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A commitment to community reaps rewards

Besides being go-getters on the clock, Forty Under 40 honorees have the distinction of making significant civic contributions.

Young professionals here and nationwide are committed to being involved in the community. For example, a study sponsored by the Case Foundation and conducted by consulting firm Achieve found that millennials often support issues and engage with causes to help others, not institutions. It is also a way for the next generation of leaders to connect with peers who are driven to make a difference.

Here is a closer look at causes five Forty Under 40 alums hold near and dear:

Mark Armbruster
Class of 2005

When Mary Cariola Children’s Center was searching for an “investment geek” to serve on its board in 2009, Pittsford native Mark Armbruster says he jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s a very well-run organization, and the past and current management teams are fantastic,” says Armbruster, president of Pittsford-based Armbruster Capital Management Inc. and now board chairman at Mary Cariola. “And the board is fantastic, which has not been my experience everywhere.”

Specializing in managing investment portfolios for high-net-worth families, corporations and non-profits, Armbruster joined Rochester Rotary Club in 2010 and now serves on its board. That experience has been fun and collaborative, he says.

At the 11-acre hobby farm in Honeoye Falls that he shares with his wife and kids, Armbruster raises pheasants, turkeys, chickens and bees. Last year’s harvest from just a few hives amounted to more than 300 pounds of honey.

Jeremy Cooney
Class of 2011

Growing up with a mother who belonged to a church choir, Jeremy Cooney began cultivating affection for the arts at an early age. Joining the Bach Children’s Chorus as a kid sparked a particular interest in classical music, which he has deepened as a board member at Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Inc. and Hochstein School of Music and Dance.

“Even though I don’t have the ability to be in a professional or semi-profes-sional performance (role) with the demands of my work schedule, this allows me to still be connected to the artistic community and help promote the arts in our city,” says Cooney, chief of staff for Rochester mayor Lovely Warren.

He adds: “I believe that arts education should be open to all, and I’m amazed by the number of students from all over—not only Monroe County but surrounding counties—who drive all the way into downtown Rochester to receive quality and specialized music and dance training at Hochstein School. And that’s really exciting.”

Prior to joining Warren’s administration, Cooney was vice president of development for the YMCA of Greater Rochester Inc., where his duties included overseeing the annual fund, leading the government relations strategies and serving as legal counsel to the CEO. He has remained connected to the human-service field as board vice chair at Episcopal SeniorLife Communities.

Supporting that organization’s effort to expand neighborhood-based health and wellness programs has been particularly gratifying for Cooney, whose mother and grandmother resided at an Episcopal SeniorLife property at the end of their lives.

In his spare time, Cooney listens to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and works by 16th-century English composer Thomas Tallis.

Carla D’Angelo
Class of 2014

Children’s health issues guide Carla D’Angelo’s volunteer activities. She is former treasurer at the Healthy Baby Network, formerly known as the Perinatal Network of Monroe County, and currently serves on two committees there.

The non-profit’s mission of offering community leadership to achieve optimal health for babies and mothers hits home for D’Angelo, given that her brother died as a newborn, causing her mom to slip into depression.

“So my whole life has centered around doing things related to perinatal (issues) and helping babies have a healthy start. … It’s just been a personal passion of mine,” says D’Angelo, senior vice president of strategic business development at Monroe Plan for Medical Care.

She adds: “There’s something called ‘death by ZIP code,’ which is a phenomenon across the country where there’s a huge contrast between the death rate of people in the poorest city ZIP codes versus the rates in the ZIP codes outside of that, in the suburbs or other wealthier parts of the city.”

The Healthy Baby Network is tackling that problem here, she says.

A resident of Victor, D’Angelo practices hot yoga regularly and recently vacationed in Bali.

Sharitta Gross-Smith
Class of 2014

A passion for volunteerism has opened many doors for Sharitta Gross-Smith, including the chance to be a mentor and coordinator of Determined Individuals Victoriously Achieving Success, a program that provides social, educational and service activities for multicultural women at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“There is something about being able to sit on the front row of someone’s life and to be able to help a young person as they continue to move through their academic career,” says Gross-Smith, a career services coordinator at RIT. “… I end up learning by mentoring just as much as a mentee might feel that they learn from me.”

Recently, Gross-Smith became involved in I’m First, an RIT program that links first-generation college students, faculty and staff.

“(RIT) sent a survey out, asking about people who work here that are first-generation college students, and I fit that bill,” says Gross-Smith, a Rochester native.

Off campus, Gross-Smith volunteers as an adviser on United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.’s Basic Needs Funding Committee, where she helps evaluate grant applications to determine which will benefit the community most.

In her free time, she enjoys discovering new restaurants and going on road trips to see live jazz.

Michelle Pedzich
Class of 2008

Keeping Michelle Pedzich interested in more than work is her role as a member of the Canandaigua Board of Education. Now serving a five-year term, she serves on three committees in addition to attending board meetings and executive sessions.

“I think that with something like a board of education, you want a group of people representing really the stakeholders in the community from a lot of different perspectives,” says Pedzich, senior vice president and director of human resources at Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co. and mother of a 13-year-old.

She adds: “I felt that was a pretty good way for me to feel like I was giving back and making a difference. That sounds a little bit hokey, but that’s the heart of it.”

On an annual basis, Pedzich returns to her alma mater, SUNY College at Geneseo, to speak to juniors and seniors about post-graduation survival skills. She offers interviewing tips and advice on how to avoid sharing too much on social media.

Pedzich, a self-described “Army brat” who lived in Europe and Asia as a child, enjoys reading cookbooks on plant-based diets and doing high-intensity cardio workouts.

Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

11/13/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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