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Whether it's in the arts or business, technology or community development, young adults are making the Crescent City a better place to live and work. Every year (with the exception of an interruption following Hurricane Katrina in 2005), Gambit solicits nominations from the public, then honors 40 people under the age of 40 for their accomplishments — and the contributions they have made to New Orleans.

Welcome to our 13th annual 40 Under 40.

Erica Adams, 34
Amy Henry Centola, 30
Founders and Co-owners, Two Sprouts
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Sweetly hand-drawn streetcars, pelicans, shotgun houses and Rex floats (among other New Orleans images ranging from iconic to arcane) populate the borders of Two Sprouts stationery.

"We do a lot for New Orleans people who live away," says Amy Henry Centola, who co-founded Two Sprouts with Erica Adams in October 2005. "We did (a birthday card with) a little king cake with a candle in it for a family in Texas. All of our stuff is subtle."

"Sometimes we get overly conceptual," Adams adds.

The concept behind Two Sprouts — New Orleans-centric note cards printed and sourced locally — resonates with customers. The business has expanded to include a children's apparel line and custom invitations. Two Sprouts' products can be found in 20 stores throughout the city, and the women have plans to expand.

"We keep everything local," Adams says. "We're excited about all the donations we've been able to make."

Centola and Adams, both New Orleans natives, recently donated $7,500 generated from the sales of a special T-shirt to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Proceeds from another card benefitted Friends of City Park.

"I remember feeding ducks at the park with my parents, and now I bring my daughters," Centola says. "We want to give back to the city that did so much for us." — Wilkinson

 

Mullady Voelker Alford, 29
Founder, Gifted Nurses Home Care
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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New Orleans native Mullady Voelker Alford has found a way to combine her two passions — business and helping people — with a company she believes is on the cutting edge of health care. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Alford worked for a local investment firm before Hurricane Katrina prompted her to change her focus from helping businesses improve their bottom lines to helping children traumatized by the storm. She earned a master's degree in social work from Tulane and counseled kids who had experienced deaths of loved ones, violence or other losses.

"I loved that, but I found I really missed the business side of working," she says. Alford joined Gifted Nurses, which provides supplementary nurse staffing for hospitals, but she missed helping people. Four months ago, Alford combined the best of both worlds by founding a Gifted Nurses home-care division, which provides in-home care for the elderly and families juggling the responsibilities of full-time jobs and caring for children and aging parents.

"People have more options in private care," Alford says. "They get to dictate the options they want. We know the elderly population is growing and ... people want to stay in their homes as long as possible. We want to help them do that." — Graves

 

Neal Bodenheimer, 33
Matthew Kohnke, 34
Co-owners, Cure
Photo by Gary LoVerde

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As any doctor knows, the difference between a cure and a poison is the dose. Matthew Kohnke and Neal Bodenheimer, co-owners of Cure, originally planned to name the craft cocktail lounge Apothecary, a nod to the original palliative purpose of cocktails and their intent to revitalize a faded city corridor.

"It was a tough neighborhood," Bodenheimer says. "We endured two break-ins (during the renovation process) where tools were stolen. We wondered if it was teetering on the verge of improvement or returning to its old form."

The decision to renovate a dilapidated 1903 fire station was born of equal parts practicality ("It was a shoestring budget," Bodenheimer says) and passion. Friends since their pre-school days at the Jewish Community Center, the duo wanted to be part of the rebuilding efforts and made the risky decision to open a sleek, upscale bar in a neighborhood that, at the time, had "nothing at night other than Friar Tuck's," Bodenheimer says.

"We were curing a building and the neighborhood," Bodenheimer says. "We were trying to do something more ambitious than opening a bar."

Cure's custom cocktails, kaleidoscopically complex intersections of local, seasonal ingredients and made-from-scratch tinctures and bitters, garnered glowing mentions in GQ, Food & Wine, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. In addition to serving as a cornerstone in Freret Street's redevelopment, the bar also is socially active, holding a coat drive last January, donating proceeds from cocktail sales to the Red Cross last March and hosting the "It Gets Better" anti-bullying project last month.

"Gathering places can be either constructive or destructive to people's lives, and we wanted to do a very constructive space," Kohnke says. "We know it's a bar, but we still want to do better." — Wilkinson

 

Vanessa Brown, 39
Jeff Louviere, 38
Visual Artists, Louviere + Vanessa
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Photographer Vanessa Brown came home one day to see her negatives lying in the sink along with some Comet and steel wool, which husband Jeff Louviere had used to distress and alter them, much the way he scratched copper plates to make intaglio prints. She wasn't happy at first.

"I almost freaked out," she says.

Though that might not seem like the most harmonious juncture in an artistic partnership or marriage, it was a pivotal moment for the duo, opening up a world of experimentation with processes and materials, and forged a rare collaborative approach to making photography-based art. Previously, their arrangement had Louviere acting as art director, setting up scenes to shoot, and Brown taking still shots. Now they combine old and new processes and equipment, from cheap Holga cameras to Photoshop manipulations to printing using arcane processes and rare papers.

"We're both very passionate about what we do," Brown says. "We both have ideas. We're not the same. There would be no point in collaborating if we were."

Shows like their 2005 Slumberland series featured images of mythical and horrific human and animal figures that seemed both ancient and modern primitive in ethereal black-and-white images that simultaneously appear antique and timeless. In a more recent project, they created the first film made entirely with still images from Holgas.

