40 Under 40: 2013

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




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.

 

“Everything you think about fitness is wrong, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.” – Joe Vennare

Joe Vennare  [27]

Co-Founder, Hybrid Athlete LLC; Co-Founder, Fittsburgh; Storyteller, TEDxGrandviewAve

Joe Vennare is going to break it down for you: “Everything you think about fitness is wrong, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It’s not about a gym; it’s not about a diet; it’s not about what you wear; it’s not about a machine.” For Vennare, fitness is greater than all that. It’s about pushing through discomforts to find new abilities. When he was 22, Vennare and his brother Anthony set out to transform local fitness. They opened Hybrid Athlete, a gym with no mirrors and almost no equipment; instead their place offers personal and group training sessions that are designed to encourage growth. Today, TheHybridAthlete.com posts free healthy-living tips and exercise videos to its site. Earlier this year, the Vennare brothers also launched Fittsburgh (GetFitPgh.com), a website that aggregates information about local places where fitness buffs can eat, train and shop. Through this site and the brothers’ free, public pop-up workouts, the Vennares aim to make Pittsburgh the healthiest city in the nation.

 

Alexis Miller  [32]

Project Analyst, UPMC Health Plan

Alexis Miller’s level of community involvement changed after she bought a vacant house in Polish Hill and started a two-year project to gut and renovate it. “There’s such a sense of satisfaction from having created something and giving new life to the neighborhood,” she says. As she worked on her abode and settled into the rhythms of Polish Hill, the neighborhood and its people increasingly became a part of her life. In 2009, she joined the board of directors of the Polish Hill Civic Association, of which she is now president. She clarifies that this role is more like an acting executive director, as she is responsible for fundraising, grant applications and budgeting, among other duties. Miller also sits on the board of directors for Construction Junction, the advisory board for Highmark First Night Pittsburgh and the Greenroom Committee for City Theatre, which provides young professionals with opportunities to see theater performances at a discounted rate, meet cast members and mingle with other arts fans.

 

Branden Ballard  [29]

Manager of Recruitment, Public Allies Pittsburgh; President, Urban League of Young Professionals

Branden Ballard commits his time in both professional and volunteer capacities to help develop and retain young professionals in Pittsburgh. By day, he works at Public Allies Pittsburgh, an AmeriCorps program that places young adults with nonprofit organizations to help start their careers. As a manager of recruitment, he works to enroll young people who are dedicated to giving back. He also seeks out organizations that are willing to take on someone who may not have entry-level skills but does have drive and passion to learn. His commitment to young professionals carries over to his service with the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh; he is president of the Urban League of Young Professionals, a philanthropy and service group of people ages 21-39. In Ballard’s words, “It’s all about the cultivation of young talent and making sure that young talent has the platform to do the things they want to do in order to better themselves, their communities and their careers.”

 

Ken Smythe-Leistico  [37]

Assistant Director, University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development; Founder, Ready Freddy

Ken Smythe-Leistico’s passion wasn’t always kindergarten. When he graduated college, he ran a group home for delinquent teens, but after witnessing the effects of all of the traumas those kids experienced, he said to himself, “We’ve got to find a way that they don’t end up this far down the road.” Smythe-Leistico says research shows that poor kindergarten attendance is one of the earliest indicators that a person will drop out of high school, so kindergarten became his cause. “We’re sort of trying to raise this banner: ‘Kindergarten is a big damn deal!’ … but we try to tone it down,” he says with a laugh, “because it’s kindergarten, after all.” In his role as assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, he tackles all issues surrounding kindergarten attendance — from poor walking paths to overburdened mothers. He created Ready Freddy, an initiative that encourages children and families in low-income neighborhoods to get excited about school through engagement, programs and resources such as its kindergarten club curriculum for both parents and children. “All parents love their children, and they want something more for them,” he says.

