11 Chicagoans To Watch In 2013

For the past few years I've provided lists of individuals I think are poised for a breakout year. And 2013's list is set to soar. 11 people with diverse backgrounds, making their marks in  business, fashion, education, and social awareness.   A number of them I have previously worked with and consider good friends, some I've just been introduced to through this blog.  Each person brings something unique to the group and we hope you'll follow them throughout 2013 and beyond.

Jose Allende - Owner , Coco Restaurant,  Philanthropist

Jose Allende

Jose is the owner of traditional Puerto Rican restauant Coco.  Also, he's never met a stranger. He gives his time freely to the community either through his own efforts or by way of the restaurant.  I could write a whole blog on just the great food at the restaurant which Jose still oversees with meticulous care.  He is a" food guy" a "people guy" and the "guy" you should know.

Top Goal in 2013?

To help my closest siblings and friends accomplish there goals , also to open a Charitable / Foundation for one of many different choices: Alzheimer's, Protection of Employment for Senior Citizens , Cancer or Professional Mentorship for Kids.
 Favorite Chicago Hangout?
Coco 's?  ok,  that one was obvious.  Also,  Sapori Trattoria is a favorite.
If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?
Cultures of the World - Meaning :  Learning and Traveling this , yes !! Now , that question sounds so good , like just doing it,huh.
Jennifer Bridgeforth - Artist,  Gallery Owner

Jennifer is the founder and curator of Phoenix Art and Empowerment Space, which was opened in May of 2010.

As an avid fan of art and an artist, she started exhibiting her work professionally in 2008 at the suggestion of a close friend.  Reluctantly, she went to a gallery to get a professional critique.  After the gallery sold her first piece to Morgan Stanley, they then sold the remainder of the 6 pieces she left with them within the first night of her opening multi-artist exhibit.  With that early success, she began to consistently exhibit in local shows on a regular basis.  As she began to create relationships with other artists, she realized how difficult it was to get consistent gallery representation without a legitimate connection or a certain educational pedigree.  She also wanted to turn her passion for speaking and inspiring change in other’s lives as more of a career and less of a hobby.  That’s how the idea of Phoenix began.

In the past 2 years, Phoenix has been a contemporary art space as well as an intimate rental facility for corporate programs, private parties and special events that have included showers, receptions, and product and book releases.  It has also begun to grow into its name as an empowerment space by hosting panel discussions and fundraisers for worthy causes.  "Adding to our offerings, we are excited to be launching individual life coaching and group seminars for the fall of 2012."

What Is You Biggest Goal For 2013?

I have a couple finish my book and turn Phoenix into the "go to" venue for all things empowering. Be it art, fashion, events, anything exciting and uplifting.

If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?

I would be doing life coaching, writing full time and getting the heck out of Chicago during the winter!

Benjamin Cottrell - President, Benjamin Cottrell Designs

Ben Cottrell

The creative force and president behind Benjamin Cottrell Designsan innovative, full-service design firm, specializing in runway show production. Benjamin is known for thinking outside the box and hosting shows in the most unlikely of places while bringing a signature high-concept set designs to each experience he createsleaving industry people to wonder what he will come up with next!  also has a heavy involvement in the Interior Design industry specializing in high-end residential and commercial design. He offer a comprehensive understanding of furniture, textiles, lighting, and custom design.

With over 10 years in the designs and special events industry, Benjamin gives unparalleled attention to details which is the foundation of his firm.

What inspires you? 

I am inspired by the particular space I'm working in. I love walking into an "open canvas" and being able to create based on how I feel it in my heart. I also draw a lot of inspiration from mid century modern glam and the elegance of high-end hotels around the world.
If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?
Working just as hard as I am right now because I am so committed to the Chicago fashion industry and growing my brand. I would also be building lots of houses HAHA! My other obsession...

