Meet the 2021 New Guard

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Bar Julian (and its incredible views) played host for the 2021 New Guard, a group of 18 movers and shakers making Savannah better, day by day.

Photography by JEREMIAH HULL // Styling by SUZETTE PIOSKE

AFTER A YEAR of Zoom meetings, face time — not FaceTime — is slowly coming back. Spanning industries like real estate, healthcare, education and more, the 2021 New Guard gathered at Thompson Savannah’s rooftop bar for a little networking and a lot of collective professional prowess. Despite comprising a wide range of professional expertise, all of our honorees have one thing in common: a commitment to giving back to Savannah in a meaningful way through their everyday work or charitable endeavors (or, in many cases, both!).

ON WILLIAM: Levy Jewelers bracelets, Rivers & Glen Trading Co. belt
ON KRISTEN:  StoneLords earrings, House of Strut cuff
ON WENDY: Asher + Rye earrings, House of Strut belt, J. Parker Ltd. cuff

WILLIAM G. WHEAT // Guerry Lumber

As general manager at T.H. Guerry Lumber Co., William is committed to nurturing land and forests: he tends to trees on a 2,000-acre family tree farm in Screven County and is a member of the Georgia Forestry Association. As a fifth-generation family member to work at Guerry Lumber, William says he can’t help but envision “seeing my children one day running a healthy, successful company.” He has grand plans for his family’s tree farm, too, where he spends time nearly every weekend. “The goal is to continue to create a sustainable forest and leave our piece of earth better than we found it for future generations.”

KRISTEN HARKLEROAD // Capital Bee Company

Work is sweet for Kristen, director of sales and operations for Capital Bee Company. Thanks to her hard work (and that of her team), the company was named the Buy Local Business of the Year in 2020. She has also become involved in Buy Local — an organization aimed at uplifting the city’s many local shops and businesses — herself, serving as its 2020-2021 Vice President. It’s not the only endeavor with which she shares her time: the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Make a Wish Foundation have benefited from Kristen’s tireless commitment to giving back.


Hospice administrators are given the hefty responsibility of making sure their hospice meets the needs of its terminally ill patients in a way that also complies with seemingly endless local, state and national regulations. Wendy, a licensed master social worker and the administrator of GHC Hospice, balances it all with aplomb — and boundless compassion. Despite her busy job (and being a mom of three), Wendy finds time to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, making a lifelong difference in the lives of abused and neglected children in foster care. Wendy is also a member of the National Hospice Palliative Care Organization.

ON JENNY: Emily McCarthy clutch and bracelets, J. Parker Ltd. earrings
ON RANDAL: Levy Jewelers watch
ON AMBRIA: House of Strut cuff, Asher + Rye earrings

JENNY RUTHERFORD // Jenny Rutherford Real Estate

Jenny, who has been featured on HGTV for her Tybee Island real estate expertise on shows like Beachfront Bargain Hunt and Island Life, was named Savannah’s Women Council of Realtors Entrepreneur of the Year. She also loves sharing her entrepreneurial spirit with others: This summer, Jenny Rutherford Real Estate served as the “Main Squeeze Sponsor” for Lemonade Day, a national, nonprofit program aimed at teaching elementary school children basic business, financial and communication skills by opening their own lemonade stand (Mayor Shirley Sessions even dubbed Aug. 21 as Lemonade Day on Tybee Island thanks to Jenny’s efforts).


As the director of operations at Seimitsu, Randal has also worked both independently and with TechSAV, where he serves as a co-organizer, to help provide technology and cybersecurity guidance and training for historically underserved and underrepresented populations in Savannah. From offering coding programming and technology training through the local chapter of Code Bar to counseling individuals seeking careers in tech, to helping local nonprofits improve the security of their networks and technology systems, Randal’s efforts show that tech isn’t just some ubiquitous, faceless concept — it’s as human (and local) as it is integral.

