Introducing The Ledger's 40 Over 40 winners
From medical entrepreneurs to educators to volunteers helping battle hunger and homelessness, this year's group of 40 leaders aged 40+ is making a difference in Charlotte
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The Charlotte Ledger announces 2022 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, presented by U.S. Bank.
The awards celebrate local unsung heroes aged 40+ who are doing great things in our community.
This year’s group was chosen by a distinguished independent 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.
➡️ New this year: For the first time, we’re holding an in-person celebration of the award winners (including those from 2020 and 2021), to be held April 28. It’s going to be a fun time — a 1980s-themed party, with dinner, drinks, music and a few surprises. (Tickets are on sale now, details below.)
But let’s get right to this year’s winners:
Zurilma (Zuri) Anuel is the director of the Western Women's Business Center for Carolina Small Business Development Fund and the founder and executive director of ReliefBoX-Venezuela. ReliefBoX provides humanitarian aid by shipping food, medicine and toiletries to low-income Venezuelans. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Zuri moved to the U.S. in 1998. She’s a wife and a mother of two beautiful ladies.
Kim Aprill is the cofounder and executive director of Feeding Charlotte, an innovative nonprofit that is tackling the problems of climate change and hunger at the same time by making a bridge between those who have excess food (hospitals, universities, caterers, large retirement communities) with local nonprofits and churches serving the hungry. Kim’s friends and coworkers describe her as energetic, compassionate and focused.
Brian Baltosiewich is founder and executive producer of Queen City Podcast Network and Balto Creative Media. A writer/producer/director, Brian spent 28 years in broadcast television before developing and launching his own production company in March 2018. Originally from the Detroit area, Brian and his wife, Terra, lived in Tucson, Ariz., before moving to Charlotte in 2010.
Chris Berger is vice president of enterprise communication at Atrium Health, sharing its mission of health, hope and healing for all. Chris continually strives to be a positive influence in this world while being a proud husband and a father of two amazing teenage daughters. In addition to his work leading and developing his team at Atrium Health, Chris volunteers his time to help develop other communications and PR professionals.
Philip A. Berman
Philip A. Berman is executive director of building services of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. In 1998, Phil took his corporate experience in facilities management, engineering, capital projects and environmental and safety leadership and put it to work for our public schools managing more than 20 million square feet at 170+ sites. Since then, he has brought cross-training and efficiency to the organization, ensuring that every dollar allocated to his department is well and fairly spent.
Glenda Bernhardt is chief executive officer of Freedom School Partners. She’s a passionate and visionary leader who cares about creating a brighter future for all of our community's children. She’s also a dedicated wife, mother and friend with a wicked sense of humor and some pretty awesome dance moves.
Lynda Bouchard is the founder and chief inspiration officer of Booking Authors Ink LLC, a boutique marketing firm dedicated to Southern authors. Following a globe-trotting career as a flight attendant for a major airline, Lynda reinvented her life at age 45. She is also an author and podcast host and believes that it is never too late to rewrite the story of your life.
Rita Dominguez, MPH, CHES®
Rita Dominguez, MPH, CHES®, has managed the Para Tu Salud (For Your Health) Covid vaccine equity program, with a focus on the Latino/Hispanic Community for the past two years. She joined Atrium Health in 2009 and this year was promoted to manager of Community Health Workers. Rita is originally from Ecuador and is the co-founder of El Puente Hispano.
Michael Estramonte is the founder and CEO of Starmount Healthcare Management and StarMed Healthcare, founded in 2019 with a commitment to underserved populations. Michael’s vision and leadership have made StarMed Healthcare a state leader in Covid care and a vital part of the local response to the virus.
Faith Fickling-Alvarez is a District Court Judge in the 26th Judicial District of North Carolina, serving in Juvenile Abuse/Neglect/Dependency Court. Dedicated to equal access to justice for all, she worked as an attorney for Legal Aid before being elected to the bench, focusing her work on victims of domestic violence and tenants who were in danger of homelessness. She describes herself as a cat lady and beagle mama that loves the law, public service, word games and her incredible husband.
As the first executive director for PFLAG Charlotte, Karen Graci leads the organization’s efforts to strengthen families, empower LGBTQ+ allies and elevate LGBTQ+ voices through peer support, education and outreach. Through her role at PFLAG, Karen meets families and organizations where they are, offering peer support, leading educational programming and collaborating with corporate and community leaders to nurture a kinder and more inclusive world.