 

“We think about throwing a spark to give people enough of an incentive to go try.” – Matthew Gaston

Matthew Gaston  [36]

Director, Emerging Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute; Co-Founder and Trustee, Awesome Pittsburgh

Is $1,000 enough to make a difference in the life of an individual or group with a project or business idea? Matthew Gaston thinks so. He’s the co-founder of Awesome Pittsburgh, a member of the Awesome Foundation, which awards $1,000 micro-grants to support concepts deemed “awesome” by the board of trustees. “I think there’s something magical about the thousand dollars,” says Gaston, who explains that funds are given with no strings attached and are consistently put to great use. So far, the organization has awarded more than 20 grants and supported such initiatives as a fluoride treatment program for children who can’t afford to see dentists. As the director of the Emerging Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, Gaston defines innovation as “ideas plus execution.” Awesome Pittsburgh is a bridge to bring concept to reality, creating innovation. “The thousand dollars is really a spark,” he says. “And that’s how we think about it. We think about throwing a spark to give people enough of an incentive to go try.”

 

Julie Sokolow  [26]

Independent Filmmaker, Writer and Musician; Founder and Director, Healthy Artists Series; Director of Feature Documentary, Aspie Seeks Love

Julie Sokolow thinks of herself more as an artist and filmmaker than an activist. But as a blogger for MichaelMoore.com, she recognizes that there’s a social-justice slant to much of her work. Sokolow, who started the filmmaker group Healthy Artists, has been associated with the movement for improved health care since she began volunteering with Healthcare for All PA in 2011. Today, Sokolow shoots a series of short films about young artists and their insurance struggles. She lends her artistic nature to the cause because she says she likes to “collaborate with [activists] and educators and nonprofits to try to cross those boundaries and bring those worlds together.” In the end, though, she’s an artist. At 19, she released her first album, Something About Violins, and she is currently working on her second CD. She’s also putting together a feature-length documentary, Aspie Seeks Love, about a man recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and his quest to find love online.

 

Dr. Kurt R. Weiss  [39]

Assistant Professor, Orthopedic Surgery, Division of Musculoskeletal Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Pittsburgh

At age 16, one year after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, Kurt Weiss’ Make-A-Wish dream came true: He got a new tenor saxophone and played it with the Notre Dame Marching Band at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1989. “More than anything, it proved to me that my dreams were not all over,” says Weiss, who is now a musculoskeletal oncologist. On the job, he works to fight cancers of the bones and tissues, but his battle doesn’t end in the operating room. Weiss helped to found Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma, a group that sponsors an annual 5K run/walk that has raised more than $100,000 for sarcoma research. Along with approximately 80 percent of the children Make-A-Wish helped, Weiss survived his life-threatening illness. Unfortunately, many of those children discover years later  that their families have spent all of their money trying to keep them alive, leaving little to support them in the pursuit of higher education. For this reason, Make-A-Wish began the Kurt Weiss Scholarship program, which helps recipients continue their schooling.

 

Kate Stoltzfus  [30]

Digital Strategist, Plumb Media; Founder and Editor, Yinzpiration; Co-pilot, Propelle; Organizer, CreativeMornings/Pittsburgh

When Kate Stoltzfus moved to Pittsburgh, she didn’t know anyone. “There was a time when I really wanted to be a part of stuff but didn’t know how to go about it,” she says. “I’d come home from work and just [put] on yoga pants and watch some TV.” Today, she’s a central figure in the world of networking among young Pittsburgh professionals. It all started through her blog, Yinzpiration, which she created in 2010. Her goal was to interview 100 Pittsburghers in their 20s and 30s by the time she turned 30. Although she didn’t hit her target, she says she has met some great people along the way — including Carrie Nardini and Emily Levenson, her Propelle “co-pilots.” Propelle supports ambitious women through regular networking events and “Mastermind” business-planning sessions. Sprout Fund contacted Stoltzfus earlier this year to organize Pittsburgh’s CreativeMornings series; the “breakfast lecture series for creative people” has a monthly theme that’s interpreted differently by each city, national and international, hosting the event. Nowadays, Stoltzfus isn’t above yoga pants and TV. But when she wants to go out, she has a city full of comrades to see, and she’s helped other people accomplish that, too.

