As Southwest Florida continues to grow and prosper, keeping the momentum alive will be dependent on future generations of talented professionals who will not only provide the vision, but also meet challenges and solve problems as they arise.
Since 2003, Gulfshore Business has recognized young leaders who have distinguished themselves in their professions and in their communities. And many of these individuals have made significant contributions to the region’s economic, charitable and civic wellbeing.
Once again, we are pleased to acknowledge 40 rising stars, under 40 years old, from a variety of occupations, including law, education, medical, finance, public service and the arts, as well as entrepreneurs.
Chosen from dozens of nominations, this year’s winners represent the leadership our region needs to move forward. The judges considered professional accomplishments, volunteer work and other plaudits from their nominators. With all of the talent represented, there were some tough decisions, but we finally selected our final 40.
—Compiled by Phil Borchmann and Melanie Pagan | Photography by Brian Tietz
Sheba R. Abraham
Trial Attorney, Partner
Goldberg Noone Law Firm
Sheba R. Abraham will always remember her very first jury trial.
“I represented a man whose son died in a tragic motor vehicle crash caused by the negligence of another. The insurance company, on the other side, seemed to have unlimited resources. I was terrified,” she says.
The University of Florida graduate leaned on her years of preparation to get her through, and her firm ended up winning the case. “I’ll never forget the rewarding feeling of getting justice for such a deserving person.”
The daughter of immigrant parents, Abraham has always aimed to give back. She received a Pro Bono Certificate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law for her volunteer service to low-income communities. In college, she volunteered with Junior Achievement and religious organizations.
Abraham has won multiple other awards in her six years of practice and received many rewarding wins along the way. With her partners, the personal injury attorney has negotiated multi-million-dollar settlements and trial verdicts for victims of sexual assault, violent attacks, and motor vehicle accidents.
But she hasn’t let these accomplishments go to her head.
“As you gain knowledge or experience success, your confidence will grow as well,” Abraham says, with a little piece of advice to other young lawyers. “Never let that confidence turn into arrogance. Remember to work hard, stay humble, and treat everyone you meet with respect.”
Abraham loves spending her free time with her husband, Benny, and their dog Milo. She enjoys traveling and visiting the beautiful beaches of Southwest Florida.
Attorney at Law
Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc.
Shanthy Balachanthiran has spent a majority of her career assisting low-income taxpayers in the community.
As the tax clinic director for Florida Rural Legal Services’ new Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, Balachanthiran supervises the Tax Clinic services at all eight Florida Rural Legal Services offices across the state of Florida. Under her leadership, the Tax Clinic met and exceeded its annual quota for client retention and services in just the first quarter of 2019 alone.
In addition to leading the Tax Clinic as a supervising associate and tax law expert, Balachanthiran also serves as general counsel in the practice areas of family law, individual rights, consumer rights, education law, business, housing, and probate.
But that’s not all that keeps her busy. Balachanthiran provides free legal counseling at the Self Help Center in the Lee County Justice Center as well at Law in the Mall, among other community commitments.
She’s picked up a thing or two about business from managing her own practice, The Balachanthiran Law Firm, PLLC, since 2016. The Fort Myers native’s parents always inspired her to succeed.
“My approach to business and my profession has been heavily influenced by my parents’ work ethic and philanthropy,” she says. “My father and mother immigrated to the U.S. with a few hundred dollars. They were forced to leave Sri Lanka, a country ravaged by decades-long civil war, where education was and is not free. Upon their arrival, they faced a language barrier, and lacking any formal education, worked labor jobs to make ends meet.”
Even a childhood diagnosis of dyslexia couldn’t stop Balachanthiran from creating a bright future of her own. After graduating from Fort Myers High School as IB valedictorian with the highest GPA in Lee County that year, Balachanthiran achieved degrees from Pennslyvania State University, Harvard University, and the University of California Davis School of Law.
Balachanthiran has since created a clinical internship program for local university and law students and plans to teach Administrative Law: Policy and Procedure at Florida Gulf Coast University in the spring of 2020 to complement the clinical program.
Balachanthiran and her husband, Pravveen, live in Fort Myers near her family. She has two “fur babies,” Britto and Vino.
Kylee Brinkman opened and expanded The Bowl, an organic eatery with two Naples locations while balancing her growing family life, all under two years.
“In 2016, I opened my first location with my 3-month-old son, Bodie, and in 2017, I opened my second location with my 2-week-old daughter, Isla,” Brinkman remembers. “Although challenging, I proved to myself and my employees that you could balance family, life and a career.”
Through her business, Brinkman has participated in donation-based community events like ZOObilee, SWFL Craft Beer Fest, YogaCAN and more, benefiting local causes.
Brinkman exercised her entrepreneur abilities before launching The Bowl. She and her husband previously opened Southwest Florida’s first nontoxic commercial cleaning company, before selling it in 2011. She won the EagleBizPlan Award at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) for her business plan in 2007.
Though Brinkman seems to have a knack for being a self-starter, her most important lesson has come from managing others (The Bowl employs 35-plus people).
“Delegation isn’t easy, but mastering this skill has allowed me to focus my attention where it’s needed, while at the same time empowering employees. Win-win,” Brinkman says.
Brinkman graduated from FGCU in 2007 with a dual major in resort and hospitality management and business management with a focus on entrepreneurship. She enjoys traveling, practicing yoga, and spending time with her family at the beach.
Director of Development
David Lawrence Center
Emily Budd-Schepperly is 28, but her long list of community involvement shows she’s wasted no time investing in meaningful work.
The 2008 Youth Leadership Collier Graduate has volunteered with more than a dozen local nonprofit organizations, including the League of Courageous Women, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center, and Collier Honor Flight. She’s president of the Young Professionals of Naples and a member of the David Lawrence Center (DLC) Young Executives, Association of Fundraising Professionals, and Young Professional Strides, in addition to other commitments.
Budd-Schepperly has excelled just as quickly at DLC, where she became director of development in 2018, one year after joining as associate director of development.
“The most important lesson I have learned in my career is to be willing to grow,” Budd-Schepperly says. She first learned this lesson when returned to Naples to start her career, armed with a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations and nonprofit leadership from Murray State University.
“A challenge that I think a lot of young professionals can relate to was at the beginning of my career, finding direction and confidence as a professional,” Budd-Schepperly says. “It took time investing in myself and finding ways to engage in my community. Once I started getting involved, I saw my confidence grow because I recognized I had so much to offer.”
