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2016 Athena Young Professional Award finalists

Traci Adolph
President and CEO
Tra-Lin Corp., dba Samson Fuel & Trucking
President and CEO
Bisig Oil

Education: B.S., SUNY College at Fredonia

Family: Single; a daughter and a son

Professional and community leadership: Board member, Northwest YMCA; Rochester Chamber partner; member, Rochester Small Business Council and Rochester Women’s Council; member, YMCA Triangle Society  

Staying motivated: Most importantly my children: They motivate and inspire me every day. Growing up I was so amazed at what my mother had accomplished against all odds. She was my own personal superhero and I was always so proud of her. I hope my children feel the same way about me and the legacy I leave behind. Secondly, it is so important to me to continue paving the way for women in business and all small business in any way I can. The sky is the limit, and I truly believe that.  

How Rochester could improve: I don’t necessarily think Rochester needs to get better at anything specific. I am very thankful for the opportunities Rochester has allowed for my business and family. I think Rochester needs to embrace change, and sometimes change can be scary for people. We may not be the city we were with large corporations dominating the industry, but we are a city that can and will continue to thrive with the support of local businesses, continual focus on growth and innovation and a strong sense of community. 

Recent lessons learned: I lost my mother unexpectedly a year ago in November. I had lost my best friend, my business partner, my mother. In the year following, if you would have told me I would have doubled the size of Samson Fuel, acquired Bisig Oil and purchased a new building that we can finally call home, I would have never believed it. I have learned that there is truth to the statement “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and that in the midst of adversity is when you will find your strength. I’m more focused than ever, and I will continue to be as I have big plans for this little company.

Alyssa Belasco
Marketing coordinator
The Highlands at Pittsford

Education: B.S., communications and media arts,

SUNY College at Brockport

Family: Husband, William Kalish

Professional and community leadership: Associate board member, Gilda’s Club; board member and marketing committee chairwoman, Greater Rochester Area Partnership for the Elderly; member, Rochester Chamber Women’s Council communications committee; founder, Flower City Philanthropy; member, NextGen Rochester; writer, monthly column, Rochester Magazine.

Staying motivated: I stay motivated by continuing to learn and participate in opportunities for professional development. I have developed a robust business, media and social network in Rochester that I continually grow, which has proven to be beneficial with regard to my career and in the various volunteer capacities in which I participate.

How Rochester could improve: I am a native Rochesterian with a love for our city and a passion for rebuilding Rochester through promoting and supporting local businesses, arts and entertainment, as well as for-profit and non-profit organizations within our hometown. I think growing what we already have available will continue to make Rochester thrive.

Recent lessons learned: In the past year, I’ve learned that while I am an extrovert, I am very humble as to my accomplishments. Being a finalist for Athena YP has allowed me to reflect on other accomplishments as well and feel a sense of reward for all that I’ve achieved in just a short time.

Lauren Gallina

Marketing director
Gallina Development Corp.

Education: B.A., Loyola University; Executive MBA, Simon Business School, University of Rochester
(June 2017)
Family: Single
Professional and community leadership: Member, associate board, Gilda’s Club Rochester; member, fund development committee, the Center for Youth; member, idea and membership committees, Memorial Art Gallery; member, Al Sigl Council, Al Sigl Community of Agencies; Leadership Rochester, Class of 2015

Staying motivated: I am blessed to work with my family every day. They allow me the freedom to do what I love and make a difference in the community through our real estate development but also through my non-profit work. We have a unique opportunity to have an impact on the community, and I never take that for granted.

How Rochester could improve: Rochester is at a true tipping point right now. We have the potential to regrow our downtown and bring new life into our center city. I see the interest growing and how passionate people are about our city. I just hope this continues to grow and the misperceptions about downtown diminish.

Recent lessons learned: I like a challenge and feel there is very little I can’t take on. I had never considered graduate school, but this fall decided to dive right in. Right now, it’s hard to balance everything, but I know in the long run it’s going to be a great asset to my own ability and our business overall.