 

“None of us is going to worry about where our next meal is coming from. For the people that we’re serving, that’s not necessarily true.” – Scott Tobe

Hollie Geitner  [38]

Vice President of Client Services, WordWrite Communications LLC

There was a time when Hollie Geitner lived her life in Pittsburgh’s spotlight. While at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, she helped coordinate communications outreach related to the 2009 G-20 Summit, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic and the renovation of Market Square; she also oversaw the 50th anniversary of Light Up Night. In 2011, she changed jobs and slipped behind the scenes to work one-on-one with corporate clients, sharing their stories with everyone “who needs to see, hear and experience them.” Her service work has reflected this move, as she sits on the board of Circle C Youth and Family Services and uses Twitter to find causes that need a little extra help. When Geitner learned that Light of Life Ministries was hosting a baby shower for seven women who wouldn’t otherwise have supplies, she says, “I just couldn’t even imagine being in a [circumstance] like that, where it’s such a joyous situation — but you don’t have a home, and there’s a lot of uncertainty.” Geitner put together bags of baby necessities and dropped them off one day on her way to work. Such acts define her service.

 

Michael Rethage  [28]

Consultant, SDLC Partners LP

Michael Rethage was awarded the Presidential Service Award 2013 for his work as the president of the Young Professional Outreach Board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. He brings his passion for service into his office at SDLC Partners, where he has spearheaded SDLC Connects, a committee to help organize and promote volunteerism and philanthropic efforts within the company. As president of that team, he brought everything full circle with the 2013 Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl for Kids Sake event, at which more than 130 SDLC employees raised nearly $17,000. Why did he choose Big Brothers Big Sisters? “A lot of people look at Big Brothers Big Sisters and they think that these kids are just troubled youth, and that’s not the case. Sometimes they’ve just had a rough situation.” The reasons could be as wide-ranging as disabilities or a death in the family, “or maybe they just want a ‘big brother.’” While Rethage has his cause of choice, he’s interested in encouraging people to spend a little extra time with an organization they believe in.

 

Scott Tobe  [35]

President, Signature Financial Planning

Scott Tobe remembers the day he job-shadowed his father, a financial planner. A client began crying tears of joy, hugged his dad and said, “Because of you, my son is the first person in our family to graduate from college.” Tobe was hooked. He got an internship with Eaton Vance, a financial company in Boston, worked for Putnam for three years and came back to Pittsburgh in 2002 to join his father’s business, Signature Financial Planning. He is now company president, and he brings a service element to the business. Staffers go out as a team to the Jubilee Soup Kitchen and the Ronald McDonald House to volunteer their time. “It allows everyone to recognize how fortunate we all are,” says Tobe. “None of us is going to worry about where our next meal is coming from. For the people that we’re serving, that’s not necessarily true.”

 

M. Bernardine Dias  [39]

Associate Research Professor, Carnegie Mellon University; Founder and Director, TechBridgeWorld, CMU Robotics Institute

Growing up in Sri Lanka, M. Bernardine Dias witnessed foreign experts who were flown in at great expense to solve problems. In the end, they often tried to “transplant a solution,” she says. “It never really worked and often caused more problems.” That’s what she wanted to avoid when she founded TechBridgeWorld, a research group out of Carnegie Mellon University that seeks to use robotics to solve problems and meet the needs of underserved communities. “We try to build technology that can serve them, rather than trying to push technology that has been built for the rest of us,” says Dias. Unlike many similar groups, those affiliated with TechBridgeWorld never go anywhere without a local partner or an invitation, and their partnerships often last for years. For important projects that don’t fit into academic restrictions, Dias also owns a consulting group, Diyunu, which undertakes regular consulting jobs and reinvests a portion of the profits into social-justice projects.

 

“We help people build sustainability ... until they’re able to go and sustain themselves.” – Adam Causgrove

Adam Paul Causgrove  [29]

Grant administrator, University of Pittsburgh Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics; Director of Community Outreach, Side Project Inc.; President, Paws for Olympia Park