Budd-Schepperly is a Certified Nonprofit Professional through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. She enjoys hunting and fishing with her fiancé, Travis. She also loves spending time with her family, including her two nephews, LJ and Henry.
Lerin Nicole Byrd
GCG Construction Inc.
It’s one thing for Lerin Nicole Byrd to co-own GCG Construction Inc. in the male-dominated industry of commercial general contracting. It’s another to for her to have taken the business to the heights she has.
Byrd has partially led the company to several awards over the past decade, including the 2018 BIA Commercial Contractor of the Year, 2018 Gulfshore Business Best Remodeling Firm, and multiple Summit Awards, among others.
She also kept the construction company—which she owns and operates with her husband and 2018 Gulfshore Business 40- under-40 honoree Teely Byrd—alive in one of the worst economies since the Great Depression.
All of this, in addition to owning the real estate company, Pure Property Inc., and mothering two children—Ava, 13, and Vance, 11.
“My approach to business is direct, organized and what I hope is also synergistic,” Byrd says. “In construction and real estate, there are literally many moving parts and pieces. Our goal is to keep everyone—from the client and design teams to the subcontractors and suppliers—on the same page for a successful project.”
Byrd’s best advice for budding professionals?
“Learn as much as you can about your field of work,” she says. “Become a leading resource and a dependable asset for others. Never stop learning and finding creative ways to bring fresh insight to your profession.”
Byrd enjoys volunteering, reading, spending time with her family and proudly cheering on the sidelines of her children’s athletics.
Edward P. Canterbury
Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A.
Edward P. Canterbury’s has had quite a few one-of-a-kind opportunities in his career. He’s worked on a multi-faceted $250 million citrus grove project and helped expand the largest independent medical oncology/hematology practice in the U.S. Now, he’s serving as lead outside counsel for Babcock Ranch, America’s first solar-powered town.
Canterbury’s lengthy list of accomplishments date back to his days in school. The valedictorian of his 2005 class at Ohio Northern University, Canterbury also authored award-winning publications involving constitutional rights, eminent domain, and bankruptcy while still in law school.
He became a Florida Bar Board Certified Real Estate expert in 2011 and has since been recognized by Florida Super Lawyers magazine as a “Rising Star” in real estate law for five years. Only 2.5% of Florida lawyers make it to the Rising Star list.
Today, Canterbury is the youngest member of Henderson Franklin’s Executive Committee.
In order to succeed, Canterbury has had to learn about balance.
“Juggling a busy law practice, hobbies and an active, fun-loving family is always a challenge,” Canterbury says. “Building and maintaining a dependable team of associates, paralegals, and legal assistants help strike a manageable work-life balance. I’m fortunate to work with some really great people, which frees me up to focus on high-level issues. ”
Another thing that’s helped him get far? Staying humble.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of humility when dealing with people. Be the one who finds the creative solution, not the loudest voice in the room,” Canterbury says.
Off the clock, Canterbury goes golfing, skiing, and on hiking excursions all over the world (he has an upcoming trek to Peru). He likes to be outdoors with his wife and 4-year-old son.
Vice President and Private Client Manager
Busey Wealth Management
As someone directly affected by cardiovascular disease after her mother survived a heart attack, Susan Chicone raises awareness about the importance of heart health.
Chicone will be the Open Your Heart Chair for the next Go Red for Women Luncheon, an American Heart Association movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. She previously served as chair of the Southwest Florida American Heart Association board of directors. Also, she has partnered with a local cardiologist to develop and implement new programs over the next few years that will bring awareness to the risks of untreated high blood pressure.
She’s contributed to the community in more ways, including as a member of the Canterbury School Board of Trustees, and through her work as vice president and private client manager at Busey Wealth Management, which has over $7 billion in assets under its care.
One such example? Chicone recently aided an elderly client who lost her husband—the primary driver of the family’s finances—by helping her balance her checkbook, organize bank statements, contacting the Social Security’s office on her behalf, and handling the collection and retitling of proceeds that were due to the estate.
After overcoming the initial fear of developing business with sales training, she’s able to help clients with financial support regularly.
“I am now in a position where I not only get to take care of my client’s day-to-day needs, but I also get to share our ‘bank’s’ story with new people and bring them into the Busey family,” she says. “It is a great combination for the girl who loves to help people.”
She encourages other young professionals to take on unfamiliar tasks to grow as she did.
“Take challenges! They are a compliment because your leader ‘wouldn’t ask you to do it if they ‘didn’t think you could.” Also: “Be kind! In everything you do, be humble, be kind, and do what is right. Make no exceptions and admit it if you make a mistake. If you do that, all things will work out,” she says.
Chicone earned her MBA from Florida Gulf Coast University, magna cum laude, in 2006. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, Drew, and their daughter, Lucy.
Comprehensive Financial Planner
Advanced Wealth Advisors and Advanced Wealth Asset Management
Soren Christensen started Advanced Wealth Advisors, a comprehensive financial planning firm, at the ripe old age of 25. At 32, he started Advanced Wealth Asset Management, a registered investment advisor firm.
As the sole founder and 100% owner of both practices, Christensen has experienced the highs and lows of entrepreneurialism while helping clients through their financial life cycles.
“Starting my own registered investment advisor firm was both a challenging and rewarding time in my life,” he says. “It was, and remains, a lot of work, but it allows me full control over how to best serve my clients.”
By overcoming some of the darkest days, Christensen came away with his greatest lesson.
“If you can push through your self-doubt—no matter how prolonged or intense—and remain patient and committed to your goals, you likely can and will achieve them,” he says.
A member of the Naples Chamber GAIN class of 2015, Christensen has also found multiple ways to contribute to the community. He created a program called Plans for Our Protectors, offering free financial plans to current and former military service members, law enforcement professionals, and first responders. Also, the University of Florida (UF) graduate is a director of the Gator Club of Naples, which raises scholarship money for local students to attend UF. Beyond that, Advanced Wealth Advisors supports events for Humane Society Naples, Conservancy of SWFL, and the American Cancer Society.
In addition to his UF degree, Christensen holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University and is a Certified Financial Planner Certificant, Chartered Financial Consultant. He’s a married father of two girls, who he likes to spend as much time with as possible (often outside). Christensen and his wife like to travel, and he’s recently taken up cooking.
