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New Orleans is a city blessed with a wealth of innovators who use their skills to make the city a better place, whether through social programs, business, the arts or technology. Every year (except 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.

Here is our 14th annual 40 Under 40.

 

click to enlarge Henry Albert, 37
  • Henry Albert, 37
Henry Albert, 37
Owner, Rare Cuts

When foodie Henry Albert couldn't satisfy his craving for top-notch meat in New Orleans, he decided to take action and open a ranch-to-table retail outlet.

"It always frustrated me that I could never replicate the quality one can find at every restaurant on a retail level," Albert says.

He took an idea he'd had since college to fruition, founding Rare Cuts in 2009. The shop features specialty beef, lamb and poultry products. The majority of Rare Cuts' sales revenue comes from steaks: filets, rib-eyes and New York strips, he says.

Albert buys high-quality meat from ranches across the country. He personally visited these ranches to ensure they met his high standards in areas including breed selection, integration of animal behavior and knowledge of proper handling techniques.

This year, Albert won Idea Village's Entrepreneurial Challenge, a competitive six-month business development program.

"[Idea Village] is a spectacular resource for me," he says.

He worked with a business administration team from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and won the MBA challenge. This past summer, one of those students, Josh Wishnick, interned with Rare Cuts to implement the plan, which involved launching a website for nationwide sales and shipping of his products.

Rare Cuts is not typically a wholesaler, Albert says, but it does provide meat to restaurants that need special orders. In addition to serving as a retail outlet, Rare Cuts hosts one dinner party a night for two to 20 people. Those currently are booked about seven weeks in advance. — Marta Jewson

 

click to enlarge Sarah Baird, 23
  • Sarah Baird, 23

Sarah Baird, 23
Founder & CEO, TakeAShine

Social entrepreneurship is transforming the education industry in New Orleans, but when Kentucky native Sarah Baird moved to the city earlier this year to work as the communications director for the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, she realized a crucial need was not being met.

"I knew of several organizations that helped prepare students academically for college, but none that focused on bridging the funding gap," she says. "I saw this issue of not being able to afford college and the financial hurdles that really put it out of reach."

Baird responded by founding TakeAShine, a nonprofit that enables disadvantaged students to access college through "crowdfunding," (collecting donations through a crowd-sourced platform, often on the Internet). The response so far has been overwhelming. TakeAShine launched in September with a pilot class of five students whose college fundraising goal is $5,000 each. Baird says donors come from 20 states and four countries, and 45 more students have applied to be part of the platform when it goes citywide Feb. 1, 2012. She hopes to expand the program to three cities each year for the next three years.

Baird also is one of the 10 entrepreneurs in Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans' New Ventures Accelerator, an incubator that supports promising social startups, and she plans to keep her company's headquarters in New Orleans.

"I think New Orleans is one of the best places for social entrepreneurship and getting things off the ground," she says. "There's a fusion of education and innovation that's really unique." — Allison Good

 

click to enlarge Jeffrey S. Baron, 35
  • Jeffrey S. Baron, 35
Jeffrey S. Baron, 35
Social Entrepreneur/Restaurateur

Jeffrey Baron got a job in finance in New York City after graduating from Tulane University, but it wasn't long before New Orleans called him home. In 2002, Baron opened his first restaurant venture, the Dough Bowl, serving New York-style pizza to college students.

"I had always worked in restaurants, but didn't want to live in New York," Baron says. "I was born and raised in New Orleans and got right back into the restaurant business."

Following the success of The Dough Bowl, Baron teamed up with former Cuvee chef Bart Bell to open Huevos and later Crescent Pie and Sausage Company.

"Crescent Pie and Sausage was what Bart and I really wanted to do," Baron says. "Everything (served) is local, homegrown and made from scratch."

His most recent venture is Pizzicare Pizzeria, a restaurant specializing quality New York-style pizza. "This idea has always been in my head since I opened the Dough Bowl," Baron says. "It's quick, easy and clean. And the food is good. It's the first location of what I hope to be of many."

Baron tries to use his entrepreneurial success to benefit New Orleans. For example, to support NOLA Green Roots, a community-based garden that teaches low-income residents how to grow and prepare local foods, Pizzicare Pizzeria has a weekly pizza featuring NOLA Green Roots produce.

"All the produce on the pizza comes from the garden next door," Baron says. "I always have my eyes and ears open to cool different types of community involvement." — Marguerite Lucas

 

click to enlarge Alexis Berk, 38
  • Alexis Berk, 38

Alexis Berk, 38
Rabbi, Touro Synagogue

Good things have happened at Touro Synagogue since Rabbi Alexis Berk arrived, but she is quick to direct any praise for the development and success of these programs to her congregants.

"It's my role to give structure, power, strength and community energy to their efforts," Berk says of the social programs run by the synagogue. "Most of the wonderful forward-thinking ideas come from our congregants."

Berk studied at the University of California, San Diego and was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. She moved to New Orleans from Nashville, Tenn., in 2008.

Touro Synagogue works with partners in the community, sharing its kitchen with the Desmond Project, which feeds the hungry; holding Social Action Open Meetings to discuss community issues and supporting Second Harvest Food Bank. Touro also is developing a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & questioning program focusing on outreach, support, and advocacy. In 2009, Touro Synagogue partnered with Sophie B. Wright Charter School to share resources, which has been a mutually beneficial relationship, Berk says. All these programs illustrate how diverse community members can work together for the betterment of their neighborhood.

"I believe it is because of the almost contagious enthusiasm with which Rabbi Berk reaches out to each member of the community to support these social actions that they are so successful," says congregant George Dansker.

"Touro Synagogue is an extraordinary community," Berk says.

"I have great affection for the members, who we are individually and who we are collectively as well." — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Christopher Boudy, 28
  • Christopher Boudy, 28
Christopher Boudy, 28
Co-founder, New Orleans Tech

Christopher Boudy started New Orleans Tech with colleagues in 2009 with the goal of making it the city's one-stop hub of technology, providing local tech news and tech support-based community outreach.

"There's a lot going on in the city, especially for entrepreneurial start-ups, that people don't normally hear about," Boudy says. "Technology has really been booming in the city for the past three years."

Boudy took an interest in computers at age 7 and they became both his passion and his career.

"My favorite thing about technology is that it is a tool that you can use in education, in medical fields, in our personal lives," Boudy says.

He acknowledges, however, that many people are not as tech-savvy as he is and could use some guidance. Through his work as a digital coach with the Entergy Innovation Center and a mentor with LaunchPad Ignition, Boudy educates and mentors entrepreneurs on how to effectively use the Web while starting a company. During Teen Tech Day earlier this year, Boudy and New Orleans Tech helped teenagers find the tools they need to pursue their interests in computers, the Internet and other technologies.

