People to Watch 2019
This year’s class of “People to Watch” represents a wide diversity of backgrounds, professions and interests. From farms to courtrooms and theaters to offices, the people in this group cover a broad swath of Frederick County’s cultural and physical map.
But they do share at least one important trait: passion—a passion for their careers and for helping others, professional and personally. Most importantly, they have a passion for serving a greater good that cannot be contained in a 9-to-5 life.
We hope you will enjoy learning more about these people on the following pages, and we hope you agree that they and the things they do are worth watching, this year and beyond.
When he was a student at Governor Thomas Johnson High School, Jeffrey Keilholtz played Billy Bibbit in the school play One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Years later, after a decade of acting classes and working in New York City—including a role in HBO’s The Sopranos, several feature films and off-Broadway shows, not to mention playwriting—Keilholtz is back in Frederick in the thick of an exciting new project.
His nonprofit organization Phenomenology is striving to bring established New York talent to the community for performances while also introducing local aspiring actors, writers, musicians, dancers and others to a world outside of Frederick. “It’s like an incubator,” he says. “We’re helping people we believe in.”
Returning to Frederick for visits prior to deciding to move back, Keilholtz says, “I saw the way the town has evolved. I think the arts scene is vibrant and allows for a lot of possibilities. I see things happening” and the timing is right for something like Phenomenology. This fall the group will host MANHATTANonPATRICK at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, blending talents of the two cities into a single production.
FM: Tell us a little bit about your New York experience.
Jeffrey: I attended the Actors Conservatory and studied method acting. After that I found a mentor who was Russian, and we had to use a translator. I never had a mentor as a young person. Phenomenology comes out of that; it’s a chance to mentor other people. … I was one of those kids at T.J. who needed this.
FM: What are your hopes for Phenomenology?
Jeffrey: I want to raise the quality of life for artists, directors and others by creating a corridor between these two markets. I don’t know if people realize it, but 92 percent of SAG [Screen Actors Guild] workers are out of work. … Most artists don’t make any money. I want to be able to pay people, I want to help finance things [for them] such as head shots or travel expenses to auditions. At some point I would also want to add an education component.
FM: What has the community’s reaction been so far?
Jeffrey: I have been amazed at how interested everyone has been. I start talking to people about Phenomenology and they kind of lean forward, wanting to hear more. I am encouraged and humbled. The masquerade fundraiser that we did last year at the Delaplaine [Arts Center] was highly attended and people are interested in what’s going on.
FM: How is your project different from the other theater that’s offered in Frederick?
Jeffrey: It’s a production model, not a theater company. We don’t have a physical space—that keeps us lean. We will do big projects but do fewer. Places like the MET [Maryland Ensemble Theatre] have their role, and in the past the MET has given me a home and I’m grateful. I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and that it will be beneficial to everyone. I’m excited. This is 24/7 these days and I love it.
In just three and a half years in the local commercial real estate business, Ashleigh Kiggans left her mark, having closed more than 34 leasing transactions totaling more than 150,000 square feet. This past year she was promoted to vice president of MacRo Commercial Real Estate and named a finalist for “Emerging Dealmaker” honors in the Frederick Real Estate and Development (FRED) Awards.
It’s been quite a ride for Ashleigh, 31, a single mother who four years ago left a secure job in corporate leasing in Washington, D.C., to avoid a lengthy commute and spend more time with her two young children. “I’m finally able to be there for field trips and pick them up after school every day,” she says. When she found MacRo owner Rocky Mackintosh through a LinkedIn ad, her career was back on track.
But work is just part of Ashleigh’s story. She’s also president of the board of directors at Federated Charities, coach of a travel volleyball team and a college student who expects to complete her bachelor’s degree from Penn State this fall. Free time? She finds that gets taken up by 6 a.m. yoga classes.
FM: Talk about your job working with clients.