Leroy Christiansen’s most significant professional challenge so far has been a common one among budding businesspeople:
“My biggest challenge I overcame revolved around being ‘young’ in the industry, as my position often put me up against individuals with 25-plus years experience,” he says. “At a very young age, my father, Kelly, instilled the drive and discipline I have today. Rather than accept that I would have to wait my turn until the years’ experience caught up, I cut the line, so to speak, through the pursuit of industry knowledge, focusing specifically on critical business niches.”
As a result: “This exponentially decreased the experience gap, and expedited my personal and professional growth,” Christiansen says.
Christiansen is now a three-time Insurance Business America Top 80 Insurance Broker. The military veteran is also a four-time Army Commendation Medal Recipient who was ranked as captain when he was honorably discharged in 2013 (among other related accomplishments).
“When beginning your profession, you will not have the years of experience behind you that a peer, or even a competitor, may have, which can give the impression of a gap, whether that is perceived or actual,” Christiansen says. “Having the self-discipline to learn your profession with the end goal of becoming a subject-matter expert will quickly eliminate that perceived gap between experience and expertise.”
Today, Christiansen separates himself from peers by actively seeking mentorship for everyone from newly hired individuals within his organization to veterans suffering from PTSD. He likes to find objective ways to improve community efficiency through more open lines of communication and facilitating a “free-flow” of information and ideas.
“As a trusted advisor, my goal is not just one successful business transaction, but rather a trusted partnership in what will be a long-term, business-to-business relationship. It is through embracing our personal character that allows that relationship to grow,” Christiansen says.
Christiansen’s hobbies involve traveling with his wife, Sarah, 5-year-old son Beau, and 3-year-old daughter Adrianna. The couple welcomed their third child in June. He also likes running, cooking, and collecting vinyl for his “audiophile” stereo hobby.
Brandon Nickolas Cooper
Brandon Nickolas Cooper has certainly been busy.
At 26 years old, Cooper was appointed by the Collier County Board of County Commissioners as the youngest member ever to serve on the Collier County Black Affairs Advisory Board. He’s currently chairman of the board, serving a four-year term.
Cooper also founded the Ave Maria School of Law’s Black Law School Student Association St. Benedict the Moor Chapter. As a founder, he volunteers to mentor young law students, teaching them the importance of community engagement, pro bono service and activism as obligations in their profession. (Cooper won the 2016 Ave Maria School of Law Pro-Bono Service Award, among awards related to his service.)
He tells fellow self-starters to seize mentorship opportunities like these.
“Find a mentor and utilize them to save yourself time. In your mentor/mentee relationship always add value,” he says. “Mentees can add value to their mentors by being pro-active. Do not wait for things to be handed to you.”
In addition to coaching Ave Maria’s Black Law Student Association Moot Court Team, Cooper advocates in the community for equal opportunity and education initiatives. He currently sits on the board of directors and serves as a legal liaison for the Innovative Community Engagement Foundation of Florida. He’s also a board member and the development director for the MWUGL Foundation, and a member of the Isaac Anderson Jr. Bar Association in Fort Myers.
His lasting advice to young professionals?
“Plan in intervals, today, the next three days, one year, three years, seven years… Keep a big-picture mindset,” he says. And, above all else: “Be positive, Rome was not built in a day. Trust your process, and do not compare it to others. We all have our individual race to run.”
Cooper was a successful jazz musician prior to his law career. A Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonian, Cooper has shared the stage with talents such as Musiq Soul Child, Delfeo Marsalis, Wes Anderson and Esperanza Spalding. Born in Italy and raised in Europe, Cooper is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
Lee County Port Authority – Page Field
Erin Croop has made it her mission to tell people how general aviation works for their community.
“General aviation is an essential component of our community’s—and country’s—transportation system,” Croop says. “Just having Page Field in our community means an annual impact of $385 million.”
Croop spreads the word by organizing and personally hosting more than 30 Page Field tours for youth and adult groups each year. She engages guests by involving the airport police and fire departments as well as tenants with planes who invite young citizens to sit in the cockpit.
She also addresses a national shortage of qualified individuals to fill career opportunities in the aviation industry by coordinating an annual STEM tour for high school students in conjunction with the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools. In addition, she’s the lead organizer for Aviation Day, a free annual community event held at Page Field which introduces more than 5,000 to the excitement of aviation while doubling as a food drive to benefit the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida.
“No matter how big or small, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and contribute whatever is necessary to reach your team’s goal,” Croop says. “Community service is realizing that our world can’t move forward unless we make an effort to give back.”
To further this effort, Croop mentors a college intern each year as part of the Lee County Port Authority summer internship program. She has assisted on scholarship review panels and volunteered to speak at local schools. Croop is also one of the founding members of the National Business Aviation Association YoPro Council—a committee of young professionals in business aviation who create networking, mentorship and educational opportunities for aspiring individuals in the industry.
Croop encourages young professionals to take advantage of these types of opportunities.
“When you start down your chosen career path, find someone in the role you aspire to be in, who has already found success,” she says. “Reach out to them and ask how they got there, what challenges they faced, and what advice they have for someone like you. Not only are you building your network, but you may just earn a valuable mentor to help you along the way.”
In her free time, the Berea College graduate enjoys spending time with her husband and young son. She loves to travel and plan trips for her family and friends.
Target Roofing & Sheet Metal
Lee County native Casey Crowther founded Target Roofing & Sheet Metal just miles from his childhood home after years of working the roofing industry.
In 2018, Business Observer named the award-winning company as the sixth fastest-growing firm in Southwest Florida. That year, Target Roofing made $27 million in sales, nearly doubling its total from 2017.
“I can still recall my very first job at Target Roofing,” Crowther says. “I took in the call, estimated the repair, performed the work myself, and collected the invoice. … Things have changed a lot since that first sale, but we still have these core values in every step of our process.”
Giving back can be considered another core value.
Personally and through his company, Crowther donates to industry-related causes, such as Lee BIA Builders Care and Habitat for Humanity. Target Roofing donates all labor and materials at no cost to the homeowners served by both organizations. Additionally, Target Roofing sponsors many area nonprofits and community organizations. The company also completed more than 35 repair projects in Hurricane Irma’s aftermath.
