Do you know someone who should be on the next 40 Under 40 list in 2018? Tell us about them!
Meet the best and brightest of Generation Next — people under the age of 40 who are excelling in their fields, leading and influencing others, and making a difference. You’ll find educators, business owners, musicians, artists, television personalities, social activists, movie stars and more, as nominated by friends, family, co-workers, admirers and Connecticut Magazine staff.
Christian T. Arsenault, 30
Arsenault is the founding principal of Capital Community College Magnet Academy in Hartford, an Early College High School that allows students to earn up to 45 college credits before they graduate. Under Christian’s leadership, students at the Hartford Public Magnet School boast an average GPA of 3.4 in their college coursework without a single student receiving an F. Sounds like A+ work to us.
Catherine Rawson, 39
As executive director of Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, Rawson oversees Connecticut’s largest land trust and the 18th largest in the United States by the number of lands it conserves. She works to protect almost 10,000 acres in 17 communities in Litchfield and Fairfield counties. Rawson is a graduate of Vermont Law School (where she studied environmental law) and has her Master’s degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry. She is also chairwoman of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council Steering Committee, commissioner of the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, council member of the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Defense Advisory Council and a Housatonic Valley Association Litchfield Hills Greenprint Steering Committee member.
Matt and Christine Hanko, 33
Animal foster parents
This husband-and-wife team made waves in the state’s animal welfare community over the past year. Since January 2016, they have volunteered to help the Connecticut Humane Society prepare dogs for adoption. Requesting dogs with behavioral issues that are shy, under-socialized, stressed or have medical challenges, they’ve welcomed seven of the Humane Society’s most difficult dogs into their home. Christine has trained dogs since she was 8, and thanks to the Hankos, each dog they have taken in has been successfully adopted by a new family. That is, except for Tika, who became a permanent part of the Hanko household when the couple decided to adopt her themselves.
Brent Peterkin, 39
Coordinator for anti-gun violence program
Peterkin is the statewide coordinator for Project Longevity, Connecticut’s multi-city group gun violence reduction initiative. Connecticut is the only state in the country implementing such an initiative statewide, and the program is viewed as a national model for violence reduction and strategic coordination. Previously, Peterkin served the state’s Office of Early Childhood and focused on parent engagement and fatherhood development. He also worked with Yale University’s Global Justice Program initiative, Academics Stand Against Poverty and supported at-risk high school students with emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities at Greenburgh Academy in Yonkers, New York.
Brandon Dufour, 33
If your 16-year-old took driver’s ed, you might already be familiar with Dufour. He is the co-founder and CEO of the Next Street Driving School, which, with 70-plus locations, is the largest in the Northeast, and in recent years was named one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S. by Inc. Magazine. This, after Dufour put the brakes on his career as a publicist in the music industry, in which he served as the marketing coordinator for the Dave Matthews Band.
Jason Iglesias, 37
Food center owner
Iglesias acquired the Guilford Food Center in May 2015 and transformed it into a local hub. Part butcher, bakery, grocery, coffee and juice bar that also offers beer and wine, the food center is a local and artisan food mecca. In addition, Iglesias is a dedicated member of the community. He helped with the Guilford Dog Park’s creation, offering organizers a space to host events and conduct fundraising, and he co-chaired the annual Taste of the Shoreline last August. His staff also collects tips that are donated to a local charity each month.
Barry Labendz, 35
As co-owner and the public face of Kent Falls Brewing Co., Labendz’s name has become synonymous with delicious Connecticut-made farmhouse ales, many of which utilize ingredients from Camps Road Farm, where the brewery is based and Labendz lives. The brewery also uses other locally grown ingredients when possible, and in 2016 used hops from the state’s first two commercial hops farms. But the brewery’s mission to support local agriculture doesn’t end there. “I advocate for and am working with the state to legally define and recognize farm breweries and pass a farm brewery permit which will incentivize farmers to grow, breweries to produce, and people to consume locally grown and produced beers,” Labendz says.
