Erie's 40 Under 40: Class of 2021
Innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders helping move us into the future
It's been a monumental year. Just ask anyone. It's taken a lot to get our community through these months together, and in those relatively dark times, there were people who helped to light the way. The class of 2021 for Erie's 40 Under 40 are some of these people.
Perhaps it's because of the difficulties we faced, then, that we were even more eager to recognize those hardworking people that helped. And recognize them our readers did. We received a record number of nominations this year. It's obvious that there's an ever-growing pool of talented individuals right here close to home.
Erie is a resilient place. We're adaptive and resourceful. So is this class, one filled with artists, dancers, health care workers, teachers, and business owners. They're the people going the extra mile, the ones who are following through with plans and making a positive change in Erie. And hey, do you know someone you'd like to see on this list? Well, our 2022 nominations are now open.
So take a look at some of the people finding creative solutions to get things done. They have packed resumes and bright futures ahead of them, illuminating the path for all of us.
Written by: Jonathan Burdick (JB), Kimberly Firestine (KF), Ally Kutz (AK), Aaron Mook (AM), Ben Speggen (BS), Cara Suppa (CS), Matt Swanseger (MS), Nick Warren (NW), and Jim Wertz (JW).
Photographs by Jessica Hunter.
Jaime Babiak, PharmD MHSA NHA
Divya Koradia, MD
Patty Mazza Rounsley
Leroy Oglesby III
Anne M. Styn
Sometimes along life's journey, our passions guide our professional path. For Peter Agresti, that path started at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied history and political science, graduating in 2008 summa cum laude as a University Scholar and Presidential Scholar and also winning the Social Science award. That led this Erie native to continue on at Pitt's School of Law, where he graduated with his Juris Doctorate in 2011.
But rather than plotting to spend decades in the courtroom, his law degree landed him back in the classroom — this time in front of it. He began teaching at Gannon University in 2012 — the same year he earned the nickname "Professor Pete," working as a private tutor for students seeking LSAT preparation.
Just two years later, he became a full-time faculty member for the Pre-Law/Legal Studies program. Today, he serves as that program's director, where, in addition to teaching, he oversees and advises students within the program, providing pathways for students to explore their own futures in law.
Outside of the classroom, you can likely catch this Mercyhurst Prep alum at the Plymouth Tavern rooting for his favorite sports teams (Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Bayern Munich), or exploring Erie's many great breweries, festivals, and events.
Of Erie, this lawyer-turned-professor says: "I want to make a new generation of people see Erie like I see Erie: A great place to live, work, and build a better community." — BS
If you open TIME Magazine's Person of the Year issue from 2020 and turn to the article discussing how Joe Biden won Pennsylvania, you'll see a photo of McDowell graduate Chelcie Alcorn standing alongside five other locals who helped flip Erie County back to blue. Then a field and operations director, Alcorn is now the executive director of the Erie County Democratic Party. In this role, she is in charge of the daily operations of the party office, outreach, managing social media and email distribution, organizing events, and overseeing a vast network of volunteers while recruiting new ones.
At the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied biology and psychology, she was extremely active on campus, so it's no surprise that since graduating, she's equally involved herself in her communities and dedicated her time to bringing people of diverse opinions and experiences together.
"The potential is why I love it here," she says. "I want to be part of the movement that empowers people and enables them to live fulfilling lives, especially young people and historically marginalized groups of people."
She works part-time at UPMC Hamot and ultimately has her eyes on going to medical school, but she has also volunteered for numerous political campaigns, was a founding member of the organizing committee that won union representation for the employees of Planned Parenthood of Western PA, and currently serves as president of the Erie County Young Democrats.
"Our institutions, especially democracy, should not be exclusionary and inaccessible," Alcorn adds. "I hope to be part of the chisel that chips away at the Old Boys' Club mentality and the pervasive civic apathy that impedes us from imagining and creating an environment that allows everyone to flourish."
She is off to an excellent start. — JB
If ever there was a year to appreciate the dedication of the medical profession, this was it.
And Jaime Babiak, PharmD, MHSA — whose name you might recognize from her spotlight on Erie News Now as a Front Line Hero in October 2020 — has been a standout individual as the director of operations for the LECOM Institute for Successful Aging — before the pandemic, but especially during.
A McDowell alum who holds a B.S. in Biology, a master's in health service administration, and a Doctor of Pharmacy, Babiak remarked that she's proud of her ability to "grow from a clinician to my current role in more administrative areas, all by learning on the job and pushing myself out of my comfort zone."
Her role as director is fast-paced, involving planning, coordinating, budgeting, communicating and improving operations every single day, while overseeing nine locations and 800 employees, all in the service of older and aging Erieites. But she still takes time to enjoy life with her husband, two daughters, and dog, boating in the summers and skiing in the winters.
Babiak is also a lifelong learner who completed the Tideswell at UCSF (University of California San Francisco) Emerging Leaders in Aging Program, to further her understanding of, and grounding in, quality care processes for seniors.
Said Babiak, "I want to continue contributing to the expansion of age-friendly services and opportunities for our seniors in the Erie community. At the same time, I would like to inspire the next generation of health care workers in the field of geriatrics in the Erie community."
Babiak is the living embodiment of the adage that we're only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. — CS
The past two years have put public health officials in the spotlight and brought them into our collective conscience in ways that we wouldn't previously have thought possible. So it's no surprise that Chelsea Bates is most proud of the work she's done working on the COVID-19 response in Erie County during 2020 and 2021.
The Appomattox, Va. native and Virginia Military Institute grad now works to identify gaps in public health preparedness based on state and CDC guidelines, and works with various local agencies to determine priorities in order to strengthen preparedness efforts to effectively respond to various public health threats in the community. That means she connects the health department with internal and external local partners to plan and implement COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, conducts education and outreach in the community, and provides valuable guidance for local partners as the response evolves and continues to change throughout Erie County.
As a new triathlete, she knows how to goal-set. Whether it was trotting the globe, earning her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Florida, or helping to curb the coronavirus in Erie County, Chelsea Bates knows that a good plan leads to a good place. She's committed to her professional practice and to Erie County, "to be resilient when faced with public health adversities by promoting best practices and consistently anticipating and responding to the community's ever changing needs." — JW
Sometimes, honoring someone as part of Erie's 40 Under 40 just seems like a slam dunk. It may read like a goal, a hole in one, or a home run as well — especially if they happen to be one of the guiding forces behind the Erie Sports Commission (ESC). Emily Biddle racked up points easily, nearly setting a record for how many times she was nominated.
Responsible for nearly all aspects of the ESC's public presence, Biddle has helped to make the organization an award-winning one on the national level, and she's been there from the beginning. The Sports Events & Tourism Association named the ESC both Sports Commission of the Year and Destination Marketing Campaign of the Year twice.