"A lot of people are not tech people," Boudy says. "I have a gift of understanding technology and a gift for showing people and explaining technology. For me to focus on technology and spit it (back) out, I may be able to help someone's personal life." — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Brian Boyles, 36
  • Brian Boyles, 36
Brian Boyles, 36
Director, Louisiana Humanities Center

When Brian Boyles returned to New Orleans from New York and began working for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2007, he realized there was a lack of plans for the Louisiana Humanities Center.

"I was given a key and told I needed to learn how to use the equipment, we would need to rent [the center] out to nonprofits, and was given the task of converting VHS to DVDs," Boyle says.

The Tulane graduate says it wasn't until he discovered the treasure trove of film lying unwatched in the center that he decided the space could be a place to foster public dialogue. Wanting to reconnect New Orleans to its musicians, Boyles began by showing As Told By Themselves, an oral history featuring New Orleans brass bands. Motivated by a desire to provide citizens a better understanding of the past 50 years of the city's political history before the 2010 mayoral election, Boyles organized the New Orleans mayor sessions, a series of panel discussions with each panel examining the term of one New Orleans mayor.

"I wanted to convene as many different people as possible to talk about New Orleans and provide historical context on culture and current events in the city and where we might go," Boyles says. "I've always believed history has a potential to give us understanding."

Boyles also co-founded the People Say Project, where New Orleans artists from different generations discuss how they make a living in the city through their art.

"It's been really great for me to host a lot of events for nonprofits and community groups," Boyle says. "I've met a wide spectrum of people and I've gotten a great education." — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Kyle S. Brechtel, 31
  • Kyle S. Brechtel, 31
Kyle S. Brechtel, 31
Executive Managing Partner, Brechtel Ventures

Before he even graduated from college, Kyle Brechtel had signed an entrepreneurial agreement to open five McAlister's Deli locations, and that was just the beginning. Brechtel, who graduated from Louisiana State University in 2003 with a degree in finance, has many other ventures. Today he operates six McAlister's in Louisiana and three in central Illinois in what he calls a post-Hurricane Katrina diversification strategy.

"The week Katrina hit we were supposed to open the fourth location," Brechtel says. As a store owner, he was able to reenter an evacuated New Orleans before most residents were allowed home so he could prepare his locations to reopen.

"This gave us a way to get employees back in town with a place to work," he says. Of 16 salaried managers at the time, 14 returned even though 10 originally were from out-of-state. McAlister's currently employs approximately 175 people in the greater New Orleans area.

Brechtel recently opened a European-style cafe in the CBD called Merchant Cafe and signed a deal to open seven locations in northern Louisiana. He's also part-owner of SmartCompliance, a software for insurance billing, and is a partner in Compass Construction.

In August he received a master of business administration degree from Tulane, where former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason, who recently revealed he has ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), was in his class. The two became friends, and Brechtel now serves on the board of Team Gleason, a nonprofit that aims to raise awareness of and research into ALS. "We are just forming the vision and mission of the organization," Brechtel says.

In line with his entrepreneurial spirit, Brechtel says he currently is working on a big deal for a food and entertainment venue downtown. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Jim Coningsby, 25
  • Jim Coningsby, 25
Jim Coningsby, 25
Executive Director, Phoenix of New Orleans

From gutting homes on the weekends during college to a full-time job supervising complete rebuilds, Jim Coningsby is committed to rebuilding New Orleans. He expanded a student organization he started at Tulane by teaming up with the rebuilding nonprofit Phoenix of New Orleans (PNOLA).

After Hurricane Katrina, the Tulane sophomore started Student Advocacy for Equitable Recovery (SAFER) as a way to bring students together to help gut houses on weekends. In 2008, he merged SAFER with PNOLA, which already shared volunteers, tools and similar goals, and became a co-director. Coningsby worked with PNOLA's directors at the time, Paul Ikemire and Ryan Porcelli, to bring the two organizations together.

"The primary thing we are trying to accomplish is getting people back in their homes," Coningsby says.

He now is executive director of PNOLA and has a general contractor's license. Last year the organization completed 29 rehabs, and this year is on pace to complete more.

"Mid-City is our focus area," says Coningsby, a Mid-City resident. "Over half the houses we've done have been in the Mid-City area."

PNOLA has gutted more than 200 properties and completed the rebuilding of more than 100 homes. The organization also has helped homeowners acquire more than $2 million in grant funding to assist those who fall short of the money they need to restore their homes.

PNOLA has hosted nearly 10,000 volunteers and generated more than 100,000 AmeriCorps service hours. By using volunteer labor along with experienced construction staff, the organization saves homeowners thousands of dollars in labor costs. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Samuel Cook III, 27
  • Samuel Cook III, 27
Samuel Cook III, 27
Founder, Restore. Rebuild. Reinvest. (aka the Creole Canal Street Program)
Former director, 7th Ward Neighborhood Center

Over the course of Samuel Cook III's year-and-a-half tenure as director of Neighborhood Housing Services' 7th Ward Neighborhood Center, hundreds of volunteers logged thousands of hours in the 7th Ward. The center coordinates more than 20 neighborhood improvement initiatives, including education and counseling services, community activities and an anti-blight campaign.

"In the past year, we've engaged 866 total volunteers for 3,012 total service hours," Cook says. As of last week, he resigned that position.

"I'm going to be working full time on the Rebuild. Restore. Reinvest. campaign, also known as the Creole Canal Street Program," Cook says. The goal of Rebuild. Restore. Reinvest., he says, is to bring new businesses to St. Bernard Avenue (once informally known as the "Creole Canal Street") in the 7th Ward.

Cook has been working on the project for about six months, and he already has a major announcement — the planned rehabilitation of one of the city's most visibly blighted and endangered historic buildings.

"What we've been able to do so far is we have for been able to attract a buyer for the McDonogh 16 building (New Orleans Center for the Education of Adults at the corner of St. Claude Avenue and Pauger Street). It's going to be turned into senior housing," Cook says, who declined to disclose the name of the buyer.

He hopes that ultimately the initiative will move into other high-needs area throughout the city. But for now, he continues to focus on his own neighborhood.

"I've been living in the 7th ward community since about 2003," Cook says. "What I noticed immediately was there was an acute need in the neighborhood." Little economic opportunity, combined with continuing crime and blight have made many residents eager to leave, he says. "We have had some people say, 'Things are getting better. The neighborhood is improving.'" — Charles Maldonado

 

click to enlarge Angela Davis, 30
  • Angela Davis, 30

Angela Davis, 30
Founder, Hagar's House

After working to help the poor and oppressed in such places as Iraq, Palestine and Ethiopia, Mississippi-born Angela Davis put her commitment to social justice and spirituality to work in New Orleans.