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Brown studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology and in 1995 moved to Georgia, where she met Louviere, a New Orleans native who was pursuing a master's degree in graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. They settled in New Orleans in 1998 and have made the transition to full-time collaborating artists. They are represented locally by A Gallery For Fine Photography and have work in the George Eastman House, the Odgen Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art and other museums and private collections nationally. Their work also appears in international exhibitions and film festivals. — Coviello

 

Cassi Dymond, 32
Peter Dymond, 32
Co-owners, Satsuma Cafe
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Though some chefs take a conceptual approach to their menus, Cassi and Peter Dymond, co-owners of Satsuma Cafe, craft their menu from the ground up — literally.

"Peter will say, 'I have some mizuna coming,' and so we'll develop menu items around it," Cassi says. "Our mission is to source as much locally grown produce as possible, even down to things like honey and lettuce and all the vegetables."

By relying on seasonal, locally grown produce at their Bywater cafe and coffee shop, the Dymonds support Louisiana farmers and community gardening programs like the one at Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower 9th Ward. The ever-shifting menu (current offerings include ciabatta sandwiches, quinoa salad, tomato basil soup and pumpkin pancakes), fresh-squeezed juices and made-from-scratch pesto, mayonnaise and dressings reflects a culinary ethos as much as the agricultural terrain of Louisiana.

"If you buy locally, you are supporting (Louisiana) farmers. It might be a dollar more a pound, but that dollar is going directly to where you live," Cassi says.

The Dymonds, both of whom came from fine-dining backgrounds, sought to fill a hole in the New Orleans dining scene: "We felt New Orleans had been longing for somewhere to get good, fresh local produce at affordable prices," Peter says.

Garnering shout-outs from R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and mentions in The New York Times, Satsuma has expanded its staff from three to 15 since opening in August 2009, although the food is still prepared in a tiny, 150-square-foot kitchen.

"We have no stove or anything. It's all plug-in appliances," says Peter, who wants to expand the cafe to several locations and create a service connecting farmers with chefs who want to serve their produce. "I would hope we would be a start of a movement." — Wilkinson

 

Kristen Evans, 37
Executive Director, New Orleans Fringe Festival
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Kristen Evans has always been attracted to building things from the ground up — whether it's a graphic design company in Atlanta, sustainable forests in Bolivia or a local theater festival in New Orleans.

"I think it's because I'm unemployable," Evans says. "No one would hire me, so I hired myself."

Evans' realization was the catalyst behind founding Blink Interactive in Atlanta in 1996, and her entrepreneurial sprit has remained strong.

"Once you do that sort of project, it gets under your skin," she says. "You learn so many things ... that it's hard to imagine a job that's even a little more circumscribed in what you do. Once the entrepreneur bug bites you, you're kind of unemployable."

After working with indigenous communities in Bolivia with the Peace Corps, Evans decided to move to New Orleans. ("Everything I owned fit into a shoe box, so I was at a point in my life where I could pick anywhere to live," she says.) Tapping into her longtime interest in theater, Evans helped create the Backyard Ballroom performance space and, eventually, the New Orleans Fringe Festival. It has become an annual event featuring more than 100 shows at alternative and traditional venues around the city.

As this year's Fringe Festival approaches, Evans, who is working on a master's degree in sustainable tropical forest management at Tulane's Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies, can be proud of what she's cultivated.

"People outside of New Orleans who are performing see this city as an exciting place to do theater," she says. — LaBorde

 

Tony Felix, 15
Entertainer
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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When he was 7 years old, Tony Felix and his mother were just looking for a summer camp activity when they considered a program at the Anthony Bean Community Theater. Felix chose to rap for the audition. Now, at 15, he's looking for a way to juggle both singing and acting as a professional entertainer.

"At the theater, all I was doing was rapping," Felix says. "So they worked on getting my stage presence out."

Many years later, Felix starred in the musical 504, which Anthony Bean took to Shreveport, Lafayette, Biloxi, Miss., and other cities, and it helped Felix gain exposure.

Felix spent last summer in Atlanta recording three songs, which are getting airtime on regional radio. The track "It's Eazy" has climbed regional charts, and songs from the summer recording sessions can be heard on New Orleans stations 102.9 FM and Q93.

Besides numerous stage credits at the Anthony Bean theater, Felix performed with Wendell Pierce in the Classical Theatre of Harlem's post-Katrina production of Waiting for Godot. He's landed roles in FOX's K-Ville and in films shot in New Orleans, including Labou and Hungry Rabbit Jumps.

Felix is currently a sophomore at St. Augustine High School, and sometimes he telecommutes to class while performing in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and elsewhere. — Coviello

 

Mickey Hanning, 38
Founder, San Fermin in Nueva Orleans
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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After attending the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, Mickey Hanning became fascinated with Ernest Hemingway and Spanish culture. He and his friends planned San Fermin in Neuva Orleans for 2007, hoping a few mutual friends might join.

The event has grown into a three-day festival with more than 8,000 runners. The run, which features horn- and bat-brandishing Big Easy Rollergirls instead of live bulls, occurs in July. As Facebook groups and word of mouth spread, the need for larger venues and more events grew.

People who came into town just for the event wanted more, so Hanning and his team created a tapas party Friday night, a concert on Saturday and a Hemingway-inspired contest on Sunday.