This year, the ESC successfully hosted the NCAA Women's Frozen Four games. Because of the pandemic, what was originally slated for four teams and three games more than doubled to eight teams and seven games, all carried on ESPN networks. "Our whole committee worked really hard, and worked a lot of hours, to make sure that the event was a success so that these exceptional athletes had the opportunity to compete in a safe environment in a location that was excited to welcome them," Biddle explained.
Growing up in Seneca, Pa., Biddle graduated from Cranberry Junior-Senior High School, going on to the University of Pittsburgh and later to Duquesne University for her master's degree. She began as a volunteer with the ESC (winning their Volunteer of the Year award in 2013) prior to joining the organization full-time. In addition, she has served on the board of directors for CAFE (Cultures, Arts, Festivals and Events of Erie), as the VP of marketing for CelebrateErie, the board of directors and board vice president for the Erie Metro Chapter of the PA Sports Hall of Fame, and volunteers at the Kuhl Hose Volunteer Fire Department.
Sounds like a win. — NW
As an Erie Native and a graduate of Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy and Edinboro University, Chelsea Curlett has seen her hometown adapt and change throughout her life. As a licensed professional counselor, she also knows that adaptation and change can weigh heavily on the collective well-being of the community. That's why she's committed her private practice to "helping people grow and make changes" in their personal lives.
Among other endeavors, she's participated in Young Erie Professionals and is a graduate of the Jefferson Civic Leadership Academy, directed by the Jefferson Educational Society. But she's taken a step back from those organizations to grow her private practice and focus on her work at the R. Benjamin Wiley Community Charter School. According to one nominator, "Chelsea serves as an example to youth and adults alike, of the direct relationship between hard work, self-discipline, integrity and the desire to empower others to improve their own lives and success … It is a ripple effect that helps students become responsible citizens; women become confident, loving mothers; men become patient, understanding partners; and teenagers learn healthy ways to cope with stress."
As the nominator suggests, Curlett's work at the R. Benjamin Wiley Community Charter School means that she works with students as well as their parents to ensure that families have the supports and structures necessary to ensure the student's success. That's the central piece to how she sees the Erie puzzle. "Everyday I have the opportunity to make my students feel loved and accepted," she says. "I try to push them to make good choices and to believe that they can be successful." — JW
While born in Scranton, Nathan Ehrman moved to Erie when he was eight and considers it home. His Erie roots are deep. His family owns Ehrman's Allburn Florist, which has been in operation in the city for over a century and to which he attributes his work ethic. His grandfather was a Classics professor at Gannon, his grandmother taught Italian at Villa Maria Academy, and his mother is a science teacher at Our Lady of Peace.
"I knew I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a child," Ehrman explains, adding that he otherwise would likely be a teacher too. "My grandfather used to love to tell me that during the Roman Empire they referred to lawyers as 'Vir Probus Dicendi Peritus,' which means good person, expert in talking. … This has essentially been my guiding principle in my professional life — to be a good, conscientious person and strive to be an expert in all aspects of legal advocacy."
After graduating from Cathedral Prep and Allegheny College, Ehrman left Pennsylvania for Cleveland where he attended law school at Case Western Reserve University and graduated in the top 10 percent in his class. He then worked at a law firm in Cleveland before recently finding his way back to Erie, now working in the Corporate Legal Department at Erie Insurance.
"I believe Erie is a wonderful place," Ehrman says. "My wife and I left behind great careers in a bigger city because we thought Erie would be an ideal place to advance our careers and have a family."
He enjoys taking his children on trips to the Erie Zoo and Presque Isle. He also volunteers much of his time, being involved in many Erie County Bar Association programs, a trustee for the Erie County Law Foundation, and a mentor for the Attorney and Kids Together Program. He also serves as a member of Cathedral Prep's Advancement Committee. Mostly, he wants to be an advocate for Erie and remind young professionals of the opportunities here.
"[T]here are abundant opportunities here and they do not have to go elsewhere to have a fulfilling and successful life," he adds. "[I] believe Erie is on the verge of great things and hope to play a part in the city's resurgence." — JB
As captain of the Puerto Rico National Track and Field team, Ricardo Estremera may very well be our fastest-ever 40 Under 40 honoree. The former University of Albany track star and San Juan native was mere seconds away from representing his homeland in the 2021 Summer Olympics, finishing just short of the qualifying standard in the Men's 3000-meter steeplechase, a grueling event featuring 28 barriers and seven water jumps.
It's an appropriate specialty for a man who takes pride in helping others make tough transitions — particularly New Americans as they attempt to get their feet wet in Erie. Learning English, finding a job, locating stable housing, and adjusting to a new culture can prove daunting hurdles for immigrant populations, but Estremera jumps at the chance to lend his support. He and his wife Sherez recently bought their first home in Erie, and they hope it will not be their last — they plan to buy, renovate, and rent affordable properties to others down the stretch.
When Estremera is not teaching Spanish classes at Penn State Behrend or ESL classes at Mercyhurst University, he's volunteering his time coaching, studying for his PhD in Hispanic linguistics (his research is focused on the urban dialect of 2nd-generation Dominicans in Puerto Rico), and (of course) running.
How does Erie keep up with changing needs and demographics? "Education, respect, and understanding are the keys to coexistence." So long as we establish our footing in those areas, we should be right on-track. — MS
What do you do if what you're looking for doesn't yet exist where you want to be? You can change your mind about the place you want to be, or you can change the place you are. Matt Flowers opted for the latter in 2016 when he created Ethos Copywriting.
"When I started Ethos, this kind of company didn't exist here," explains the Erie native and Penn State University communications grad. "I want to ensure up-and-coming writers have ample opportunities in their city to develop and thrive. Further, I want to foster a positive, inclusive, and dynamic company culture that makes people proud to work right here in Erie."
Matt and his team at Ethos work in the world of wordsmithing, flowing from fashion to finance to economic development and manufacturing, and plenty more in between with the 30-plus clients the start-up works with, producing what he estimates to be for him and his team a blistering 30,000 to 40,000 words a month.
As he puts it, Ethos serves as "a platform for Erie's best copywriters, content creators, and creatives to exercise their talents. At the same time, I'm helping businesses in Erie and beyond tell their stories and ensure it helps them grow."
When he's not churning out or editing copy and developing social media and SEO strategies, you can find him in the studio or on stage with his award-winning indie rock band Falling Hollywood or investing in local real estate in Erie's downtown. — BS
Every summer, the catchy tune that hits the radio tells us, "It wouldn't be summer, it wouldn't be fun without Waldameer!" But it wouldn't be Waldameer without Brian Gorman, VP of operations for the local amusement park.
Born and raised in Erie, Gorman attended Fairview High School before going on to earn his B.A. in Marketing from Miami University. Gorman has always been passionate about Erie, wanting to showcase the amazing opportunities and promise the area has. "I hope to show the young people of our community that Erie holds so much potential," he said.
Overseeing the daily operations and maintenance that keeps Waldameer running, Gorman's proudest achievement is being able to provide a safe and family-friendly park where everyone can find something to enjoy. He's also a proud supporter of keeping things local, using his position to support local businesses through work done in the park each year.