In 2007, Davis and three AmeriCorps co-workers founded Hagar's House, a home for women and children that provides everything from safe haven to resource coordination and personal empowerment programs. As director of the house, Davis coordinates day-to-day operations and works with residents through a variety of programs. Among them is a holistic program incorporating art, yoga, gardening and personal finances, and a social justice program designed to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

She also is pursuing a law degree at Loyola University and has volunteered with Court Appointed Special Advocates, Metropolitan Center for Women and Children, the NO/AIDS Task Force, the YMCA and more. Though Davis, who earned a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2007, says most of the causes for which she advocates have cropped up in an organic way, she gets inspiration to strive every day from the vow of Buddhist monk Thicht Nhat Hanh "to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion."

"One of my motivations is, unfortunately, the overwhelming suffering in the world," Davis says. "I feel incapable of ignoring it, bound to being present to it." — Lee Cutrone

 

click to enlarge Letitia Clark George, 29
  • Letitia Clark George, 29

Letitia Clark George, 29
Director of Government Affairs, New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS

As a sophomore at Xavier University of Louisiana, Letitia Clark George thought she might be interested in law school. When the native of Southern California began volunteering for a local judicial campaign, she realized she had found her passion.

"I was so intrigued by all the people involved and got my first taste of politics," George says. "After that, I didn't want to do anything else."

After volunteering with the judicial campaign, George had an internship with the City of New Orleans at City Hall, worked as a councilmanic aide in Louisiana, and as a legislative aide for the Speaker of the House in Georgia. Now, as the director of governmental affairs for New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors, George monitors all local and state legislation on real estate, writes grants and works to protect the REALTORS brand.

"It's a different political involvement," George says of lobbying. "It gets back to telling the public to be civically engaged. It's important to know elected officials and let them know how you feel. Politicians depend on their constituents. People in communities can be empowered just by being educated."

Looking forward, George says is interested in starting her own lobbying firm, allowing her to work on several issues and perhaps even run for office.

"I'm lucky to advocate an issue that I think is important," George says. "Having been a councilman's aide I really understand what it means to be a servant of the public. If the opportunity presented itself, I would want to hone the skills I've learned." — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Steve Gleason, 34
  • Steve Gleason, 34
Steve Gleason, 34
Founder, Team Gleason

Leave it to former Saints player and new father Steve Gleason to turn a fatal diagnosis into something positive. Team Gleason, a movement he founded to draw attention to amyotrophic lateral scelerosis, or ALS, is sweeping the city.

"I didn't really expect the response that we got right away, so we've been moving with that momentum," says Gleason, who recently revealed he has ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. "At this point, there are two components, like an offense and a defense. First, there's the Gleason Family Trust to help offset some of the expenses associated with living with ALS, and the second component is an actual 501(c)(3) foundation we're calling the Gleason Initiative, and our mission is to help provide equipment, services and technology for ALS patients in the New Orleans and Spokane, Wash., areas, as well as raise awareness."

An avid adventurer, Gleason has always lived life on his own terms and says he wants to help other ALS patients do the same.

"During the offseason I'd go surf in Third World countries or backpack through some mountains, and after I was diagnosed my wife Michel and I went to Alaska," he says. "I'd like to raise awareness by helping ALS patients go have amazing life experiences and adventures."

The recent public outpouring of support for him, he adds, is amazing.

"I think it's very characteristic of this city, which is full of survivors who have the unique ability to celebrate life despite negative circumstances," Gleason says. "That's something that drew me to New Orleans in the first place." — Good

 

click to enlarge Jacinta Gonzales, 26
  • Jacinta Gonzales, 26
Jacinta Gonzalez, 26
Lead Organizer, Congress of Day Laborers
Soros Justice Fellow

When Jacinta Gonzalez came to New Orleans over her winter break from Wesleyan University, she expected to be in the city for two weeks. But after volunteering with the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), the Central Mexico native decided to return and has been working for the Congress of Day Laborers since 2007.

"I was really intrigued with what was happening with workers who came to New Orleans — how they were being integrated into the community," Gonzalez says. "I was drawn to come as someone who speaks both English and Spanish and who has lived on both sides of the border."

Part of the NOWCRJ, the Congress of Day Laborers is dedicated to organizing workers of various races working in an array of industries build their power and participation within their communities, Gonzalez says. She facilitates meetings for members and community outreach program to explain what rights workers have and how they can defend them if violated.

"We give workers the tools and spaces to be active in the democratic [process] we have," Gonzalez says. "If someone is willing to stand up for their rights and support themselves and take risks, I feel like it's only fair for me to say "How can I help you, and what can I do to make that happen?'

"I really think for us to be able to live in a world together, people who are directly affected by a problem have to be part of the solution." — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Ryan Gootee, 38
  • Ryan Gootee, 38

Ryan Gootee, 38

Owner, Ryan Gootee General Contractors

In the fall of 2005, 14 years after graduating from Jesuit High School in New Orleans, general contractor Ryan Gootee was able to restore his alma mater so it could welcome students home the Monday after Thanksgiving. Jesuit was the first school in Orleans Parish to reopen after the storm.

"A lot of the work we had done there in the past was destroyed," including a complete renovation of the auditorium, Gootee says.

The accomplishment came about a year after Gootee, a graduate of Louisiana State University, decided to spin off from his father's company and create Ryan Gootee General Contractors (RGGC). Gootee and his workers have completed many projects since then, including renovations of Second Harvest Food Bank, Jesuit High School Athletic Complex, the New Orleans district attorney's office, Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, the American Red Cross office, the Eisenhower Center at the National World War II Museum, Sucre and the Audubon Zoofari Cafe. Current projects include building the Julia Street Cruise Terminal to serve a Norwegian cruise line scheduled to open this month and constructing a new baseball stadium for Jesuit.

RGGC was named as the fifth-fastest growing business on the inaugural LSU100, which recognizes the 100 fastest-growing businesses in the world owned by or led by LSU alumni. Gootee also serves on the boards of Kingsley House, the American Red Cross, Metropolitan Crime Commission, Jefferson Business Council and the Little School at St. Martin's Episcopal.

"We are staying true to our values and taking care of our clients," Gootee says, adding the company will continue to try and grow at a conservative pace. "We are trying to build on a good reputation." — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Becker Hall, 32
  • Becker Hall, 32
click to enlarge Rene Louapre, 30
  • Rene Louapre, 30
Becker Hall, 32
Rene Louapre, 30

Founders, Hogs for the Cause

Pig roasts are not part of mainstream New Orleans culture, but lifelong friends Becker Hall and Rene Louapre were adamant about smoking a whole hog at the Fly and making it a charity event. That was when they met their inspiration, Ben Sarrat Jr., who was diagnosed with a fatal brain cancer in 2008 at the age of 4.

Combating pediatric cancer became their cause, and pork became the vehicle when Hall and Louapre created Hogs for the Cause, a nonprofit that hosts an annual culinary celebration of pork to raise money for grants that provide support for families and other organizations.

"I went to school at the University of South Carolina, and before games we would smoke whole hogs," says Hall, an oil and gas investment banker. "I knew it was a unique thing for New Orleans and that we could draw a lot of people."

