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Congrats to this year's 20 Under 40 winners!

Yuma is blessed to have a vibrant community of young professionals who strive to make a difference here, each and every day.

Whether it’s in their professional capacities or personal missions – or often both – these people are making a positive impact on Yuma County.

This year, for the third year in a row, the Yuma Sun’s BIZ Magazine and the NexGen Leadership Council have partnered together to recognize our amazing young professionals and leaders in the 20 Under 40 Rising Star Awards program.

“It is so exciting to see the 20 Under 40 event go from an idea to now being a tradition in our Yuma community. As business and community leaders I believe it is our job to guide, encourage, assist and recognize the next generation of leaders,” said Matt Molenar, president of NexGen and owner of MGM Design.

The awards recognize 20 individuals between the ages of 18 and 40 who have excelled in their respective industries and who likewise are good citizens.

“What ...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Michael Pancrazi

Michael Pancrazi wears multiple hats at A.T. Pancrazi.

“I am responsible for overseeing new business development, sales personnel and marketing,” said Pancrazi.

“I love the interaction with business owners,” he said. “It allows me to learn more about them and how they have successfully built their companies.”

But Pancrazi also puts in a considerable amount of his own time helping others, says a person who nominated him for the 20 Under 40 honor.

“Mike is a great nominee because of his strong work ethic and dedication to the Yuma community. Two years ago Mike organized a huge charity fundraiser for a close friend battling cancer. He facilitated the entire event with all proceeds going towards his friend’s cancer treatment.”

But he also does his part and more to help the community at large.

“Mike has served as the president of the University of Arizona YumaCats Alumni Association for the past several years. He is a board member for the Yuma Rotar...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Luz Rios

They aren’t the same, but Luz Rios likens her job as a Yuma insurance agent specializing in Medicare coverage to being a tailor.

“A tailor creates a piece to fit their clients perfectly ... and I get to do that with Medicare health insurance. My job is to look at every aspect of my customers’ lives and make sure they feel comfortable with how their health insurance fits. I am an educator, confident, and (I) advocate to make sure my people are taken care of.”

Rios says it’s people who make her profession enjoyable.

“I am fascinated by people’s stories, learning about their past, living with them in their present and getting to be a part of their future,” she said. “I love being an expert in my field and (being) the person that has solutions people are looking for.”

She added, “I also love that I get to be a part of my community, connect with businesses and resources, and being the liaison for whatever my clients need.”

Rios, who has worked in the insu...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Nohemi Mungia

Nohemi Munguia isn’t just a skilled practitioner in her profession, she also shares her expertise as a teacher.

Munguia is the owner of three businesses in downtown Yuma, the first of which is Nohemi Threading Studio, opened nearly 11 years ago.

“My role at NTS is to make sure all my employees have what they need to run the studio. It has taken time, but I can proudly say I have amazing employees that help make things run smooth.

“My second business is Nohemi’s Eyebrow Academy, where I thread and provide eyebrow and lip permanent makeup. In my academy I also teach the services I provide. I mostly run the academy on my own with some help from my assistant. I have been teaching at NEA for almost three years.

“My third business is the brand new beauty school we just opened, Arizona SkinCare Institute. I do not teach at ASI but I take on the role of director of the school. It is definitely a learning experience and I’m happy to be surrounded by mentors that ha...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Alheli Lopez

As people approach the end of their lives, Alheli Lopez is there with them.

“As a hospice social worker, I have the privilege of walking alongside patients and families as they journey through the end-of-life process. I provide emotional support, end-of-life education and reassurance, caregiver support and life affirmation and encouragement.”

Lopez, who received a master’s degree in social work from Boston University, has been practicing social work for seven years, the last two at Southwestern Palliative Care and Hospice.

“The best part about my role is helping a patient and their family so that the person passes peacefully. I help patients and families feel like they’ve been seen and heard. They are not alone in this process. I enjoy hearing about their life stories and learning from them. I am amazed by how families love and support each other at the end of life. It is an honor to walk that journey with them.”

Her most memorable moments come when she wi...