Samantha Dockery - Founder, Bliss By Sam 


Samantha Dockery is the owner of Bliss by Sam Weddings and Occasions, a premier wedding and event planning company founded in Durham, NC.  Bliss by Sam has won awards from the National Association of Catering Professionals and the Forever Bridal Wedding Show. Their weddings and events have been featured on WRAL TV, TheKnot.com, Weddings Magazine, Southern Bride and Groom Magazine, The Knot North Carolina Magazine, and Durham Magazine

Bliss by Sam is one of the most sought after event planning firms in Durham, NC. They have recently launched a second office in Chicago, IL. Samantha Dockery and her team work with busy, discerning brides to reduce stress throughout their wedding planning process and on their wedding day, so they can relax and enjoy the moment. They’ve been featured in everything from The Knot.com to Weddings Magazine, Southern Bride and Groom Magazine to Durham Magazine. The company even offers  event planning tips, check out the Daring Devoted blog at http://daringdevoted.com/

Your favorite Chicago Spot ?
Prior to moving here, I tried to visit Chicago at least once per year. No matter what else I did, I always had to stop by Millennium Park. When I was working with my relocation specialist, one of my criteria was that I had to be within walking distance to this park. It's so beautiful in the Spring/Summer and you can beat all the free events held there. The free live music concerts are wonderful. And no - winter weather doesn't slow me down. I love ice skating in the park too!
What inspires you?  
 Two things - For events, I am inspired by my clients. I try to find out as much as I can about them and find creative ways to incorporate the things they love into the event. One of my favorite examples of this is a bride I had that really loves Napa/wine. Cocktail hours during wedding reception tend to be boring. For hers, we planned for an interactive wine tasting. Having a Sommelier at the cocktail reception was an awesome experience for the guests and it was a great way to pass time. In life, I am inspired by brave kids. I used to be a pediatric nurse and people used to always say they don't understand how I did that. My answer - kids are resilient. When I compare my problems to that of a teenager battling surgical complications, "I ain't got no worries" #LilWayne
If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now? 
I love being a wedding planner, but I work so that I can see the world. If money/time were no object, I would go on a year-long vacation. January-March: The French Polynesian Islands. April-June: Italy & The Amalfi Coast. July-August: Dubai/Thailand. September-December: In the US, spending each week in a different city for the upcoming NFL game of the week that I want to attend. Minnesota at Green Bay in the dead of winter in WI - I'm there!

Jacqueline Jackson - Owner Kilwins (Old Town and Hyde Park)

Jackie Jackson

Business woman Jacqueline Jackson has been featured in national publications such as Black Enterprise, & featured twice in Essence Magazine.  Her  business was voted best fudge in Chicago by Chicago Magazine & Oprah Winfrey skyped her store during one the Life Class viewing parties that she hosts at Kilwins.

The company was a direct supplier of desserts for major local events such as the Annual Black Creativity Gala held every year at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.    She has participated in many charitable and community events, including the contribution of 700 free desserts for the national Cancer Society,  She is constantly sharing her experience as a small business owner with students all around Chicago.


Ania Kalembasa - Marketing Coordinator ,Oak Park Arts District, Founder One Shop Collaborative


Self described “Chicago born gal “ who wears many hats and has experience in many various industries but at the end of the day her loves are marketing, public relations and helping people. She is an avid fundraiser and loves seeing people succeed in their life. She is  launching her own company called, One Shop Collaborative where “I will be doing everything I love with my talented designer illustrator, and branding expert Alyssa Cieslak.  Currently she serves as Marketing Coordinator for the Oak Park Arts District .

What is your biggest goal for 2013:

My biggest goal this year is working with various local foundations and helping them grow in a positive uplifting direction. I am currently exploring a few different communities but I would like to work with children and help expose them to the fine arts. I believe that affordable art programs/art camps should be available and affordable for everyone.I am looking to make that difference this year in 2013.

Favorite Chicago Spot!

I love going to The Buzz Cafe for my morning cup of Joe and incredibly brunch specials they have and ending my evenings at East Gate Cafe with a glass of wine and a steak salad.

If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?