In 2009, Hogs for the Cause held its first roast and raised $10,000. The next year, the group introduced the pork cook-off, and 2,500 people attended. This year, Hogs for a Cause moved the event to New Orleans City Park and made it a festival with live music. Seven thousand people attended and the group raised $100,000.

"New Orleans is a festival-based society," Hall says. "We thought, why can't we ... have a low cost of entry (to the festival) and raise money for charity?"

The next Hogs for the Cause festival is scheduled for March 2012, and Hall and Louapre say they anticipate an even larger crowd. Fifty-two teams, from restaurant chefs to barbecue amateurs, have already signed up for the cook-off. Their ultimate goal is for the organization to become the premier pediatric cancer outreach charity in the country, but Hall and Louapre have not come this far without taking risks.

"We use social media, we don't have big ad campaigns," says Louapre, an attorney at McGlinchey Stafford. "But we believe we can do something great." — Good

 

click to enlarge Justin Hartenstein, 30
  • Justin Hartenstein, 30

Justin Hartenstein, 30
Co-owner Advanced Automotive Concepts Enterprises Inc.

From selling specialty auto parts on eBay to creating his own successful start-up company, Justin Hartenstein is always thinking ahead.

"We started AAC (Advanced Automotive Concepts Enterprises Inc.) right out of high school as an eBay store," he says. "We sold suspensions, exhaust systems, and a lot of performance car parts when we started."

Things changed when he became intrigued with the niche market of auto lighting. Hartenstein used his background in electronics to help focus on specialty LED and fiber-optic technologies.

The company's products carry the brand name Oracle, which it sells and installs.

Hartenstein's biggest challenge was recovering from Hurricane Katrina after his inventory was destroyed. It took a little while to restock, he says, but in 2006 the company was up and running again.

Advanced Automotive Concepts continues to grow and just moved to a new facility in Metairie. Last year the company measured its three-year growth rate at 914 percent. Even though AAC is starting to expand its markets, Hartenstein says the growth was mainly from sales in the automotive industry.

INC. Magazine recognized AAC as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S. The 914 percent growth rate also caught the eye of The Wall Street Journal.

"We are actually looking at expanding into energy-efficient household, office and industrial lighting using LEDs," Hartenstein says. Right now, though, ACC is working for General Motors Co. on an upcoming Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas.

When he's not busy building a business empire, Hartenstein enjoys building cars and motorcycles. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Vincent Ilustre, 36
  • Vincent Ilustre, 36
Vincent Ilustre, 36
Executive Director, Tulane University's Center for Public Service

Vincent Ilustre wound up in New Orleans by chance 17 years ago. "I happened to stumble upon Tulane for undergraduate study," says Ilustre, who was born in the Philippines and raised in Dallas. "As I got more involved in the city through my volunteer efforts, I wanted to stay and make a difference."

By helping institute a public service requirement for undergraduates at Tulane, Ilustre is ensuring new generations of students follow in his footsteps. Since 1999, he has led Tulane University's Office of Service Learning, making Tulane the first and only high-level research university with a service learning component of its kind.

"Immediately post-Katrina, Tulane underwent a revision of its mission to include community engagement as a core, so we instituted a public service requirement for all undergrads," says Ilustre, who has been executive director of Tulane's Center for Public Service since 2006.

Each semester, 1,400 to 1,500 students volunteer with 120 nonprofits. "It runs the gamut from architecture students building homes to students in science-based courses working in hospitals," he says. "They put a face to ... the issues they're discussing in the classroom, so not only are they learning through the book, they're learning through their actions and observations."

The service learning component has attracted a slew of young people eager to help. "Pre-K, we had about 18,000 applications for 1,500 slots," Ilustre says. "Last year, we had 44,000 applications. ... When we ask students why they selected Tulane, they say they want to contribute to the New Orleans community and become better members themselves." — Missy Wilkinson

 

click to enlarge Tamara Jackson, 38
  • Tamara Jackson, 38
Tamara Jackson, 38
Executive Director, Silence is Violence
President, New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force

For Tamara Jackson, knowledge is power.

"I'm advocating on behalf of the second-line culture to make sure we're treated as any other cultural group in the city of New Orleans — and also to educate the community about the cultural history of what we do," says Jackson, president of the New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force, which represents 25 of the city's 32 clubs.

Jackson's role became particularly important after a shooting at a second-line parade in January 2006 caused then-Police Superintendent Warren Riley to increase parading permit fees. Since then, the task force has won three lawsuits against the city to reduce the fee structure, and there have been no violent incidents reported where second lines were passing in five years.

"Our efforts have made a difference," says Jackson, who is president of her own second-line organization, VIP Ladies and Kids.

As executive director of Silence is Violence, a group founded in 2007 to advocate for victims of crime, she helped establish support groups, peace walks, writing and music clinics for youths and a memorandum of understanding with the Recovery School District. Jackson, who is working toward a master's degree in business administration with a concentration in healthcare, is proud of the results.

"I think I've progressed with both organizations because we're not where we used to be," she says. "We didn't have a voice before Katrina, and now we do, but there's more to be done." — Good

 

click to enlarge Christian Jensen, 30
  • Christian Jensen, 30
Christian Jensen, 30
Co-founder, Desire NOLA
President, Transportation Consultants Inc.

When Christian Jensen and his cousin designed "I (fleur-de-lis) NOLA" T-shirts in the days following Hurricane Katrina, they just wanted to help small businesses affected by the storm. They had no clue how popular their idea would become.

"We wanted to do something to help immediately," Jensen says. "We sold 1,000 T-shirts before the shirts were even made."

That success led Jenson and Christopher Kane to co-found the nonprofit Desire NOLA, which has awarded more than $150,000 in grants to small businesses affected by Katrina and its aftermath.

"Desire NOLA was born of young individuals like myself and my cousin who wanted to help the small businesses that are the cultural fabric of New Orleans," Jensen says.

As president of Transportation Consultants Inc. (TCI), which handles transportation logistics for international commerce industries, Jensen looks for ways to increase commerce for the city of New Orleans. TCI specializes in container-yard services, intermodal transportation and logistics consulting. He currently is overseeing TCI's expansion at the Port of New Orleans, a project Jensen says will create more than 60 jobs.

"I have two copies of New Orleans in my mind," he says. "One is pre-Katrina and one is post-Katrina. I want to help New Orleans create as many tools in the tool box as it needs to attract and retain young people and help them find upward-moving jobs. I don't want to see what happened in the '80s with the oil and gas bust happen again. I don't want to go backwards." — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Kacie Kelly, 33
  • Kacie Kelly, 33

Kacie Kelly, 33
Program Manager, Veteran Affairs-Department of Defense Integrated Mental Health Program

Recognizing how blessed her life has been made Kacie Kelly want to help people with disabilities and improve mental health care for the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She's making progress.

