Marsha Buford, President
Rev. Marsha Buford is the Founder and Pastor of The House of Favor Full Gospel Ministries located in Savannah Georgia. She is a graduate of Savannah Vocational College and the Word Alive Bible School.
Rev. Buford has trained with the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Chaplains’ Division from March of 2012 to March of 2017. Her training has included Individual Crisis Intervention and Peer Support from University of Maryland at Baltimore; Group Crisis Intervention from UMBC; Crisis Support Solutions Refresh Scenarios in Crisis Intervention; Group and Individual Role Playing in Real Life Scenarios. In March of 2016 Chaplain Buford received her Law Enforcement Chaplain Basic Certification and in March of 2017 she completed Law Enforcement Chaplain Advanced Training from Georgia Sheriff’s Association Chaplain Division. She is currently active in GSA’s Region 9 Chaplain’s Division.
Chaplain Buford is also active in her community by serving on several Boards which include West Savannah Ministers Alliance; Aglow Lighthouse Fellowship; Vision 21 in Douglasville Ga.; West Savannah Community Organization as President and The Coastal Family Institute; Tide to Town Board member and The Mediation Center Board.. She currently teaches the Fatherhood Program at the Smith Transitional Center in Claxton, Ga. She has served as a job coach for Family Restoration Network from January 2010 through 2014.
Her extensive work in Ministry from 1993 until present has given her the ecumenical, mission focused, and community-based ministry that continues to keep her focused on the ministry of Jesus, the Christ.
Denise Cooper, Vice President
Denise M. Cooper is a Savannah, Georgia native and the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Savannah. Formerly, Attorney Cooper was the owner and operator of a general law practice. Attorney Cooper holds a Sociology Degree from Spelman College and a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. Prior to her matriculation to law school, Attorney Cooper was employed with the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles as a P.O.S.T. certified parole officer in Fulton County, Georgia.
With a strong passion for community service and outreach, Attorney Cooper is engaged as a volunteer with various community organizations/agencies – State Bar of Georgia Committees: Children and the Courts (2016 – present); Local and Voluntary Bars (2016 – present); Civics (2015-2016); and Committee to Promote Inclusion in the Profession (2014-2015); Court Appointed Special Advocates (C.A.S.A.), Board Member; Savannah Bar Association; Port City Bar Association, President (2015-2016); Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, Vice President Savannah Region; Mock Trial Team, attorney-coach and State Competition Judge; Savannah Law School Mock Trial – Competition Judge; Savannah Chatham County Public School System, Audit Committee Chair; King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation, Board Member; Leadership Savannah Graduate (2010); Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys Judicial and Political Office Academy Graduate; 2016 Savannah Bar Association, Young Lawyer’s Division recipient of the John B. Miller Award for community service; State Bar of Georgia, Commission on Professionalism 2017 Justice Robert Benham Award for community service; and 2017 recipient of The Savannah Sisterhood Symposium Award for legal services.
Additionally, Attorney Cooper is an active member in various organizations including Gamma Sigma Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (President, 2019-2020), Savannah (GA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated (President), National Alumnae Association of Spelman College – Savannah Chapter (President), and Junior League of Savannah. Attorney Cooper serves as a Trustee, Director of the Board of Christian Education, and Teen Church Advisor at St. Paul CME Church.
Kate Blair, Treasurer
Kate Blair joined Brightside Child & Family Advocacy as the Executive Director in 2018. Before joining, she served as the Director of Development & Communications with Step Up Savannah. Her past professional and volunteer experience include communications, corporate foundations, nonprofit leadership, board development, and fundraising. Kate has her BA in Professional Communications. She is a graduate of Leadership Savannah and a Board member of Migrant Equity Southeast.
Phylicia Anderson, Secretary
Phylicia Anderson, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, mental health champion and a dedicated leader with a passion for creating intentional space for individuals to flow; to move freely throughout the world healthy, protected and empowered.
Phylicia’s clinical work and advocacy has been the catalyst to develop mentally healthy, resilient young people for the past ten years. Her professional experience ranges from diversity inclusion, clinical therapy to community outreach and strategic leadership.
In her professional role, Phylicia currently sits on the executive leadership team of Gateway Community Service Board as the Director of Child and Adolescent Services and the Director of Outreach.
Although she is proud to be from Cincinnati, Ohio, she has affectionately declared Georgia her home for the past eight years. As a mother and a community stakeholder, she is personally invested in the betterment of young people to make our community a healthier place for all.
Pria Abraham, Board Member
Pria Padgett is the Assistant News Director at WTOC-TV in Savannah.
