GELF Board of Directors
James Pond has more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit leadership. As President of Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF), he develops long-term strategies for strengthening early literacy in Tennessee, partnering with organizations to amplify innovative programs for children statewide. His leadership role unites the efforts of the GELF team; more than 700 statewide volunteers; corporate partners; municipal and state government; and other public and private organizations.
A native of Antioch, Calif., James previously served as Executive Director of Veteran’s PATH, which helps combat veterans find health and healing. He also spent 12 years working with organizations combatting sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. After serving eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he worked 10 years in corporate America before beginning his nonprofit career.
James earned a master’s degree in 2004 at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He and his wife Athena have three adult children and live in Nashville. He welcomed his first grandson — the family’s first Imagination Library book recipient — in 2018.
“By putting books in the hands of thousands of children each month, we are opening their minds and helping them become lifelong learners,” said Pond. “This work is a privilege, an honor and a great deal of fun.”
Dean Dorsey Hoskins, who joined Governor's Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) as Vice President in 2012, is primarily responsible for the Foundation’s financial management, operations and strategic program partnerships. She also assists in fundraising, program support and strategic planning.
Prior to joining the GELF team, Dean spent a decade as a motivational speaker and consultant to non-profits and financial services firms on matters of operations and internal communications. She also has more than 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur.
Originally from Macon, Ga., Dean graduated cum laude from the University of Georgia with a B.B.A. in risk management and insurance. In 2020, Dean became “Neannie” to Emery, her first granddaughter and Imagination Library participant.
“As the daughter of an elementary school teacher and parents that modeled lifelong learning, I am passionate about our mission to give Tennessee’s children the very best start in life through the love of reading. I have always believed that if children can read, then every door is opened for them to succeed in school and in life.”
Claire Jones joined Governor's Early Literacy Foundation in 2016 as Communications Manager, responsible for creating the Foundation’s brand messaging and marketing strategy to raise awareness of its early literacy mission and programs statewide. She manages the Foundation’s communications and supports program affiliates at the grassroots level.
Claire previously served as Policy Coordinator for former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. She graduated cum laude from Louisiana State University with a B.A. in political communications and a minor in history. Originally from Shreveport, La., Claire is an avid LSU football fan and loves country music, crawfish and trying new Nashville restaurants.
"The best part of my job is knowing that we are making a real difference for children and providing families with a special bond through reading together, one that I am forever grateful to have experienced as a child.”
Senior Manager Philanthropy
Nissan North America
Parul Bajaj is Senior Manager, Philanthropy for Nissan North America, responsible for leading the company’s corporate giving and philanthropy strategy for the U.S. She also serves as executive director of the Nissan Foundation, overseeing activities related to the Foundation’s ongoing support of educational programs that celebrate and foster diversity.
Bajaj joined the Nissan Corporate Communications team in March 2016 and brings extensive experience from Bridgestone and FedEx.
Since then, she has held positions of increasing responsibility in corporate and manufacturing communications. Most recently, she completed an 18-month assignment with the Renault-Nissan Mitsubishi communications team, based in Paris.
Bajaj holds a bachelor’s degree in international business and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Mississippi.
Chief Financial Officer
Delta Dental of Tennessee
Jeff Ballard serves as Chief Financial Officer of Delta Dental of Tennessee.
Prior to joining Delta Dental of Tennessee in 2015, Ballard previously served as CFO of Franklin-based Magazines.com. Prior to that, he was a controller for Corrections Corporation of America and an auditor of Arthur Anderson.
Ballard holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Linda Kirkpatrick joined Governor's Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) in 2014 as Executive Assistant for Administration and Outreach. In 2020, she transitioned into the role of Program Manager. Linda serves as the primary point of contact for Imagination Library county affiliates and existing programs. She works to cultivate and maintain strong relationships with volunteers, staff and supporters statewide to encourage growth and sustainability. Linda loves traveling to meet with county volunteers across the state to amplify their efforts.
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Linda enjoys hiking and spending time with her family and “grand dogs.”
Jennifer Colquitt serves as an Executive Assistant to the Frist Family, working closely with the family from their primary residence assisting with household, event, and financial operations. Prior to working for the Frists, she worked in Development at Vanderbilt University as the Program Coordinator for Community and Foundation Relations. Jennifer graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt with a B.S. in Political Science and Psychology. She went on to earn a Masters Degree from the Education Department at Belmont University.
Jennifer enjoys being an active volunteer. She currently sits on the board of Chi Omega House Corporation at Vanderbilt as Past President, as well as Sports Servants, an organization that promotes sports as a mission in Belize. She is also a seventh-year active member at the Junior League of Nashville where she has served in many placements focused on literacy and child health in the Nashville community. She is a member of Midtown Fellowship Downtown Church where she is a Women’s Ministry volunteer. She lives in Nashville and her favorite role is being “Aunt Ju” to her 2 nieces and 2 nephews.
Paige Atchley joined Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation in 2020 as Program Manager, responsible for expanding the Foundation’s new partnerships, relationships and initiatives statewide, including the Kindergarten-3rd Grade Summer Reading and Caregiver Engagement pilot programs.
