40 Under 40: 2013
Our honorees help the city to become even more innovative, caring and socially conscious.
(page 4 of 5)
Minette Vaccariello 
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 
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 
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 
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.
Adriana Dobrzycka 
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 
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 
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 
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.”