During her time as program manager for the Veterans Administration (VA)-Department of Defense (DOD) Integrated Mental Health Program, Kelly was part of a team that introduced two new treatments for PTSD. The Ethel, La., native also has spearheaded moves to improve not only the quality of care, but military personnel's access to doctors.

"It's a good time to be working with the VA and Department of Defense," she says. "We have political support and financial support - and the mental health research is now available for us to provide treatments that work."

"Between 2006 and 2008 is really when we started saying definitely that people can recover from PTSD if we can get them into these two treatments." That's as it should be, Kelly says. "The VA should be on the cutting edge of evidence-based treatment for mental illness."

To make it easier for patients, the VA has hired 7,000 mental health professionals in the last five years, increasing the medical workforce from 13,000 to 20,000.

Kelly says she knew she wanted a career helping people after working as an advocate for people with disabilities while she was a graduate student at LSU Health Sciences Center.

"It woke me up to how fortunate I was, learning about all the things that could have gone wrong with my life," she says. "I think it's my responsibility to help those who haven't had as good luck or fortune as I have."

On a local level, Kelly serves on the board of the American Red Cross and is chairwoman of its Tiffany Circle, a program targeting women philanthropists and leaders in the community. That group now has 10 members who each pledge $10,000 annually to the Red Cross.

Despite these successes, Kelly says she still has a lot to accomplish. "I constantly feel like there is so much to be done and one life is not enough," she says. — Kandace Power Graves

 

click to enlarge Dominik Knoll, 28
  • Dominik Knoll, 28

Dominik Knoll, 28
CEO, World Trade Center of New Orleans

In May 2010, the struggling World Trade Center of New Orleans (WTCNO) hired then-26-year-old Dominik Knoll as its CEO. WTCNO, the nonprofit organization operating the riverfront architectural landmark, has 1,600 members and promotes international business in Louisiana. Now 28 years old, Knoll, a native of Italy, hopes to leverage the city (and his love for it) to attract that business.

"If you look, after Katrina you see a jump in people coming in town, a jump in investments," Knoll says. "It's really an exciting time. We're really on the edge in terms of international (business), and getting out the message and showing what New Orleans and the state of Louisiana is all about."

Knoll graduated from Warwick Business School in Coventry, England, and also spent a year at Purdue University in Indiana. He enrolled in Tulane University's MBA program following a trip to New Orleans. "I saw the culture, saw it was really similar to Europe," he says, adding that as a non-native, he can convince international groups to settle in the city, just like he did.

"Honest people. Honest businesses. That's what I personally try to bring the message over," Knoll says. "Most of the time we're dealing with foreign companies, foreign investors. It's a good piece coming from myself, being not from here — but I came." — Alex Woodward

 

click to enlarge Helen Krieger, 33
  • Helen Krieger, 33

Helen Krieger, 33
Writer/Producer, The Hatchery Media

An accomplished journalist, Helen Krieger moved to New Orleans from Boston 11 years ago and founded the hyper-local Bywater Marigny Current newspaper for her neighborhood and pursued a second career in real estate.

The newspaper folded after Hurricane Katrina, and when Krieger returned to New Orleans after the city flooded, she became president of the Bywater Neighborhood Association. She stepped down in 2007 to concentrate on writing the script for Flood Streets, a feature film shot by Hatchery Media, a local independent low-budget production company.

Bywater, though, was always on her mind. "I didn't want to show the Quarter or Uptown, and to me Bywater is one of those neighborhoods that's on the fringes where so much is happening," she says.

Flood Streets, based on a collection of short stories called In the Land of What Now Krieger wrote when she returned to a flood-ravaged city, is the result of Krieger's desire to show people the New Orleans she loves. The film has been well-received at various film festivals across the country.

"My love for the city is not what people generally think of," she says. "It's not Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras beads."

Krieger hopes to land a job doing episodic writing for television or web series, and she is working on another feature script as well as a musical comedy series. Naturally, both are set in New Orleans.

"This city is too rich of a place, so why not?" she says. — Good

 

click to enlarge Katherine LeBlanc,30
  • Katherine LeBlanc,30
Katherine LeBlanc, 30
Communications Director, Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

During the two years native New Orleanian Katherine LeBlanc has been communications director for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA/SPCA), she has steered the press through myriad animal welfare issues, including the LA/SPCA's animal control contract negotiations with the city, the BP Gulf oil disaster and pit bull attacks — resulting in an estimated $3 million worth of media exposure and raising awareness about animal adoptions, the LA/SPCA's funding needs and the importance of spaying and neutering. "Every animal welfare advocate's goal is to see an end to the pet over-population problem we have to respond to every day," she says.

To meet the daily challenge of getting people invested in the LA/SPCA's mission, LeBlanc focuses on positive messages to educate the public about how to solve problems and to get members of the community working together. She also shares plenty of success stories and inspiring testimonials about the LA/SPCA's dedicated staff and volunteers.

She is a founding board member of the Public Relations Association of Louisiana's New Orleans chapter and says she is committed to raising her two children in her hometown and effecting positive changes in the community through working in the nonprofit realm. LeBlanc credits her drive to a strong work ethic, a desire to help communities improve themselves and an abiding interest in animal welfare.

"As a communications professional, I have to be on my game every day," says LeBlanc, portrayed by a co-worker as "speaking for the animals in New Orleans who do not have a voice."

"The issues that we tackle are [passion-inspiring] and emotional, so there's never a dull moment," LeBlanc says. — Lee Cutrone

 

click to enlarge Bivian "Sonny" Lee III, 29
  • Bivian "Sonny" Lee III, 29
Bivian "Sonny" Lee III, 29
Founder, Son of a Saint Sports Foundation
Programming, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

If the name Bivian "Sonny" Lee III sounds familiar, it may be because he is the son of former New Orleans Saints defensive back Bivian Lee Jr., who played for the team from 1971-1975. He died of a heart attack when Sonny was only 3 years old, leaving Sonny's mom to take on the role of single parent to him and his older sister. Hoping to provide other fatherless boys with male role models largely absent in his life, Sonny created the youth mentorship and education program Son of a Saint.

"The point is we want (the students) to see positive males; a single mom can only do so much," says Sonny, who also works in programming for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

Son of a Saint focuses mainly on organized sports as a means of youth development. The foundation helps students — boys 9 through 13 who don't have fathers in their homes — pay for participation in sports, and it recently started REPLAY, a program to collect new and used sports equipment. Sonny says playing sports instills in boys valuable life skills such as teamwork, time management and discipline.

Kids in the program — there are 12 currently — also participate in art therapy, take etiquette classes at the Windsor Court hotel and engage in activities such as barbecues and watching Saints games. Inspired by his mother's guidance, Sonny also requires that the boys do well in school and are good representatives of Son of a Saint wherever they are.

