10 Women Of Spirit

By Kym Klass
Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

The women stand out for what they believe in. For their work and its meaning. For their life — and from it, how they give back to their community.

They are 10 Women of Spirit, and they encapsulate dedication, a desire to do good. They feed the hungry, mentor our future military leaders, they have found their place in the church and they provide outreach to the poorest and most underprivileged in our own backyard.

And they all believe that what they do is their calling.

In honor of Women’s History Month, theMontgomery Advertiser recognizes 10 women in the River Region who demonstrate passion, leadership, creativity, and who are bold and confident in their approach to life and work. They are age 45 and younger, and cover all sectors in the community: business, nonprofit, government, education (K-12), education (collegiate), volunteerism, military, entrepreneur, religion, and a “wildcard” category.

They are Holly Caraway, Khristen Carlson, Catrina Cole, Robin Davies, Ashley Davis, Porscha Echols, Julia Henig, Traci Howell, Rhea Ingram and Angela Kornegay James.

Fighting for all Alabamians
Holly Caraway, 33, government

As the chief counsel in the office of the Senate minority leader in the Alabama Legislature, Caraway is passionate about her job for numerous reasons.

“I worked at a nonprofit that worked with children,” she said of work she previously did in Birmingham. “I was an attorney working with domestic violence victims, so being able to transition into the government sector … I get to work on policy that affects all Alabamians.”

She has worked as the chief counsel since February 2012. Previously, she was a staff attorney at the YMCA of Central Alabama in Birmingham, and a staff representative with the Jefferson County American Federation of Teachers.

“I work with eight state senators that really hold the same belief system that I do,” Caraway said. “And so it’s wonderful to be able to go to work every day and work for people that fight for all Alabamians, whether it’s access for quality public education, or quality healthcare, or access to mental health services. I get to work on a wide variety of issues.”

Caraway received a degree in psychology from the University of Alabama in 2004. She also received her law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law in 2010. Also in 2010, she received her master’s in business administration/strategy from the University of
Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business.

Feeding the hungry in schools
Khristen Carlson, 45, nonprofit

Carlson’s mission started years ago while doing service work at a food pantry. There, she read a book called “Toxic Charity,” which discussed treating chronic problems with emergency assistance. And when she thought about that concept, it bothered her more and more that perhaps she wasn’t doing “things the right way, and that I wasn’t helping people the way I really wanted to help people.”

She began searching for positive ways she could help people. Positive ways, she said, that she could make a difference in people’s lives. One of the things she kept going back to was food for children. So, 18 months ago, she started a nonprofit called Montgomery “Food for Kids” Backpack Program, and today serves 30 Montgomery school children at two schools.

Every Friday, school staff distribute bags anonymously into the backpacks of children chosen for the program through their principals. Packed is enough food for two breakfast meals, two lunches, two snacks and two fruits.

Food items include Nutragrain bars, boxed milk, powdered milk, canned pasta, canned meats, baked beans, chili, soup, vegetables, granola bars, raisins, craisins, goldfish, peanut butter and crackers, pretzels, and any canned fruit.

“The thing that really struck me was that this was not just a childhood problem, but there are studies that say that adults that are hungry as children are actually less prepared for the workforce when they get out there,” Carlson said. “The stories are very hard to hear … to have not made it in time for the free breakfast, and who have missed breakfast and are hungry and who are crying because they are hungry.

“As a mother with three children, it’s a very visceral feeling for me. It hits me in the gut to think there are kids out there who are hungry.”

The children in the program are chosen by their principals, Carlson said, based on their “appearance of hunger. In Montgomery County alone, about 76 percent of the kids who are in public schools, they can qualify for free and reduced(-priced) lunch. So this program can help a whole lot of people. Our program is really directed at those children displaying those signs of hunger.”

How can you help? Commit to making a certain number of bags per month, or provide requested food that is placed in bags. Volunteers also can donate plastic grocery bags, or purchase gift cards from local grocers.

How else? To learn more about the program, and how and where to donate food, visit Montgomery “Food for Kids” Backpack Program on Facebook.

Shaping the future military
Army Maj. Catrina Cole, 38, military

Cole credits her parents for her passion for the military. They both served, and as Cole watched their “honor and respect” for the military, she decided to enlist at age 17, with plans to earn her college degree while serving.

