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The team behind Empowered U Youth Organization takes great pride in motivating the youth to become leaders and agents of change. The staff is developed by professional training and backed by an Advisory Board that represents years of experience in the nonprofit and youth mentoring sector and that works with us to keep Empowered U focused and on target.

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Lesley Gadson

CEO and Founder 

Lesley, a native of Columbia, South Carolina, has a strong background in coaching, psychology, and community service. Graduating from Dreher High School and excelling at Southern Wesleyan University both academically and athletically, Lesley discovered her passion for empowering minds.


As a Performance Coach with a specialty in team dynamics for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Lesley brings a unique perspective to guide individuals and teams in the financial realm. Her expertise extends beyond numbers, emphasizing the transformation of mindsets for success and building capacity within teams.

In addition to her role as a Performance Coach, Lesley serves as the founder and CEO of Empowered U, a youth organization dedicated to instilling the power of mindset for positive change. Her motivational speaking has left an indelible mark on programs such as the Richland County Sheriff Department Youth Services Empowerment Academy and Camp L.O.T.T. Actively volunteering, she contributes to feeding the homeless through Empowered U's program, embodying her commitment to hands-on community impact.


At the core of Lesley's philosophy is the belief that mindset matters. Empowered U inspires youth to transform their thinking, emphasizing positive choices and actions. Lesley, with her expertise in team dynamics, underscores the profound impact of changing one's mind to not only enhance individual performance but also to build capacity within teams. Her powerful message resonates: "Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life," encapsulating the optimism and potential for change that Lesley passionately imparts to the youth through Empowered U.


Ebonee Gadson

Owner of Noisy Wings Southeast 

Development Director and Coach

The Development Director primary responsibility is to develop and implement a strategic plan to raise funds and organize annual goals for Empowered U.


"Some may ask why did I choose Empowered U? Empowered U chose me.  I say it laughingly, but the organization couldn't have been formed at a better time.  When asked to be a part of this movement, it wasn't something that I had to give any thought to.  I knew from it's inception that I wanted to serve in any capacity necessary.

My goal with this organization is to teach the youth that they possess more power than they realize.  It's my desire for them to understand their purpose already lies within, and each decision they make gets them closer to executing it.  I want them to know that who they are is not defined by where they come from or what labels may have been placed on them by society. "


Treva Gadson

Co-Owner of Noisy Wings

Community Outreach Coordinator 

"My role with Empowered U is Community Outreach Coordinator, acting as the link between the organization and the people we aim to assist. The reasoning why I do what I do is simply because I am inspired by seeing youth unlock their potential and excel in their lives. I am a witness that your beginning does not have to be your ending. It is not how you start , but it is how you finish. I aim to form positive relationships and make a lasting impact on the lives we come in contact with. 


My primary goal with Empowered U is to teach the youth to ignite their potential and create a healthier quality of life. Many young people have the spirit to make things happen, they just need to be given the space to excel. With good community support, love, and guidance; this organization will help the  young people grow, develop and protect that fire within them to ensure they reach their full potential.  "

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Jordan Thomas

Co-Founder of Share ONE Love

Lead Life Skills Coach 

Jordan Thomas was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. Graduating from the University of South Carolina in 2013 with a B.S. in Biology, Jordan had initially planned on pursuing a career in medicine. In 2014, his life was completely changed when he had the opportunity to travel to the country of Sri Lanka in Southeast Asia. That experience completely deconstructed the lenses in which he viewed the world. In 2015, Jordan helped plan, organize and implement the inaugural Global Unites Summit, where youth peace-builders from fifteen countries came together to discuss launching peace-building movements all across the globe. In the years following the Summit, Jordan has worked both in the non-profit and for-profit sectors of business through his employment with NorthStar Christian Center, work with youth through his own non-profit, Share ONE Love, and his current position at the Burkett Law Firm, LLC. Jordan has a passion to come alongside the younger generation to inspire them to take ownership of their own stories and build for a future that promotes value for all. He has worked with youth from all over the world and is humbled by the opportunity to come alongside Empowered U to equip the next generation.

