On Friday, November 8, Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans (JAGNO) will honor its 10th class of Rising Stars at the 2013 City Stars Soirée. The celebration, sponsored by Entergy, Peoples Health and St. Charles Avenue magazine, will take place at JA BizTown located on the City Park campus of Delgado Community College.

We are honored to introduce the 2013 JA Rising Stars in this special section of St. Charles Avenue magazine. They are Suzanne Alford, Vice President and Art Director at Alford Advertising; Dwayne G. Bernal, President of Royal Engineers and Consultants, LLC; Lavonzell Nicholson, Founder/President of PLAYNOLA; St. Denis “Sandy” Villere, III, Partner at Villere & Co.; and Amy Sins, Chef/Owner of Langlois Culinary Crossroads.

Junior Achievement empowers young people to own their economic success with its many hands-on economics learning experiences and business lessons. A part of this education is learning about successful role models and what it takes to become one. In 1984, JAGNO began inducting community business leaders into its prestigious Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. To recognize and encourage young entrepreneurs showing early excellence and business potential, the JA Rising Stars award was first celebrated in 2003. Recipients are individuals aged 40 and under from the area that demonstrate leadership, vision, ingenuity and innovation. These Rising Stars serve as role models for others in business and in life. JAGNO encourages and challenges each honoree to continue to strive in their careers so that we might honor them again someday with the recognition as a Business Hall of Fame Laureate!


Junior Achievement Celebrates Its 2013 Rising StarsMessage from the JA President and Soiree Chair

Did you know the customary 10th anniversary gift is tin? Anniversaries are important to note and this year brings a particular focus and emphasis to Junior Achievement’s annual fall social and recognition event, the City Stars Soiree!  It is after all a celebration of 10 years of awesomeness, and who doesn’t like a little bit of awesomeness!

We are honored that since inception the City Stars Soiree has recognized nearly 40 honorees, all under the age of 40, who exemplify the business qualities we are trying to instill in our students, being resourceful, driven and passionate about their ideas, products and our community. While “tin” might be “in”, this year’s Rising Stars will receive the Junior Achievement Shooting Star award.  The Shooting Star award commemorates and recognizes the entrepreneurial spirit of the honorees and is our way of saying “thanks, we hope you remember your night under the stars and in the spotlight!” This year we are proud to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2013 JA Rising Stars: Suzanne Alford, of Alford Advertising; Dwayne G. Bernal, of Royal Engineers and Consultants, LLC; Lavonzell Nicholson, of PLAYNOLA; St. Denis “Sandy” Villere, III, of Villere & Co.; and Amy Sins, of Langlois Culinary Crossroads.

So there isn’t any doubt that Friday, November 8, 2013 and the 10th Anniversary of the City Stars Soiree is the only place to be and to be seen, expect to see our past-honorees/Rising Stars joining in on the celebration! All of which makes for a great evening, an evening filled with awesomeness!


Suzanne Alford

Executive Vice President and Art Director, Alford Advertising
A New Orleans native, Suzanne Alford has been engaged in the welfare of the community since her early days at The Academy of the Sacred Heart. Presently, she sits on the Board of Directors of The Gleason Initiative Foundation and was a founding member of Team Gleason, as well as vice-chair of Public Relations for the Junior League of New Orleans. Most prominent, however, is her role within Alford Advertising, a company started by her father in 1973 that connects many local businesses with a unique brand identity. Alford states “My father inspired me to be creative and after graduating with a graphic design and journalism degree, I was fortunate enough to follow in his footsteps and join him at Alford Advertising. I consider myself very fortunate to have my mentor by my side to continue to build our business and share ideas in the creative process.” The mind behind pedi-cab advertising, Alford saw the advertising potential the mobile mediums presented when they were introduced to the city in 2011, and now proudly oversees the successful venture. In the near future, Alford is excited about creatively meeting the advertising demands for the city’s booming entrepreneurial movement through her position at Alford Advertising. She is also determined to continue the success of Team Gleason and further Steve Gleason’s mission of finding a cure for ALS, an effort that has been a major source of inspiration for her.


