40 Under Forty: Ashley Justiniano

Age: 31

Gallery Director at Marion Cultural Alliance (Brick City Center for the Arts)

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you? 

The resilience of my mother, the wisdom of my father, the authenticity of my sister, the kindness of my grandparents, that free-spirited attitude my uncles & cousins have… I come from a big (and loud) Puerto Rican family. Mi Familia is everything.

What aspirations do you have for yourself? 

To create, live life to the fullest and continue spreading the important message that art & creativity are essential in our lives. 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? 

By boosting our cultural art scene, and promoting creative experiences available for all to enjoy here in Ocala. Whether it’s the latest art exhibition, a new restaurant, a theatre play, a movie, a music concert, a local art venue, the local park, public art projects, a huge community event, or even a small one, our community has it all and locals don’t even have to take I75 to indulge in it.

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area? My favorite thing about Ocala is our local art community. I’ve never met so many people who share my passion for the arts as I have had the pleasure to in Ocala. We work together and stand stronger than ever together; ALL for the ARTS. I love it!

40 Under Forty: Billy Gilchrist

Age: 33

Hotel Development and Management

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

The people of our community inspire me. Growing up in Ocala/Marion County, my father was always very involved and as I approach the birth of my first child, it is my goal to carry on those same values to my children. I love the people of our community, they continue to inspire me to give back and do more every day.

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?

To leave a legacy that I positively impacted the world I live in through my life whether it is professionally or personally.

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community?

I love volunteer work and serve on several boards in Ocala/Marion County. My favorite way though is through my involvement with Ocala/Sunset Rotary which is finishing our fiscal year where we donated almost $100,000 to local charities through our various events as well as Marion County Literacy Council which just raised $38,000 through the Annual Kiss the Horse event. That money will help us reach folks that live in our community that cannot read/write currently or help those moving into our community from other cultures that cannot read/write.

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area?

I love our downtown and its continued growth, there is always something to do and tons of local spots.

40 Under Forty: Christina McGowan

Age: 34

Art Teacher

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

Without a doubt, children inspire me. One of the things that I love most about working with children is their hopeful nature. I love being involved in any type of community event that directly benefits a child’s education or well-being. As a Take Stock In Children scholarship recipient, I will always feel indebted. I loved participating in any type of fundraiser they have, even if it involves huffing and puffing in the cold during their annual Sneakers and S’mores 5k.

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?

I hope to continue to wake up each day with the goal of making a child’s life better. In the near future, I plan on pursuing my master’s degree in counseling. I look forward to working one on one with the most vulnerable demographic and breaking down obstacles they’re facing while using creative tools in art therapy.

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community?

Before I became an art teacher, I was a graphic designer. I love volunteering my time, designing for local organizations. Giving back to a community that has given me so much feels amazing, and having outlets to express my creativity is just a bonus.

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area?

I grew up in the North East part of Ocala in the Anthony area. One of my favorite things has always been driving through the winding country roads right before the sun sets. The colors of the sun going down on the sprawling horse farms are so beautiful and truly incomparable. From the lakes, crystal clear springs, and gorgeous oaks, I truly believe Ocala is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

40 Under Forty: Cindy Vieira

Age: 38

Owner of Ocala Swim Academy, Multi-Certified Instructor 

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

It took me a long, long time to find out what my path was in life.  My business was not planned. When I was a little girl I almost drowned while swimming in a lake.  My daughter almost did as well, the weekend after completing a local swim program.  I’m inspired by the little faces that show up for lessons, some nervous and others excited.   If I can prevent just One of these little ones from drowning, If I can prevent one of my Awesome Clients from experiencing the near loss or loss of a child, My Job is Done!  

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?  

I come from a family of Immigrants.  My family came here with nothing. I’m the child of a Teen Mom, who ultimately gave me up to be raised by my grandparents; A Blessing. My Grandparents are the hardest working people I have ever met. AND Family Always Came First!  My Grandmother’s only request for me was that I finish College. Neither of my grandparents went to school, they never learned to read or write. I ultimately accomplished her wish which became my ultimate goal.

As a Single Mother, My Sole Aspiration in Life is to provide a Positive Example for my children to follow.  There are no excuses as to why you cannot be what or who you choose to be.   

