CEOs. Community activists. Professional athletes. Government leaders. Broadway performers. Filmmakers. Farmers. Singers. Chefs. Journalists. Entrepreneurs.
In 2019, the list of 40 up-and-comers in Connecticut under the age of 40 is as distinguished and impressive as ever. As always, our latest crop of high-achievers were nominated by friends, family, co-workers, admirers and Connecticut Magazine staff. Prepare to be inspired!
Erik Bloomquist, 26 / Hartford
Bloomquist has been telling stories and doing plays since daycare. Now he does it all — acting, directing, writing, producing, choreography, teaching and editing. He is a graduate of Trinity College (cum laude) and is an alumnus of the London Dramatic Academy. His theater credits include the world premiere of the play Rear Window. He won two New England Emmy Awards and has received numerous nominations for his work. He created, wrote and starred in the nationally syndicated television series, The Cobblestone Corridor. His debut feature film, Long Lost, filmed in Greenwich, stars Connecticut native and Yale graduate Nicholas Tucci. It has been shown at festivals around the country and is expected to be released this year. “Being in Connecticut has really allowed me to do much of what I’ve been able to create,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to be able to collaborate with really interesting people.”
Adrien Broom, 39 / New Haven
As a photographer, fine artist and set designer, Broom infuses a sense of magic and wonder into the images she creates. Informed by a rich education in fine and decorative art in Florence and London, Broom’s photographs combine the sensuality of classical painting with the modern techniques of photography. Broom lives and works between Brooklyn, New York, and her studio in New Haven. Her work has been in exhibitions at museums and galleries around the globe, and in recent years at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme and The Hudson River Museum in New York. Farm to Camera is her new food photography and video project. She also paired with the National Trust to create a photographic and video series — Holding Space: Historic Homes Project — that documents and pays homage to the historic homes of artists and writers, including the Mark Twain House in Hartford.
Matt Chesky, 28 / West Hartford
Insurance company COO
Chesky did not just coast into the family business after college. He knew about the insurance business since he was 9 years old, but never thought he would work in it. After college, he came in to help out and fell in love with his father’s business, Insuritas, a company that promotes insurance aisles in banks and credit unions as a complement to other products such as mortgages and car loans. As chief operating officer, Chesky oversees the East Windsor-based call center, client management team and client acquisition team. He believes that insurance is the last industry in the country that has not been significantly disrupted by the internet. It is still dominated by the same players as it was 75 years ago, he maintains, but responds to today’s needs. He enjoys coaching West Hartford Youth Soccer teams and volunteers with FLOW, a network for young professionals and future leaders.
Crawley says he has had an amazing adventure since graduating from the Hartt School. No argument here. He missed the last day of college to audition successfully for the off-Broadway musical Spamilton, and was nominated for the Clive Barnes Award for it. He left the show to appear in the pre-Broadway run of Found, then returned to New York to audition for Mean Girls. Although director Casey Nicholaw did not cast him in the play, he created a new position for Crawley in the show Aladdin — standby for the Genie. It was magical for Crawley, because he made his Broadway debut at the age of 22 and was the youngest person to play the role of the Genie on Broadway. He also appeared in the latest season of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and released an album, Awakening (Mind), for which he wrote most of the music and lyrics
Ryan Drajewicz, 39 / Fairfield
Governor’s chief of staff
After college, Drajewicz sent a copy of his senior thesis on nuclear proliferation to several congressmen. Sen. Christopher Dodd’s office called and interviewed him. Accepting an entry-level position with the senator “was the best decision I made,” Drajewicz recalls. He “rode shotgun through history” with two landmark pieces of legislation — the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. After working for Dodd for eight years, he took an executive position at Bridgewater Associates in Westport. Itching to return to public service, he held informal get-togethers in his home with likeminded people from both political parties and met Ned Lamont, who invited him to run his gubernatorial transition team and later offered him the position of chief of staff, which he accepted. “I’m not looking at it as an opportunity,” he says. “I’m looking at it as an obligation. I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Andre Drummond, 25 / Middletown
Oh, what could have been, UConn fans. It’s true, the Middletown native played for the Huskies in 2011-12 after dominating the state’s high school hoops scene. But he left following his freshman year to pursue the bright lights and big money of the NBA, going to the Detroit Pistons with the ninth pick. All Drummond has done since then is become one of the NBA’s most tenacious rebounders and most feared defenders. A two-time All-Star selection and a gold medalist for the U.S. at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Drummond was leading the league in rebounding through early January, likely setting him up for a third appearance in the NBA’s star-studded showcase in February. Standing nearly 7 feet tall, Drummond is considered one of the best centers in the league. Analysts think there are even greater heights ahead for the big man.
