An Economics Class Inspired Seneca Valley Seniors to Start Their Own Business, Little Twists 

 Four seniors at Seneca Valley High School took an Economics class that inspired them to embrace their entrepreneurial skills outside the classroom, which led to creating an evolving business venture, Little Twists. As a result, seniors Declan Cygnarowicz, Aidan Drake, Thai Nguyen and Joel Berringer placed first in presentation and second overall at the Westminster College Entrepreneurial Center Scholastic Contest.  

Students shared their business plan in this intrapreneurial/entrepreneurial competition by presenting how they could sell a chicken sandwich idea to Five Guys Burgers and Fries. They received grants to Westminster College if they choose to attend, and they also got a plaque. 

These students were the first semester “Shark Tank” winners from Ms. Rebekah Grinnen’s Economics class, which aims to help young entrepreneurs make their big ideas a reality. Their company, Little Twists, started by selling specialty dips for pretzels. Then, with the profits they earned from selling specialty dips, they donated all their proceeds to the Seneca Valley CBVT program (Community Based Vocational Training) and the SV No Cost to Shop.   

After the idea of placing their logos on shirts, the students decided to change their business model into clothing options and try their hand at eCommerce. Their goal was to make clothing for people to wear to express themselves. They make creative designs that are different and fun to wear day-to-day and on the golf course. To date, Little Twists has a combined gross income of over $1,000, and their profits are currently going toward branding and growing their business. 

When asked how this project has impacted their future, they said, “We feel it has taught us a lot about ecommerce and selling products. It has also helped us grow as individuals by talking to manufacturers and influencers to grow our brand. Before this project, we did not have intentions of having our own business, but now we hope to continue Little Twists for a long time in hopes to be a successful brand.” These graduating seniors will all be going to different colleges in the fall. Still, they plan to have Zoom calls to continue formulating ideas and opportunities that will grow their business. 

“I am proud to have the opportunity to facilitate the deeper interests of students who find a passion and curiosity in unexpected places.  It is amazing to watch these students problem-solve and grow from their experiences.  All teachers see potential in their students and hope for the best when they enter the “real world.”  However, it is a rare and fantastic occasion to witness their potential come to fruition before graduating.  I am elated that Little Twists will continue their entrepreneurial adventure into their college years,” said Ms. Rebekah Grinnen, Seneca Valley Senior High School Social Studies teacher. Learn more about Little Twists by visiting www.littletwists.com.  

 

Sofya Stearns: Izabella’s Gourmet Chow

Food is our common ground, a universal experience – James Beard

Nothing brings the world together better than food, and even though we love food, some of us prefer oysters, or maybe a profiterole, or sushi. Sofya Stearns, founder of Izabella’s Gourmet Chow figured that out. Her cooking classes open a window to the world for kids, making them feel closer to the kids all over the world.


Sofya of Pine-Richland grew up in Moscow in a family of three generations, her grandparents, parents and her twin sister. “My grandmother’s name was Izabella, and she was an excellent baker and cook and my best friend,” said Stearns, 52, who has lived in California, Washington DC, New York and Chicago before moving to the area when her husband, Jeff, was relocated for a job here.


“My daughter is 10 and was named after my grandmother. I grew up learning other languages, visiting museums and listening to classical music, and I wanted my daughter to have those experiences as well,” said Stearns, who speaks numerous languages. “Little children are like sponges when it comes to learning, especially languages. Five years ago, I took my daughter to an art class, and one of my friends who knew my passion for cooking suggested that I start teaching cooking classes.”


Sofya sent out emails to local families and taught her first class in September 2016.
“When the class was done, I began to get emails wondering when the next class would be, and Izabella’s Gourmet Chow was born!” said Stearns.


Stearns teaches students ages 3 to adult. “We don’t just make something delicious from scratch, we travel the world. For instance, when I teach children how to make Sushi, we talk about Japan—its geography, the country’s capital, history, music and art. We also learn some Japanese,” said Stearns.


In addition to cooking skills, the students learn about the ingredients, nutrition, and how the food they cook is used to build their bodies. “We learn the difference between the various tastes such as savory, sweet, sour, etc. We discuss the difference between onions and scallions and that there are five different types of peppers and that green peppers are actually unripe and difficult to digest, etc.,” said Stearns.


