The rains that fell in early October over South Carolina defied previous records. Near Kingstree, the Black River recorded its highest peak in 87 years. One report said thatfour months worth of rain fell on a single day. But more than sweep records away, the rising waters washed out bridges and roads and destroyed homes and businesses. Even the dead weren’t safe from the flood, as rising water disgorged the coffins from their tombs and carried them down the city streets.
Into this chaos stepped Christian Avant, SYKES account manager. Avant was returning from Las Vegas, where he was helping ramp up the new site there. He was glad to be home and anxious to see his two little girls. The National Guard – of which Avant is a member – had other ideas. They needed him, and called him to duty as he stepped off the plane in Columbia, South Carolina.
Soon Avant – now Sergeant Avant in the South Carolina National Guard – was patrolling parts of Kingstree with his squad. “The Black River dam had already started to crest,” he says.“There were a lot of homes near that dam, and the water was going to flow into the city. My squad was dispatched to go door-to-door and get people to the nearest evacuation shelter.”
One stop was more difficult than the others.
“My squad couldn’t get this older woman to agree to leave. So I walked up to her door. When she opened the door of her house, water was already coming out of her home – and the dam hadn’t crested yet. When that dam broke it would hit her hard. But she didn’t want to leave. She was probably in her eighties. But she had nine cats and she didn’t want to leave them.”
Sergeant Avant did some quick thinking. When he was 10, he started working in the local animal shelter as a volunteer, a position he kept through high school graduation. It wasn’t a glamorous job – feeding and cleaning up after strays – but it gave him connections there. Now he put them to use. “One thing led to another, and I got her cats put in quarantine for safety. And we got her to an evac center.”
Avant spent all weekend evacuating people and helping transport food and water, before returning back to work in Las Vegas on Tuesday, without a break or the chance to spend much time with his daughters.
It was all a part of Avant’s commitment to service, that has long been a part of his life. In this, he honors the memory of his mother, who passed away when he was just eight. Avant’s adoptive mother raised him to be like his birth mother. Although he doesn’t have clear memories of her, since he was so young when she died, Christian says he learned a lot about her from his adoptive mother and other family members. “It was obvious she was a great person. I always wanted to be just like her, and what she would’ve been. That’s why I always try my best to give back.”
While growing up he dreamed of being a cop, but when he graduated from high school found another way to serve, and joined the army. After two years Avant decided he wanted to be away from home less and took the option to transition to the South Carolina National Guard. He was waiting for his first mandatory deployment with the Guard and was driving down the road with a friend when they saw a sign for a SYKES job fair.
“My buddy suggested we go check it out and maybe work there until the deployment.” Christian went along and was offered a job as team lead.“I found out that SYKES is a people serving people company. That’s right up my alley. I took the job offer and ran with it.”
Christian ran ahead of the pack, quickly becoming the number one manager at the site. He says the key to his success was helping others.
“I’ve always had the philosophy stuck in my head that I’m here to serve you. I’m going to help you be successful. So when Christmas comes they can buy their children the toys they want. When Thanksgiving comes they’ll have the money to feed their family. For those that want to grow with SYKES in a fulfilling career, I’m there to help them do that too.”
Avant took to SYKES and it’s “People Serving People” philosophy, making his own career of what he initially intended to be a short-term job between deployments. As with the Army, Avant has also moved up the ranks at SYKES. Since becoming team lead he was promoted to senior team lead and now holds the position of account manager.
In his uniform or a SYKES, helping people is what Christian Avant does. “In the military, you never leave a fallen comrade behind. I put that into perspective at SYKES. I have a team of agents here. And I’m never going to leave any of them behind.”