“Being recognized as a ‘future leader’ in the North Bay is certainly a confirmation that I’m on the right track, and it also puts a bit of healthy pressure on me going forward‑but mostly the recognition is a huge inspiration,” says Hankins. —Petter Westby
discovered the magic of film when he was in middle school making videos to upload on YouTube. It was a simple beginning, but it led him to study cinema and pursue a career in filmmaking. In May, he had the thrill of seeing The Times,
a film he made for a student festival, screen at the Cannes Film Festival. It starts as a vintage silent film and shows what happens when a young man who has never experienced modern technology discovers a smartphone, which transports him into the loud, modern age.
Iskindir, 21, calls his early videos “amateurish.” He came from a low-income family without access to equipment, so he borrowed what he could from friends. “I knew that my end product was never going to have as high production as other people,” he says. “I’ve always had that kind of ‘impostor’ syndrome.” He found inspiration in film, however, and his mother, an immigrant from Eritrea, was determined to provide him with a good education. He attended Venetia Valley Elementary School and Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, and with the support of 10,000 Degrees, he made his way to film school at San Francisco State University, where he’s currently a senior. In addition, he works as a 10,000 Degrees Student Ambassador. “I want to be in a position to help others navigate to success in college,” he says.
“I’ve always been a social justice-oriented person. My goal is to use filmmaking to create change on a large scale,” he says, explaining that his art can be a positive force and gives him a unique lens to tell stories about people who otherwise would be underrepresented. “I want to be able to sit back when I’m 93 and look at the tangible changes I’ve been able to make in people’s lives,” he says.
Iskindir observes that hitting the record button on the camera is the smallest part of making a film—but the most exciting, because in that moment, everything comes together. “It’s pretty mind-blowing,” he says. Once his film was selected for Cannes, he launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds to go to the film festival in France—his first trip out of the country. He says, “It’s not something I would have expected in my lifetime. It’s been a very crazy year to say the least.” —Judith M. Wilson
In her role as vice president of sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines (JFW), Katherine “Katie” Jackson
is increasingly front and center explaining the family’s commitment to innovative environmental practices to the public. Jackson first joined the family business working in the cellars for a few harvests, later moving into the marketing and communications department. She also represents the family on several charitable boards, including Community Foundation Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Advisory Board for 10,000 Degrees and as one of the first alumna board members for Sonoma Academy.
After JFW formalized its sustainability program in 2008, Jackson’s role grew to include government relations and working with regulatory agencies on conservation projects. In the process, she found herself interested in all the ways the company could use new technologies to conserve water and energy and cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
“I just fell in love with trying to improve our business by trying to conserve natural resources and be even better stewards of the land,” says Jackson.
A love of the natural world was instilled in her early on. Her father would often talk to her and her siblings about his love of the land and the importance of taking care of it, and those lessons have stayed with her.
“Growing up, my parents used to love to take us on hikes,” remembers Jackson. “We used to get outside every weekend to walk around the vineyard and in the forests around Sonoma County.”
Jackson and her husband still love to be outdoors, paddling their kayaks in the Russian River, but are now more likely to be found taking their toddler along for a hike in Armstrong Woods, Fitch Mountain or Trione-Annadel Park. As a new mother, she can also be found exploring Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, a wonderful location for kids, or enjoying the bounty of local food products at the Healdsburg Farmers Market —Juliet Porton
Chris Kelsey, founder and CEO of Appsitude, employs more than 60 people in offices in Asia, Europe and the United States—and he’s 19 years old.
Kelsey was 17 when he decided to discontinue his high school education at Maria Carrillo in Santa Rosa (with a 4.0 GPA and one semester to go) to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur. Appsitude is evolving as we speak, but at its core is a high-tech company that helps entrepreneurs around the world realize their startup dreams. If you have an idea for a business, Appsitude will work closely with you on its funding, design, development, marketing and deployment.
Asked what advice he has for other entrepreneurs, Kelsey says, “The first part is conquering your mind; the second part is executing what your mind says to do. You’ll have failures, but if you learn from your failures and keep an open mind to new existing opportunities, you’ll eventually succeed.”
