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Athens’ Game Changers

By Hailea Boykin  |  Photography by Evermore Photo Co.

Athens is an incredible community where passionate compassion runs deep. Many of the challenges and opportunities the community faces today are dramatically different from those of ages past. It is critically important that we have fresh eyes and minds to address our changing environment. It takes all of us — past, present, and future leaders — working together to maximize our community impact.

The Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Athens Magazine, is pleased to reveal the first annual Gamechangers — 10 Athenians under 40 years of age whose extraordinary efforts are making Athens-Clarke County a better place to live. These leaders exemplify, through their work and other community efforts, a hope that the best Athens is the Athens ahead of us.


— David Bradley
President/CEO Athens Area Chamber of Commerce

Katie Bishop Williams


Age: 37

Education: Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Public Relations, from UGA.

Employer: Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)

Occupation: Director

Greatest Athens organization

connections: LEAD Athens has connected her to many organizations. She has enjoyed learning about all the non-profits and groups working to make Athens a better place to live and work.

Most proud of: Williams is most proud of the way Athens CVB has supported their community partners during the pandemic. They collaborated with several community organizations to develop and launch the Ready, Set, Go Safely campaign that helped safely reopen Athens for tourism and business.

Strongest influence: Her dad is her biggest influence; he has safely guided her through all her major life milestones and decisions. He is her favorite person to discuss politics, business and college football with.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Get involved in LEAD Athens. It has hands down been the best professional experience of my life and has forever changed my relationships in Athens.”

A unique fact: She was captain of the Color Guard for the marching band during her senior year of high school and they won the Bands of America Grand National Championship. 

Zander Mason


Age: 26

Education: Mason has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from UGA.

Employer: Raymond James

Occupation: Wealth Manager

Greatest Athens organization

connections: He feels most connected to The Athens Jaycees, Athens Academy, Classic City Church and the Chamber of Commerce. Mason also is greatly connected to Palm House Recovery Centers and the Sparrows Nest.

Most proud of: Mason is most proud of the relationships he has made while conducting service to the community.

Strongest influences: Mason’s strongest influences are his mother and father who have shown him what ideal leaders look like. He attributes his bravery to his grandfather and his generosity and kindness to his grandmother.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Get involved and say yes … Once you say that word the snowball will start rolling down the hill and lead to bigger and better influences, relationships, and change for the community.”

A unique fact: He has always thought about things in terms of numbers and probabilities and he gives values to things that don’t always necessarily have direct dollar value. Mason was also one of the youngest CPA’s in Georgia for a short period.

Elisa Zarate


Age: 39

Education: Zarate has a Master of Social Work from UGA and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgia College and State University.

Employer: Athens-Clarke County Courts

Occupation: Court Administrator

Greatest Athens organization

connections: Though she has too many organizations to name, Zarate is always amazed by the work of the Accountability Courts and is appreciative of the Athens Wellbeing Project for improving quality of life in the community. Zarate has done work with Envision Athens on the Implementation and Oversight Committee and now serves as a board member. She also mentions the Get Comfortable campaign as a great supporter of the courts and other local organizations.

Most proud of: She is most proud of her son for being compassionate, kind and imaginative while also reminding her to use her manners and not leave the water running.

Strongest Influence: Zarate is strongly influenced by the clients and participants she works with who have taught her the value of perseverance and second chances. Her co-workers and various community partners have shown her that remaining optimistic in difficult times goes a long way.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Just try to be a good person and love your neighbors and your community … Positive change is a process and often times we don’t get to see the rewards in our day-to-day work, but it’s important to show gratitude and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments.”

A unique fact: During the pandemic Zarate found enjoyment in gardening, specifically “Niwaki” which is the Japanese word for cloud pruning trees and shrubs. She finds the technique to be relaxing and therapeutic.

John Morris


Age: 23

Education: Morris has a Bachelor of Business Administration from UGA Terry College of Business.

Employer: Advantage Behavioral Health Systems

Occupation: Street Outreach Coordinator

Greatest Athens organization

connections: Morris loves his colleages at the Homeless Day Service Center at Advantage. He also has great appreciation for the Mental Health Co-Responder Units and the Crisis Stabilization Unit, People Living in Recovery (PLR), Fresh Wind Recovery Ministry and all his fellow Access Point of GA volunteers. Access Point of GA saves lives every week with their harm reduction work and recovery resources.

Most proud of: He is most proud of the strong relationships built with his clients that he helps identify and follow through with their own solutions.

Strongest influences: Morris has many mentors, clients, friends and former participants at ESP that have made a great impact on his life. Erin Barger, Laura McCoy and Charles Nelms have each impacted and taught him in their own way.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Meaningful work takes time, relationships and really getting to know people … The best leaders that I know are ones who are intentional about hearing all people’s stories and experiences — seeking to understand instead of trying to blindly step in and save the day.”

A unique fact: John has five siblings — two older brothers, two younger brothers and the baby of the family, his beautiful sister with Down syndrome (who has to put up with FIVE older brothers).

Monique M. Sanders


Age: 38

Education: Sanders has a Master of Business Administration in Project Management from Columbia Southern University and a Bachelor of Science in Biological Engineering from Louisiana State University.

Employer: Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc.

Occupation: Project Manager

Greatest Athens organization

connections: Sanders’ greatest connection is the Boys & Girls Club of Athens which heavily influenced Get Stemulated’s mission and objectives. Get Stemulated has hosted over three annual STEM camps during the ACC spring breaks where students can build relationships with STEM professionals from companies like USDA, Johnson & Johnson, W&A Engineering and more. Many of the budding scientists have designed and built multiple projects at the Joel E. Smilow Club.

