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September 18, 2019

Meet the 2019-20 South Carolina regional board

Reading Partners South Carolina is proud to announce our 201920 regional board members. We are especially excited to introduce two new members of our board, Alison Kowalski and Brandon Sharrett. Board members include a varied group of community supporters with a passion for education and dedication to our mission, each with their own unique skills and background. Our board members’ combined experience and wealth of knowledge continue to guide our growth and sustainability in the Lowcountry. 

Dianne Benton

Dianne Benton is in her tenth year as a principal in Charleston County School District at Pinehurst Elementary School.  Ms. Benton obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Winthrop College in 1987. After working at the district level in Berkeley County, Ms. Benton decided to enroll in the Masters of Administration and Supervision program at The Citadel. Ms. Benton graduated with honors from The Citadel in 2003.

Upon completion of her graduate work, Ms. Benton moved to CCSD to take a position as a teacher coach at North Charleston Elementary School.  After her time at North Charleston Elementary, Ms. Benton accepted the position of assistant principal at Midland Park Elementary School. Ms. Benton transitioned from assistant principal to principal of Midland Park Elementary and brought over grades second through fifth to Pinehurst Elementary when Midland Park Elementary split in 2010.

Sarah Belaustegui

Sarah Belaustegui was born in England and raised in Michigan.  She spent a decade in Washington, DC. where she pursued a career at CEB, a global best practice insights and technology company. She advanced to become global operations director, serving sales, marketing, finance, IT, and HR client organizations in top-tier companies.  In 2015, Sarah moved to Charleston, and in 2018, she began working for Benefitfocus, a cloud-based benefits management platform. She is currently a project manager serving new employer clients in a wide variety of industries across the US. She has always been involved in volunteering in her community and has been a Reading Partners tutor at Goodwin Elementary since early 2016.  She is currently serving on Reading Partners South Carolina’s strategic volunteer engagement committee and is an active member of the Junior League of Charleston.

Katharine Crawford

Katharine Crawford was born and raised in Spartanburg, SC. After graduating from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce with a dual focus in marketing and management information systems, she worked for Anderson Consulting in Washington, DC. She continued her education and received an MBA from the University of North Carolina. Katharine moved to Charlotte and worked for Bank of America (then NCNB) in private banking. After her children were born, she became a community advocate and now volunteers with many organizations.

Nedra Hecker, board governance committee chair

Nedra Hecker spent 20 years in the field of marine animal training and education with nonprofit aquariums and zoos. After retiring to South Carolina in 1997, she maintained her interests in animal care and public education through volunteering for eight years at the SC Center for Birds of Prey. She further expanded her interest in primary education with Charleston Collegiate School (CCS), an accredited, private, nonprofit, K12 school. During her 14-year involvement with the CCS board of trustees, she served on numerous committees, held the position of board chair for six years, co-directed the school’s first capital campaign, and is currently Emeritus. Other board experience includes 18 years of committee and officer positions on the board of the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association and four years as a founding board member of Computer Options, Inc., a small start-up computer company. A graduate of Coe College in 1974 with a bachelor’s in biology, Nedra works within a board to promote efficient, professional meetings, clear communication, consent agendas, and active participation by members. She currently resides in Charleston with her husband and enjoys traveling, outdoor activities, and visiting their two children and their families.

Mark Lea

Mark and his wife Jennifer live in Mt. Pleasant, SC with their three children, Stoughton, Marilyn, and Alexander. He enjoys an active, healthy, family-centric lifestyle that includes plenty of backyard sports, fishing, hunting, skiing, and occasionally golf.  He has helped coach summer swim teams, varsity high school and JV football teams, and city youth athletic teams. While living in Winston-Salem, Mark served as a mentor for high school students involved in Crosby Scholars, a program designed to help students who pledge to remain drug-free apply to colleges. He also volunteered with a local YMCA board in Charlotte. Mark is enthusiastic about becoming more involved in the community and believes strongly that our young people have awesome potential but must have resources, guidance, and encouragement to realize their potential. Mark earned his MBA from Duke University and currently works for Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company/Vf Corporation as the director of national accounts.

Louise Kolheim, emeritus member

Louise graduated from Auburn University and the University of Alabama Graduate School of Business Administration. She spent the majority of her career in work pertaining to the healthcare industry. Her roles included hospice social worker, clinical installations and project management with Anderson Consulting (Accenture), and regional sales management with GE Medical Systems. During her tenure as board chair, Louise oversaw the transition from Book Buddies to Reading Partners.