One of Kelsey’s lofty goals when starting Appsitude was to “change the world.” When challenged on this, he explains, “Some of the startups we’re building are revolutionary, such as Cazza, which is an app where you can design your home and have it shipped in four weeks. There’s much more to it that I can’t speak to at this point, but this software is going to change the way homes are built forever.”
He adds, “Our Appsitude entrepreneurship academy is going to change the way business education is taught forever, which is one of our long-term goals.” Appsitude is in the early process of establishing entrepreneurship learning campuses around the globe.
The sky is the limit for Kelsey and Appsitude, so keep a keen eye on him now and going forward. —Petter Westby
One Meal at a Time
Most kids spend a lot of time thinking about what presents they want on their birthday. Not Memphis Roetter
, an 11-year-old from Santa Rosa who, ever since his second birthday, has used the occasion to help others instead of himself. It’s a tradition started by his parents. “When I was turning two, we helped the Early Learning Institute,” he says. “Then when I was turning three, we helped put on the Cotati Kids Day Parade with my birthday funds.
“I was too young to decide on my own,” he admits, “but my parents said I didn’t miss not getting presents.”
At the ripe old age of four, “My parents and I talked a lot about who would need help the most. I went online with my mom and selected the Redwood Empire Food Bank, because I thought it was sad that some people don’t always have enough to eat.” That year, he rasied enough funds and gathered enough food to provide 700 meals.
Roetter says what inspires him is knowing that he’s doing something different than other kids, that he’s helping out families in need. He enjoys hearing how his work pays off with the amount of meals raised. “I like to go higher every year,” he says.
Even though he’s already achieved a fair amount of success, Memphis wants to expand his efforts and provide more meals. “Last year we provided over 1,6000 meals which was my best year ever. The long-range goal is to provide more than 100,000 meals. This year we broke the half way mark with more than 50,000 meals altogether.”
He encourages people to donate using multiple online platforms, including his own website (www.memphisfooddrive.com), Facebook, Instagram and Crowdrise, a donations based website for charities. He then spends several days in front of Oliver’s Market (on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa) from January to February asking people to help. “I work with my soccer club, Santa Rosa United, to gather donations,” he says. “Sonoma State partnered with me last year and helped out in really big way. I also have a birthday party where my friends bring donations instead of gifts.”
Deservingly, Roetter’s efforts have received a fair amount of attention, including story on NBC news and being nominated twice for the Red Cross Real Heroes. So what does the future hold for young Mr. Roetter?
Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he answers, “A professional soccer player for Manchester United.” —Sarah Treseler
received the President’s Volunteer Service Award at the Gold Level earlier this year. She’s a graduating student at Empire College in Santa Rosa and received the award with a congratulatory letter from President Barack Obama. “I was extremely humbled and surprised,” says Ruiz. “I wanted to help the community, but I was shocked when I learned that I was not only nominated, but won the award.”
The gold award is for college volunteers who contributed more than 250 hours of community service. Ruiz volunteered her time as a translator in the Sonoma County Small Claims Advisory Clinic, where she’s been working twice per week for more than one year. “As a translator at the clinic, Ruiz performed duties well beyond mere translation, and her role was vital in facilitating the conversation between non-English speaking clients seeking assistance and the advising attorneys,” explains Sherie Hurd, executive vice president of marketing and operations at Empire College.
Ruiz says, “It’s very surreal, to be described as a future leader in our community. I’m a first generation college student from an immigrant family. [My family is], by far, my biggest inspiration and support for becoming a paralegal and moving toward a law degree.”
Asked what advice she’d give to high school students who are unsure what direction to take going forward, Ruiz says, “ You don’t know everything you think you do. Find your identity and personal interests. In doing so, believe in yourself and don’t rush yourself. Get involved in the community and see how you can help others.”
That’s great advice. —Petter Westby
Citizen advocacy started early for Erin Schrode
, 25, of Mill Valley. When she was young, she watched her mother knock on doors to raise awareness about high cancer rates in Marin County. In eighth grade, she learned about a lifestyles study that linked personal care products to cancer. “Suddenly, it became very personal,” she says, and she co-founded Turning Green, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping teens make informed choices about items such as cosmetics, textiles, school lunches and waste.
