The New Orleans area is teeming with remarkable young adults who excel in a multitude of areas, including education, athletics, community development, business, technology, entertainment and more. Every year (with the exception of an interruption by Hurricane Katrina in 2005), Gambit Weekly honors 40 people under the age of 40 for contributions they have made to our area and the potential they show for making their community a better place. The 10th annual '40 Under 40" issue is evidence that personal and professional success and exceptional works can be realized at an early age through innovative thinking and inspired actions. Profiles by
Photos by Donn Young
Sean Johnson, 36
Founder, Wild Lotus Yoga Sanctuary and Wild Lotus Band
As a New Orleans native, Sean Johnson surely knows the meaning of the word soul. Johnson, founder of Wild Lotus Yoga Sanctuary Uptown, loves the strong sense of ritual and tradition that permeates the city and its history.
While attending college in Washington state, Johnson studied comparative spiritual traditions and fell in love with a new practice: yoga.
'I loved it so much that I wanted to continue to study yoga and eastern spirituality (after college), [so] I found a graduate program in Oakland, Calif., where I could do that," he says. 'I got into chanting and music in addition to yoga practice there, and I just felt inspired to come back home and share what I learned."
Johnson moved back to New Orleans in 1999 and began teaching yoga. He opened the Wild Lotus Yoga Sanctuary shortly thereafter. He also tours with his Wild Lotus Band, teaching mantra music and meditation nationwide.
'One of the things I really love is the interplay between the sense of history and romance of New Orleans and the spirit of the water and the land, and the way that plays and dances with yoga," Johnson says. 'Having a yoga studio here in New Orleans you get the best of both worlds, this laid-back kind of swamp energy in the land and the water here " there's a real soulfulness to it " and yoga, that's really about waking up the spirit. [It] creates a way for the soul and the spirit to be at play with each other."
Johnson's future plans include opening a yoga studio downtown in conjunction with other healers, artists, engineers and architects working on an alternative healing center for underprivileged residents in the Eighth and Ninth wards who are suffering post-traumatic stress and other health problems. " Andert
Scott Ballard, 35
Steve Ballard 37
Paul Ballard, 38
Founders, WOW Café and Wingery
As New Orleans filled with floodwater, Scott, Steve and (seated) Paul Ballard, founders of WOW Café and Wingery, were driving to upstate New York to open a new franchise. During the long ride, they talked about the future of their business. 'We made a commitment to ourselves that we were going to survive," says Paul, 'and we made a commitment to grow the brand nationally and then we made a commitment to New Orleans."
At that time, the chain had 19 locations, and 12 were in the New Orleans area. 'We thought that we were out of business," Paul says. The brothers began cleaning out the restaurants and recovered from the storm without firing a single employee.
Paul, the oldest of the brothers, opened his first PJ's Coffee franchise in 1995, a year after he graduated from Tulane University. Steve and Scott, also Tulane graduates, started Smoothie Kings in Georgia and North Carolina. 'We call it our MBA program in franchising," Paul says. 'We bought franchises, and then we became franchisees."
After designing the WOW concept and opening the first two restaurants on the Northshore in 2001, they've expanded the chain to 44 locations in 16 states. But it is still a Louisiana company.
'It's our identity " it's who we are," Steve says. 'All things being equal, we will do business with a Louisiana brand before we do it with anybody else." Crystal is the base for WOW's hot sauce, and Paul Prudhomme makes the chain's spice blends.
'Everyone is amazed that three brothers started a company, have had some success and no police reports have been filed," Scott says. Even with the occasional argument, all three brothers say they prefer working with family. 'It's awesome, it's happy, it's sad, it's exhilarating," Steve says. 'I think the best part about it is that we unconditionally love and trust each other." " Price
Otto DeJean Sr., 30
Big Chief, Hard Head Hunters Mardi Gras Indian Tribe
President, Circle of Chiefs
Big Chief Otto DeJean wears many hats. A civil sheriff by day, he also is Big Chief of the Hard Head Hunters Mardi Gras Indian tribe and president of the Circle of Chiefs, a group of Mardi Gras Indian chiefs that works to promote positive community relationships between tribes and their neighbors.
DeJean, who comes from a family with a long history of musicianship and involvement with Mardi Gras Indians, was a musician and gradually became an Indian himself. He became the Hard Head Hunters' chief in 2004.
'A lot of people look at the fame and the glory, but being a chief comes with a great responsibility," DeJean says. 'I'm a teacher, a counselor, a provider, a mentor. You name it, I do it."
In April, DeJean formed the Circle of Chiefs to emulate the older Mardi Gras Indian Council, which was formed in the late 1980s, and to promote community involvement among Indian tribes. So far it has sponsored book drives and school-supply giveaways. It also hopes to begin community service projects in neighborhoods that need repair and cleanup.
'I was looking to do something that no one else had the guts to step up and do," DeJean says, 'to try to unify my generation. We want to do something that would make the older generations proud of us, the youngsters. Whatever the community needs, the Mardi Gras Indians are for it." " Andert
Dr. Juan Carlos Duchesne, 34
Through his work with the LSU/Tulane trauma service at University Hospital, Dr. Juan Carlos Duchesne, a surgeon, saves the lives of gunshot and stabbing victims who might have become just another number among the city's deadly statistics. Duchesne does it because he wants to do everything he can for his adopted hometown, but he also does it to honor his own tragic loss.
When Duchesne entered college in his native Puerto Rico, he wanted to become a neurosurgeon. It was a dream he shared with his older brother, Juan Javier, who was a year ahead of him in school. The dream was shattered when Juan Javier died in a car accident. After his brother's death, Duchesne decided his future was in trauma care.
