May 10, 2016

Six young professionals were honored for their outstanding professional and community contributions at the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner on Monday night. The PACE (Professional and Community Engagement) Awards were presented to exceptional young professionals who have made significant contributions to our region through professional achievements as well as through community/volunteer service. 

Recipients of the awards were Missy Neff Gould, Shannon L. Hair, Kenneth Adam Lewis, Jr., Lori Merricks, Ashley M. Nauta, and Christopher A. Payne.  This is the fourth year that the Chamber has recognized outstanding young professionals in our region.

Nominations were solicited from the community for young professionals who are 25 to 40 years old and either reside or work in Danville or Pittsylvania County.

Criteria for the award included at least three years of professional work experience, demonstrated leadership within their profession, and contributions to this region through volunteer/community activities.

Missy Neff Gould

Missy Neff Gould is the Director of Legislative Affairs for The Nature Conservancy where she develops and implements state legislative strategies benefitting land conservation and other natural resources priorities. Gould’s work in government affairs is extensive as she previously has worked as Community & Government Relations Market Director for LifePoint Hospitals, as the principal of 360 Public Affairs, as Vice President of CRT/tanaka and as Vice President of McGuire Woods Consulting.  In each of these positions, she has advised clients on a range of policy and strategic communications matters including energy, environment, healthcare, technology, and education.

Gould was the Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia under former Governor Timothy M. Kaine.  In that role, Gould served as the liaison between the Governor’s Office and six natural resources agencies.

Gould, who is a Halifax County native, moved to Danville in 2013 with her husband, Steven.  In her few short years in Danville, she has made a significant impact in our region.  Gould is a gubernatorial appointee to Virginia’s Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.  She also serves on the boards of directors for the Danville Community College Education Foundation and the Virginia Public Access Project and as an Advisory Board Member for the Danville Regional Foundation.

Gould serves on the Chamber’s Legislative Committee and the WE (Women Empowered) Lead Planning Committee.  She is also a past program instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy.  Gould graduated from the Sorensen Institute’s Political Leaders Program in 2006.  She received her BA degree from Meredith College.

Shannon L. Hair

Shannon L. Hair serves as the Vice President of Institutional Advancement & Development at Danville Community College. He also serves as the Executive Director of the DCC Educational Foundation. Hair has been employed at DCC since October 2010.

In his position, Hair is responsible for implementing and executing the College’s gift and fundraising activities and assisting in events which promote and strengthen the College’s and Foundation’s programs.  Hair was responsible for the college’s first Major Gifts Campaign, where his efforts, in conjunction with the community, brought forth over $7 million in new investment.  To date, Hair, in partnership with the community college, has raised approximately $25 million during his tenure at DCC.

Hair is a graduate of DCC, receiving his Associate of Applied Science Degree in General Engineering. He also earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering through Old Dominion University. Hair is a graduate of the Virginia Industrial Development Institute, the Economic Development Institute at Oklahoma University, and the Basic Economic Development Course through the International Economic Development Council.  He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration through the University of Nebraska.

Hair has been honored as the Council for Resource Development’s Fundraising Professional of the Year and the Virginia Association of Fundraising Executives’ Rising Star.

Hair currently serves as a Trustee on the Board for Danville Regional Medical Center.  He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Danville/Pittsylvania County Business Development Center, Danville Science Center, Womack Foundation, House of Hope, Danville Public School Education Foundation, and Mount Hermon Volunteer Fire & Rescue.

Kenneth E. Lewis, Jr.

Kenneth E. Lewis, Jr. is president and CEO of Extreme Events, LLC and founder of the Extreme Change Foundation, a non-profit organization designed for community outreach and initiating an extreme change not only in his local community but throughout the region.

Lewis is also the Human Resources Director at Negril Incorporated, Director of Player Personnel for Timeless Solutions Financial Firm out of Raleigh, NC and the creator of the “Ribs Rhythm & Blues Jazz Festival” which is based out of Danville and has been named on the National Jazz Festival Calendar as a top event to attend for the summer time.