Jermaine Green has been called a dream merchant for young people. He is the critical infrastructure protection (CIP) auditor at SERC Reliability Corp. As a dedicated volunteer and business partner for Road to Hire — a program designed to meet students where they are and provide pathways to high-growth careers in STEM —Jermaine has served as an expert connector between young adults and employers, leading to long-term economic mobility.
Joe Hamby is director of Front Door Services at Roof Above, where he helps find employment for the homeless individuals who pass through the doors of the center. For almost 20 years, Joe has also volunteered at juvenile detention facilities bringing hope and encouragement to those youth housed there. At 64, he says he’s finding joy in the second act, and in the words of George Bernard Shaw, intent on being thoroughly worn out before he’s thrown on the scrap heap.
Tonya Jameson is senior manager of policy and community advocacy for Leading on Opportunity. After her first act as a newspaper reporter, editor and multimedia journalist, Tonya successfully ventured into campaign management and political and policy consulting. Both a passionate believer, and a critic, of Charlotte’s “can-do spirit,” Tonya works to support people and organizations that empower the powerless and help Charlotte’s most vulnerable residents. She’s also a backpacker, motorcyclist, traveler and national parks adventurer.
Sharisse J. Johnson, MBA
Sharisse J. Johnson, MBA, is executive director of the Camino Health Center. A Puerto Rican, Bronx-native Latina, she has lived and worked in the Charlotte area for 20 years. Sharisse has a passion for helping to equip and elevate those in front-line positions and leading through example, as demonstrated in her combined 30+ years of leadership experience in healthcare, nonprofit leadership and managed care. She is married to a Navy veteran and has five children and a fur baby.
Tara Keener is senior vice president of marketing and communications at Foundation For The Carolinas, where, for 15 years, she has promoted FFTC’s mission to inspire philanthropy and create better communities. She has supported efforts to attract new donors, as well as civic initiatives to increase access to affordable housing, address racial equity and respond to the Covid crisis. A passionate supporter of companion animals and the people who love them, Tara currently serves as board secretary for the Humane Society of Charlotte.
Marcie Kelso is a partner at Kelso Communications, a full-service marketing, advertising and public relations agency based in Charlotte. Marcie leads a team of branding strategists, writers, designers, media planners and video producers, all working together to create meaningful work for a variety of clients. As a key member of Charlotte’s creative community for almost a decade, she contributes to the creative economy professionally and as a volunteer.
Demeka S. Kimpson
Demeka S. Kimpson is director of bands at Sedgefield Middle School. She is a 20-year teaching veteran in the field of music education, a private piano instructor and the current Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools “Teacher of the Year.” Demeka helps young musicians recognize and develop their interests and talents through instrumental music and gain an appreciation in the area of performance through high personal and group standards.
Rebecca Jones LaClaire
Rebecca Jones LaClaire is tribal liaison and tribal advocate and entrepreneur with Upstream USA, Metrolina Native American Association and Oasis Destination. Rebecca has been advocating and working in Native American affairs for two decades. She is passionate about helping companies and organizations understand and prioritize diversity that includes Native Americans, with an emphasis on educating beyond what you learned in school.
Dr. Terza A. Silva Lima-Neves
Dr. Terza A. Silva Lima-Neves is associate professor of political science and department chair at Johnson C. Smith University. Her courses, research and published scholarship straddle the fields of political science, sociology, Black diasporic women’s studies, diaspora studies, global studies, African studies and gender studies. A proud Black African woman (born and reared in Cabo Verde, West Africa), wife, mom, university professor, author, scholar and community activist, Terza brings attention to Charlotte through various awards and global activities.
Jane Llewellyn, MS
As a community volunteer, Jane Llewellyn, MS, is dedicated to serving youth in our area and beyond. For 30 years, she has focused on the health of our youth, first as an education advocate in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, and then in youth soccer at the local, state and national level of the sport, running tournaments and assisting kids moving from other countries to participate. She was also present when Teen Health Connection opened its doors in 1992, where Jane participated as a volunteer and most recently serving as board member and board chair.
Marie McLucas is the chief financial officer for Primax Properties, a commercial real estate development firm concentrating in single tenant net lease retail assets in 35 states. Marie is passionate about the advancement of women and young professionals in the community. She has mentored hundreds of women over her professional tenure and continues to promote women through formal programs and board/committee service with various local and national organizations including CREW Network/Charlotte, the Girl Scouts, Career Mastered and Foundation For The Carolinas’ Cabarrus County affiliate.
Daryle McNair is president of McNair Foundation Inc. He and his organization offer scholarships and educational assistance for students looking to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Since 2018, the foundation has awarded thousands of dollars in donations to graduating high school seniors in the Charlotte area and across the state of North Carolina.