“Over the years, I’ve learned that life is all about effort,” Crowther says. “You can’t accomplish something great without hard work and dedication. In everything you do, if you just decide to put in the effort—more effort than anyone else—you’ll do well in every area of business and life.”
Off the clock, Crowther has helped plan Fort Myers Pro Rodeo alongside his wife, Margo. He coaches youth football and baseball teams in Fort Myers. His contributions to St. Francis Xavier and Bishop Verot High School, where he graduated from, have helped purchase whiteboards and other classroom items.
Vice President/Office Manager
Sanibel Captiva Community Bank
Kristin Diiorio doesn’t shy away from leadership.
“I have found that being involved in my community is my best weapon,” she says. “When I began taking leadership roles in organizations is when I felt a real shift. Professionally and personally, I felt a much greater sense of investment in the community I serve.”
The 2009 Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Leadership program graduate has been an active member of the downtown Fort Myers community more than 15 years. Diiorio has served on the River District Alliance board since 2017 and allocations committees for the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades & Okeechobee since 2012, among other volunteer projects.
Professionally, Diiorio has led Sanibel Captiva Community Bank’s downtown Fort Myers branch to acquire nearly $30 million in deposits since 2017, with an average growth of 31% annually.
The mother of two has learned to balance all aspects of her life with quality interactions with others versus quantity.
“Through experience, I learned my business relationships could still flourish and grow without compromising my home life,” Diiorio says. I am now able to maintain strong professional relationships with customers and colleagues using a different, more focused approach by being present and responsive.”
How does she make her relationships with those in work, home, and the community matter?
“Interpersonal skills are crucial,” Diiorio says. Just follow her few simple steps: “Master the art of conversation. Learn how to ask open-ended questions because it shows you’re interested. Become a good listener. Doing business is all about relationships and relationships are built on positive interpersonal interactions.”
Raised in Southwest Florida, Diiorio lives in the Gateway community with her husband, Christian, and her two sons, Chase, 8, and Aiden, 6. She is an avid runner who has completed two marathons and continues to run several races a year.
Founder and CEO
Wealth Managers of Florida LLC
“Treat others as you want them to treat you.” Shawn Everett calls this his Golden Rule.
Everett has ascended as a young financial entrepreneur by building strong, genuine relationships with his clients.
“Over the years, I have retained many wonderful clients as our rapport is strong,” he says. “I give them support through the process of their working years and into and through retirement. This sets us apart from other advisors, where people can feel as if things are very transactional instead of relational.”
Everett runs a socially conscious firm, giving a portion of all of its proceeds back to the community and beyond. Wealth Managers of Florida LLC works with more than 20 nonprofits and has participated in projects all over the world.
Recently, Everett planned and organized an annual 5K for Christy’s Cause, a Southwest Florida nonprofit aimed at ending sex trafficking and exploitation. He also teaches financial literacy twice a year at church groups in Florida and Connecticut.
Everett even has a quote at his desk by late American businessman John D. Rockefeller that reminds him why he does what he does.
“Think of giving not only as a duty but as a privilege,” it reads.
Everett lives in Estero with his wife, baby girl and three fur babies. His hobbies and interests include golf, travel, and German Shepherds.
Pelican Isle Yacht Club
Alisha Feezor has a knack for taking challenges head-on—it’s proved true throughout her diverse career.
Before joining Pelican Isle Yacht Club, Feezor served as a Kiowa Warrior Helicopter Pilot in the 25th Infantry Division, Hawaii. She flew daily combat missions during her two combat deployments to Iraq, leaving with more than 2,000 hours of flight time.
Feezor also led her unit in a variety of ways during her service. That experience came when she became general manager of Pelican Isle Yacht Club, which has nearly 400 members and 200 boat slips.
Hurricane Irma hit amid the club’s multimillion-dollar-renovation, and Feezor guided her team through the days leading up to the storm, in its immediate aftermath, and the club’s subsequent delayed reopening.
“Effective communication was the key to our success,” Feezor says.
Adaptability has been an essential lesson in Feezor’s career, and she encourages others to remain open to the curveballs that may come their way.
“Don’t hesitate to examine opportunities or look at open doors. A winding or alternate path can sometimes lead to the ideal destination or through a series of exciting experiences,” Feezor says.
Feezor holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Wake Forest University, as well as a level two award from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. She tends to her pollinator and bird-friendly garden in her spare time.
John C. “Trey” Fletcher III
Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida
John C. “Trey” Fletcher III says his biggest challenge as general counsel of the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida has been learning how to best serve the organization without the benefit of working under another in-house attorney.
That hasn’t stopped him from helping the organization maximize resources through successful partnerships, which allows the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida to provide its highest quality of care.
In a particular instance, the Auburn University graduate helped the organization prepare for Hurricane Irma challenges and championed the organization’s efforts throughout the storm.
The challenge seems to have paid off for Fletcher, who encourages others to push past the unknown.
“Never say no to an opportunity because of uncertainty,” he says. “You’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”
Fletcher, a Florida native, is a founding board member of the Collier Resource Center, which assists families and adults navigate health and human services organizations in Collier County. His level-headed business approach is essential to the people he serves.
“Professionally, I strive to approach all that I do in a well-reasoned and objective manner,” he says. “Many of the decisions made by healthcare organization leadership teams—especially not-for-profits who serve the underserved—impact the lives of patients and employees directly and immediately.”
Fletcher enjoys working out and doing yoga with his wife, Brittany, a fellow University of Miami Law alum, where Fletcher obtained his Juris Doctor. They live in North Naples with their five dogs and horses. When he is not rooting for the Auburn Tigers, he enjoys fishing or hunting.
Director of Community Affairs
Humane Society Naples
Jonathan Foerster grew up in a small town, but that hasn’t stopped him from making a big impact.
“I didn’t have access to the breadth of educational experiences that my peers who were raised in larger communities did,” he says. “So, I did the next best thing: I read everything I could get my hands on—books, magazines, newspapers. My high school didn’t offer physics, so I taught myself in a correspondence course. We didn’t have AP classes, so I did night school at the junior college an hour away. I was determined not to be behind my peers when I got to college.”
That drive has stayed with Foerster as he’s climbed the professional ladder.
Since joining the Humane Society Naples in February 2017, Foerster has raised more than $5 million to aid homeless animals. He also launched the organization’s inaugural “Clear the Shelter” event, which resulted in more than 150 animals adopted in one day.