Paul Mannion, 36
Food truck owner
As the owner of the Green Grunion Food Truck, Mannion has wowed foodies at breweries across Connecticut and at his home base at Kenosia Park in Danbury with his critically acclaimed San Diego-style burritos. Now, he’s joining forces with Lisa Tassone (owner of La Zingara and Ecco in Bethel), Chris Sanzeni and Kevin Arrington to open Broken Symmetry Gastro Brewery at the historic railroad station in Bethel. When it opens in the late summer or early fall of 2017, the menu at the brewpub will feature Grunion mainstays paired with Belgian-influenced beers. Mannion is psyched to bring something new and exciting to his hometown.
Matt Bailey, 39
Bailey has enjoyed success in the food industry. From 2005 to 2012 he was vice president of operations for Edible Arrangements, helping the company grow from fewer than 85 locations to more than 1,050. Now he is president of Fork Hospitality, which opened Elm City Social last year to great acclaim and more recently Olives and Oil, a new restaurant in New Haven. Along the way he’s helped raise funds for local nonprofits including The Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, the Connecticut Food Bank, City Seed, Camp Kesem at Yale and the New Haven Animal Shelter.
Reginald N. Preston, 36
Navy lieutenant commander, museum director
As the officer in charge of the historic ship USS Nautilus (SSN 571) and director of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum, Preston played a major role this past year in helping to celebrate Connecticut’s Submarine Century, 100 years from the time submarines were first stationed in Groton. Previously, he served as the first chief of staff for the Enlisted Women in Submarines Task Force, and coordinated efforts across every major branch of the Navy to create the plan to integrate submarine-enlisted ranks with female sailors. “I am incredibly proud of my contribution to bringing women into the enlisted ranks of the Submarine Force,” he says. “I am energized every day to come to work representing 116 years of U.S. Navy submarine history. Specifically highlighting the deep ties of the ‘Submarine Capital of the World’ [Groton] and southeastern Connecticut that have been the foundation of the world’s most dominant undersea force is my distinct pleasure.”
Frank Di Pietro, 37
In 2013, Di Pietro, an officer with the Marine Unit of the Greenwich Police, made headlines when he jumped onto a runaway boat moving at dangerously high speeds through crowded waters off Stamford and brought it under control. Earlier this year he made more headlines when he returned to duty after his lower leg was amputated as a result of a non-work-related ladder accident in 2014. Getting back into uniform was a personal milestone for Di Pietro and an inspiration to others.
Ilario Altamura, 33
From family gatherings to neighborhood parties, Altamura was organizing entertainment events from an early age. These days, as the co-founder of Parachute Concerts, he is promoting some of the biggest acts in music and entertainment, including Ringo Starr, Carol Burnett, Tony Bennett and Grammy Award-winning electronic musician Avicii. From small shows in local clubs to large-scale events at venues such as Webster Bank Arena and the XL Center, Altamura has promoted hundreds of events in this state and beyond. National organizations such as the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and The Alzheimer’s Association and local charities such as Clothes to Kids of Fairfield County are beneficiaries of his concerts.
Emanuela Palmares, 34
Newspaper editor, community advocate
Palmares is the editor of Tribuna, Connecticut’s largest trilingual newspaper. Among other community-related activities, she serves as vice president of The New American Dream Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Tribuna, is an advocate with the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, a home visitor with the Danbury Head Start Program and a board member of the Danbury Aging in Place Council, the Regional YMCA, Danbury High School Governance and the Danbury Housing Partnership. “I see myself as an advocate for gender, racial, ethnic and political diversity,” she says. “I am an immigrant who at one point was undocumented. I am an American, at times liberal and at times conservative. I am a woman, a mother, a business owner, community activist, and by a hair — a millennial with a drive to change things for the better.”
Amy Kao, 26
Co-founder of music and arts nonprofit
Playing piano and the viola since she was 5, music has long been a part of Kao’s life. It has served her well through her education and professional pursuits in technology and consulting. Kao wants all children to have the opportunity to receive schooling in the arts. To that end, she co-founded the nonprofit International Music & Arts Society, which promotes music and arts education programs locally and globally. Since its founding in 2010, the organization has grown to 80 members and offers music workshops and performance opportunities to thousands of young musicians in eight different communities across six countries. Kao also has traveled to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Panama to provide pro-bono consulting services and help build music education curriculum for local schools.