Gorman exudes passion for Erie, holding multiple positions that promote the tourism industry in the area. As a chairman of Visit Erie, facility operations committee member for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and former president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Attractions (PAPA) Organization, Gorman has gone above and beyond for Erie tourism. He is also secretary of the Rotary Club of Erie Scholarship Foundation, proving further his dedication to the Erie area.
When not at the park, Gorman enjoys Erie's great outdoors, collecting beach glass, and spending time with his wife, Allison, and their two children, 4-year-old Charlie and 2-year-old Rosie. — AK
The tandoor ovens used in tandoori cooking are models of efficiency, trapping heat within their insulated ceramic walls and limiting the need for fuel. In some areas of India, communal tandoors can be depended on to provide families a quick, convenient meal (they can reach temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit!) in a centralized location. From its inception in Downtown Erie to its recent move to West 26th Street, Tandoori Hut has embodied that spirit, feeding the community with authentically flavorful food at affordable prices.
Likewise, owner Dharma Gurung has proven especially adept at holding her fire, despite coming from a place where women's dreams receive little kindling. Within the largely patriarchal societies of the Indian subcontinent, girls are often taught that upward mobility is naan of their business — that roles beyond "mother" and "housewife" do not apply. Born to Bhutanese parents in India and raised in Nepal, Gurung spent most of her life surrounded by these attitudes.
Fortunately, she didn't listen. Fleeing the tension and conflict that plagued the country of her upbringing, Gurung emigrated to the United States as a refugee, carrying aspirations of one day owning her own business. After years of scrimping and saving, she was finally able to cook up enough capital to open Tandoori Hut. She eventually purchased her partner's shares of the eatery, and in doing so became Erie's first solo Bhutanese restaurant owner and only female restaurant owner under 30.
A member of the Bhutanese Community Association of Erie (BCAE) and Mayor's New American Council, the trilingual Gurung advises Erieites to respect one another regardless of where they come from, "no matter what color, accent, or religion." When it comes to Erie's future, Gurung hopes everyone has a place at the buffet. — MS
Throughout the pandemic, it's been hard to find a more valuable resource for Erie than the Erie County Department of Health. Public health educator Alivia Haibach has spent the last year making information about the virus accessible to those for whom it otherwise might not be.
"Erie County Department of Health was the first health department in the state to have COVID-19 information available in multiple languages," says Alivia. "I am really proud of my advocacy for language access for every resident of Erie County."
Alivia has a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies from Allegheny College and is currently in Gannon University's Master of Public Administration program. Using her platform and credentials to serve the needs of the community, her work is focused "on health equity and health literacy. I develop programming and outreach for every resident of Erie County and make sure that diverse voices and perspectives are being considered."
Working for the Erie County Department of Health followed time spent in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and China, which is why Alivia's mission for diversity and inclusion is so critical to her. Alivia believes you can't help someone without asking what they need help with first. "I want to be really intentional about making sure that every resident of Erie feels as if they are valued. To make Erie a better place, we have to work with people, we have to ask people what they need." — KF
If anyone deserves to pour himself another pint, it's Stephen Henderson.
The avid craft beer collector and trader has been at the head of the Allegheny Health Network's COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Erie County, with close to 60,000 doses administered and 30,000 individuals inoculated since December. As director of pharmacy at AHN St. Vincent, Henderson admits that "leading a team of healthcare providers through the pandemic has been challenging," but also "rewarding" and "gratifying" in terms of its overall impact and its contribution to bringing an end to the pandemic.
A native of Titusville, Henderson earned his PharmD from Ohio Northern University before becoming a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist (BCPS) via the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties (BPS). He met his wife, Carmen, during a residency program in Erie and followed her to Pittsburgh, but upon expecting their first of two children, the Gem City beckoned again.
"Erie has always been like home to me," says Henderson, who during childhood traveled north once or twice a week to attend services at the Church of Christ on West Grandview Boulevard. "I want to show young professionals and families that Erie is a great place to raise a family and build a life. For Erie's continued and sustained success, we must attract and retain hard-working and talented individuals."
Few are as assiduous as Henderson — who's worked tirelessly this past year to ensure AHN's local vaccination clinics and events were fully scheduled, well-staffed, and met all quality standards of vaccine integrity and patient experience. But if there were more of him, it'd be a real shot in the arm. — MS
If you're a gardener, you can appreciate the effort it takes to grow even a single vegetable successfully. Now imagine feeding an entire city with the fruits (veggies?) of your labors.
"I would love to see No Dirt Farms be able to provide healthy, sustainable food all year round to more of our Erie community," said Amanda Hines, owner of No Dirt Farms, LLC in Fairview. She's well on her way, but her current reach is not too shabby.
The 36-year-old Erie native and McDowell alum runs a state-of-the-art hydroponic farm, including a fully automated — and fully pesticide, fungicide, and insecticide-free — greenhouse that has enabled the grower to co-start Erie's first winter CSA program, 814 Fresh. This monthly subscription box is full of not just local produce, but all kinds of other local goodies, like candles, honey, meat, and more, making it a celebration of all things in Erie — particularly small businesses.
Hines added that she is incredibly proud of "getting USDA Harmonized GAP certified. This was a huge undertaking, but makes me eligible to sell safe produce to schools, universities, and hospitals," and she is currently in the process of establishing a "veggie Rx" initiative with area hospitals.
The avid camper and owner of Creative Artistry in Hair (as well as a stylist at Bickford Senior living and employee of Action Shots Photography) is also extremely close with her family, including her husband and two daughters, as well as her parents and in-laws, and she cited their support as crucial to allowing her to pursue her mission of growing nutritious, wholesome foods that nourish the Erie community. — CS
If there's one thing Megan Jell wants to teach her students, it is the significance of community: "As a community member, it is so important to me that we embrace our city's rich history, especially on the water. As an art teacher, I am always looking for opportunities to help students of all ages foster a sense of place within their community," she said.
Born in Erie, Jell attended Harborcreek High School before going on to earn her B.A. in Art Education and Art Therapy from Mercyhurst University, a school where she is currently an adjunct professor in their arts education program. Jell also holds an M.A. in Art Education from the Boston University College of Fine Arts.
Drawing from her enthusiasm for Erie, Jell inspires her students in the classroom to work together on projects that explore the history of the region as well as appreciate and celebrate different places within the city. For Jell, one of the greatest rewards is when her lessons hit home with students: "The best moments are when I see students make connections between classroom content and their own life experiences," she said.
Megan's achievements as a teacher have surpassed the classroom, too. In 2020, she was named the Pennsylvania Art Education Association's Elementary Art Educator of the Year, and has been selected as a participant in the 2021-2022 Art21 Educators Program, a year-long professional development initiative and learning community based in New York City.
