Bios

Kristen Marakoff is an English teacher at Travelers Rest High School. She attended her first My Neighbor’s Voice dinner in the spring of 2017, and was excited by the changes she saw in the guests’ beliefs simply through respectful conversation and listening. Kristen is now a moderator for My Neighbor’s Voice, and serves as board member and secretary for the My Neighbor’s Voice Board.

Greg Valente is an entrepreneur and small business owner in Greenville, South Carolina. Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and later received a Master of Computer Science degree from Clemson University. He’s a former employee of GE Aircraft Engines and GE Gas Turbines, and an expert in the field of turbine metrology. His wife Diana, a native of Bogota, Colombia, is a ceramic sculptor, cultural agent and mentor to Latino artists. Greg has a keen interest in politics and enjoys discussing and debating political issues, but always in deference to and in consideration of others’ ideas and opinions.

Samuel Lyons is retired from the Federal Government after serving in the US Air Force and working in Human Resources in the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Interior and the United States Railroad Retirement Board. He grew up in Abbeville County, SC and went on to graduate from South Carolina State University with continuing education at George Washington University, the University of Georgia and the Federal Executive Institute in Denver, Colorado. Upon retiring in 1993, he has traveled extensively both in the US and abroad and has been an active volunteer in serving the underprivileged in the communities he has lived in from Louisiana to South Carolina.

Gracen attends Bob Jones University and is pursuing a degree in International Studies. She grew up on her family’s produce farm found just north of Travelers Rest, SC. She is a member on the Bob Jones’ women’s basketball team and in her free time enjoys reading, watching movies, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. She is also a member of Marietta First Baptist Church in Marietta, SC.

Involved in education throughout her career, Jane Thomas earned degrees in English from Winthrop College and Florida State University. She taught English, French and History in high schools in South Carolina, Texas and North Carolina.  After coming with her family to Greenville in 1985, she served as the Director of Educational Services/Newspaper in Education at the Greenville News-Piedmont.  In that capacity she was in direct contact with dozens of teachers and students throughout the Upstate, and served also as the newspaper’s liaison with the Greenville Literacy Association as a member of GLA’s Board of Directors.  In 1998 she joined the Greenville Literacy administrative staff as Program Director, and assumed the role of Executive Director in 2000, helping advance the agency to a national ranking in the top 3% of Adult Literacy Programs.  In 2013, the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Services honored her with their annual Adult Literacy award for going “above and beyond in the quest to eliminate illiteracy.”  During her tenure at GLA Jane oversaw the expansion of literacy programs to six learning centers across Greenville County.  She was instrumental also in establishing GLA’s sound financial footing through a number of development events,  including the Corporate Spelling Bee, A Novel Event, and the Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale, which has become a  Greenville institution.

Since her retirement in 2013 Jane continues to serve as a volunteer with the Greenville Public Schools and with Greenville Literacy. She is an active and founding member of The Tuesday Book Club in the Carillion community.  She and her husband Bill divide their time between their homes in Greenville and in Celo, NC;  they enjoy traveling, gardening, cooking  and spending time with family and friends and with their children and grandson, Will.