Laryn Callaway-Blok & Christiaan Blok - Downtown Green Team
Photo by Nick Sorensen
Imagine relaxing beneath the shade of native trees, sipping an iced coffee brewed from locally roasted beans. Nearby, neighbors flow through their Tai Chi routines and children gambol in the grass. Now, picture this oasis near a bustling street in the heart of Phoenix's metropolitan corridor.
If Shine Coffee owners Laryn Callaway-Blok and Christiaan Blok successfully complete their crowd-sourced Kickstarter fundraising campaign, this pleasant urban fantasy will come to life in a bleak dirt lot adjacent to their shop near Central and Vernon Avenues. Such lots are, of course, ubiquitous in Phoenix. People often find them demoralizing and ugly. In the words of Kimber Lanning, director of Local First Arizona, on the project's Kickstarter video: "Downtown Phoenix is sort of like a smile with missing teeth. We have so many great things going on, but the dirt lots we're facing is really one of the things that's holding us back."
Of course, the Bloks' dream park - named the Vernon Avenue Pocket Park - would also offer a better customer environment for Shine, which evolved from a mobile shop housed in a 1957 Airstream trailer to a walk-up coffee bar on the edge of the Willo neighborhood. The pocket park will reside in the 1,600-square-foot space between the converted pool house where coffee is served and the shop's indoor seating area.
Since opening earlier this year, Shine has functioned as a much-needed lower midtown meet-up. It's the departure point for Phoenix Spokes People's "bike to work" days, and a delivery hub for Chow Locally's Valley-grown produce program. Such community interaction is exactly what the Bloks have in mind with the Kickstarter-funded park. "We want people to be invested in it and to make it their own," Callaway-Blok says.
At press time, demolition and grading for the pocket park was under way. Pending full funding of the $22,000 project by the late September deadline, the Bloks anticipate six weeks to completion. "Parks in an urban center confer the legitimacy of being a world-class city Ö We hope this is something other business owners adopt," Calloway-Blok says. shinecoffee.com
Cindy Ornstein - Arts Ambassador
Photo by Louis Hernandez
When people who haven't visited the Mesa Arts Center hear about the acclaimed architecture on its seven-acre campus or learn about the 387,00 people who attend events each year, along with the 400 arts education classes offered annually - they inevitably ask: In Mesa?
This element of surprise thrills Cindy Ornstein, who has dual titles as the executive director of the Mesa Arts Center and the arts and culture director of the City of Mesa. Then again, MAC's excellence shouldn't be such a revelation: Now the largest multi-disciplinary arts center in Arizona, it grew out of residents' shared desire to create and fund such a destination - a phenomenon that first attracted Ornstein to the Valley.
With artistic roots as a flautist, dancer and actor, Ornstein says, "I always believed the arts were an important part of being human - a very special way to express and understand people and the world." Getting her professional start at the Mayfair Festival of the Arts in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she observed artist-community synergy in action. "Seeing the life-changing power of the experience when people had the opportunity to collaborate with artists... had a big impact on me."
In June 2013, the unassuming Ornstein - and her team, she's quick to point out secured a $300,000 grant from ArtPlace America for Mesa's 21st Century Cafe Society, an outdoor gathering area with a performance stage, dining and a platform for visitors to create digital works of art and have them instantly projected. Ornstein also helped MAC transcend the tangible into an idea worth spreading - creating a partnership with ASU Polytechnic Campus to stage Southwest Shakespeare Company productions on the campus in March 2014. "They are not proprietary or provincial in how they look at their work," says Michael Mader, associate dean of educational outreach and student services at ASU Poly. "They are interested... in delivering something meaningful."
It's the sort of programming that's by the community, of the community, for the community - just as Mesa and Ornstein want it to be.
Ty Largo - Foodie Flack
Photo by Stephen Denton
Ty Largo's status as a mover and a shaker was predicted by an unusual oracle. "We have this giant decal (by) the bar in our office called The Shaker. I was like, 'Hey, it's perfect! It actually says The Shaker right there.' As far as being named a mover and a shaker, I feel like it's almost a job description for me."
His clients who include, seemingly, every talked-about young restaurateur from Flagstaff to Sonoita - would agree. Largo is the Valley's undisputed food-and-bev PR prince, having repped a who's-who of the state's hottest restaurants (FnB, Blue Hound, Cork, Pig & Pickle, Citizen Public House, Overland Trout in Sonoita, et al.) under his Salt Public Relations shingle. He also has a growing stable of non-restaurant clients ranging from Phoenix Children's Hospital to the Arizona Dairy Council. "What I'm tasked to do is make mojo happen for some of the (most) fun brands in the Valley," the one-time ASU student says. "The neatest people and the coolest projects."