Jell is also a founding board member of Seiche Dance Collective, a local non-profit performance based dance company. She is currently a company artist with the group, alongside fellow 40 Under 40 honorees Danielle Kaiser and Andona Zacks-Jordan. Jell also performs with the Erie Playhouse.
When not teaching or performing, Jell enjoys spending time with her 2-year-old Newfoundland dog named Felix, who is currently in training to be a therapy dog in schools. — AK
When the coronavirus pandemic changed in-person interactions, schools had to pivot in an instant. Katie Jones, the 35-year-old school director for the local landmark World of Music, sprang into action.
"I was able to change an in-person lesson school of over 500 students to a virtual and semi-virtual school within a matter of a couple of months," said Jones. But it wasn't easy. "I basically had to build the school back up from zero, and we are currently at over 200 students (and growing!) both virtually and in-person."
This impressive turnaround is part and parcel for the North East High School and Mercyhurst University grad, who is also the operations manager for what has long been one of Erie's largest continuously operating small businesses and an iconic stop for any music lover in the city.
Jones, who has a bachelor's degree in business and music studies and a master's degree in organizational leadership, does work which places her among the panoply of local artists, musicians, and cultural movers/shakers who make Erie a more vibrant and welcoming place to put down roots.
Every day, whether it's guiding people to the right instrument, jumping in on the cash register or encouraging youngsters to pursue music (even in the midst of a global pandemic), Jones' seemingly small everyday acts further her mission of "highlighting the artists' talents and encouraging and inspiring a whole new generation of artists to bloom in Erie." — CS
Sometimes, you take stock in all someone offers the community and simply wonder how they find the time. Danielle Kaiser is one of these people.
"I work outside of work!" she enthusiastically responds when asked about her hobbies. "However, none of it feels like work because it is my passion! Outside of my various positions at [Mercyhurst University], I teach dance at Little's Dance Studio and work as a freelance choreographer for studios in Erie, Greater Pennsylvania, and Ohio."
Those various positions at MU include administrative assistant and adjunct faculty, where she works in areas such as mentoring, teaching, and accreditation tracking (among other things) as well as head coach and advisor of the MU Dance Team, where she works in recruitment, retention, and choreography. Additionally, Kaiser is a founding board member (alongside fellow 40 Under 40 honorees Megan Jell and Andona Zacks-Jordan) and the artistic director of Erie's newest not-for-profit dance company, Seiche Dance Collective, where she has been able to pursue high level dance while also offering a space to adults who want to experience dance for the first time, or continue to study dance in some capacity.
"I want to continue to work to bring quality arts and dance to Erie, preserving the integrity of dance education [and] using my knowledge in the fields of education and dance to create pathways for the future generation of dancers, choreographers, and dance educators," says Kaiser. "I am hoping that I can continue to do work that not only strengthens and unifies the Erie dance community, but also invites young, emerging artists to make Erie home and to invest their time, energies, and talents here."
Kaiser's choreography has been presented at the Cleveland Ballet Conservatory, Erie Contemporary Ballet Theatre, Erie Dance Theatre, and at the Northeast Regional Dance America Festival here in Erie, where it was nominated for the prestigious Monticello Choreography Award in 2015. Still, somehow, Kaiser finds time to spend with her husband Nick and new baby boy, Caden, along with their two dogs. She enjoys exploring what Erie has to offer a new young family. — AM
Erie native Jamie Keim returned home two years ago after a seven-year tour in New York City, where she graduated from Pace University. As she explains it, her time in New York gave her a greater appreciation for all that Erie has to offer and enhanced her desire to stay closely connected to life here, particularly in the arts community.
On trips home to visit her family, she volunteered at the Neighborhood Art House and when she fully returned two years ago her volunteer connections led her to LEAF, the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier. Now she directs educational initiatives and has helped launch some Erie instant favorites such as the LEAF Open Market, a farmers' market in Frontier Park that started as an alternative grocery store during the height of the pandemic, giving people a safe(er) way to shop and giving local vendors a space to sell their goods when many doors to traditional retail were closed.
Keim also helped launch the ReLeaf project, which aims to plant 275,000 new trees across Erie County — one for each resident. She calls this one of her favorite projects to date and it's easy to see why. "Right now is the best time to plant that tree, say hello to your neighbor, make a meaningful connection, volunteer at a local arts organization, pick up those pieces of trash in your local park, learn something new, send that introductory email, put yourself out there," she explains. "Right now is the time to be a part of the better conversation. Right now is the time to stay in Erie and offer up your skills and time to people and places that need it the most." — JW
If you happened to drive down Peach on any first Saturday of the month this past spring, you might have noticed a pretty impressive to-do just north of shops like Pointe Foure and Tipsy Bean.
The location: Bastion Studios, owned and operated by Bill Kern, a Fairview grad, woodworker, and musician, who founded the space as "a membership-based art studio, recording studio, and art gallery aimed at helping people get their best work out into the world."
Said Kern, "I want to see Erie with a stronger social and downtown scene that highlights great local music and art; my way of contributing to that is by creating a community where these are the focal point."
Kern's community-within-a-community is housed inside a beautifully restored and preserved historic three-story mansion, whose 7,600 square feet houses a visual arts studio on the second and third floor, woodshop and metal shop in the garage, and an art gallery on the first floor.
The first floor is also where the aforementioned to-do — known as Local Lovin': An Erie Pop-Up Shop — takes place. These monthly events have expanded to include live music and food trucks, in addition to homemade goods and local makers, all thanks to the vision of a young Erieite whose day job is project manager at the C.A. Curtze Co.
Said Kern, "I am very proud of what we've created at Bastion Studios, a creative space for artists to come together...I'm hoping that the combination of these efforts with the efforts of everyone on [the 40 Under 40 list] will help propel Erie to new heights." — CS
Dr. Divya Koradia says her philosophy for her career is to treat her patients like her family. "I really value building meaningful interpersonal relationships with my patients and their family members." By forging those bonds, Koradia has provided essential healthcare services to Erie's diverse international community.
A family practice physician at Saint Vincent Hospital, Koradia is heralded as a true representation of work-life balance and dedication to the Greater Erie area. Part of that includes serving on the Executive Committee of the Indian Association of Greater Erie (IAGE) and volunteering with the Erie Asian Pacific American Association (APAA). Koradia, from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India, hopes to "continue to serve Erie's immigrant and refugee populations."
Koradia isn't just a practitioner in the medical field — she also enjoys cultivating and participating in local arts & culture events. Celebrate Erie, the Erie APAA's Asian Festival, and AmeriMasala Festival are just a few of the events where you can find Koradia performing dance, showcasing art, and "advancing the mantra of unity in diversity."
Bringing her specialties of preventative medicine, mental health, and well-being to the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, Koradia served as an in-depth educator to her patients about the virus and the benefits of vaccinations.