She previously served as the Director of Community Engagement for Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee and as the Read to be Ready Program Director at the Tennessee Department of Education. Paige graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee and attained her Master’s of Education from Lipscomb University. She collects children’s books and loves golden retrievers, ice cream and cheering on the Volunteers.
Dustin Jacobsen joined Governor's Early Literacy Foundation in 2020 as Executive Assistant, working directly with the Foundation’s leadership to manage customer service and program relationships.
Previously, he spent 10 years working in non-profit organizations, most recently as Executive Director of the Old School Farm in Nashville, Tenn., where he worked to create vocational training, job opportunities and educational experiences for adults with developmental disabilities.
Dustin graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in education and a minor in business administration. Originally from Lawrence, Kan., Dustin loves fishing, the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team and weekly movie nights with his wife and children.
“We are giving children across the state from every background and social status the same chance to imagine new worlds and learn through reading. Our book delivery program also gives parents the chance to connect and engage with their children in a meaningful and beneficial way.”
Dr. Nancy Dishner
President and CEO
Dr. Nancy Dishner is President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. She previously served as Vice Provost for Enrollment Services and Director of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at East Tennessee State University. She was a tenured professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She also served as Special Assistant to the University President. Her early experience was as a public school teacher in Unicoi County. Her 43-year career has focused on providing opportunities for children to receive the best educational opportunities possible in order to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
Nancy is an alumna of East Tennessee State University with a B.S. degree in Elementary Education, summa cum laude. She has a master’s degree in Supervision and Administration; and a Doctorate in Administration. She is the recipient of the ETSU Outstanding Staff Award, served at Staff Senate President, and is recognized in the ETSU Clemmer College of Education Hall of Fame. Nancy served two terms as President of Phi Kappa Phi honor society. She was named the ETSU Outstanding Alumna for 2013, and has a street named in her honor on the ETSU campus.
Dr. Dishner served two terms on the Board of Directors of the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber of Commerce, establishing and chairing the Partners in Education program for Johnson City and Washington County. She served on the Johnson City Public Building Authority as both secretary and chair of the public relations committee.
She is a Commissioner on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC); on the Board of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA), serving as vice president; and a board member for the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation. She serves as a Board member for Communities in Schools, and on the Board of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education. She is an advisory board member on for SCORE. Nancy serves on the Board of Directors for the Niswonger Foundation and on the Executive Council for the Niswonger Children’s Hospital. She is a member of the Board of Trustees at Tusculum University.
Gregory M. Duckett
Senior Vice President & Chief Legal Officer
Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation
Mr. Duckett joined the Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation in 1992. He directs all of Legal Services associated with Baptist Memorial Healthcare and has coordinated several mergers and acquisition on behalf of the corporation the largest of which was the acquisition of Mississippi Baptist Health System in Jackson, Mississippi. Baptist healthcare is the largest hospital based provider in the Mid-South (TN, AK & MS). Baptist operates 22 hospitals and employs over 18,500 employees and has the largest number of employed and allied physician practitioners in the region. Baptist is the largest provider of TennCare and Medicaid services in the Mid-South. As the Chief Legal Officer for the organization, he has overseen several complex transactions that have led to a number of new initiatives in health care. He was instrumental in some of the early physician acquisitions in the Memphis area. Additionally, he is responsible for Risk Management, Corporate Compliance, Privacy and Security, and the Legal and Regulatory Department.
He also served as a board member on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis for six years.
He served as the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Memphis in 1991. In that capacity he is the youngest ever to serve at 31 and the first African-American to serve as the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Memphis.
Mr. Duckett served as an assistant to Senator Albert Gore, Jr., from 1985 to 1987 and as Director of Memphis Housing and Community Development for the City of Memphis from 1988 to 1990.
Mr. Duckett has managed to balance the demands between his family, professional and civic commitments. He is currently serving on the following community boards and initiatives:
National Civil Rights Museum Board of Directors (Executive Committee) (1996 – present)
Tennessee Board of Regents (2006-Present)
State of Tennessee Election Commission (2007 – present)
Memphis River Parks Partnership (former known as the Riverfront Development Corporation Greater Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors
Member of the Leadership Academy Board of Governors
Fellow in the Memphis Bar Foundation
Fellow in the American Health Lawyers Association
AutoZone Liberty Bowl Festival Association, Board of Directors (2001 – present)
New Memphis Institute Board of Governor
Metropolitan Interfaith Association Board of Directors (Executive Committee) (2017-present) Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (formerly Governor’s Books to Birth Foundation)
Mr. Duckett has also served on the following boards and committees:
Tennessee Hospital Association, Board of Director, Chairman 2007
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Board of Directors (2008 – 2014)
Board member of Cadence Bank, N.A. (2005 – 2007)
Board of Trustees of Christian Brothers University (2009 – 2013)
American Health Lawyers Association (2004 – 2010)
Goals for Memphis – Board Chairman
Memphis in May Board
The Economic Club Board of Directors
Commissioner of the Shelby County Election Commission. (1995 – 2006) Chairman (2003 – 2007)
American Hospital Association, Government Relations Officers Network Council
American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) Board of Directors. (2003 – 2009)
Mr. Duckett has been recently acknowledged in the April 2018 Edition of the Becker’s Hospital Review as one of the “50 African American Leaders in Healthcare to Know”.
