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Sarasota Chamber honors area young professionals at summit event

Eric Troyer of Kerkering, Barberio & Co. presents the award to Evan Samson.
Eric Troyer of Kerkering, Barberio & Co. presents the award to Evan Samson.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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This year, there were two clear frontrunners for the Young Professional of the Year Awards.

“When we looked at all the submissions, these two individuals were just stellar,” said Heather Kasten, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce President and CEO. "With what they had given to their company and their communities, it was evident they were the clear young professionals of the year for YPG.”

Tiona Settles of CenterPlace Health and Evan Samson of DMSI International were both presented with the award at the annual Young Professionals Summit of the The Sarasota Young Professionals Group, a program of the Sarasota Chamber. Held at the Carlisle Inn on Aug. 18, the event was presented by Kerkering, Barberio & Co.

Tiona Settles, CenterPlace Health

Growing up in foster care in Bradenton, Tiona Settles was homeless when she aged out of the system at 18.

“I always told myself I wanted to be somebody, I always wanted to help,” she said.

Tiona Settles
Photo by Ian Swaby

A year ago she became a community health worker with CenterPlace Health, a nonprofit that specializes in quality and affordable primary care. Immediately, she found that she fit right in with its goals.

“It was a very easy choice, because I loved what they stood for, and then just the things that they are doing in the community. They are small, but they are mighty.”

Her role is focused on outreach and engagement, as well as meeting the needs of the community and connecting it to resources. She works with community partners to ensure that the nonprofit is addressing health equity and social determinants of health, as well as to create awareness of the organization. 

A typical day is multifaceted, Settles said. 

Some days she will serve on hospital duty, which involves ensuring that women who are CenterPlace Health patients have postpartum follow-up appointments scheduled for them and their babies. 

This responsibility is important, she said, as often the underserved population has other needs to manage, may be struggling to make ends meet, or may lack transportation. The organization will help meet needs like food and transportation, she said.

“That's where we come in. We meet them where they are."

At other times, she will attend meetings to determine the major issues in the community, along with solutions. One current issue, she said, is a lack of food resources in the Newtown community. 

CenterPlace Health is working with organizations like the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and All Faiths Food Bank to bring a mobile grocery store to the community, she said.

Settles said she could not have found her way to her position on her own. Once she aged out of the foster care system, there were those along the way who offered help, like her high school teacher Keenan Wooten, who made sure she filled out a college application, which put her on the path to graduation from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee in 2020.

She was also grateful to CenterPlace Health for a chance to prove her other skills, with her background being in laboratory work. She said she felt easily accepted into the company.

“That CenterPlace Health gave me a chance to show that I had other skills and talents – they took that chance on me and allowed me to get into a position that I knew little about, and basically make it my own — helped me to grow in my professional career,” she said.

For a professional, looking after your own health is also important, she said. In her spare time, she makes sure to do what makes her happy, whether it is going to the riverwalk in Bradenton to watch the sunset, or riding her bike in Payne Park on Saturdays.

She said the most impactful part of the experience has been “being a light to people, and knowing that you can provide a solution.”

Evan Samson, DMSI International

When he was hired five years ago by DMSI International, a Nokomis-based manufacturer of fiber optics products, Evan Samson served as a production staff member.

After a month, the company promoted him to marketing communications director.

From there, he assisted the company with a major rebranding. He began updating logos, marketing materials and the company’s website — but he doesn’t take credit for the vision he realized.

“It’s already there in the company — you just have to pull it out,” he said.

Evan Samson
Photo by Ian Swaby

For instance, he brought his background in graphic design to the website, which he said was originally outsourced to another company, and created an interface he said is more user-friendly that now showcases different aspects of the company including its products, services, and culture.

He also introduced new points of emphasis in the company’s marketing. One of those was its work culture, which he called extremely positive and supportive. 

Another was its philanthropic initiatives. The company operates a program called DMSI Cares, which, among other activities, makes four trips a year to offer food and supplies to children and families in the Philippines through its manufacturing facility in that country. 

Samson went beyond leading a rebrand. He spearheaded altruistic efforts, bringing coworkers to volunteer alongside him for area nonprofits such as All Faiths Food Bank.  

When it comes to promoting a less understood service such as fiber optics, one component of the work is explaining the product itself, he said. Although such cables are now used by major companies such as AT&T, he said not everyone is aware of their uses, which include long-distance and high-performance data networking and telecommunications.

As a result, Samson worked information on fiber optics into the company’s social media, which mainly targets other entities in the local community — government facilities, military facilities, and telecommunications companies.

Samson said his various efforts have paid off, with a growing public awareness of DMSI International. He doesn’t take any credit and said it all comes down to the work environment, including supportive managers and coworkers.

“They’re the driving force with everything that we do in our company,” he said.

While he’s glad for the award, he said there’s still more work to be done.

“I'm just getting started. It's just the beginning, so I'm happy that I already got the recognition," he said. "But I'm just starting, so I have lots of learning to do."



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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