Aside from building strong relationships with her community and patients, Koradia makes sure she has time to do one of her favorite things: adventure sports. Whether she's rappelling down waterfalls in Costa Rica, hosting educational sessions on Diwali, or showing the importance of diversity within the Erie community, Koradia has already had an impact well beyond the scope of her office on West Ridge Road. — KF
When Tartans talk, what do they sound like? One answer is an award-winning podcast.
The brainchild of Christopher LaFuria, Tartan Talks shares stories of the lives and careers of faculty, students, and alumni of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania — the place where LaFuria not only received his Master of Education degree in Middle and Secondary Education, but also works as the deputy communications officer. Just one year after launching in 2019, his podcast notched second place in Pennsylvania at the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals Awards.
"The diversity of Erie folks and the variety of stories makes this region unique in the tristate area," says this North East native who now resides in Millcreek Township. "By sharing stories of the students and faculty that live in Erie and promoting an affordable and sustainable education, we can all work together to help this region grow and succeed."
When he's not getting Tartans to talk, Christopher is working on the university's social media and public relations, as well as writing and taking photographs — putting to good use his bachelor's degree in communications and media studies from Penn State Behrend.
Off-campus, Christopher can be found spending time with his wife Lauren raising their two children, coaching varsity girls soccer at Our Lady of Peace, attending concerts, enjoying the wines and culinary treasures of the region, and listening to music (and, yes, podcasts). On Saturdays, you can find him participating in Father Figures Walking Group — a social collective where fathers and non-fathers alike walk and talk about life lessons, from parenthood and politics to the workplace, music, and mental health. — BS
Innovation and medicine go hand-in-hand for Gianpiero Martone: as medical director of psychiatry at LECOM Health, he is always thinking outside the box and collaborating to meet the needs of the Erie community.
Born and raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., Martone graduated from Scarsdale High School before going on to earn numerous degrees: he holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences, a master's degree in public health through New York Medical College, Doctor of Osteopathy through LECOM, and a master's in medical education through LECOM. He has also been the recipient of the Kevin Love Genuine Hero Award (for mental health advocacy) and the Xavier Scholarship through Fordham University.
Managing the largest group of psychiatrists in the region as medical director of his department, Martone leads by example, providing excellent care to each of his patients, something he prides himself on. " It's humbling to be trusted with past traumas and struggles and working with families and individuals to try and better their lives," he said.
Martone is also a huge supporter of the arts and enjoys spending time at museums, galleries, and studios. His nonprofit, heART for the Mind, is a testament to his advocacy — Martone is the president of the organization, which works to bring artwork to hospitals, clinics, schools, and organizations in the local community.
Martone's main message to the Erie community is to never give up: "I want Erieites to know that they are never alone. That there is always someone out there that's willing to help and listen. I was able to help neutralize the stigma associated with mental health and be an advocate for all living with mental unrest." — AK
The Raymond M Blasco, MD Memorial Library is the flagship location of the Erie County Public Library, one of the true gems of the Gem City. It's an inclusive place, and one of the key people fostering that sense of community is unquestionably Patty Mazza Rounsley. Patty grew up in Erie, attending Edinboro University after graduating from Collegiate Academy. At the library, she's the one responsible for setting up the library's countless displays for Pride month, Black history, child grief awareness, adoption month, women's history, Hispanic heritage month, mental health awareness month, autism acceptance month, and recovery month, to name a few. "The displays also tackle stigmatized topics and marginalized groups," she explained. "I want to make people feel included. The library is truly a place for everyone and I want people to feel that. I didn't always feel like I belonged so I think it's important to make people feel like they belong." Those sentiments were echoed by the many nominations Patty received this year, highlighting her passion to uplift diverse and underrepresented voices. Serving on numerous committees with the library, she is helping to guide the organization into its modern-day role as an integral focal point of our community, as well as working with organizations such as The Caring Place and The Office of Children and Youth. She's also an accomplished artist, having taken part in Arts and Drafts for six years, and having her work displayed at the Whole Foods Co-op, as well as at the library itself. Anyone that knows Patty knows that she is a wonderful and genuine person, full of heart and passion. She loves spending days with her husband Bill and their two dogs, finding time to garden and read. Her vision for a more inclusive city is one we can all feel grateful for. — NW
If you're wondering why the name Jon Meighan rings a bell, you probably saw his appearances on Undercover Billionaire. In the hit Discovery reality series, Meighan showcased the One Leg Up! line of dog toys produced at Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing, where he is president and owner.
Meighan says that becoming a plant manager at GE Transportation and going on to own and grow his own company are what he is most proud of. For Meighan, his desire to improve and create jobs in the area are what drove him to where he is now.
"Increasing manufacturing is one of the best ways to make an economic impact in Erie because the majority of our products are purchased by companies outside of Erie. This means we are bringing outside dollars into the Erie economy to pay wages, purchase local services, etc," says Meighan.
One nominator described Meighan as "one of the most sincere, caring individuals who lifts people up. Jon works tirelessly to improve the lives of his employees at Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing. He is committed to being a positive contributor to our local community in work and play."
Aside from his ownership gig, Meighan is a board member of Junior Achievement of Western PA, a long-time sponsor of Big Brothers Big Sisters, a member of CEO Erie, and a member of the Manufacturer's Association. — KF
For years, it's been impossible to escape First to Eleven, one of Erie's most high-profile groups led by young vocalist Audra Miller — and quite frankly, why would you want to? The band produces high-quality, genre-twisting covers on a weekly basis. As performers, they've cut their chops for years before just recently launching Concrete Castles, an original band composed of the same members who recently signed deals with Velocity and Equal Vision Records. It seems like there's never been a better time to be a young musician in Erie, but for Audra Miller, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
"I want to be able to inspire younger kids in Erie to do what they love. Being able to play music for a living is something I never thought would be a possibility, but with the help of my bandmates, family, and teachers, it was able to become a reality. I want to be that person in other kids' lives, someone they can look up to and thank for taking that first step in chasing their dreams."
It helps that Miller has the platform to do so, not only with her words, but in teaching. In addition to being a three-time Rock Erie Music Award winner (including the female vocalist category), Miller is a vocal instructor at Rock School Studios, where she teaches students of all ages. Continuing her sentiment about inspiring others in Erie to chase their dreams, Miller says that if that dream happens to be music, she feels fortunate to be a teacher and a mentor for them.