Charlie Ebersol, 36 / Litchfield
Founder of the Alliance of American Football
When Litchfield native Charlie Ebersol announced the creation of the Alliance of American Football, skepticism was a natural first reaction. But competing with the National Football League is not what he set out to do. (Read our feature-length profile of Ebersol.)
Kristin Eddy, 28 / Windsor
Anyone who has had the opportunity to bite into one of Eddy’s breads or desserts knows exactly why this rising culinary star has made the list. A former student of the Culinary Institute of America, Eddy is the executive pastry chef of Millwright’s Restaurant, The Cook & The Bear, and Porròn and Piña, all three of chef Tyler Anderson’s restaurants. At each, she works her dough and sugar magic with a variety of fresh and local ingredients. Prior to her role in Anderson’s restaurants, Eddy distinguished herself at elite New York City restaurants including Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro and Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern. She also received the 2017 Rising Star of the Year award from the Connecticut Restaurant Association. Her desserts have consistently wowed our food writers and many others.
Lindsay Farrell, 38 / West Hartford
Director of Connecticut Working Families Party
Since 2012, Farrell has been the director of the Connecticut Working Families Party. She spearheaded the effort for paid sick days legislation in Connecticut, passing the nation’s first statewide standard in 2011. She worked to achieve Connecticut’s $10.10 minimum wage, which was the highest in the country when it was passed in 2014. In addition, under Farrell’s leadership, the Connecticut Working Families Party has helped get legislation for retirement security, fair chance employment, student debt relief, immigrant rights, affordable health care, and protecting Connecticut’s clean elections program. She has also provided strategic support to dozens of local and legislative campaigns all over Connecticut. A full-time working mother of two small children herself, she continues to fight for an economy that “works for everyone.” As a contributing member of the Lamont-Bysiewicz Transition Team’s Women’s Committee, she is helping to lead the effort to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave and a $15 minimum wage in the 2019 legislative session.
Ronan Farrow, 31 / Bridgewater
Farrow is an investigative reporter and contributing writer to The New Yorker who helped expose powerhouse movie producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator, the main catalyst behind the #MeToo movement that continues to rock Hollywood and beyond. His series exposing Weinstein garnered the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for The New Yorker (shared with The New York Times). The 2009 Yale Law School graduate is also responsible for taking down CBS chief Les Moonves and New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman. But as he tweeted on Dec. 30: “My focus isn’t on taking anyone down, but it is on uncovering hard truths.” Farrow is also the author of War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence and was named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2018.
Sarah Gallardo, 37 / Newington
Domestic violence counselor
Gallardo didn’t set out to become a certified domestic violence counselor. After studying singing at Berklee College of Music, she got married and was abused for 10 years. After her daughter was born, she began to turn her life around. “Once I had this baby girl,” she recalls, “I realized I had someone to fight for.” She went to support groups where she learned that his abuse was not her fault and that she was not alone. “I needed all that,” she says. “I highly recommend domestic violence survival groups.” She is the founder and executive director of Sarah Speaks Up, an organization that helps people live free from all kinds of abuse. A speaker, activist and advocate, she authored Hiding in Plain Sight: A Glimpse Into the Reality of Domestic Violence, in which she helps guide victims through resources and others on how to help the abused.
Grant Gyesky, 39; Jarrett McGovern, 38; Justin Weinstein, 38 / Greenwich and Stamford
Founders of Rise Brewing Co.
