General Sessions

Dr. Joy James Head ShotJoy James, PhD – Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education

Dr. Joy James has been involved in recreation and parks for over twenty years. She is currently Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University within the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education. As a life-long learner, Joy has a passion for getting everyone outside enjoying natural areas and parks.

Gina Ford – Co-founder and Principal, Agency Landscape + Planning.

Gina Ford is a landscape architect, co-founder and principal of Agency Landscape + Planning. Underpinning her two decades of practice are a commitment to the design and planning of public places and the perpetuation of the value of landscape architecture via thought leadership, exhibitions, teaching, writing and lecturing. Gina’s work encompasses a wide range of scales and project types, from public parks and plazas to large-scale landscape planning and waterfront projects. She brings to each project a passion for the process of making vibrant landscape spaces—from the conceptual design to the details of implementation—with a particular focus on the life and use of urban, public environments. Gina led the design of the Chicago Riverwalk, Boston’s Lawn on D, Council Bluff’s Tom Hanafan Rivers Edge Park and Raleigh’s Moore Square and strategic planning efforts including the Cedar Rapids Flood Recovery Planning, the Rebuild by Design Competition and the Changing Course Competition while a principal with Sasaki. Her work has received awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects, among others. She is on the board of directors for the Cultural Landscape Foundation and was the recipient the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Charles Eliot Travelling Fellowship and Wellesley College’s Shaw Fellowship.

Lisa Paradis – Vice President and Principal , 110% Inc.

Lisa Paradis is Vice President and Principal with 110% Inc in Boston, MA. Until June 2018, she was public Park and Recreation Director for 25 years, most recently leading a team for the past 10 years in Brookline, MA, an urban community adjacent to Boston. Lisa is also the founder of Agents of Change, an organization of thought leaders who promote, support and implement positive change by engaging in unique problem-solving approaches to the challenges in public park and recreation. Presenting at dozens of local, state and national venues on a variety of topics in the Health, Wellness and Recreation world, Lisa is nationally known as a speaker, trainer and facilitator. She has been a featured guest on both local and national radio and has published several industry articles in national publications. Lisa earned a BA in Political Science and an MBA at the University of Massachusetts. She was inducted into the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) in 2018.

Sara Burroughs RLA | Owner, Sage Design

With over 25 years of experience and as Owner of SageDesign, Sara is able to bring enthusiasm and passion for parks to projects and clients. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Recreation from Indiana University and her Master of Landscape Architecture from North Carolina State University. SageDesign celebrates the combining of her career in Park and Recreation & Planning and Design. Sara started her career in armed forces Recreation and then ventured into Park Planning at M-NCPPC. She has had the opportunity to teach at UNCW and CFCC, Coach a Girls on the Run team, and work with communities throughout the southeast. These experiences and perspective help her translate community visions for parks and public spaces into useable and engaging opportunities. Her goal with each project is to connect people with their communities through design and planning in an effort to get people outside, and provide them with opportunities that may not otherwise exist.

Emily Blackwell PLA, CLARB, ASLA | Planning & Design Project Manager – Project Manager, Stewart

Emily is a licensed Landscape Architect in Charlotte, North Carolina and Project Manager at Stewart. Her work focuses on parks, greenways, campus design, urban design, and land planning. Emily is currently the Immediate Past President for the North Carolina Chapter of Landscape Architects. She is dedicated to furthering the profession of landscape architecture in the community and being a strong advocate for LAs in North Carolina.

Sonya Shaw PhD | Director, Town of Garner Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources

Dr. Sonya Shaw received her doctorate of philosophy in parks, recreation and tourism management from North Carolina State University in 2018. She is the first African American female to earn a doctorate degree from the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management Program at North Carolina State University. Dr. Shaw’s dissertation focuses on the career experiences of African American women leaders in parks and recreation, specifically examining the challenges women face in the profession and negotiation strategies women used to gain upward mobility. Dr. Shaw has been in the parks and recreation profession for over 25 years and currently serves as the Director of Garner Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources. She also serves as adjunct faculty at North Carolina Central University and teaches in the Physical Education and Recreation Administration Department and has also taught in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management Program at North Carolina State University.