At 13, she learned what it meant to start a 501(C)3 nonprofit, and “We learned on the job, but we weren’t afraid to ask for help,” she says. She got guidance from policy experts, chemists, journalists, business owners and community organizers, among others, and “We benefited enormously from that,” she observes. Since then, she’s traveled around the world, encouraging people to make environmentally sustainable and socially responsible choices.
She participated in a rally for Project Prom to advocate for the right to health in Union Square in San Francisco—wearing a tiara, prom gown and combat boots—and she attended a White House summit the day after her 21st birthday. In addition, “I had the privilege to keynote the national environmental summit in Brunei,” she says. Environmental education advocacy is one of her priorities, and she speaks at schools as well. “That’s such a gift for me, to connect with students, being completely myself,” she says.
In spring 2016, she ran in the Congressional Primary in District 2 against Jared Huffman and came in third with 20,998 votes. She points out that the decisions politicians make have a big impact on her generation, but young people don’t have a voice, so it was a chance to expand the definition of who can be a politician. “We need to dare to run. If I can shift the hearts and minds of young people in how they define politicians and what they can do for themselves, it’s a great legacy for the campaign,” she says. “I’m excited for what’s to come.” —Judith M. Wilson
The Ultimate Planner
, 23, never intended to step into the community spotlight, but that’
s what happened when she dropped off her ré
at the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce last summer. An interview followed later that afternoon and, by the next day, she’
d landed the job of Welcome Center Ambassador. “
t sure how long-term it would be, but I loved it right away.”
In five months’
d been promoted to membership and events coordinator.
When I steal a moment with Calistoga Mayor and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Canning, he feigns apprehension about speaking in high regard of Stewart’
s work, for fear “
someone might steal her away from us,”
he jokes. “
s mature beyond her years, in intellect and professionalism. Her work ethic is unbelievable. If you say you need A and B done, she comes back and says, ‘
I also figured you needed C and D, so I did those as well.’”
Stewart honed her event planning skills early by working alongside her mother, Tina, at the family business, Middletown Florist & Gifts. She started there during high school and continued for 10 years, in-between studies at Sonoma State University, where she earned a bachelor’
s degree in art history in 2015. She also worked at SSU’
s University Art Gallery and, later, the Aerena Galleries in Healdsburg, before life and work took an unexpected turn.
“If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I’d be working for the chamber, I would’ve been very surprised,” says Stewart. “I always intended to work in an art gallery, but this last year taught me that I can have ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’ll happen in the way I think they will. Things can change really quickly, and you don’t know that it’s coming. But sometimes it leads to very good things.” This life lesson might also explain why, despite Stewart’s self-proclaimed status as the “ultimate planner. I’m all about organization, binders, spreadsheets and the details of planning an event,” she remains unspecific about aspirations for the future, except for this: “I will always do something I enjoy.” —Christina Julian
Commitment to Community
As the newly hired executive director of Saint Vincent de Paul, Harrison “Jack” Tibbetts
is responsible for expanding the nonprofit’s mission as well as its community outreach. SVP has about two dozen employees, who are responsible for running the organization its free dining hall, which serves 90,000 free, nutritious meals to Sonoma County’s homeless every year.
This November, the 26-year-old is running for a seat on Santa Rosa’s city council to help his hometown create new solutions to some of its most pressing challenges.
Though his family is active in local politics, Tibbetts says he never expected public service to be his calling. After travelling the country as a professional skier for several years, he returned to California to start community college in Santa Barbara. While there, he saw tuitions double and became deeply involved in finding solutions for fellow students, including drafting a ballot measure for the creation of an oil severance tax to fund public education. It didn’t make it on the ballot, but in the process, he gained experience with the political process and found his passion.
“That’s when I started getting interested in politics, the ability to organize and in making policy proposals to fix social problems,” says Tibbetts.
He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in political science. Today, Tibbetts sits on a wide range of community boards, including the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities and Sonoma County Public Library Foundation. William Arnone, an attorney at Merrill, Arnone & Jones in Santa Rosa, serves on Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities with Tibbetts and notes how quickly the younger man progressed through a steep learning curve to become a valuable member of the board.