The state’s craft beverage industry has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. But rather than create another new IPA or distilled spirit, this Greenwich- and Stamford-raised trio gave rise to a different kind of brew: nitrogen-infused, cold-brew coffee. Just a few years ago, the three were experimenting with cold brew in their New York City apartments. Today, they have cafes in the city and a production facility in Stamford, and their cans and kegs can be found in high-end eateries and markets, as well as online. Their cold-brew coffee is the result of a precise process similar to that of craft beer, with a taste that is smooth and far less bitter than standard hot coffee, and a creaminess that is reminiscent of Guinness. In addition to their earlier lineup of original black, and blood orange and lemonade flavors, Rise recently introduced oat milk and mocha lattes. With its products proliferating in the Northeast, Rise’s founders now have their sights set on expanding to the West Coast.
Alicia Hernandez Strong, 22 / New Britain
With her firm convictions, Strong lives up to her name. As a high school junior, she converted from Catholicism to Islam after a course in comparative religions. She did a study-abroad program in Kosovo before graduating with honors from Wesleyan University with a degree in political science and religious studies. At 21, she became the youngest person nationally to be named the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). She worked there for less than a year and left because she wanted to do more than just educate the general public about Islam. Now in her gap year between college and grad school, she started a social media marketing firm to help small businesses in New Britain. Next, she will help empower young Muslim women and work with New Britain’s Board of Education to tackle wealth and racial disparity in the schools.
Byron Jones, 26 / New Britain
The New Britain native, St. Paul (Bristol) graduate, and University of Connecticut football star was a first-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015. What helped his draft stock immensely was when he displayed the extent of his athletic prowess with a standing long jump of 12 feet, 3 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine. It still stands as a world record. After two years of playing free safety, the 6-foot, 205-pound Jones moved back to cornerback for 2018 and had the best season of his career, getting voted to his first Pro Bowl. Jones had a career-high 14 passes defended and was ranked the fifth-best corner in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. He helped lead the Cowboys to the playoffs for the second time in his four seasons.
Caroline Jones, 28 / Greenwich
Jones has been serious about music since childhood. At 9, she studied classical singing. At 10, she wrote her first song. She taught herself how to play various instruments. She prefers to remain an independent country music artist in order to retain control of her music and maintain its integrity. Jones opened for the Zac Brown Band and Jimmy Buffett, with whom she collaborated on his song, “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On,” to benefit victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2017. She has her own radio show, Art & Soul on SiriusXM, where musicians talk about what inspires them. The daughter of philanthropists Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones, she launched The Heart is Smart (THIS) to perform and provide music workshops for students in schools and colleges. She helps bring performing arts, health and wellness and character development to underserved public schools through the Live Sonima Tour.
Ali Lazowski, 27 / West Hartford
Simultaneous battles with cancer and Lyme disease inspired Lazowski to truly explore her love of food and launch Bare Life, an allergen-friendly food startup. The coconut hot cocoa mix came first — organic, Kosher, vegan, gluten free, paleo, and made in Connecticut. Lazowski says Bare Life provides opportunities to expand her involvement in the local community; she regularly speaks with students and community groups about being a young entrepreneur. Through Bare Life’s support groups — which she also created — Lazowski says she finds her greatest joy in connecting with people living with similar chronic illnesses. Recently Bare Life took the third-place prize at reSET’s Venture Showcase. Lazowski is also a founding member of Restart the Hart, a growing group of young professionals aiming to “showcase Hartford as a modern city for millennials.” She’s also busy writing Bare Life’s first sweets-centric cookbook, due out this spring.
Douglas Lyons, 31 / New Haven
Broadway composer, lyricist and actor
More than an actor, composer, writer and lyricist, Lyons is a master juggler of new musical theater projects. He toured in Rent and Dreamgirls and appeared on Broadway in The Book of Mormon and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Lyons won the Gypsy Rose Lee Award for Leading Actor as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Ragtime. He also appeared in other shows including Galileo Galilei at Yale Rep. He wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the score of Five Points, which was part of the Goodspeed Opera House’s Festival of New Musicals and premiered in Minneapolis. Lyons and his composing partner, Ethan Pakchar, were commissioned by Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theatre to write ’64, a musical about the first integrated Jewish/African-American fraternity. His children’s show, Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical, won the 2018 Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best Family Show. Next up is Beau, which will be offered as part of Lincoln Center’s Broadway Songbook Series in March.