In 2012, Adam Causgrove, his cousin and several friends combined their skills to form Side Project Inc., which offers fundraising, legal and administrative support to up-and-coming nonprofits and community groups. “People all around Pittsburgh are doing really amazing things,” says Causgrove, adding that up-front costs can be an obstacle for organizations with limited funding. “We help people build sustainability, where they can work with us until they’re able to go and sustain themselves on their own.” Under the Side Project umbrella, there are also “Side Project side projects.” One of these is Dinfinity, in which a Pittsburgher hosts dinner for a few acquaintances who have never met. Each guest contributes $1 — and agrees to host a Dinfinity event of their own in the future. At the end of its first year, Dinfinity will donate the money to an apolitical, community-based charity. Causgrove, who sports a neatly groomed handlebar mustache, also is president of the American Mustache Institute — another “Side Project side project.” The institute, which named Causgrove its 2012 Mustached American of the Year, satirically protects the rights of mustached people while raising money for children’s charities. Why kids? “Because kids love mustaches,” says Causgrove. “They’re some of our biggest supporters.”

 

Ryan Saari  [31]

Manager of Acquisitions, Allegheny Financial

Ryan Saari always had a great interest in medicine. Although he typically works more than full-time hours at Allegheny Financial, Saari finds time to volunteer at Sharon Regional Health System on weeknights and weekends. He keeps cancer patients company as they receive treatments. “It’s absolutely the most grounding and real experience,” says Saari, who notes that many patients go to treatments alone. He learned that in person at age 13, when he stayed at a Ronald McDonald House while recovering from a knee surgery. That experience left a lasting impression on Saari, who also helps at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Ronald McDonald House. “In my opinion,” he says, “volunteering is really about recognizing that someone’s life is tougher than yours and then doing something to make their life easier.” For Saari, volunteering is a mutually beneficial experience. “They often can tell that they’re helping me fill a little bit of a void in my life, as far as being a young person living at the speed of light,” he says. Despite the significance of his volunteer work, Saari says he still finds himself typing “31 too old to be a doctor?” into Google every once in a while.

 

Adriane Deithorn  [39]

President and CEO, Wish Hope Dreams, Inc.

Though Adriane Deithorn’s first career was as a figure skater, she grew up in a family that was devoted to giving back. Her mother was instrumental in bringing the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to Pittsburgh in 1993; Deithorn’s mother later joined the board of directors on the national level, while she became a local volunteer in the movement to fight breast cancer. Then her mother became ill and died of the very disease they’d been working to defeat. Deithorn says “... I made it my mission to continue to help people, to work in nonprofit in some caliber.” For five years, she was employed by the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, where she started as expo director and moved up to a director position. Today, she calls herself the “Heinz 57 of Fundraising.” As an independent fundraising consultant, she does anything from grant writing to event planning to board development. Deithorn also supports groups including Bethany House Academy, Stage Right, Pressley Ridge and Grace Life Church.

 

Anya Martin  [32]

Founding Artistic Director, Hiawatha Project; Director, Writer and Performance Artist; Adjunct Professor in Theater Directing, Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama

Anya Martin wants you to think differently about theater’s potential. As the founding artistic director of the Hiawatha Project, she builds collaborative pieces focused on diverse and eclectic social issues from the ground up, starting with an issue-related question and involving the community in establishing a more complex understanding of it, and finally collaborating with artists. “The goal,” says Martin, “is to take a really specific story and crack it open and find the universality in it.” Her first show, Camino, began with the story of an immigrant friend who was incarcerated in a for-profit jail. For the piece, the Hiawatha Project connected with the Latino Arts Youth Group and the Pittsburgh Interfaith Interact Network. After staging the performance, Martin says she hopes she’s spurred people to change their perspectives. In Pittsburgh, people talk a lot about immigrant history, but, she says, “they think of it in a sepia-toned nostalgic sense, whereas there are many immigrants still coming to Pittsburgh today for the exact same reasons that our great-great-grandparents came to Pittsburgh.” She hopes to shed some light on those experiences through each of her works, including a forthcoming show about folk legend John Henry.