Lewis is deeply rooted in his hometown of Danville and is a faithful member of Abundant Life World Outreach Church where he is the Director of the Music Ministry.

The son of Kenneth and Theresa Lewis, Kenny chose to follow in his father’s athletic footsteps.  Upon graduating from George Washington High School, he was drafted in the 4th round of Major League Baseball by the Cincinnati Reds.  He stayed with the organization for four years, earning the distinction as the “Fastest Man In The Game of Baseball” and breaking Dion Sanders 60 yard dash record. Upon completing his career with the Reds, Lewis enrolled in Virginia Tech where he was the starting running back.  He graduated from Virginia Tech with a BA degree in Residential Property Management. 

Lewis and his wife, Melanie, have two children, 3-year-old Kenneth Jamison Lewis and one-year old Penelope Nicole Lewis.

Lori Merricks

A native of Pittsylvania County, Lori Merricks serves as the director of marketing and communications for Danville Regional Foundation, working to develop strategic marketing efforts for DRF and its regional partners. She has more than 15 years of experience spanning public relations; event/sponsorship management and marketing; strategic communications planning; and digital and social media project planning, development and implementation.

Prior to joining DRF, Merricks held various positions with Birmingham, Alabama-based Luckie & Company, a national full-service marketing and advertising agency.

Merricks is a 2015 graduate of Lead Virginia, a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia Council on Women and a member of the board of directors for God's Storehouse in Danville.  She also spends countless hours volunteering for her church as a handbell choir leader and maintaining the church’s communications efforts.

Merricks was appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to Virginia’s Council on Women where she is able to take her service to a statewide level.

Merricks is a Cum Laude graduate of Samford University with a major in Journalism/Mass Communications and a minor in Business. She is also certified by the Institute for Crisis Management.

Ashley M. Nauta

Ashley M. Nauta is an Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources with Virginia Cooperative Extension. She also owns Z-Train Fitness Center in Gretna.

Nauta’s family moved to Pittsylvania County in 1998 while she was still in high school. She embraced the community, becoming one of the youngest Emergency Medical Technicians to volunteer with the Gretna Rescue Squad during her high school career. 

Nauta graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a BS degree in Animal and Poultry Sciences with an Equine emphasis.  She expects to receive her Master of Business Administration and Graduate Certificate in Marketing Management from Colorado State University in 2019.

Nauta returned to Pittsylvania County and joined Virginia Cooperative Extension in 2014 after having served as a sales manager, young horse trainer and safety instructor in Pennsylvania and Florida.  In August 2015, she opened Z-Train Fitness in Gretna where she is the owner and ZUMBA Fitness Instructor.

While Nauta’s Cooperative Extension office is housed in Halifax County, most of her work is regional.  Effective July 1st, she will be relocated to the Danville and Pittsylvania County area.  Nauta has led the regional team to host multiple educational programs for local food and agri-tourism entrepreneurs.  She has also organized Vendor Training classes for the Farmers Market.

Nauta is a member of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Dan River Region’s Health Collaborative, Revitalization for a Greater Gretna, and the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce.    

Christopher Adam Payne, DDS, MAGD

Christopher Adam Payne, DDS, MAGD is a dentist at Danville Dental Associates, practicing orthodontics and family dentistry. He was the first dentist in Virginia to achieve both Mastership in the Academy of General Dentistry as well as becoming a fellow in the International Association for Orthodontics.

Payne was a founder of “Give Thanks for Smiles” which increases access to care by providing dental services for reduced fees with collections donated to charity.  The events have raised over $18,000 for God's Storehouse.

Payne is the Past President of the Piedmont Dental Society for Roanoke, Lynchburg, Martinsville and Danville.  He has served on multiple committees for the Virginia Dental Association and is a Past Officer for the Danville Regional Dental Society.

Payne is a Past President of the Kiwanis Club of Danville, a Board member for the Danville Speech and Hearing Center, Past President at Twin Springs PTO, and a member of Trinity United Methodist Church.

Payne and his wife, Han, have three children - Zach, Sam and Olivia.