As the vice president of clinical operations and chief nursing officer of Novant Health Medical Group, Nikki Nissen is responsible for the direct strategy of clinical practice at 612 clinic locations across the entire NHMG footprint. She was one of the key engineers of the rapid effort to launch Covid screening centers that dispatched teams into parking lots to start screening and testing patients in North Carolina. Personally, Nikki enjoys all things outdoors particularly when it intersects with the opportunity to provide mentorship.
Scott Pacitti is a 21-year applied improvisational professional and executive director of Planet Improv Inc. His mission is empowering resilience in students through creativity, educating, entertaining and inspiring positive behavioral change through improv comedy. Scott also uses his platform to help raise money for A Child’s Place to help with expenses for school needs for children experiencing homelessness.
Mo Pandoria is a former industrial engineer who has spun success out of facial threading. As the founder and CEO of IDOLIZE Brows and Beauty, he has built a thriving beauty spa business while bringing Indian culture to Charlotte and beyond. Since starting his company in 2009 as a single mall kiosk, Mo has grown it into six corporate-owned brick-and-mortar full-service spas throughout the Carolinas and nine franchise-owned locations in seven states.
Omar Parkes is director of MeckEd's Career Pathways Program, where he leads a team of five advisors who work with underserved, under-resourced young people to help put them on a path to a bright future. He also serves as a volunteer helping the homeless population of Charlotte and is a thriving D.J. who has given back to the community by donating time and talent toward constructive community engagements. A husband, father and grandfather, Omar is an enthusiastic advocate for young people, especially those who face obstacles.
Karen Pelletier is director of Housing and Homeless Services for Mecklenburg County. She works tirelessly to build bridges and encourage collaboration across providers throughout the county who serve our homeless neighbors. As a second generation civic servant, she feels particularly called to change systems and improve services and access for our community’s most vulnerable populations. Karen is the proud mom of a 9-year-old boy and a Carolina Gamecock.
Ashley Pharr-Godbee is program director for Thompson Child and Family Focus. She oversees programs providing mental health services to CMS and A Child’s Place and professional mentorship to at-risk children living in poverty through Friends of Children. Before joining Thompson, she served in roles at the Salvation Army and Charlotte Family Housing, dedicating her career to efforts to make Charlotte more equitable. Ashley is a wife and mother who enjoys family, traveling and comedies.
Ryan F. Platt
Ryan F. Platt is the founder of A Special Needs Plan Inc., a special needs planning advisory firm serving families nationwide. He’s helped people better understand life care planning while raising awareness about honoring individuals with special needs, greatly influencing our community and making a lasting impact on our region along the way.
Anna Priester is crisis prevention and response manager for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. For every tragic event, she rallies her team, forms an appropriate response and moves into the affected school to lessen the impact on that school’s community. Anna has committed her 31+ year career to supporting children and families in Charlotte, 23 of those years with CMS.
Suzanne Hodge Pugh
Suzanne Hodge Pugh is CEO and president of Aldersgate Life Plan Services. She has focused her work on honoring elders and driving her team to create an environment to foster diverse, caring communities where everyone has a voice and value. Suzanne has made community partnerships and enhanced visibility in east Charlotte a priority, such as the partnership with OurBridge for Kids. She says she tries to approach all situations with empathy, humor and grace.
Emily Ratliff is the executive director of Claire’s Army. Emily’s daughter, Claire, lost her battle to childhood cancer 10 years ago. Emily remarkably took the loss of her own daughter and turned it into a ministry of love. To date, Claire’s Army has served more than 800 patient families facing a childhood cancer diagnosis through their financial assistance, meal delivery and “Claire Package” programs.
Sandra Rettis, LCSW
Sandra Rettis, LCSW, is executive clinical director of Victory Family Counseling PLLC. She is a Hispanic clinical social worker with vast experience working with the Latinx population in areas such as healthcare, domestic violence, immigration and mental health. During this time, Sandra recognized the tremendous need for people in the community to have access to quality, affordable, multicultural, LGBTQ+ affirmative mental health services. With this in mind, she launched Victory Family Counseling.
Meredith Ritchie is senior business execution consultant with Wells Fargo and author of Charlotte-based “Poster Girls” novel. She has made a career in business communications and in 2022 published her first historical fiction novel as a cure for acute empty nest syndrome. She is curious about the forgotten triumphs of the spirit, especially those in our own backyard.
