40 Under 40: Class of 2014
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Andrea Ravitz, 34, Bristol
Multicultural marketing director, Access Health CT
Access Health CT, Connecticut’s state health exchange created under the Affordable Health Care Act, has brought Andrea Ravitz on board as its multicultural marketing director to reach out to Latino families who are still in need of health insurance. Ravitz, who hails from Costa Rica, has been described as a media “powerhouse.” It didn’t take her long to start communicating to her target audience. A talented speaker, she’s now a familiar voice on Latino radio stations, giving information-packed interviews in Spanish for her listeners. She has also started a person-to-person outreach effort through doctors, teachers, churches and even mothers.
Tyler Anderson, 36, Avon
Tyler Anderson had already blended, toasted, sautéed and roasted his way into our hearts during his years at the Copper Beech Inn. Now he’s knocking our socks off as chef/owner of stunning new Millwright’s Restaurant in Simsbury, while “turbo charging the local farming economy” with his commitment to local buying and an on-site farmers’ market. In addition, Anderson has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Liver Foundation, Connecticut Farmland Trust, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, St. Francis Hospital and the M.S. Society, and will be chairing Share our Strength in Hartford this year.
Tiffany Billings, 21, New Milford
Tiffany Billings began dancing at 3; her talent was nurtured at Fine Line Theatre Arts in New Milford, and she credits the grace and discipline of ballet with helping her become one of the “world-famous” Rockettes. Initially she was with a regional company that performs the ‘Christmas Spectacular’ in Nashville, Tenn. This past holiday season marked her third under the bright lights at Radio City Music Hall. At one point in December, she Tweeted about 31 shows coming in 12 days, being grateful for a “boyfriend foot massage” and the Detroit Red Wings; a high-kicking all-American young woman.
Craig Gambardella, 34, Guilford
Director, Tara Troy Gambardella Foundation
After losing his wife and unborn son to heart disease in 2011, Craig Gambardella picked himself up and started the Tara Troy Gambardella Foundation to grant wishes to Connecticut children living with heart-related conditions. The foundation gives kids experiences that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible, awards scholarships and has an Acts of Kindness page on its website where others are encouraged to share good deeds in Tara’s honor. He’s also starting a Young Widow/Widowers support group to help people cope with the kind of grief and loss he knows too well. He’s planning a fundraising walk for May 10.
Colleen Kelly Alexander, 38, Clinton
Motivational speaker and writer
In October 2011, Alexander—a competitive triathlete—was run over and ripped apart by a 30-ton freight truck during a routine bicycle ride. She flatlined twice in the hours following the accident, received more than 70 blood transfusions and spent five weeks in a coma. Despite dire medical predictions, she’s resolutely on her feet and back on the athletic circuit, having completed more than three-dozen events (including road races and Half-Ironman competitions). She’s also become a tireless public speaker/advocate on a variety of subjects, including personal empowerment, blood donation and bicycle safety.
Jamie Calli Mascia, 32, Southington
Local TV producer
You may not see her in the flesh on Channel 3’s “Better Connecticut,” but Jamie Mascia’s fingerprints are all over it. She plans the daily show, books the guests, decides on the topics, orders graphics, coordinates new segments and lots more. She started at WFSB nine years ago, rising through the ranks from script runner and teleprompter to evening news producer, manager and finally to her current position, executive producer. She organized and executed a complete kitchen makeover for a Waterbury mom paralyzed in an accident, and executive produced the Hartford Dress for Success fashion show last year.
Javier Colon, 35, Hartford
Although it might seem that Javier Colon became an “overnight” musical sensation when more than 13 million tuned in to see him win the inaugural season of NBC’s “The Voice” in 2011, the Stratford native spent nearly 15 years trying to gain that success. After five years at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, he did stints in groups like EmcQ and The Derek Trucks Band before going solo and eventually breaking through. He credits his high school teachers in Stratford for pushing him to pursue his musical ambitions; consequently, he is now paying it forward, supporting young people by donating his time to programs like Achieve Hartford! and working with aspiring singers at New Haven’s Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES).