Brittany L. Stalsburg, 31
Communications strategist and gender expert
Think feminism is a cause of the past? Think again. It’s certainly an important issue for Stalsburg, particularly in the pursuit of economic justice, immigration reform, voting rights and LGBTQ health. After heading up research projects for national consulting firms, she recently started her own communications practice called BLS Research & Consulting and is focused on helping progressive organizations and causes tell their stories. In the past year, she also started a feminist blog called Women Want To Be On Top, which aims to bring visibility to the issues women face in the workplace, including sexual harassment, equal pay, and inadequate (or absent) family leave policies. She also started a project called Women of the World, a photo-journalism effort to highlight the issues women face around the world.
Adam Lopez, 28
Lopez founded an entertainment management, marketing and branding firm called New Age Media Management in 2011, and an on-demand delivery service, delivering everything from fast food to dry cleaning, called The Naugatuck Truck in 2015. In its first 12 months in business, The Naugatuck Truck has had more than 1,500 orders and is projected to service six to seven new markets by the end of this year. While growing the business, Lopez has done local food drives, bringing meals to 500 families in Naugatuck, and has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Connecticut Special Olympics and the American Cancer Society, among other groups. He is also the youngest member of the Naugatuck Board of Finance.
Rick Lawrence, 36
Marketing and civic engagement
Lawrence works full time at The Hartford Insurance Group, and is one of the top performers in his division, earning an MVP award in sales certification, but still manages to be involved in too many nonprofits and community organizations to list here. The United Way, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and Hartford’s Blue Hills Civic Association have all been beneficiaries of Lawrence’s seemingly boundless energy.
Susan Ballek, 39
Museum executive director
Ballek took over leadership of Farmington’s Hill-Stead Museum, known for its French Impressionist artwork, back in 2013. At that time, the museum’s most significant public program, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, was in danger of being canceled due to lack of funding. After restructuring the program, Ballek is proud that it will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year with an urban poetry slam, an LGBTQ+ weekend of readings and workshops, and the return of Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate. With Ballek at the helm, the museum has launched new events to engage the Hartford region’s diverse population. This past year, Hill-Stead membership grew by over 10 percent, and the museum received significant grant awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Humanities Council.
Jose Emmanuel Alfaro, 31
Charter school advocate and political activist
Alfaro has taken a long and circuitous route to his current place in Connecticut. A Queens, New York, native who was born to parents from El Salvador, Alfaro comes to his current position as Connecticut advocacy manager for the Northeast Charter School Network after having worked on community education with Latin American communities in Baltimore and Washington. In addition to his role as an advocate for education reform, Alfaro co-founded and coordinated outreach for the group CT Latinos for Bernie Sanders, and ran victorious campaigns for three Connecticut General Assembly seats in Bridgeport, Stamford and Manchester.
Mohamad Hafez, 33
Artist and architect
By day, Hafez is an architect with the New Haven firm Pickard-Chilton, which has worked on skyscrapers and prominent buildings around the world. In his spare time, Hafez creates heartbreaking, visceral artwork that shines a light on the life and death of his native Syria, which has been ravaged by a civil war. Hafez’s art highlights the extent of destruction in Syria, and the plight of refugees hoping to come to this country.
Danielle Beerli, 37
Beerli has a background in education program development and administration, and in the past year founded Empower Her, a nonprofit community center offering local programming and “a place for women to be supported in their life paths as well as to open new doors and opportunities for girls and provide them with foundational prosocial and life skills,” Beerli writes. She says that in the last year she is also particularly proud of raising a family and homeschooling her children, at the same time as getting her nonprofit off the ground.
Melissa Gonzales, 39
Vintage boutique owner
Gonzales has always been a collector of handmade and vintage items, through the years browsing tag sales, Goodwill and the Salvation Army. But it was her relationship with Carol Orr, the owner of New Haven vintage store English Building Market, that spurred Gonzales to transform a hobby into a full-fledged business. Gonzales revamped the store’s vintage clothing section, in return, gaining a space to sell items from her own growing collection. That led to pop-up stores around the state, a traveling vintage shop called The Vintanthromobile and, finally, the Vintanthromodern brick-and-mortar store in New Haven featuring clothing and crafts from local artists. A full-time high school art teacher in Hamden, Gonzales believes small businesses can positively impact the local economy and the environment.
