On a Thursday at Glen Edith
Interview No. 116
Where are you originally from?
I lived in Corn Hill for a few years when I was younger, and then we moved to West Irondequoit. I attended Cornell for undergrad. When I graduated, I felt like I should have gone to school further away from home, so I moved to Boston to work with Wegmans on a management training program. While I was living in Boston, both of my sisters moved back to Rochester, and my dad asked me to come home and join the family business. All the stars aligned, and I’ve been back in Rochester for about six years now.
What is your favorite part of living in Rochester?
Our city is the perfect size--it’s big enough that there’s enough to do, but small enough that you can get involved and make an impact. I was gone for about seven years, and had to rebuild my network from scratch when I moved here. Some of the first things I got involved with were Rochester Young Professionals and Rochester Rotary. In a lot of other cities, you can get lost in the shuffle, but here, I can take on a leadership role. We can all be co-authors of the city’s future! Decisions are being made right now in Rochester that will echo for generations.
Do you have any favorite/secret Rochester spots?
Leaf Tea Bar. I don’t wanna be that guy, but I knew about it way back! At first, they were located in the Hungerford. I went on a Tea Adventure there with Niraj, a non-alcoholic happy hour with a small group of people, and stayed in touch with all the people I met! That says a lot about how Niraj can craft a memorable experience. I also attended a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Leaf once. It’s great to learn about culture and make friends in the special space Niraj creates.
What's the most unique or interesting event you've attended in Rochester?
My parents lived in Corn Hill for a long time, so it’s fun to walk around Corn Hill Festival with them as they’re saying hi to everyone and pointing out landmarks.
My new favorite is Fringe Festival. Remote Rochester and off-the-wall events like that are fantastic. I attend Cirque du Fringe every year. The festival is around my birthday, so that’s fun too! I love its offbeat nature and having the chance to see interesting people doing bizarre things in the streets.
Do you have a favorite charity/nonprofit you like to support?
- Junior Achievement -- As a young person, it feels like you can’t make a huge impact with your dollars, but as a young volunteer, you’re better able to relate to school-age kids. We get to teach them about business, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy, and show that that by becoming an entrepreneur, you can help yourself and your community rise up.El Latino -- It’s by the airport, and it’s a standard for a reason. The food is delicious, it’s easy to get to, and it’s Dominican food that’s just done really solidly.
- NextGen Rochester -- This organization pools the money of young professionals (you just need to contribute $100 to participate) and offers grants to lesser-known nonprofits. Nonprofits present on the projects they want to do with the grant funding available, and you get to vote on which nonprofits get the funding. We give away about $10,000 per year.
- Conscious Capitalism Rochester -- I helped found this organization about five years ago. We’ve taken on a social mission and are focusing on educating local businesses about inclusive growth. We celebrate businesses that are doing that and encourage more to get on board. It’s a necessary part of Rochester’s renaissance. If businesses aren’t inclusive, they won't be sustainable.
If you had $100 and 2 hours to kill, how would you spend the money/time?
I’d give it to a food truck and pay it forward--have them visit a neighborhood they wouldn’t normally go to and hand out $100 worth of free food to residents.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood?
Corn Hill. I’m always there for the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve fireworks. Corn Hill Landing is by far my favorite view of Rochester. I also really enjoy the South Wedge; I’ve found myself spending more time there because that’s where Leaf is located! That South Ave. strip feels like the main street of a small town. I love the walkability of it and all the local businesses; it helps build community.
What is your personal coping mechanism for cold/gray weather?
I like walking my dog when the air is cold and crisp. It doesn’t hurt to have a dog that loves jumping in snowbanks with childlike wonder!
What is your favorite Rochester memory?
My family has been Rhinos season ticketholders since 1997. We went to every game. As a kid, I idolized the players and would wait outside afterwards to try to get their autographs. The atmosphere was really incredible. That was about 15-20 years ago, and as a kid from the suburbs, it was the most connected I felt to the city when I got to go downtown to cheer for the Rhinos. When I was 10 or 12 years old, I had a birthday party there. My friends and I painted “Go Rhinos” on our chests and ended up on all their promotional materials for the next season!