 

“You want to better your community. It doesn’t take a whole lot to have a big impact.” – Minette Vaccariello

Minette Vaccariello  [34]

Experience Design Manager, UPMC Health Plan; Co-Founder, Eco Designers Guild

In 2009, when Minette Vaccariello co-founded Eco Designers Guild, a service-oriented bunch of professional designers, the group’s chief goal was to give back to the city in a sustainable way. Through Vaccariello, Eco Designers Guild partnered with The Bloomfield/Garfield Association to begin “Green + Screen” to fill vacant lots on Penn Avenue with public art, benches and greenery. “The hope is that it fills those missing blanks, helps attract people, helps people feel safe in the neighborhood,” says Vaccariello. In a similar vein, Vaccariello is a member of the Garfield Community Action Team, where she is involved in once-a-month “Clean Up and Green Up” and community events; residents tend to public parks and plant gardens, making spaces cleaner and safer. They recently planted a butterfly garden at Nelson Mandela Park, a playground that had become run-down, with broken equipment. “Living there and being a homeowner there, you want to better your community,” says Vaccariello. “It doesn’t take a whole lot to have a big impact.”

 

Vanessa Veltre  [32]

Executive Director, Pittsburgh Party for a Purpose; Project Manager, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project, Carnegie Mellon University

Vanessa Veltre, who spends her days as a project manager for Carnegie Mellon University’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project, never lets her research take away from her direct work with people. The community, she says, is “what I really feel to be my strong point and where I really love to be.” This past summer, Veltre was a band manager for the first Pittsburgh iteration of Girls Rock!, a weeklong day camp for girls ages 8-16 in which they learn to play an instrument, form a band, publicize their upcoming concert and put on a show. When she’s not teaching girls to rock, she’s partying with young adults. Veltre is the executive director of Pittsburgh Party for a Purpose, at which people in their 20s and 30s can give back to their communities while having fun. Although some folks in that demographic can’t afford fundraising-event tickets in the $100-to-$200 price range, they generally can pay $10 for this one — especially when the money is going to causes that include the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, the Pittsburgh Hostel Project, and the Lawrenceville farmers market.

 

Julian Vallozzi  [27]

President/Owner, Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh; Owner, Toss’t

More than 50 years ago, Julian Vallozzi’s grandmother started making pasta in her basement and selling it to local Italian restaurants. Fast-forward to the present, and you will find some dishes made in that style at Vallozzi’s, an Italian eatery that originated in Greensburg 35 years ago. Of the restaurant, Vallozzi says, “I always had a passion for it; it was always in my blood.” His father, the previous owner, passed the torch to Vallozzi, who added a Market Square site in 2012. Vallozzi recently expanded the family operations by opening a salad spot, Toss’t, in the space next to the new location. The restaurant business isn’t the only area where Vallozzi has followed in his father’s footsteps: He has also joined his dad’s Old Joe Club, which hosts the annual Men’s Night Out at Pike Run Country Club. Vallozzi says the event is exactly what it sounds like — a function that includes activities popular among many men, such as shooting traps, smoking cigars and taking part in an auction. Last year, with 90 guys in attendance, the club — which “provides support to organizations that enhance the lives of people in western Pennsylvania through human services, conservancy, arts, education and child care” — raised more than $250,000 for 20 local charities.

 

Eric Silver  [36]

Founder, Webkite; Founder, Alt-Capital

When Eric Silver was younger, he inherited $7,000. With the help of his father, he invested it. He made enough money to pay his way through college, begin a startup and secure a job with Deloitte Research. Though he lost a great deal of money in the dotcom crash, he says he retained “this sense of freedom that I’m working because I want to build things and because I want to have a life that has meaning.” His journey to find that meaning took him from teaching preschool, to being a Peace Corps volunteer, to attending business school and eventually to working as a consultant. Later, Silver became chief marketing officer for thriving local fashion firm ModCloth. At that last gig, he became involved in the local startup community. This alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business is the founder and owner of two companies that support Pittsburgh startups — WebKite, a website tool that “improves search and democratizes the web,” and Alt-Capital, an angel investment group. Together, both firms help small businesses and startups gain the footing to start making an impact.

