40 Under 40: 2013

Our honorees help the city to become even more innovative, caring and socially conscious.



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Photography by John Altdorfer in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture makeup by Rachael Ryan
 

 

They’ve lived in Australia, India, Italy, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Some hail from Boston, Portland or little towns in Ohio. Quite a few grew up here. A handful attempted to relocate but didn’t, believing you can never truly leave Pittsburgh. Natives or transplants, each one uplifts our city. Among them are artists, scientists, teachers and engineers. But don’t go thinking that this year’s group of 40 Under 40 honorees is an all-work, no-play crowd. One had dreams of opening a surf shop; another plays in a surf band. One was a professional wedding DJ before he was old enough to drive himself to the venues. Some of them have figure-skated for Disney On Ice, played tenor saxophone with the Notre Dame Marching Band and hiked the northern half of the Appalachian Trail. One has ties to Make-A-Wish. It’s not a stretch to say that all of them, in one way or another, help to make Pittsburgh’s wishes come true.

 



 

Josh Verbanets  [30]

Co-Creator and Performer, “The Josh & Gab Show”; Guitarist and Vocalist, Meeting of Important People

Perhaps the only thing worse than middle school is the middle-school assembly. You remember those didactic, sedate gatherings. Professional musician Josh Verbanets and his stand-up comic pal Gab Bonesso have set out to change that tone while delivering anti-bullying messages. You might wonder how it’s possible to have an exciting assembly focused on bullying. Verbanets says they do it through “a high-energy, interactive, rock ’n’ roll comedy show, built on this major tenet of using creativity as an alternative to negative behavior.” Via songs and skits about their own experiences and through employing understanding — even empathy for bullies — the duo is able to reach kids who otherwise might have tried sneaking out. So far, they’ve gone to more than 150 school districts, camps and community centers. This fall “The Josh & Gab Show” schedule is filled with performances for hyperactive elementary-age kids and angsty middle-schoolers. “It’s been one of the biggest thrills of my life,” says Verbanets, who also is lead singer and guitarist for the local act Meeting of Important People. “[It’s] just hands down the most satisfying performing I’ve ever gotten to do.”

 

M. Shernell Smith  [37]

Assistant Director, Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, Multicultural and Diversity Initiatives, Carnegie Mellon University

Through her work, M. Shernell Smith is broadening the way Carnegie Mellon University defines diversity. She wants students to understand that “innovation comes at the intersections, at the crossroads of diversity.” For example, at CMU, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is “a day on, not a day off.” For the first part of the day, students are in class, and for the second half, they can take part in lectures, activities and community-service projects focused on social justice. While such events sustain dialogue, Smith starts conversations about diversity when students attend Community Collage at orientation. All first-year students meet under a tent and share personal narratives. Smith says it’s a great way to “understand that you shouldn’t stereotype the people that you’re sitting with or in a group with or on their floor — because you never know what their stories are.” Smith is also involved with the Thomas Merton Center and volunteers for the Junior League of Pittsburgh and other organizations.

 

D.S. Kinsel  [28]

Arts & Action Program Coordinator/National Social Media Coordinator, MGR Youth Empowerment; Visual Artist; Resident Artist, 720 Records, Music and Cafe

D.S. Kinsel, recipient of the Pittsburgh Foundation’s Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant, clarifies that he would never want to devote his whole life to his art. “No matter where this journey takes me, I will always be working hard to use my creativity in the community,” he says. He seeks outlets for his own art, but he also curates shows in an effort to promote and support other local visionaries. In his work, Kinsel uses materials including wax and adhesives to bring unexpected textures to his canvases. He has exhibited at Shaw Galleries, Assemble and Imagebox. At his day job, Kinsel works as a mentor to empower youth through art. Raised in the tight-knit Hill District community, he says he never thought of his work as philanthropic. Instead, his attitude was imbued with a sort of Pittsburgh mantra: “You live here; you’re from here; this is what you’re supposed to do. You help people out.”