Mr. Duckett was featured on the cover of Memphis Medical News’ 2018 In Charge publication.
Judge Brandon Gibson
Office of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
State of Tennessee
Brandon O. Gibson serves as a senior advisor to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. She was appointed to this position in January 2019. Prior to this appointment, she served as a Tennessee Court of Appeals judge for the state's western section and is a sixth generation Tennessean. She graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science degree and Master’s degree in Agribusiness Management. She graduated from Southern Methodist University School of Law in 2000, practiced law in Texas for a year, and felt the pull back to West Tennessee, where she began practicing law in Jackson. She practiced at Pentecost & Glenn for many years until Governor Bill Haslam appointed her to the Tennessee Court of Appeals on December 26, 2013. Brandon was sworn in on September 1, 2014. She lives on a small farm in Crockett County, Tennessee.
Director, Global Public & Community Affairs
Eastman Chemical Company
CeeGee McCord is an instrumental part of Eastman's global public affairs and policy team. She has responsibility for corporate and Eastman Foundation investing, social innovation and impact initiatives, community affairs, and economic development partnerships. In addition to leading the corporate responsibility and education initiatives ream, she manages the corporate events and customer engagements organization. This involves responsibility for all executive and Board functions, sales and investor meetings customer outreach, conferences, and VIP visits to Eastman offices and sites around the world.
Prior to joining Eastman, McCord worked extensively in the nonprofit and public service sector. She earned her bachelor's degree in management from Georgia Institute of Technology, and a master's degree in public administration from Kennesaw State University. McCord has served in many volunteer leadership positions in philanthropic and service organizations. She has served as the chair of the State Government Affairs Committee of the American Chemistry Council as a board member for the United Way of Tennessee, chaired the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Board and the Commission of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority. She currently serves as the secretary of the Kingsport Economic Development Board, is chair of the inclusion and diversity initiatives of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, a board member of the Johnson City/Washington County Chamber, and a lifetime member of Leadership Tennessee. McCord and her husband, Jeff, have three adult children.
Senior Director, Community Initiatives
Dollar General Corporation
Denine Torr joined Dollar General in the fall of 1999. As senior director of Community Initiatives, she oversees corporate and foundation giving, employee volunteer engagement efforts, and cause-related partnerships for Dollar General's forty-four state market.
Mrs. Torr has designed and executed charitable initiatives for Dollar General that have raised more than $100 million for charity. She was instrumental in the creation of the Dollar General Employee Assistance Foundation. Under her leadership, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has flourished into a national thought leader and has helped more than 9 million individuals learn to read, prepare for the high school equivalency or learn English.
Mrs. Torr received her Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Communications from Middle Tennessee State University. Prior to Dollar General, her experience includes network television production, freelance writing and public relations. Denine currently serves on the board of directors for the Nashville Public Library Foundation, Nashville Public Television and is board chair for ProLiteracy Worldwide.
Dr. Andrea Willis, M.D.
Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Dr. Andrea Willis is the Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. In her leadership role at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Dr. Willis ensures that all clinical initiatives and quality endeavors support the needs of our members, and contribute to the overall health and well-being of our communities. As the standard bearer for clinical excellence and positive health outcomes, she keeps quality care at the forefront of discussions with our customers, providers, regulators and stakeholders.
Meeting Dr. Willis means quickly recognizing her passion for better health and a better health care system, which stems from her early professional experience as a pediatrician. Within BlueCross, she has served as medical director, advising on care structures for many successful programs, including the CHOICES Long-Term Services and Support program for the state’s Medicaid population, and CoverTennessee.
Before joining our company, she served the State of Tennessee as director of CoverKids, helped develop Tennessee’s federally approved State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and served as deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health.
Dr. Willis is a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Tennessee Medical Association. She earned a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health and a Doctor of Medicine from Georgetown University School of Medicine.
GELF Advisory Council
The Advisory Council is a governing body that provides Governor's Early Literacy Foundation with strategic advice and resources to help grow the Imagination Library program. It is made up of educators, stakeholders, donors, and partners who serve as connectors and ambassadors for Tennessee's Imagination Library statewide.
(Pictured left to right, front row: Dr. Shirley Raines, President of GBBF Theresa Carl, Governor Bill Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam, Vicki Smith, second row: Mayor Jake Bynum, Laura Travis, Donna Noland, Byron Trauger, back row: Rachel Gatlin, Dr. Nancy Dishner, Not pictured: Calvin Anderson)
- Calvin Anderson, Former Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Chief of Staff, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation
- Mayor Jake Bynum, Weakley County
- Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation
- Donna Noland, First Lady, East Tennessee State University
- Dr. Shirley Raines, President Emeritus, University of Memphis
- Vicki Smith, Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, Nissan North America Inc
- Byron Trauger, Partner, Trauger & Tuke
- Laura Travis, Associate Agent, Ron Travis Agency
- Dr. Michael D. Warren, Assistant Commissioner, Division of Family Health & Wellness at Tennessee Department of Health