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The Independent’s 2024 Class of Rising Stars

Jason Banks,
Vice President,
National Procurement Director,
JE Dunn Construction

“Courageous excellence,” is how Stephenie Smith of Sophic Solutions describes Jason Banks. She goes on to say that she “… appreciates his ability to both care for others and move the needle professionally.” This dynamic leader is excelling in his career because he pays attention to the networking opportunities both on and off the field. April Graham, Bloch Graduate Programs at the Bloch School of Management at UMKC, said of Jason, “He is always looking for opportunities to help and connect others with the resources and networks to make good things happen in the community, and Jason leverages his networks generously to help others.”

Jason first came to know Donnelly College almost 15 years ago as a volunteer. That relationship grew during the years, and he now serves as board president. During his tenure, he has participated in the selection of a new college President, a $30 million dollar capital campaign, and the construction of a new academic building, all of which was in support of Donnelly College’s mission to provide higher education access to those that might not otherwise be served. Following the theme of education, Jason also serves on the board of trustees at The Pembroke Hill School, where his son attends, and leads the children’s ministry at his Church. He is a previous board member of Entitled Learning, Kansas City Young Audiences, and KC Rising’s IDEAS Driving Committee. 

Among Jason’s talents, André Davis, Built Interior, put it simply as, “He goes out of his way to ensure others have a voice and to make the playing field more equitable for everyone.” April Graham added, “Jason is passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion and is actively facilitating positive change both in his work and through his volunteering.” And, that brings us back to one of his most rewarding professional projects, BUiLD (Blacks United in Learning and Development), which is the Black employee ERG at JE Dunn. Jason is part of a leadership group responsible for strategy and overall development and growth of this initiative. In 2022, the group held its first National Summit, focused on celebrating, supporting, and amplifying the voices of black employees at JE Dunn. It’s no wonder then, that Jason was named JE Dunn’s Community Volunteer of the Year in 2021 by his employer. 

Amy Barnthouse,
Manager of Trainings and Trade Shows,
Spinal Simplicity

Amy Barnthouse possesses an impressive list of qualities fitting for a Rising Star, not the least of which is this compilation, according to Mary Lambrechts, Church of the Nativity, “including maturity, leadership, discretion, confidentiality, faithfulness, prudence, flexibility, and wisdom.” The list is not a surprise once Amy’s accomplishments are outlined. Serving as committee chairman for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ Snowflake Committee since 2020, Amy has made quite a name for herself. The Snowflake Committee is comprised of young, philanthropic professionals who represent the future of the Snow Ball, the organization’s largest fundraiser. Since her placement in this position, the Snowflake Committee numbers have quadrupled, and Amy herself has encouraged more than 200 people to get involved with Catholic Charities. She did this by soliciting sponsors to cover a portion of the cost for young professionals to attend the 49th Annual Snow Ball. This powerful gesture ended up garnering more than $60,000 in donations, and sold out Snowflake tables at the event! Pam Kramer said of Amy, “She is creating a new generation of Snow Ball patrons who are engaging with Catholic Charities.”

In addition, Amy served as the president of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph Junior Board from 2017 to 2019. She raised $120,000 through an event called Soiree, for young Kansas City professionals. She has also assisted Catholic Charities with building and renovation projects and collected toiletries and supplies to aid the homeless population in Kansas City. 

When she is not dedicating her time to Catholic Charities and the boots-on-the-ground work they do, she has also served as a sponsor for the Church of the Nativity’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adult process (RCIA). This program involves mentoring other female adults interested in growing in their faith and becoming Catholic. And, in her free time, Amy volunteers for The Big Slick charity weekend, to benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital. In a variety of ways she assists everyone during the weekend, but most importantly, she is the ambassador to the VIP sponsors. Julie Riggle McKee attested that, “Amy carries out the Ambassador role with grace and poise that creates a lasting impression on our key supporters.” Friends Mary and John Campbell stated, “Amy is a determined driver and uses her strong leadership skills for the betterment of others.” 

Megan Bubb,
Senior Sales Executive,
Reece Nichols

What could possibly be the common denominator of the following: rodeos and horse shows and cowboy boots, Girl Scouts, ball gowns, board positions, real estate, school auctions, the Ballet, the Fireside Committee, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? Megan Bubb is the tie that binds all of these and more together into one life of a mom, a career professional, and a volunteer. Starting with a 20-year career in real estate, where she has been recognized as the top one percent of realtors in the Kansas City metro area, Megan is an enthusiastic client-favorite in the buying and selling of residential real estate with ReeceNichols. 