 

Courtney Lynch-Crawford  [38]

Owner, Nine on Nine; Owner, The CP Group; Owner, CC Designs

Courtney Lynch-Crawford has been in the restaurant business since she was 15 and has no desire to leave it. Today, she owns Nine on Nine, a fine-dining eatery in the Cultural District. She studied interior design in college and now works on maintaining her restaurant’s food, service and appearance to keep things fresh. This comes easily to her, not only because of her education but because she also owns The CP Group, a contract furniture firm, and CC Designs, an interior design firm. She’s always supported charities by donating Nine on Nine gift certificates, but in 2009, she found out that her mother needed a kidney transplant. Against her parents’ initial wishes, Lynch-Crawford donated one of her kidneys to her mom. Since then, she has a renewed interest in supporting medical causes. Lynch-Crawford still gives away gift certificates, but she also provides food or design tips for the American Liver Foundation’s Flavors of Pittsburgh, Women’s Cancer Caring Center and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s efforts.

 

“Put people together from different backgrounds, different religions, different races and have them do an activity together.” – Angela Garcia

Christopher Engler  [29]

Co-founder and Chief Administrative Officer, Eruption Athletics

There was a time when Christopher Engler and his business partner, Joe Jelinski, thought their big business venture would involve moving to Hawaii and opening a surf shop. As a Special Olympics coach and brother of a developmentally disabled man, Engler found a different calling. In 2009, he and Jelinski started Eruption Athletics, an exercise program for developmentally disabled people ages 11 and older that meets three times a week for hour-long sessions. “They hear ‘no’ and ‘you can’t’ and ‘you won’t’ all day long at school,” but “when they come to [Eruption Athletics,] it’s ‘you can,’ ‘of course,’ ‘let’s do this,’” Engler says. How else does Eruption Athletics differ from your average fitness class? There’s tremendous encouragement and personalization; for example, when someone adds weights during training, the class stops to applaud. There’s also a 2:1 ratio of athletes and trainers at Eruption, thanks to volunteers. Engler and Jelinski are working to expand their program by becoming consultants.

 

Angela Garcia  [39]

Deputy Director, Global Links

Angela Garcia was working with Mayan women in Mexico when it hit her: “We don’t choose where we’re born, but we all have a basic need. And we can all do something to help each other.” Garcia says she learned by teaching those women that there are ways to use gifts to “enrich each other’s lives.” When the Pittsburgh native returned to the city in 2000 after an eight-year absence, she began working at Global Links, which collects surplus from U.S. hospitals and redistributes the items to communities in need, particularly those in Latin America. Garcia came back to Pittsburgh after the city had become more diverse, and her work enables her to engage varied groups. Whether she’s trying to get bandages to burn victims or showing her children’s elementary-school classes images of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Garcia believes that the way to break down barriers is to “put people together from different backgrounds, different religions, different races and have them do an activity together.”

 

Shakita Trigg  [34]

Project Manager, FedEx Ground; Professional Development Chair, Pittsburgh Chapter, National Society of Black Engineers Professionals

At first, it’s hard to understand what ties all of Shakita Trigg’s service work together. Her mother told her, “No matter how successful you get, never forget where you came from.” Many of the organizations she supports focus on women and children, including United Way, where she’s a member of the Women’s Leadership Council. Others focus on education and professional support, such as the National Society of Black Engineers Professionals, where she’s the professional development chair for the Pittsburgh chapter. Each of those organizations relates to some aspect or event in her life that helped her get to where she is. By assisting them, she says she never forgets where she came from because “at the time when [my family was] in need, there were people who helped us. It’s only right for me to reciprocate that.”

 

Eugene D. Williams III  [29]

Biomedical Engineer, Clinical Specialist, Medtronic Inc.

Eugene Williams grew up watching “The Bionic Woman” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and he envisioned a career involving production of artificial body parts. As he got older, his motivations to create those products became more charitable. Today, he assists physicians with implanting devices such as pacemakers and internal cardiac defibrillators. Until the end of June, Williams also sat on the board of the Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Pittsburgh, aiding those in underserved communities via back-to-school supply and clothing drives, neighborhood cleanups and professional development. Many people volunteer their time to help disadvantaged communities, but Williams took it a step further in 2009, when he moved out of his downtown apartment and bought a home in the Hill District. He immersed himself in the neighborhood, joining the Hill District Community Development Corporation and the board of the Hill Dance Academy Theater. “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to then say, ‘I’m going to invest my time and my money into the area — and hope to lead by example,’” he says.

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