Our Staff


Jill Lawson –Executive Director 

Jill is a Licensed Master Social Worker has spent the last 12 years working with at-risk youth in various roles including case management, community outreach, school social work, and individual and group counseling. She loves working at Palmetto Place because, “No day is ever the same. Some mornings I wake up with a calendar filled with meetings others I get to be casual, take my dog with me to the office, catch up on paperwork and phone calls, and spend time with the kids when they get home from school.” Her westie Maggie is no stranger to Palmetto Place. She’s a frequent visitor during the summer as she usually chooses one of the teens to nap with while they sleep in.

Essence Jackson- Case Manager

Essence graduated from the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in 2016. Shortly before graduating she passed the licensure exam and earned the title Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). Essence became familiar with Palmetto Place as a social work intern before joining our team full time. She now works with the kids in our children's shelter, helping meet their needs for love and compassion. Her passion to serve children in foster care was first driven by her grandmother who opened her home and heart to children in need. When she’s not meeting the needs of kids in crisis she loves cuddling up with her Chipin Bella.

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Grace Bennett – Project Coordinator

Grace works in our office and is our Project Coordinator. Growing up in Michigan she longed for longer warmer days, which she found her first summer in South Carolina. She graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications with emphases in advertising and business administration in 2015. In college, Grace found her passion for helping others through Omega Phi Alpha, a national service sorority. She continues to serve her passion by volunteering with Columbia Opportunity Resources (COR), and of course Palmetto Place.

Helese Smauldon - Administrative Assistant

Helese is our Administrative Assistant and works in our office. Before joining the Palmetto Place team Helese was a member of the AmeriCorp Public Allies and completed a year of service in NYC. She’ll be graduating from SUNY Empire State College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies this year. At Palmetto Place Helese is more than just a friendly voice on the other end of the line. She works behind the scenes in the office and keeps our houses running smoothly. “I love being part of a team that is working to make our community better. I’ve always admired nonprofit work and felt called to help those in need.”

Courtney Tidwell- Basic Center Program Coordinator

Courtney Tidwell serves as the Program Director for the Basic Center Program in our teen house. As South Carolina native with a degree in Human Services, Courtney thrives when advocating for the teens who call Palmetto Place home. When she isn't helping our residents, you're likely to find her snacking at her desk. In a world without homeless teens and child abuse, a world without the needs for Palmetto Place, Courtney would spend her days critiquing food. Her three year old son, Cameron is more than just her hero, he keeps her grounded and always reminds her to see the best in every situation. 

Our house parents and child care specialists are responsible for the daily physical and emotional care-giving of the child residents at Palmetto Place 24 hours a day. We thank them for their many years of combined service and dedication to our kids. 

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