What a great way to kick off the Spring Podcast series! Join us as Clay McInnis talks about our beloved Montgomery; past, present and future! We are on the cusp of greatness.
Clay was born and raised in Montgomery and was the first at Auburn to graduate in Sustainable Entrepreneurship. Today he owns Commerce Consulting, a company that manages small political and trade associations. He also is a commercial real estate agent and real estate investor and developer. He is married to Melissa, a former WSFA reporter and they have one son, Anderson.
Presenting Difference maker and Community hero, Charles Lee! The 12-month Community Heroes project spotlights people making a difference in Montgomery each month. The presenting sponsor is Beasley Allen Law Firm, monthly sponsors are the City of Montgomery, Keith Roll, Realtor-Wallace and Moody, and the Montgomery Regional Airport. We will have each winner on our podcast so stay tuned!
Born prematurely and diagnosed with bronchitis and Hepatitis C at birth, odds were not in his favor. A “crack baby,” Lee spent the first two years of his life in a Chicago hospital before he was deemed strong enough to go home.
But before fast forwarding to the smell of hot dogs at his West Jeff Davis Avenue restaurant, That’s My Dog, first understand that Lee learned to cook crack long before he learned to cook for his successful business. And long before he opened an after-school youth ministry on Upper Wetumpka Road.
Lee was only 11 years old and still in Chicago when he held metal spoons over high heat. A year later, he witnessed a best friend shot twice in the head while robbing a store.
And at 13, he was shot in the chest during an altercation that occurred in retaliation for another friend being injured in a shooting. Then there was a Florida prison where he spent time for selling drugs.
“From everything I’ve experienced, it really boiled down to God trusting me with all of my experiences and helping others,” he said.
Lee, 35, doesn’t just walk into Montgomery neighborhoods today to save lives through serving meat inside a bun or through mentoring.
He walks in to change them and to provide experience and opportunity where some may never get it.
And for that, Lee is the Montgomery Advertiser’s January Community Hero, a recognition offered to someone who often works behind the scenes, and who brings value to our Capital City, and who has a story to tell and lessons to share.
Charles Lee fist bumps a customer at his restaurant, That’s My Dog, in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday January 10, 2018. Mickey Welsh / Advertiser
That’s My Dog
Lee does not operate behind the scenes.
He is front and center cooking hot dogs and Conecuh sausage, and grilling sauerkraut, bacon and toppings for specialties like That’s My Gump Dog, That’s My Downtown Dog and That’s My Junkyard Dog.
During a quick break, he sat at one of his restaurant’s tables and talked about the time he spent in prison for selling drugs and how that time made him grateful for past experiences shaping him into who he is today.
Lee talked about for what he wants to do, which is guide children to opportunities in education and the arts.
His work at That’s My Dog has provided him the means, flexibility and self-sufficiency. And the schedule provides him the opportunity to work with the city’s youth through That’s My Child, which provides recreational activities for area youth after school.
“If I wouldn’t have been to jail, I probably would have died,” Lee said. “I think that’s where I heard God’s voice the most. That’s where I figured out who I was. Who are you? Why are you alive?
“And he was like, ‘Hey, remember all those hot dog carts you saw in Chicago? Do you see any around here?’”
Lee and his mother moved to Montgomery when he was 14 years old.
He sat at That’s My Dog and remembered this part of his story, greeting customers as they walked in. And as he walked out with them to continue conversations, giving fist bumps to some, he also made sure to check on customers.
That’s My Dog started as a cart on Dexter Avenue in 2012 — it’s still there — and expanded to the building on West Jeff Davis two years later. In about six months, Lee hopes to have a third location open at That’s My Child. It will be operated by teens for teens — to give them work experience and to provide opportunity.
The purpose of Lee’s mission is simple: “It’s just to let any average Joe from the hood know that your dreams can still come true, no matter how you start it off,” he said.
“No matter how you begin, your end can still turn out fabulous. It really depends on you making the right decisions. And it starts there.”
That’s My Child
It was a Wednesday about 4:30 p.m., and two children sat at computers while another was tutored in math at That’s My Child, a turn-key, gated facility that includes multiple buildings, three vans and two school buses.
The long road home: That’s My Child complex ‘a godsend’ for kids
Several children who finished schoolwork on this day dribbled a basketball on a one-net court outside. The hoop with torn netting serves as training for the boys who are part of a basketball team.
The ministry here reaches students from Lee High School, Capitol Heights and Goodwyn middle schools, and Highland Gardens and Chisholm elementary schools.
While the first hour of the after-school program was focused on tutoring, which Lee wants to expand, more than 45 youth came in for the extracurricular activities after the first hour.
“We’re still trying to figure it all out,” Lee said of the program. “The vision … it’s really going to change the city. We want to do a television show, where they get to talk about issues that they are facing at home and school.
“It gives me a purpose for living as well. I could just be working here and living life.”