"Any reason in New Orleans for people to get dressed up, get up early and drink and have a good time is what New Orleans is all about," Hanning says. He and his fellow Los Pastores plan the events at night, after their day jobs. Hanning is an account manager for Wines Unlimited, whose Spanish wine was the event's first sponsor. Any funds left after event expenses are paid are donated to charities including Animal Rescue New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's Save Our Coast initiative. — Carroll

 

Kyle Johnston, 31
Attorney, Globalstar
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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As a corporate associate at Fenwick & West in Silicon Valley, Calif., Louisiana native Kyle Johnston had the rare opportunity to represent such companies as Facebook and Silver Spring Networks. Yet, when he saw a tweet regarding the decision by Globalstar, a publicly-traded satellite communications company, to relocate from Silicon Valley to Covington, Johnston contacted the company and within a week accepted an offer to serve as assistant general counsel (the No. 2 legal position in the company).

"[Globalstar] still feels like a scrappy startup, and I'm viewed more as an entrepreneur who knows about the law rather than as just another lawyer," he says.

Returning home has provided him with more opportunities for community involvement, something he started as a student at Tulane. As a law student, he participated in a public forum in Algiers sponsored by Deloitte & Touche, where he observed anger and outrage over the lack of local opportunities for the younger members of the community. Johnston, who spent part of his childhood in Algiers, made it his mission to work with several students at Algiers Technology Academy (ATA). He raised enough money to send 12 students to Silicon Valley to meet with companies such as Facebook, Google and DreamWorks. Johnston also was instrumental in helping ATA receive a state-of-the-art computer lab.

Most people do not think of New Orleans as "Little Silicon Valley," but to Johnston the comparison is apt.

"It's becoming a little technology hub here. There's a cultural shift. People are starting to build their startups here instead of fleeing the state." — Pitts

 

Dr. Tarun Jolly, 35
Founder and CEO, Southern Pain Relief

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Pain management specialist Dr. Tarun Jolly hit the ground running after graduating from LSU's School of Medicine and completing an internship at Tulane Hospital and a post-doctoral pain management fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Shortly after joining Ochsner Hospital in 2006, he became one of the youngest directors in the hospital's history and founded Ochsner's first surgery center for pain management. In February he left Ochsner to start a private practice, Southern Pain Relief. He already has opened two locations and plans to further expand his business.

Jolly's specialty is treating patients who have undergone surgeries that failed to alleviate their chronic pain. "I use a combination of medications and interventions, including minimally invasive therapies," he says. "There are over 200 interventions I can do. The focus is to mask enough of the pain so they can enjoy their life."

He also educates other doctors about innovative pain therapies, delivering lectures around the country, and has been featured on the ABC network's website for pain management. One of his goals is to dispel the stigma surrounding pain patients as well as the doctors who treat them. "For me, it's always been about education," he says. "Not every pain doctor is a drug dealer, and not every pain patient is looking for drugs," he says. "Some of these patients expect a cure. A patient who comes into my office is just looking for hope." — Graves

 

Jerome Jupiter, 39
Director of Education Services, Youth Empowerment Project
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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After a chaotic morning spent preparing his five sons and daughters for their school day, Jerome Jupiter arrives at the Tulane Tower Learning Center to help prepare more young adults for a successful future in the workforce.

As director of education services for the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), he heads New Orleans Providing Literacy to All Youth (NOPLAY), a nonprofit program that helps local youth 16 to 24 years old gain literary proficiency, develop career skills and earn their GEDs. The program serves young people who were unsuccessful in the classroom because of challenges such as unstable homes or incarceration.

"For many of these students, survival is their top priority," Jupiter says. "It is difficult for them to prioritize education when they do not know when their next meal is going to come. It became my vocation to help these vulnerable kids succeed."

Under his leadership, NOPLAY has doubled the number of people it serves from 300 to 600 and has cultivated more than 20 new community partnerships, expanding the program's supportive services to new levels.

"It is definitely a labor of love," Jupiter says. "We're like family. It's fulfilling to actually be a part of helping individuals overcome their barriers." — Ribera

 

Julius Earl Kimbrough Jr., 39
Vice President, Liberty Bank and Trust
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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When Julius Earl Kimbrough Jr. joined Liberty Bank and Trust as its vice president, he turned the bank — and himself — into vital community linchpins.

"We began thinking of ourselves as a community development organization," he says. For seven years, Kimbrough has helped find funding sources for "otherwise not credit-worthy recipients" and spearheaded a home improvement loan program to help Gentilly residents rebuild following the 2005 levee failures. He also was instrumental in Goodwill reopening its New Orleans location at Tulane Avenue and Jefferson Davis Parkway, as well as a daycare center near the former Desire housing projects. "It's a challenge, but it's a great opportunity to touch a lot of lives," Kimbrough says.

He also serves on the boards of the New Orleans Institute of Mental Hygiene, where he helps find grants to build childcare centers and fund mental health and wellness programs; and the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative, where he helped develop affordable housing and community resources near the former C.J. Peete housing projects.

Kimbrough graduated from Hampton University, where he studied history, economics and political science. He dabbled in investment banking before returning home to New Orleans.

"There's not always a straightforward (plan) for everyone to do what they want to do where they live, especially in New Orleans," he says, but Kimbrough counts himself lucky to do so. — Woodward

 

Coretta Grant LaGarde, 29
Community Services Coordinator, New Orleans Council on Aging
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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People always tell Coretta Grant LaGarde she is an old soul. As the community services coordinator for the New Orleans Council on Aging, she has a knack for communicating with older adults.

"I lived with my grandmother growing up, and it allowed me to see I can get a lot of wisdom from older adults," she says.

LaGarde writes grants, raises funds, plans events and represents the council, but her favorite activities bring her directly to the people she is working to help. During Older Americans Month in May, LaGarde hosts Senior Fest to showcase talents and honor older adults.