Before that, the award-wining former journalist served as the director of communications at Artis—Naples and managed the communications strategy for the launch of a $150 million capital campaign.
On his own time, Foerster teamed up with the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the Leadership Collier Foundation and CareerSource Southwest Florida to organize “Suit Up September.” In two years, the clothing drive has collected hundreds of gently used suits, shoes, ties and shirts for men in need of professional attire.
“Always be looking for new ideas,” Foerster advises. “I got this lesson during a summer internship. If you are always generating new ideas, you are always creating value for your organization.”
Foerster is married to Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster and the father of one rescue dog. He enjoys St. Louis Cardinals baseball, University of Missouri football, collecting records and trying new restaurants. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.
Eva’s Closet & Foundation
Jessica Goodall has made it her mission to advocate for and assist people in need.
Goodall founded Eva’s Closet & Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides free necessities to clients, ranging from clothing and shoes to hygiene and household supplies. She’s also a founding member of Social Work Society, a professional networking organization for social workers and mental health professionals to gather, share ideas and grow.
Goodall describes her business approach as “a combination of equal parts: empathy, non-judgment, grit, grace, and relentless determination to serve those in need with honor and respect,” she says.
Recently, Florida Gulf Coast University caught on to Goodall’s good deeds, naming her the 2019 FGCU Alumna of Distinction Award winner for her work in the community. She’s also received recognition for her impact as a social worker.
Aside from Eva’s Closet, Goodall has taught yoga for children with autism at Family Initiative Inc. and facilitated adult support groups with Valerie’s House, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children grieve the loss of a loved one.
Her greatest advice to others beginning their careers?
“Pursue wholeheartedly what you truly wish to do in this world and trust in your strengths and abilities.”
Goodall is a certified yoga instructor with more than 400 training hours. She enjoys traveling and visiting her hometown in Massachusetts. She practices a pescatarian lifestyle.
Brain Balance of Naples
Kayla Henkel’s profession is dear to her heart.
Henkel learned about Brain Balance Achievement Centers, a non-medical, drug-free program with locations around the U.S., when her brother, who has autism, became involved.
She tried the program for herself in college, and once she graduated, she began working for the Cary, North Carolina location. Her passion for helping children reach their full learning potential only grew from there.
When Henkel’s family opened Brain Balance Center of Naples, she took on a leadership position at 23 to help families struggling with learning, behavioral or social skills.
“Starting in a management position at age 23 was difficult because I was constantly questioned about my credentials,” Henkel says. “I have learned to counter those doubts by always maintaining professionalism and continuing to learn as much as I can to increase my level of success in my position.”
Henkel, who received the 2018 Rising Star Director award for her work ethic, encourages people who are just starting their career to work hard and give yourself time to develop their strengths.
“The best advice I can give to someone starting his or her career is to have patience as you grow your skillset and move up the corporate ladder,” Henkel says. “If you stay committed to a company and show that you’re there for the long haul, it will be worth it when your dream job becomes available.”
Henkel loves Disney and spending time with her family. She is happily married.
Fixed-Based Operator Manager
Naples Aviation Naples Airport Authority/Naples Aviation
Michael Hushek’s father passed away at a young age, but his lessons remain intact with his son.
“I can still hear him telling my brother and I as children, ‘there are 5 P’s to get you through life: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance,’” Hushek says.
“As we got older and into our careers, it is amazing how simple of a phrase it is and how significant it is in life as well as your career. I guess they were right, we really do turn into our parents!”
That advice has served Hushek well in his role as fixed-based operator manager at Naples Aviation. The airport is a busy place, and he has to juggle several duties, including serving customers.
“He’s established himself as a vital team member with an invigorating and contagious passion who leads first by doing and stops at nothing to deliver results,” says his nominator.
Hushek also looks for opportunities to engage his staff, invest in their development and help them succeed. He recently hired an 18-year-old aspiring pilot, starting her out as a ramp assistant and grooming her to become a line technician over the summer, so that she can offset college tuition costs while also gaining relevant, on-the-job experience that will help further her future career goals.
Hushek has his pilot’s license and enjoys amateur photography from the air. He is also a member of the Naples Botanical Gardens and enjoys spending time walking around the gardens, photographing the ever-changing gardens, and attending the seminars.
Danziger & De Llano, LLP
Depending on the weather, summer and fall potentially can make Lauren Hussey’s life very busy. As partner at Danziger & De Llano, LLP law firm, she is known as the “Hurricane Lawyer” who works with those who struggle in the aftermath of the violent storms.
“I currently represent hundreds of clients all over the state of Florida—from the Keys all the way up to Panama City from both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael,” she says. “My clients are homeowners, business owners, HOAs and condos throughout the state, who are not being paid by their insurance companies after they sustain damage.”
Hussey, a graduate of Ave Maria School of Law, not only pursues what is owed to the victim, she helps them deal with the emotional challenges experienced people who have lost everything. “My heart breaks for them,” she says.
Her specialty also has made her a sought-after source for media interviews on television and radio. Her success is in line with the advice she would offer to others starting in their careers. “Don’t overlook the small opportunities,” she says. “Sometimes a position is what you make of it. Be creative, put in the extra hours [and] don’t be afraid to think outside the box.”
Away from the office, Hussey keeps busy restoring a 1950s bungalow, cooking and tending to a company with her fiancé selling antiques, vintage home decor and fine art to collectors, designers, and retail stores throughout the country.
Radiologist subspecializing in Breast Imaging
Radiology Regional Center
Dr. Laura Isley, a radiologist who subspecializes in breast imaging, often has to give patients news that that is life-altering. Her approach?
“Be sincere. Although I may not be able to change the diagnosis, I feel it is my responsibility as a physician to give as much clarity and comfort to my patients as I can.”
Isley grew up in Cape Coral and attended North Fort Myers High School. She returned to Southwest Florida upon completing a subspecialty fellowship in Breast Imaging at the Medical University of South Carolina. In 2012, she was hired by Radiology Regional as a Women’s Imager because of her education qualifications from top academic institutions and her training in new modalities.
She sees hundreds of patients each year for a variety of breast imaging including 3D mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI and biopsy. She focuses on breast health, screening, and early detection of breast cancer.