He's also something of a serial redecorator. His first PR agency venture, Rivers and Leaves, was rebranded as Up, which he later cleaved to create Salt. Now Largo and his flock of crackerjack creatives are rebranding once again, from Salt to the less resto-centric Awe Collective a truer reflection of the agency's diversified client list, according to Largo. The name comes from "that moment of inspiration and delivery," he says.
Largo has built a career that satisfies his creative ADHD.
"I might be designing a great Facebook ad in a graphic design program one moment, the next moment I might be elbow-deep in developer code, the next moment I might be attending a ribbon-cutting event with the governor, or who knows?" Largo says. "Sometimes I wish I could be a little more like a normal PR person, but I just don't think they have as much fun as we do."
Maya Thompson - Activist Mom
Photo by Courtney Sargent
Valley resident Maya Thompson wants to make the world a better place for children with cancer. After her 3-year-old son, Ronan, was diagnosed with a stage IV neuroblastoma in August 2010, Thompson and her husband, Woody, "got lost in the shuffle of the hospital world." Ronan died in May 2011, just a few days before his fourth birthday.
To help families affected by neuroblastoma, Thompson started the Ronan Thompson Foundation in 2010 to raise funds for a world-class neuroblastoma care and research center in Phoenix dedicated to funding traditional as well as non-traditional treatments. "I want to create a place where families can come, where they know they're being treated by the best doctors for this specific disease," she says. "We went through this feeling like we were so alone. It would have been amazing to have the support of other families and parents who are going through the same thing."
Pop princess Taylor Swift recently lent Thompson's foundation an enormous PR boost, penning a tribute song to the activist's late son after reading Thompson's blog, Rockstar Ronan (rockstarronan.com). Using Thompson's own words for lyrical inspiration, the singer performed "Ronan" on the Stand Up 2 Cancer television fundraiser last September. Proceeds from the song will benefit cancer charities, Thompson says.
The Ronan Thompson Foundation raises funds through charity events and from donations, both large and small. Still, Thompson is hoping for a deep-pocketed angel donor to come forward and fully fund the center. "I'm crossing my fingers that it will be George Lucas, because Ronan was obsessed with Star Wars, Thompson says. It would be so amazing to have a Star Wars Neuroblastoma Research Center in Phoenix. That would put a very big smile on Ronan's face."
Before Ronan died, Thompson promised him that she would fight until people started listening, survival rates improved and a cure for neuroblastoma is found. "I want these kids to have the life they deserve.î Visit theronanthompsonfoundation.com for more information."
Reinvent PHX - Urban Uplifters
Photo by Steve Craft
When the Metro Light Rail carried its first passengers in 2008, many doubted the much-touted claims that it would bring economic development and improved quality of life to the City of Phoenix.
In conjunction with Metro's debut, the city embarked on a plan centered around transit-oriented development, seeking community input and identifying areas for improvement. Then the recession hit, the city budget was cut and all bets were off.
Enter Reinvent PHX, a community-based planning initiative spearheaded by the City of Phoenix. After securing a federal grant from Housing and Urban Development, the city entered into a collaborative partnership with local organizations to devise a sustainability action plan for five pedestrian-friendly districts along the light rail line, stretching from the Gateway area near Sky Harbor to the Christown Spectrum Mall.
Charged with creating an investment-friendly environment for development along the light rail for example, by funding parks and bike paths the team has listened carefully to community wants and needs. "We look at what type of investments would really help advance some of the community's goals around quality of life," Project Manager Curt Upton says. "We look at street improvements, possible recreational facilities and additional parks, real estate development and affordable housing."
Because people have emotional connections to their neighborhoods, Upton says the city has reached out to stakeholders in the five districts residents, business owners, etc. and put them in charge. "We have a council-appointed steering committee that makes up a pretty broad cross-section of the stakeholders," Upton says. "They are empowered and that helps us move the process forward because we get a lot of buy-in."
With an eye toward the future, Upton says the project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014. "This is a big project," Upton says. "And I have lots of people in the planning department helping me."
Patrick McGroder - Tort Warrior
Photo by Jason Millstein
Patrick McGroder III is a Buffalo Bills man, but he offers a perfectly rational explanation - his father, Patrick McGroder Jr., was a longtime Bills executive. In most every other arena, the Phoenix attorney bleeds Arizona. Particularly when it comes to Arizonans who bleed.
Over his 43-year career, the University of Arizona alum has championed some of the state's most high-profile personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. He's the attorney who successfully sued the Ford Motor Company on behalf of Phoenix police officer Jason Schechterle, who nearly burned to death in his Crown Victoria cruiser. He also represents the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed in the infamous 2010 border firefight where missing weapons from Operation Fast and Furious were recovered. Currently, he's working on the case of Jack Culolias, the ASU student found dead last year in Tempe Town Lake after going out drinking with his fraternity.
