Our Heroic Team

GEARup2LEAD Fall Conference

Our Conference Organizers

Adam Hartley, Ed.D., Executive Director

As Executive Director of GEARup2LEAD, AJ brings almost 20 years in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, and an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. He holds a B.A. and M.P.A. from The University of Michigan-Flint, an Ed.S. from Oakland University, and received his Ed.D. from Eastern Michigan University. He is a Tigers fan, loves Pearl Jam, and most of all, loves his hometown, Flint, MI! AJ and his wife Nicole have three children, Taylor, Adam, and Cameron. They are proud to be a part of Genesee County and welcome you to join GEARup2LEAD to create positive change in Flint and beyond! AJ's favorite quote is, “If you are not on the edge, get out of the way, you are taking up too much room.”- Jim Kitchen

Dan Farrell, Director of Athletics

Dan felt a connection with GEARup2LEAD's cause and proposed a new idea: teaching heroism and leadership through athletics. Dan’s background is in coaching, team management, and athletic administration. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, he began coaching and managing a non-profit called the Grand Rapids Lightning after studying Business Economics at Grand Valley State University. He became head varsity basketball coach at Grand Rapids Catholic Central in 2010 and was also assistant to the athletic director, where he focused on facilitating the success of at-risk student athletes. He most recently worked within operations at Krossover Intelligence Inc., a video analytics company that specializes in college and high school athletics. Dan was recently married, he and his wife Jennifer reside in Linden with their two golden retrievers, Jules and Jada.

Our Emcees

Morning Emcee: Jim Kitchen

Jim Kitchen is entering his 20th year in education. He was a 5th grade teacher in Detroit for 8 years, Principal of Smith Elementary in Fowlerville for 7 years, and he’s currently in his 5th year as Principal of Elms Road Elementary in Swartz Creek. He has had the distinct privilege of gaining experience in rural, urban, and suburban districts. Jim will complete his Ed Specialist degree in Educational Leadership this fall. He firmly believes that family involvement and building relationships can significantly impact the lives of children, so he advocates for opportunities beyond the school day for this purpose. “Everyone can be a hero to somebody. Choose to make a difference!”

Afternoon Emcee: Eric Woodyard

Eric Woodyard is an award-winning sports journalist working at MLive.com-The Flint Journal in Flint, Mich. He is currently responsible for covering local sporting events in Flint and reports on all levels including high school basketball, boxing, football, etc.

The 2006 Flint Southwestern Academy graduate produces many in-depth videos and feature stories plus writes about the current and ex-pro athletes from the area such as Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram, Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee, former Michigan State All-American Mateen Cleaves, NFL legend Andre Rison Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields and WBC world champion Anthony Dirrell to name a few.

Woodyard, 26, graduated from Western Michigan University in December 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Creative Writing. His accumulative grade point average was a 3.38.

He is an author of the book “Wasted” and released a documentary titled “Flint Made Me” to raise money for a scholarship in 2013.

Our Volunteers

Volunteer: Lisa Wismer

Lisa Wismer and her husband Bob started Motion Resources Inc., a distributor for Stryker Orthopedic Implants, 12 years ago. Motion Resources Inc. has employees who sell and service Stryker Orthopedic products to hospitals throughout Michigan. Lisa is a graduate of Michigan State University's Business School with a degree in Marketing. She has a Master's in Science Administration from Central Michigan University. She spent 15 years working for General Motors Service Parts Operations in Sales and Marketing before leaving to help start Motion Resources, Inc. She and her husband have two children in college. Volunteering has always been and huge part of Lisa's life. She is excited to be a part of GEARUP2LEAD!

Volunteer: Sonya K. LaGore

Chief Operating Officer –OLV Investment Group

Sonya LaGore earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Rochester College, gained years of experience in management and marketing research, then went on to become a licensed financial representative. She understands the business world along with the ins and outs of the financial industry – and knows it takes moral ethics and strong character to be a hero in this environment. As a problem solver, Sonya holds others accountable while drawing upon personal strengths and bringing about a spirit of unity. While balancing all of the operational variables at OLV, she can organize the fine details providing a structured environment where tasks get done, projects accomplished and the staff brings out the best in each other.Her leadership skills carry over into the relationships she has with multiple organizations. She serves as a committee member on the Flushing Area Community Fund and concurrently as a board trustee on the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. In addition to working to improve the city of Flint and Genesee County as a whole, she helps area kids in need receive bedroom makeovers as a board trustee of Zoie Sky. Her newest endeavor is as a volunteer with GEARup2LEAD, promoting cross disciplinary heroism in today’s world - she is pleased to be part of this compelling conference!

Sonya raises her two daughters with husband Joel LaGore, balancing her family and work undergirded by her faith and her spirit of giving.

Stage Director: Richard Kerry Thompson

AKA Mr. T

Dean of Students, Swartz Creek Academy

Renaissance man

Photography Partner: Nick Gregory

Nick Gregory has been a Social Studies teacher at Fenton High School since 2000. He has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University. Nick earned a Bachelor's Degree from Michigan State University in Human Resource Management and Social Studies Education with dual minors in political science and journalism. He is a photojournalist and his gallery exhibits related to Detroit, Mich. have earned recognition. Nick is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant and he is an active leader in his school community. He is a proud member of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship and he is an advocate for students. Nick is passionate about preparing all students for college and career success. He has been married for ten years and has two young children.


Nick grew up in Ionia, Michigan and has been coaching high school sports for 14 years (basketball and baseball). He learned a lot about leadership while being an equipment manager for MSU athletic department.

K-3 Heroic Builder: Brenda Hartley

K-3 A Hero to Be...That's Me!

With over 28 years in Flint Community Schools, Brenda knows what it takes to build heroes in the classroom and beyond.

Brenda created and performs her 45 minute interactive session, A Hero to Be...That's Me!, that will get your students up and singing their way to becoming heroic leaders.

Interested in bringing Brenda to your school?

Contact GEARup2LEAD and we can make that happen!