In addition to performing, Miller loves to spend time with family and friends, travel, and make vlogs for Youtube. Despite the inception of Concrete Castles, First To Eleven continues to post weekly covers, with their Youtube subscriber count currently sitting at over 1.5 million. As fans follow the band down their newest path, Concrete Castles' views continue to grow. — AM
Brian Morgante exemplifies independent entrepreneurial spirit, and would laugh it off if anyone told him that. He's a person of many talents and convictions, remaining refreshingly humble and honest, while at the same time accumulating one of the most impressive portfolios imaginable. Morgante is the brain behind Flesh & Bone Design. Since its inception over 10 years ago, Flesh & Bone has been contracted by national clients, quietly becoming one of — if not the — most successful designers Erie has ever seen. Some of his past clients include The Rolling Stones, Tupac, Father John Misty, Best Coast, She & Him, Eazy-E, Machine Gun Kelly, Neil Diamond, Sublime, and the Foo Fighters. Morgante's focus on the music industry makes perfect sense. He's a musician himself that long ago fell in love with the touring lifestyle — the invigorating, DIY ethos and relentless wanderlust, easily staying away from any Behind the Music type situations. For years he played guitar with the instrumental indie band Deadhorse, and still tours with his friend Jack M. Senff. "I was brought up along the shores of Lake Erie," his bio reads, alluding to his days in North East. "That taught me the importance of community over competition." He collects records and zines (even overseeing one that got this author writing music reviews for the first time), and loves to thrift (with a keen eye for mid-century modern treasures), and finding some great vegan food with his longtime partner, Rachel. He's an activist, against the gentrification of Erie by large corporations, and for the abolition of police departments and prisons. Maybe the title of one of his albums says it best: We Can Create Our Own World. — NW
Leroy Oglesby III knows how important second chances can be. As permanency supervisor for The Bair Foundation, he oversees adoption and permanency services for children in Erie and the surrounding counties.
Oglesby hails from Wyandanch, N.Y. and graduated from Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte Court House, Va. He holds a B.S. in Liberal Studies, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, and an M.Ed. in Special Education. These degrees hold a lot of meaning for him, too: once considered a college dropout, the completion of his degrees is one of his proudest achievements.
One of Oglesby's responsibilities as permanency supervisor includes reviewing families and homes to make sure that the children they are placing have a safe and secure place to live.
Oglesby's commitment to the Erie community is showcased in the multitude of organizations he serves with: he is a member of the LGBTQ Advisory Council for the City of Erie; a NWPA Pride Alliance Advisory Board Member; an Erie Community Human Relations Commission Advisory Board Member; and a Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships Committee Member.
As a foster parent himself, one of Oglesby's biggest concerns is creating a better community for both children and adults alike: "I want to see Erie as a place where our children can thrive," he said. "This means addressing systemic racism, addressing systems that have been in place for years that are flawed. We need to focus on quality education for all students in Erie schools. We must continue to address the stigmas around mental health in Erie. We must choose to focus on the majority of Erie citizens that live in poverty and how to help them have more equitable and quality lives."
Outside of work, Oglesby enjoys spending time with family and friends, coaching wrestling, and cooking. He also secretly enjoys karaoke, a now not-so-secret fact that many may be surprised to know about him. — AK
In a society that leaves many third eyes blinded, Kaitlyn Page defiantly allows herself to gaze inward, foraying into depths of vivid, surreal, and at times haunting beauty. "I want to help keep Erie a colorful place where creativity is celebrated and the stigma that surrounds pursuing a career in the arts is no more."
Since graduating from Maplewood High School in 2014, Kaitlyn has been diligently painting over those tired narratives, with watercolor being her preferred medium. Over the years, she's seen her work featured in numerous exhibits and publications while simultaneously building a substantial following across multiple digital platforms. Her video tutorials and time-lapse process videos have accumulated millions of views, and for good reason — the detail she puts into her paintings is truly painstaking, and it's absolutely captivating to watch her spellbinding scenes and expressive faces spring to life.
She attributes her imagination to a childhood spent exploring the countryside and backpacking through nature, inspiring a strong curiosity in biology and astronomy (animals and celestial scenes still feature as frequent subjects). Throughout her youth, peers often labeled Page as "weird" or "annoying" or "overbearing" as she wrestled with severe anxiety and fitting in — only recently did she discover that Autism Spectrum Disorder was at the root.
Nevertheless, she found solace in art, and believes others should do the same. "Many of those who have struggled in life find comfort and a voice through creative outlets, which is never a loss." Page is resounding proof that unapologetically combining passion with talent is a winning formula — she has two consecutive Best of Erie awards for Best Fine Artist to show for it, and undoubtedly more to come. — MS
Three points on a map charted the way for one of Erie's youngest adult difference-makers: Union City, New York City, and, of course, Erie. Although Bailey Pituch has worked with stars like David Letterman and Bill Murray, she found herself desiring to make a major community impact at home.
Currently serving as United Way Erie's community impact manager of data and evaluation, Bailey has spent the last few years on the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival board of directors, volunteering for The Ally Coalition's Annual Talent Show, and serving as the house manager for Seiche Dance Collective. Oh, and she's only 25.
Bailey's drive can be found in her desire for access to quality education for all. "That's why I applied to work on United Way's Community Impact Team in 2019. I wouldn't have been able to accomplish any of this if it weren't for the education I received and the opportunities that came with it."
In her role at United Way, Bailey works with ten schools throughout Erie County through their community school program. Here, she assists each school in performing a needs assessment "that identifies what specific non-academic barriers to student success and family stability that school community is facing." This, according to supervisor Mike Jaruszewicz, helps United Way Erie "remove the guesswork from identifying community needs and resource gaps."
When she's not spending time finding new ways to better her community, Bailey loves shopping local and hanging out on the Lake Erie Ale Trail. "You can often find me playing an awful game of tennis at Bayview Park or enjoying Canadohta Lake from my grandma's cottage/pontoon boat in the summer with my husband Raymond." — KF
When she left for graduate school, Ashley Russell thought she would never come back to Erie. But, thanks to her dad's love of the 6 o'clock news, she heard about the open position of assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology that she would eventually be hired for at Penn State Behrend.
Born and raised in Erie, Russell attended Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy before earning a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in biology from Penn State Behrend. From there she earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from West Virginia University of Medicine and went on to complete a post-doctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Her achievements don't end there, though. Russell has presented her research at numerous regional, national, and international conferences, earning several awards for her work. She has also authored 12 peer-reviewed publications and has received multiple grants to fund her research.
Russell's ultimate goal is to improve Erie's position in the biomedical world, wanting the region to become a major biomedical research hub. Thanks to the proximity to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo, Russell feels that Erie has significant geographical potential to attain this goal.
She has faith in her students to help make this happen, too. "So many bright students come to the local colleges, get their degrees, and leave because there simply are no opportunities for them to pursue scientific careers here," she said. "Increasing Erie's biomedical research infrastructure in both the academic and private sectors will create good jobs, encourage young people to stay, and help recruit world-class scientists and clinicians to the area."