Since having my children,  I completed both my Bachelor of Arts in Human Services and a Masters in Business Administration. I’ve Completed Certifications in ESE, Water Survival, Swimming and Stroke.  I work out of my Modest Home, while my children laugh and play with all of the little ones and their siblings that visit for lessons. Life is Good!

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? 

The Love for Life Event!   My Good Friend (and Former Client) Rabecca Inouye came up with a concept to help provide scholarships for children to participate in Water Survival Lessons by providing pampering to Moms that otherwise wouldn’t be able to.  I rolled with it. With the help of the Community coming together, we are able to organize this event where all of the net proceeds go towards scholarships. We raised 10 scholarships during our last event.

The Love for Life Event brings the Community together.  We are a mesh of Cosmetologists, Entrepreneurs, Vendors, MOMS!  

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”  Mahatma Gandhi

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area? 

Ocala is truly diverse in the sense that people from everywhere come here to raise their families in a small town setting, devoid of the issues that persist in larger cities.  I’ve met SO many amazing Mom’s here. Women from all walks of life. It’s in the brief moments in between clients that we get to laugh a bit, talk about the crazy things our babies come up with, share our plans and make arrangements for play dates.

40 Under Forty: Dalton Hobbs

Age: 27

Photographer 

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you? 

My family, friends, and other entrepreneurs are what inspire me. 

  

What aspirations do you have for yourself?  

I always try to live my life by putting others needs and happiness before mine, then my own success and happiness. 

  

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? 

 Involvement, donating to local charities and keeping business local are my favorite ways to give back to the community. 

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area? 

The traffic, I love the traffic! No, I actually love how close knit the Ocala community is!

40 Under Forty: Darling Hill M.A.

Age: 23

News Producer/Journalist at WCJB TV20 News

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

News has always inspired me. And as a third-generation journalist, I take pride in having a hand in telling the stories that matter most to the North Central Florida community. Every day I ask the community to share their stories with me, so after becoming gravely ill in the summer of 2018, it only felt right to do the same. After contracting a fatal virus, and recovering from it, I chose to partner with LifeSouth Community Blood Centers to help increase awareness for blood transfusions. Transfusions saved my life when doctors told me I would die. Working in news, I see people in all of their times in need. And from my own experience, I have learned that there is more I can do to help then just tell their stories. Which is why I have used my own obstacles and tribulations to try and make a difference in the community.

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?

I plan to continue working in the news industry. One day, I would like to work for a network both on-air and behind the camera. Perhaps, producing my own reports and segments. I would also like to teach future journalists, as well. That is why I received a Masters degree from the University of Florida so that one day I could mentor young journalists in the industry. But, I would also like to continue bringing awareness to transfusions. I believe that what happened to me, was for a reason. I can use my voice to make a difference in this world and that is what I plan on doing.

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community?

Every day I am helping the community in my work in the news. It is part of why I got into the business. Residents rely on journalists to tell them what is happening in their community. It could be something as big as a hurricane or wildfire, or something as small as road closures. But, every day I help make a difference in someone’s life, by keeping them informed.

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area?

My favorite thing about Ocala is the diversity and opportunities that can be found here. You have a good mixture of a retirement community, but also families. You have people from all walks of life in a small town feel but in a bigger sized community here in Marion County. There are opportunities for a range of career fields from medicine to education and agriculture. There is also room to help young people grow, and I can say that because I am a product of those opportunities, being a graduate of the College of Central Florida’s dual enrollment program.

40 Under Forty: Elizabeth Pizzonia

Age: 39

Horse Trainer/Instructor 

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

My inspiration comes from my passion for the Arabian horse breed and my desire to foster that love in other riders, young and old. I have worked hard to develop an expansive offering of opportunities to interact with the Arabian breed, from private and group lessons to seasonal camps and clinics, all of which help to develop skill sets for life-long equestrians. Recently, I also added a Ladies Wine & Cheese night group lesson because there was so much interest from adults who wanted to get back into riding.  I am constantly looking for new opportunities to ignite that spark of interest in Equine involvement.

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?  

Aside from working hard to develop an accomplished riding program, I am also training a world-class equestrian team that will be competing all over the country and at the  Arabian Youth Nationals in Oklahoma City. These riders will be competing for a National Championships in multiple disciplines and age groups. The Team provides the academy students with the opportunity to move up to competition level if they have the dedication and drive. 

