By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
Photography by K Campbell Photography
Kara Simmons, 29, knows a thing or two about time management. Between serving as the executive director for the Columbia Bethlehem Community Center, volunteering in the community and running her own consultation business, she’s always on the move.
Those accomplishments, along with helping run the Charleston-based nonprofit she co-founded and serving on the board of directors for the Talented Tenth, an organization supporting African American young professionals, helped land her in the Class of 2016 Best and Brightest Under 35. In the year since she was chosen, she’s only gotten better and brighter.
One of her biggest accomplishments in the last year: leading her first road trip through her nonprofit.
Simmons created the nonprofit The NBA (No Boys Allowed) Movement, with three of her friends; its mission is to empower, enrich, educate, and expose girls of color. This April the group was able to take their first trip, and almost 20 middle and high school girls went on the three-day, two-night trip to tour various colleges in the Southeast.
“Many of them hadn’t even been out of the city,” she says. “Many of them didn’t think that going off to college was an option, but we made it tangible for them. They were like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ We really empowered them; we saw it right then and there.”
Simmons is not a social worker, but a lot of the work she does involves teaching and education, which has allowed her impact many lives in her community.
“When I see problems, I try to come up with solutions.” Simmons says. “And if there’s not a way I can directly help a problem, then I work on connecting the dots and finding the resources to help make a difference.”
Simmons, a Charleston native, moved to Columbia to attend Columbia College in 2006 and has made it a point to engage with her new community since she joined it.
“That credit goes to mom who has always been very community-engaged and involved,” Simmons says. Simmons says that her mother taught her the importance of community involvement early on.
“Being a philanthropist, or a missionary, or however you want to put it, is just second nature to me,” Simmons says. “I just thought that’s what everybody does, but as I grow older, I realize it’s not actually what everybody does.”
Even her personal consultation business, which was formed in 2011, has its roots in helping others.
“I enjoy helping people get their vision started,” she says.
Through her consultant business, Simmons works on a freelance basis and she says she enjoys it because she likes to help people think of alternate routes to achieve their goals. For instance, because of Simmons’ experience and involvement, she knows that sometimes starting a program is a better, more effective alternative to starting your own business.
In her spare time, she volunteers at her church and at the South Carolina Department of Corrections, where she lectures about financial literary and how to reenter the job force, which she says is one of the most rewarding parts of her schedule.
“Those are the moments I really reflect on,” Simmons says.
More than anything, Simmons says that being a member of the Best and Brightest Under 35 Class of 2016 has helped her broaden her social platform so that she can help more people.
“It’s allowed more opportunities and resources and people to become engaged with me, and allowed me to expand the services that organizations I work for and serve with offer,” she says.
As for the future, Simmons says she doesn’t know what it holds.
“I’m open, but I trust that God has a dynamic plan for my future,” she says. “There’s more to work to be done, and I’m working on doing all that I can do.”