Instead, he has seen five students go to college, sometimes accompanying them as they move onto campus “because they don’t have anyone else.” One has enlisted in the military, and others are working full time.
“In our neighborhood, they say it’s one in every five kids that will graduate high school in Chisholm,” he said. “I know it’s not my job to save everybody. If one of these guys go to college … they can change the world.
“Success is one kid at a time.”
That’s his life
Lee attended McIntyre Middle School and Houston Hill Junior High School, but left both schools because of fights. He ended up making strides at Project Upward School, but after attempting to finish high school at Robert E. Lee High School, he was told his credits wouldn’t transfer, he said.
He dropped out of school and worked at Burger King and Church’s Chicken. And that’s where life went up, and then down again.
He joined the Job Corps, where he met his wife, Mohona, and received his GED and a certificate in culinary arts.
But then old habits re-entered Lee’s life. As he and his wife survived by sleeping on clothes and under jackets, they moved to Florida when Lee was 19 years old.
And Lee began selling drugs on a large scale.
And that sent him to prison, which is when the change within him happened that led him back to Montgomery after his release.
“I want to be more than just talk,” Lee said. “I want to be able to say I’ve done all of that bad stuff, but now I own a business and I’m in your life. That’s the beauty of not being able to just talk about it, but being able to walk the walk, and them being able to see the journey.”
He said when the youth come into his path, he sees it as his responsibility to be an example of who Christ is to him.
“You’re trying to make such a change, but you don’t really see that as far as crime rate,” he said. “You just still see murders going on every night, and still people burglarizing houses. You begin to think, ‘Are you really making changes in your city or neighborhood?’
“It’s our job to make sure we introduce them to Christ. Instead of me trying to make sure I get results. God told me, ‘It’s not your job to change their lives. It’s your job to introduce them to me, and let me change their lives.'”
Location, information, contact
That’s My Dog is located at 232 West Jeff Davis Avenue. Online: That’s My Dog Montgomery on Facebook. Call: 334-356-3040
That’s My Child is located at 2414 Lower Wetumpka Road. Online: www.thatsmychildmgm.org. Call: 334-239-7434
Community Heroes Montgomery
The 12-month Community Heroes Montgomery, sponsored by Beasley Allen Law Firm, starts today and will profile one person every month this year.
Every monthly winner will receive a $500 travel voucher from the Montgomery Regional Airport and American Airlines, a staycation from Wind Creek, dinner at Itta Bena restaurant and a certificate of appreciation from Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange.
At the end of the 12 months, the Heroes will be recognized at a banquet, and a “Hero of 2018” will be honored.
The 12 categories the Montgomery Advertiser will focus on: educator, health, business leader, military, youth, law enforcement, fire/EMT, nonprofit/community service, religious leader, senior volunteer, entertainment (arts/music) and athletics (such as a coach).
Do you know a Community Hero?
To nominate someone for Community Heroes Montgomery, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please specify which category you are nominating for and your contact information.
Our difference maker this week is Laurel Teel! Laurel’s love for children has been a driving force in her career since graduating from Auburn University in 2010. Her titles have included kindergarten teacher at a Primrose School, founder of Mustaches for Kids Montgomery, and now Child Protect’s Development Director at the Children’s Advocacy Center. Laurel is responsible for oversight of the Young Professionals Board, as well as fundraising, special event coordination, and all social media platforms. “My position allows me to see the good in the people of our community and that in turn inspires me to do everything I can for the children we serve,” she explains. In addition to Laurel’s Mustaches for Kids work, she also serves as Member-at-Large for the Central Alabama Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and volunteers with That’s My Child’s Young Professionals board. Laurel attributes her success to her father, who she believes he has been an ideal example of great work ethic and career dedication. Laurel attends Church of the Highlands and enjoys working out at NOW Total Fitness. In her free time, Laurel enjoys spending time with friends and family at Lake Martin.
Hear Corey talk about making difference in Montgomery by teaching better health. He came back to Montgomery after living in New Orleans for 17 years! Corey Ellis is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. He knows first hand and will discuss the opportunities available in Montgomery. Corey Ellis attended Grambling State University, in Grambling, LA, from 2001-2005, where he received his Bachelors Degree in Computer Information Systems.
Ellis, proving that you just may have a passion for a completely different occupation opposite of what your educational concentration, and Degree dictates, by electing not to pursue a career in computers, but venturing into the field of health and wellness. Corey is a certified personal trainer, group fitness trainer, YOGA instructor, and youth sports performance trainer.
Corey Ellis is the owner, and operator of the RezFIT Fitness & Wellness Studio in Montgomery, AL & RezFIT 2 Fitness Training Facility in Prattville, AL. Corey Ellis began his company, Resolution Fitness LLC, in 2008, and has been striving to build (RezFIT) Resolution Fitness LLC, to becoming one of the strongest forces of fitness in the River Region.
This is a topic that is on everyone’s agenda, Education! Listen to the podcast to learn about Dillon Nettles and what he is doing for our children in the Montgomery Public School System.