What makes Rochester unique?
The number of passionate people working on their projects are. I feel like I’m relatively well-connected, but every day there’s a new Instagram, business, or nonprofit idea popping up that I haven’t heard of before! So many people are stepping up. There’s lots of energy in our generation for being part of that change. It’s unique to have a balance of creatives, business people, and entrepreneurs as these new organizations and initiatives continue to grow.
What could be improved?
We have to make our city’s growth inclusive. It’s difficult for me to look at the front page of the paper and see great downtown development going on, and then an update about poverty or our educational system. We’re only fooling ourselves if we think the good will outweigh the bad if we ignore inclusivity. The divide will only get bigger.
Instead, businesses need to be a part of a movement towards inclusivity. Companies like Genesee (that has planned 120 new hires, half of whom will be impacted by poverty), New City Cafe (which employees local teens), and Coffee Connection (which employees women battling addiction) are all making great strides. Social entrepreneurship is a good area to focus on, because that kind of growth is more sustainable.
If Rochester was a season, what would it be?
It would be early spring--that’s where we’re at in the development of Rochester right now. Our garden is growing. It’s nice to have a couple of large employers, but the economy becomes more resilient when there are more businesses. We need to make the soil rich for diverse businesses to grow, and make it healthy so they can all support each other.
I know you're involved in tons of great organizations in Rochester. Can you give me some of the highlights?
Sure! I've already mentioned a few, but here are some more:
- Venture Jobs Foundation -- This organization was started by a former venture capitalist who is doing more impact investing now. He’s helping businesses create inclusive prosperity in neighborhoods that don’t usually see investments. He also started an accelerator program for low-tech entrepreneurs called the Jobs Kitchen. The pilot cohort is going on right now!
- Rochester Young Professionals -- I got involved with RYP four years ago. They used to just do a monthly social, but started different divisions a few years ago so they could do more. My vision as president is to nudge young professionals to get involved in the community. Attending a social event is just the hook!
- RocCity Coalition -- I just finished my term as Co-Chair of RCC. It’s basically the Chamber of Commerce of young professional groups. We want to attract, retain, and empower young professionals. There’s so much going on in Rochester right now, and young professionals need to be co-authors of that future. We have identified focus areas and action teams, so young professionals can pick an area they’re passionate about and bring their energy to ongoing initiatives. It’s a focused attention approach instead of one-off volunteering opportunities.
My day job is running XLR8, the company my dad started. My dad stepped down from his job to pursue what he was passionate about. He explained it to me, when I was just a little kid, as “I want to do more of the things I like,” and it made perfect sense to me! He taught me that it’s important for business to be a source of meaning, fulfillment, and fun. His risk-taking actions spoke louder than words. His company helps leaders grow themselves and build companies that are fun and fulfilling to work for. I learned about leadership all the time around the dinner table. Now, at XLR8, we focus on helping leaders create purposeful, values-driven organizations, and how to embody those values day-to-day.
What advice would you give to young professionals looking to get more involved in ROC?
Four things come to mind:
- Cast a wide net. Get involved in a lot of different things. Resist the temptation to just immediately join the board of an organization. Go to events, volunteer, and get involved. Figure out one or two things you have time for and are interested in. It’s better to get enjoyment and fulfillment out of your commitments rather than have them become burdens.
- Volunteering and connecting with people you might not otherwise meet can be impactful. When you look at the numbers, it may be overwhelming. You might wonder, “What can I possibly do that will make a difference?” But small things can help. There’s a sense of shared fate in Rochester. We’re all in this together.
- Find your passion, what lights you up. For me, education issues are really important, and getting businesses to be part of inclusive success. So, determine what types of volunteering you want to do, and with what kinds of organizations. RYP and RCC partner to do an annual volunteering expo with over 100 organizations present! Be sure to check that out in 2018, as well as Flower City Philanthropy.
- Be intentional about where you spend your money. Make sure your values are aligned with the company or that you’re supporting a local business. That’s an easy way to give back without it being onerous.