Following medical school, Duchesne came to New Orleans and eventually became the first-ever fellow in LSU Health Sciences Center's trauma/critical care surgery fellowship. After the fellowship, he moved his family to Jackson, Miss., and worked for the University of Mississippi. Going against the current of doctors leaving Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, Duchesne returned to the devastated city in December 2006, becoming an assistant professor in the Tulane University Department of Surgery as well as joining University Hospital's trauma service.
Currently, Duchesne is researching a trauma procedure that uses blood plasma along with regular blood transfusions to stop a patient's bleeding. This procedure, originally developed during the war in Iraq and now being used in nonmilitary situations at University Hospital, could increase patient survival by 60 percent.
'We think we potentially have a landmark change in trauma care," Duchesne says. " Winkler-Schmit
Meggie Schmidt, 18
Competitive Swimmer and Runner
Meggie Schmidt, a high school senior at Academy of the Sacred Heart, first got her flippers wet at the age of 5. Following in her older sister's footsteps, Schmidt started swimming competitively at a young age and has excelled in the sport ever since.
Swimming has always been her main sport, but in seventh grade she decided to start running cross country as well, adding track and field in high school. Since then she has won nine individual state championships " four in swimming, three in track and field and two in cross country.
Schmidt stays motivated by her relationships with her teammates and is energized by their camaraderie and the fun they have traveling to meets and invitationals around the country. Currently, she's gearing up for state swimming and cross-country meets, which will be held back-to-back next week. Nationals are scheduled for February, followed by sectionals in March.
Though the high school season ends soon, Schmidt will continue to train year round and will swim competitively in college next fall. She's not sure where she will attend college or what she'll study, but she has a strong interest in art history and architecture. " Andert
Yasmin Gabriel, 24
Law Student and Founder, Upgrade New Orleans
Like everyone after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans native Yasmin Gabriel was angry. She was frustrated by media coverage that depicted small and often inaccurate fragments of the nature of the city's heartbreaking situation.
'Why is the media not talking to the people who are from here?" she wondered. Gabriel believed that the story needed to be told from the perspective of people like herself " young, college-age kids and others who had experienced the trauma firsthand.
Gabriel, who graduated from Metairie Park Country Day and later Spellman College, decided to make a documentary when a close personal friend died after requesting one favor from Gabriel: to tell the truth about New Orleans and do something about the city's problems. After failing to find anyone willing to work with her, Gabriel's mother encouraged her to take on the project herself. Having people talk about New Orleans without having lived through Katrina is like trying to tell a slave what happened during slavery, she said. So Gabriel bought a camera and decided to make Picking Up the Pieces: College Life After Katrina herself. She asked professors from New York University's film school for advice and learned the basic ins and outs of filming. While in the process of filming, Gabriel was contacted by CNN, which aired a special on Gabriel's struggle to take action.
Her experiences led Gabriel to found Upgrade New Orleans, a forum to educate youth about community activism and teach them such things as how to read a bill, contact their congressperson and inform themselves about legal issues in their communities. Gabriel currently is attending Howard University School of Law in the hope she can continue to effect change, improve the quality of life for the underprivileged and promote leadership among the nation's youth. " Andert
Melissa Sawyer, 31
Executive Director, Youth Empowerment Project
To Melissa Sawyer, the term 'success" means a lot more than it does to the average person. Working with at-risk youth as the founder of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), Sawyer says she redefines the meaning of the word daily, finding successes in students' everyday small steps. Through her experience as a teacher at Booker T. Washington and later as a youth advocate at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, she saw firsthand the hardships these students were facing. Often losing students to the juvenile justice system, Sawyer watched them repeatedly bounce in and out of the classroom, falling further behind in school and becoming angrier after each return.
'What we quickly found was that we had kids all over the state that just didn't have the time or the resources that [they] really needed to be successful," she says. 'Nor were there really programs in place to support them as they were so needy and they were coming back to environments and families that were so unstable."
The kids need someone to take them shopping for school uniforms, help them register for classes, get Social Security cards, go to the doctor and more, she says. 'These young people need that kind of mentorship and support if they're going to be successful and have the opportunity to make better choices than they had in the past." So Sawyer founded YEP, a nonprofit organization that offers support and facilitates community reintegration for these young adults. Success comes in many forms, including passing the GED, getting an A on a test, joining a football team, going two weeks without getting suspended or hearing from a parent who wants to be more involved. " Andert
Joe Pasternack III, 30
Head Basketball Coach, University of New Orleans
By the fifth grade, Joe Pasternack knew that basketball was his life's devotion. But while most kids at that age dream of the NBA, Pasternack was a realist.
'Basketball was always my passion," he says. 'I wanted to be involved and I wasn't that good (at playing the game)."
Pasternack chose coaching, and by the time the New Orleans native was a 5-foot-9-inch senior shooting guard for Metairie Park Country Day, he had been accepted at the University of Indiana, so he could learn from one of the best: Coach Bobby Knight. Taking a page from the Knight playbook of hard work, Pasternack diligently pursued coaching over the course of 12 years " first as a student manager at Indiana and then as an assistant coach at the University of California at Berkley.
In July of this year, Pasternack's childhood dream came true when he was named head coach of the men's basketball team at the University of New Orleans. Making his new position even more inviting, Pasternack found a home in Old Metairie for his wife, Lindsay, and their 1-year-old son, Joe IV, with Pasternack's parents, Joe Jr. and Sarah, living only a few bounce passes or so away.
