Introducing The Ledger's 40 Over 40 winners
Get to know these 40 people over age 40 doing incredible work to make our region a better place
The Charlotte Ledger announces 2021 class of inspirational award-winners: 40 leaders* aged 40+
The Charlotte Ledger is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of The Charlotte Ledger 40 Over 40 Awards.
The awards, revealed in a special online presentation on Monday night, celebrate local unsung heroes aged 40+ who are doing great things in our community.
This year’s group was chosen by a distinguished panel of under-40 judges, who reviewed many impressive nominations — awe-inspiring and thought-provoking stories of innovators and problem-solvers who toil humbly to lift others up, or find gaps in systems and work to fill them.
They are making Charlotte a better place in a variety of ways, all over the city.
“All of Charlotte should be impressed with the stellar work this group is doing,” said Tony Mecia, executive editor of The Charlotte Ledger, the fast-growing new digital publication that sponsored the awards. “Through a tough year, they are shining examples of what is right with Charlotte. People of our generation don’t do what they do because of public attention. But we should still recognize their many and mighty contributions to improving our city for everyone who lives here.”
With great pride, The Ledger presents its 2021 class of 40 Over 40 Award recipients:
Adrienne Bain is a commercial real estate enthusiast and executive at Citizens Bank. A fierce advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the commercial real estate industry and the greater Charlotte region, she’s spent nearly 20 years helping developers build better communities.
Rev. Dr. Benjamin Boswell
Rev. Dr. Benjamin Boswell serves as the senior minister of Myers Park Baptist Church and facilitates spiritual formation anti-racism trainings for white people called “What Does It Mean to Be White?” In 2021, he was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medallion, the highest honor given by the City of Charlotte to a person who embodies the legacy of Dr. King by promoting racial equality, social justice and community service.
Michelle Tunno Buelow
Michelle Tunno Buelow is the founder and CEO of Bella Tunno, a personality-filled baby and parent accessory brand on a mission to end childhood hunger. Bella Tunno donates one meal to one child for every product sold and has donated over 5.6 million meals to date.
Todd Buelow’s career is anchored at the intersection of entrepreneurship, people and digital. Before founding Dualboot Partners, Todd was a founding member of Elogex, Bella Tunno, Cloud Logistics and Castle Digital Partners. More than just an entrepreneur, Todd is committed to helping children and those less fortunate.
Glenn H. Burkins
Glenn Burkins is a veteran journalist, dad, husband, brother and dreamer. He is the founder and publisher of QCity Metro, a media platform launched in 2008 to provide news and information for Charlotte's Black communities.
Barbara Caldwell serves as executive director of the Teaching Fellows Institute, tirelessly advancing its mission to engage, honor and inspire Mecklenburg County's outstanding teachers to promote their retention in K-12 education. With the onset of the Covid pandemic, her commitment doubled, and she found ways to provide teachers the resources they needed for success.
Lauren Cavins is the founder and director of La Escuelita Weekday School at Holy Comforter, a dual-language preschool for children ages 1-5, and the director of Latino/Hispanic Ministries at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter. Lauren developed the curriculum to instill respect for all children, their unique cultures and their individual development. Her focus on parent support and parental education opportunities help them realize additional resources to be able to aid their children in their education.
Amy Murphy Curlis
Amy Murphy Curlis is a strategic communications executive for Moore & Van Allen's public affairs practice. Amy helps many influential leaders navigate highly complex challenges, positively improve their image and deliver desired business results. Her work frequently results in improving the image and reputation of the local community, the City of Charlotte and the Carolinas, and Amy has worked on dozens of city- and county-wide campaigns designed to improve health, well-being and pride in our community.
Lonnie is musician, arts education advocate and the founder and president of JazzArts Charlotte, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves the greater Charlotte region through educational and performance-based programs. Over just 10 years, Lonnie has helped to build a strong and vibrant organization that has a reputation for high quality programs. Importantly, Lonnie also recognizes the important role that both jazz as an art form and the organization has to teach the community, beyond just music lessons.
Floyd R. Davis, Jr.
Floyd R. Davis, Jr. is president and CEO of Community Link, a non-profit that helps individuals and families in Charlotte and 16 N.C. counties obtain and sustain safe, decent, affordable housing. With a heart for social justice and a mind for strategic business management, Floyd has committed his life to improve the service delivery system for the individuals and families who depend on it. At an age when many folks are enjoying retirement, Floyd flung himself into ensuring Community Link could continue to serve families safely during Covid.