When not working, Russell enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and being outdoors. She also enjoys taste testing for her husband, an avid home cook who is always trying new recipes. — AK
It's nearly impossible to find a business so clearly championing Erie as Gone Local. There, you can find and purchase hundreds of locally-made products, as well as expertly curated boxes. When The Erie Reader puts out its annual "Made In Erie Gift Guide," Gone Local is the very first place we go to find the best items around. Most recently, they created a series of International Food Boxes, highlighting foods from Erie's New American community. At the center of this is Kristen Santiago, taking over the business in April of 2020. A Fort LeBoeuf graduate, she received her BA in Business Management from Mercyhurst University, and is currently working towards her MBA at Penn State Behrend (receiving the Junior Achievement's 2019 Celebrating Success Award). She was a founding board member of Erie ClaySpace (and former president of the board), a current board member at Erie Art Museum, a member of Athena Circle of Trust cohort III, and co-organizer of monthly Local Lovin' Pop-Ups at Bastion Studios. Santiago is also the owner of Ivy + Atlas, offering business consultation and teaching new entrepreneurs how to start their own businesses. "Every city needs a thriving small business community," she noted. "These are the restaurants, shops, and establishments that make it a unique and desirable place to live. So if I can continue to support Erie's entrepreneurs and makers, either through consulting services or with their products in my store, I'll be positively contributing to our city's growth and future." We're happy that she is. — NW
Today, Illinois native and University of Wyoming graduate Christopher R. Shelton has a great career, a wonderful wife and daughter, and two "fur-babies." Yet, when he reflects on his experience having to drive a cab on weekends to put himself through college, he recognizes the hurdles many of his own students have to overcome in order to get an education.
"More specifically, it helped to push me towards trying to create as many opportunities for my students as I can," Shelton says. It's clear that as a professor, students come first for Shelton. When asked about his own accomplishments, he finds a way to circle the conversation back to his students.
"One of the things I am most proud of is the undergraduate and graduate students that I am so fortunate and thankful to work with and mentor as researchers in the VAR Lab," he explains, adding how fulfilling it is to work with each of them. "I really enjoy helping each of my students to achieve their goals within the lab and with an eye on the future as well. I cannot wait to see how these students will leave their mark on the world."
Whether it's dressing up on Halloween to teach, helping them turn their research into a paying job, or simply advocating, it is always about the students. On campus, he also is the co-advisor of Active Minds, a mental health awareness organization and even helped students develop a "mental health and mindfulness" app called Serene over the past year. He views technology as an important way to overcome the shortfalls often seen in the mental health field.
"I want to help Erie students and the community become well versed in these cutting-edge technologies that we will see become a staple of many fields over the coming decades," says Shelton. He's modeling this by overseeing partnerships and VR projects with the Hagen History Center, the Fort LeBoeuf Historical Society, Three Forts of Presque Isle LLC, and Friends of Wintergreen Gorge. "Ultimately, training our students and community to use this technology is one, of many, paths towards creating a more technologically advanced workforce within Erie, and thus building a stronger, more equitable Erie for all." — JB
In a world where true crime media is more popular than ever, there are still people out there unfamiliar with the concept of "digital forensics," and Erie County detective and digital forensics examiner Anne M. Styn is happy to clarify that for them.
"What is a digital forensic examiner, you may ask?" starts Styn. "Well, digital forensics is the process of identifying, preserving, analyzing, and documenting digital evidence. Some examples of where digital evidence [can be] located are cell phones, computers, smart devices such as Alexa, smart watches, smart TVs, and even vehicles."
As an International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) Certified Forensic Computer Examiner, Styn assists local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies with investigations involving digital devices. But making Erie a safer place is more than just a career for Styn; it's a passion that comes across in the courses she teaches as an adjunct professor with Gannon University, including "Cybercrime and Society" and "Digital Evidence."
"I want to help parents create a safer digital world for their children to grow up in," says Styn. "Through the district attorney's office, I have had opportunities to speak with schools as well as parents about internet safety. I love seeing the technological advances our country is making, but with that comes responsibility ...Teaching parents about the digital world their children are involved in, the apps they use, and the restrictions they can put on their devices will help keep them safe."
Long before Styn decided to go into law enforcement, she was the only girl in an all-boys baseball league and dreamt of being the first female to play for the Cleveland Indians — a team she still roots for year after year. In her free time, Styn enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and dog, hanging out at Room 33, re-watching Friends, and cycling. — AM
Sometimes, professional paths take the shape of a circle while those along them continue to spiral upwards. That is the case with Traci Teudhope.
This Bethany College alum, who studied communications, first landed in Erie and on the media scene in 2005 as WQLN's education and outreach manager, where for five years she facilitated the station's educational programs, including its flagship program, WQLN Families. In 2010, she joined the JET24 team to anchor Good Morning Erie, where she "proudly spent a decade helping our community start their days on a positive note." While at JET, she also conducted high-profile interviews, including one with the President of the United States.
But in 2019, her path brought her back to WQLN. As the marketing manager, Traci led the company's rebranding efforts, recreating all of the company's TV, radio, digital, and print marketing to match its new image. When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, Traci helped train the staff to build and use in-home recording studios, served as the conduit between the County Health Department and local media outlets for the daily briefings, and more.
Outside of work, she earned a master's degree in organizational leadership from Mercyhurst University and serves as the vice president of Hooked on Books for Kids. She enjoys spending time with her husband of 14 years and their three boys, coaching on their baseball teams, and exploring the outdoors, including backcountry camping.
Of Erie she says: "I want to make Erie better by continuing to be a community champion. I will always boldly share my love of this town, and I encourage others to do the same. Erie is a beautiful place — filled with hidden treasures and endless opportunities for growth." — BS
Breanna has always called Erie "home." It's only fair she does what she can to help others in her community feel the same way about her beloved place of residence as she does.
While she is the director of advancement for Mercy Center for Women, Breanna balances her career with serving as the co-chair of Athena Circle of Trust Cohort III. She's a member of Young Erie Professionals, the Young Erie Philanthropist Committee, a Bronze Member of the Erie Women's Fund, and the supervisor of the Mercy Center's AmeriCorps VISTA program.
"I have been privileged to watch the growth of each program I have worked on," says Breanna. This includes her work in creating more matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters, implementing new and more diverse members of the Erie Women's Fund, and spearheading the most successful Women Making History event ever (during a global pandemic no less).
Nominator and 2020 40 Under 40 alumna Amanda Duncan says Breanna's work for women has been game-changing for the Erie community. "All of her volunteering, employment, and even personal relationships have a common thread of women empowerment — she truly does everything she can to see great women succeed in whatever stage of life they're in or whatever trials they're facing. This impact has been felt within her Athena group, with her VISTA volunteerism, and even in her friendships."
For Breanna, the work she does to help others is the most meaningful. "We can only truly make Erie a better place if we take care of one another." — KF
If there's ever been a position worth defending — a hill worth dying on — it's our right to agency over our own bodies. It was somewhat prophetic when Karin Wickwire received a large print of Brigadier General Strong Vincent defending Little Round Top (during the Battle of Gettysburg) as a high school graduation present — not just because she's a self-proclaimed Erie and Civil War history buff (and SV alum), but because it's so perfectly symbolic of a career devoted to taking a heroic stand for the vulnerable.