Most proud of: She is most proud of living her brand as a professional/entrepreneur while including her nine-year-old daughter, Sidnee, as an agent for change. Sanders has served as an engineer for a global healthcare organization for over 10 years and loves to share ideas and develop strategies that can help other young innovators solve global problems.

Strongest influences: Sanders is blessed by several leaders. Her strongest influences are her parents, Monica and Michael Magee, who each exemplify hard work, servant leadership, resilience and gratitude.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “I live by Mahatma Ghandi’s quote, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ Listen to your heart and follow your spirit’s path of least resistance.”

A unique fact: Incredibly adventurous, Sanders has climbed Dunn’s River Falls and jumped from a 30-foot cliff into a lagoon in Jamaica. She embraces life’s challenges because she knows the experiences foster growth and courage.

Laura McCoy


Age: 38

Education: McCoy has received her GED from North Georgia Technical College.

Employer: Advantage Behavioral Health Systems and Western Judicial Circuit Felony Drug Court

Occupation: Street Outreach Coordinator and Peer Specialist

Greatest Athens organization

connections: McCoy has a great connection with The Homeless Day Center, PLR, DIVAS, Reboot Jackson (Jackson County), Envision Athens, Athens Alliance Coalition and Bigger Vision. The 9th District, the Accountability Courts in Athens and the recovery houses are also a very important part of her work.

Most proud of: She is most proud of finding recovery, being part of her family’s lives and giving back to the community.

Strongest influences: McCoy’s strongest influences are her younger brother and nephew.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Find as many resources as you can, make partnerships in the community and just do it!”

A unique fact: She loves history and says she is full of useless facts.

Lawrence Harris


Age: 31

Education: Harris has a Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from UGA, as well as a Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Administration and Policy from UGA.

Employer: Clarke County School District

Occupation: Chief of Community Engagement & Strategic Partnerships

Athens connections: Harris helped start and is greatly connected to College Factory, an organization that helps all students access college and career planning resources. He is also connected with Envision Athens, the Clarke County Mentor Program, United Way of Northeast Georgia and Chess and Community, which is led by his brother, Lemuel Laroche.

Most proud of: He is most proud of the work he does with parents and students in the community.

Strongest influences: Harris’ greatest influences are faith, family and mentors.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Find a mission or purpose that is driven by helping others that gets you excited to wake up every day and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

A unique fact: Harris has lived in well over 10 cities throughout his life, but he has made Athens his home. He also has a cat named Basi — which he is allergic to but loves very much.

Alex Borges


Age: 37

Education: Borges has a Master of Business and Technology from UGA and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Shorter University in Rome, Ga.

Employer: Clarke County School District

Occupation: District Translator and Community Liaison

Greatest Athens organization

connections: Borges feels most connected to Casa de Armistad. They have been serving Athens Latinx community through advocacy, social services and adult education for 20 years! They provide much needed pandemic relief including food distribution, COVID-19 testing and vaccination, along with rent and utility assistance.

Most Proud of: He is most proud of his work at the Office of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships. One of their most exceptional accomplishments is expanding access to language services for their English learner population.

Strongest influence: Borges’ grandmother Elizabeth, who fiercely advocated for all of her grandkids, his greatest inspiration and influence. He is also greatly inspired by the Latinx/Hispanic communities that rarely get the recognition they deserve for helping shape Athens.

Best advice for a future GameChanger:

“Bringing change to a community requires a lot of work. You will definitely find resistance from those who are comfortable with the status quo or people who don’t understand the value of what you’re advocating for. It is very important to stay focused and ignore the noise.”

A unique fact: Borges is from Coamo, a small Puetro Rican town and has been fortunate enough to visit many places including Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Australia and Norway. He even lived in Paris, France for a short time.

Deanne Rosso


Age: 39

Education: Rosso has a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Sciences with a major in Consumer Journalism from UGA.

Employer: Elevate Wealth Advisory (formerly Vickery Financial Services)

Occupation: President/CEO

Greatest Athens organization

connections: Rosso has invested her time time into the Junior League of Athens (JLA). The organization has provided leadership training, networking and opportunities to serve. JLA sponsored Rosso through LEAD Athens which allowed her to further her skills during training programs.

Most proud of: Rosso is proud that she has worked very hard to be in a position to support her family and give back to the community. She acknowledges that she did not do it alone and is incredibly grateful for her support system of family, friends and colleagues.

Strongest influences: Rosso’s parents have had the greatest impact on her life, raising her to understand the importance of work ethic, faith and family.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “Know yourself first and find your “why.”  When you know your “why” and keep it front and center, your passion for it will naturally move you forward.”

A unique fact: She is almost always engaged with a coach/mentor for an accountability partner, objective advice and to help her evaluate personal or professional situations from different perspectives.

Johnelle Simpson II


Age: 28

Education: Most recently Simpson received a Doctor of Jurisprudence from The University of Tennessee College of Law. He also has a Bachelor of Business Administration, Risk Management and Insurance, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, from UGA.

Employer: Fortson, Bentley & Griffin, P.A.

Occupation: Attorney

Greatest Athens organization

connections: Before his legal career, Simpson spent two years working with the Athens Community Career Academy. He was able to partner with the ACC Unified Government, Athens Land Trust, Chamber of Commerce, Athens Technical College, UGA and many more that help make sure the community is work ready.

Most proud of: Simpson is most proud of his South Georgia roots. Growing up in rural America taught him to be kind to everyone he encounters, make the most of what he has and always be to true to who he is.

Strongest influences: Simpson’s family has been his greatest influence. Their drive, ambition and love for people has taught him to make a difference in every space he is afforded to be in.

Best advice for a future GameChanger: “…be passionate and intentional. Your passion will lead you to the causes you care the most about. Being intentional will help you develop your strategy and plan for success.”

A unique fact: During his senior year at UGA he had the pleasure of being Student Body President and Homecoming King.