AMBRIA BERKSTEINER // Operation One STEM at a Time / Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia

With a dual degree in mathematics and engineering at Spelman College, Ambria knew she could do more to help girls just like her. That’s why, in 2016, she founded Operation One STEM at a Time, an initiative she solidified on her platform as Miss Black Savannah USA 2017-2018. The organization educates, enlightens and empowers young women to pursue STEM-related careers, and Ambria could also be considered its mentor-in-chief. This summer, she partnered with Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia (where she’s a program manager) to host Women in STEM Exploration Day, familiarizing girls with a variety of science and technology-related careers.


The Edition Shop necklaces, dress and blazer

The Edition Shop’s founder and owner is all about uplifting other women in business (her own was featured in Vogue magazine’s 2021 Small Business Directory). The shop’s website includes a section profiling other local women business owners and styling them to perfection, of course. A former accountant, Meredith is enjoying not one but two second acts: as a shop owner and also a new mom. She seeks networking opportunities wherever she can — but it looks a little different these days. “Before my son, I attended a lot of events. Now, I’m mostly likely meeting new people on Instagram or in my store,” she says, laughing.

MICHAEL HOLTON // Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society / South Effingham Elementary School

Michael is all about breaking barriers. He’s heavily involved in the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society, serving as its vice president and assisting with the advocacy organization’s signature events, Buddy Walk and Night of Champions. He recently added another line to his resume, too: working full-time in the technology lab at South Effingham Elementary School. The new role, which Michael started earlier this year, also happens to be making history. He’s the first developmentally disabled person in Georgia to work in providing instruction within a classroom setting, according to the school’s principal.

ON PAM: Emily McCarthy blazer, J. Parker Ltd. earrings, Hannah E. purse
ON WILL: Levy Jewelers watch
ON LEANDREA: StoneLords necklace, Emily McCarthy bracelet

PAM PETERSON // Seabolt Real Estate

Pam strives to be a student of her profession. “I’m always hungry to learn new things,” she says. “It’s the only way to grow.” When she’s not helping others find their perfect home, she’s at her own full house, where she and her wife have four rescue dogs, a cat, a pig and several chickens. The “mini farm,” as she calls it, neatly represents her passion of animal rescue. “As a volunteer for One Love Animal Rescue, I foster and fundraise to meet the ongoing need of homeless animals in Savannah.”
Fun fact: One Love’s co-founder, Karrie Bulski, was a 2019 New Guard honoree.

WILLIAM D. ATKINSON // The Kessler Enterprise

William, director of real estate investments and area marketing at The Kessler Enterprise, understands the value of learning from others. “I’m tremendously fortunate to be surrounded by individuals who are truly at the top in their professions. Being able to learn from them is a special privilege, and certainly one of the best parts of my job.” He’s also happy to be back in Savannah, after having spent some time here in college. “If you need to meet with someone, you can just walk across town and sit down with them in their office. It doesn’t take two weeks of back-and-forth emails.”

LeANDREA MIKELL // Savannah State University

LeAndrea, executive director for government and community relations at Savannah State University, Georgia’s oldest public HBCU, rose to the challenge of her job from day one. “I arrived at the end of February, while things were still shut down,” she says. “While it was a challenge to get out and meet many members of my new Tiger family, it helped me find creative ways to build relationships.” But she’s not one to talk about herself for long, and would much rather focus on students and the larger community. “I’m keenly aware that I am not working for myself. My passion for others definitely drives me.”

SOMI BENSON-JAJA // Shot by Somi Studios

J. Parker Ltd. bowtie and hat

Somi, who was recently voted by readers as Best Photographer in the 2021 Best of Savannah poll, trains his lens on parts of the community some might shy away from: homelessness, hunger, poverty and unfair economic gaps, to name a few. The portrait photographer used his talent to create a “Homeless in Savannah” series, highlighting the city’s growing homeless population and bringing awareness to homeless individuals and their stories. Of course, he’s a pro at capturing special moments, too. Shot by Somi Studios, his creative, boutique studio, offers branding shoots, wedding photography, event photography and more.