Dillon Nettles is Montgomery-based organizer, Community Programs Director at the Montgomery Education Foundation, and Cofounder of Foreword South. He is a native of Daphne, Alabama and a 2015 graduate of Auburn University.
While studying at Auburn, Dillon’s passion for social change was sparked. His range of experiences working with national organizations such as Teach for America, Students for Education Reform, and the Clinton Foundation cultivated both his knowledge and his interest in fighting for education equity and reform. In 2015, he joined the Montgomery Education Foundation to lead the local nonprofit’s community engagement initiatives, including the We C.A.N. Network.
Earlier this year he cofounded and launched his media company, Foreword South, as a digital and physical storytelling platform highlighting the work of Southern visionaries, activists, designers, artists, and change-makers. Dillon is passionate about using his creative organizing and communication skills to build bold campaigns and programs focused on effectively leading coalitions toward expanding educational and economic opportunities for marginalized communities and he is proud to now call Montgomery home.
Kristina Turner and Michelle Leland of The American Advertising Federation -Montgomery chapter talk about the lunch and learn next week and why this organization is important not just for advertising but for businesses in the community.
AAF Montgomery serves as an advocate to better the business community as a whole, creating an environment that is thriving and fair. We connect you to the entire advertising community and provide you with great opportunities for networking, education, public service, and both local and national discounts. Our goal is to educate our members on the latest trends in advertising, marketing, and public relations with a variety of annual programs.
AAF provides many services, some of these are: professional development Lunch & Learns, networking opportunities, educational workshops, a chance to give back with public service, and the opportunity to compete in the American Advertising Awards, and more.
Before becoming the Montgomery rockstar we know today, Ashley Jernigan was moving and shaking things up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Listen to the podcast to learn more about her adventure to the Montgomery area. Ashley graduated with a degree in Communications from Alabama State University (Go Hornets!) and started working on her career before graduating! Can you say, “Massive, Work Ethic!”. You go girl! Leading her to become one of the youngest Private Events Directors ever in the company. Whilst working full time, Ashley received a MBA from Georgia State University; which propelled her career to direct all the marketing efforts for one of the largest restaurants and property management companies in the River Region.
Ashley has a passion for helping young professionals advance in their career because her own professional journey was not easy. She explains that journey – gives tips, tricks and tools to navigate and excel in corporate world on her blog www.top5careertips.com. Her motto: “Network for net worth, volunteer to advance your career and know when it’s time to go!”
After nearly a decade of service in the hospitality industry, Ashley decided to start her own Hospitality Consulting Business JDB Hospitality, LLC where she helps businesses utilize both PR tactics and marketing techniques to find the best possible solution to get in front of the eyes, ears and mouths of their target market.
Learn about Kalonji and how he started this amazing collective. The Flight of Arts is this weekend! The four-day event will feature several workshops and exhibitions for visual, performing, literary, culinary and cultural arts. All events and activities will be hosted at different venues in and around downtown Montgomery to raise public awareness and community engagement.
Kalonji is a pivotal mover and shaker in the Montgomery Community. Listen as Kalonji talked about the things he loves about Montgomery and how he is making a difference. Currently focusing on the founder role of the 21 Dreams Arts & Culture Collective (happening this weekend btw); and a long list of community organizations such as: Pure Artistry Literary Café (Advisory Board Member); Mayoral Young Professionals Council; Emerge Montgomery Young Professional Organization of Leadership Montgomery;Emerge Montgomery’s Torchbearers Program: Class 5 Representative, Programs & Outreach Chair (2014 – 2015); Just Keep Giving Community Outreach Group (Founding Member); Just Keep Giving: Tornado Relief Donation Drive; Just Keep Giving & Pure Artistry: Beyond Dreams School Supply Drive; Just Keep Giving & 97.9 Jamz: Toyz N Da Hood Toy Drive; SpeakOUT Against HIV & AIDS – Annual World AIDS Day Community Event- and the list goes on…
You can make a difference, right here and right now.
Phillip Ensler serves as Policy Counsel at Alabama Appleseed, where he provides direction and leadership to advance the organization’s policy goals. In his role, he manages the Access to Justice Campaign to improve access to adequate counsel for indigent clients in criminal and civil cases.
Prior to joining Alabama Appleseed, Phillip attended the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, where he received his juris doctorate. During law school, he completed a legal internship at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, where he worked on juvenile rights and education issues. Prior to that, he was a legal intern at the Innocence Project in New York, where he helped wrongfully convicted individuals obtain their freedom by proving their innocence through DNA evidence.
Prior to attending law school, Phillip served as a Teach for America corps member at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, where he taught social studies.
Phillip received his B.A. in Political Science from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he was also a White House intern.
Phil fell in love with the history in Montgomery, which in turn motivated a move from Manhattan to Montgomery. He is here and making a difference. Listen to the audio to find out more.