Sufiya Kwaja
Relationship manager
Bank of America, and eye-care adviser, Luxottica

Education: B.S., management, San Diego State University

Family: Single

Professional and community leadership: Volunteer community board member and Signature Program participant and mentor, Bank of America; participant, Dale Carnegie Rochester; recipient, human relations award; wish granter, speaker, event volunteer, Make-A-Wish Foundation; past vice chairwoman, young professional leadership committee; instructor and volunteer, Junior Achievement; co-founder and member, Uzbek Initiative

Staying motivated: I stay positive and driven by looking for any opportunity to smile and laugh. I know I want to make a difference through each interaction, whether it’s at work or in my personal life. The little things one does can go a long way. I start and end each day by reflecting on how I made a difference and what I’m grateful for.

How Rochester could improve: The city could promote civic pride and national recognition by marketing its rich history of innovation, excellence in education, world-class health care, great cultural offerings and city neighborhoods, and bountiful activities available in the scenic surrounding area. This will attract companies and investment as well as the young talent needed to replenish its highly skilled workforce. Ultimately this should also aid in improving Rochester’s high poverty rate as residents will have increased resources for education, worker training and employment.

Surprising fact: Although I am first-generation American born in New Jersey, my ethnic origin is Uzbek. Uzbekistan is rich with history, culture and tradition. My parents made sure I focused on my studies and gave me the confidence to be a leader in my community by being an example to others through school, sports, work and philanthropy.

Jessica Lord
Recruitment coordinator
Volunteers of America Upstate New York

Education: B.A., English, Virginia Commonwealth University

Family: Significant other, Stephen Schirmer

Professional and community leadership: Co-chair, Professional Recruiters of Rochester; board member, National Human Resources Association; recruitment adviser, Rochester Rehabilitation; member, Rochester Chamber Women’s Council

Staying motivated: Recruitment is very close to my heart. In this field I connect people to a new career, which can make a difference in every facet of their lives. These new hires directly and greatly impact the success and future of my company. Remembering this is my greatest motivation.

How Rochester could improve: Rochester is home to several top-rated schools. However, research shows young people are leaving our area for employment out of state. We need to create a more welcoming job market for entry-level candidates by endorsing larger-scale internship programs or providing more industry-specific mentorship opportunities. We need to retain local talent.

Recent lessons learned: This year VOA closed its retail division to focus on mission-related services. Exiting over 100 employees taught me the importance of compassion in the workplace. Compassion compelled me to help create resumes and teach staff what I had learned in my years of recruitment to assist them in their career path.

Lindsay Morrow-Lilly
Corporate communications and shareholder relations manager
Canandaigua National Bank & Trust

Education: B.A., communication studies, Canisius College; M.S., management, Keuka College

Family: Single; a son

Professional and community leadership: Rochester Business Journal Forty Under 40, Class of 2015; Leadership Rochester, Class of 2015; member, community and government affairs committee, Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce; member, Professional Women of the Finger Lakes; former board member, Ontario/Yates Fund for Women and Girls; board member, George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum; volunteer, Friends of Wood Library; girls youth lacrosse coach

Staying motivated: My motivation is derived from an inherent fear of failure. I am always striving to do my best, give my all and be better than I was before. I truly believe you should never settle and there is always room for improvement.

How Rochester could improve: Rochester has much to be proud of and so many hidden gems. Focusing on the education of our youth and getting them involved in all that our community has to offer, sharing these treasures, cultivating excitement and opportunities would greatly benefit the city for generations to come.  

Surprising fact: As a child I dreamed of being a veterinarian or marine biologist and subsequently started my own pet-sitting business at age 13. While I am no longer pet sitting, my love of animals and nature has never wavered, and I enjoy spending my free time outdoors, camping, hiking, kayaking and the like.

Katelin Ryan Pellett
Vice president of programs, Ad Council of Rochester

Education: B.S., organizational communication learning and design, Ithaca College; certificate, strategic nonprofit leadership, Roberts Wesleyan College

Family: Husband, T.C. Pellett

Professional and community leadership: Board member, executive committee and chairwoman, governance committee, Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley; board member and marketing committee co-chairwoman, Women’s Council, Rochester Chamber; first vice president and board member, Rochester Advertising Federation; chairwoman, video project, Alzheimer’s Association; volunteer, Middle Skills Initiative; advisory board member, HerRochester; board member, Next Step Education Group; member, Woman Making Wishes, Make A Wish Foundation

Staying motivated: I’ve always told myself that it’ll be time to move on if my answer is “no” to one or both of these questions: Am I still learning? Am I still inspired? I’ve never had a day at the Ad Council where I have answered “no” to either question, and therefore I’m excited to get out of bed in the morning. In my mind, if you don’t feel that way, start looking for a new job immediately. Life’s too short to not learn and be inspired every day.