Lou Solomon is CEO and founder of Interact Studio, where she helps develop people into strong communicators who connect in an authentic way. Over the past 21 years, she has built Interact Studio into a safe haven in the world of communication coaching. Multiple times a year, she hosts her “Voice for a Cause” class in partnership with SHARE Charlotte, where she lets nonprofits in Charlotte send a representative to take her “Your Authentic Speaking Style” class free of charge.
Veronica Smith Southerland, FNP-BC
Veronica Smith Southerland, FNP-BC, also known as “Vee the NP,” is a tenured healthcare entrepreneur and owner of FLO Hydration & Wellness. She has dedicated her career to raising up the next generation of healthcare entrepreneurs. Vee is driven by a desire to create opportunities through enlightenment, education and empowerment.
Joanne Verkuilen is the founder of MiddleM Creative. An ex-investment banker and private equity professional, Joanne founded MiddleM Creative in 2016 to offer full marketing and branding solutions to the middle-market investing sector. She moved to Charlotte from the New York/New Jersey area in 2011 along with her husband, Matt, and two children.
Angie Vincent-Hamacher is an employment lawyer and mediator with Robinson Bradshaw, and she serves on the firm’s board of directors. Angie also serves as the chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority board of commissioners.
Ex-hot dog slinger Victor Werany — sometimes known as “Vic the Chili Man” — is the executive director and “Grand Poobah” of SHRED Inc.—Skaters Helping Realize Extraordinary Dreams. SHRED holds an annual event to raise money to help families whose children are born with extraordinary medical needs. Founded originally as a skateboarding event to assist one family, it has grown into a massive art event and auction with skateboard decks featured as the primary canvases.
And there you have it!
We’ll be celebrating these folks and our previous 40 Over 40 winners later this month. Key details:
When: Thursday, April 28, from 6-8:30 p.m.
Where: Whitehead Manor and Conference Center in the Cotswold/SouthPark area
What: ’80s-themed celebration, with buffet dinner, open bar (including specialty cocktails from sponsor Old Forester), music and a few surprises. There’s also a costume contest if you care to dress the part and show off that Members Only jacket gathering dust in your closet.
Cost: $70 per person ($10 off for Ledger members—discount code available here). Tickets are limited, and we’re not just saying that, so if you want in, you might do it sooner rather than later.
Charitable partner: 10% of ticket sales will benefit Dress for Success Charlotte.
More info and tickets available here, or click this handy button:
Generous sponsors: We’re able to pull this off because of the generosity of our event sponsors: U.S. Bank; Heartwood Tree Service; online event company Jumbo; Ducie Stark, residential real estate broker with Dickens Mitchener; strategic communications firm Fionix Consulting; strategic and growth consulting firm CXN Advisory and Old Forester bourbon.
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 2023.
Congratulations again to all of the award recipients, and a big thank you to everybody making 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.
We hope to see you at the celebration on the 28th!
Today’s supporting sponsors are Landon A. Dunn, attorney-at-law in Matthews…
… and T.R. Lawing Realty:
Injuries, arrest in Chapel Hill amid celebration: Ten people were injured and one was arrested for carrying a concealed handgun during Saturday celebrations in Chapel Hill of UNC’s big basketball victory. Chapel Hill’s town manager estimated 35,000-40,000 people took to the streets after the victory over rival Duke in the national championship game. (Associated Press/WFAE)
UNC underdogs again: The North Carolina Tar Heels are 4-point underdogs in tonight’s national championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks, the fourth time in six tournaments games in which they have been picked to lose. The game starts at 9:20 p.m. on TBS. (Bleacher Report)
Cupcakes lure BofA workers back: Bank of America’s market president in San Francisco says she’s buying a lot of “lunches and cupcakes to celebrate birthdays” as a way of luring employees back to the office. She said the bank has “been really good about creating different meetings that people would be interested in” to get workers back, and that Bank of America is “work-from-work company.” (San Francisco Business Times)
Pink robots turned loose in Plaza-Midwood: Small pink robots will soon be roaming around Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood, part of a test program to see if there’s a future for delivering food and drinks via remote-controlled robot. The Toronto-based tech company Tiny Mile is working with the city and Undercurrent Coffee on the project. (WBTV)
Ledger NCAA contest looks like dogfight between YensRandomBracket and BarbiJ
YensRandomBracket remains in the driver’s seat of the Ledger basketball tournament contest — and has picked UNC to win it all. BarbiJ and Drew it up are tied for second. With gift cards and fashionable Ledger pens on the line, it will all be decided tonight!
The top readers who picked UNC are YensRandomBracket, followed by Divine Bracket and Tarheel Pepper. The top readers who picked Kansas are BarbiJ, KGB704 and Rock Chalk. —TM
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project