Cole, who has served in the military for 21 years, is the executive officer for the Montgomery Recruiting Battalion, covering the state of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

“I’ve had a series of jobs in the military and have held ranks from sergeant to major,” she said. “My passion is the ability to be able to reach out and touch our future. So anyone joining the military at any of the centers located throughout our footprint, to me, is our future military.

“So we get to see and shape the young men and women who volunteer and come and take up the reins as those of us who are seasoned now, and over 20, will be retiring.”

Cole, whose husband is due home in June following a year-long deployment, has two boys ages 8 and 10, and manages a staff of 30 personnel and 200 recruiters spread throughout the Alabama footprint.

“I look forward to being more involved in the community as I hang up the uniform and transition into a civilian job,” she said, adding she is involved with the Millbrook YMCA’s basketball, soccer and youth programs.

Cole has lived in the region for about 18 months. She claims Miami as home, having lived there the longest. Born in Springfield, Ohio, and “what I find most interesting about the military that I tell people is that I’ve lived life on vacation. So I’ve never lived anywhere in my entire lifespan more than three years. Ever.

“It’s been exciting. I’ve lived in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Asia, Virginia.”

Selling homes, building community
Robin Davies, 42, entrepreneur

When Davies realized the corporate world was not for her, the Realtor branched out, wasting no time in not only growing her company, Realty Connection, but forming relationships in the community.

“I like to find new ways, new innovative ways to do things,” she said. “I want to find different ways for people to see your home. I’ve actually sold homes to people in England, Germany, site unseen, and that’s the way I like to do business — to make sure I can get the properties out there in any way that we can.”

Davies, who lives in Millbrook, and whose office is in Prattville, is active in the Prattville Chamber of Commerce, having been an ambassador with them since 2007 and welcoming new businesses to the area.

“I try to offer things like getting business cards and fliers from them so we can give them to our clients and kind of help promote the community because the community promotes us,” she said. “We also are very big in donating to causes. When we sell a home, we let our buyers or our sellers choose a foundation or a charity that is close … to their heart and we make a donation on their behalf. It’s nothing that costs them any money. It comes strictly out of the commission that the company keeps. It’s very important to us to give back to our community in any way that we can.”

Those groups include St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross and New Hope Academy.

In 2007, Davis attained her multi-million dollar producer status, and has been able to maintain the status every year since. In 2009, she assisted in the opening of a new franchise, Exit Realty Preferred. And in 2011, made the decision to go on her own with Realty Connection in Prattville.

In 2014, she opened the door to other agents. And since August, Realty Connection has grown from one agent to seven agents.

“I’m very excited about this,” she said. “I never saw the company growing this fast and this far, and it’s very important to me because it says that Realty Connection is out there doing exactly what I wanted it to do. I have clients who have followed me through my career … and that’s one of our things that we like, is the connection that we make with other people.”

Realty Connection can be found online at

Strong sense of call in the church
Ashley Davis, 37, religion

Davis was an undergrad student at Auburn who thought she would enter the medical field. Instead today, she is an associate pastor at Woodland United Methodist Church in Pike Road.

“I had an experience one night where I just felt like I was wrapped in the arms of God and the amazing love of God,” she said. “And I started having these experiences where words would just come to me like a book being flipped.

“And I had this strong desire to share those words with other people. It was kind of alarming to me. I was kind of introverted at the time, and the idea of getting in front of people and sharing those things was frightening.”

Davis, a native of Luverne, and a graduate of Auburn University where she earned a bachelor of science degree, said her call continued as she attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, which is part of Emory University.

From there, she continued her calling in other ways, and not just in teaching and preaching words, “but also in being able to share God’s love in tangible ways, whether that was through celebrating the sacraments of Holy communion and baptism, or being able to reach out and help those who are in need, to help those who are hungry or thirsty, or those who are in prison.

“To help and heal those who are sick as well.”

Davis has served at Woodland for a couple of years, having previously served in smaller churches in northern Elmore County and also in campus ministry for eight years at the Troy University Wesley Foundation.