McGroder makes a lot of money for his clients, but he says the more important metric of his success is the lasting imprint these cases have on society. Following the Schechterle lawsuit, for instance, Ford corrected defects in the Crown Victoria. "I believe that I have an obligation, not only as a lawyer, but also as a human being, to do whatever I can to take care of my clients and to take care of society in general," McGroder says.
The attorney's folks-first ethos is reflected in his office. There are the expected pictures and clippings from McGroder's cases, and even a few from his weightlifting days at Notre Dame, but the vast majority of wall space is devoted to pictures of his family - including his youngest child, Iggy, glowering ferociously in her schoolgirl rugby outfit. The photos both put his clients at ease and remind McGroder of his roots.
"In my family, social service wasn't an option," he says. "It was just understood that you did it. And my father always taught me, do not take out of your community any more than you put back into your community. So I determined a long time ago I could be of most service to those whose lives have been torn apart."
Patrick McWhortor - Nonprofit Facilitator
Photo by Jim David
Patrick McWhortor will take anyone to school on nonprofits. With a professorial glint in his eyes, the one-time environmental lobbyist rattles off fundraising and strategy statistics with the confidence of someone who lives and breathes the data. As President and CEO of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, McWhortor does just that. And his tutelage is no academic abstraction. The industry he represents wields a $24 billion-per-year influence over Arizona's economy. "Your life is touched by one or more nonprofits. They are in the thick of building and maintaining our communities," the ASU grad says.
Given the positive impact of nonprofits on the community, McWhorter posits that the community should reciprocate with charitable giving - especially in a recession when government dollars were cut and the need for private donation is greater than ever. With more than 600 members on its rolls, ranging from churches to the Musical Instrument Museum and many national and homegrown charities in-between, the Alliance is poised to lead just such an initiative.
It teamed with Arizona Grantmakers Foundation for Arizona Gives Day - a 24-hour fundraising blitz in March 2013 that encouraged individuals to give to their passion areas, from animal welfare to feeding the homeless. In one day, some 8,500 Arizonans gave more than $1 million to 647 nonprofits. With results like that, it was an experiment worth repeating; Arizona Gives Day 2014 is slated for April 9.
But McWhortor's grassroots gusto doesn't stop there. Under his tenure since 2005, the Alliance has provided training and networking events, organized group-buying programs for members and lobbied on behalf of the charity sector. Upcoming legislative initiatives include increasing funding for certain services and protecting tax deductions for charitable giving. Legislators and future donors take note: The professor is in. arizonanonprofits.org
Steve and Jamie Morris LeVine - Party People
Photo by Allan Holdsworth
Every day, 6,000 smartphones in metro Phoenix simultaneously vibrate, chime or light up with an update about Steve LeVine Entertainment's next big event. The recipients comprise a wide range of entertainment-seekers in the Valley club-hoppers, sports enthusiasts, fashionistas, etc. - all hooked on the art of spectacle.
SLE's themed club nights and electronic dance music (EDM) concerts, including the Sound Wave Music Festival in September, are among the hottest tickets in town. The six-year-old company has lured some of the biggest names in EDM from Paul van Dyk to Tiesto - to the Valley, helping satisfy local demand for an emerging industry that Wall Street estimates is worth $20 billion annually.
"We create the party for Arizonans," says founder Steve LeVine, who organized his first for-profit bacchanal as a teenager and has since built his passion for parties into a solid living for his family of four.
Indeed, the story of SLE is really that of a romance between a DJ and a dancer. Fifteen years ago, LeVine - then a humble record-spinner - was approached by Arizona Rattlers dancer Jamie Morris about making a sound mix for the franchise. The duo hit it off, got married and launched successful careers; he as founder of a Valley-based event company, she as a Senior Director of Public Relations for the Phoenix Suns. After collaborating on a televised Super Bowl event in 2007, the LeVines decided to go into business together. SLE was born.
Though dance parties remain the core of the couple's business - as Steve puts it, "Jamie's always had the music in her" - the company is well-diversified. It also does public relations for entertainment events, and helped launch what is now the Diamond Club at Chase Field. It manages pro baseball players and DJs with residencies in Las Vegas.
Ironically, Jamie LeVine says the move into entertainment promotion has actually facilitated her role as mom to the couple's two sons. "Being with my kids in the morning... and being able to return home at any time, makes such a difference in their world and in mine," Jamie says. "It took a while to figure out how to make it all work, and it's not easy, but at the end of the day I get to enjoy watching my boys grow up."