Tiffany Maldonado, 35 / Waterbury
Real estate professional
Maldonado has two passions — real estate and serving the community to provide safe and affordable housing for people with moderate to low incomes. After working for more than a decade in both the public and private sectors of real estate, she became the principal owner of Diamond Venture, a company that specializes in all facets of real estate investment and property management services throughout Connecticut. Fluent in Spanish, she also works for the Waterbury Department of Education and oversees office management of the Bilingual/ESL Department. She was the director of asset management for the Bridgeport Housing Authority, where she provided executive supervision of 2,800 units of public housing. She was also instrumental in organizing a summer lunch program, back-to-school giveaway and holiday toy drive in public housing developments. Maldonado holds numerous industry designations and specializes in radical turnaround efforts.
Mae Ryan Maloney, 33 / Windsor
When Maloney was in high school, her guidance counselor told her, “Your hobby is helping people.” Maloney turned that hobby into her profession. Between college and grad school, she worked for Leadership Greater Hartford as a program coordinator and grants manager. Soon after earning her master’s degree in clinical/medical social work, she realized that she preferred community organizing to social work and returned to Leadership Greater Hartford. Maloney facilitates workshops and trains people on nonprofit boards to strengthen their ability to work together in constructive partnerships. “People join boards because they believe in them,” she says, but they need coaching to focus on what they’re responsible for and what questions they should be asking to be more effective. She also works with several youth leadership programs in the Greater Hartford area and serves as a board member of the Windsor Education Foundation.
Lori-Ann Marchese, 34 / Berlin
Fitness studio owner
A World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Pro fitness and bikini model, Marchese founded Body Construct Fitness, an exercise facility that focuses solely on women’s body needs. Unisex workouts don’t get the best results for women, she explains, because women need a high volume of repetitions in order to chisel their bodies and get long, strong, slender bikini legs and avoid bulky muscles. Even women who come in already fit, but have only taken conventional unisex classes, are surprised at the different approach Body Construct Fitness takes when it comes to women’s exercises. They may be accustomed to lifting 30-pound weights, but it’s a different story when they’re doing 75-80 repetitions with weights. In addition to personal training and group classes, Marchese offers competition preparation and nutrition coaching. She still competes and has modeled for numerous magazines. Her company runs events to help the homeless.
Ariel Mayer, 15 / Guilford
Champion ballroom dancer
Performing has been Mayer’s calling since she appeared in The Nutcracker at the age of 5. She initially took ballroom-dancing lessons to strengthen her muscles after recovering from neurovascular-muscular dystrophy. But it soon became her specialty. By 15, she had won numerous awards in dance championships across the country. Her other passions are singing and acting, particularly Shakespeare, because it “truly is accessible to everyone because it’s about the human condition” and the plays have been around for more than 400 years. She has performed with the Elm Shakespeare Teen Troupe and in musicals at the French Woods Festival. To accommodate her hectic schedule, which includes frequent travel, she is homeschooled through the Stanford University Online High School, which has a highly competitive curriculum. Her ambition is to be in theater, film and television, but her goal is “to inspire … and help give people hope for the future.”
Jill Bryant Mayer, 37 / Cheshire
That beaded chain on your closet light and vertical blinds was invented by W. Calvin Bryant, Mayer’s great-grandfather. Newly appointed as CEO, Mayer is proud that Bead Industries still manufactures bead chains in Connecticut in addition to electronics and commercial-grade plumbing fixture trims. Mayer earned a B.S. in business from the University of Vermont and an M.S. from Champlain College and has worked at Bead since 2007. In addition to the typical duties of a CEO, including leading the company into the future with innovation and growth, Mayer is fostering good working relationships among the multigenerational workforce at Bead. Her goal is to have people communicate well and keep a positive culture in the company, which relocated to Milford after being in Bridgeport for 95 years. She is on the boards of the New Haven Manufacturers Association and University of New Haven’s Center for Family Business.