 

“It is incredibly valuable to have somebody who can guide you to that community to connect.” – Adriana Dobrzycka

Adriana Dobrzycka  [32]

Community Outreach and Inclusion Manager, Vibrant Pittsburgh; Co-Chair, Allegheny County Department of Human Services’ Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council

At her day job with Vibrant Pittsburgh, Adriana Dobrzycka works to support the city’s minority areas. “There is a very rich and engaged diverse community,” she explains. “It is incredibly valuable to have somebody who can guide you to that community to connect.” This Polish-Italian immigrant came to Pittsburgh eight years ago. Her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public and International Affairs and School of Public Health united her with members of the community via an internship at the Women and Girls Foundation. Through this and other community service work, she began to feel at home. Now, she helps others to find those opportunities to connect, to ensure that “when they leave work at 5 p.m., they are community members.” Dobrzycka has been a U.S. citizen since September 2012, and she says she has always appreciated the spirit of service in this country. “It is a way to give back for every person who has ever helped me feel at home,” she says.

 

Christopher Ruch  [38]

Director of Consulting Operations, Summa; Commander and President of Board of Directors, Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group

The way Christopher Ruch talks about his work with search and rescue makes it sound rather modest. Ruch is commander of Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, a team that’s active within the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference. He’s also an emergency medical technician and a national evaluator for the Mountain Rescue Association. Thirteen years ago, he picked up a pamphlet and “thought [search and rescue work] was a way to take my outdoors skills and do something to help other people.” Truth is, he’s taken this much further by volunteering on the state, regional and national levels. In a way, his activism provides a change of pace from his day job as director of consulting operations for Summa. Still, Ruch puts his project-management skills to work with search and rescue more than he ever imagined. It’s a power combo: He helps to uphold national standards and aids victims of crime, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or developmental disorders and, of course, those who are lost in the woods.

 

Lee Kimball II  [33]

Chief Operating Officer, Thread LLC

Lee Kimball, chief operating officer of Thread LLC, says “[t]he two things you see when you’re traveling in the developing world are poverty and trash.” Through Thread, Kimball works to put a dent in the poverty by processing that garbage into sellable materials, such as polyester, and creating dignified jobs. With 25 collection centers in Haiti, Thread employs more than 1,300 Haitians monthly. The company has collected about 60 million plastic bottles and processed those 500,000 pounds of plastic into U.S. supply chains, which Thread vends back to businesses. After working in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, Kimball came to Pittsburgh. He realized then that his college self — who ran Penn State University’s Dance Marathon (THON) and gave back in other ways — wouldn’t be impressed with his current level of do-gooding. He hoped to establish a responsible for-profit firm that would have a sustainable impact on job creation and an environmental mission. Kimball developed Thread with the help of college friend Ian Rosenberger. Kimball occasionally volunteers at events hosted by Rosenberger’s nonprofit, Team Tassy, which sponsors Haitian families and helps to lift them from poverty.

 

Justin Griffith  [37]

CEO, Regional Learning Alliance

Justin Griffith says he has a pretty straightforward goal for his days: “Every person who walks in the door is going to leave knowing something more than when [he or she] came.” As CEO of Regional Learning Alliance, the nation’s largest collaborative campus, Griffith helps nontraditional students at its Cranberry Township location earn degrees from 30 undergraduate and graduate programs at nine area universities. By day, the location functions mainly as a conference and training center; by night, it’s a campus that caters to the unique needs of adult students. “A lot of adults are intimidated to walk onto a main campus,” explains Griffith. At the Regional Learning Alliance campus, staffers in the writing and research center help students to navigate digital research or compose academic papers. Students also share knowledge gained from real-world experiences in seminar classes and apply what they’ve learned at their jobs. This, says Griffith, “helps our economy, helps our community and helps our entire region.”

 


“[Pittsburgh] really still has a human element: a lot of connection, a lot of community, a lot of opportunity to participate.” –Keith Caldwell

Michael Boyd  [35]

Assistant Professor of Music, Chatham University; Co-Founder, Share the Road East; Member, Wilkins Township Board of Commissioners

Michael Boyd bikes most places, including to and from his job. He was instrumental in positioning Chatham as a frontrunner — and award-winner — among the region’s bike-friendly institutions. In 2009, he approached the university about adopting the federal tax credit for bike commuters; the credit was available a year later. While involved with Chatham’s Climate Committee as chairman of the Bicycle Work Group, he has supported plans to open an on-campus bike shop and implement a rental program. A biker’s commute may begin outside Pittsburgh proper, so Boyd took to his own neighborhood of Wilkins Township because he noticed that “a lot of the bicycle infrastructure ends when you hit the city limits of Pittsburgh.” In 2011, he established Share the Road East to promote bicycle awareness in eastern suburban municipalities. He also is a member of the board of commissioners in Wilkins Township, where he’s become part of social changes — hosting a composting seminar, teaching yoga, setting up a weekly farmers market and, naturally, increasing the number of bike racks.

