Alumni Profiles – Fall/Winter 2017
These articles appeared originally in the Fall/Winter issue of Frontiers Magazine.
Dipali Britton ’04: A Creative Star
Dipali Britton ‘04 has accomplished much in her young life, and she’s enjoying the ride. “It’s never the same each day,” she says. Britton is the business development manager for the Upward Star Center, an impressive facility that houses training programs and competitive events for Upward Sports.
Upward Sports bills itself as “the world’s largest Christian youth sports provider.” The Spartanburg-based nonprofit coordinates sports teams and leagues in 47 states. Britton works to attract national tournaments, including one for high school basketball all-stars that brings in big-name college coaches hoping to connect with potential recruits.
Britton is also an entrepreneur. She was discovered by the Upward team at the Subway restaurant she owns near the Upward campus. They were impressed with her people skills and can-do attitude, as well as her experience in competitive cheerleading, and thought she’d have success in marketing the athletic facilities at Upward.
The job gives her the opportunity to “get creative” in reaching out to sports groups both locally and around the country and in figuring out how the Upward Star Center can accommodate and support their objectives.
Add author to Britton’s list of accomplishments. In 2016, she published a children’s book. “Jesus, Please Heal My Dog” is based on the story of her beloved dog who became gravely ill, but survived. “We just prayed for three days for a miracle,” she said. “We are thankful to God.”
Britton came to the United States from India at the age of nine. She attended high school in Gaffney, South Carolina, before attending SMC and then Clemson University. SMC provided a perfect transition, she said. “Faculty members were so patient and kind,” she said. “It really helped me to get grounded and comfortable as a student.”
Sharhonda ’10 and Da’Quan Jeffries ’14
Sharhonda Smith ‘10 and Da’Quan Jeffries ‘14 met at SMC. He played on the basketball team, and she enjoyed the small classes and community atmosphere. The couple fell in love and married in 2014, eager to start their family.
But life had other plans. After trying for two years to conceive, the Jeffries decided to become licensed foster parents. In October, their wish was granted when a one-year-old girl was placed in their home. And that’s where their story gets interesting: their foster child is white. Sharhonda and Da’Quan are African-American.
“I was talking with a colleague recently who said, ‘You sometimes see white families that have adopted a black child, but you never see a white child who’s been adopted by black parents.’ And that’s true,” says Sharhonda, who teaches fifth grade at the Cleveland Academy of Leadership in Spartanburg. “But we love her no less.”
Their story gets even more interesting: shortly before they received their foster child, Sharhonda finally became pregnant. The couple’s daughter, Kaydence, was born April 19, 2017. In spite of having their original dream come true, they still hope to adopt their foster child. (Their case is currently working its way through social services and the court system, and the child’s name has been withheld pending the outcome).
Things are busy these days for the Jeffries family. In addition to teaching, Sharhonda coaches volleyball at Carver Middle School. Da’Quan works second shift, so they have to work to find time together.
But they are enjoying life as a family. Their foster child, nearing age two, is proud of Kaydence. “She thinks Kaydence is hers,” Sharhonda said. “She loves her little sister.”
A Tasty Way to Give Back
Chrissy ’03 and Steven Kinney use their Chick-fil-A to support charity
For Spartanburg Methodist College graduate Chrissy Johnston Kinney ‘03 and her husband, Steven, a new business venture presented a unique opportunity to support a charity close to their hearts.
In early 2017, they opened a Chick-fil-A in Houston, Texas. The popular chain hosts a grand opening festivity in which the first 100 guests at a restaurant receive free food for a year. As a way of getting these winning guests to give back, the Kinneys partnered with a nonprofit organization called Feeding Children Everywhere; guests packed 10,000 meals for families supported by the Kenya-based charity CARE for AIDS.
CARE for AIDS helps to educate those who carry HIV about how different strains of the virus can be transmitted and may affect an infected person’s health. The hope is that parents will maintain the best health possible and be able to keep their families together. Kinney said she and Steven were grateful for the opportunity to support CARE for AIDS. “It is a life-changing organization,” she said, noting that it has helped to prevent 30,000 children from becoming orphans.
The Kinneys moved to Texas from South Carolina in 2014, fulfilling their dream of opening their own Chick-fil-A restaurant. Steven had entered the company’s two-year Interim Management Program in September 2011. Their hope was to have the opportunity to own a franchise in South Carolina. But, “the Lord closed those doors and led us to Texas,” Chrissy said.
Their first restaurant was in a mall. In 2016, Steven went through the interview process to own and operate the freestanding store in Uptown Houston.
Chrissy said it’s starting to feel like home. “Everything I wanted in South Carolina has happened in Texas.”
While she helps Steven at the restaurant, Chrissy is also employed by Chick-fil-A Inc., based in Atlanta. She travels around the country supporting new Chick-fil-A restaurants with marketing. The Kinneys have two sons, Grayson Luke (six) and Cole Isaac (three).
