Meet The Team

Julie Baumgardner, President and CEO 

Julie Baumgardner is the President and CEO of First Things First, an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families in Chattanooga, Tennessee. FTF’s success has generated model duplication efforts nationwide, and has garnered international attention for its award-winning leadership concerning family and relationship issues, specifically in the areas of fatherhood, marriage and parenting.

Since 1997, First Things First has received numerous awards, including: the Chattanooga Chamber’s Nonprofit of the Year, Best of the Best Nonprofit for 5 years in a row by Times Free Press readers, the Urban League’s Vision award, and the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. FTF has been given the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility, the Visions award from the Tennessee Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, and several Addy and Telly awards for their creative media messaging.

As a passionate advocate for healthy marriage, fatherhood and families, Julie reaches hundreds of thousands each week through her Chattanooga Times Free Press family column and as host of JulieB TV, a YouTube-based talk show that focuses on all things relational. A frequent speaker to local and state groups, Julie serves on the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Commission, the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute board, and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Chattanooga curriculum committee.

For more than 20 years, Julie has provided valuable leadership for Hamilton County and Tennessee state initiatives for parental involvement, gang violence prevention, and early childhood and character education. Along with the FTF development team, Julie has written and received funding for local, state and multi-million dollar federal grant proposals and has raised millions in private funding.

Often in the national spotlight, Julie currently chairs the board for the National Association for Relationship & Marriage Education. She has presented at the White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth, testified on Capitol Hill about the benefits of marriage, and speaks nationwide on topics related to strengthening marriage, fatherhood and families. Internationally, Julie has presented at the World Congress for Families in Amsterdam and at the International Smart Marriages Conferences. Because of Julie's marriage and family expertise, she is broadly utilized as a consultant by communities and agencies, sought-after speaker and retreat leader.

Julie’s tireless efforts have been recognized across the globe. Her many honors include: the International Smart Marriages Impact award, the NARME Vision and Leadership award, the Chattanooga Bar Association Liberty Bell award, and the American Lung Association Woman of Distinction award.

A native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Julie’s alma maters include Transylvania University and the University of Knoxville, where she received a B.A. in Psychology and an M.S. in Community Agency Counseling, respectively. Julie is a Certified Family Life Educator and Certified Crisis Intervener, and is also a trained facilitator for PREP, Prepare and Enrich, Couple Communication and Family Wellness. Julie and her husband, Jay, have been married since 1989. They are the proud parents of a daughter, Ashley. In her free time, Julie enjoys gardening, horseback riding, cooking, working with children, mentoring couples and baking.


Mitchell Qualls                                                     Operations Director

Mitchell is the Operations Director at First Things First, where he oversees day-to-day office operations and logistics for classes and events. He also serves as a facilitator when opportunities arise. He has been with FTF since 2016. 

He is originally from Brownsville, a small town in West Tennessee. He has also lived in Jackson, TN and West Palm Beach, FL before making Chattanooga his home. Mitchell attended Union University in Jackson, TN. 

Mitchell married his wife, Dalet, in June 2004, and together they have two children. In their free time, their family loves to hike. Mitchell is also an avid baseball fan.


Lauren Hall                                                                     Marketing Director

Lauren is the Marketing Director for First Things First. She oversees all messaging and visual elements that leave the First Things First office. She also gets to dabble in design, writing, video and audio editing, email formatting, social media, and creating fun, informational content. She has been with the organization since 2015.

In October 2017, Lauren headed the launch and creation of The NewlyWed Box! It's an awesome product for newlyweds to get off on the right foot, and it's also a great sustainability project for First Things First. She was born and raised in Chattanooga     (Chatt-town she calls it). She is content living in Chatt-town unless she moves to London, which is her dream. She obtained her degree from Southern Adventist University. 

Lauren has been married to her husband, Daniel Hall, for 4 years. They do not have children yet, but they have a sweet puppy named Ida Mae. In her free time, Lauren LOVES to write and has been working on a novel for about four years now. She considers herself a Renaissance lady. She also sings and plays guitar and mandolin. Her love for cooking grows every day, and painting with acrylic on canvas is a talent she is currently developing more.

To Lauren, First Things First is more than a job, it's a passion. She loves helping married couples stay connected, and for teens to develop healthy relationship habits. She also loves to see dads connect with their kids, and moms gain encouragement for their journey through motherhood. As a semi-newlywed, it's a great joy for her to see engaged couples build a strong foundation and work through potential issues before they walk down the aisle. Relationships really are the key to everything, and she is honored to be a part of this organization.


Gena Roberts Ellis                                                             Facilitator

Gena is the Parenting Coordinator at First Things First. She really enjoys speaking to parents because it has multi-generational effect, but she also serves as a facilitator in other capacities at FTF. She has been a part of this organization since 2007. 

A native of Savannah, GA, Gena came to Chattanooga in 2004. She received her B.S. in Education from Georgia State University in Atlanta and got her M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. She has presented at the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education and Smart Marriages Conference.