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20 Under 40 Winner - Ernesto Romero

Being in the business of gathering and reporting the news, Ernesto Romero loves the surprises that each day brings.

“I love that every day is different,” said the news director at KYMA-TV and KSWT-TV. “It is exciting to get the news on the air. It also comes with lots of stress, but it is rewarding to keep our community informed. It’s also nice to do well for others, and for our viewers to truly feel informed. We provide a lot of help to a lot of people, and being from Yuma, I couldn’t ask for anything more rewarding.”

Romero has been at the stations for 13 years, having worked his way up from producer to managing editor to his current position, which he has held since 2013.

“I am responsible for hiring all of the on-air news talent at our station, as well as overseeing the digital content team, and the technical directors on our team,” he said. “Typically my reporters and anchors are with me for two years before they move on, so hiring is a constant for me. I g...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Ashley Simms

Ashley Simms isn’t likely to forget the day she and her husband, Travis Krizay, opened Cafecito, their coffee shop and eatery, in downtown Yuma

“The day we opened Cafecito on Madison Avenue. ... It was such a memorable whirlwind of a day. I was very pregnant and nervous and not quite aware of how supportive and excited our little town was going to be. The day flew by and we sold out of everything we had by noon.”

Simms, having created the Cafecito brand, had started out home brewing, then graduated to working from a trailer, then moved into a 500-square-foot building, then moved into the present location in at 10,000-square-foot building on Main Street.

“I have always had a love for the service industry,” Simms said. “I love being able to create experiences and share conversations with strangers daily.”

What about the future?

“We have a few ventures in the works. I would love to continue to grow Cafecito, perhaps (open) a second location someday. I w...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Joshua Longo

Joshua Longo turned a layoff into an opportunity.

Longo had juggled his full-time job with a side business he started, Longo’s, a property maintenance building providing full-service lawn maintenance, pressure washing, window cleaning and solar cleaning, among other services.

“I started my business part time in December 2018. When (COVID-19) hit, I was laid off from my job in 2020 and took my business full time. Since then, being veteran-owned, we’ve hired numerous vets and locals to provide great service at a great price.”

Longo loves to fill a niche.

“I love my job because clients have a hard time finding respectable companies to show up and get the job done right the first time. I enjoy solving customer problems and if there’s ever any issue that we can’t solve that isn’t in our wheelhouse, I can refer another respectable company to get the job done right.”

Helping one customer in particular proved to be one of Longo’s most memorable professional ...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Howie Jorajuria

Businesses and consumers in and around Yuma can thank Howie Jorajuria for helping them pay for their dreams.

As chief credit officer at 1st Bank Yuma, he oversees the bank’s commercial and consumer lending operations.

“I love working for a community bank because decisions are made locally, which helps us make a difference in the businesses we serve. I love that my voice is heard and (I love) going to bat for the customer,” said Jorajuria, who has worked in the banking industry for 13 years.

The person who nominated Jorajuria for the 20 Under 40 recognition said of him: “Howie in his early 30s is probably one of the youngest chief credit officers in the state, if not the country. He is doing well and embracing the challenge of stepping in at an established high-performing bank with over $600 million in assets. The bank is now the third-largest in Yuma County.”

The nominator added that having just been promoted to the position he holds today, Jorajuria playe...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Matthew Kaste

Matthew Kaste’s most gratifying moments as a teacher came whenever he saw his students overcome challenges to learning. Now, as a school district administrator, he says he’s most satisfied seeing the educators he supervises have the same impact on children.

Kaste is the Exceptional Student Services director for Yuma Elementary School District 1.

“I am responsible for all special education programs in the district. I am responsible for ensuring our general education and special education teachers meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities. I make sure the district has the staff to provide necessary related services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and counseling. My department creates (and) delivers professional development, coaches (and) supports teachers, paras and principals, supports teachers and families in IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, review IEPs for compliance and compiles data for state reporting. My d...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Travis Krizay

Travis Krizay, as co-owner of Cafecito Coffee Co. with his wife, Ashley Simms, doesn’t just serve good food and drinks.