Tracy Smith Miles | Deputy Director, Center for Public Leadership and Governance

Tracy Miles is an organizational management and development professional who believes that the strength of your relationships contributes to your satisfaction at work. With experience in both the private and public sectors, from Fortune 100 companies to grass roots nonprofits, the common thread in Tracy’s career has been developing and managing relationships. With a focus on process improvement and collaborative impact, Tracy has lead and facilitated teams and individuals of diverse backgrounds toward common goals. Tracy’s career includes working for General Electric, John Deere, The American Heart Association, and Girls on the Run and most recently serving as Deputy Director of the Center for Public Leadership and Governance at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government and as an adjunct professor in the School’s Master of Public Administration online program. Tracy earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from North Carolina State University, a Master in Public Administration from UNC Chapel Hill, and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certified currently working toward certification as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Elizabeth Jernigan | Park Planner, Greensboro Parks and Recreation

Elizabeth Jernigan, AICP has a B.A. in Anthropology and English from Appalachian State University, and a Master of Public Affairs from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She has almost ten years of experience in long-range and strategic planning efforts related to recreation, transportation, environmental, and food systems and has participated in planning and policy work at a local, state and national level. She spends her free time hiking, camping, biking, swimming, and building forts in the backyard with her husband and two girls.

Speed Sessions

Teresa L. Penbrooke, PhD, MAOM, CPRE | CEO and Founder of GreenPlay, LLC

Dr. Teresa Penbrooke’s career has included over 30 years of private and non-profit business management, teaching, and research, including years as a parks and recreation agency administrator and program coordinator for three different public agencies in Colorado. She is currently the Director of the Healthy Communities Research Group and Faculty for GP RED, a national non-profit that provides Research, Education, and Development for health, recreation, and land management agencies. Teresa is also the CEO and Founder of GreenPlay, LLC, a leading national private parks, recreation, tourism, and open space consulting firm, which has completed community engagement and planning for over 475 communities since 1999. Teresa is a Visiting Scholar at North Carolina State University, helping to update planning curriculum for the College of Design. In addition, she is a Curriculum Consultant and Affiliate Faculty at Metro State University – Denver. She has a BS in Kinesiology, a Masters in Organizational Management, and her PhD is in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management. Teresa now authors books and articles, teaches for state and national associations and universities, and consults on operations, management, master planning, and community engagement. She loves combining her natural intellectual curiosity, entrepreneurial spirit, and public sector heart to help communities thrive. More information can be found at or

Michelle Hepler | Director, Iredell County NC Parks and Recreation

Michelle Hepler, born and raised in Iredell County, North Carolina, has over 24 years of experience in the Outdoor/Experiential Education industry. She has held various positions of employment in the Iredell County Parks and Recreation Department since 1998. She has served as a Challenge Course Facilitator, Recreation Programmer, Outdoor Education Program Director, Assistant Parks and Recreation Director and was named Parks and Recreation Director of Iredell County in July 2016. Prior to joining the Iredell County team, Michelle worked for 2 years in the Lincolnton/Lincoln County Parks and Recreation Department. She is a graduate of Western Carolina University, where she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Parks and Recreation Management, with core concentration in Outdoor Recreation. She is very active in the Parks and Recreation Profession as well as our community, volunteering on several boards at the local, state and national level. Since 2007, Michelle has served on a number of committees and as a Board of Director for the Association for Challenge Course Technology, an international organization, holding the Executive Offices of Secretary, Vice Chair, and Chair. Michelle has supported numerous initiatives in the Challenge Course industry, such as Practitioner Certification Standards Writing, Government Relations, and Insurance Advisory. Locally, Michelle serves as a Board Member of the North Carolina Aerial Adventure Association. She has also served as Region 7 Chair for North Carolina Parks and Recreation Association and as Board Chair for Girls on the Run of the Greater Piedmont. Michelle is also currently the Public Image Chair for The Rotary Club of Statesville. Michelle loves spending time outdoors, hiking, paddling, and attending music festivals. Most of all, Michelle enjoys using her passions to foster engagement, develop relationships, and giving back to the community.