She is an Emmy-award winning journalist and has been working at WTOC in a variety of positions since 2011.
Pria graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia in 2010, go Dawgs!
Pria has been volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate with Brightside Child & Family Advocacy since 2019.
Pria proudly supported Brightside as a Dancing with Savannah Star in 2022, raising more than $19k. Pria has been taking part in the Effingham Career, Technical, and Agriculture Education Advisory Committee since 2016. Supporting young people during difficult times of their lives is important to Pria as she also faced hardships as a child and teenager. It's important for Pria to pour back into the communities that have helped support her both personally and professionally.
Lieutenant Keith L. Edwards, Board Member
Lieutenant Keith L. Edwards is the Acting Precinct Commander for the Eastside Precinct with Savannah Police Department. He is a native of Savannah, Georgia who was a military dependent. He graduated from Robert W. Groves High School in 1990 and obtained his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Valdosta State University in 1995. In 2009, he received his master’s degree in Adult Education with a concentration in Human Resources. Lieutenant Edwards has been with the Savannah Police Department for over 25 years. During his tenure, he has held several positions to include the following: Patrol Officer, Domestic Violence Investigator, Homicide Investigator, Patrol and Criminal Investigation Sergeant and Patrol Lieutenant. He has also served on the Special Weapons and Tactics Team as an operator, assistant Team Leader, Team Leader and Assistant Commander for over 12 years. Lieutenant Edwards is an active member of the Sigma Theta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc seated in Hinesville, GA. Lieutenant Edwards also serves in the 165th Airlift Wing, Georgia Air National Guard where he is a Chief Master Sergeant. He is currently the Human Resource Advisor for the Wing which promotes a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout Wing. Lieutenant Edwards also volunteers as a board member for the Department of Children and Family Services for Chatham County and the Coastal Georgia Council for the Boys Scout of America.
Justine Keller, Board Member
Justine Keller is a Test Engineer with Georgia Power in Savannah and has 5 years of experience in the electric utility industry. Originally from Florida, she graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2019. In the same year, she started her career as a Distribution Engineer with Georgia Power, designing project proposals to provide power to new construction for both residential and commercial stakeholders. She then transitioned into her current role as a Test Engineer in 2023. She has served as the president of the Citizens of Georgia Power Savannah chapter for two years before becoming a member of the Tharros Place board. This position has allowed her to become involved in the local community, forming partnerships with several non-profits. She continues to remain an active volunteer and currently holds a secretary position on the GP Savannah Citizens board. Justine is passionate about assisting others to feel confident and empowered in their own skin. Her motivation comes from her own journey with self-esteem, and the enormous impact she has seen it make in her own life. The Tharros Place mission to cultivate a culture of courage has inspired her to become an advocate for those who have been victimized by human trafficking. Her goal is to educate as many people as possible on how to spot the warning signs of abuse and human trafficking in their everyday lives.
Farrah Lawrence, Board Member
Farrah Lawrence is originally from Brooklyn, New York and now resides in Savannah, Georgia.
With 19 years of experience in the social service field, Farrah Lawrence began her career in social services in 2004 working with the homeless population in New York City. During this time, she assisted families with transitioning from the shelter system to securing permanent housing. In 2007, she began her career in the child welfare system. Farrah Lawrence was dedicated and committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of New York City’s most vulnerable children. Understanding the need to strengthen community partnerships and bridging the gaps between child welfare and community stakeholders, Farrah Lawrence worked diligently to strengthen community partnerships and demystify the negative connotation about the child welfare system.
As she continues this work in Savannah, Georgia, Farrah Lawrence is the County Director for Chatham County Division of Family and Children Services. She continues the vision to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safety, achieving permanency, and strengthening families.
As a strong advocate for education, Farrah Lawrence will continue the work in Chatham County of ensuring children receive the most appropriate services to meet their educational needs. The promotion of education among those that we serve is critical to the future success of our children and young people.
Farrah Lawrence has a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from Brooklyn College. Master’s degree in Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is a mother of two young men.
Fun Fact: Farrah recently joined a Double Dutch group, loves to play basketball with her son and recently added a Peekapoo puppy Tyson to her family.
Farrah Lawrence shares her key goal is staff retention and to strengthen and sustain effective practices that will improve outcomes for children, youth and families. She envisions Chatham County to be a place where children and young people are safe and thriving and receiving adequate support which promotes stability.