For the last three years, she served the Trinity-Wallsboro charge, and has also served on the board for the Troy-Pike Habitat for Humanity for several years, as well as on the board for the Elmore County Food Pantry. She has served throughout the Alabama-West Florida Conference as an elder in the United Methodist Church.

“My dad is a doctor, and my mom is a nurse,” Davis said. “Everyone in my family is in medicine in one way or another. I thought I would do that. I thought I would help people through medicine.”

Woodland UMC can be found online at

Changing the heart of the children
Porscha Echols, 28, volunteer

At Common Ground Montgomery at Washington Park, Echols loves the idea of reaching a community by changing the heart of the children first. Echols, a volunteer with the ministry for three years, believes that will matriculate into their parents, and into their homes.

Common Ground Montgomery is an inner-city/urban youth ministry serving the Washington Park and Gibbs Village communities.

“I really see it as a privilege to be able to volunteer,” she said. “There’s a ministry here that gives their time away daily, and for me to be able to come alongside and just alleviate for just a moment, or just an hour, the regular stresses they have is just a privilege.

“I volunteer … because I believe the Lord commands us to do, to give back, to share, to teach. I volunteer because … it’s not burdensome, it’s not a hard thing to do. It’s an honor.”

And since living here and working, and volunteering, Echols says she has grown as a Christian, as a woman, and as a servant.

Having graduated from Tuskegee University in 2008, Echols was born in California, and after a few years, moved to Oklahoma before returning to California where she graduated from high school.

“I went to a college expo for historically black colleges, and they were doing on-the-spot admissions,” she said. “I wired it down to one (college) in Louisiana and Tuskegee. My godsister called when there was a hurricane in Louisiana, and I thought … no.”

On Wednesday nights, Echols teaches a Bible study to fourth- and fifth-grade girls. Other times find the Johnnie Carr Middle School sixth-grade teacher spending what time she can with the children.

“I really think it gives them an understanding of what true service is,” she said. “Well people are not in need of a doctor. Children who can’t do a lot for themselves are in need of as much support as possible. As volunteers, we can provide a level of support.”
Common Ground Montgomery can be found online at

Healthcare in central Alabama “very fulfilling”
Julia Henig, 39, business

Henig, vice president of business development at Baptist Health, said her job brought her to Montgomery 11 years ago. She and Baptist Health CEO Russ Tyner were brought to the city as part of a UAB health system management team, she said, to “provide a turnaround for the Baptist Health system here. What was supposed to be six months has turned into 11 years, and it has turned into the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Before joining Baptist Health, Henig served as assistant planning and strategy officer and assistant executive director for strategic ventures at UAB Health System in Birmingham. She also is very civic-minded, serving on numerous boards and committees, including being president of the Montgomery City-County Public Library board; a member of the Healthy Minds Network Leadership Council; on the community needs assessment committee with the River Region United Way; and since 2004, as a board member of the Montgomery Baptist Outreach Services Corporation.

“I just love my career,” she said. “To be afforded an opportunity at such a young age to actually make a difference and to come into a community and really turn things around and have success. We’re all very proud of the healthcare delivered here in central Alabama, and to have the run that we’ve had and the successes we’ve had, and really affecting healthcare in central Alabama is very fulfilling.”

Henig is board certified in health care management and holds a master of science in health administration, master of business administration and certificate of gerontology from UAB. She also completed the Global Leadership in Health Care Program at the University of Michigan, and graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor of business administration degree.

While at Ole Miss, Henig was the captain of the women’s volleyball team, and earned All-SEC athletic and academic honors.

Giving back, reaching the youth
Traci Howell, 33, wildcard

Howell works as a program acquisitions manager at Maxwell Air Force Base-Gunter Annex. What most of her office doesn’t know, is what she does outside of work. That includes her work as a coordinator for the Teen Board at the Shoppes at EastChase, founder of Tie and Doll, a member of the Capital City Club Inner Circle and of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., a member of the Montgomery chapter of Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), and of the EMERGE Montgomery Torchbearers Leadership Program, Class III.

“What I enjoy doing as far as community service work is giving back to the community,” Howell said. “I think it is very important to take time out of your schedule, despite how busy it is, and be a mentor. For me, when I was younger, I had different people who were mentors in my life, whether it was my family, my parents, or my friends.”