"I love seeing them come out and sharing with one another," she says.

LaGarde also participates in local organizations. She does fundraising for Meals on Wheels, which provides food to homebound older adults; coordinates programs and raises funds for the New Orleans Regional AIDS Planning Council, representing older adults with HIV; and is a board member of Family Services of Greater New Orleans, which provides services to children, teens and adults.

While LaGarde sometimes wants to rush home to be with her 4-month-old daughter, she understands the importance of her position. "The saying I live by is 'Be your best self,'" she says. "It has allowed me to be successful in my career, volunteerism and personal life." — Carroll

 

Loretta Lambert, 36
Director of Veterinary Services, Louisiana/SPCA
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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When Loretta Lambert returned home to New Orleans in 2003, she was looking for a volunteer opportunity and landed at the Louisiana/SPCA, but "that role changed over time," she says. Jumping from animal cruelty investigator to a heroic first responder following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, Lambert now heads the organization's veterinary services programs and helped relaunch its low-cost community veterinary clinic this year.

"It's a big step in the health and wellness of the animals in the community," she says. The clinic covers Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes and offers preventative health care, spaying and neutering, vaccinations and education about how pet owners should care for their companions.

Her work with the SPCA's emergency response helped pass the national PETS Act, which ensures local and state disaster response addresses households with pets. This year, Lambert and the SPCA also assisted the Gulf Coast Companion Animal Relief Program, which raises funds for pet owners affected by the Gulf oil disaster. It has helped more than 300 families with spaying/neutering, vaccinations and other needs for their pets. "Animals are part of the community," she says.

Lambert attributes her success to the SPCA's supportive and talented staff of veterinarians and vet techs. "My nomination is a reflection of their success," she says. — Woodward

 

Austin Lavin, 26
Marketing Manager, Federated Sample
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Because of the recession, many New Orleanians are familiar with Austin Lavin's work. He moved to the Crescent City from Pennsylvania in 2009 to help run the online job board WorkNOLA, a daily stop for many job hunters. The concept of an online job board isn't new, but Lavin says the support and word-of-mouth fuel have made it thrive.

"It's only successful because so many members of the community have bought into it, letting them seek ownership of the job board," he says "Our technology is not particularly innovative, but what's really great is we found a community of people in New Orleans who need this kind of resource."

Lavin also is very involved with helping people new to the city adjust. Besides his work with WorkNOLA, he sits on the newcomers committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and is co-chairman of the Jewish Community Center's Young Jews of the Crescent City program. In both roles, Lavin points new residents and young people toward social and professional resources.

Most recently, Lavin started working with Federated Sample, a start-up company that creates online data collection technologies. He also hosted a local "It Gets Better" event, where attendees filmed videos for the anti-bullying project started by columnist Dan Savage.

"It's a great community," Lavin says of the city. "People always say the people here are welcoming, but it's really true. Having lived in other places, you really appreciate how much people appreciate you being here." — LaBorde

 

Sasha Masakowski, 24
Singer
Photo by Gary LoVerde

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Sasha Masakowski grew up in a musical family that includes her father, guitar virtuoso Steve, and mother Ulrike, a pianist — so singing has always been an "instinct," she says. "One of my dreams as a little girl was to be a backup singer for Antonio Carlos Jobim," she says. "That was my dream job — either [Jobim] or Pavarotti."

Masakowski has immersed herself in an acclaimed, dynamic range of Brazilian and traditional jazz, lending her airy, soulful vocals to jazz ensembles Musical Playground and Sidewalk Strutters and progressive pop outfit Bionica. A graduate of both the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and University of New Orleans, Masakowski also studied at the Netherlands' prestigious Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. But singing struck a chord while the musician was growing up in choirs and the New Orleans Children's Chorus. "Since then I've been fascinated by the voice and voice as instrument," she says.

She anticipates a spring release for an album with Musical Playground and hopes to hit the studio with Bionica in the coming months. "The key to my musical happiness and to keep myself going is just surrounding myself with really incredible musicians," she says. "If you constantly put yourself in a position working with people who are on a high level intellectually and musically, you're constantly being inspired." — Woodward

 

Mike Miller, 31
Shamus Rohn, 29
Founders, UNITY of Greater New Orleans' Abandoned Building Outreach Team
Photo by Gary LoVerde

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Mike Miller and Shamus Rohn spend nights searching through dark, abandoned buildings that often are crumbling or mold-infested. They look for what they call "signs of life," but what — or who — they find is often barely living. They discover homeless people with debilitating mental and physical diseases, anything from tuberculosis to syphilis so advanced it has attacked their brain, and "an entire range of physical things that you would expect that once you've been diagnosed with it, the hospital finds a place for you to go and takes care of you," Rohn says. "But they're turning up in buildings."

Miller and Rohn head UNITY of Greater New Orleans' Abandoned Building Outreach team, which they started in 2008. They search the city's estimated 55,000 abandoned buildings for homeless inhabitants, and then attempt to connect them with health and housing services. The people they encounter are often the "sickest of the sick," but Miller and Rohn work to get them into stable housing.

Miller is from Chicago, and Rohn is from Michigan; both moved to New Orleans for different reasons and ended up staying. Miller has a master's degree in social work and Rohn has master's in political science. Although the men work "weird hours," as Miller says, often canvassing a neighborhood until 2 a.m., they make time for activities such as playing in a kickball league, hotly debating Gambit's Top 50 Bars list and enjoying everything else New Orleans offers.