"We don't want Cs, Ds and Fs (on report cards)," says Sonny, a New Orleans native. "And there's no cursing in our program. If I cursed, my mom would be on me." — Lauren LaBorde

 

click to enlarge Nolan Marshall III, 32
  • Nolan Marshall III, 32
Nolan Marshall III, 32
Founder, Court Watch NOLA & Good Citizen Consulting

When Nolan Marshall III's small business was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he decided that if he was going to return to New Orleans, he had to do it in a big way.

"I really wanted to be involved in the city," he says. Marshall did just that, signing on as associate director of Common Good, a group of organizations with a common goal of helping the city solve problems post-Katrina. One of the first things he did at Common Good was start Court Watch NOLA.

"Volunteers would go in and monitor the behavior, performance and consistency of the judges, district (attorney) and prosecuting attorneys," Marshall says. Court Watch NOLA released this information to the public through quarterly reports and the media.

After three years with Common Good, Marshall left and launched Good Citizen in 2010. It serves as a consulting firm specializing in community relations, organizational development and political consulting.

One of Marshall's goals for Good Citizen is "galvanizing support for charter schools." Not simply for the charter school movement as a whole, but giving individual charter schools the ability to create and retain community support. Because of Good Citizen's work with charter schools, the organization was selected for the Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans 2011 New Venture Accelerator Program. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Monika McKay, 37
  • Monika McKay, 37
Monika McKay, 37
Project Manager, McCormack Baron Salazar
Co-founder, Spark InSites

Perhaps the most well-rounded advocate for fair housing you'll ever meet, Monika McKay works for what she believes in by pulling from multiple sectors.

She has administered Road Home money, serves on the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance's Policy Committee, coordinates mixed-income and mixed-use projects in the private sector and helped create a start-up company that does market analysis for potential investors and developers in New Orleans.

She's had fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, and participated in the Louisiana Effective Leadership Program, which took her to Cape Town, South Africa.

"Since I work in affordable housing, I am actually a servant to the folks that need housing," a lesson McKay says she learned through the program.

The New Orleans native spent time in Houston but returned to her hometown after Hurricane Katrina. She worked as an underwriter for the Road Home Program, helping mainly small nonprofits that owned rental property in need of repair.

McKay is a Project Manager at McCormack Baron Salazar and is responsible for the coordination and implementation of mixed-income and mixed-use projects, including managing the off-site components of the Iberville Revitalization project and consulting on the B.W. Cooper mixed-income housing redevelopment.

"I'm excited to be part of three mixed-income and workforce housing developments," McKay says.

She and five friends also started Spark InSites market analysis firm in 2009 through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, administered by Idea Village. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Jessica Miller, 39
  • Jessica Miller, 39
Jessica Miller, 39
Veterinarian/Owner, Animal Care Center

Jessica Miller understands the bond people have with their pets. Vowing to never leave her office at the Animal Care Center without returning a client's phone call, the passionate veterinarian prides herself on her honest communication with her clients.

"It's most important to be honest with a client, and give them the time they deserve," Miller says. "[Their pets] are their children; they're part of the family."

At the Animal Care Center, Miller welcomes dogs and cats, offering services ranging from wellness exams, vaccinations and medical and surgical procedures to boarding and bathing.

Miller's love of animals and her desire to have a career that would help members of her community led the Sulphur, La. native to earn a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from LSU in 2001. After working in Washington, D.C. for two years, Miller returned to Louisiana and found her home at Animal Care Center in 2003. She became sole owner in 2009.

"I've really enjoyed making [Animal Care Center] my own and forming relationships with my clients," Miller says. "They care as much about me as I do about them."

Her generosity and love for animals extends beyond her paying clients as she always has one or two pets up for adoption. Miller takes in stray dogs or cats found by her clients and provides the medical care required to ensure the animals are healthy and can find a good home.

"I can't tell you how many times I've come to the office and found a kitten in a box on the doorstep," Miller says. "I mean, how can you turn that down?" — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Brian Moore, 39
  • Brian Moore, 39
Brian Moore, 39
Chief of Head and Neck Surgery & Vice-Chairman, Department of Otolaryngology, Ochsner Medical Center

The Tom and Gayle Benson Cancer Center at Ochsner Medical Center offers a teamwork approach to treatment, thanks to Brian Moore.

"We're bringing radiation therapists, oncologists and speech and language pathologists to the table to see how we can tailor therapies individually to each patient," says Moore, a recognized expert in head and neck surgical oncology and reconstructive microsurgery. "There's evidence that a multidisciplinary approach improves all outcomes."

The Kentucky native first came to New Orleans in 1990 as an undergraduate at Tulane University. He graduated from Tulane School of Medicine, completed a residency at Vanderbilt University and a fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, then served in the U.S. Air Force as chief of surgical services at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Moore, who also is a clinical assistant professor in Tulane's Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, hopes his goal of looking at the whole patient transforms the Benson Cancer Center into a first-class facility.

"I'm hoping that we will be a nationally recognized cancer care center, that we'll expand all aspects of this team and offer the best outcomes with the fewest side effects — and be able to do it here at home," he says. "When people get diagnosed with cancer, they won't feel the need to go anywhere else."

Moore, who draws inspiration from his wife and 9-month-old twin boys, is thankful for the chance to make a difference

"Having this job is a dream come true for me," he says. — Good

 

click to enlarge Jenga Mwendo, 33
  • Jenga Mwendo, 33
Jenga Mwendo, 33
Founder, Backyard Gardener's Network

Jenga Mwendo was in New York City working in the computer animation industry in August 2005. After Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, she knew she had to return to New Orleans to help rebuild her neighborhood, the Lower 9th Ward. Looking for a way to make a significant contribution, she realized the important role agriculture played in her community.

"What I found was that so many people traditionally and still do have backyard gardens," she says.

In 2007, Mwendo identified the Ernst Garden, a pre-Katrina community garden and, with the help of neighbors and friends, replanted it. Seeing how the garden brought the community together, she founded the Backyard Gardener's Network (BGN), a nonprofit aimed at building and preserving community through gardening. Since its founding in 2009, BGN has acquired the property next to the garden and converted it into a gardening resource center with a tool lending library, free seeds and educational resources. A second garden has been planted on a blighted lot.

"It's an exercise in how to turn a dumping space into something beautiful," Mwendo says. "It's a safe and positive environment for neighbors who want to get together."

Programming for children also is part of Mwendo's mission. There are weekly storytelling, arts and crafts projects and gardening for kids at the Guerrilla Garden, and she says she hopes to partner with neighborhood churches and organizations to provide activities daily.

"This is all about neighborhood revitalization and how gardens can be positive examples of what is possible for the Lower 9th Ward," she says. — Good

 

click to enlarge Dody Nolan, 23
  • Dody Nolan, 23

Dody Nolan, 23
Musical Theater Vocalist

When Dody Nolan's first-grade choir teacher prompted the class for a volunteer to sing a song, she probably didn't expect a 6-year-old to rattle off a full song from a musical.