Howell, who has had a hearing impairment since the age of 5, said having mentors in the early stages of her life taught her to give back to others “because there was so much I learned from that situation. I’m always doing something for the youth, which is always fun for me, because I like to see when they have their ‘a-ha’ moments, or when they come back and tell me what they have accomplished.

“Because for a lot of them, they started out with no self-esteem, or no confidence, and I just love being able to work with them and let them know that anything is possible.”

Other notable items:
Howell oversees:
Tie and Doll Inc. founder,
The All TIEd Up Project
The All DOLLed Up Project
She also is involved in the Stuff the Bus School Supply Campaign at The Shoppes at EastChase (organizer), River Region United Way Community Council (vice chair) and the River Region United Way Budget and Allocation Committee.

Bringing reality to the (business) classroom
Rhea Ingram, 45, education, collegiate

Ingram, dean of the College of Business at Auburn Montgomery, doesn’t hesitate when asked what her passion is in the education field.
“My passion is definitely the students,” she said. “So with higher education, in-particular management education changing, because the business world is changing, I’m passionate about bringing reality to the classroom.

“What I mean by that is, ‘Are we teaching students what they need to learn both in knowledge and in skills to be able to go out into the workforce and become a true business leader from the day they get hired?’ (It’s wonderful) being able to watch students come in as freshman and transform into these business leaders when they walk across the stage.

“And I get to be the privileged one to shake their hands … it’s awesome that we — we, being the faculty members and the administration — assist in this transition. So not only do we impact the students’ lives, but we impact the business community by providing them with business leaders as we do.”

In the community, Ingram’s most recent contributions include:
Judge, Alabama Retail Association 2011 Retailer of the Year Awards (2015)
Diversity Summit, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, panel coordinator
Women’s First Conference, panelist
AAF Montgomery, Executive Committee,educational chair (2012-2013)
Governmental Affairs Committee, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce (2013)
Small Business Advisory Council, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce (2012 — 2013)
And, professionally:
Society for Marketing Advances (1998 — Present): President (2009 — 2010)
Program Chair/President-Elect (2008 — 2009), vice president of member services (2007 — 2008), secretary (2005 — 2007), executive director (2010 — 2013)
Southern Business Administrators Association (2011-Present)
Alabama Hospitality Association (2009 — 2011)
Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (2009-2011)
EMERGE Montgomery (AL) (2009 — 2010)
“I like to think we’re really changing the world”

Angela Kornegay James, 44, education, K-12
James believes what she does is a calling. That you can’t just walk into education, but that you are called to do the job.
As principal at MacMillan International Baccalaureate Academy, she said every day she walks through the front doors of the school, “it means so much to me.

“No matter what is going on at home, I can just come in and see the children, and everything is OK. I think we’re making a difference here at MacMillan because we have children who come here every year from all over the world. Not only are we making an impact on the children that are here in this community, but the children who come from other countries and go back to their schools.”

James is a product of the Montgomery public school system, and received a degree in elementary education from Alabama State University, and a master’s in education from Troy University Montgomery.

Of the MacMillan students, she says, “We share so much with them, and they take all of that back to their countries. I like to think that we’re really changing the world. My passion comes from just always having the desire to help and make a difference. I think no matter what I can do to help someone or help a child, I do.”

After graduating high school at age 17, James joined the Alabama Army National Guard, where she served on active duty during Desert Storm/Shield from 1990-1991. She later earned a degree in elementary education at Alabama State University and graduated cum laude in 1995.

She taught at Southlawn Elementary School, where she attended as a student, and later taught fifth grade at Carver Arts Magnet Elementary School. In the fall of 2002, she became the assistant principal at Highland Gardens Elementary, where she and her staff received rewards from the State of Alabama for academic acheivement as a “Gap Closer School.”

In July 2011, James was named principal of MacMillan, and after three years, received word the school was officially authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB) to become an IB World School offering the Primary Years Program (PYP); making it the first elementary school in Montgomery County to achieve that distinction.

James lives and works by a favorite quote:
“I hope that my achievements in life shall be these — that I will have fought for what was right and fair, that I will have risked for that which mattered, and that I will have given help to those who were in need that I will have left the earth a better place for what I’ve done and who I’ve been.” — C. Hoppe

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