For this season, Pasternack plans to make his returning starters' dreams a reality, particularly Bo McCalebb, who is the current Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. Reaching the NCAA Basketball Tournament this season is his goal and, considering his previous track record with the tournament " he's been there eight times previously " his players just might start calling him Coach Dream Maker. " Winkler-Schmit
Lotoya Kelly, 25
Founder, The Ashley Marie Kelly Swim Safety Program
After surviving a tragic accident in Lake Pontchartrain that claimed the life of her younger sister in 2003, only one thing kept Lotoya Kelly going. Kelly founded a swimming program in memory of her sister to give free lessons to children and adults who otherwise could not afford to participate in swimming classes. The Ashley Marie Kelly Swim Safety Program is taught by the American Red Cross with the help of local universities like Tulane that are willing to donate use of their facilities.
Kelly learned to swim after the accident and also teaches lessons. 'The most rewarding thing about teaching people to swim is knowing that if something like (the incident that killed my sister) was to ever happen they could save someone else' s life and their own," she says.
Kelly plans to continue volunteering to teach swimming lessons for the rest of her life. 'If you're doing something from the heart, you shouldn't want to get paid for it," she says. 'If it's from the heart, then you don't mind devoting your time to it without being compensated. The end result is compensation enough for me. I live to do it, because at one point that's what kept me going, it's all that mattered to me."
Last February, Kelly's brother was murdered down the street from their New Orleans home. Focusing on the swimming program kept Kelly afloat amid her grief, she says. Participation increases each year, giving Kelly the opportunity to teach both young and old who haven't had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of swimming and water safety. " Andert
Andrew Ramsey, 38
Field Training Officer, NOPD Reserves
Passe-par-tout, Simon Hubig Pie Company
Fresh Hubig pies are an institution in New Orleans, one Andrew Ramsey wanted to be part of. 'I can reach out and touch what I make at the end of the day," he says.
A third-generation member of one of two families that owned Hubig, Ramsey began working for the company about 1990, driving delivery routes and manning a slew of factory positions. Despite his rise in the company, he still finds himself a jack-of-all trades, doing whatever job needs to be done to maintain the business.
'That's the nature of a family business, and it's absolutely the nature of any business that is viable in this post-Katrina environment," Ramsey says. What does his title, passe-par-tout, mean? 'It means when the floor needs to be swept, you sweep the floor," he says, laughing.
Around the time Ramsey started working at Hubig, he entered the New Orleans Police Academy to become a volunteer officer and help do something about crime. 'You reach the age where it dawns on you that you're perhaps not going to change the world, but you're going to do your best to change your little corner of it." Now a Field Training Officer for the NOPD reserve division, Ramsey has won several awards for his police work. He recently helped to establish the New Orleans Reserve Police Foundation (NORPF) to help officers dealing with Katrina-related cuts. 'These poor guys were buying stuff with their own money," he says. 'I'm talking about shoes and flashlights." With its first fundraiser in 2008, NORPF hopes to purchase a new police vehicle. " Goyette
Nathan Rothstein, 23
Executive Director, Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals
When Nathan Rothstein left the Gulf Coast after doing volunteer work in March 2006, all he knew was that he wanted to come back. Seven months after Katrina, he was shocked to find the area 'still looked like a bomb had gone off," he says. 'And the people there had paid their taxes all their lives, had paid their insurance companies all their lives." After graduating from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Rothstein turned down a job with the Democratic National Committee, joined AmeriCorps and returned to New Orleans.
Immersing himself in the city's history and the politics of recovery, Rothstein networked with like-minded folks. 'I met a lot of people who were coming down who felt really strongly about rebuilding an American city that was destroyed and left basically drowned while the country looked the other way," he said.
Rothstein's experiences led him to co-found the Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals (YURP) initiative. The main goal of the organization 'is to keep the people that are here and connect them to the resources they need to stay here and to find jobs," he says. Through mentorships, classes, gatherings and the organization's Web site, www.nolayurp.org, YURP provides a network for New Orleanians and newcomers to plug in to.
The success of YURP, which has garnered media attention from NPR, FoxNews and other outlets, is rooted in cross-cultural cooperation, Rothstein says. 'This would not have happened if there wasn't a real coalition between the Vietnamese, Hispanic, black and white communities, between people who were from here and people who are newly arrived." " Goyette
George Ingmire III, 38
WWOZ DJ, Sound Engineer, Radio Documentarian, Filmmaker
When his grandfather died in 1995, George Ingmire III wasn't making films. But the idea that the artifacts of his grandfather's filmmaking hobby might be tossed in the trash convinced him to take home the old tapes and reels, a 16 mm camera and other paraphernalia.
Several years later, at the prompting of the late filmmaker Helen Hill, Ingmire delved more deeply into his grandfather's materials. Among them was footage of Ingmire's uncle, who has Down syndrome, playing as a child, along with a VHS tape of accompanying narrative by his grandfather. Using these pieces and a script his grandfather had written, Ingmire created Think of Me First as a Person. In December 2006, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, which accepts only 25 entries a year. It will be released on DVD this month.
Ingmire's concern for preserving American and New Orleans history and culture has prompted him to develop numerous audio documentaries for Street Talk on WWOZ, where he is a volunteer DJ, as well as independent productions he makes available at www.neworleansnarratives.com.
The destruction wrought by Katrina served as a major catalyst for this work. 'We live in a very culturally rich environment, and when I saw the failure of the federal levee systems threatening that, I thought it was important to produce pieces [for] radio but also to put on the Internet for people out there to download." Ingmire's recent pieces range from a tribute to Snug Harbor owner George Brumat to I'm Home, featuring interviews with Mardi Gras Indians after the flood.