Moving into the realm of being a mother of two girls, Megan has volunteered for both of their Girl Scout troops and served as a troop leader for one. She has served as a committee member and chairman for the Belinder Elementary PTA, serving as the Belinder auction co-chairman this year, and in 2023, and was the chairman of Belinder Gives during 2017 and 2018. Addie Perry added, “She is instilling a heart for volunteerism in her daughters and leading by example.”

Leading by example is evident in Megan’s commitment to having served as the volunteer coordinator for the 2023 Country Club Swim Association of Kansas City’s Swim Champs, and she is one of the Carriage Club swim chairs this year. Courtland Gerhart, assistant general manager at the Carriage Club, worked with Megan quite a bit, and said, “Not only does she volunteer, she always goes above and beyond to help as well as always making the environment fun and inviting. She will make any situation fun, including stuffing 1,000 name tags!”

Possibly the biggest loves of Megan’s volunteer life are BOTAR and The American Royal. For more than 14 years, Megan has served on committees, including the executive board of the Belles of the American Royal. In addition to that commitment, Megan always signs up for school tours at the Royal, works at the rodeos and horse shows, and currently holds a board position at the Royal. 

Adding in her work at Village Presbyterian Church, the Salvation Army, the Ballet Guild, The Jewel Ball, and The Nelson-Atkins’ C100 Luncheon Committee, and Megan is involved in almost every aspect of civic responsibility possible. Sarah Ruane summed it up by stating that, “Megan is an exemplary Kansas Citian and a star.”

Laura Palacios,
Senior Director of ISLL,
The Mind Trust

Simply put, having Laura Palacios on an organization’s team is a huge win! Dr. Jessica Mindnich explained, “Laura is the epitome of a service leader. Because of her humility, it is easy to overlook the depth of her experience, expertise, and accomplishments.” Laura’s impact on the Kansas City community and the Latinx community, particularly, cannot be overstated. Her roles include: past president of the board of National Society of Hispanic MBAs; former treasurer and current member of Young Latino Professionals; termed City of Kansas City Neighborhood Tourist and Development Fund committee member; past board member for Literacy KC; 2013 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year Candidate; newsletter editor for the Independence Plaza Neighborhood Council; and former governance committee member for United Way – Greater Kansas City. And, certainly not the least of which, Laura was a Gates Millennium Scholar, promoting her into a world of academic excellence and personal development. 

Laura’s civic leadership has provided a backbone to several candidates for school boards, city, county, and state elected officials, and various appointees. Gene Willis declared, “Her passion and savvy show up through civic engagements by reminding candidates to be a true voice of the people that they represent, with these candidates being as diverse as Our Town.” She has proved to be a much-sought-after speaker for events. And, just as importantly, when she is an attendee, she’s the first to lead a standing ovation for someone she admires. 

Using her voice for the communities she serves and lives and works in is of the utmost importance to Laura. Her volunteer time at Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City led her to recruit and advocate for Bigs of color, especially in Latinx communities. “It’s important to note that Laura is a champion for all marginalized groups and never shies away from speaking truth to power. She never closes doors behind her. Instead, she always holds them open,” Tahir Atwater, Jackson County CASA, explained. This summary from Theresa Garza is clear and to-the-point: “Laura’s commitment and service throughout Kansas City has had a ripple effect on the lives of so many.”

Lindsey Rood-Clifford,
President & CEO,
Starlight Theatre

While Lindsey Rood-Clifford is, no doubt, honored to be named the first female president and CEO of Starlight Theatre, she will also be sure to explain that it took years of effort and professionally honing her skills to be considered for this historic role. As Margaret Perkins-McGuinness, Kansas City Public Library, pointed out, “Her appointment as the first female director in the historic Starlight Theatre’s 73-year history is a testament to her unwavering dedication and commitment to her craft.” While Lindsey started at Starlight as a student intern 17 years ago, Margaret also said, “Her interpersonal skills and ability to bring people together for a common cause are truly remarkable. Lindsey is an exceptional leader, fundraiser, and community champion.” 

In addition to her devotion to Starlight, Lindsey served as president of the board of directors for the Kansas City Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2023 after serving for six years on the board, including as president-elect. She is also a past chairman of Kansas City’s National Philanthropy Day Celebration. She is a 2017 graduate of the Kansas City Chamber’s Centurions Leadership Development Program. In that capacity, Lindsey led two intensive task force benchmarking trips to Vancouver and San Diego. Gretchen FitzGerald, Blue Cross Blue Shield, called her leadership of those trips, “Nothing short of exceptional.” Above and beyond those civic duties, Lindsey serves on the board of In the Name of GRACE, a partner to Oxford House that provides transitional homes to people recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Nancy Whitworth, McCownGordon Construction, added, “While everyone knows she works tirelessly for Starlight, less well-known and equally profound in its impact on people’s lives is Lindsey’s role on the board of In the Name of GRACE.” 