Melissa McCaw, 39 / Hartford
State budget chief
Gov. Ned Lamont had good reason to choose McCaw to serve as the state’s first African-American woman secretary of the office of policy and management, also known as the Connecticut budget chief. A numbers wiz who was born in Norwalk and raised in Waterbury, McCaw has 17 years of budgeting and financial analysis and planning experience. Most recently she served as Hartford’s chief financial officer. Prior to that she served as budget director of the University of Hartford for nearly seven years. She received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s of public administration, public finance and budgeting from the University of Connecticut. In her new role, she’ll be tasked with reeling in Connecticut’s long-term fiscal crisis, which is likely to be a key benchmark of success for the Lamont administration.
Summer McGee, 37 / New Haven
College dean and health researcher
McGee is the founding dean of the University of New Haven School of Health Sciences, comprising eight graduate and undergraduate degree programs, more than 450 students, and more than 50 full-time and part-time faculty. In addition, she is an accomplished researcher in bioethics, public health, and health policy, and has authored more than 25 widely cited articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters. She served from 2008‐12 as the executive editor and then co-editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Bioethics. This is the latest honor for McGee, whose previous accolades include receiving the 2014 American College of Healthcare Executives Distinguished Faculty Regents Award, being named in 2015 as one of the Top 50 Healthcare Management Professors, and receiving the Javits Fellowship to complete her Ph.D. in bioethics and health policy at The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health at the age of 25.
Tarell Alvin McCraney, 38 / New Haven
McCraney has been so successful as a playwright that winning an Academy Award for screenwriting isn’t even on the top of his résumé. One of the leading voices in modern theater, he was recently named chairman of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama, as well as playwright-in-residence at Yale Repertory Theatre. Best known for The Brother/Sister Plays and In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which was adapted by McCraney and Barry Jenkins into the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, McCraney is also the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award. He was also the international writer-in-residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2008-10. The Yale School of Drama grad will make his Broadway debut in January with his play Choir Boy and has a coming-of-age TV show, David Makes Man, coming next year on Oprah’s OWN network
Jesse Nusbaum, 28 / Weston
Known for creating realistic animals, Nusbaum’s husky sculptures are on display at the University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball trophy cases in recognition of their national championships. He also had many exhibitions in the Tri-State Area at venues including Carriage Barn Arts Center in New Canaan; Greenwich Art Society; Mamaroneck Artist Guild in New York; Stamford Art Association; Martin Art Gallery in Allentown, Pennsylvania; Limner Gallery in Hudson, New York; Ridgefield Guild of Artists in Ridgefield and online with AreaArtist.com, of which he is a member. In November 2017 Nusbaum was inducted into the Silvermine Guild of Artists, one of the youngest artists to become a member of the guild. World Wide Art Books, a leading art publisher, has selected Nusbaum’s work to appear in two separate editions: Important World Artists in late 2018 and International Contemporary Masters in 2019.
Mark Nussbaum, 35 / Cheshire
The creative force behind Manic Presents, Nussbaum put together his first concert, a punk rock show at a teen center, more than 15 years ago. Since then, he has built the Manic brand from a high school hobby to full-time operation, producing concerts at many of Connecticut’s top venues. He regularly works with Premier Concerts and produces shows at College Street Music Hall in New Haven and the Space Ballroom in Hamden. He also produces a weekly emerging artist series at Cafe Nine called Manic Mondays. Nussbaum’s company provided early support to bands like Deer Tick, Sharon Van Etten and Dirty Projectors, and has produced concerts by David Byrne, the Pixies and the Flaming Lips. Nussbaum is proud that he helped make Connecticut more than just “fly-over country” for touring acts playing New York City and Boston.