Elizabeth Summerell, Board Member
Elizabeth Summerell, CPA, is a senior assurance manager with Marcum LLP, a national public accounting firm in their Capital Markets group. She has more than fifteen years of experience providing auditing services to publicly traded and closely held companies. Her skills include managing and overseeing SEC audit engagements; consulting on financial reporting, internal controls, and business combinations; assisting on public offerings and capital raising; and analyzing complex financial instruments. Prior to joining Marcum in 2021, Elizabeth spent over five years at a Holland, Bromley, Barnhill & Brett, LLP in Savannah, Georgia, primarily providing assurance services to private companies in the manufacturing and distribution industry and not-for-profit organizations. Elizabeth earned her Master’s and Bachelor of Science in Accountancy degrees from Wake Forest University. She is a license certified public accountant in Georgia and Virginia.
Since moving to Savannah in 2015, Elizabeth has engaged as a volunteer and Board member of various community organization/agencies – Crisis Intervention panel chair and volunteer for the United Way of the Coastal Empire Community Investments committee (2018-2022); Treasurer of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation (2016-2020); Treasurer of the Episcopal Youth and Children’s Services Board (2022-present); Make-a-Wish Georgia Savannah Advisory Council member (2019-present); member of the Metropolitan Savannah Rotary Club (2019-present); and 2022-2023 President and volunteer for the Junior League of Savannah (2016-present).
Justin Vanderbrink, Board Member
Justin is a Savannah, Georgia native, is a managing partner of VanderBrink Paasch Builders, Inc., (VP Builders) and has over 20 years of experience in building construction. VP Builders is a local general contracting/construction management firm focused on small-to-medium healthcare construction. Prior to forming VP Builders in 2019, Justin led preconstruction and construction efforts for two large southeast/national construction firms building projects for nearly every market segment.
Justin graduated summa cum laude from Georgia Southern University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction and Contracting with a Business minor. Justin has continued his support for his alma mater by joining and then chairing the GSU Associates Council where he led multiple clay shooting fundraisers to provide scholarships to students in the Construction Management program. Later, he joined the GSU Industry Advisory Board to provide input from industry professionals to shape the Construction Management program’s learning objectives.
Some of Justin’s accolades and accomplishments include being selected for Generation Next’s 20 under 40 Rising Stars of Business in 2015 and graduating from Leadership Southeast Georgia.
Justin has led efforts to raise funds for other philanthropies such as Cystic Fibrosis (Clays for a Cause) and Ronald McDonald House (Chef of the House Challenge). In 2015, Justin joined the Board of Directors for Girls on the Run of Coastal Georgia and the Lowcountry where he started an annual golf tournament to raise funds for lower-income girls to be able to participate in Girls on the Run at no cost.
Mark Wilcox, Board Member
Mark Wilcox is a partner specializing in the Employee Benefit Practice at Sterling Seacrest Pritchard. He is one of the leading Employee Benefit consultants in the firm with expertise in insurance program design, strategic assessment, financial management, and compliance review. He has helped businesses all over the southeastern United States develop and benchmark benefit programs to recruit and retain top talent in the workforce.
In addition to his career with Sterling Seacrest, Mark gives his best effort to support his community. Along with serving on the Tharros Place board, he has served with Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, The Red Cross and Royce Learning Center.
Mark is a graduate of Leadership Georgia, Leadership Southeast Georgia and Leadership Savannah. He holds the following professional designations - Group Benefit Associate (GBA); Group Benefits Disability Specialist (GBDS); Certified Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act Professional (CPPACA).
Ashlee Aspden, Advisory Board Member
Ashlee Aspden is originally from central Pennsylvania and has lived in the Lowcountry for over 15 years. She has spent most of her professional career in Human Resources at Gulfstream Aerospace where she’s held senior leadership positions in Leadership & Organizational Development, Diversity & Inclusion, Global Compensation, and most recently as a business partner in the Manufacturing and Operations Engineering space. Ashlee has her B.S. in Applied Mathematics, holds a secondary mathematics teaching certificate and has several professional certifications including project management, change management and a variety in leadership development. She is an active volunteer at her children’s school, the church her family attends and also provides tutoring in math to local students. Ashlee is passionate about education reform and creating pathways for future employment opportunities, solving childhood hunger in our local communities and spending quality time with her husband and two young daughters.
Sheila Grossman, Advisory Board Member
Sheila Grossman has been involved in communications and training for over forty years in both the for-profit and the nonprofit worlds. As a corporate communications manager for a major Philadelphia company, Sheila utilized her creative skills and media, marketing and instructional design background to produce training, marketing and sales programming that reached an employee base of 150,000 plus the company’s clients and the general public. In that capacity, she worked closely with both the training and public relations groups.