His goal is to provide a memorable experience for his customers at the downtown Yuma eatery.

“Food and beverage is the only industry I’ve ever known,” said Krizay, who is also a co-winner with his wife of the 20 Under 40 honor.

“I love the adrenaline of a busy rush. I love providing an experience as well as a meal. But most of all, I love the relationships I’ve formed with my coworkers and regulars.”

Opening Cafecito, he said, may be his most memorable professional moment. “We purposely opened on April Fools Day – also the first day of fair – in case the opening flopped. That day was a blur. While stressful it was so much fun. My parents, who thought they were just visiting for the week, were immediately put on dish and barista duty. Random friends and family members filling in and helping everywhere they could. There was so much love in ...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Kayla Irr-Mendez

Yuma Investment Group is heavily involved in the community, and Kayla Irr-Mendez has much to do with that.

Mendez, director of first impressions and marketing coordinator for the wealth management firm, is one of this year’s 20 Under 40 honorees.

The person who nominated her for the honor said of Mendez: “Kayla is the perfect example of someone who goes ‘above and beyond,’ both at work and in her personal life. She is a true team player. Kayla is the first to volunteer for any task, be it large or small. She has a huge heart and loves her community. In her role as the marketing coordinator, she is constantly finding creative ways to get Yuma Investment Group involved and supporting our community. Yuma Investment Group loves to support local nonprofits. Kayla is the central coordinator in all we do.”

She also is personally involved in organizations that serve the community. She serves on the advisory board of Catholic Community Services, is a member of the commit...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Kyle Isaacs

For Kyle Isaacs, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Arizona Western College, success isn’t defined just by number of victories.

Success depends on the growth of his players on and off the court. His philosophy can be defined by a quote attributed to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “A good coach can change a game. A great coach can a change a life.”

Not that AWC Matadors haven’t won with Isaacs at the helm. Last year they won 26 games with only five losses and were the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference champs, earning Isaacs the honor of Arizona Community College Division I coach of the year.

Isaacs, who came to AWC in 2002 and served 12 years as assistant coach of the men’s team, was named its head coach in April 2021.

Isaacs says his greatest rewards come in helping young men succeed academically, athletically and socially at AWC. There is “nothing more satisfying than seeing these young guys walk across the stage with tha...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Tecia Jones

No matter where we come from, no matter what we’re doing now, each of us can make a positive difference in the lives of others. And if we’re meeting the needs of just one person, we’re still making a difference for someone.

That’s what Tecia Jones believes. And as missions and local outreach director for the Church for the City in Yuma, she is in the position to improve the lives of many people.

“My job is to direct volunteer projects locally and globally that serve the community in a sustainable way,” Jones said. “This involves partnering with churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals to address needs, build relationships, and make a difference in people’s lives.

“These needs can be spiritual, financial or day-to-day practical needs that can be met when we come together, share resources and show love to one another. Being aware of needs in our local community and across the world, managing teams, overseeing projects, public speaking and spiritual lea...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Maria Guzman

Many current and former students of Arizona Western College can thank Maria Guzman. So will future students.

Guzman is an academic advisor at AWC, a career she has held for 11 years.

She loves the opportunities that job gives her to serve students, whether that’s advising them on what classes to take, advising them about what vocational or occupational careers to explore, or advising them about opportunities to transfer to four-year institutions.

She also helps students develop educational plans, monitors their progress toward earning their degrees or certificates, and coordinates career services for students.

“I love several aspects of my job. First, I enjoy my one-on-one interaction with students when I advise them. I am fascinated to bring leadership opportunities to the students because I am empowering them to understand their impact on serving our communities.

“I now advise three student organizations: Rotaract Club, the Side Bright Club and the...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Sarah Halligan

Sarah Halligan helps Yumans and visitors to our city learn about and appreciate some of the area’s most important historical sites.

Halligan is a marketing and communications specialist for the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Areas.