Her courses for children were so well-received that she expanded to teaching after school programs in various schools; weekly and monthly classes as well as for birthday parties and sleep overs for kids; couples, family reunions and bachelorette parties. Stearns’ classes are a favorite activity for local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts groups.


“Anyone can follow a recipe,” said Stearns, “but when I teach a cooking class, I teach with a twist. I want my students to be creative and make the dishes their own because cooking is another form of art, and art makes you creative.
Virtual experiences became essential when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Out of necessity, I started teaching classes online,” Stearns said, “and then one day I saw a report by NBC news correspondent Richard Engel, who has a young son with Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, and how those with special needs were regressing under the lockdown. It broke my heart, and I knew I had to do something to help people.”


Stearns reached out to numerous organizations working with families with disabled members and that’s how her monthly Zoom classes began. She started to work with Chicago down syndrome, NADS and occasional Zoom classes with Pittsburgh Down syndrome, DSAP, as well as monthly cooking Zoom classes for The Woodlands, which continued in person during last summer. “Teaching these classes has brought such joy to so many families and as well as for me, a different perspective on life, which I pass on to my family and friends. I always look for ways to reach more families with family members with special needs,” said Stearns.


During all zoom classes she conducted, she donated 30% of proceeds to a local hospice, Ronald McDonald House, and donated 600 meals to the Pittsburgh Food Bank. Right before the pandemic, she conducted a class for a Jewish women’s organization, 36% of her proceeds went to the Tree of Life community after the tragic shooting.
Recently, Stearns’ heart and mind has been on Ukraine. “In my previous position, I used to travel internationally and often visited Kyiv and Mariupol for work. Sadly, I, and my former colleagues in various parts of Ukraine, don’t even know anymore what has happened to our colleagues from those two towns.”


Since Izabella’s Gourmet Chow is primarily directed towards kids, Stearns decided to conduct a charity cooking class with 100% of the proceeds going for donations to help kids of Ukraine. “To date, we have collected $2,305, which we have donated to UNICEF. I picked UNICEF because of their small overhead, and they take very little from donations for administrative expenses,” said Stearns.


She is also planning a Mother’s Day baking event where students will bake profiteroles, commonly known in the U.S. as cream puffs, and again 15% of proceeds will go to UNICEF. However, Stearns is not content with just sending donations; like with her cooking classes, she wants to connect on a personal level with those in Ukraine affected by the war.


“We are launching a campaign #KIDtoKID . The Initiative is for children to write letters to kids of Ukraine. “I have already started this campaign with the students from my monthly cooking classes and continuing at Pine-Richland Schools; and I hope to expand it,” said Stearns. “Going forward, I want to make this campaign international, I want children from all over the world to start writing letters to each other. I want kids to learn from each other. Kids are kids; all kids like the same toys and games, but in a lot of places in the world, not everyone can afford them; however, there are schools in many countries which can provide kids with a pencil and a piece of paper where they will be able to express their thoughts. No matter what I do, whether teaching cooking or reaching out in charity, I want kids to have awareness, that there’s a whole world out there. I’m doing this for my community, for my city, for my country, and I’m thrilled to do that. It makes the world is a better place and makes me a better person.”
For more information, visit Izabella’s Gourmet Chow at: www.izabellasgourmetchow.com.

By Janice Lane Palko

John Marshall 

By Paula Green 

 John Marshall of Richland Township has been running a catering business for the past 22 years, called “John Marshall Catering.” It is a full-service company based out of Gibsonia that serves southwestern Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, Butler, Beaver, Washington and Westmoreland counties. John has been involved in the food service business for 47 years and has won numerous accolades. He loves to serve quality food and satisfy his loyal customers. John also likes to be involved in the community, and he relishes helping others. 

John has been a township supervisor for Richland Township for 12 years and is starting into his fourth term. John is also on the Northern Regional Police Board. He has been involved with the Guatemala Mission Group at Saint Richard Church in Gibsonia.  

John spends much of his time working with a local Rotary club. “I have a passion for Rotary and have been a Cranberry Township Noon Rotary Club member for 14 years. I currently hold the position of District Governor Nominee and will be District Governor in 2023-2024 in Rotary District 7280,” John said. 

  “We, as Rotarians, do many projects in our community as well, the dog park, the Rotary Amphitheater, the Rotary Gardens, scholarships to graduating seniors, and many other activities to help our community,” John added. 