An accomplished sound engineer (he's worked with Spike Lee and others) and part-time instructor at Tulane University, Ingmire will focus on documenting Musicians' Village, where he resides, as one of many upcoming projects. " Goyette
Michael Walker, 29
Michael Walker, Web guy and Internet tech, likes to see people put their money where their mouths are. 'The greatest things in New Orleans always happen when people say "I'm going to do something,' not "I'm going to wait on something,'" he says.
Born in New Orleans and raised in Lafayette, Walker finds inspiration in the do-it-yourself spirit of those willing to take a risk to get things done. After several attempts to get Internet access to his Lakeview home post-Katrina, Walker decided to take matters into his own Web-savvy hands and create his own mobile Internet access point called a stompbox. This device works with Verizon Wireless, which provides Internet access through its cell phone network, to pick up an Internet signal anywhere there's a Verizon cell phone tower and relay it to Walker's laptop. The laptop then works like an Internet hot spot to allow other computers in the area to access the connection as well, which would be particularly useful to residents stuck in contraflow traffic should another evacuation be necessary.
Walker also collaborated with a friend and used his Web skills to improve contraflow maps issued by the state. Using Google maps and Google Earth, he created www.contrafowmaps.com and a new mapping system to provide simpler routes out of the city. Walker's future plans include expanding the maps to cover the Lafayette area and organizing a Louisiana support group for victims of the California wildfires. " Andert
Derek Bardell, 33
When Derek Bardell leaves for the day from his job as dean of student services at John H. Martin Alternative School in the Jefferson Parish Public School System, he doesn't just punch a clock and stop being an educator. For Bardell, his work isn't an occupation; it's his calling.
When he talks about the paramount role of teachers in the area's recovery, you know this isn't the lip service of a politician but the words of a guy in the teaching trenches who knows how critical he is.
'You have to have someone that can make an impression on a child," Bardell says. 'We as leaders have to let children know that we care."
The New Orleans native has been letting kids know just that in the decade-plus he has served as an educator. While a business teacher for New Orleans Public School system, the Dillard University graduate received awards from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship several times for his teaching methods. Other organizations also have cited Bardell for his teaching accomplishments, but he has shone outside of the classroom as well.
The Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse has recognized him for his commitment to stopping drug and alcohol abuse among inner-city youth, and Bardell has been selected as a guest lecturer at Xavier University to speak on socioeconomic educational issues. He aspires to one day be a college president " Winkler-Schmit
Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, 33
Psychiatrist, Chief Deputy Coroner, New Orleans Forensic Center
Dr. Jeffrey Rouse saw a video clip after Katrina of a police officer he knew crying. 'That's not that guy," he told himself. The first responders needed his help.
The Friday after the levees broke, Rouse, a psychiatrist and the Chief Deputy Coroner for the New Orleans Forensic Center, entered New Orleans with a gun and a bag of medical supplies. He expected to join a team of doctors already in the city, but instead he single-handedly ran an emergency clinic in the gift shop of the Sheraton Hotel. For his work, the American Psychiatric Association awarded him its Bruno Lima Award for Excellence in Disaster Psychiatry.
Rouse was valedictorian when he graduated from Jesuit High School in 1992. He went on to study at Duke and Georgetown University's School of Medicine. He was drawn to psychiatry, he says, because 'it's one of those specialties that requires a wide breadth of knowledge, and I'm an intellectual jack of all trades."
At the coroner's office, Rouse oversees psychiatric commitments in the city. He also volunteers with the New Orleans Police Department's SWAT team. He has proposed a new 'forensic assertive community treatment team" to help ease the continuing mental health crisis in New Orleans. 'It's a big fancy word," he says, 'for basically reviving the old notion of house calls for psychiatric patients." The team will treat those patients who currently tax the resources of the police and local emergency rooms. " Price
Scott Sauber, 31
You could say that Scott Sauber has had a good couple of years. The Brother Martin High School and University of New Orleans graduate was awarded the 2006 Big Easy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the musical Frog and Toad and this year was named a 'Teacher of Distinction" in St. Tammany Parish.
The thing is, Sauber isn't the kind of guy who focuses on himself. For the last decade, he has been dedicated to creating a safe and fun environment for young actors and actresses to express and improve themselves, whether it leads them to Hollywood or just down a better path in life.
A teacher at Slidell High School, Sauber also has directed performances in Lakeview for 10 years, including Seussical the Musical, which had a cast of 150 and drew hundreds of people back to the area after Katrina. 'It stood as a symbol of resolve of the Lakeview community to come home and get back to their everyday lives," says Sauber's friend, James Schindler. 'I know Scott was so proud to be a part of that."
Sauber says his goal is not only to create good actors, but also to offer an environment free of drugs and alcohol where people can build friendships.
'You have to be disciplined and you have to be a nice person," he advises his actors. 'Have a good time doing what you're doing because no one wants to be around a crabby person. I have enjoyed what I do because I have surrounded myself with really good people." " Sullivan
Felix E. Forjet, Jr., 38
Joel Randazzo Forjet, 38
Owners, Nonna Randazzo's Italian Bakery and Caffe
For Joel Forjet, family and business have always been intertwined. In 1965, her father, Lawrence Randazzo, opened Randazzo's Hi-Lan Bakery in St. Bernard Parish with his brothers and father. Joel started work there when she was 15.
It wasn't long before her high school boyfriend, Felix Forjet, had his own ties to the business. 'Give that boy you're dating a call," Joel's father told her when the bakery's pan washer didn't show up for work the week of Thanksgiving 1986. It was 4 a.m., but Felix hopped in his car to help out. Soon, his father-in-law-to-be was training him to bake.