In that role, she says, “it is my job to promote Yuma’s historical riverfront. Meaning, I share all information related to the Yuma Territorial Prison, Colorado River State Historic Park and Yuma East Wetlands. Along with promoting these areas, I work closely with several Yuma community partners to bring different ideas on how to attract more people to visit our wonderful city and am currently working on plans on how to help create different events and functions to help local businesses retain employees.”

Halligan has been working in marketing and communications for 5-1/2 years.

“What I love most about my job is being able to share all the amazing things that Yuma has to offer and convincing (people) that it is more than just a...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Brannick Harris

The most memorial professional experience for Brannick Harris was the one in which he gained a lifelong client and friend.

Harris, a financial advisor at Edward Jones, recalled the person had lost her husband. “There was some trouble getting some of her inheritance from an outside party. We worked so hard to get her the money her husband had carefully set aside for her. At one point I even had the federal government helping me on her case. We prevailed in the end and now, every time we meet and talk about her future, we’re just grateful to have each other. She believed in me, and I worked tirelessly for her, and now she’s blessing the lives of people around her and honoring her husband’s memory.”

Harris defines his job as helping clients “safely and strategically reach their financial goals.” His help comes not only in providing sound investment advice but aligning a strong team of tax and estate professionals around his clients.

“I love the excitement of meetin...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Sean Franklin

Sean Franklin has a job that allows him to pursue his passion for Information Technology while doing his part to protect our nation.

Franklin has worked in the IT profession for six years, most recently with the U.S. Army.

“I currently work as an information technology management specialist and information systems assurance security officer in the Ground Combat Systems Test Directorate at Yuma Test Center of Yuma Proving Ground for the U.S. Army Test & Evaluation Command, as a federal government employee,” he said.

“I provide management and security configuration, development, acquisition, utilization, and maintenance of software applications, hosting environments and associated middleware and programs. I am responsible for developing, maintaining, and improving secure computer hosting environments, and designing improvements in critical configuration changes for numerous Mission and Test Support Sections’ personnel and equipment.

“I love the IT indust...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Karen Eckard

Where does Karen Eckard find the time?

In February, she started TAHIS Management & Marketing, her digital marketing and management business.

“I create logos, graphic design, and content for social media platforms,” she explained.

“I am also currently studying for my real estate license, which I hope to gain in the next couple months. In addition to marketing and real estate, I am involved with my family’s company, Eckard Commercial Construction. We are expanding into commercial development and quality and affordable housing in order to provide economic growth for the Yuma community. I also run the management and operations of a new RV, boat and self-storage facility, Solar Storage here in Yuma. Recently, I also joined the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation through TAHIS Management & Marketing as their digital specialist.”

She juggles all those responsibilities with being a wife and mother of two girls.

What Eckard loves about her j...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Ana Godinez

Ana Godinez’s job is to help area businesses help themselves to prosper.

“As the outreach and events coordinator for the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, my job involves building relationships with local businesses to determine their individual needs to help them prosper and grow through marketing efforts, networking events, learning opportunities and advocacy.”

She comes to the chamber after having contributed her talents and energy to a number of different organizations in the Yuma area.

“I have worked for nonprofit organizations for over seven years in different industries such as health care, public library service, social services and, most recently, in business with the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce. My profession has given me the knowledge of the resources and services available throughout Yuma County to serve my community better, whether working with businesses or the direct public.

“I love that my profession allows me to make a small impact in s...

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20 Under 40 Winner: Karla Vera

20 Under 40 Winner: Karla Vera

Even as she pursues her own academic and long-term career goals, Karla Vera is helping other students achieve theirs.

Vera, who is in her senior year at Arizona State University Local working toward a baccalaureate degree in business law, is a program assistant for the same institution, which is located on the Arizona Western College campus.

“My responsibilities as a program assistant vary from preparing and facilitating programming to planning and coordinating recruitment or enhancing student experience events,” she said. “I take great pride in being able to meet with students one on one and help them plan and develop a career path with ASU.”

She also has a part-time job as a resident assistant at AWC, serving the needs of students of the community college who live in campus dorms.

And she just completed an internship for the U.S. Agency of International Department, working as a researcher responsible for reviewing audits from other countries.


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