The address ranged from COVID-19 and education to law enforcement and government reform. As with many elements of this year’s speech, the number of special guests was different than normal: While 24 guests were in attendance during last year’s State of the State address, Wednesday saw only six.
Here’s a look at the individuals Parson recognized for their contributions to Missouri this year.
Unleashing Potential leadership
Parson recognized St. Louis-based Unleashing Potential, an early education center for children from 5 weeks to 6 years old. Two leaders from the center, CEO and President Darlene Sowell and Director of Early Childhood Education Denise Carter, were seated in the Senate chambers for the address.
“I have said many times that our children are the workforce of tomorrow, and if we are to truly make a difference in their lives, it starts with early childhood development,” Parson said.
Sowell has more than 30 years of administrative and non-profit experience and is the former executive vice president of Human Resources, Facilities, and Housing programs at UCAN in Chicago. She has served as president and CEO of the center since 2008.
Carter has more than 25 years of experience in early childhood, including management, funding and development, and overseeing programs. She is active as an advisory board member for the TEACH Missouri program, a volunteer with the Girl Scouts, and the Windermere Place Association Treasurer.
Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant recipients
Two recipients of the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant were in attendance Wednesday. Parson said the program helped bolster Missouri’s workforce and encouraged youths to further their education.
“Another program that is becoming increasingly popular is the Fast Track program proposed by our administration to help working-age, under-employed adults advance their skills and careers,” he said. “We are very proud that nearly 80 percent of Fast Track scholarship recipients are women, and nearly 50 percent are first-generation college students.”
Mallory Fox is a nursing student at East Central College in Rolla. Briana Tyler is a student at State Fair Community College where she also studies nursing.
Lincoln University Police Chief and POST Commissioner Gary Hill
Parson recognized Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill during his speech. Hill also serves as a member of the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission, where he led the effort to establish the first police academy housed at a historically Black college and university (HBCU) at Lincoln last year.
“Chief Hill plays a critical role in the safety of our local community, and we are honored he is here today to represent our men and women in uniform,” he said. “Thank you to Chief Hill and all Missouri law enforcement officers for your service.”
A Lincoln alumnus, Hill has worked for the university since 2016. Parson appointed him to the POST Commission last year.
Cindy Sheets, registered nurse at Truman Medical Center
Parson’s final guest was Cindy Sheets, a registered nurse at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City. Parson said he was moved by her resolve in the face of COVID-19.
“During a visit to Truman Medical Center in October, I saw a video of Ms. Sheets sharing her experience with COVID-19, and her words truly inspired me,” Parson said. “She said that she is not fearful because much like a soldier in war, this is what she signed up for. Every day, Ms. Sheets has stepped up for fellow Missourians despite the risks and the challenges. She is a true representation of what health care is all about, and we are honored to have her here today.”
Sheets serves as the senior director of cardiovascular services for the center, where she has worked for a decade. She has spent 24 years as a registered nurse and has assisted the hospital in establishing COVID-19 testing sites and with the ongoing vaccination efforts.