In 1993, still at Hi-Lan, Joel established a shipping business to send king cakes throughout the United States. The next year, the Forjets opened Randazzo's Goodchildren Bakery with Joel's siblings. With the aid of the Internet, Joel soon took the business international, shipping king cakes as far as Japan and Australia, while continuing to build the business locally.
When Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on St. Bernard Parish, the Forjets lost their businesses and rental properties, as well as the home they had just built. They sprang into action, purchasing a factory in Slidell and opening in time for the 2006 Mardi Gras season.
It was an emotional time, not only for the Forjets, but for customers whose friends or families shipped them a king cake. 'We had customers calling up that were crying, saying it was the only thing they had had from home for a long time," says Felix.
Now the owners of Nonna Randazzo's Bakery and Caffe in Covington, Joel and Felix recently celebrated 20 years of marriage. 'After the storm, we really took everything and put it in perspective," Felix says. 'The little things that's nothing to worry about." " Goyette
Jared M. Zeller, 32
On Memorial Day 2006, Jared Zeller and his Mothership Foundation launched the Bayou Boogaloo in Mid-City. Six thousand people came out to dance on the banks of Bayou St. John. 'Originally I thought it would be a day where the residents here could take a break from rebuilding," Zeller says. 'One day when people could put the hammer down, put the mask away and really enjoy where we live." The next year, he added a second stage of live music and the crowd grew to 15,000 people.
The music promoter actually had considered staging a festival before the levees broke. 'My focus has always been on promoting local artists," he says. 'I felt like Jazz Fest wasn't doing a good job of it. I felt like Voodoo Fest wasn't doing a good job of it, although they have changed that recently."
As the festival grows and becomes profitable, Zeller hopes to fund an after-school music program for Mid-City students. One day, he sees the Bayou Boogaloo partnering with City Park and the Greek Festival to make Mid-City a regional destination for Memorial Day. " Price
Adrian Simpson, 36
Co-founder, New Orleans Ice Cream Company
When Adrian Simpson got to meet England's Prince Charles in November 2005, it wasn't exactly under the circumstances the Liverpool native would have chosen.
'I had just come from the coffee plant and was in a dirty T-shirt and shorts when [Prince Charles] came by to meet me," he says. 'Next thing I know, I was bowing to him and we chatted for about 20 minutes. He was really sweet."
It seems the prince wanted to meet his fellow Englishman after hearing about all the good that Simpson, then the marketing man behind New Orleans Coffee Company and co-founder of New Orleans Ice Cream Company, was doing for the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Simpson moved to New Orleans in 2000 and, after enjoying success with New Orleans Coffee's popular Cool Brew coffee concentrate, started the ice cream company less than two years ago with business partner, Alan Dugas.
The pair has created New Orleans-inspired flavors such as 'Ponchatoula Strawberry," 'Creole Cream Cheese" and 'Chocolate City Chocolate," using locally produced ingredients.
'We had the idea [to start the business] before the storm, but after [Katrina] we wanted to give back, so we decided to give it a go," Simpson says. 'We wanted to give people a little indulgence again, to put a smile on their face.
'You'll always have competition with the big boys like Ben & Jerry's, but I think we've got something better. This is a great city and it has really supported us." " Sullivan
Cecile Hardy, 32
Fashion Designer, NOLA Couture
Cecile Hardy left New Orleans for college 13 years ago and eventually landed in San Francisco, where she was a fashion merchandiser at Gap's corporate headquarters and also did some designing. She had a whole life on the West Coast, then Katrina decimated her hometown.
In the months following the storm, Hardy heard the calls of friends and family back home, urging anyone and everyone to move back and assist with the recovery. She decided to quit her job and head home to see how she could help.
'I felt like I couldn't leave New Orleans at this critical time," Hardy says, 'San Francisco was doing well; New Orleans wasn't. I decided I was going to stick around and make the commitment to New Orleans."
Hardy has always wanted to develop her own clothing line and decided there was no better time to do it.
'I thought, "There are so many unique and interesting details to this city. I should put them in prints and figure out what items to make from there,'" she says. With the support of her family she launched NOLA Couture, which debuted its first collection of ties in January. She later added polo shirts, belts, T-shirts, key chains and dog collars, each displaying New Orleans motifs.
A portion of all sales is donated to local charities including the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Audubon Institute's Katrina Recovery Fund, and will soon include local animal rescue operations. Hardy hopes to have a full ready-to-wear line in the future and move into children's wear as well. " Andert
Matthew Schwartz, 29
Chris Papamichael, 33
Developers, Domain Companies
Although they grew up in the same hometown of Syosset, N.Y., Matt Schwartz and Chris Papamichael didn't meet until later in life, when both joined the same fraternity at Tulane University. The two went on to become much more than just fraternity brothers. As co-founders of Domain Companies, with offices in New Orleans, Ithaca, N.Y., and New York City, they are two of the most influential property developers in the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Schwartz (pictured left) has a strong background in finance, and Papamichael oversees the construction, engineering and architectural side of the business.
'I feel great [about Domain's impact on New Orleans]," Papamichael says. 'I have loved this city ever since I stepped foot here."
Domain Companies this year will work on $100 million project to build mixed-income apartments at two sites along the Tulane Avenue corridor, with 40 percent of the units set aside for low-income residents. Domain also purchased more than 30 vacant lots and small commercial properties surrounding the two sites and will build affordable single-family housing units in partnership with a national nonprofit.