How Rochester could improve: Rochester needs to get better at advocating for and believing in Rochester. We need to realize that by feeding into negativity, we’re contributing to the problem, not helping to bring forward a solution. There are so many people doing amazing things to improve Rochester. Let’s put more focus on those things and become a community known for using our positivity to drive progress, not the other way around.

Recent lessons learned: I learned that despite my best efforts, I may never be a morning person. But I also learned that getting in just one hour of email before going to work changes my entire day. (These two realizations also helped me learn the importance of buying stronger coffee.)

Leah Tarantino
Associate attorney, Underberg & Kessler LLP

Education: B.A., psychology, SUNY College at Geneseo; J.D., Albany Law School

Family: Fiance, Nicholas Cintineo

Professional and community leadership: Winner, 2015 Daily Record Up & Coming Attorney Award; board of directors member, Society for the Protection and Care of Children; volunteer, Rochester Teen Court, the Center for Youth; volunteer, Lawyers for Learning, Monroe County Bar Association; member, Monroe County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section.

Staying motivated: Helping clients reach their goals for their children and families keeps me motivated. When my client wins at trial, or when we work with the other side to reach a settlement that is beneficial to both clients and their children, I feel proud that I assisted the client in reaching a positive result. You make a huge impact on the lives of your clients.

How Rochester could improve: There are so many young professionals returning to the Rochester area to settle down and live close to family. Rochester needs more networking opportunities for young professionals across different fields. It would be helpful for Rochester to create a website that lists professional job postings for people who are graduating from college or graduate school and looking to return to the Rochester area across different fields.

Recent lessons learned: This past year, I have learned to better manage my work/life balance. It’s so hard because we all want to excel in our careers, but we also want to enjoy our families and have down time for well-being. It’s a constant struggle, but I think I am getting better at it.

Erin Tolefree
Executive vice president
Baldwin Richardson Foods Co.

Education: B.A., economics, Spelman College

Family: Husband, Truman Tolefree; two sons

Professional and community leadership: Board member and vice chairwoman, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester; board member and marketing committee member, Urban League of Rochester; member, Vistage International, Key Group 939; member, Women’s Foodservice Forum

Staying motivated: Being part of a team environment where we are encouraged to think beyond possible to deliver the best solutions and think in the gray space keeps me motivated. Each day brings new challenges, allowing me to continually grow and learn new things. Watching others grow rocks!

How Rochester could improve: As a mother, resident and Urban League board member, I feel extremely passionate about having equal access to solid education for all children, regardless of economic, demographic or geographic circumstance. Education is the enabler to all possibilities and options. Ensuring this for every child would strengthen our community immeasurably.

Recent lessons learned: Investing in my spirituality has been powerful in helping me to trust and have greater confidence in my instincts. Making time to meditate in my own way over a run or quiet time has helped me to discover solutions that I probably would have struggled with a year ago.

Melanie Wolk
Partner, Trevett Cristo Salzer & Andolina P.C.

Education: B.A., political science and sociology, Manhattanville College; J.D., Pace University School of Law
Family: Husband, Jeremy Wolk; a son

Professional and community leadership: Member, Women’s Leadership Council, and chairwoman, Community Investment Cabinet, United Way of Greater Rochester; president, Greater Rochester Women’s Association; board of governors member, Al Sigl Foundation; board of directors member, Empire Justice Center; board member, Rochester American Heart Association

Staying motivated: My clients keep me motivated in my career. While litigation is second nature to me, it is not to my clients. Making the choice to transverse the courtroom and its procedures is not taken lightly by my clients, and, as such, it reminds me that I owe them a duty to represent them to the best of my abilities.

How Rochester could improve: Since moving to Rochester, I have noticed that Rochester has made great strides in providing for the needs of its community. If Rochester can continue its efforts to find employment opportunities for its present residents and new endeavors for future residents, Rochester will continue to move forward.

Recent lessons learned: In September, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that has required aggressive chemotherapy. What I have learned from this new obstacle is that asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness but one of strength and confidence. We simply cannot do everything all the time, and by admitting that we need help, we allow others to be included and contribute to the goal.

1/15/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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