In her spare time, Laura enjoys the beach, cooking, trying new restaurants and relaxing pool days with family and friends.
After graduating from Florida State University in 2009 with his degree in insurance and risk management, Ian Keith moved back home to Fort Myers to work for Keith Insurance, which his father began over 30 years ago.
Following in his father’s footsteps, yet clearing a path of his own, Keith has helped grow the agency at a healthy pace while managing a multi-million-dollar book of business.
In addition to his insurance career, Keith is also co-owner and founder of Coastal Conversions LLC.
Through his dealings with clients, Keith found many homes in the area were failing windstorm mitigation inspections. But there have been trying times, after which he relied on his mentor. “My dad told me, ‘People can try to take everything away from you, but what they can’t take are your morals and ethics,’” Keith says. “When faced with challenges, or even opportunities, learning to stand up for myself and what I believe in, even if it’s not the most popular decision, was a lesson I’m glad I learned early on.”
Away from the office, Keith spends as much time as possible with his grandparents, mother, father, stepmother and stepsisters, all of whom live in the area. He is a true Floridian and enjoys everything Southwest Florida has to offer, especially beach volleyball, jet skiing and boating.
Partner and CPA
Clients depend on Veronica Larriva to handle matters that often are beyond their knowledge base. A partner and certified public accountant at McHale PA in Fort Myers, Larriva specializes in forensic accounting focusing on litigation support.
“The challenge is expressing complex financial transactions to non-accountants in written reports,” she says. “I always like to assume that the reader has zero accounting background, so I try to make the explanations very simple by using graphs and colors.”
According to her nominator, Larriva presents herself as a true professional in her interactions with the courts, attorneys and other professionals. “She is meticulous in her work and is readily available to assist whenever necessary.”
She also is involved in mentoring other accountants, whom, she hopes will follow her philosophy. “I always remind myself that each case is the most important case for that client,” she says. “Even if we have multiple cases in our office at the same time, it’s important to put yourself in your client’s shoes and approach the case as if it were the only case you were working on.”
Larriva, who is from Ecuador and speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese, volunteers and has participated in triathlons, a 70.3 Ironman competition.
Founder and CEO
For a solid example of social entrepreneurship, look no further than WearTheFund.
Founder Sam Lewis intentionally chose a moniker that could go by the letters WTF to spin a positive association on the common acronym for “what the…” It actually plays off his own “WTF” moment in college regarding his questionable post-graduation plans. It sparked his idea for the brand and desire for intersecting entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
“If you’re truly looking for a long-term career, don’t settle for anything that you aren’t excited about doing the rest of your life,” he says. “Make sure it gives you purpose, and you wake up inspired every day.”
In its seventh year of operation, WTF is a mission-driven custom apparel company committed to changing the way the world does business— profit is not the bottom line—with high-quality merchandise that gives back 5% to the client’s own charity or nonprofit of choice.
WTF is known for its social responsibility and extensive charitable network of over 60 nonprofits, contributing more than $160,000 to-date to diverse causes that achieve social good for the communities it serves. Nonprofit clients include the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, United Way, Builders Care, Captains for Clean Water, Community Cooperative, The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools and many more.
On the side, the Fort Myers native enjoys anything and everything outdoors, garage sales, volunteering for any of the company’s 61 current nonprofit partners, meditation and relaxation.
Champions For Learning
As vice president of Champions For Learning, a foundation that benefits Collier County Schools, Manchette has helped develop multiple programs and initiatives that directly impact more than 250 students in the organization’s programs and over 12,000 high school students through outreach and support initiatives throughout the county.
Additionally, Manchette has a passion for helping students and families plan for life beyond high school. For more than 10 years, Manchette has been leading the charge to help students and families in Southwest Florida complete college access applications, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
And when an immediate, critical need arises, she has stepped up to provide help. For example, less than a week after Hurricane Irma had hit Collier County, Manchette and her colleagues at Champions For Learning were in the Collier County Public School administration building with the superintendent of schools and her team discussing how to help the class of 2018 be on track with tasks like college applications and financial aid since they had missed 14 days of school at a very critical time. Not knowing when all the schools would be back up, they created a plan to help school counselors, parents and students receive the information they needed.
“I consider myself truly blessed to work in a community that is so generous in giving of their time and their treasure,” she says.
Manchette is also fond of her American Bulldog, Jake, that she and her husband rescued three years ago through Brooke’s Legacy Foundation. So far, he’s earned two American Kennel Club Trick certifications and is now working on his Canine Good Citizen testing to become an adolescent therapy dog.
Director of Development
Lee Health Foundation
When the new Golisano Children’s Hospital opened in Spring 2017, Katy Martinez had a proud moment. As the director of development for the Lee Health Foundation, she helped complete the massive campaign to build the pediatric facility.
“The Foundation Team was challenged to raise $100 million dollars to build Golisano Children’s Hospital, which we did in less than five years,” Martinez says.
A monumental moment, indeed. But Katy has worked on many other fundraising efforts in her 15 years at the foundation. Barbara’s Friends Children’s Hospital Cancer Fund, Kids Minds Matter and the Boston Red Sox Celebrity Event Series Golf Tournament, to name a few.
Her success can be attributed to her philosophy of perseverance. As she also told us: “A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins. There have been a lot of times when things have gotten stressful. But during those times is your chance to really shine and continue to learn and perform regardless of whatever is going on around you.”
When she’s not working, Martinez enjoys spending time with family, the theatre, movies, music, running outdoors, and taking on various entrepreneurial projects.
Director, Public Relations and Social Marketing
Soma (Chico’s FAS’ intimate apparel brand)
As director, public relations and social marketing for the Chico’s brand Soma, Kristin McClement spreads its news around the country. In her time with the company, she has secured national press coverage in major media outlets including the Today Show, Forbes, Women’s Wear Daily, The New York Times, InStyle, Glamour, Marie Claire and more.
She has secured top recognition in Good Housekeeping for Soma’s bras and gotten products on Oprah Winfrey for the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine.
In the community, McClement also donates her resources, from giving holiday gifts for children through the Children’s Home Society and Page Park Association, to donating funds to local firefighters in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She has also supported the American Heart Association of SWFL, Captains for Clean Water, United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Counties and Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples. In addition, she has participated in countless fundraising events at Chico’s FAS with her fellow colleagues, helping to raise money and awareness for many deserving local organizations.