One project that John recently participated in was a relief mission in Kentucky. An EF-4 storm hit in December and wiped out approximately 200 miles of this region. “Aaron Sines from the Mercer Rotary and I organized a trip to the tornado-stricken area, which impacted approximately 17 Rotaries in Kentucky. We went down there to help them out and give them much-needed assistance. Our southern trip was from March 25-27. We took non-perishable foods, personal hygiene items, clothing and cleaning supplies,” John noted. 

In addition, to tornado-ravaged parts of the US, John is involved with assisting those in eastern Europe, and Ukraine, where the fighting continues. “I am a ShelterBox Ambassador and raise money for this disaster relief organization. We are currently raising money to purchase mattresses, blankets, personal hygiene kits and solar lights called Luminades for the Ukraine refugees. These folks need all the help they can get,” John said. 

In his spare time, John enjoys spending time with his four children, Jonathan, Shannon, Shavonne, and Angela, and his ten grandchildren, eight boys and two girls.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former North Hills Woman Hikes 2,653 Miles

 

Maddies Smithgall and Nick DiNardo

Don’t ever tell Maddie Smithgall to take a hike—she might just take you up on it. Maddie, 28, of White Hall, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last year. The Pine Richland High School and Syracuse University graduate began the trek with boyfriend, Nick DiNardo, who had previously hiked the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  

“Nick had hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and in 2018, we started thinking about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but then life got in the way, and then COVID hit, so we couldn’t start until 2021,” said Maddie.  

Like the Appalachian Trial, which runs south to north or vice versa from Springer Mountain in George and travels approximately 2,200 miles ending in Mount Katahdin in Maine, passing through 14 states, the Pacific Crest Trail begins at the Mexican border and traverses 2,653 miles through California, Oregon and Washington to the Canadian border.  

The Pacific Crest Trail is not the longest north/south trail in the U.S. That honor goes to the Continental National Divide Scenic Trail, which also starts at the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian, but it follows the Continental Divide and along the Rocky Mountains and crosses five states—New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana—and clocks in at about 3,000 miles over rugged mountainous terrain.  

Maddie and Nick began their hike on April 10, 2021, and finished it on September 22, 2021, more than 150 days later, only taking 20 days off when they logged zero miles for the day. “It was a good time for us to do it,” said Maddie, who is a graduate nursing student at the University of Pittsburgh. “I didn’t have class or a job, so it all worked out.” 

People often train for such a long excursion, but Maddie didn’t. “Some beginner hikers train before setting out, but I didn’t outside of my normal trips to the gym. I like backpacking but the longest trip I’d been on is 70 miles.” 

It is estimated that 5,000 hikers complete the Pacific Crest Trail each year. “The hardest part was the first two weeks, adjusting to all the walking,” said Maddie. “Every day, we’d wake up and just walk. Most days we did 20 plus miles and the highest we logged was 42 miles in one day.” Along the way, Maddie wore out five pair of shoes. 

The Pacific Crest Trail was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 and has primitive camping sites scattered along the way, some with fire rings and access to trail foods. “We carried a tent, but we only set it up once while we were hiking through California when it rained. Hiking mid-summer in California made it too hot to sleep inside a tent, so most nights we slept under the stars in our sleeping bags,” said Maddie. “We did set up out tent more while in Washington as it rains so much more, and it was colder at night.” 

They met other hikers on the trail—some big groups of hikers and some smaller—and they met people from all over the world. One thing that surprised Maddie was the shocking amount of cell phone service she had on the trail. “There was one long stretch of about eight days when we were going through the Sierra Nevada mountains that we had no service,” said Maddie. “It was also pretty remote in Washington near the Canadian border. We were without cell phone service there for about 4-6 days.” 

The pair would pick up provisions at gas stations or stores near the trail that would need to last them for 3-5 days. It was also while hiking the Sierra Nevadas that they had to make provision for eight days’ worth of food. “There is nowhere to get off the trial while in those mountains, so we had to buy food for eight days and carry all the food in bear cans, which are made to keep the bears from pilfering the food,” said Maddie, who did see several black bears during the hike, but they never bothered them.  

“We also saw lots of deer, rabbits and Golden Eagles, which was really cool. Luckily, I never saw a mountain lion, but I heard them roaring at night, which was a bit scary,” she said. Luckily, there was no time while they were hiking that they were sick either. 