With a previous career in event management at Kansas City Free Health Clinic (now KC CARE Health Center), Lindsey advised her then-boss, Kirk Isenhour, that he could save event planning monies by making several changes. Of course, it worked, and Kirk called her, “One of the most dedicated, passionate people that I have come to know in not-for-profit circles.” Two of Lindsey’s most ardent supporters, Joe Reardon and Donna Thomason, had this to say respectively regarding Lindsey, “She is the epitome of what it means to learn, serve, and lead.” And, “She is meteoric. Lindsey is a catalyst for change. She is a uniter.”

Jorge Soberón-Hernández,
VP Community Development Manager,
Arvest Bank

Jorge Soberón-Hernández carries with him the culture and heritage of his upbringing in Mexico City, and along with that he bears an impressive list of organizations whose culture and heritage have been positively impacted by the work that he does in our community. He moved to Kansas City in 2005 and graduated from The University of Kansas with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. From there, he worked for four years at the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City. Dr. Tamara Falicov, University of Missouri-Kansas City, stated, “This experience strengthened his desire to serve immigrants and those most in need of assistance. His current role at Arvest Bank is at the vanguard of serving minorities.” 

Carlos Gomez, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, explained, “Jorge has a special passion for teaching financial literacy with underserved communities, knowing that teaching capital wealth to the poor will break poverty cycles.” Carlos also said, “During the pandemic, Jorge volunteered his time with the Hispanic Chamber to produce videos in Spanish to the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, giving advice of confidence, resources, and to ensure that all communities had accurate information to keep their families safe.”

The organizations that have benefited from the volunteer work Jorge does are too numerous to list, but include: current board member at CABA (Central Avenue Betterment Association), current board member at El Centro, and former board member at the International Relations Council. He gives of his time and talents to Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City, the Consulate of Mexico, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Hispanic Development Fund, Junior Achievement BizTown, Westside CAN Center, Lead to Read, Harvesters, KC Scholars, and many more. Sara Swearingen, Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City, boasted, “Jorge comes to BizTown once a month, and the students and the staff love having him. He is so helpful with the Spanish-speaking students.” 

Jorge teaches financial literacy classes once a month for El Centro, Consulate of Mexico, and Westside CAN Center. Jorge affirms that, “Representation is crucial for the proper development of our students. It is important that Latino/Hispanic students can see and interact with professionals who look like them, thus creating a strong sense of identity and aspiration.” 

PJ Thompson,
Chief Financial Officer,
Country Club Bank

PJ Thompson’s heart and desire to give back is as impressive as the story in the background of PJ’s life. Working a job at Creighton University soliciting donations from alumni turned out to not be the drudgery he anticipated – instead he loved connecting with fellow alumni, and gained valuable lessons in fundraising. Those lessons have helped him navigate some tragedy, but also provided him with a very rewarding volunteer history. 

PJ’s friend, Zach Perry, passed away from acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 31. PJ committed to supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through fundraising, and promoting education, research, and advocacy for the organization. In a remote pandemic environment of raising money, PJ found that his old skills of networking and talking directly to people paid off. 

In another unfortunate incident, his childhood friend, Maxwell T. Ward, passed away from undiagnosed cardiovascular disease. With a group of friends, he helped found the Maxwell T. Ward Foundation in 2017. The Foundation helps children with cardiovascular issues by funding heart screenings, and through its contributions to The Children’s Mercy Max Ward Endowed Fund, which assists children with congenital heart conditions by providing medical equipment, supplies, adaptive strollers, cribs, and much more. 

PJ is a member of the Kansas City Chamber’s Centurions Leadership Development Program, class of 2024. During his second year, he served as co-chair of the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee. PJ also serves as an advocate for Kansas City G.I.F.T. (Generating Income For Tomorrow). He has volunteered as technical advisor for businesses in the program. PJ also advocates for the organization by soliciting other technical advisors and encouraging donations. According to Brandon Calloway, Kansas City G.I.F.T., “PJ is not afraid to try new things and look for creative solutions.” 

In his role at Country Club Bank, PJ has found numerous ways to impact others with his leadership and volunteer service. Through his involvement with Team Impact, an employee-run initiative at the bank that helps facilitate volunteer opportunities, PJ promotes community involvement with co-workers. He was the chair of the program in 2022 and continues to serve on the committee today.  

Ben McAnany, McAnany Construction, said, “PJ has touched many lives over his career, and it is because of his willingness to ask hard questions and find equitable answers that he helps to create a better KC for all of us.” 

Also featured in the February 24, 2024 issue of The Independent.
Photo Credit: Tom Styrkowicz


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