Jacob G. Padrón, 38 / New Haven
Long Wharf Theatre artistic director
Padrón brings something different to his new role as Long Wharf Theatre’s fifth artistic director — a wealth of experience as an artistic producer instead of as director. A graduate of Loyola Marymount University and Yale School of Drama, Padrón is well versed in theater realities such as budgets, grants and marketing as well as reading scripts. He worked at El Teatro Campesino, The Public Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, WarnerMedia and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In 2016 he founded The Sol Project, a national theater initiative that promotes Latinx playwrights and artists of diverse backgrounds through collaborative partnerships with theaters nationwide, including the recently produced El Huracán at Yale Rep. A co-founder of Tilted Field Productions and the Artists’ Anti-Racism Coalition, he believes that “When you experience stories that are different from your own, your heart and mind expand. The theater must be the space where we come together in community to celebrate difference.”
Brad Palazzo, 36 / Glastonbury
Director of community impact
A 2005 graduate of Quinnipiac University, Palazzo began his career as the community impact coordinator for Comcast’s Western New England Region. He relocated to Maryland in 2012 but recently returned to WNE as director of community impact to be closer to family. Palazzo develops and manages Comcast’s regional community impact strategies and activities, which includes providing support to area nonprofit organizations with a focus on accelerating digital inclusion, developing skills for the digital economy, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, and inspiring volunteerism and service. Palazzo currently sits on the advisory board of the United Way of New Britain and Berlin and was named Maryland’s 2017 Big Brother of the Year for his work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chesapeake. In Connecticut, Brad leads the Beyond School Walls program, a partnership with Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters in Hartford that matches elementary school children with Comcast mentors.
Nathan Pitruzzello, 22 / New Haven
Tech company founder and CEO
Pitruzzello is the founder and CEO of SoluTech and Scroll Network and is a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He has been working to advance data security after observing its countless flaws. Starting with coding and developing apps in his dorm room at the University of New Haven, Pitruzzello soon found his way to developing groundbreaking solutions for the current problems with enterprise and consumer data by utilizing alternative peer-to-peer technologies. He has been nominated for 30 Under 30 lists for both Inc. and Forbes magazine and attended the Forbes Under 30 Summit in October. His app, SlideDrive, utilizes revolutionary technology to combat cloud volatility and keep data safe.
Julio Ramirez, 28 / Torrington
A native of the Dominican Republic, Ramirez moved to the U.S. in 2010 to pursue his dream of telling stories and creating emotional connections through art and branded storytelling. He has worked with brands like JBL, AKG, Under Armour and Best Buy with co-branded projects with Demi Lovato and Stephen Curry. Along the way he has received recognition by magazines like Yanko Design and Artstation, as well as the Connecticut Art Directors Club. He is currently the art director for i2Systems, an LED-lighting manufacturer based in Connecticut whose fixtures can be seen at places like the High Line, Comcast Tower, 21st Century Fox headquarters and Google offices. In addition to his design work, Ramirez played second-division soccer and remains passionate about the sport. With his friend, Dan Starbuck Pelletier, he teaches with DIG USA, a nonprofit that teaches chess and soccer to underprivileged kids in Connecticut.
Dana Terrace, 28 / Hamden
Terrace’s journey to becoming a cartoonist started in Hamden, where she was born and raised, and continued on to the Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School in New Haven and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she studied animation. Terrace became a storyboard artist and animator for award-winning shows such as the Disney Channel’s Gravity Falls and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. She ascended to the director’s chair for the 2017 reboot of DuckTales, earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the main titles. Now Terrace is busy creating her own horror-comedy series, The Owl House, which is set to premiere on the Disney Channel this year. She regularly holds charity streams to support causes close to her heart and donates to her high school’s arts program. She was on Variety’s “10 Animators to Watch” list in 2017.
Tom Truelove, 37 / Morris
Truelove Farms, founded by Truelove in 2009, pasture-raises heritage-breed hogs, beef cattle, hens, turkeys and broiler chickens with a focus on sustainability. These products are sold at farmers markets throughout the state and appear on the menu of some of Connecticut’s best restaurants. In addition, Truelove is active with many agriculture organizations and regularly lectures and participates in panels about farming and sustainability. He recently hosted Sen. Chris Murphy on the farm for a discussion about the National Farm Bill, and was invited by Farm Aid to speak alongside his wife, Alana, a practicing psychotherapist, on a panel discussing the ongoing crisis of stress and suicide in the farming community. When he’s not farming, Truelove writes about the natural world. He is currently working on a book about his farming misadventures.
