40 Under 40: Class of 2014
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David Gere, 38, Cromwell
David Gere must have a clone or two—how else could he do all this? He’s produced and acted in full-length movies, short films, documentaries and music videos. He founded Shadow Films and is a producing partner at Woodhaven Production Co., where he has a five-film distribution deal with Universal/Screen Media. Currently, he’s winding down filming of Sensory Perception, with an all-Connecticut crew, and will exec-produce Star Trek Equinox: The Night of Time. Gere also co-owns Bluu Café & Ultra Lounge in Danbury. In addition, he gives time to Middlesex United Way, Ability Beyond Disability and No Bully Zone, and mentors young adults interested in the entertainment business.
Gary Holder-Winfield, 38, New Haven
Connecticut state representative
After work brought him to the Elm city, now State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield began work with grassroots organizations in an area always passionate to him: social justice. Holder-Winfield has continued that trend and, serving now in his third term in the General Assembly, is largely credited with working to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut. He’s also endeavored to focus the state on early-childhood education, the Trust Act and a program to stop racial profiling, and fought to end discrimination against transgendered people. Originally from the Bronx, Rep. Holder-Winfield credits his experience of growing up in a tough environment, watching his father succumb to drugs and his mother struggle as a single parent as being the source of his passion for social justice. Holder-Winfield has larger political ambitions—he ran for New Haven mayor last year and has now announced a run to fill Toni Harp’s senate seat.
Sammy Vega, 31, Hartford
Former boxer, motivational speaker
At age 16, Sammy Vega was cleaning law offices. These days he’s office manager for Dressler Strickland, which means coordinating four buildings serving 35 employees. That’s hardly why Vega is on this list. As an amateur boxer, he won seven national championships and a bronze medal at the 1997 World Junior Olympic Championships, among other accomplishments in the ring, which included being ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 4 in the world in his weight class at one point. Outside the ring, Vega is a role model and motivational speaker who, as executive director of Mega Education, inspires inner-city students to maximize their potential.
Ryan Martin, 34, Somers
Despite playing a sport that has an off-season, Ryan Martin doesn’t take time off from basketball. Despite being a double amputee with Spina Bifida, the wheelchair athlete plays on a professional basketball team in Madrid. But when he’s not in Spain, you can see Martin on the court playing, cheering or coaching. He founded the Ryan Martin Foundation, which, among other activities—such as mentor talks, speaking engagements and helping to develop sports camps for wounded veterans—hosts a basketball camp each summer for children with disabilities, completely free of charge to campers. The camp has grown each year—and has exposed children from across the state to the sport of basketball that took Ryan around the globe. Prior to competing professionally, Martin also played in college, during which he participated in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association national title game. Ryan was raised in Somers, one of 12 children. He is also a program coordinator for the Hospital of Special Care mentorship program, and volunteers at other sports camps.
Sirena Huang, 19, Windsor
When Sirena Huang played the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Hartford Symphony in December, it was, perhaps, a bittersweet homecoming for the Windsor native, Loomis Chaffee graduate and Juilliard sophomore; her last concert as artist-in-residence with the HSO and one of the first after signing with Columbia Artists Management as a point of departure for a global presence and career. Articulate, poised and passionate about the music, and praised for the grace, clarity, narrative voice and growing intensity in her playing, Huang is a Connecticut prodigy on the cusp of classical music stardom.
Manny Sanchez, 25, New Britain
Member, New Britain City Council
Manny Sanchez was the youngest member of New Britain’s common council at age 22—and now during his full second term on the council is continuing to shine. Between his work on the council, serving on several other boards and commissions, and working full-time at Goodwin College, Sanchez also finds time to coach the Connecticut Roughriders basketball club, which plays across the country, and spearhead initiatives for the city. He’s recognized for helping to bring a national monument to New Britain memorializing Borinqueneers—the name given to the 65th infantry of the U.S. Army—which fought in World War I, World War II and Korea, despite being a Hispanic segregated troop. Politics may just run in his blood—Sanchez is the nephew of Connecticut state Rep. Robert Sanchez.
Erika Arias, 36, West Hartford
Weekday mornings, residents around the state can wake up to Erika Arias anchoring the morning news for Fox CT. A mom who has had her fair share of TV news gigs through the country, she wasn't always content reporting from a news desk. Arias was nominated for an Emmy when she covered the historic nightclub fire in Rhode Island for a CBS affiliate there. Prior to Fox CT she worked for WFSB; before that she had trotted the country doing different kinds of news and freelance work. Though she was raised on the West Coast and attended college in Boston, Arias has always had ties to the Connecticut area through her grandparents, and spent time during her childhood here.
Andrew Niblock, 38, Greenwich
Educator, Greenwich Country Day School
Andrew Niblock was teaching fifth grade in New Orleans when Katrina hit town in 2005. In the aftermath, he and a small band of colleagues set up a temporary school for displaced Louisiana students in Houston. He later came back to Connecticut, spending five years as director of the lower school at Hamden Hall. Now he holds that post at Greenwich Country Day School. Niblock has become a sought-after lecturer on early childhood education at state, regional and national school conferences, and was recently dubbed “a true rising star” by Douglas J. Lyons, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools.
Samaia Hernandez, 32, Hartford
Press secretary to Gov. Malloy
Members of Connecticut media may see a familiar byline pop into their inboxes now and then when a statement from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s press secretary arrives. Samaia Hernandez was named to the governor’s communications staff last year, after she spent years working for Connecticut media, including WNPR, the Hartford Courant and Meriden Record-Journal. Among other accolades, Hernandez earned a first-place reporting award from the Society of Professional Journalists for a story she wrote about a Hispanic plaintiff in a discrimination case lodged with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Daniel Trust (Ndamwizeye), 24, Bridgeport
Rwandan genocide survivor, philanthropist, LGBT advocate
When Daniel Trust was 5, his family sought refuge in a church during one incident in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His mother held his hand—and minutes later she was dead, murdered by machete-wielding Hutus slaughtering Tutsis. His father and two sisters were also killed in the genocide. Tragedy did not break Trust; it made him determined to change the world. Today, Trust is a TD Bank employee and an in-demand motivational speaker with a message of peace and hope, especially for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. After “coming out” as gay, Trust helps young people navigate issues of sexual identity amid a still intolerant world, as his foundation also funds scholarships devoted to improving education for Connecticut students.