McClement is a Type 3 on the Enneagram test—the “competitive achiever.” She welcomes change and enjoys trying new things. In her spare time, she works out at Platinum Fitness, attends shows at Barbara B Mann, listens to live music and watches sports (she’s a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Florida State Seminoles).
Trailblazer Academy at the STARability Foundation
Madison McNally found her career calling when she was helping her mother with caregiving for a young woman with Down Syndrome. That experience made her committed to pursuing a career as an advocate for, and in service to, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
McNally leads, and helped create, the Trailblazer Academy at the STARability Foundation. According to McNally, “Working with individuals with disabilities brings me so much joy. I forget my personal stresses and become happier and more joyful when around individuals with disabilities. I focus on what individuals with disabilities can do, not what they can’t do.”
McNally is also an avid fitness enthusiast and competes in Tough Mudders, 5ks and has twice finished the Disney Half Marathon. She also loves to travel and takes every opportunity to experience a new part of the world.
The Sally J. Pimentel Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center
Alicia Miller is the executive director for the Fort Myers-based Deaf & Hard of Hearing Center, where she and her staff work with the nearly 60,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing-residents of Southwest Florida.
Her position there follows roles as a high school teacher—she’s a multiple Golden Apple finalist—and director of scholarships for the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools.
But intertwined with her professional résumé has been a great deal of volunteerism.
For example, she taught English to victims of human trafficking a local safe house and served on the board for Abuse Counseling Treatment Center.
As an avid Gator fan, Miller has also been involved in the SWFL Gator Club, where she participates in other community service projects such as International Gator Day, a day in which the entire club volunteers their time at a local nonprofit.
Miller is also setting an example for her children and her boyfriend’s child to show them the importance of giving back to the community and treating people kindly. “My key approach to business is passion.” she says. “Everything that I do has my whole heart. Otherwise, I don’t do it.”
General Manager and Co-Founding Partner
Veljko Pavicevic, general manager and co-founding partner of Sails Restaurant, arrived in Naples as a teenager, spending 1997 as an exchange student from Montenegro to attend Naples High School.
It was then that he forged strong relationships in the community that eventually led him back, wanting to create his American dream business in Naples.
Following his position in management at The Ritz-Carlton, hotels and restaurants across the globe tapped his talents and expertise for coaching their service staff. Then came Sails, which is inspired by his Montenegrin grandmother, where he’s focused on product excellence by sourcing best available ingredients worldwide.
The Fifth Avenue restaurant, where he works 18-hour days, has won multiple awards for its cuisine and service.
“It’s all about doing a little extra in everything you do. The Extra rep, extra inch, extra mile becomes a success in the long run.”
Veljko enjoys running and living a healthy lifestyle. Classic car restoration is another one of his hobbies.
Liz A. Perez-Lavin
President and Partner
Service Contracting Solutions
Liz A. Perez-Lavin, president and partner at Fort Myers-based Service Contracting Solutions, believes that challenges are opportunities to grow and learn.
“Being an immigrant was definitely a challenge. I had to learn a second language and learn a whole other culture,” says Perez-Lavin, who arrived in the U.S. from Chile at 9 years old. “Those experiences helped shaped my confidence and my work ethic.”
At 18, Perez-Lavin had become a mother while working and attending school full-time—she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).
Her nominator watched as Perez-Lavin grew from a clerk at a painting company while she was in high school to the president and majority owner of the company that employees more than 250 employees. “At that time [we met] she told me that someday she was going to buy the company,” her nominator says.
Service Contracting Solutions provides painting and other surface-coating services for commercial building all around the state.
Perez-Lavin is a huge Yankees and FGCU fan. She has raised two daughters with her husband, Harvey Hernandez. She enjoys going to the beach, drawing, reading, swimming and running, and is a huge New York Yankees and FGCU fan.
Public Relations Officer
Collier County Supervisor of Elections
In case you haven’t heard, the 2020 general election is just around the corner. That’s where Trish Robertson comes in. She is the public relations officer for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, where Robertson makes sure that the public is informed about all voting contests, from registration to casting a ballot.
“[Robertson] … is a superstar in the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office,” says her nominator. “[She] is a consummate professional and excels at everything she is tasked with.”
For example, in 2013, Robertson helped launch Vote in Honor of a Veteran that identifies local veterans to honor and thank them for their service, reminding voters that service members continue to make sacrifices so we can enjoy such liberties as voting.
Two years later, Robertson helped introduce the elections office’s annual Art for Democracy contest that involves obtaining, showcasing and judging artwork that expresses what democracy means to our student artists.
Robertson is married to Jeremy Robertson, local musician and co-owner of Hot House Music and Productions. They have two rescue pups, Oscar and Melody, and welcomed their first human baby, Hunter Delos Robertson, in October 2018.
BNY Mellon Wealth Management
Michael Rubenstein recalls his major challenge: finding the right career fit that would ideally combine all of his education—finance (MBA), trusts and estate law (JD), and tax law (LLM)—his personality and his passion for helping people.
He found the perfect fit in his current role as wealth director at BNY Mellon Wealth Management in Naples.
“Pick a career that you find fulfilling and go after it with all that you have,” he says. “Be curious, ask questions and learn as much as you can. Be true to yourself, and always do what you think is right.”
But Rubenstein also cites a personal calling. His youngest son, Matias, is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). So, he helps those on the spectrum, their families and those around them by advocating for this cause, and raising awareness, money, and resources for ASD to make treatment more accessible and affordable to all, especially in Southwest Florida.
He enjoys spending time with his wife, Mari, and three boys Sean, Jude and, of course, Matias, as well as cooking, sports and film. He has run two half-marathons and will be running the Disney Half-Marathon in January 2020 for the second year in a row on the Autism Speaks team.
Director of Construction
DR Horton, Southwest Florida
Kyle Schnaufer is described as having a “calm demeanor” by his nominator. But underneath, he has a burning competitiveness. His motto? “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
That wisdom comes courtesy of Will Ferrell’s fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby in the film Talladega Nights. And it’s worked. He has received four promotions in his six years at D.R. Horton, rising from
superintendent to director of construction in short order.
In his truck are boxes of old business cards that his promotions rendered out of date before he could exhaust them. He keeps them to signify a job well done and motivate him to keep striving for more.