Jennifer Warner | Marketing Manager, Cary NC Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources

Jennifer is the Town of Cary, NC Parks and Recreation Marketing Manager with a foot in the tech world by day. She is a creative maker, doer, thinker, and mama by night…and day. This non-profit marketing gal has found herself at the intersection of new technologies and local government. Discovering ways that digital solutions fuel communication and relationships is my passion. Breaking government stereotypes is my mission. Ask me about innovation, branding, managing up, and making. Tell me everything you know about community engagement, data, big ideas, and your travels.

Laser Coaching

Dale Smith Head ShotDale Smith – CEO, Smith Management and Consulting Services

Dale Smith, CEO of Smith Management Training and Consulting Services genuinely has a love for people and a passion for helping them improve. She worked in government for 30+ years in the Parks and Recreation profession and finished her career as the Director of Rocky Mount Parks and Recreation Department. Now through Smith Management, her goal is to work with individuals and teams that seek to improve communication skills, develop positive team dynamics and consistently meet mutual goals. She believes that all individuals and teams have the ability to succeed given the right support and tools. She does that through coaching, training, consulting and speaking. Dale has earned a Bachelor of Science in Recreation Resource Administration, a Master’s Certificate in Teaching, Training and Education Technology and a Business Coaching Certificate from NCSU. She also has a host of certifications including EQI 2.0 and 360 (Emotional Intelligence) Certification and MBTI (Meyers-Briggs) Certification and has acquired the level of Associate Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation. Dale serves as a Board of Regent Instructor for Supervisors’ Management School in coordination with NCSU and NRPA and is an instructor for the Effective Supervisory Management Program with UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government. She is a Past President of the NCRPA and coordinates the Annual LeadHERship Workshop in partnership with Recreation Resources Service, a consulting group with NCSU and State Parks. She has spoken at national, state and local conferences as well as a number of state university classrooms.

Debbie Laxer – Founder, Laxer and Associates

Debbie Laxer, founder of Laxer and Associates has over 20 years of experience as a senior level HR professional with firms such as The Body Shop, RDU Airport Authority, Dress for Success, Triangle Leadership, the City of Raleigh, and Genworth Financial and has partnered with many small businesses in the Triangle area in all matters of HR, strategic consulting and coaching. A graduate of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, Debbie has an MBA and an SPHR designation. Debbie also is also a certified business coach and an International Coaching Federation Associate Certified Coach (ACC). Her coaching clients include leaders at all levels who are smart enough to know they want to be better. Debbie’s supportive and straight forward style of coaching enables individuals to identify their inhibiting behaviors and help them move past them to become their very best. Her consulting skills allow her to brainstorm with clients so that ideas and solutions can be quickly generated. Debbie uses assessment tools to help identify behavioral tendencies and skill gaps so that clients can then lean into making improvements that are felt throughout the organization. GA said “Debbie is a great coach for those who would like to focus and achieve immediate results. Her style is geared toward action planning and her questions are always thought provoking. Very organized and keeps your notes and follows up with you. With her coaching, many things in my life legacy, business and even small things such as my writing blog came to life”.