Gena married her college sweetheart, Edward in 1994. They are the proud parents of three sons. In her free time, she enjoys reading and watching football.


Akeyla Madison                                                         Facilitator

Akeyla is a Facilitator at First Things First. She works in the high schools to teach students about success and healthy relationships. She has been with the organization since 2017.

Originally from Johnson City, TN, Akeyla graduated from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in May 2018 with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Child and Family Studies. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, watching The Office and hanging out with the kids she works with at First Centenary United Methodist Church.


Chris Gregory                                                     Development Director

Chris has been the Development Director for First Things First since 2017. He grew up in Birmingham, AL and has spent the last 10 years in Chattanooga, having also previously lived in Wisconsin and Slovenia. He obtained his degree from Auburn University. (War Eagle he says!)

Chris has been married to his wife, Jodi, since 1998, together they have three kids. In his free time, Chris enjoys playing soccer, mountain biking and hiking.


Reggie Madison                                                                 Program Director

Reggie is a Relationship Facilitator and Fathering Coordinator for First Things First. He oversees the FTF Fathering Initiative, which includes programming for Dads Making a Difference, Donuts for Dads, First Things First | Dads, and first-time fathering classes. Reggie also teaches several of our live and online relationship courses, marriage enrichment experiences, premarital education and classes for singles and teens. He has been with the organization since January 2015. 

Reggie has been a presenter at the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education National Summit since 2017. Born and raised in Chattanooga, Reggie lived in Nashville, TN for 18 years before moving back to Chattanooga in 2014. He obtained both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University. 

Reggie married his wife, Erika, in June 2004 and together they have 6 kids. Reggie enjoys spending time with family, playing and watching sports, reading, hiking and outdoor activities.


John Daum                                                           Facilitator 

John is a Facilitator for First Things First. He has been a part of the FTF team since 2017. 

Originally from Westville, NJ, John has lived in Chattanooga since 1994. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from Baptist Bible College in Pennsylvania and his Secondary Education History degree from UT Chattanooga. John was voted as the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Teacher of the Year in 2015. He also won the Margaret Hammock Excellence in Teaching Award 2013. For the last 21 years, he has taught high school English, history and philosophy in public and private schools in Hamilton County.

John is married to his wife, Monica, and they have 5 children. In his free time, he enjoys stories through books, movies and conversations.


Deborah Gunn                                                         Community Liaison

Deborah is the Community Liaison and a facilitator for First Things First. She works with churches and community organizations to promote and schedule First Things First classes. She has been a part of the organization since 2007. 

She was the Project Director for two of FTF's federally-funded Healthy Marriage Initiatives. She attended Edmondson School of Business and has always lived in the Chattanooga area. 

Deborah has been married to her husband, Alex, for 31 years and together they have one son. In her free time, she likes to sing, travel to the Caribbean, and watch western movies.


Kris Nash                                                                           Editor

Kris is the Editor for First Things First. In addition to general writing and editing, she helps coordinate special events, uploads website content, assists with development, marketing and content creation, and serves the FTF team however else she can. She began at FTF in 1997, but left her position as Development Director at the end of 2001 to focus on her family. She returned to the organization in 2015, and is thankful to once again be part of such an amazing, passionate team.

Kris has a B.A. from Western Kentucky University in Public Relations and Government. She spent her childhood growing up in Chattanooga, TN and Ringgold, GA, and now resides in Chattanooga Valley, GA. 

She has been married to her husband, Greg, since 1996 and they have three daughters. In her free time, Kris likes to read, sing, bake, garden, hike and play trivia games. She also likes to preserve goodies from her garden and spend time with her family at home and church.


Chris Ownby                                                                       Facilitator

Chris is a Relationship Facilitator with First Things First. He also explores partnerships and facilitates classes with area churches and ministries. Chris was born raised in Chattanooga, and he joined the FTF team in 2018. His family served in church ministry in Las Vegas for almost six years, and Chris has worked in full-time church youth and family ministry for 18 years. 

Chris earned three degrees from Concordia University, including Bachelor’s in Psychology, Elementary Education and Christian Education, plus a Master’s in Family Life Science. He is certified in CPREP and Prepare/Enrich and is pursuing certification as a Family Life Educator under the National Council of Family Relations. 

Chris has been married to his wife Kristin since 2004, and they have two daughters. In his free time, Chris enjoys spending time with his family, going on adventures and exploring new places. He loves spending time outdoors - camping, hiking and fishing. Chris is a major foodie, an avid reader, trains in martial arts and plays guitar. 


Dewayne Stephens                                                           Facilitator

Dewayne is a facilitator and life coach for First Things First. He has been a part of the FTF team since 2018. 

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Dewayne obtained his degrees from Troy University and The Community College of the Air Force. Dewayne has served for 12 years in the U.S. Air Force and spent almost 20 years working with fathers in the Chattanooga and Boston communities. He has also served as an Associate Minister at Olivet Baptist Church and was the former Executive Director at House of Refuge in Chattanooga.

He has one son, one daughter and three grandchildren. In his free time, he enjoys watching basketball, reading and spending time outdoors.