Maddie’s pack weighed approximately 35 pounds, and she did lose some weight during the trek. “There is just no way you can eat enough to maintain your weight when you are moving all day long,” she said. 

Most of us living on the East Coast think very little of wildfires, but that is a concern when hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. “We had no issues with wildfires,” said Maddie. “We could smell smoke a lot, for months, and often we’d pass through a town and then find out a week later that a fire had swept through there.” 

The elevation is also something that hikers can find daunting. “You start off the hike in the dessert at about 1,000 feet, and when you hit the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s about 10,000 feet above sea level. I have exercise-induced asthma, and when you combine the elevation with moving so fast, it can be a challenge, but I eventually adjusted to the altitude,” said Maddie.  

The chance to take a hot shower was sporadic. “Sometimes, fellow hikers would check into a hotel and let other hikers take a shower,” said Maddie who is an avid reader and missed books, but they were too heavy to carry along the trail.  

“I thought I would miss more than I did,” she said, “but the scenery is so overwhelmingly beautiful that it keeps you engaged. I really liked Oregon. The trail takes you through this volcanic wilderness area, and the mountains are so different out west. At home, our mountains are so old and rounded and covered with trees. In Washington, the Cascades are so majestic and rugged and peaked. It all feels so different from what we are used to on the East Coast.” 

One of Maddie’s favorite memories from the hike is discovering a lake that no one else can get to, only hikers. “Hanging out there by that lake, you are amazed at how big and beautiful the world is.” 

Although she knows it sounds cliched but being out on the trail for nearly five months, taught Maddie to take things one day at a time. “I feel I’ve gotten better at taking things as they come. When you are first starting out on the trail, and you are facing hiking more than 2,500 miles, it seems overwhelming and impossible, but I learned to take it one day at a time and keep moving ahead,” she said. “That and persistence can take you to wherever you want to go.” 

By Janice Lane Palko 

Jacquelyn Demianczyk 

Jacquelyn Demianczyk; Director; Human Resources (HR); consent signed; portrait;

Top Woman in Wellness and HR award recipient by Ragan Communications 

UPMC Passavant Human Resource Director and Pine Township resident Jacquelyn (Jacquie) Demianczyk recently won a prestigious honor. Jacquie was selected as a Top Woman in Wellness and HR by Ragan Communications. Ragan (based out of Chicago) annually celebrates top female workplace wellness and Human Resources professionals in more than 20 categories; she was named the “Dynamic Doer.” 

Jacquie has been working at UPMC for the past 8.5 years. She has been at Passavant for the past 4.5 years, serving both the McCandless and Cranberry Township hospital locations. Before joining the Passavant staff, Jacquie worked at UPMC Children’s and UPMC Corporate Services.           

       

Jacquelyn Demianczyk
Top Woman in Wellness and HR award recipient by Ragan Communications

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the day-to-day hospital practices and routines have proven to be more difficult. “We’re seeing unprecedented challenges in our workforce as we experience the ‘Great Resignation.’ I hear a lot lately, ‘Wow, it must be hard to be in HR at a hospital right now,’ but my challenges are nothing compared to what our front-line employees have experienced. I’ve lived in the North Hills most of my life (and was born at Passavant hospital) and get the greatest reward from knowing I can impact the recruitment and retention of the amazing people that provide care to our community, my family and friends. I’m extraordinarily proud to work for UPMC Passavant,” Jacquie said. 

Jacquie and the rest of the UPMC Passavant staff have managed to find ways to cope. “Flexibility has been the key in the past two years.  As soon as you think you know what is happening with this pandemic, things change, so we’ve learned to adapt very quickly. I found myself involved in things I never imagined I would be, and while it was challenging, it was also really rewarding,” Jacquie added. 

She is grateful to be chosen for Ragan’s “Dynamic Doer” award.  “I am honored to be recognized but honestly, I feel I’m just doing my job. I really love what I do,” Jacquie noted. 

The administration at Passavant appreciates her dedication. Jacquie’s boss, Eric McIntosh, who is the Vice President of Human Resources, at UPMC Passavant, values her loyalty, as he states, “Jacquie is a true champion of our employees, of our values and is an extraordinary leader. She has built and developed one of the strongest HR teams in the world. Her team is constantly recognized as one of the highest performing HR teams at UPMC because of her leadership.” 

By: Paula Green