Bill Taibe, 37, Weston
Chef, LeFarm, The Whelk
Bill Taibe’s been on our radar since he signed on as executive chef of G/R/A/N/D in 2001 at the tender age of 25. He’s been wowing us ever since, first at Relish Food & Wine in SoNo (2003), then at Napa & Co. in Stamford (2006), and now at his two Westport stunners LeFarm (2009) and The Whelk (2012), which critic Elise Maclay called “a thrill-seeker’s paradise for been-there-done-that foodies.” Taibe has been a semifinalist for Best Chef: Northeast at the James Beard House the last three years running, and has appeared on “The Martha Stewart Show” and “Today.”
Rachel Reese, 31, Fairfield
Executive director, Volunteer Square
As the executive director of Volunteer Square, a nonprofit organization that matches those looking to do volunteer work with more than 100 local charitable organizations, you might think the dynamic Reese would have reached her philanthropic quota, but that’s far from the case. In addition to sitting on the boards of Family Centers in Greenwich, the Family & Children’s Agency in Norwalk and the Peter Wojtecki Veteran Housing Foundation in New Canaan, she also volunteers at both Family Centers and Family & Children’s Agency as well as Person-to-Person in Darien. She also blogs regularly for the Darien Patch, sharing her insights on volunteering—she’s like a gift that keeps on giving.
Erin Stewart, 26, New Britain
Mayor of New Britain
Last November, Erin Stewart became the second-youngest serving mayor in Connecticut when she won the top office in New Britain. She formerly served on the city’s Board of Education and as a legislative aid at the state Capitol.
A Q & A with Erin Stewart
Why did you decide to go into politics?
I suppose you can say I’m genetically programmed for politics. My mother’s family was very involved: many of her uncles served as city councilmen, most notably my Uncle Dominic Badolato, a longtime Democratic State Representative who was also executive director of AFSCME from 1968-1996. It is almost unbelievable to think his great niece would be the Republican Mayor of New Britain! My father served the city for eight years as its 38th mayor, retiring from politics in 2011. Through their examples, I developed a passion for public service, with the understanding that you give back to the community that gave to you. That is my passion: Helping those who need help, and ensuring that New Britain is a great place to live, work and raise a family. I will work tirelessly to ensure that those of us who live in Hard Hittin’ New Britain have a government they can trust.
What issues come with being elected to public office at an age that is young compared to many other elected officials?
Well, I will say that I can’t go to the grocery store anymore just for a “quick trip,” but that goes for any elected official anywhere. There’s always someone stopping you, and that’s okay, but it’s definitely a lifestyle change. It’s important to always be visible in the community; you’ve got to be in touch with the people that you represent, otherwise how are you best able to lead? I will say that my social life has taken a hit. I’ve always got an event here, a fundraiser there, it’s hard to find time for friends and I just have to make sure I do a good job at blocking off personal time in my schedule (and hope that the person whose event I declined will understand). It’s interesting that at 26 years old, I am the CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation. I think most people who come in to meet with me don’t necessarily know what to expect… they picture this naive young woman, and then quickly find out they were very wrong.
Your campaign motto was "people over politics." Why, and what makes you able to keep it now that you’ve been elected?
Oh that’s easy, and it surrounds around one word, communication. All you have to do is reach out and talk to people. I stated many times during the campaign that everyone would have a seat at my table. That's why I’ve brought back the Mayor’s open office hours, where once a month I cancel all meetings, open the doors to City Hall and invite whoever wants to come in and chat with me about anything, issues they may be having, ideas for the future of our city. I welcome cookies, too.
Getting through this first budget cycle! The learning curve is tremendous, but I’m confident that I’ve surrounded myself with great experts and professionals to help me get the job done. You are only as good as those you surround yourself with. I’m a firm believe that I’m never the smartest person in the room, and if I am, then I’m certainly in the wrong room.