Dwayne BernalJunior Achievement Celebrates Its 2013 Rising Stars

President and Chief Executive Royal Engineers & Consultants
The largest African-American-owned engineering firm in Louisiana, Royal Engineers & Consultants, strives to provide exceptional engineering services to Southern Louisiana in a timely and cost-effective manner. The company is involved with major projects such as the RTA Streetcar Expansion Project and the restoration of the South Shore Area Sewer System in Eastern New Orleans. President and Chief Executive of Royal Engineers, Bernal founded the company in 2005. It was his formal training in Engineering Management at the United States Military Academy at West Point that gave him the tools necessary to respond to the immense damages of Hurricane Katrina. His long-term goal is to implement an aggressive growth action plan that will allow the company to provide civil engineering and recovery management knowledge to communities in the Gulf region in need of infrastructure development and disaster recovery assistance. However, despite these grand aspirations, it’s his personal support system that is his source of greatest inspiration. He proudly states of his two sons “My greatest accomplishment is my family. There isn’t a close second.” Bernal is also committed to using his clout in the business world as a platform to raise awareness about Kidney disease and cancer, a battle he personally has conquered since his diagnosis in 2009.


Junior Achievement Celebrates Its 2013 Rising StarsLavonzell Nicholson

Co-Founder and Director of Operations PLAYNOLA Sport
Playing sports and finding new outlets to socialize and be active have always been a part of Lavonzell Nicholson’s life. An avid athlete for years, including a stint as forward of her college basketball team, she has long acknowledged the invaluable relationships sports create within a community. It was a logical progression then that she founded PLAYNOLA in 2009 as an unconventional means to help the burgeoning young professional population of New Orleans network and connect in a fun and team-building atmosphere. Indeed, her idea of replacing commonplace and dry networking events with active sports such as softball, kickball and flag football has become a hugely successful enterprise as PLAYNOLA now has more than 9,500 participants and counting. She says of her organization “As we all know, New Orleans is one of the most interesting places on the planet and so are the people who live here. I have the privilege of watching doctors, teachers, city employees, engineers and entrepreneurs meet each other, realize that they do have many things in common, and form friendships.” Together Nicholson and her husband, Marquies Gray, have a son, Marquies “MJ” Gray, Jr., that they welcomed this past year. She says of her new off the field role as mother “It has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”


Amy Cyrex SinsJunior Achievement Celebrates Its 2013 Rising Stars

Owner and Chef Langlois Culinary Crossroads
Taking a leap of faith in 2012, Amy Sins left the comfort of her stable career in sales and established a company that sought to provide guests with a truly unique cooking and dining experience that emphasizes local Creole and Cajun flavors. Located in the Marigny, Langlois Culinary Crossroads has transformed into a successful labor of love for the native South Louisianian. On any given day at the company’s facility, she and her team of experienced chefs lead lively cooking instruction inspired by such local culinary traditions as Gulf seafood, boucherie, roux and indigenous bayou ingredients. She gained public recognition in 2012, when she competed on and won The Game Show Network’s “Beat the Chefs”, a reality series that pits hometown cooks against professional chefs. She says of her current enterprise, “I’m following my dream. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. Sometimes in life, you must take risks and do what gives you meaning and inspires you.” She hopes to expand her facility within two years and have a larger building where multiple classes can be held concurrently. However, in growing her business Sins doesn’t plan to compromise her current business model of hands-on, interactive cooking. She strives to retain a great and motivating work environment for her staff as it translates to the health of the company and the satisfaction of its customers. She and her husband, George F. Sins III, are parents to two cats named Flambeaux and Truffles, and two chickens named Souffle and Hollandaise.


Junior Achievement Celebrates Its 2013 Rising StarsSt. Denis J. Villere, III

Partner and Investment Manager Villere & Co.
Founded in 1911 by St. Denis Villere, Villere & Co. is an independent, family-run investment management firm with more than 600 individual and institutional investors. In 1999, St. Denis “Sandy” J. Villere, III joined as partner and investment manager.
He cites the excitement of learning about many new and exciting companies as the reason for loving his position. “Everyday I learn something new about a new product or service. My favorite thing is helping my clients achieve their financial goals and dreams.” Since beginning at Villere & Co. 14 years ago, Villere has helped begin two humble mutual funds that now boast over $825 million in assets. His long-term goal is to continue to achieve national recognition for the work his great-grandfather began over a century ago, and further the long-standing business relationships the company has fostered throughout multiple generations. However, his passion extends far beyond the business sector. In 2005 he co-founded Choice Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the successful academic transformation of three local charter schools serving high poverty populations. Villere sees the city of New Orleans as a “blank canvas” ready for its residents to get involved in the city’s Renaissance. He states, “Our community is only as strong as those willing to give back to it.” He proudly claims his greatest support system and accomplishment to be his family. He is married to Anne Viguerie Villere, and together they have three young children: Marianne, St. Denis (“Saint”) and Collier.


Junior Achievement Past Rising Stars Honorees Gallery