"It's New Orleans, man," Miller says. "You can't have just one hobby in New Orleans." — LaBorde

 

Neal Morris, 38
Founder, Redmellon Restoration and Development
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Real estate developer Neal Morris uses his expertise to fight blight in New Orleans, turning dilapidated and adjudicated properties into affordable housing for mostly low- to moderate-income and elderly residents. Since founding Redmellon Restoration and Development in 2000, he has renovated or built more than 400 affordable housing units, mostly single- and double-family houses. He believes one way to revive New Orleans is by supplying housing and repopulating the city's neighborhoods.

"I'm an urbanist," Morris says. "I think density is the key to sustainability. Those who live in the most dense places actually consume the least fossil fuels. The key for us in New Orleans is to fill in the historic density we already have."

Morris moved to New Orleans from Augusta, Ga., in 1991 to attend Tulane University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history, a master of business administration and a law degree. In 2006, the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency awarded Redmellon the Innovation in Housing Award, and in 2009, Morris was one of only 10 professionals to be named a Loeb Fellow at Harvard, where he taught classes and studied design, public policy and law relating to the low-income housing industry.

He currently is renovating 47 housing units and is developing a 50-unit pilot home ownership project in which Redmellon will renovate doubles and place a tenant in one side before selling the buildings to first-time homeowners.

Morris says he doesn't develop only lower-priced housing, but shifted his focus to single- and two-family houses because "I think that's what is needed in New Orleans now. I like being part of the rehabilitation of the city." — Graves

 

Lavonzell Nicholson, 34
Founder/President, PlayNOLA
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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After working for area nonprofits Each One Save One and Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Lavonzell Nicholson got an opportunity to start a business of her own. She entered the 2009 Idea Village Entrepreneur Challenge, a national business plan competition, with her proposal for PlayNOLA, a sports and social club in New Orleans.

"Having been to a couple of different places and having been an athlete, I noticed that it can be difficult for people to meet each other in the city," she says. "Sports are a neutralizing factor." Now, there are 1,000 participants in PlayNOLA events, from kickball leagues to rooftop parties to boot camps.

Nicholson started out doing everything for PlayNOLA, but she now has a staff of two league coordinators and 10 referees. "People look at our website or look at us and think we are some major thing that has been around," she says. "The three of us make it all go."

Nicholson returned to New Orleans from Maryland after Hurricane Katrina to be part of rebuilding the city. She noticed an increase in the popularity of recreational activities in the city and hopes PlayNOLA leads people to new ways to meet others and stay healthy. — Carroll

 

G. Travis Norvell, 36
Pastor, St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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It isn't uncommon for Pastor G. Travis Norvell to quote The Simpsons and The New Yorker in the same sermon at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church.

"I love Johnny Cash and jazz music, so I'm trying to fuse those two in [future] sermons," he says.

Norvell and his family moved to Louisiana from Providence, R.I., finally living out a decades-long fascination with New Orleans after a discussion with a theology professor at the New Orleans Baptist seminary filled him stories about the magic and mystique of the city. "I would always tell my wife, 'We've got to get down there,'" he says.

Originally from West Virginia, Norvell has served various churches in his home state, New York and Rhode Island. He describes his approach as based in a historic Baptist thought, a stance he took when he wrote an editorial in The Times-Picayune discussing the controversy over building a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City in the context of freedom of expression. Norvell says that is the essence of New Orleans: "the idea that you can be yourself and nobody cares."

In addition to engaging his congregation with his popular sermons, Norvell started a weekly series discussing the creative spirit in New Orleans, and a Jewish-Christian group studying the parables of Jesus. Norvell is planning a jazz vespers program — free jazz concerts with a central spiritual component.

He says he would love for locals to recommend St. Charles Avenue Baptist to visitors asking what church they can visit that reflects the culture of New Orleans. — Pitts

 

Perryn Olson, 30
Senior Graphic Designer and Marketer, Design the Planet
Animal Handler and Educator, Audubon Zoo
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Graphic designer Perryn Olson can be found every Saturday handling alligators, owls and rats at the Audubon Zoo, where he volunteers as an animal handler and educator. But when he's not mingling with animals and visitors, he's leading an award-winning brand marketing and design firm.

A graduate of Loyola University's visual arts and graphic design program, Olson joined Design the Planet as an intern almost 10 years ago and has worked there since, now as its senior graphic designer. The firm's creative team designs logos, brochures and websites, handles advertising and brand marketing, and has earned numerous accolades for its cutting-edge work. "Every day is something new," he says. "You learn a lot about different industries and see sights you normally wouldn't see. It's cool to see a company that started out in a house that now has an office, or you hear a radio commercial or see a billboard for one of your clients."

Olson also is active with Boy Scouts, and he created the co-ed scouting group Venturing while in college. That love of the outdoors led him to the Audubon Zoo, where his experience as a scout leader made him a natural animal educator to visitors.

Olson also helped launch the New Orleans chapter of the referral business Corporate Connections, where he is vice president. — Woodward

 

Chet Pourciau, 38
Owner, Chet Pourciau Design
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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It's easy to imagine Chet Pourciau — dapper, friendly, down-to-earth — as the host of a design show on cable TV. A self-described "Cajun boy" who grew up in New Iberia and majored in communications at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Pourciau moved to New Orleans in 1995 to study interior design at Delgado Community College. Today he owns his own company, Chet Pourciau Design on Magazine Street, and has a weekly segment on the Fox 8 Morning News as a rebuilding expert. He'll soon debut his own TV show on WLAE-TV, where he'll dispense advice and answer viewer questions.