Honest, if money didn't matter, I truly mean this, I would be doing what I am doing today. I absolutely love seeing people, businesses, foundations, succeeding. I adore being of assistance and be able to help people in whatever their passions or needs are. I enjoy giving, helping and being able to just put a smile on people's faces. People often ask me why do I want to help or why do I take on a certain job but its simply I enjoy what I do. I enjoy happy people and if I can be a piece of that success then that thrills me

Derrick Lane -  Entrepreneur, Philanthropist


Derrick Lane considers himself amongst forward thinkers. Those who relish in the beauty of today, while creatively imagining tomorrow's opportunities. As a self-proclaimed "city boy with a country boy's heart," Mr. Lane received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and online marketing certifications from the Online Marketing Institute.

Derrick has been fascinated by the everyday use of technology from age seven, and married both his passions for technology and advertising at R. J. Dale Advertising nearly eight years ago. He moved up the ranks from intern to Senior Account Executive.  Mr. Lane also is the co-founder of Coshowo Youth Tech Accelerator, an in-school and after school program that teaches youth how to code mobile apps.

Mr. Lane is an entrepreneur at heart:  In his spare time he teaches entrepreneurship to youth and adults at various faith-based institutions, creates and hosts branded networking events, and sits on the board for various organizations including Quincy Jones' Listen Up Foundation and C-CAP, the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, that provides scholarships for youth pursuing dreams of working in the culinary field.


What is your biggest goal for 2013

My biggest goals for 2013 are to triple the number of children that my program served in 2012. After launching in 2012, Coshowo Youth Tech Accelerator, I had only a dream: to give youth the opportunity to become tech entrepreneurs by teaching them how to code mobile apps in a fun and engaging way.  To date, we have taught over 100 youth in the city and surrounding suburbs from a variety of schools. I'm looking forward to tripling that number this year.

Your favorite Chicago Spot ?

My favorite Chicago spot...wow, that's a hard one.  I've got a lot of favorite spots! Ha! But I can tell you just a couple of my favorite hidden hangouts: TR Napa Valley, Old Town Pour House, and the Violet Hour

What inspires you? 

What inspires me is being able to help children or anyone create something...from nothing! I love to take someone's idea, and with them, add legs to it, research it and create something tangible that can be shown to others.  Going through that process and seeing the final outcome is inspirational to me knowing that anything can be done if we only believe.

If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?

If money and time were no object, I'd be going around the country, speaking to thought leaders, young and old, about how to go after their dreams and create the future they want to see.  I'd be half venture capitalist, half motivational speaker, and 100% family man.  Stay tuned, because this WILL come true.

Leonard Mogul - Media Personality, Kontinent Media, Founder of Arts4Kids Foundation


Leonard Mogul is a community advocate/representative and a media personality with Kontinent Media Group (one of the largest nationwide Eastern European Media Groups). The media group represents Eastern European Community and it's headquarters is based in Chicago-land, with other newspapers reaching over 20 US States. Recently an influential community organization has named him a "distinguished" media person. He is a prolific advocate for his community's rights, knowledgeable in public relations and market development. Sits on numerous committees with various influential community organizations. He is a journalist and a contributing event writer and has reviewed some of the hottest nationwide performances and events. He is also a philanthropist and specializes in consulting organizations with their fundraising events.  He is a founder of  Arts4Kids Foundation, an organization which aims to  introduce children to a variety of art forms, hence fostering intellectual and emotional growth as well as enabling them to dissolve cultural barriers inherent in the world around them.
What is your biggest goal for 2013

To continue growing Arts4Kids Foundation and to expend Eastern European media presence on Chicago-land market and beyond.

What inspires you? 

I'm inspired by selfless acts of kindness and by people who can reinvent themselves in order to better their communities and elevate their performance. A person who can perform against all odds is a person to know.   

If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?

I would dedicate myself full-time to Arts4Kids Foundation, in order to continue introducing children to a variety of art forms, hence fostering intellectual and emotional growth enabling for them to dissolve cultural barriers.