'The Tulane Avenue corridor has the most availability for travel in the city. It intersects with every main street," Schwartz says. 'However, nothing has happened in terms of development in 30 years, same with Canal Street. After Katrina, programs were put in place that allowed our company to do things like [build mixed-use, mixed-income developments)."
Domain uses local contractors and subcontractors wherever possible and always maximizes energy-efficient 'green" features and sustainability in its construction projects. 'We try to be as environmentally friendly as possible in the way we insulate buildings and the types of paint we use," says Papamichael.
Domain also is community minded and works with several nonprofits, including Sweet Home New Orleans and YA/YA (Young Aspirations/Young Artist). Apprentices from Café Reconcile currently are working on building sites for the company. " Sullivan
Sidney D. Torres IV, 32
Real Estate Developer and Founder , SDT LLC Waste & Debris Services Photo by Frank Aymami Sidney Torres, IV is a man who gets things done. From the beginning of his career as a successful real estate developer in New Orleans, Torres has exhibited a unique understanding of the city's character and charm. Combined with a hands-on work ethic and strong relationships with his employees, his unique sensibilities and determination have paved the way to success in more ways than one.
After Katrina hit, Torres got employees from his various enterprises back to work by September, opening several hotels for law enforcement and other personnel who needed housing. While working to build mobile trailer parks for local agencies, he found that the city's waste management contractor had pulled out of town and remaining competitors were charging exorbitant fees. Determined not to be taken advantage of, Torres bought his own truck, adding fancy decals with SDT Waste & Debris Services' name and number in large print.
'I did it different than anybody else," he says. 'I put the decals a lot larger on the side of the cans and I did the all-black trucks and chrome wheels. I just thought if I was going to get in it, I might as well get in it like I do everything else: 100 percent."
Currently, SDT is developing a new software program to help waste companies monitor their fleets and make basic operations more efficient. The company is also building a waste facility transfer station in Chalmette, part of which will handle recyclable materials and will serve as a drop-off location for local residents.
While Torres still maintains his hotels and real estate, his current focus is his waste management company. 'To me it feels good to make a difference in an area that needs the most help right now in the United States." " Andert
Liz McCartney, 35
Zack Rosenberg, 34
St. Bernard Project Photo by Patrick Semansky Zack Rosenberg and Liz McCartney originally came to New Orleans to volunteer one month of their time to rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
'It was horrifying," says Rosenberg, who was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., when he volunteered. 'If we [had done] nothing, we would have been part of the problem." They were so moved by what they saw that in April 2006 they formed the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit rebuilding organization dedicated to helping people in St. Bernard Parish get their lives back on track. Using monetary and supply donations and volunteer labor, the project takes gutted homes and makes them livable again.
'Six months after the storm, I naively thought things were getting back together in New Orleans, which wasn't the case," says McCartney, a former teacher who ran an after-school program for at-risk children before moving South. 'We landed in a place where we were needed and saw how much help we could offer, so we had to move there. We wanted to be part of the solution."
Since August 2006, the St. Bernard Project has helped more than 93 families, 69 of whom have moved back into their homes. The other 24 currently are having work done on their houses. More than 3,500 volunteers from around the world have worked with the St. Bernard Project. 'We've been very fortunate, but it's not easy to find volunteers," McCartney says. 'We can always use more."
'[The people of St. Bernard Parish] are the strongest people I have ever met," Rosenberg says. '[Katrina] happened overnight, but the solution will take a while. It will not be solved by government, but by people who care."
The St. Bernard Project recently organized Women's Rebuild Week during which an all-women team of volunteers worked on a rebuilding project for one week. 'It was hugely successful, a really powerful week and we got a lot of local help," McCartney says. 'When you get 100 women together it's amazing how much work gets done!"" Sullivan
Michael Stivers, 35
Co-founder, Milton Freewater Construction, LLC
Hurricane Katrina forced many people to flee the area, but for Michael Stivers and Steven Scott, founders of Milton Freewater Construction, which specializes in local preservation, it only solidified their commitment to the city of New Orleans.
Through their work in preserving the unique character and integrity of the city's wood construction and millwork, they quickly established themselves as an honest, humble and dedicated team.
The company was formed in 2003 after Stivers, who has an extensive history background, graduated from a preservation program at Tulane University and joined with Scott, a master carpenter who turned 40 just last month. They focused primarily on residential carpentry and produced outstanding, historically-authentic work for clients.
'You could probably only do the work that we do, here," Stivers says. 'There are so many historic structures."
In fact, Milton Freewater's innovative work on the Laura Plantation after a 2004 electrical fire was featured on the History Channel's Back to the Blueprint program and another documentary titled Rebuilding Creole. The company is beginning work on the preservation of the slave quarters of the Evergreen Plantation on River Road, which has the largest collection of such quarters still intact in the country. " Sullivan
Leah Berger, 27
Director of Operations, Tulane Community Health Center
Leah Berger has seen more suffering than most women her age. The 27-year-old has lived and worked in Thailand, Ghana and Kenya and has witnessed firsthand what can happen when proper health care and education are limited.
'After seeing the inequalities that are out there, I think it is important that people realize that health care is a right, not a privilege," she says. 'So much can be prevented and there are so many opportunities to educate."
Berger was a researcher at Ochsner Foundation Hospital following Katrina but later moved to Tulane Community Health Center at Covenant House. The primary-care clinic, which has grown from three to 18 full-time employees in one year, was developed in the wake of the storm and until recently offered free care to more than 1,000 uninsured and underinsured patients per month. The clinic now charges patients, but only those who can afford to pay, Berger says. She also has helped develop nutritional cooking classes and other community outreach activities for the health center.
