Though Pittsburghers often bemoan the city’s inability to retain young people, this year’s class of 40 Under 40 honorees seems to blow that worry away.
Now in its 11th year, the award, sponsored by Pittsburgh Magazine and Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP), is presented to the city’s 40 most influential residents younger than 40. This year’s group includes four members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, J’Burgh Director David Katz, Bill Peduto’s Chief of Staff Daniel Gilman, Urban Mommy founder Sheila Solomon and Alumni Theater Company founder Hallie Donner.
The winners were selected from a pool of 220 candidates, all nominated by their peers and coworkers and picked by a panel of 12 community members and former winners.
“It’s important to highlight what young people are doing to make this city more vibrant and diverse,” said PUMP Executive Director Erin Molchany. “The group is diverse, and it shows that your background doesn’t matter; you can make an impact.”
Winners will be honored at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Friday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
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As a stay-at-home mom of two kids only 18 months apart, Sheila Solomon was getting restless.
“I’d been a professional for years; I felt isolated,” she said. “I wasn’t using my brain.”
Figuring she wasn’t the only frustrated new mother, Solomon started Urban Mommies in 2007. The organization provides stroller-friendly tours of the city for new moms and their kids, uniting mothers across the city for unusual, fun experiences like
behind-the-scenes looks at Heinz Hall and Heinz Field, as well as guided museum tours.
All programs are specially catered to “what is interesting for a young woman,” said Solomon, who turned 34 Thursday, Nov. 11.
Though Solomon is now back at work as a genetic counselor at the University of Pittsburgh, and serves as board president of the Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Affiliate, she said Urban Mommies is what earned her the 40 Under 40 spot.
“I’m honored people think of me as someone who makes a difference. It’s humbling; I never thought I could make such a difference in peoples’ lives,” she said. “I felt there was a void. I was just trying to fill it.”
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To Hallie Donner, success means making real, personal connections.
“I approach everything in my career with an open mind toward new opportunities and connecting with people, regardless of their race, religion or economic stature,” said Donner. “It’s a belief that we all should share, to walk in our gift and offer as much as we can.”
Donner offers all she can to her own theater group, the Alumni Theater Company, which she founded in 2008. The company is made exclusively of students, and many of the pieces produced are written in-house.
With only young talent, Donner’s ATC is full of life and inspiration. The students see the direct correlation between their hard work and reward on the stage of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, the company’s home base.
“For the company, success is allowing all members to contribute to each project as much as they are willing and able,” said Donner, “and for us to reach as many youth as possible.”
ATC doesn’t just perform to reach other students, it communicates; shows such as the company’s self-written “Reign,” which debuted last month, examine social stereotypes and the real people behind them. It’s no child’s play.
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David Katz may be the most natural fit in the 40 Under 40 group — his job is to shape young Pittsburgh Jews into a community to create the city’s future.
The director of Hillel JUC’s J’Burgh program, Katz organizes and leads programs for Pittsburgh’s young professional crowd ranging from happy hours to minyans, sports leagues to mentoring.
The 28-year-old Dayton, Ohio, native, who began working full time with J’Burgh in 2008, has seen huge growth in the past year.
“We’re now able to create programs that focus on a greater goal, going beyond your basic movie night or kickball team,” said Katz. “We’re doing more in-depth, meaningful programs, with the ability to make a serious impact.”
Katz said the importance of J’Burgh is the reason he was included in 40 Under 40.
“I wish I could say I was picked because I’m a volunteer basketball coach or something, but really it’s the work that J’Burgh does,” he said. “It’s what this organization is doing to make a difference in the lives of young adults.”
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At age 28, Dan Gilman’s political career has already spanned a decade.
Gilman is the Councilman Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, but his first taste of
politics was as an early volunteer for Al Gore’s presidential run in 1999. He was then the student body president of Carnegie Mellon University. An internship with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle followed, and by graduation, Gilman landed a job with Peduto.
A Pittsburgher since moving here from California at 13, Gilman said the city is “a very different place from when I started with Bill six and a half years ago. I’ve watched that happen firsthand, and even lent a hand in the decisions that led to that growth.”
Gilman’s biggest challenge, though, is “patience, definitely,” he said. “The change comes slowly.”
While many young politicos thirst for careers in Washington, Gilman’s dream job is Pittsburgh’s mayor.
“I love Pittsburgh,” he said. “There
isn’t any other city in America where young people can be so involved and have the impact in forming the city’s future that they have here.”
That outlook is reflected well in his 40 Under 40 peers, as “it’s exciting to see what other people are doing,” said Gilman. “They give me a lot of hope about what Pittsburgh will look like in 10 or 20 years.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)