In her various roles at UPMC Hamot and UPMC Children's, Wickwire provides cover for victims of sexual assault and abuse on multiple fronts. As nurse practitioner for critical care medicine at UPMC Hamot, she works diligently to comfort those who have just suffered some of the most unimaginable traumas of their lives. As clinical coordinator for UPMC Hamot's forensic nursing program, she oversees the day-to-day administration of care to victims in recovery. And as nurse practitioner at the Erie CARE (Child Abuse Referral & Evaluation) Clinic, she lends ongoing support to kids who have been neglected and abused.
On (Little Round) top of that, she still finds time to train reinforcements for this vital cause both as an adjunct professor in nursing at Gannon University and as a faculty member of the Duquesne University SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program — she even recently co-authored a chapter in a SANE certification review guide. She serves on the board of directors of the Crime Victim Center of Erie, as the president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), and on the IAFN's research committee at an international level. Her research work has been published in the Journal of Forensic Nursing.
Despite being an avid Beatlemaniac, Wickwire advises Erie to not simply let it be. As a child, her mom told her that "no matter how little you think you have, there is always someone who has less. I want to share that mantra in our community in my own way, because I think it is important for every person to see that they can make a difference in another person's life — everyone has something to give, and everyone has something they need … I want to help people see outside of the box of what giving is — giving doesn't mean (and for many cannot mean) opening their wallet. You can share a meal, your time, a laugh, your knowledge, and skill, and in many other ways."
You can take a sad song and make it better. — MS
Although a B in a one-credit tennis course may have prevented Jacqueline Williams from graduating Clarion University with a perfect 4.0 GPA, she's been more than holding serve ever since.
A dual major in accounting and finance who earned her Bachelors of Science in Business Administration and went on to pass her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam in one try, Williams considers herself more of a NASCAR driver anyhow (she owns a 6-speed manual convertible after learning to drive stick shift at the age of 30). She navigates both her private and professional lives with pace and grace, despite a packed schedule in both lanes.
Outside work, she enjoys spending time with husband Adam (a 40 Under 40 honoree in 2013), children Royce and Penny, and their pet Weimaraner Camber — in addition to horseback riding, barre classes, distance running, fashion, karaoke, reading, podcasts, volunteering for Emma's Footprints (a nonprofit supporting families grieving from infant loss), and serving on the Athena Powerlink Advisory Panel.
At the office, she juggles financial, human resources, and operations duties while helping small business owners (Rust Belt Business Law) and home-buyers (Goldfinch Settlements Co.) find their paths. Among her proudest achievements in the past year was helping local small businesses secure and manage millions of dollars of funding through Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans during the pandemic, assisting with budgeting and filing for loan forgiveness. In fact, if you were to ask her to share her excitement, she'd be as likely to sing about it as talk about it — a quirk of which she is well aware.
Regardless of vocal (a)tonality, these endeavors are right in line with her personal mission: "I want to inspire and help people and business owners in our community find opportunity and solutions to the puzzles presented in life." Game, set, and match. — MS
Marcus Yuille wants Erie to be connected. After growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania and graduating from Monessen City Schools, Yuille arrived at Penn State Behrend, receiving his BA in Political Science and Government. It only made sense then, that he's an important person to watch in Erie's political landscape. This year, he ran as a candidate for Erie City Council, and though he didn't land a spot on November's ticket, it's safe to say that you'll be seeing more of him. "I believe that Erie is a city of great potential and promise," he told the Erie Chamber and Growth Partnership this year. "My experiences in the community have enhanced my perspective and passion for our city. I am committed to creating positive change in Erie by devoting my voice to ensure that inclusion is a reality for all who call Erie home." He's driven to revitalize the City of Erie, fight for affordable housing, and make sure that all voices are heard when it comes to decision-making. Education advocacy and a passion to improve public health services help to fuel his political aspirations. In his work with the Erie County Public Library, he helps to oversee things like the Bookmobile and utilize the services of the library to benefit all members of the community, also having worked at the John F. Kennedy Center as a prevention specialist, providing substance abuse education. Through his stances and responsibilities he hopes "to address inequity and search out opportunities to replicate revitalization in the neighborhoods and areas of the city that have been most affected by poverty. No neighborhood, small business, or entrepreneur should be ignored or overlooked." — NW
Typically people feel more left-brained or right-brained; Andona Zacks-Jordan is that rare powerhouse combination of both.
She is a public defender for Erie County and practices law privately as a founding partner of A to Z Law Erie; and she is a musician, violin teacher, and dancer. Even where Zacks-Jordan contributes artistically to the cultural community in Erie, her vast intellect also enables her to serve artistic organizations in an administrative or management position, ensuring their continuity.
See, for example, her volunteer work with the Erie Art Museum as president of its board of directors, and her position as a founding board member for the Seiche Dance Collective (along with fellow honorees Danille Kaiser and Megan Jell), both of which are near and dear to her heart. Her nominator said, "The work she does behind the scenes to make … events happen for the community is incredible, and I truly think she must be recognized. Erie is so lucky to have her."
Zacks-Jordan, who grew up on a farm in the Erie area, attended Collegiate Academy and is a triple-degree holder, with a J.D from Stetson University College of Law, an M.Ed. from Penn State University, and a B.A. from Skidmore College.
She appreciates "the balance between living in a reasonably sized city, and still being able to enjoy the natural beauty and open rural space of our Great Lakes region." But she recognizes the challenges facing in Erie. "Right now, with my work in the criminal justice system alongside my identity as a peacemaker, I'm interested in exploring the potential for more intersectionality in the approach to resolving problems," Zacks-Jordan said.
She emphasized, "Establishing shared understanding and perspective is possible in even the most contentious conflicts."
Erie is indeed so lucky to have this mediator, musician, dancer, and attorney on our side. — CS
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of us began to learn new words and phrases used to explain the rapidly evolving world around us. Among them: "frontline workers" — and Brian Zona embodies the dedication, compassion, and care associated with the best, both before and during the pandemic, his nominators said of his role as an assistant with L'Arche Erie.
"Since the pandemic [started], instead of backing off, Brian stepped up and probably doubled his workload without hesitation," one nominator wrote. That included working with folks who'd contracted the virus but still needed hands-on care.
This Edinboro University grad, who earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and is working on a master's degree in communication, is not only stepping up, but is stepping into new roles. At the Barber National Institute, he'll take on the position of forensic blended case manager, working with both adults and youth as an advocate and to arrange services — all the while remaining with L'Arche as a part-time relief assistant.
His care for his community extends beyond the working day, as he's coached in the Special Olympics and worked additional hours during the summer at various camps. As a graduate of the Jefferson Educational Society's Civic Leadership Academy in 2019, this Cathedral Prep alum went on to become a JES Raimy Fellow in 2021.
When he's not at L'Arche caring for others, you can find Brian spending time with his family and his dog, Rudy — named after the famed Notre Dame Golden Domer Rudy, as Brian's an avid fan of the Fighting Irish. He also enjoys traveling the world, exercising, and gardening. — BS