Chrissy has fond memories of her time at SMC, where she returned to work as a residence hall supervisor after completing her BA at Lander University. “Oh, I loved it,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
Cross-Country Alum Has Sights Set on Olympics
Austin Steagall’s prowess as a long-distance runner was attracting interest from quite a few collegiate cross-country programs during his senior year at Gaffney High School. But after he suffered a physical setback that kept him sidelined for months, possible scholarship offers fell by the wayside.
But Spartanburg Methodist College and then-coach Mike Foley stuck by Steagall. “It took me six or eight months to get back, but that didn’t phase Coach Foley – he saw that I was determined and had potential,” he recalled.
As a sophomore at SMC in 2013, Steagall earned All-America honors in the half-marathon while the team placed second in the NJCAA championship meet. Beyond athletics, he enjoyed his coursework and the friends he made at the college. “It was a really great experience for me,” he said.
After graduating from SMC in 2015, Steagall competed at the NCAA Division II level for the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina, placing second nationally in the steeple chase event. He now runs professionally for the ASICS GTC-Elite team in Greenville. While he also works part-time for Uncle Jake’s Furniture, running is his main focus. “Every day, we’re training,” he said.
The regimen for professional runners is, not surprisingly, rigorous – a combination of weight training, short distance workouts and a weekly 18- to 20-mile run.
A career as a competitive runner doesn’t go on forever – knees and ankles get wear and tear, athletes pass their peak – but Steagall has no intention of slowing down yet. In fact, he has his sights set on the 2020 Olympic trials. “That’s the big goal,” he said. “After that, I’ll evaluate things.”
A Promising Career
Kris Burris ’95 has dedicated much of her professional career to the advancement of the nonprofit and educational sectors. She has served as the executive director of Beyond Abuse, working with survivors of child and sexual abuse. She was the director of student support services at Piedmont Technical College, and today, she is the executive director of The Greenwood Promise, an organization that works to provide a tuition-free path for Greenwood County students.
“We help students obtain the postsecondary education needed to develop a highly skilled workforce, improve overall quality of life and increase economic vitality,” said Burris. “The Greenwood Promise is designed to continue in perpetuity. Its full impact begins with Greenwood County children and expands to include the entire community.”
Burris grew up in the rural South Carolina community of Sharon and appreciated the benefits of a smaller community. She also knew she needed her studies to be transferable as she considered her continued education.
“SMC offered me the opportunity to play tennis and work as a resident advisor,” said Burris. “Both of these experiences allowed me to develop the leadership skills needed to successfully work within a team and independently. Also, I received the courses needed to transfer to and complete my degree at Wofford College successfully.”
After graduating from Wofford College in 1997, Burris obtained her educational specialist (Ed.S.) in marriage and family therapy degree from Converse College in 2002.
A Haunted Man: Tally Johnson ’92
From an early age, all things ghostly fascinated Tally Johnson ’92. As an elementary school student, he was fascinated by the tales of haunted South Carolina told by author Nancy Roberts during a visit to his class. Hearing about familiar yet haunted places sparked a lifelong quest to learn more and, eventually, to write his own Southeast ghost stories.
“After reading numerous lackluster accounts of South Carolina’s ghostly past, my wife challenged me to write my own book,” Johnson recalls. “I think she was tired of hearing me complain about a book I just read, saying I could have done better,” he chuckles.
Johnson is a graduate of James F. Byrnes High School in Lyman, South Carolina. He received a scholarship to Spartanburg Methodist College, where he graduated in 1992 with an associate of arts degree. He went on to receive a bachelor of arts degree in history from Wofford College in 1994. Also, he completed 30 hours of graduate work in history at Winthrop University. Currently, Johnson is the special services coordinator at Chester County Library in Chester, South Carolina.
To date, Johnson has written several books, including “Ghosts of the South Carolina Upcountry,” “Ghosts of the South Carolina Midlands,” “Ghosts of the Pee Dee” (all for The History Press) and “Civil War Ghosts of South Carolina” (for Post Mortem Press). Most recently, he wrote an anthology of short stories for Falstaff Books titled “Creek Walking.”
Johnson’s stories are included in “An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (for Mocha Memoirs Press) and “44 Lies By 22 Authors” (for Post Mortem Press). He is on the roster of approved artists for the South Carolina Arts Commission as an author, as well as the South Carolina School Librarians’ list of storytellers. He is the official permanent storyteller in residence for Palmetto State Hangers, a group of hammock camping enthusiasts. He has been a guest at ConGregate, ConCarolinas, Fandom Fest, MonsterCon, MystiCon, AtomaCon and Imaginarium.
Find Johnson’s ghostly adventures on Amazon.