Sheila’s career in the nonprofit world has included work in local, regional and national organizations and ranges from a position as VP of Fundraising for a California private college preparatory school; to chairing the Mayor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence Prevention in the Greater Danbury, CT area; to nine years on the National Council of Jewish Women’s Board of Directors, including three years as national Vice President and six years on their Executive Board. Locally, she served for 6 years on the SAFE Shelter Board and was Landings Landlovers President in 2012. Most recently she spent 9 years on the Skidaway Abigails Board, chairing their communications efforts, acting as VP and President and, most recently, IT Co-Chair. These diverse opportunities have sharpened her skills and interest in strategic thinking, direction and planning; managing and growing in a changing environment; and the critical role that effective and transparent communications has on today’s nonprofits.
Sheila received her B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Albany (cum laude) and her M.Ed. in Educational Media from Temple University. She is the recipient of an Award of Distinction from the Videographer Awards, a Training Series Award from the International Association of Business Communicators and a Silver Reel of Merit Award from the International Television Association.
Paul Meyer, Advisory Board Member
Paul is a founding partner of Meyer and Sayers LLP and has over 20 years of experience in representation of private clients, family businesses and fiduciaries. Paul focuses primarily on the creation of advanced estate plans which minimize transfer taxes, the administration of estates, and business succession strategies. He specializes in transaction-oriented planning techniques using family limited partnerships, limited liability companies, advanced trusts and charitable bequests. Paul represents and consults fiduciaries, such as trustees and executors, in all areas including litigation of legal claims against fiduciaries by beneficiaries. Paul also has significant experience advising fiduciaries and managing the estate and trust administration process during litigation among fiduciaries and beneficiaries. He regularly coordinates multi-state estate, tax and litigation matters for his family clients. Paul also has created and managed multi-national corporate structures and start up ventures.
Paul graduated, cum laude and as salutatorian, in 1996 from Mercer Law School where he was a Managing Editor of the Mercer Law Review and received the Outstanding Senior Award from the law faculty. He was also a member of the Moot Court Board and served as one of three members of a championship team at the Domenick L. Gabrielli National Family Law Competition in Albany, New York. Paul also holds a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech where he graduated with honors.
Paul is a past president of The Savannah Estate Planning Council and is listed in Best Lawyers in America in Trusts & Estates. He is listed as an “AV” rated Preeminent attorney by Martindale Hubbell, and he is the recipient of numerous professional distinctions.
Paul is an advocate of philanthropy and serves as a Board Member and Treasurer of Hospice Savannah, Inc., as a Board Member of the Coastal Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America and he is the Scout Master of Troop 57 on Skidaway Island. Paul is also an Eagle Scout. He is an avid Rotarian where he has served as President of the Skidaway Island Rotary Club and as an Assistant Governor of Rotary District 6920. Paul is a frequent speaker at professional and philanthropic events and he attends many of the nation’s top tax and business succession seminars. He is a member of both the Georgia and South Carolina Bars.
Aurelia Moss, Advisory Board Member
Aurelia Moss is a Savannah native and graduate of the public school system. Aurelia earned her Bachelors degree at the University of Georgia, along with a M.Ed and Ed.S from Georgia State University. In addition to being a retired educator, Aurelia is a Licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Coastal Area Partners. Aurelia and her husband Michael are the proud parents of two adult daughters, Rose and April. Aurelia is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Jack and Jill of America, Inc.
Alicia Wilson, Advisory Board Member
Alicia Wilson has been serving as a part-time CASA Advocacy Coordinator with Brightside Child and Family Advocacy since 2021. Having relocated to Savannah in 2018, Alicia began her journey as a CASA volunteer. Her first two cases involved youth who were trafficked and subsequently participated in HOPE Court. Alicia was one of the first CASA volunteers to have a case in HOPE Court and quickly saw the need for more resources in the community.
Passionate about advocating for children in foster care, Alicia is committed to educating the community about the unique needs of these children and the agencies dedicated to serving them. Through her role at Brightside, she advocates for policy changes at the state level.
Alicia holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Louisiana State University in Shreveport and a Master of Social Work specializing in Health and Mental Health from Grambling State University. Originally from Longview, Texas, she and her husband, Jay, have lived in 7 states, making 12 moves in 26 years. Although living in multiple locations has provided a unique experience and perspective, they are happy to call Savannah home. Alicia and Jay are proud parents of three adult children. Grant and his wife, Alison, recently relocated to Savannah, while Caroline is pursuing her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at UGA, and Claire is a professional ballerina and lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, Shawn.