Certifications: Trained Coach


Dr. Shameka Mack-Sanders


Volunteer Coordinator and Coach

The Volunteer Coordinator is responsible for organizing, training, and supervising the volunteer staff. "It is important for our youth to understand what they have or do not have should not limit their ability to succeed and strive for greatness. Because these concepts are essential to cultivating a culture of success and progress for our youth, I believe it is necessary to help our youth recognize their potential by changing their thought process. After all, change is not hard like most people have said.

 "It is just a matter of changing your mindset and deciding to make better choices no matter what your situation looks like. Even if those better choice start off small, that is perfectly OK.  Like Nike…Just Do It." 


Brittany Matthews

The Promotion Lady

Marketing Coach

"My name is Brittany Matthews, Empowered U Mentor. I am one of the lead branding problem solvers in Columbia, SC with a Bachelor's of Arts Degree from the University of South Carolina. Being passionate about promoting others and giving them the right exposure is my specialty. I currently have over twelve years of experience in web development, graphic design, branding, marketing, and online social management, which qualifies me to be able to lead the youth in their business ventures. 

As an Empowered U youth entrepreneur mentor, I help the youth fulfill their dreams of becoming business owners.  I assist the youth in gaining clients and share tools needed to build lasting professional relationships." 


Dr. Marcia Iszard


Dr. Marcia Iszard is a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) employed at Palmetto Health Richland located in Columbia, SC.


Marcia was a 1998 graduate of Dreher High School.  She began her nursing career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in 2001.  She later earned her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from Florence Darlington Technical College in 2005.  Having the desire to advance her career, she obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).  As a goal oriented individual, she decided she wanted to move into advanced practice to further her career.  She graduated with a Masters of Science in Nurse Anesthesia from MUSC in December 2009 and passed the certification exam to become a CRNA.  Always moving forward and seeking to advance both professionally and academically, she obtained her doctorate degree from MUSC in December 2017.


Marcia married Nicholas J. Iszard in 2003 and they have two children, Nicholas Chase (6) and Nora (4).  Marcia and her family reside in Blythewood, SC and enjoy traveling and spending time with each other.


Nehemiah Stewart

Civil Engineer 


"I am male mentor for Empowered U; my primary role is to encourage change and elicit growth in the young male. I joined this organization because of the vision and mission, my goal is to inspire the youth and help them understand the importance of self-ownership and responsibility. 

 Educating the youth to change their mindset and teaching them that sometimes you have to change your surroundings (friends) in order to be successful. I agree with the message that Empowered U was founded on (mindset matters) and I believe that being part of a community that has the same visions and goals will help spread this message effectively." 


Dennis Gadson

Owner of Noisy Wings Restaurant


"Mentor, Business Man, Motivational Speaker, Husband and Father; Im Dennis Gadson and male mentor for Empowered U. I’ve always had a passion for the youth; being leader of the youth department at my church has encouraged me to go beyond the four walls and reach the heart of the youth

Coming from a life of unhealthy decisions, let downs, disappointment, fear, failure, loneliness and heart break, STILL I RISE! One day I made a decision; I wanted to change my life!


I remember after one of the male mentoring sessions, a young man who was troubled in the home and community came to one of the sessions one way, but left with a total different mindset. He wrote to the organization on how he was impacted and motivated for change after many fail attempts by others. That is the reason I’m with Empowered U! The youth today needs encouragement and presence; being there counts. Talking time is over, it’s about time we stand up , put boots on the ground and speak out. They have a voice and I’m here to listen."


Qianah Simmons


Qianah has been in Columbia, SC since 2004. While attending graduate school, she became a volunteer tutor and mentor at Eau Claire High School. Shortly after, she began working with preschoolers and youth professionally and through church. Through those experiences she has built constructive and lasting relationships with those families.

Currently, Qianah is employed at Blue Cross Blue Shield. In addition to being a god-mother, she finds meaning in spending time with family and friends. They keep her grounded and encourage her commitment of advocacy for children and families.
Her philosophy is summed from a quote by

Frederick Douglas:
It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken adult.

Her Life Saying:
Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes of playing a poor hand well.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

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