Jeannette Cherie Pawula – Founder and Executive Director Charity4Life

Jeannette Cherie Pawula

Jeannette has made a huge splash with her organization . Charity4LIFE’s mission is to provide resources to rehabilitate street kids worldwide. We encourage humanitarian efforts and provide social advocacy through weekend warrior activism.
Who are the Street Kids?    Children on the street earn their living or beg for money on the street and return home at night. They maintain contact with their families. Oftentimes they are inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults.   Children of the street are homeless children who live and sleep on the streets in urban areas. They are totally on their own, living with other street children or homeless adult people. Some children of the street may have been abandoned and rejected by their families while others have left their families due to prevailing circumstances. A child who is forced to live on the street lacks the parental care, affection, education and  opportunities for healthy growth and development and is forced to fight a daily struggle for survival.

What is your biggest goal for 2013?
I want to revolutionize the way individuals view philanthropic giving
through developing a social community based on charity. I believe in
helping promote awareness and exposure for non profits and their
causes while inspiring individuals, businesses and communities as a
whole to feel connected. The translation of all that is turning being
selfless as a social trend and lifestyle. The second part of this
vision this year is to be able to spotlight everyday heroes both
locally and internationally through a TV show that can touch, move and inspire thousands of people. Media has such an impact on the hearts and minds of individuals and I want to create a show about everyday people
making a difference in the world. Isn’t that more powerful than
Jersey Shore?

What inspires you?
Charity4LIFE and my passionate team, Jessica Stacy and Rachel Martz
inspire me! There is an estimated 100 million children living and
working in the streets in the world today yet very little
organizations that deal directly with providing resources or
rehabilitating these children. To be able to find organizations that
believe in the potential of these children, support them as project
partners, visit countries to research these conditions, spread
awareness and monitor the progress of the children we are supporting
makes my life so worth it. The greatest feeling for me is to be able
to connect with the children we provide assistance to. My heart is
filled with so much love and admiration for all that these children
have endured and there is no greater feeling than knowing the efforts
of Charity4LIFE are really changing lives.

If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?
Not answering this questionnaire in front of my computer because I
would be backpacking across the world visiting city by city, town by
town, and commune by commune speaking with locals about the prevalent
social conditions they live in and sharing their story through
documentary journalism.


Armend Trnava - Soccer Pro, Model, Humanitarian

Photo by Will Byington Photography

Has traveled Europe playing professional soccer for several years and most recently, modeling for some leading designers. Now, he has chosen Chicago as his new home as he embarks on continuing his modeling career. Armend was recently signed to a three year contract with Ford Models.

Born in Kosovo, Armend, moved to England to attend the elite Chelsea Football Academy at the age of 12.  Although it was difficult to be away from his family at such a young age, the war was raging in Kosovo so it was safest for Armend to be in England training for what would become his profession for the next 15 years.

Armend played for teams such as the Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspur under-21, and Chelsea under-21.  He also played in Turkey and the Ukraine.

Armend has shown he has a big heart too.  He joined actress Selia Hansen in donating $100,000 to the victims of the floods in Albania in 2010.

In Europe, he modeled for such fashion houses as Hugo Boss, Patrick Hellman and Joni Peci, among others.  Armend still has the goal of playing soccer again, but realizing his longtime dream to be an international model with Ford will have to do in the meantime!

What is your biggest goal for 2013?

I am so happy to tell you that I have made the first step in realizing my goal of becoming a Ford Model by signing a three year contract with them this week! I cannot wait to get started.  I have always loved fashion and believe in taking care of your body and health.  I feel fortunate that Ford has hired me. They are the pinnacle of all modeling agencies in the world. 

What inspires you?

Growing up in Kosovo and going back to see what the war did to our country and our town is devastating.  My family is lucky that no one lost their life, but our home was burned down and we lost all of our belongings.  Next door to where I grew up, all the men in the family were killed. To be able to give back to my family, who sacrificed so I could go to England to attend the Chelsea Football Academy, is everything to me.  I also know that you have to surround yourself with positive and good people.  I am grateful that I have met such wonderful people in Chicago that have helped me and believed in me. 