Elizabeth Larkin, 27
Youth social worker
As a social worker for queer and homeless youth populations in the city of New Haven with the organization Youth Continuum, Larkin deals with those children living and loving on the outer margins of the urban environment. After working with the state Department of Children and Families to create a protocol for LGTBQ youth in the foster care system, Larkin adopted the training for the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness Annual Training Institute.
Caroline Smith, 24
Bicycling and community partnership advocate
Rather than leave New Haven, like so many Yale graduates, Smith has stayed and committed to the city. She is the founder of New Haven Bike Month, an organization whose goal is that “every person in every neighborhood feels safe, excited and empowered to ride their bikes,” she says. In addition to the Bike Month, she is also the founder of Collaboratory, funded by the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven’s Neighborhood Leadership Program. Collaboratory seeks to bridge some of the long-standing gulfs that have divided New Haven from its largest employer and landowner, Yale.
Trevor Silver and Amy Wagner Silver, 34 and 35
As co-founders and CEO and CFO, respectively, of the tech startup Exusia, the Connecticut residents have tapped into the big data revolution, and grown their company some 8,800 percent since 2013, they say. The business deals with the complex and rapidly expanding world of data management, and has expanded into India, Canada, South Africa and Brazil since its founding. In the past year, the Silvers’ Exusia has been praised for the speed of its growth by publications such as Inc. and Crain’s magazines.
Onyeka Obiocha, 26
Social entrepreneur and events planner
A growing number of residents of Connecticut’s cities are learning that there’s more to a party than just having a good time. They are bringing people together, forming bonds among people living in a community and creating neighborhood roots. Obiocha has been one of the people at the forefront of this idea in our capital city. As one of the organizers of the monthly Know Good Market block parties, Obiocha has given Hartford neighborhood Parkville’s famously creative energy an outlet. At a time when the state is trying to reinvest in cities, Obiocha’s approach is much needed.
Paul Dano, 32
Daniel Day-Lewis asked for him personally. The legendary thespian and Connecticut resident wanted Dano to co-star in the 2007 film There Will Be Blood, a critical smash that won Day-Lewis a Best Actor Oscar. A graduate of Wilton High School, Dano has more than held his own opposite Hollywood royalty in big-budget blockbusters such as Cowboys & Aliens and indie darlings including 12 Years a Slave and Little Miss Sunshine. His portrayal of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson in 2014’s Love & Mercy earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Known for his eclectic and adventurous choices in roles, Dano will next appear in the action flick Okja this summer. Also working behind the camera, Dano will make his directorial debut in 2017 with the film Wildlife, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. Acting veteran Brian Cox, who has worked alongside Dano in multiple films, called the 32-year-old “one of the best young actors in America.”
Mark Abraham, 37
Data nonprofit executive director
There’s a phrase that’s floating around media and policy circles a lot these days: data is the new oil. To be sure, many new ventures in both worlds have based their models on data about the places in which we live. At the front of this trend in Connecticut is New Haven’s DataHaven, where Mark Abraham heads up a team that has produced the Greater New Haven Community Index, a ground-level survey of the economic conditions and well-being of people throughout the New Haven area.
Sawyer Fredericks, 17
With a rare combination of aw-shucks innocence and vocal power and sincerity, Fredericks became the youngest winner of NBC’s hit singing-competition show The Voice in 2015 at age 16. Though his family now has a farm in upstate New York, Fredericks will always be a native of Connecticut, as he spent most of his first 10 years in Newtown. He often returns to Connecticut to visit family and rehearse with his band at his uncle’s house in Canton. After his Voice win, Fredericks released his first full-length, major-label album, A Good Storm, in May 2016. He followed that up with his first headlining tour, playing 49 shows across the U.S. Charitable causes are near and dear to Fredericks’ heart, as he’s supported the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Youth Arts Forum, flood relief for victims in Louisiana and Farm Aid.
