40 Under 40: 2016
Meet our 2016 class of 40 Pittsburghers Under 40 who are changing our region – and the world – for the better.
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Betty Cruz 
Owner, Change Agency
A first-generation Cuban-American, Betty Cruz has a habit of being present at the creation of impactful changes. Working with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit group “dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids,” she helped to create 60 playgrounds.
When Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto walked down the middle of a city street enroute to his swearing-in, Cruz was among the top aides who walked with him into the city’s new era.
While a deputy chief of staff for special initiatives, Cruz has worked to cultivate an immigrant-friendly city, launched programs to increase food access in stranded neighborhoods, campaigned to enroll the city’s young in health care programs and worked to increase opportunities to veterans by working with the private and public sectors.
The biggest thing I ever had to overcome ... Immigrant kids often are navigating many firsts in our family, beyond being the first born in the U.S. You carry the weight of migration — the fear and hope that made your parents leave everything behind. And you never quite feel like you fully belong in either place. However, there’s a beauty to that, and I feel deep pride for the cultures that have shaped me.
Lisa Boyette 
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Curable
Lisa Boyette isn’t out to “find” a cure for the disease that threatens her brother. Cures are created. It’s 100 percent engineering and zero percent magic.
Jon Boyette has primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease of the bile ducts that ultimately destroys the liver. A transplant might help, but an outright cure would work wonders.
PSC isn’t a well-known disease, and it’s not at the top of the list when it comes to causes that people fund. So Lisa, who earned MD and Ph.D. degrees from Pitt, founded Save Jon two years ago. It operates on what’s called an “iterative model,” which means trial, error, learning, patience and proving. It exists not only as a search for a cure to a disease but also as a cure for the delays and false starts that plague so many causes.
Her supporters say Save Jon’s approach can become an organizational blueprint that will work in the fight against other complex diseases affecting underserved patient populations.
You’d be surprised to know ... I worked in Colonial Williamsburg one summer as a tavern wench — petticoats and a cap and the whole getup.
Terrell Thomas 
Executive Director, Isaiah Project
Fifteen years ago, 16-year-old Terrell Thomas carried the body of his brother, Charles Daniels, from the scene of a shooting in Beltzhoover, yet another episode in a summer of violence amid an undercurrent of drugs, poverty and desperation. It marked the start of a mission.
Thomas earned a degree in sociology and political science at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; he now is advancing toward a master’s degree at Point Park University.
He’s been the youth director for Voices Against Violence, a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh’s South Side. He chairs the Pittsburgh Leadership Council, serves as a member of the Minority Emergency Preparedness Task Force and has helped to lead the revitalization of the Pittsburgh Hilltop abandoned homes and to reclaim abandoned lots in the city.
He serves as CEO of My Brother’s Keeper, a transitional-living facility on the North Side, and is program coordinator for The South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace, helping to resolve gang disputes, teach violence prevention and end the pattern of destruction.
You’d be surprised to know ... I consider myself a fitness guru, and I love working out to ’80s pop music.
Pete Spynda 
Project and Event Manager; DJ
There’s no way to comprehend Pete Spynda without coming to terms with the fact that he has turned “Pandemic” into a fun word. To date, he has organized hundreds of events to promote alternative music and traditional fun. His more recent undertaking is Weather Permitting — a live-music outdoor event geared toward both parents and their children.
As a nominator’s explanation put it: “Most families have two working parents, so when parents would like to go out, it means the added expense of a babysitter and more time away from the kids.
Enter Weather Permitting, a summer picnic open to everyone where parents can attend with their children, who can play games or listen to live … music while parents hang out, picnic or visit food trucks.”
His musical tastes are as eclectic as the city in which he works. Spynda’s has produced events for Balkan brass bands, a nod to the city’s eastern European heritage, as well as hip-hop and Cumbia, which look toward the city’s evolving music scene.
The best thing that ever happened to me ... It’s a tie between winning the Spirit Wiffle ball home run derby and losing my “real” full-time job so I could become a professional hustler.