In his spare time, Pourciau sits on the board of the New Orleans Recreation Department and is a member of the NO/AIDS Task Force. He's also active with the Forum for Equality and HIV/AIDS hospices.

"I'm trying to go national and take my career to the next level, but New Orleans is always going to be my home. I'm all about giving back, and I don't want to seem unapproachable," says Pourciau, adding that he's inspired by the dual acting/designing career of fellow Magazine Street business owner Bryan Batt. "I make sure people know good things come out of New Orleans." — Allman

 

Joshua Rubenstein, 38
Attorney; President, Jewish Family Services
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Joshua Rubenstein realized it was time for a career change when his plane landed at the Atlanta airport and he knew by heart all the restaurants and fast food places in Concourse B.

"I was spending too much time away from New Orleans," he says.

As an attorney for a multi-state law firm, the New Orleans native took on a lot of casework and depositions, which required him to travel over all the country. As he observed the momentum and energy in his post-Katrina hometown, he was inspired to become more engaged with the community.

Rubenstein left his job representing companies with asbestos liability to join Scheuermann & Jones, where he now performs work for plaintiffs. He also became involved with the Jewish Family Services, a social service agency he didn't know much about despite growing up in the city's active Jewish community. Always on the forefront of Rubenstein's agenda is closing the gap in services being provided to the city's diverse population.

"New Orleans needs to find a way to include everybody," he says.

Rubenstein is working to create a bank dedicated to the needs of the city's growing Latino population, and a concierge service for the elderly who prefer an independent life but are not as mobile as they'd like to be.

Rubenstein also is on the board of J-Grad, an organization dedicated to keeping students in the New Orleans area after they graduate and attracting more Jewish professionals to the city. "The Jewish community is very much a part of the fabric of New Orleans," he says. — Pitts

 

Salvador Scaccia, 31
Pharmacist, Founder of Total Life Care Pharmacy
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Many people depend on a pharmacist to count out the right number of pills and facilitate insurance payments for medications prescribed by physicians. Salvador Scaccia, however, wanted to do more for patients, so in May 2008, he founded Total Life Care Pharmacy, integrating the services of an old-time apothecary with the innovations of modern-day medicine.

It is a winning concept, and in two years he has increased his staff from two to 22 employees and serves Louisiana and 12 other states.

"The ideals and morals we operate on are based on how things used to be," he says. "We have no automated phone system; we have live people to answer the phone and are able to help you. [My employees] are knowledgeable about the medications a patient is on and the conditions they are dealing with — not just general information."

The pharmacy serves customers with simple needs but specializes in patients with complex, chronic medical problems such as cancer, HIV, hepatitis and those who have undergone organ transplants. "Ours are the patients most people shy away from," Scaccia says. "They require more attention and someone who follows them every month ... and if new therapies arise, we can help them [access those]."

The pharmacy, which serves 150 to 200 patients a month, helps patients navigate changes in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance and advocates for patients when insurance carriers balk at prescribed treatments.

"I think it's the direction that pharmacy should go in," he says. "What we do here is not just dispense medication and charge insurance. You get a higher level of service."

Scaccia has been president of the Greater New Orleans Pharmacy Association for seven years, is on the board of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, works with Cancer Crusaders to raise research funding for Louisiana State University and Tulane, and is active in the youth ministry of the Archidocese of New Orleans. — Graves

 

Neel Sus, 33
CEO of Susco Solutions and Touch Studios
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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With a touch of a finger or two, potential high school football recruits can have unprecedented access to the purple and gold, thanks to the Miles Method, a free iPad application created by CEO of Touch Studios Neel Sus and Jameson Quave.

Sus and Quave created Miles Method after LSU football coach Les Miles approached Sus about technological ways to connect with prospective student-athletes.

Released on Sept. 16, the Miles Method is the first of its kind, providing highlight videos, Twitter and Facebook posts from Miles and guided tours of LSU.

Realizing a budding entrepreneurial spirit, Sus left his engineering job at Northrop Grumman in 2005 to start Susco Solutions, a custom software development company that has grown from a one-man operation to employing multiple programmers. Grateful for the entrepreneurial community that has believed in him, Sus has channeled his energy to help other entrepreneurs through his participation in many local organizations including Louisiana Technology Council and the city's chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organization Accelerator Program. He is a founding member of Net2NO (Net Squared New Orleans).

"I cannot imagine who I would be as a person if I was not doing this," he says. "I've never been so happy as I am now." — Pitts

 

Charlotte Synigal, 38
Detective, Kenner Police Department
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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When Det. Charlotte Synigal quit nursing school in 1994 to join the Kenner Police Department, she encountered resistance from her mother, pastor and coworkers.

"I did it as a dare," she says. "I really did it because [my coworker] said, 'You better not.'"

The Kenner native was elected Officer of the Year by the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police after her meticulous work as lead detective on a homicide investigation uncovered a loosely knit gang of 16 men dealing in stolen weapons and narcotics.

"We ended up with five narcotics arrests. Some are doing time now," Synigal says. "It was really a team effort, everybody going through everything tooth and nail."

The detective recently completed a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and plans to earn a master's degree in education. "At some point, I would love to try my hand at teaching," she says.

