.A.C.T. Unit, a community services team that works to educate citizens about current laws and ways to deter and prevent criminal activities.

An especially meaningful part of Nowell’s job is the work she does with her “tribe of women.” She is instrumental in the R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) program that gives women and seniors the self-confidence and tools to be able to defend themselves against threats. Nowell, who is also a personal trainer, launched a free women’s workout group FIA (Females in Action) Brunswick during COVID to help stay connected to citizens and encourage them to stay active and healthy.

As if she couldn’t love her job more, every day Nowell gets to work alongside her canine partner, seven-year-old Boulder. The golden retriever is the Brunswick County Sheriff Office’s crisis response dog and even accompanies Nowell to self-defense classes “to be there to pet as a calming force when women work through their memories of trauma and fear. He’s an amazing asset,” she says.

Nowell, who was born and raised in Brunswick County, is honored and surprised by her Future 10 nomination. She hopes it inspires other women to consider a career in law enforcement.

Whenever she has free time, Nowell spends most of it with her husband and nine-year-old daughter — who is into horses — traveling to shows or trail rides. Otherwise, you’ll find her outdoors hunting and fishing.

Photography by Megan Deitz