'I love what I'm doing right now, there are so many innovative ways to care," Berger says. 'You don't have to rely on what's been done in the past, and I'm thankful for the great team I am working with at the clinic." " Sullivan
Aaron Walker, 37
Ever since independent filmmaker and educator Aaron Walker was a child, the arts have been a huge influence in his life. 'My mom used to take me to the cinema to see Charlie Chaplin when I was growing up in Virginia, I guess [film] is a lifetime love of mine."
Walker, who formed an independent production company called Terpsichore Movement LLC, works extensively in the New Orleans community and shoots documentaries, music videos, commercials and promotional packages. He also teaches film and video at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). Working in the Crescent City fits his style perfectly. 'I can be independent here," he says. 'I can explore and be creative, where in a place like L.A. it's harder to work independently."
A history expert, Walker has used this and his experinece traveling to places such as Germany, France and Japan to influence his highly successful work. 'I bring a lot of different cultures [into my work]," he says. 'Right now I am working a lot with New Orleans characters, but I also use Turkish and Asian influences."
Walker's music video featuring New Orleans legend Uncle Lionel Batiste recently was selected by Pearl Jam for the band's single, 'Gone." He directed the video using a crew of his NOCCA students. Walker now is completing a feature-length documentary that follows the lives of three Mardi Gras Indian chiefs before and after Katrina. A cut of this highly anticipated film has been submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. " Sullivan
Lt. Christopher Galliano, 28
Executive Officer, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center
Lt. Christopher Galliano traveled all over the world with the Navy before returning to his hometown to transform the military information technology center that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina into a first-class business that employs hundreds.
As a Navy man, Galliano participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, helped train the Iraqi Navy, aided victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, moved 3,000 Marines into Kuwait and more. But the highly decorated sailor traded in his berth on a ship to head up the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center at the UNO Research and Technology Park.
'We do software development," Galliano says. 'We do manpower, pay, personnel, order origination (military personnel assignments). It's all hosted here. Our main customers are the Department of Defense (DOD), but we can do work for any government agency."
One of his accomplishments at SPAWAR has been to consolidate the hundreds of computer servers that managed the information before the storm into a 'virtual environment" that will safeguard records if another disaster occurs.
When it opened in 2000, the New Orleans center performed IT services for the Navy Reserve. Now it employs about 700 civilians and nine military workers and is the hub of IT services for Homeland Security, the National Guard, the Marine Corps and in a couple of years will handle all of DOD's human resources. Galliano also would like to win contracts for the departments of energy and agriculture as well as the Veterans Administration.
He says next he will return to ships, then move on to the Pentagon, NATO or working with a foreign navy overseas. " Graves
Nicolas Perkin, 36
Co-founder, The Receivables Exchange
Nicolas Perkin has worked with media and technology companies in Hong Kong, London, Prague and New York since he graduated from Tulane in 1994. He helped build Massive, which places advertisements in video games, into a company that Microsoft bought in 2006 for between $200 and $400 million. When Perkin needed a place to launch his next venture with partner Justin Brownhill, he decided it was time to return to New Orleans.
In early 2008, The Receivables Exchange opens for business. The high-tech exchange, built by the same team that created the New York Stock Exchange's bond trading system, will give small and medium-size companies a central place to sell their accounts receivable, the debt that customers owe them for goods and services. Last month, Prism VentureWorks decided the idea was worth a $4.2 million investment.
Perkin and the New Orleans Entrepreneurs Club have worked to attract investments and talented people to the city. 'You're going to see shortly another company get funding," he says. According to Perkin, New Orleans is an excellent place to start a company because of the low cost of living and the pool of smart students who want to stay here. He predicts that five to 10 companies will receive venture capital funding next year. 'New Orleans is going to become a media and technology hub," he says. 'It's just a question of how quickly." " Price
Prisca Weems, 37
Architect and Founder, FutureProof
Prisca Weems wants to rebuild a better New Orleans and says new techniques and materials will resist mold, reduce energy costs and create a healthier city.
'Technology has advanced to the point that a green and sustainable home should be available to everyone in the population," she says.
Weems graduated from Tulane's architecture program in 1995 and then worked and studied in London. She returned to New Orleans in 2003 and two years later founded FutureProof, a sustainable-design consulting firm. At first, she planned to work with large-scale developers. After the storm, Weems changed her focus to help residents rebuild in a sustainable manner.
'Sustainable means that it's a home that creates a healthy environment, it's durable and affordable," she says. FutureProof assisted community planning efforts, taught individuals how to build green and worked with the city to improve building codes.
'We'd really like to see New Orleans become a poster child for all the coastal cities that are facing global warming and sea change," she says. 'People have learned that we can't fight nature, but the things that are powerful enough to destroy us are also powerful enough to be harnessed." " Price
Erin Baker, 31
Assistant Director, Prevention Research Center, Tulane University School of Public Health
A longtime proponent of healthy living and eating, Erin Baker has been pushing for positive nutritional changes throughout the city of New Orleans. Through her work at the Prevention Research Center, she has headed investigations into the relationship between obesity and physical activity and has managed the Schoolyard Project, which measures the relationship between available play space for children and the frequency of their physical activities.
Baker currently is working on an observational study of playground equipment and whether its availability encourages physical activity in children. '[The study] has some exciting policy implications," she says. 'A preliminary look at the data seems to indicate that equipment does boost activity. These results could be used to decide [for] a school or municipality that has a limited amount of money what would give the most bang for their buck."
It's fun research, she says, because it has real and very immediate implications and you don't have to wait years to see tangible results. That's good, because obesity is fast becoming the worst disease-producing epidemic in the country, Baker says.