Lauren Allison Deese
Lauren Deese is the executive director of Charlotte Wine + Food (CW+F) — a 33-year old non-profit organization that curates year-round wine and food experiences, bringing together “Connoisseurs for a Cause” to benefit children in our community. During her three-year tenure, CW+F has distributed more than $500,000 in cash and more than $20,000 of in-kind donations to seven Charlotte-area children’s charities, nearly $100,000 of which was raised and distributed in 2020.
Monica Del Cid
Monica Del Cid is a longtime leader in Charlotte's Guatemalan community, and during the Covid pandemic, she swung into action bringing fresh food donations from local food pantries to dozens of local Hispanic families who couldn’t leave their homes because they were stricken with Covid. In addition to home deliveries, she also volunteered at neighborhood food distribution sites, all while taking classes to become certified in early childhood instruction so she can help with the shortage of bilingual teachers in daycares and preschools.
Tracy Dodson serves as assistant city manager of the City of Charlotte. As assistant city manager and head of economic development, Tracy was at the center of multiple initiatives to keep Charlotte’s business community moving through an unpredictable year — including helping land the East Coast headquarters of Centene Corp., a Fortune 50 company that promises to bring more than 3,000 jobs to Charlotte over the next decade. She also was integral in Covid recovery efforts for small businesses, the City of Charlotte’s Corridors of Opportunity program and many other economic development projects.
Adam Doerr is a litigation lawyer at Robinson Bradshaw who is passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion. He recently brought a lawsuit against the inequitable distribution of Covid relief funds that delivered more than $5 million to low-income North Carolina families. Adam is the proud father of two boys, Henry and Elliott.
Dr. Charles H. Edwards II
Dr. Charles H. Edwards II is a retooled cardiac surgeon who now specializes in memory loss. After retiring as a surgeon, he founded the nonprofit Memory and Movement Charlotte, which provides care to those in our community suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other memory and motion disorders, as well as the family members who care for them.
Gina Esquivel has dedicated her career to bringing social justice to marginalized communities in Charlotte. She has led community efforts in the field of housing, HIV-prevention, homelessness, domestic violence, education and equity and inclusion. Gina founded and leads Civic Canvas, a consulting firm supporting social impact organizations building their capacity to build a prosperous and equitable community.
Larry Farber is the managing partner and co-founder of Middle C Jazz. Described as a musical visionary and known locally as “The Music Man,” Larry has been keeping live music going in Charlotte during the pandemic. He’s provided local, regional and national musicians the opportunity to perform live while also keeping his staff and patrons safe. And now he is bringing music to those who aren’t able to come to the club by launching Middle C On Demand, a subscription service that enables members to access a catalog of recorded shows and to enjoy a live streaming concert every Saturday night.
Patrice L. Funderburg, MS
Patrice L. Funderburg, MS is the executive director of the Center for Community Transitions (CCT) which helps clients identify healthy and productive ways of living and successfully re-entering the community after incarceration. “Building People, Not Prisons” isn’t just CCT’s tagline. It’s how Patrice models her path to leading transformative change within the Charlotte community — lowering recidivism, improving access and opportunities to sustainable employment and disrupting the generational cycle of poverty to prison.
Tim Gestwicki is CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. He joined NCWF in 1991 as a field canvasser and has been leading the state’s oldest and largest conservation organization for more than two decades. Under Tim’s leadership, nature stewards work together on every species and every type of habitat through wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation, education and outreach.
Todd Harris has been changing lives for more than 25 years as owner and master instructor of Martial Arts University. Parents and students describe him as having unparalleled ability to motivate kids to become the best versions of themselves. Todd is also an entrepreneur, opening multiple businesses and helping other businesses grow across the country, and he’s the author of two books.
Brian “Heff” Heffron has been developing, cultivating, supporting and growing the stand-up comedy scene in Charlotte for almost 30 years. He is the owner of The Comedy Zone, one of the longest-running comedy clubs in the country. Brian also co-founded the Queen City Comedy Experience and Laugh for the Cure, a stand-up comedy and charity show benefiting Susan G. Komen.
Hon. Tracy H. Hewett
The Honorable Tracy H. Hewett is a Mecklenburg County District Court Judge. Judge Hewett finished her bachelor’s degree in her late 30s and then attended law school while also working as a single mom and a truck driver. She served as a public defender for 10 years and then joined the bench in 2017.
Jermaine Nakia Lee
Jermaine Nakia Lee is a singer/songwriter, playwright, director, producer and filmmaker. He owns NoDa@28th Creative Arts Studios and co-founded Charlotte Black Pride. Jermaine also is the founder of POOR NO MORE, which provides programs and services that offer financial education and financial empowerment for Charlotte’s most under-resourced citizens. He was also involved in the creation of the Emergency Black Trans Women Fund and other initiatives that show his in-depth dedication to the black queer and trans community.