Synigal credits her compassion and faith for her ability to stay grounded in a job that exposes the worst — and best — of human nature. "So many different things can lead a person to make a decision that may not be the best thing for them," she says. "It is not my job to judge them. It is just my job to make sure that I catch them." — Wilkinson

 

Nikki Demetria Thanos, 32
Fellow at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Nikki Demetria Thanos recently completed an intense three years at Loyola University School of Law, but she's not taking a break.

"Now the real work begins," she says. "There are ideas that have been gestating inside me and some of my colleagues, and now is the time we can put them in full throttle."

Long before she was sworn in to the Louisiana State Bar Association on Oct. 21, Thanos was hard at work with social justice organizations on and off Loyola's campus, around the country and internationally. She moved to New Orleans in 1996 to study environmental policy at Tulane University, which led to human rights work in Latin America. While at Loyola law school, she worked with and founded organizations focusing on issues ranging from fair housing to immigration, and also authored A Handbook for Social Justice Activists Thinking About Law School, a guide for law students interested in public interest work.

"Law is a funny field," she says. "It traditionally has become sort of a niche profession. In the kind of lawyering I do, I have accountability to one person — the client — but also to a much broader group of people."

In her spare time, Thanos contributes to building sustainable food systems in the city by running a community garden in Mid-City. She says New Orleans is a perfect fit for her.

"The importance of what I call 'front-porch organizing' is much more a part of the way things happen here," she says. "I can't do my work well unless I'm out in the community and talking to folks and sharing life." — LaBorde

 

Dr. Ryan Thibodaux, 36
Dentist, Trumpeter with Bucktown All-Stars
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Dr. Ryan Thibodaux splits his time between blowing the horn, riding bikes and pulling teeth. One of the original members of the Bucktown All-Stars, Thibodaux integrates his passion for playing the trumpet and bike riding into his dental practice. His business' logo features a second line with a tooth-decorated drum and his office is musically themed. He disregarded the advice of his professors to keep everything professional. "We are in New Orleans. People want to connect with you as more than a dentist," he says.

Thibodaux always balanced school with music, playing gigs in New Orleans before rushing back to Louisiana State University for band practice. "I kept saying one day I would let the music go, but it became a second career," he says. Just as he started dental school, the Bucktown All-Stars picked up momentum and now is a popular rhythm and blues cover band.

Between gigs, his trumpet does not stay locked up. Thibodaux plays the national anthem and rides at LIVESTRONG events around the country. For his next race in Austin, Texas, Thibodaux already raised more than $10,000. "I really believe in the power and ability to create the life you want," Thibodaux explains. "You have to deeply think about what makes you happy." — Carroll

 

Lauren Thom, 29
Owner, Fleurty Girl
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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When the NFL tried to shut down the Who Dat Nation, Lauren Thom took a stand. Owner of Fleurty Girl, a T-shirt line inspired by New Orleans, Thom received a notice to stop selling her "Who Dat" shirts — but she didn't.

"I felt like the voice of the people," explains Thom, who says the controversy actually helped her business. "It made the phrase and local products more desirable."

Last summer, Thom used an income tax refund to start Fleurty Girl. Instead of paying the mortgage or taking a vacation with her three children, the single mom created simple T-shirts geared toward women. Her hobby became a full-fledged business after she sold out of the shirts she had made in just one month. Now, Thom owns two Fleurty Girl stores: the original location at 8611 Oak St. and a new store at 3117 Magazine St.

Thom designed a "Rescue Me" shirt after the oil spill to raise money for the Audubon Institute's Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program and a "NOLA > Hurricanes" shirt to raise money for Evacuteer.org.

"We don't pay a royalty on New Orleans culture, so we might as well find a way to give back," she says. — Carroll

 

Stephen Tremaine, 25
Director, Bard Early College
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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If Stephen Tremaine has his way, more students in the city will study The Decameron, a classic 14th-century text by Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Tremaine directs the Bard Early College program in New Orleans, where local juniors and seniors read classical texts and take writing-intensive courses as part of traditional liberal arts curriculum. Classes are held on high school campuses and taught by local college professors and people with advanced degrees. Students can earn college credits from Bard and/or transfer credits to other schools in addition to satisfying high school course requirements. The program enrolls 150 students a semester in 10 schools across the city including George Washington Carver, John McDonogh and Sojourner Truth Academy high schools.

"We don't make any compromise in academic quality even though the circumstances are dramatically different," he says.

Tremaine, a 2007 graduate of Bard and an alumnus of New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Bonnabel High School, realized the Crescent City was the perfect setting for extending Bard's distinguished education. Bard has a strong history of "reaching out to new students in new settings," he says, citing the Bard Prison initiative, which provides a Bard liberal arts degree to prisoners in New York State.

"I had access to this incredible education," he says. "I was aware that this wasn't as accessible as it needed to be."

According to Tremaine, 98 percent of New Orleans high school seniors who have completed a Bard Early College course have been accepted to college.

"Every day, I get to work with students who are incredibly intellectually curious, motivated, eager to be critically involved in course material," he says. "Hearing them rave about Socratic dialogue is a rare pleasure." — Pitts

 

Merritt Grace Van Meter, 18
Pole Vaulter
Photo by Romaguera Photography

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Merritt Grace Van Meter has learned to manage her time well because she doesn't have much of it. For five years, she hopped from school to school and house to house while coping with the death of her father. "It was a really hectic and rough time," says Van Meter, a freshman at the University of North Carolina. "I just took it out on the track."

This dedication paid off during her senior year at Metairie Park Country Day; she received the nation's best high school pole vault at 13 feet, 8.25 inches.