Scott Kluger, 34
He traded in bull markets for brioche buns. Despite a successful career in finance, Kluger made the bold move to start his own artisanal bakery, Hartford Baking Co., in West Hartford in 2010. What he lacked in formal experience, he more than made up for in determination, not to mention a cupboard full of his mother’s recipes (he says her scones are the best you’ll ever taste). Hartford Baking Co.’s made-from-scratch baked goods and pastries are available at restaurants, grocery stores, and seasonal farm stands and farmers markets throughout Connecticut. In the last year, Kluger opened a flagship retail location in West Hartford Center, and plans to hire dozens more workers as the business continues to grow.
Alison T. Burdick, 38
Middle school principal
She’s only 38, but Burdick has already been the principal of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London for some seven years. New London is Burdick’s hometown, too, and she is a product of the same New London public school system to which she has now brought $5 million through her grant writing. Burdick has a doctorate in education from the University of Connecticut, and has worked tirelessly to create partnerships between the school system and local community organizations like the New London NAACP and the Eugene O’Neill Theater.
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, 33
Education is a contentious issue across the country; few places more so than Connecticut. Almost every year, a high-stakes chess game plays out at the state Capitol among parents, teachers and lawmakers. Thomas has deftly covered a complex issue for The Connecticut Mirror, with stories that shine a light on financial mismanagement, the changing landscape of higher education and Connecticut’s highest-in-the-nation achievement gap.
Jordan Reed, 26
National Football League player
Despite missing several games due to injury over his first four seasons, the Washington Redskins’ Reed is arguably the best tight end in football, this side of the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski. The New Britain native played quarterback at New London High School, before moving on to the University of Florida, where he found success at the tight end position. Amassing 200 catches faster than any other tight end in NFL history, Reed was named to his first Pro Bowl this past season.
Mike Silvestrini, 37, and Art Linares Jr., 28
Solar-power company co-founders
Alternative energy is big business, with solar leading the way. Silvestrini and Linares are part of that movement, starting Middletown-based Greenskies Renewable Energy in 2008. Today, Greenskies is one of the top solar-development firms in the country, handling solar projects from inception to maintenance for big-box stores such as Walmart and Target, as well as towns, schools and institutions of higher learning. As of this writing, Greenskies had developed more than 400 solar projects in 19 states, totaling more than 200 megawatts of emissions-free electrical-production capacity. Aside from the solar industry, Silvestrini is a board member of Big Life, a Kenya-based wildlife conservation group, and Linares is a state senator from Westbrook.
Heidi Voight, 34
Television news anchor and reporter
Early risers might recognize Voight’s smiling face, which can be seen every weekday morning on NBC Connecticut Today from 4:30 to 7 a.m. Viewers across the country got to see her when she represented Connecticut in the 2006 Miss America pageant, and more recently, during appearances on NBC’s The Today Show and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Also a features reporter, Voight is a softie for human (and animal) interest stories. She hosts Pet of the Week and Community Connection segments, highlighting charitable causes around the state. So dedicated is Voight to animal welfare that she was inducted this past fall into the Gertrude O. Lewis Humanitarian Society, the Connecticut Humane Society’s highest honor.
Kevin Phelps, 24
For some reason, and we can’t figure out why, the southeastern corner of the state has produced a number of very good and important skateboarders over the years. Brian Anderson and Donny Barley are both world-famous skateboarders from Groton. Kevin Phelps may be the next in line. He burst onto the skateboarding scene in 2013, when he was featured by Thrasher Magazine. Since then, he has generated a large Instagram following that has come to know his aggressive, fast-but-stylish skating. Most skateboarding comes out of the warmer climates of the West Coast, but Phelps films in places such as New London, Hartford and Providence, so you could say his style of skateboarding is distinctly of this place.
George Springer, 27
Major League Baseball player
When the Houston Astros picked Springer 11th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, it was the highest selection ever for a University of Connecticut product. Since then, he’s emerged as one of the sport’s brightest young stars. In his first full season in 2016, he cracked a career-high 29 home runs, while continuing to produce countless highlight-reel catches in center field. Off the field, he’s the spokesman for the Stuttering Association for the Young and has hosted an all-star bowling event that raises money to send children who stutter to summer camp. It’s hard not to root for Springer, although Yankees and Red Sox fans probably don’t want to see him play their teams anytime soon. He hit a grand slam against both squads last spring.