If money/time were no object what would you be doing right now?

I would be traveling around the world with my family.  I would love to show them where I have been and I would love to show them Chicago.  I would also like to be able to teach soccer skills to kids in parts of the world that otherwise wouldn’t be given the opportunity to learn from a professional player. You never know where it can take you and I am a perfect example of that.  Because of soccer, I was able to leave Kosovo during the war and now today I am a Ford Model. This will allow me to continue my goal of providing for my family and those less fortunate. Dreams do come true.

Sarah Vargo


Sarah Vargo developed Maven after working at some of the nation’s top talent agencies and promotional companies. She worked her way through the ranks of International Creative Management (ICM) whose prestigious clients include Jay Leno and Chris Rock. After gaining experience at ICM as an assistant to a talent agent in the Concerts Department, she worked for boutique agencies where she was able to put her skills to test through talent buying, concert promotion and media planning.

Projects with Maven include events with Emperor’s New Clothes, Chicago Social, Today’s Chicago Women, NBC 5 and TV stars from Bravo and MTV. One of her favorite projects is the Diva and Divo Series – a popular and established networking event that honors dynamic women/men in Media, PR, Fitness, Fashion, Sports, Business, Beauty, Culinary Arts and much more. Chicago Magazine named Sarah as one of the five “Top Nightlifers” in 2009 and the Red Eye has often recognized her as a “VIP socialite in the know. Sarah is also listed on Haute Chicago as an influencer and her events have had coverage in Today’s Chicago Woman, Yahoo, ChicagoNow.com, Chicago Magazine and more. She also was selected as one of Chicago’s Top Social Media Influencers by All Terrain and Chevy Sonic and tied for first place in a social media competition for charity.
Sarah has a passion for philanthropy and a determination to help others. She is on the Advisory Council for Every Picture Has a Story and has helped One Hope United, Aparecio Foundation, Cabrini Connections, Imerman Angels, Big Brothers Big Sisters, EcoChallenge2020.org, Northwestern Hospital Board Auxiliary and Children’s Memorial Hospital.Sarah is currently on the Executive Board for One Hope United’s “Eras of Hope” event to commemorate Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.


2013 will be one of Sarah’s best years to make her personal dreams come true. She will contribute to Felix Magazine, a new resource for the latest trends in fashion, fine dining, nightlife, arts and culture as a video correspondent. Sarah is currently writing a book called “Life Is Your Party” where she compares party planning to life and is interviewing philanthropists, event planners, socialites and visionaries around the world and plans to release it this year.  Lastly, Sarah will also reveal her new concept Stargo; a new initiative that will awaken the inner star through inspiration, laughter, healing, motivation, leadership, coaching and love.

What is your biggest goal for 2013?

 Channeling my inner star and going for my dreams. My spark has been lit and I am on fire! I am finishing my book “Life Is Your Party” and launching Stargo. Stargo is a new initiative that will awaken our inner star through inspiration, laughter, healing, motivation, leadership, coaching and love.  I also want to be on television and online media. I will be contributing to Felix Magazine, a new resource for the latest trends in fashion, fine dining, nightlife, arts and culture as a video correspondent.


Your favorite Chicago spot?

My favorite Chicago spot is the Foundation Room at the House of Blues. I have had some very memorable events there and the space has a lot of sentimental attachment to me. I also love the ambience, staff, music and energy in the room. It incorporates an eclectic, multicultural vibe with intimate prayer rooms and 300-year antiquities, hand carved Rosewood bar from the Raj’s palace in India with Buddha and angels all over. And a lovely fireplace to keep warm from a Chicago winter, what is there not to love here?

What inspires you? 

Serendipitous encounters. I am truly inspired when I know I am making a difference in this world and my life takes on a magical stride. I love being in the right place at the right time to help someone smile, laugh, prosper and have a better day. The inspiration comes from knowing I can make a difference in many ways and at any moment. I love making the world a better place and helping and healing those in need by sharing my light.




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