“Jack’s thoughtful contributions during the meetings, and his willingness to participate in Board-related events outside of the meetings, show a strong commitment to community service,” says Arnone.
In his run for city council, Tibbetts hopes to find more ways that local government and business can work together for the good of the community and increase opportunities for Snata Rosa’s young people and young professionals. He’s advocating for the creation of industry clusters, with policies to attract middle-income jobs in manufacturing, science and technology, and the expansion of affordable housing options, especially near public transportation.
Tibbetts is also determined to tackle homelessness head-on. He believes that a combination of upfront investments in a “Housing First” model could cut the number of homeless in half within a year or two, thus realizing significant savings associated with medical care, temporary shelter and law enforcement. Tibbetts says he’s been enjoying the opportunity to go door-to-door, meeting with residents and hearing other ideas and viewpoints.
“There are differences of opinion, but people have surprisingly similar visions of what they want for the city,” says Tibbetts. —Juliet Porton
Life on the family spread is a dream come true for sixth-generation rancher Marissa Thornton
, 28. She loved going out on the Thornton Ranch in Tomales with her dad when she was a child, and making a career for herself there seems like destiny.
The ranch dates back to 1852, when her Irish ancestors, the Marshalls, settled on 20,000 acres in West Marin. By 2001, however, the ranch was 1,013 acres and at risk following the death of her grandfather. That’s when Thornton’s father, Gary, was forced to sell the milk cows and give up the dairy to pay hefty estate taxes. The debt also threatened the property, but in 2011, he sold the ranch’s conservation easement to Marin Agricultural Land Trust, preserving the land for agricultural use in perpetuity. With the ranch secure, Thornton, who’d earned a degree in animal science from Chico State University, decided to start her own business—one that would honor the history of the ranch.
Her goal was to rebuild the dairy, but rather than cows, she started with sheep, planning to sell the milk to cheesemakers. “I could fill that niche,” she says. Once that business was up and running, “I realized I really wanted to milk cows,” she says. She launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to raise $35,000. She’d learned how to write business plans in college, and “I ended up surpassing my goal. I was able to buy 10 Jersey cows at first and buy more just a few months later,” she says.
Milking both sheep and cows was innovative. “I think I was the only dairy in the whole country that’s done that,” she says. It wasn’t a smooth path: “I had a steep learning curve with the sheep,” she recalls, but she was excited about moving forward and determined to make the dairy successful.
“It’s worth it just to try something and learn along the way,” she says. She and her fiancé Louis Silva (owner of L. Silva Dairy in West Petaluma), have a baby daughter. She says, “I want to teach my kids that, what their dream is, to just try it—it’s always worth the risks. You can’t fail if you’re willing to make changes along the way to keep your business relevant. No matter what, you’ll be pushed toward what you’re meant to do.” —Judith M. Wilson
is founder and owner of Elite Financial Company Inc. in Napa, which she started in 2013. Elite Financial offers services in bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, payroll and QuickBooks and has 70 clients in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties (ranging from very small to companies that employ approximately 50 people). Since its start, Elite Financial has grown about 20 percent year-over-year, and Villaseñor’s plans are to expand with offices in Sonoma and Solano in the future.
“The key to our success, outside of the unconditional support of my family, is that we deliver an all-inclusive solution to our clients—and that they, being small businesses, can relate to my company also being a small business,” Villaseñor says. “I don’t want Elite Financial to come across to our clients as a ‘corporate’ provider which might be intimidating.”
She continues, “I’m an associate of an accounting group called Professional Association of Small Business Accountants. It’s a national group of about 300 members, and I look to many of these fellow owners for advice and inspiration. The tagline for the group is ‘teach, share and learn,’ and that is exactly what I aspire to do with my clients.”
Being a leader comes naturally to Villaseñor, and that, combined with a passion for her trade, led to branching out and starting her own company. “I never considered myself a leader in our community, I merely want to serve my small business clients and aid them as they strive for success. But that being said, I’m certainly inspired by the designation as a ‘future leader’ and believe that helping is leading.
“That would be my advice to others thinking of starting their own business: Help others and you’ll be helping yourself. Do it with passion and complete dedication, and you’ll be successful,” says Villaseñor. —Petter Westby