After trying other track events, Van Meter's coach suggested pole vaulting. She instantly loved the combination of gymnastics, speed, physics and athleticism, and soon dominated the sport, winning the National Pole Vault Summit, Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic and Class 1A girls state meet.

Off the track, Van Meter was on the honor roll, mentored younger students at Country Day, volunteered at an animal shelter and worked at the stable where she practiced rodeo. In college she is studying psychology and sports medicine while competing for the Tar Heels.

"I don't feel like I'm defined by my vaulting career, but more my outlook," she says. "It's about perseverance, not giving up, and not being distracted by negative things going on." — Carroll

 

Jennifer Walker, 34
Founder, New Orleans Baby Fest; Owner, Jackaroos Boutique
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Growing up in Labadieville, La., Jennifer Walker learned to sew at summer camp. Off and on for the next 15 years, she made little things for herself, her family and close friends. But it wasn't until she got married, had her first child Jack and quit her job as director of syndication for a home-improvement show to become a stay-at-home mom that she took sewing seriously.

"Lots of my friends were having babies, and then I had my own son, so I made stuff," she says.

Walker's interest in children's items grew when she took classes at a children's boutique in Mobile, Ala., where she lived at the time. Friends urged her to open her own boutique. She created Jackaroos Boutique, an online custom clothing store for children, after the birth of her second son and a move to Orlando, Fla. It was then that Walker realized the marketability of baby products. "People do and buy anything for their babies," she says.

She and her husband began talking about an expo to showcase baby products and services people didn't know about — all in one place. After they returned to New Orleans in August, their plans became more concrete.

Using her background in marketing and sales, Walker contacted potential sponsors, created media kits and searched for venues, often with her second son Beckett on her hip. After several months of hard work, Baby Fest premiered at the Pontchartrain Center on Oct. 2. Walker says she knew she was on to something when the doors opened and she saw a line of people wrapped around the building. More than 3,000 parents and their children attended the six-hour event. — Pitts

 

Wendy Waren, 33
Vice President of Communications, Louisiana Restaurant Association
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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Three days after the Gulf oil disaster, Wendy Waren's phone was ringing off the hook. As vice president of communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA), Waren fielded calls from concerned restaurant owners asking about the crabs and oysters they depend on, as well as international media inquiring about how the oil would affect one of New Orleans' most famous industries.

Waren, who grew up in LaPlace, is adept at handling tough situations. She recalls heart-wrenching moments when, as the sole staffer of Dillard University's communications department, she led reporters on tours of the damaged campus in the months following Hurricane Katrina. Before that, Waren oversaw various publications at the school, her first job after graduating from Tulane's School of Continuing Studies with a media arts degree. That degree shaped her experience as she saw her role shift from publications to public relations to crisis communication. Not everyone understands what her job entails.

"The biggest misconception people have [of my job] is that I'm a restaurant critic. I am not a food writer," she says, adding that the public also believes she receives perks from restaurants. "People think I eat out every day. They don't feed me for free."

Waren has developed a deep understanding of the restaurant owners and managers she represents. Her job requires her to be knowledgeable about political, cultural and financial trends that affect her constituents.

"Eighty percent of our restaurants are small businesses," and owners often juggle several roles, from cook to human resources to manager, she says. "You have to do it all."

Waren is involved in her Irish Channel neighborhood, participating in youth outreach and restoration projects. — Pitts

 

Kyle Wedberg, 37
President/CEO, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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When Kyle Wedberg first visited New Orleans to start City Year in 2005, he knew there was just something about the city.

"I spent a year not being able to shake it," he says. "My mind was here."

Wedberg took a position with the Recovery School District, which introduced him to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). "The building was built for the purpose of generating leaders in the cultural economy — a unique idea not only in New Orleans, but nationally," he says.

NOCCA is an arts training center with part-time programs that are free to any Louisiana high school student who passes an audition. As president and CEO of NOCCA, Wedberg strives to keep the faculty of working artists, despite state-mandated cuts. "It demystifies being an artist," he says. "It's really healthy for a 17-year-old to see what it is really like."

This year, NOCCA graduates received $12 million in scholarships to some of the nation's top arts schools.

Wedberg also serves on a number of city boards, using his administrative background to strengthen New Orleans. "I like being involved in the city, and I'll do whatever, as a citizen, I can do to help." — Carroll

 

Sharonda Williams, 38
Partner, Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert LLC
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

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At the end of her fourth year at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Sharonda Williams had to make decisions about her residency when she had an epiphany: She was not passionate about a career as an physician. Her then-husband was an attorney, and she thought his job didn't seem too difficult. Within three weeks, Williams took the LSAT, applied to Loyola Law in New Orleans and was offered a scholarship, which she could not turn down. Such is the go-getter attitude of Williams, a New Orleans native and Xavier University alumna.

After making the Law Review at Loyola and graduating summa cum laude, Williams worked at top intellectual property firm Kilpatrick Stockton in Atlanta, where she was active in a network of black female attorneys. When she moved back to New Orleans, Williams joined Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert law firm, practicing complex commercial litigation. Last year, she became the first African American to become a partner at the firm.

In addition to serving as past president of GNO Louis A. Martinet Legal Society and working on several pro bono cases, Williams was instrumental in bringing the 85th Annual National Bar Convention to New Orleans.

She also co-founded the Louisiana Association of Black Women Attorneys. Only a couple of months old, the organization already has a mentorship program for underprivileged young women in local high schools. Though proud of her accomplishments related to her legal career, Williams says it's her involvement in the community that is more meaningful "because it touches a wider span of people." — Pitts

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