Denise Corey – Founder, Denise Corey Coaching & Consulting

Denise brings years of executive level work experience in finance, business development and management to her coaching practice. In addition to earning an MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business school, she is an International Coach Federation Associate Certified Coach (ACC) as has logged over 600 hours coaching. She works with senior leaders of major research companies, multi-locational retail companies, bio-tech consulting firms and start-ups. She has also coached at two of Kenan-Flagler Executive Business programs. Denise spent the first part of her career at Bank of America where she managed and led teams in in Marketing, Regional Banking, Retail Banking and Commercial Lending. She coached and consulted with business owners and CFO’s in cash management, financing and asset acquisition and was recognized for her leadership and was asked to conduct company-wide workshops on professional development and diversity. After nearly two decades in banking, she was recruited to Direct a startup company, where she oversaw all business functions including acquisitions, real estate negotiations, employee development, marketing and budgeting and experienced first hand the excitement and challenges of working in a small business. Denise’s clients work with her to develop the skills needed for advancement and to identify and correct behaviors that are career derailleurs. She offers her clients insight, objective feedback and alternative perspectives to find new solutions to old challenges. “Denise has helped me reclaim my professional identity after years of being adrift. Her laser-focused coaching supports my exploration of how I see myself, how I want to be seen, and what I need to do to position myself for success within the organization. Our conversations revealed how much my own attitudes were holding me back. I feel much more confident, and it shows…opportunities now seem to present themselves and I am ready to speak out, step up, or blaze my path.”  L. A. UNC School of Government Whatever the challenge her clients are facing, Denise knows they need real solutions, tailored to them, to meet their professional goals. Learn more about Denise and her background on LinkedIn or at her website.

Lydian Altman – Consultant, UNC School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership & Governance

Lydian Altman works with and across various public sector organizations to diagnose, design, develop, and deliver leadership programs and services for public officials through UNC School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership and Governance. Her work there includes consulting with elected and appointed leaders to create strategic plans, teaching leadership topics, and facilitating retreats for governmental and nonprofit organizations and cross-sector community groups to help them plan and work together to solve public problems. Most recently, Lydian has focused on ways to provide results-based coaching to government agencies in North Carolina.


Asila Calhoun – Calhoun Coaching & Consulting

Calhoun Coaching & Consulting, Asila Calhoun’s business and executive coaching practice, focuses on partnering with new leaders, emerging leaders, and leaders and executives who are ready for change. Asila facilitates this change during one-on-one coaching sessions with her clients and through her consulting services of delivering leadership training, team facilitation, and offering talent development assessments. Asila works with her clients to develop a customized approach for each client’s unique situation. During Asila’s 25 year career as a strategic HR business partner, she successfully worked with senior leaders to enhance the skills, tools, and learning opportunities they need to successfully manage and support effective employee performance. Asila earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from UC Berkeley, and she holds PHR and SHRM-CP certifications. She is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Libb Wanner – CEO, Lib Wanner Coaching

Lib Wanner is the CEO of Lib Wanner Coaching and a founding member of the North Carolina Government Coaching Group. Prior to her coaching work, Lib was the CIO/IT Director for Wake County Government in Raleigh, NC and held multiple positions in both Durham County and with the City of Wilmington during her 30 year career. Lib has a MPA from UNC-Chapel Hill and is currently the President of the MPA Alumni Association. Lib holds the International Coaching Federation Associate Certified Coach credential as well as the Certified Professional Co-Active Coach credential from CTI. Lib’s coaching work focuses primarily on women in life transitions-career, personal, and health.

Connie Killebrew – Founder and C.E.O., Crystal Coast Productivity, INC

Connie Killebrew, founder and C.E.O. of Crystal Coast Productivity, INC., coaches professionals from around the world to be more productive while building personal and professional skills. Her clients include Executives, Entrepreneurs, Veterans and Active Military, Educators, Students, and individuals from many other backgrounds. Connie works virtually or in-person, one-on-one, in small groups, or in larger workshops to design individualized coaching programs that achieve measurable results. Her coaching philosophy is always the same:” I take the time to listen and really hear you—so we can find the tools you need to meet your goals. Together, we work to see possibilities, investigate possibilities, embrace possibilities, and achieve those possibilities in a safe, collaborative space.”  Connie holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Arlington, a Business Coaching Certificate from North Carolina State University (BCC), and is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) with the International Coach Federation.