Luis A. Valdez-Jimenez, 30 / Windsor Locks
Aerospace industry lawyer
Armed with a law degree and an MBA, Valdez-Jimenez wears two hats as a contract lawyer in the aerospace industry. He seeks legal solutions and makes business decisions when negotiating contracts. He mitigates risk while gaining a competitive advantage in the supply chain, ensuring that Aerospace Systems, a division of United Technologies, can rely on products from suppliers without limited liability, reduced orders or noncompliance in regulatory matters. His job entails conducting and responding to audits, enforcing compliance policies, and streamlining processes, thereby reducing costs. Committed to serving the community, Valdez-Jimenez has been on the boards of the 360 Federal Credit Union and United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, where he was chairman of its Emerging Leaders Society. He was on the UTAS National Prospanica 2016 Conference Team. He serves on the Connecticut General Assembly Commission on Equity and Opportunity, and has received numerous awards for his volunteer work.
Nekita Waller, 37 / Middletown
Our current state troubadour has been performing since childhood, making her stage debut in front of the notoriously tough audience at Harlem’s Apollo Theater at 13 years old. Waller has sung with B.B. King, for Hillary Clinton, and on Steve Harvey’s radio show. In her current role, Waller is mentoring students at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and has worked with Middletown High School students on their Hamilton Education Program. She has been honored by Middletown, Bloomfield and Windsor with citations for her public service in music. Her 2018 song “Connecticut Anthem” has more than 100,000 streams since its release less than a year ago. “Won’t Stop Loving You,” a positive song with a Southern soul beat that reveals an influence of Waller’s family roots in Alabama, is slated for an early 2019 release. She will perform at the Meriden Daffodil Festival on April 27.
Benjamin Williams, 27 / Manchester
Tech company co-founder and CEO
As CEO and co-founder of ARsome Technology Group, Williams hopes to help businesses and educational institutions utilize Augmented Reality (AR). The Manchester-based company has developed and installed a virtual reality drag-racing experience inside a 1970 Dodge Challenger for the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California, as well as AR scavenger hunts for museums and AR menus at restaurants, which allow guests to see the food on their table before they order. The company also designed an app that brings the Mark Twain statue in front of Hartford Public Library to life through AR. Williams earned his bachelor’s in business information systems from Eastern Connecticut State University, his MBA from UConn, and a master’s in technology and innovation from New York University. And he’s not done. He is studying international relations at Harvard University as a part-time graduate student.
Alicia Woodsby, 39 / Marlborough
Nonprofit executive director
Woodsby’s passion for social justice led her to the Partnership for Strong Communities. “I’ve seen how demoralizing and traumatizing homelessness is for people and how it robs them of their basic human rights,” she says. As executive director, she is part of a statewide collaboration that includes hundreds of organizations to decrease homelessness. By mobilizing resources and changing programs, systems and policy, there has been a dramatic reduction in chronic homelessness among veterans and people who had no place to live after being institutionalized. The partnership helped to create an evidence-based model at the state level to end homelessness. “Homelessness is preventable and solvable. Yet we still allow this problem to persist,” Woodsby says. “We can do so much better than this as a society.”
Anna Zapotoski, 38 / Norwalk
Anna Zap is the co-host of the award-winning Anna and Raven Show on Star 99.9. From speaking engagements to hosting hundreds of local charitable events, Zapotoski is usually out there somewhere in Fairfield County helping to raise money (her tally is in the hundreds of thousands) to support Make-A-Wish Connecticut, American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and many more. Zapotoski graduated from Pace University and received her master of arts in teaching from Sacred Heart University. She is a former adjunct professor of public speaking at Pace and was the youngest professor on staff. With roots in stand-up comedy, Zapotoski has performed at many of Manhattan’s most prestigious comedy clubs. The transformation to radio was a natural fit. Of all her roles, her favorite is mom. She welcomed her second daughter in November.