J. Parker Ltd. blazer

COREY JONES // Lucky Savannah Vacation Rentals

The owner of Lucky Savannah Vacation Rentals indeed feels lucky — even after the pandemic halted many visitors from coming to Savannah
and Tybee Island. “It was challenging since we didn’t know how long [the shutdown] would last, but there’s always a silver lining,” Corey says. “We were able to refocus on our fundamentals, positioning us well when Savannah’s visitors returned.” Plus, as Corey puts it, Savannah seems to be a place that everyone wants to see at least once.“ And why wouldn’t they? It’s quirky, beautiful, full of character and a part of American history.”

“Networking doesn’t have to be stuffy or forced. Focus on a cause you’re passionate about, and that will connect you with like-minded people who are also making a big impact in the community.” — Pam Peterson

ZOE RINKER // Savannah Tree Foundation

Zia Couture Jewelry necklace

In her role as executive director of Savannah Tree Foundation, Zoe advocates for a healthy and equitable urban forest. During the early stages of the pandemic, she took time to, pardon the pun, nurture the organization’s roots. “We had been gearing up for program expansion, but instead we switched gears and spent the second half of last year working internally on things like a new website and nurturing donor relationships,” she says. “Focusing on what we could achieve during this time helped keep up our morale and laid the groundwork for what’s shaping up to be a very busy and exciting planting season this year.”

ANDY CONN // Harris Lowry Manton LLP

Even amid a challenging year that included trial closures and other pandemic-related headaches, Andy says it’s pretty easy to find resiliency in his line of work. “My clients have often suffered something much worse than whatever problems the pandemic might have caused for me,” he says. Andy, who’s involved with the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, the American Association for Justice and the Savannah Bar Young Lawyers Division says he thinks of his clients often: “If I’m ever feeling complacent or frustrated, I just try to remind myself why I practice law and who I am representing.”

JON SEAGRAVES // Great Oaks Bank

Three years ago, Jon and his friend Brad Brookshire left comfortable roles at larger banks to start developing the coastal division of Great Oaks Bank, where Jon is now coastal division president. “The continuous growth of the region makes it an exciting time to be a banker,” Jon says, noting Great Oaks’ expansion in Richmond Hill, Pooler and a new location in midtown Savannah slated for spring 2022. He’s found time to nurture development in other areas, too, volunteering his time with the Bryan County Development Authority, the Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, the Richmond Hill Architecture Review Board and more.


Over the years, Erica has amassed ample volunteer experience, including time with the Junior League of Savannah, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Savannah Chamber of Commerce, The Brett Boyer Foundation, the SmartWomen Luncheon & Expo with St. Joseph’s/Candler and Georgia Southern Athletics. As an insurance agent, she helps people find confidence in an often complicated system, offering a highly personable experience. But she’s also developed an appetite for something different entirely: in August, she and entrepreneur husband Jackson Timmons opened Savannah’s first Groucho’s Deli on Wilmington Island.

ARMAND TURNER // The Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health Grant (REACH)

J. Parker Ltd. pocket square

Although Armand says he loves interacting with and hearing from community members in his role as physical activity program manager for REACH, a particular conversation with Malinda Gwyn Thornton, president of the Cloverdale Neighborhood Association, stands out in his mind. “We were able to talk about the dangers of fast traffic, and how it was becoming a hindrance for people, especially older ones, who were looking to walk those very streets due to lack of sidewalks,” he says. That conversation led to plans for a neighborhood walk — and even more plans for the future, he says, “to address barriers to walking and biking within our Black communities.”

Honorees were styled with accessories from local shops, including The Edition Shop, Hannah E., StoneLords, J. Parker Ltd., Zia Couture Jewelry, Rivers & Glen Trading Co., Levy Jewelers, Asher + Rye, Emily McCarthy Shoppe and House of Strut.