Steven Lewis is the executive director of The Boost Pad, a virtual business incubator, and spends his days focused on creating economic pathways for underrepresented and underinvested aspiring entrepreneurs in the city of Charlotte and surrounding communities. The Boost Pad’s targeted entrepreneurs are women, people of color, immigrants, returning citizens and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The incubator is scalable and provides learning modules and classes focused on getting an entrepreneur from ideation to minimal viable product.
Heather McAfee is the founder of Ballantyne Families Helping Neighbors In Need. Ballantyne Families provides food assistance to families in need who have been identified by the school counselors of the nine schools that feed into Ardrey Kell High School. The program has grown from a small backpack initiative to coordinated large-scale food and gift card drives that help hundreds of families put food on the table for months.
Kimberly McGregor is the CEO and founder of SYDKIMYL Educational Consulting which provides customized social-emotional learning support for kids in underserved groups. Working with school-age children for almost 20 years as a counselor in Title I schools, Kim saw the glaring gaps created by extremely high student-to-counselor ratios. SYDKIMYL works to close that gap. During the pandemic, she launched transformative virtual-based social-emotional services and virtual academic tutoring for students who needed it most through a partnership with HBCUs to hire college students to work as academic tutors.
Don Meanor has served as a social worker and case manager for the past five years for Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte after retiring from a 30-year career as a sales professional at Pitney Bowes Global Mailing Solutions. Serving people who often are homeless and who feel hopeless, he uses his business acumen — listening, problem-solving, mentoring — to guide them to self-sufficiency.
Tim Miner puts his marketing experience to work supporting the passion and prowess of Charlotte’s artists, makers and innovators through the nonprofit Charlotte Is Creative, founded by Tim and longtime friend Matt Olin (another 40 Over 40 winner, see below). Tim’s personal mission is to strengthen the relationship between Charlotte’s creative and business communities. Their organization champions diverse artists, especially minority artists and others who aren’t publicized or celebrated as widely.
Shelly A. Moore
Shelly A. Moore is the president and CEO of The Humane Society of Charlotte. During the more than a decade she has served in this role, Shelly has ushered transformational developments to further the efforts of animal welfare in the Charlotte community, making life better for both pets and the people that love them. She has also dedicated her time to serving on boards of nonprofits including the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement and the North Carolina Animal Federation.
Trent Morrow is a clinical social worker and owner of L&B Counseling, located in south Charlotte. Trent’s counseling center strives to break the stigma of counseling with an outside-the-box way of doing therapy. His commitment and compassion for his clients is continuous, and in the community, he gives his time freely to help as many people as he can. Currently, he is working with local schools to educate parents and staff on the importance of mental health.
Mary Newsom is a writer, editor and blogger who has spent 25 years writing about, and opining on, Charlotte’s growth and development, at both The Charlotte Observer and then at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. For decades through her writing and generosity with her time and expertise, Mary has helped lead civic conversations around building a better, more just city. She uses her journalist’s voice to make a difference not only in the city’s growth, but in the lives of people who live here.
Grace Landin Nystrum
Grace Landin Nystrum is a strategic marketing executive at Bank of America responsible for delivering local and enterprise-wide Hispanic-Latino efforts that drive responsible growth for clients, employees and the community. She was instrumental in assembling the Hispanic-Latino Community Leadership Council as a way to convene local leaders in the community to drive change. Grace serves in a number of other leadership and mentorship roles and from 2018-2019 served as executive director of the Camino Community Center, as a participant in the bank’s “Executive on Loan” Program.
Kerry Barr O’Connor
Kerry Barr O’Connor is the executive director of Dress for Success Charlotte. Thanks to Kerry’s leadership, the organization today is much more than a suiting program. It empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Kerry has successfully navigated Dress for Success through the challenges of the pandemic, maintaining a near 100% attendance rate as programming switched to virtual formats.
Matt Olin is the co-founder (along with fellow 40 over 40 winner Tim Miner) of Charlotte is Creative, a non-profit that develops and runs initiatives such as Queen City Quiz Show (winner of a Knight Cities Challenge Grant), the HUG (“Helpful Unfettered Gift”) creative microgrant program, and The Biscuit (BiscuitCLT.com), a media channel named “Best Email to Land in Your Inbox” by Charlotte magazine. Matt is known widely as the host of CreativeMornings/Charlotte, giving our city’s fast-growing creative set a place to gather each month to get inspired, support each other, forge relationships and collaborate.