Alison Kowalski

Alison Kowalski is a Michigan native who moved to Charleston, SC in 2007. She graduated with a bachelor’s in political economy from James Madison College at Michigan State University.  She worked in market research for several years and currently owns Alison Kowalski Photography. She has served on the boards of the Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Learning Center and the Daniel Island Flying Fish Swim Team.  Alison has been volunteering with Reading Partners as a tutor for three years

Justin Lee

Justin is originally from Columbia, South Carolina, where he began his career in fundraising with Habitat for Humanity upon graduating from college. After working with Habitat for Humanity, Justin worked in sales in the transportation industry for a company on Daniel Island before beginning his career with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2013. In this position, Justin enjoys working with members to help them grow their businesses and engaging those members in the work the Chamber undertakes to foster a great business environment.  Justin and his wife Stephanie live in West Ashley. 

Bill Payne

Bill Payne is a mortgage banker with First Home Mortgage. Prior to becoming a loan officer in 2005, Bill worked for a private equity group for one of the venture groups focusing heavily on acquisitions. He accepted this role after serving as a manager with the assurance and advisory business division for Ernst & Young in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting. He, his wife Amy, son William, and daughter Hayes live in Mt. Pleasant.

Amy Salzhauer

Amy Salzhauer is a managing partner and founder of the venture capital firm Good Growth Capital. Her previous experience includes 15 years as the CEO of Ignition Ventures, which transferred technologies and created companies out of academic research labs. She has written for various publications, including Newsweek, Science, Harvard Business Review, and Technology Review magazines and researched radioactive mutant slime molds. She has also had stints as a management consultant at the United Nations in Geneva, drummed for the US National Dragonboat Team, and served as the assistant director of a nonprofit environmental organization in Washington DC.  Amy holds several patents and degrees from Harvard, Cambridge, and MIT. She is married to sports medicine doctor and athlete, Andrew McMarlin.

Brandon Sharrett

An entrepreneurial business leader with 26 years of experience in the financial services, payments, and nonprofit industries. Brandon is currently the vice president of Blackbaud’s faith business vertical, providing software solutions that support fundraising, financial accounting, and church management for congregations, dioceses, and mission organizations. Previously, Brandon spent nine years with Fiserv in the greater New York area and 17 years with SEI Investments in Philadelphia, PA and London, UK. Brandon is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology and is married to his wife Shawn Dee. They have four daughters, Montana, Emerson, Madison, and Peyton. Brandon and Shawn Dee relocated to Charleston in 2016 and enjoy living downtown, spending time on their boat with the family, and being new grandparents.   

Richard Star, board chair

Richard Star is currently a principal and co-founder of NEXgistics, LLC, a third-party logistics provider. Richard was involved in numerous businesses prior to NEXgistics. Richard worked for 14 years at Cliffstar Corporation/Cliffstar LLC, a vertically integrated private label beverage company, which was acquired in 2010 by Cott Beverages, Inc. Richard is also involved with commercial real estate development projects in South Carolina, is a licensed real estate agent, and is a founding member of Dunes Commercial Properties, LLC.

Emily Swanson

Emily Swanson is a native of Mt. Pleasant, SC. She graduated from the College of Charleston in 1989 with a bachelor’s in biology and worked for many years as an FDA investigator. She has served on the board of directors for the SC Aquarium, the board of trustees for Ashley Hall, and the board of directors for Charleston Stage Company. Emily enjoys spending her free time teaching Tae Kwon Do and volunteering with Reading Partners.

John Thompson, marketing and development committee chair

Over the past 40 years, John Thompson has spanned working in senior roles in major Wall Street firms, contributing his efforts on numerous nonprofit boards and becoming an award-winning novelist. After graduating as an English major from Middlebury College, he headed from Vermont to Wall Street where he spent over 20 years in senior roles at Salomon Brothers and several other firms. The desire to be a writer had always beat strong in his veins, so he left his career in finance in his mid-40s, moved to Charleston, SC, and started writing full time.

In addition to writing, he devoted considerable time and effort to his local community and had the privilege of serving on numerous charitable boards (MUSC Children’s Hospital Advisory board – president; Charleston Education Network board – president; MUSC Foundation board – executive committee and now Emeritus; Donors Choose National Advisory board; Ashley Hall School; The Coastal Conservation League – executive committee; Charleston Collegiate School – board member, interim headmaster, now Emeritus; Berkshire School – now Emeritus).

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