 

Keith Caldwell  [34]

Director, Bachelor of Arts in Social Work Program, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work

Keith Caldwell, board member of Just Harvest, Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise and Advancing Academics, takes to heart Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s notion that Pittsburgh is our campus. “For a city,” Caldwell says, “[Pittsburgh] really still has a human element: a lot of connection, a lot of community, a lot of opportunity to participate.” In his social work classrooms, he requires students to engage in service projects, attend legislative meetings or interview citizen leaders. In class, he presents the dilemma of a neighborhood situated next to a ravine, into which residents keep falling. Residents of the neighborhood debate whether they should invest in a fence to prevent people from falling or an ambulance to save them when they do. “Are social workers the fence or the ambulance?” asks Caldwell. “The right answer is, we’re both.” People will always fall, and social workers will be there to respond. People like Caldwell are also there to build better fences, improve our city’s proactive and preventative measures, and impart that philosophy to the next generation.

 

Tamara Dubowitz  [39]

Senior Policy Researcher, RAND Corp.

In 1998, Tamara Dubowitz co-founded what is now called The Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative; the initial objective was to plant vegetable gardens in public schools and influence student-run after-school stores to sell healthy snacks. It was satisfying to an extent, but Dubowitz says she wanted to learn how to use data to document its impact. Now, she works as a senior policy researcher with the RAND Corp. because “at the end of the day, I think that the voice of advocacy can only be as strong as the objective evidence and analysis that backs it up.” She’s working on “PHRESH: Pittsburgh Hill/Homewood Research on Eating, Shopping and Health,” a five-year study of the impact of the Hill District’s new grocery store, the area’s first in 30 years. Even as her focus has shifted to research, Dubowitz has not forgotten the people her research assists. In the short and long term, she says, “we have a commitment to making sure this research can directly contribute to neighborhoods we’re working in.”

 

Vasso Paliouras  [37]

Founder, Chairwoman and Executive Director, Lending Hearts

When Vasso Paliouras’ 17-year-old sister entered treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Paliouras saw firsthand how cancer affects children and families. “A lot of times when a family is going through any sort of daunting circumstance, you need a break,” Paliouras says. “You need to get out and enjoy yourself, and maybe you just need someone to tell you: ‘Hey, this is where we’re going — you want to come?’” In 2011, she established Lending Hearts, an organization that creates recreational and educational opportunities for children with cancer and their families. Kids may watch a broadcast of a Pittsburgh Penguins game with the Pens’ mascot, Iceburgh, and fluffy penguins from the National Aviary. “Every experience that we offer has to be something out of the ordinary,” says Paliouras. “There has to be something added, something special, something educational that they would never have had the opportunity to experience before.” Through Lending Hearts, she’s creating a new community that’s not about illness; instead, it’s about life and the future — and sharing in one-of-a-kind experiences.

 

 

“[Students] just want to learn for the sake of being curious, to have a broader mind, to understand how things work.” – Benjamin R. Campbell

Leigh Halverson  [29]

Special Assistant to the President and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation

Though Leigh Halverson didn’t grow up here, she says she’s in love with Pittsburgh. This is partly because she views the metropolis as the perfect place for her to work at a local level to enact global change. “[Collectively, the city is] completely open to new ideas and to young people,” she says. “As a result, I’m able to make an impact.” She’s chairwoman of the board for the Environmental Charter School and has been working for The Pittsburgh Foundation for five years — almost as long as she’s been in Pittsburgh. Due to her involvement with the first Day of Giving in 2009, Halverson met with more than 800 nonprofits to create online profiles that would qualify them for inclusion. After attending the 2011 One Young World Summit in Zurich as one of 30 Pittsburgh delegates, she helped host the 2012 summit here, bringing major delegates to Pittsburgh; she restructured the gathering to include 20 breakout groups throughout the city rather than in a conference room. In addition, she organized 101 home dinners for students and delegates to connect with local community members. Halverson says Pittsburgh is a global leader, but more than that, “this is a place where I really feel that my contribution is valued.”