"I sang 'Castle on a Cloud' from Les Miserables," Nolan says.

She continued in choir throughout middle and high school with a love for musical theater. As Nolan found opportunities in opera through New Orleans Center for Creative Arts summer camps in high school, she fell in love with that genre.

Nolan has performed with the Jefferson Performing Arts Society, the NOCCA, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, the Loyola Opera and the New Orleans Opera.

She also performs as a Victory Belle at the National World War II Museum and at Cafe Giovanni, as well as cantoring at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Divine Mercy Catholic Church and St. Louis Cathedral.

Last summer, Nolan spent two weeks at SpringboardNYC, a highly selective program sponsored by the American Theatre Wing. She was one of 35 people chosen from across the nation to work with theatre veterans Randy Lutterman, Marc Kudisch, Edie Falco, David Caparelliotis and Kathleen Marshall.

"From 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. we would spend time with Tony Award winners, watch plays, talk to casts and learn how to live in New York," Nolan says.

The 23-year-old vocalist is a native New Orleanian and a Loyola graduate.

"I'll eventually be moving to New York, pounding the pavement and trying to get in the Broadway spotlight," she says. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Jamar Pierre, 38
  • Jamar Pierre, 38
Jamar Pierre, 38
Artist/Owner, J. Pierre Studios
Educator

Although Jamar Pierre has sold many paintings, created the 2007 Essence Festival poster and exhibited his art in Europe, New York and Japan, he never forgets his community. A painter and visual artist, Pierre strives to use his passion and talent to not only beautify the city but educate children.

"I feel obligated to give these kids an opportunity and show them an alternative lifestyle and way to make money," Pierre says. "There are a lot of talented people sitting in the penitentiary. I could have gone that route."

The New Orleans native works in several local schools, creating art programs that combine art with math, science, social studies and history lessons. While students paint images of Mardi Gras Indians, Louisiana produce and brass bands, Pierre integrates lessons on healthy eating and New Orleans' traditions.

"I show them that in art we have to be well-rounded," he says. "Painting boosts their confidence — and their test scores."

Raised in the 7th Ward, Pierre began his career in the Treme painting street murals. Later he experimented with more abstract images, what he describes as "urban impressionism," in acrylic and oil — colorful, bold images that capture New Orleans culture.

"It represents the city to the fullest," Pierre says of his art. "Hot food, hot weather, hot people." — Lucas

 

click to enlarge Wadner Pierre, 28
  • Wadner Pierre, 28
Wadner Pierre, 28
Photojournalist/Author/Advocate for Haiti

Like many other journalism students at Loyola University, Wadner Pierre writes for the student newspaper The Maroon, does volunteer work, maintains a blog (www.wadnerpierre.blogspot.com) and hangs out with neighbors in his adopted hometown of New Orleans, where he's lived since 2009. But driving these activities is a singular mission to which Pierre, a native of Gonaives, Haiti, has dedicated his life.

"I became a photojournalist because you can use your communication skills to be the voice of your community," Pierre says. "I want to be the voice of my people in Haiti."

A contributor to Haiti Liberte, a Brooklyn-based Haitian newspaper, Pierre won an award from Project Censored in 2007 for his writings on poverty, human rights and injustice in Haiti. He has worked at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and the What If? Foundation, and served on the United Nations Special Mission to Haiti.

"The ongoing situation in Haiti is not the result of the earthquake, and it's not the result of the past 20 years," Pierre says. "It's because of the exclusion of Haiti in the international community for more than 200 years.

"I lived with the poverty; I have been obligated to be a part of it, and I was lucky to get a chance to move to the U.S.," he says. "My people are always in the center of my heart. Sometimes it's dark, but God and the love I have for my people helps me. I will always be able to talk and write and be a voice for my country." — Wilkinson

 

click to enlarge Casey Demoss Roberts, 39
  • Casey Demoss Roberts, 39
Casey DeMoss Roberts, 39
Executive Director, Alliance For Affordable Energy

Casey DeMoss Roberts' interest in nonprofit work aimed at solving human health, justice and economic problems began when she was introduced to the Peace Corps during a third-grade career day. Today, New Orleans is reaping the benefits.

After working with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, where she met her husband Steve; obtaining a master of public health degree from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine; serving on the executive boards of several nonprofit organizations; and working with FEMA's Long-Term Community Recovery project, the Ruston, La. native brought her expertise and dedication to the Alliance for Affordable Energy as its executive director.

"How we use energy, make energy, how it gets to our homes has a huge impact every step of the way," Roberts says. "There's a lot of savings we can invest in that will bring down consumers' energy bills."

Her role with the 25-year-old alliance, whose mission is to make sure energy is environmentally responsible and affordable and accessible to everyone, includes working with the New Orleans City Council and Louisiana Public Service Commission to push for energy-efficiency rules, promote sustainable building practices and advocate for consumer protections.

On Wednesday mornings, Roberts discusses environmental issues as host of News & Views on WTUL-FM. She also serves on the board of The Louisiana Peace Corps Association.

She has a strong motivation for protecting the environment and improving the life of New Orleanians: her 3-year-old son Ellis, nicknamed EZ. "New Orleans is the only place to raise the 'Big EZ,'" she says. — Cutrone

 

click to enlarge Tim Soslow, 31
  • Tim Soslow, 31
Tim Soslow, 31
Founder, Prelude
Co-founder, Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans

Tim Soslow works as a software engineer for TurboSquid, a 3-D modeling company. But he grew up singing and playing violin, and he enrolled at Vermont's Middlebury College, majoring in both computer science and music.

With his background in and love for music, Soslow founded Prelude, an organization targeting younger audiences for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). "A lot of people didn't know we have an orchestra, and if they did, they didn't know how to get involved," he says. "It's kind of daunting — you don't know which concert to go to, and it's a lot of money to guess on. It was our goal to make it really easy and really accessible."

With more than 250 members, Prelude opened its season last month, and its next event is Nov. 9, followed by two LPO classics concerts in January and February 2012 — typically high ticket-price affairs that are deeply discounted for Prelude members.

Soslow also helped found Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO), an organization that helps fund arts, economic development, health care and children's nonprofit organizations, among others. The group was built with the goal that its members would one day serve other organizations. "We would be giving out money, and we realized we didn't know much about that at all, and we wanted to teach ourselves about it," Soslow says. Now in its third year, EPNO awarded nine grants in 2010, and this summer began its 2011 "class" of grant writers and sponsors. — Woodward

 

click to enlarge Andrew Ward, 32
  • Andrew Ward, 32
Andrew Ward, 32
Co-founder & President of the VIBE Board, International High School of New Orleans

As the son of a diplomat as well as a student and teacher of foreign language-immersion programs and a passionate world citizen with multiple advanced degrees in international development, Andrew Ward has lived in foreign locales including the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South Asia. But it wasn't until he came to New Orleans in 2004 to pursue a doctorate at Tulane University's Payson Center for International Development that he found his true home.