His current position puts him in charge of all D.R. Horton construction between south Sarasota and south Naples, encompassing 1,420 homes in 2018 and a projected 1,600 homes in 2019.
That work ethic persists from his teenage years, when Schnaufer worked construction every summer and almost every weekend while he was in high school.
Beyond his motto, Schnaufer can offer his own advice: “Do the right thing even when no one is looking. It will be noticed in the long run. An unprecedented work ethic will allow you to win even when you may be outmatched.”
Schnaufer and his wife, Deanna, have a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter who are at the heart of both their lives.
Michelle Jenice Stephens
President and Founder
The Mahaan Aasha (Great Hope) Foundation
News accounts of the dire conditions that affect children around the globe can leave many feeling helpless. Not Michelle Jenice Stephens of Bonita Springs, who launched The Mahaan Aasha (translate, “great hope”) Foundation, so that she could effect change for children half a world away in India.
“Conquering India’s patriarchal society is one of the most challenging initiatives I have taken on,” says Michelle. “In many poor families, the fathers have died, are alcoholics, or have simply abandoned their families, leaving their families with no way of supporting themselves.”
Mahaan Aasha (MA) has provided some of these mothers with sewing classes and machines to earn an income, become independent and, most importantly, the ability to keep their children. MA also supports a girl’s school in the slums of Mumbai that focuses on empowering and educating girls to be independent.
Before starting Mahaan Aasha, she worked as a civil engineer and was a part of many projects in Naples.
To pass along the importance of her work, Stephens takes her 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, along to India, visiting orphanages and schools. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world, flamenco dancing, event planning and cake design.
Dr. Brian Wallace
Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon
Joint Replacement Institute
Dr. Brian Wallace is perhaps the ultimate team player. He is a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Joint Replacement Institute, where he is respected for the contributions he has made to the organization.
“Since moving to Naples in 2014 Dr. Wallace has progressed to being a very well-respected orthopedic surgeon in the Southwest Florida area–especially at his younger age,” says his nominator. “He has helped further the Joint Replacement Institute as one of the leaders in the medical community.”
Wallace has also been at the ready for numerous athletes in a variety of sports. Commitments include head team surgeon for Ave Maria collegiate and club sport (done pro-bono), the USTA/ITF World Tennis Tour Tournament in Naples, Everblades Hockey team and the GBE Shootout golf tournament in Naples.
Wallace and his wife, Lisa Fenda Wallace, a trainer at Orange Theory Fitness, have a son, Tristan. They also have two Great Danes and are huge Cleveland sports fans.
Boston Red Sox
Senior Manager, Florida Business Operations
For baseball fans, it’s not hard to be a little envious of what Brennan Whitley does for a living. When Boston Red Sox fans converge on Fort Myers each spring for pre-season games at sold-out games, Whitley has one of the best seats in the house, so to speak, as the team’s senior manager of Florida business operations.
“To be able to arrive to ‘work’ at a baseball park every day is not a job; it’s a dream,” he says.
Whitley knew he wanted to be in sports management since age 17. He started off his sports career while in high school, volunteering each year since 1999 with the City of Palms Classic Basketball Tournament in Game Day Operations. Throughout college at the University of Tampa, he interned each summer and winter breaks with stints in Florida Gulf Coast University’s Athletic Office and the Fort Myers Miracle. In Winter 2010, he joined the Tampa Bay Rays’ Stadium Operations Department and a year later 2011 came on board with the Sox and assisted with the opening of JetBlue Park at Fenway South in 2012.
Want a job like his? Some advice: “Perseverance. The sports world is one of the most competitive job markets in the country,” he says. “Be ready for long hours and little pay.”
Whitley and his wife, Danielle, have two rescue dogs, Maggie and Mookie. His hobbies include golf and softball.
Erin Wolfe Bell
Director of Exhibitions
Naples Botanical Garden
Erin Wolfe Bell helped Naples Botanical Garden through a time of rapid growth when she joined the nonprofit organization in 2014, managing its membership and annual fund program.
When she started, the Garden had a record-breaking 7,710 member families, compared to 1,740 member families in 2012. (Today, there are more than 13,000.) Wolfe Bell implemented processes to streamline member interactions, including by helping integrate a new software system. She also helped the organization’s fundraising efforts toward its recovery after Hurricane Irma.
In June, Naples Botanical Garden promoted Wolfe Bell to the director of exhibitions. In the newly created position, she’ll spearhead the Garden’s efforts to develop mission-driven exhibits and festivals for the community.
Wolfe Bell will no doubt draw from her lengthy industry experience to get the job done. She has been a member of the Florida Association of Museums for more than 10 years and currently serves as secretary on the Board of the Florida Association of Museums Foundation and chair of its program committee. Wolfe Bell also serves as a grant panel reviewer at the state level for the Division of Cultural Affairs in the Museum division.
In 2012, Wolfe Bell founded the Miami Chapter of the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) Emerging Museum Professionals group.
“Working for a nonprofit means your work is part of the community, and I take that very seriously,” Wolfe Bell says. “I enjoy nonprofit work because I love learning. Every single day presents new challenges to solve, which means I get to learn every day.”
Wolfe Bell is actively involved in the Marco Island community, where she and her husband, Austin, reside
Founder, Lead Explorer and CEO
Rising Tide Explorers
Ryan Young has successfully melded his background in environmental stewardship with a business that offers customers a way to get up close and personal with nature.
After graduating from Florida State University and Florida Gulf Coast University, where he studied environmental science in graduate school, Young became a biological scientist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. There, he monitored water quality around the region by accessing biological communities in local water bodies and conducted research.
In 2016, decided to take his love for the natural environment and apply it to create Rising Tide Explorers (RTE), a science-based ecotour company in Naples and Marco Island providing kayak tours, kayak rentals and other unique excursions.
Young started with his last $50 and no equipment. Working at local eateries by night, he supported himself with tips alone in order to begin growing his fleet of kayaks to provide these unique experiences to as many as possible.
Young grew Rising Tide Explorers into the No.1 ranked tour in Naples.
His tip for success: “Have an understanding of what you’re good at (and what you’re not good at), learn as much as you can, and surround yourself with others who share your vision.”
Young enjoys kayaking both for work, and in his spare time exploring new areas of Southwest Florida and about any other outdoor activity. Biking, hiking and photography are some of Young’s favorite things to do.