Fabi Preslar is founder, president and chief SPARKler of SPARK Publications, an independent publisher and creative firm specializing in magazines, books and catalogs in print, digital and interactive formats. Her passion is to help grow businesses through professionally published books and magazines for business owners and national trade associations. Fabi also is the publisher of b2bTRIBE magazine and author of “On Heaven’s Couch: My Journey with a Masterful Mentor” and “Fabulous F Words of Business Ownership.”
Rich Robles is senior director of diversity and inclusion at Novant Health. He is also part of a team who provides leadership and guidance to young adults through UrbanPromise, a place where high school students who have limited resources and support are given the opportunities to be the first in their families to attend college. Originally from Guatemala, Rich is now living his dream of facilitating intentional dialogue so that we can all hear each other’s stories.
Elizabeth L. Romano
Elizabeth L. Romano serves as program manager for Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, where she manages turnkey environmental/infrastructure programs for clients with sizable portfolios of real estate. An energetic and authentic leader, Elizabeth values mentor relationships and strongly believes in paying it forward to the younger generation of female professionals, giving back to her community and empowering younger generations to do the same.
Dr. Fahnie Stewart Shaw
Dr. Fahnie Stewart Shaw is director of Title I Family Engagement and Community Outreach for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She aspires to uplift families, building the capacity and social capital of those who need it within the community. She has brought coalitions and community groups together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students and families by combining food drives, community social mobility resources and technology needs for learning together across Charlotte-Mecklenburg, assisting more than 3,000 families.
Banu Valladares is the executive director of Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, North Carolina’s only 5-star licensed dual-language preschool. In this role and as a member of the Mecklenburg County Early Learning Initiative Executive Committee, the N.C. Early Childhood Advisory Council and the N.C. Early Education Foundation, Banu works to empower families and children and to build equity for Charlotte’s Latinx community.
Patti Weber serves as the CEO, co-founder and co-owner of Croixstone Consulting. A CEO with a long-term love affair with STEAM, Patti is driving outcomes in business, healthcare and social innovation. Her passion for STEAM has led her to switch between public education and corporate roles, fueling unique perspectives that allow for creativity in solving business and community challenges.
Carlos M. Zepeda
Carlos M. Zepeda is a business development consultant for Prospera, an economic development, nonprofit organization specialized in providing bilingual assistance to Hispanic entrepreneurs trying to establish or expand their businesses. Carlos was the first person to serve in this role in Charlotte. He provides specialized bilingual business consulting, training, access to capital and access to grants to the region’s Hispanic entrepreneurs and business owners as they become economically independent.
* because of a tie, there are actually 41 winners, but we weren’t about to rename this the 41 Over 40 Awards.
The winners were honored with an awards video Monday night, which included a clip from TV sensation David Hasselhoff thanking 40 Over 40 award recipients and providing inspiration:
The full awards video runs 11 minutes and is available here.
The list of last year’s winners is here.
About The Charlotte Ledger
The Charlotte Ledger is a new online publication that is quickly growing as a source of original and responsible local news. It publishes three local e-newsletters and is led by Tony Mecia and Cristina Bolling, two experienced former Charlotte Observer reporters who believe that Charlotte deserves better, smarter local sources of information. The Ledger believes in accuracy and honesty and is almost entirely reader-supported, which allows true editorial independence and enables the publication to focus on serving the needs of readers. There are free and paid plans available. Find out more. You can sign up here:
About The Charlotte Ledger’s 40 Over 40 Awards
The Charlotte Ledger accepted nominations in January and February. A panel of judges read the nominations, scored each one, and the top 40 were declared the winners.
No pay-to-play: As the official rules state: “There is no fee to enter, no dinner ticket to buy, no gala award table to sponsor, no special advertising section to congratulate winners, no money changing hands.”
Winners will receive a 40 Over 40 beverage koozie and an awards certificate suitable for framing (frame not included).
In-person celebration: In the fall, we will hold some kind of low-key, in-person gathering to celebrate the winners from 2020 and 2021. Look for info on that in our newsletter.
With 40 Over 40, there’s always next year
Do you know someone who didn’t make the final cut, or whom you’d like to nominate for next year? Hang onto that thought for next year’s Charlotte Ledger 40 Over 40 contest, which we’ll announce at the start of 2022.
Congratulations again to all of the award recipients, and a big thank you to everybody who made this celebration a success: all the nominees, all the people who took the time to nominate somebody, our volunteer judges — and a special thanks to Deborah Goldberg, who coordinated this year’s awards.
Until next year, everybody!
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