"It took me 24 hours to completely fall in love with New Orleans," says Ward, who has found numerous ways to benefit the city. "For the first time in my life I'm always ready to come back to one place."

Chief among his local accomplishments is his role as one of the founders and president of the board of the International High School of New Orleans, Louisiana's only public high school that offers a full college preparatory curriculum with a focus on international business studies as well as immersion classes in French and Spanish.

When not changing the fabric of education in New Orleans, Ward puts his love for the city to work as a guide with Haunted History Tours, an ordained minister who has performed dozens of weddings, and an announcer and emcee for groups including WWOZ-FM radio, the Freret Market, Big Easy Rollergirls, The Green Project, NO/AIDS Task Force, the Running Of The Bulls in New Orleans and the St. Andrew's Day Festival.

"I'm investing myself in as many different aspects of New Orleans as they'll let me," he says. "This is the most fertile ground for action and creativity I have ever known." — Cutrone

 

click to enlarge Wesley Ware, 30
  • Wesley Ware, 30
Wesley Ware, 30
Founder, BreakOUT!

More often affected by the factors that cause people to commit crimes — homelessness, difficulty in school and increased risk of substance abuse — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, especially African-Americans, constitute a large percentage of the prison population, says Wesley Ware. Once inside prison, they often face more discrimination and sexual assault.

Ware says he always noticed this trend, and through his work in Georgia prisons, with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and now with his nonprofit BreakOUT! he hopes to combat this.

"I really wanted to do something that gave young people an opportunity to come together and organize, and also for them to build a community with one another and have a say in what's happening in reform efforts in New Orleans," Ware says.

BreakOUT! empowers 13- to 24-year-old LGBTQ youth through weekly meetings covering social justice issues and community organizing; "healing justice" workshops that use things like yoga, acupuncture and meditation to relieve stress; leadership development workshops and policy reform campaigns.

Besides founding BreakOUT! Ware has helped create policies for New Orleans' youth detention centers that have become national models. He also coordinated an investigation into conditions in Louisiana prisons for a class-action lawsuit and has published works on LGBTQ youth in the justice system, as well as making presentations at several conferences.

A group like BreakOUT! is especially important in New Orleans, where Ware says many LGBTQ youth seek safe haven but often become victims of discrimination and unfair policing.

"We've found that a lot of LGBTQ youth come here from other places — rural areas of Louisiana or even some of our neighboring states," Ware says. "We've had young people run away from home in hopes of finding a culture here of acceptance." — LaBorde

 

click to enlarge Stephen Watson, 36
  • Stephen Watson, 36
Stephen Watson, 36
Chief Operating Officer, National World War II Museum

Stephen Watson's personal connection to the World War II Museum goes beyond his job. "My grandfather was an instructor in the Royal Air Force, and he was training to be a pilot and flight instructor in Africa during the war," says Watson, who grew up in Scotland. "I was enamored by the stories he told me about his experience."

Arriving in Louisiana in 1994 on a track scholarship to Nicholls State University, Watson moved to New Orleans in 1998. He worked at WWNO-FM as the development director and taught marketing at the University of New Orleans until 2002, when he joined the museum as director of membership and transitioned into the associate vice president for development. Under Watson's watch, museum membership grew from 3,000 to 130,000 over several years. In 2003, Congress designated it the National World War II Museum, and since Watson was promoted to COO in 2007, he has seen tremendous growth.

"We have a $300 million capital expansion project, 300 people on staff and we draw about 75 percent of our visitors from out of state," he says. "We've accomplished this despite the post-Katrina question about the viability of such an ambitious project in the city."

In addition to completing the physical expansion, Watson says he also wants to start distance-learning programs and digitize the museum's collections.

"We believe it will be the finest museum in the country, and it's been a privilege to be a part of it," he says. — Good

 

click to enlarge Morgan Williams, 32
  • Morgan Williams, 32
Morgan Williams, 32
General Counsel, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center
Co-founder, Student Hurricane Network & Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans & Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans

Not only did Hurricane Katrina flood the city of New Orleans, it also brought a tidal wave of legal issues that needed to be addressed.

At the time, Morgan Williams was a law student at Tulane and decided to help address those legal needs by founding an organization through which law students from all over the country could volunteer their time to help keep the legal system moving forward.

"In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, law students responded in an effort to provide assistance to the public law community in the region," Williams says.

He co-founded the Student Hurricane Network with Laila Hlass, now his wife, and more than 4,500 law students from across the country volunteered with public interest groups in the Gulf region.

Williams now is general counsel for Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, recently winning a housing discrimination case in St. Bernard Parish. He also successfully challenged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state of Louisiana's method of awarding Road Home funds based on pre-Katrina property values instead of estimated damage to property.

"(Due to) historic undervaluing of African-American neighborhoods," Williams says many homeowners did not receive adequate Road Home money. Under the settlement, additional funds will be directed to people in hard-hit areas whose Road Home awards were tied to pre-storm-value assessments.

Williams also helped start Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans, a group seeking innovative solutions to social problems, and Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, which guides young people poised to become tomorrow's community leaders and philanthropists. He also is an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University College of Law and co-teaches a course on housing law and policy. — Jewson

 

click to enlarge Yuki Yamaguchi, 32
  • Yuki Yamaguchi, 32
Yuki Yamaguchi, 32
Chef/Owner, Yuki Izakaya

Although there's no shortage of Japanese restaurants in New Orleans, Yuki Yamaguchi felt something was missing, so she opened an izakaya, or Japanese-style tavern.

"I realized the Japanese restaurants only had sushi, and I wanted to introduce the city to Japanese bar food, which is different," she says.

Yamaguchi was born in Shizuoka, Japan, and came to the United States to study English in 1997. Starting out in Baton Rouge, she decided to visit a friend who was studying in New Orleans, fell in love with the city and moved here. In addition to studying hotel management, Yamaguchi worked in a Japanese restaurant and tended bar at Cafe Brasil. When her boss decided to rent out a smaller bar in the same building, she seized the opportunity and opened Yuki Izakaya in 2008.

"I had always wanted to own a restaurant, and I saved up a lot of money working at Cafe Brasil," Yamaguchi says.

The public's reaction was not entirely positive at first, but Yuki Izakaya has become a staple of the Frenchmen Street bar and music scene, featuring both live music and DJs.

"The first year, we had a lot of locals who would come in and then leave because they were so used to sushi and didn't know what an izakaya was," she says. "Now, a lot of people are interested."

Yamaguchi hopes to open more izakayas and different kinds of Japanese restaurants in New Orleans.

"I don't know when I'm going to open the next place, but I've been thinking about it," she says. — Good

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