With that in mind, Baker has lobbied to include health issues in neighborhood planning and has initiated the formation of the Food Policy Advisory Committee, a research group dedicated to providing access to fresh, healthy foods throughout New Orleans. In a couple of months, the group will give the City Council recommendations for how to solve those access problems. " Andert
Alison Pelegrin, 35
Alison Pelegrin didn't want to write poems about Katrina. She thought the essay would be a better literary form, but she found herself writing in verse, so she knew the poems had to come out. Don't think, however, that Pelegrin's poems follow the dictums of Romantic poet William Wordsworth's definition of poetry as 'emotion recollected in tranquility" that has been drilled into many students' heads.
Pelegrin " who recently was awarded a writing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) " can throw daggers of poetry, and you get the sense that her pen is hot and flashing, not cold and tranquil. Especially if you're from a certain little gated community, Beau Chene, in Mandeville.
Pelegrin, her husband and two sons (as well as her brother and mom) lost their homes after Katrina and rented a house in Beau Chene. They weren't welcomed by the residents and, as Pelegrin writes, 'the neighbors aimed spray-painted signs our way: "you loot, we shoot.'"
When she was able to leave Beau Chene and return to her rebuilt home, which ironically was only a mile away, she thought, 'I'm going to stick it to you people in a poem." Today, she laughs about it and says, 'I wanted to commit vandalism, but instead I committed poetry."
The resulting poem, 'You Loot, We Shoot," and others like it are in Pelegrin's new book, Big Muddy River of Stars.
Little did her suspicious Beau Chene neighbors realize when they erected their little rhyming sign that they were going up against a master. " Winkler-Schmit
Kettye Voltz, 34
Erin Healan, 31
Co-founders, Tsunami Dance Company
Kettye Voltz and Erin Healan have been dancing since they were little girls. Both women performed with the Newcomb Dance Company when they attended Tulane University. Both pursued professional dance careers after graduation, and both returned to New Orleans several years later and formed Tsunami Dance Company.
Tsunami employs local dancers, choreographers, lighting and costume designers and technicians for their modern dance performances in New York City, New Orleans and throughout Louisiana. The company has choreographed, rehearsed and produced seven professional shows in the last five years, an impressive feat.
Choreography comes naturally to Voltz and Healan. 'I work with trying to make movement out of people and the threads of relationships and interactions and occupations, movement patterns that I see from people everywhere," Voltz says. 'I simply choose a direction and then the process of rehearsals and working with the dancers kind of reveals the destination of the piece."
'You just develop your own sense of movement, your own way of doing things," Healan explains. 'It's that inner drive, how you like to move, what you like to see, your own aesthetic that keeps you going."
Tsunami Dance Company currently is preparing for Fugitive, scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 (with other performances possible throughout the state). 'I wanted to do that concert and call it "Fugitive' and have pieces that represented the idea of being fugitive," Voltz says. 'Dance itself is such a fugitive art form because you perform it live and it's really never captured that same way again." " Andert
Andrew Brott, 38
Glass Artist and Community Activist
Andrew Brott decided what he wanted to do with his life at the age of 16. As a teenager he apprenticed to a renowned stained-glass artist and has been working with glass and mixed media ever since.
Brott attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, known for its prominent glass department and history of leadership in the studio-art glass movement. After moving to New Orleans to attend graduate school, he instead began working with the New Orleans School of GlassWorks, where he also began mentoring young adults and teaching them glass art, something he continues to do today.
A resident/artist in the Freret Street neighborhood, Brott has tried to revitalize that community. He recently helped 10 young adults from the neighborhood produce glass pins, which were sold at the Freret Street Festival. The kids raised $1,800 through the sales and donated it to the Neighborhood Housing Service and the New Orleans Creative Glass Institute. To demonstrate that glass artistry is a viable career, the students each received $50 for their work on the pin project.
Brott is dedicated to giving students and young people the tools and the hope to better their lives through art and education. He also is working with the community to attract new businesses and restaurants to the area in an effort to create a cultural center in the Freret corridor.
'It's a social responsibility to rebuild this signature city to what it should be, not what it was," Brott says. His future plans include putting together a gallery show to support Louisiana wetlands. " Andert
Founder, Lifestyle Revolution Group
A firm believer in bringing progressive cultural and technological influences to New Orleans while also maintaining the city's own distinct character and vibrancy, Robert LeBlanc has committed his career to working with the art, fashion, music, film and entertainment industries.
After graduating from Loyola in 2000, LeBlanc remained in New Orleans and created the Renaissance Initiative, a company dedicated to marketing and strategic branding for businesses in the entertainment and fashion industries. With big players like Sony Playstation and local stores like Hemline on the client list, it soon became one of the most successful branding companies in the Southeast.
Having few clients left after Katrina, LeBlanc decided to remain in New Orleans and created the Lifestyle Revolution Group, a company designed to assist the city in rebuilding by creating opportunities for residents to develop strong professional and social networks through entertainment. Shortly thereafter, the group launched its first project, Republic New Orleans, an entertainment venue that has hosted a wide variety of events " from concerts to fashion shows and film screenings " drawing large crowds of all ages and interests from around the city. In June the company debuted its second project, the LePhare cocktail lounge in Loft 523. The bar pairs classic New Orleans drinks with contemporary, seasonal cocktails prepared with a healthy blend of fresh ingredients from local farmers' markets, a new twist on the city's traditional social style.
In addition to creating a positive social atmosphere for New Orleanians, LeBlanc also has aided the city in hosting fundraisers for a variety of local organizations such as the New Orleans Ballet Association and the New Orleans Film Festival. " Andert