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? 

Ocala Equestrian Academy gives back to the community by providing a safe, inclusive environment for riders of all ages and disciplines to pursue their equestrian goals. I love watching my students bond not only with each other but with the horses. The horses also provide a therapeutic outlet for some of our riders, dealing with physical and emotional challenges. Ocala Equestrian Academy is not just a riding academy…it’s a family.

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area? 

I enjoy the incredible equine atmosphere and outstanding horse farms that Ocala has to offer. Not only are they beautiful, but they act as a foundation of economic growth and stability in this community.

40 Under Forty: Eric Prendergast

Age: 36  

Firefighter / Paramedic Captain   

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

I have always wanted or thought of opening a restaurant. I love to cook and is something we do daily at the firehouse. Steve at Bagelicious has inspired me for years. This is a family owned and operated bagel shop. The food is amazing and is one of my favorite places to eat . Steve always comes up with new and better ideas for his menu. He has always gone out of his way to serve the firefighters in Ocala. His customer services and friendliness is second to none. Steve also took the time and money out of his own pocket to assist during Hurricane Michael by serving food and assisting hurricane victims at Pensacola Beach.  

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?

To successfully continue my career in both the fire department and teaching at the Florida State Fire College. The opportunity to better my self and promote higher in my job is always there and something to look forward to. Continuing my education and finishing my Bachelor’s degree in fire science.  

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community?  

My favorite way to give back to the community is teaching fire safety to schools and young children. This will help them know what to do in an emergency and possibly keep them from getting injured in a fire. This will also help them remember to always have a safe exit plan from there house and remind there parents to change the batteries in the smoke alarm.  

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area? 

My favorite thing about the Ocala area is being able to drive and within 20 minutes you can be surrounded by farms and livestock. The open land and animals have always been something I liked and pushed me to buy my own property 

40 Under Forty: James Hartley

Age: 31

Director of Business Operations, Reilly Arts Center

 

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

I’m inspired by people who are passionate about what they do. Whether it’s their job or their hobby, when someone is passionate about what they are doing, they do it in a way that inspires you to take interest and appreciate it. I’m fortunate to work with a team of people at the Reilly Arts Center that are all passionate about bringing high-quality performances and entertainment to the Ocala area. Without that passion, the Reilly would not be here today.

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself?

I’ve always had aspirations of working in the entertainment industry, but the pragmatist in me said I should go to law school instead. After attending the University of South Carolina School of Law, my wife and I decided to move back to Ocala, our hometown, to begin my legal career. I started off as a public defender and eventually entered private practice, but when the opportunity to join the Reilly Arts Center team presented itself, I wasn’t going to pass it up. Now that I am in this position, through the Reilly, I aspire to help to make Ocala a cultural arts destination.

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community?

Time is the most valuable commodity anyone has, which is why my wife and I try to give as much of it as we can to organizations that give back to our community. We were recently recruited by the Marion County Literacy Council, a local non-profit that helps adult learners read and write the English language, to help raise money for their annual “Kiss the Horse” fundraiser. We decided to donate our time to organize a Baby Crawl race which got people together to raise over $4,000 for the Marion County Literacy Council.

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area?

My favorite thing about Ocala is the pride that its residents have in their city. There are so many people in this community that all have the common goal of making Ocala a better place. Not only do these people help make Ocala better within their given profession, but they also come together to promote organizations outside of their own that help make Ocala a great place to live for everyone.

40 Under Forty: Jessica Galler

Age: 27

Detective with Marion County Sheriff’s Office

Whether it’s a business or community involvement, what inspires you?

Knowing how much it affects people in a positive way and knowing that even just an ounce of effort can go a long way. People don’t realize that even a simple phone call to check on someone or one single act of kindness can actually make a difference in someone’s life.

 

What aspirations do you have for yourself? 

I intend to become a supervisor by my 10-year mark at the Sheriff’s Office so I can be a positive example of leadership.

 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? 

I love supporting small businesses. Mom and pop restaurants are my main spending source because I love to watch an underdog succeed.

 

What is your favorite thing about the Ocala area? 

The amount of activities that are available to do with my family.

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