 

Benjamin R. Campbell  [33]

Assistant Professor of Engineering, Robert Morris University

The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, a summer program for talented high-schoolers who excel in math and science, changed Ben Campbell’s life — and not just when he attended the program in 1997 as a 17-year-old. It was instrumental in his decision to pursue science, and he chose to become an educator after returning to the program as a teaching assistant every summer while he attended college. What makes it so special? It doesn’t give grades or credits; students “just want to learn for the sake of being curious, to have a broader mind, to understand how things work,” he says. After graduating from college, though, Campbell returned to those students for four more years as a teacher — until 2009, when the program was axed due to budget cuts. He rallied alumni and helped initiate a nonprofit to raise funds and worked to bring back the program. This year, the Pennsylvania Governor’s School reopened, with enough funding for two years. Campbell still aims to ensure its future. He currently works to expand Robert Morris’ newly formed biomedical engineering program through efforts including the creation of an engineering club.

 

Erin C. Molchany  [36]

Member, Pennsylvania House of Representatives - 22nd District

State Rep. Erin Molchany first ran for public office in 2005 when she was 27. She knocked on 5,000 doors while running for Pittsburgh City Council but lost her first race. That’s not to say it discouraged her — quite the opposite. She learned enough to win in her next campaign for the House of Representatives in 2012; she’s currently the only woman representing Allegheny County in Harrisburg — and she’s a young one at that. While working at Coro Center for Civic Leadership and Planned Parenthood, she discovered her passion for politics. “You realize how much government has an impact on people’s lives on a daily basis,” she says. Before holding her elected position, Molchany was the executive director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project. As a representative, she focuses on issues of transportation, education and equality — matters she first learned about in her nonprofit work, which allowed her to think critically. Molchany says her belief in the importance of politics began long before then, when she turned 18 and started to vote. “It’s a big responsibility. It’s important, and it’s a value that my family definitely held,” she says. “We vote.”

 

Phil Koch  [37]

National Executive Director, MGR Youth Empowerment

In 2005, Phil Koch established the Pittsburgh chapter of MGR Youth Empowerment, which operates in five U.S. cities, “to empower youth in the areas of arts, health and environment to make changes to their communities and to their own lives.” At the time, he was teaching seventh-grade science, and he says he was troubled by limitations in the classroom. “[I was not able] to spend time addressing the social and emotional needs of students [and did not have] time to focus on youth development because so much time was spent focusing on academics.” MGR Youth Empowerment is distinct in that it’s not just about serving youth ages 12-18; it also helps them find ways to make change on their own. This past summer, during the sixth annual Youth Peace Rally, held at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, downtown, more than 400 kids congregated to consider the impact of violence in their community and envision the change they would like to see. “Youth are powerful in their own right,” says Koch, who says he tries “to help in providing them knowledge that they need, skills that they need, and to open the doors to opportunities to help them become successful and help them to transform their own communities.”

 

About the Photoshoot: Seeing Purple

Gabriel Sierra’s deceptively simple project for the 2013 Carnegie International — repainting the walls of the monumental Hall of Architecture rich purple and adding discrete sculptural elements — is a conceptual and witty approach to the history of this storied space. Andrew Carnegie established the Hall of Architecture in 1907 to bring likenesses of European masterworks to the people of western Pennsylvania. “If they cannot go to the objects which allure people abroad,” he stated in 1895, “we shall do our best to bring the rarest of those objects to them at home.”

The hall contains 150 individual plaster casts of sculptures and monuments from all over the world and over centuries. Sierra creates sculptural interruptions within the coherence of built environments, examining the psychic condition they produce, or, as he puts it, “when physical qualities become an atmosphere.” By painting the receding surfaces of the Hall of Architecture purple (as opposed to its previous muted sage green), Sierra articulates the forms and patina of the casts and coaxes out their complex relationships to architecture, representation, 19th-century globalization, sculpture-making, industrialized production, original and copy. The result is surreal, perceptually funky and formally elegant and precise.

 

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