Ashleigh: Basically it’s helping clients with all different aspects. One of the things I learned about commercial [real estate] is you are their agent, you are their counselor, you are their financial person. … It’s such a boatload [of roles].
FM: How rewarding is it?
Ashleigh: Incredibly. I was talking to a friend today and telling her about when I left my job in D.C. and how I felt so lost and didn’t know what was going to happen. But when I look back now, I never would have imagined four years ago that I would be in the position that I am in now.
FM: Was it scary leaving your job in D.C.?
Ashleigh: It was scary because not knowing what [was next]. I’m a planner. I’m a bigtime planner in my life. I plan out everything. I’m the type who reads the Wikipedia page ahead of the movie so I know what happens at the end. It was hard not to know how things would turn out.
FM: What do you enjoy about Frederick?
Ashleigh: The people, the community. I always describe Frederick, when I tell people about it, as it’s a “huggy” town. It’s a place where you met someone twice and you hug them every time you see them. And I can tell you, we never hugged in D.C. Ever.
FM: Real estate executive, mother, coach, volunteer, college student. How do you balance it all?
Ashleigh: I’ve learned to set my priorities. It’s funny, when people ask me, “Well, what do you do? What do you do in your free time?” I’m like, “When I find it, I will let you know.” But it’s just the way I have always run. I have to be doing 100 things all the time.
Rachel Armistead & Luke Flessner
Luke Flessner and Rachel Armistead were basically a couple of city kids—Seattle for her, Silver Spring and Rochester, N.Y., for him. After their second random meeting at a beer festival, romance sparked and led to marriage and parenthood. It also led to a shared business involving farming and sauerkraut, because coincidently both had a hobby of making kraut even before they met. Their enterprise, Sweet Farm Sauerkraut, launched in 2012 and is located on 50 acres in Woodsboro where Luke’s grandfather started the farm as a retirement project after a lifelong career in the U.S. Navy.
Four generations now live on the farm. “The business is so intertwined with our family,” Rachel says. “The big thing was not to sell the land.” Sweet Farm Sauerkraut has been entirely self-funded with a business plan that involves slow and steady growth, whether it’s incrementally adding to the sauerkraut offering with products including pickles, mustards, ginger beer and sausages, or expanding their locations with a food truck. “We’ve integrated a home business and the farm,” Luke says, a blending that is the best of both worlds.
FM: Describe Sweet Farm Sauerkraut as it first began.
Rachel: We started out by using other people’s vegetables for our products. And that’s still the case. We realized the land was not as good for growing vegetables. But then, what is the farm for? We started raising animals on it and that started the food truck idea.
FM: How does your partnership work?
Rachel: We’re a good fit in terms of working together. We compliment each other’s strengths. I tend to talk more [which comes in handy at the markets and other events].
Luke: I don’t mind long hours on the farm working by myself.
FM: What do you see for the business 10 years down the road?
Luke: We want to stay local and go deeper into the community. There’s a link between people in Frederick. I think it’s important for us to be here.
Rachel: This is not a cabbage [producing] area and we want to stay here [rather than move to produce a larger volume]. I don’t want to be a factory owner. I want to strengthen the relationship of where our food comes from and where it goes, to produce high-quality, humanely raised animals that have better flavor and make you feel better about eating. … A brick-and-mortar presence is a possibility. … We always need to shift and do what’s best for the business.
FM: What is the feel-good part of the business?
Rachel: The way people will go to the markets, to Attaboy Beer or Oktoberfest or the Maryland Beer Festival, wherever—a lot of times it’s people who come to find us.
FM: If you weren’t doing Sweet Farm, what do you think your career would be?
Luke: I would probably be doing more building projects [as a carpenter].
Rachel: I probably would work for a small business. I respect and am in awe of entrepreneurs.
Angele Nsenga’s job as an attorney with Maryland Legal Aid frequently requires her to be on the road, which seems like a natural progression for someone who has been on the move most of her life. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before immigrating to the United States and then Canada, she found Frederick following law school in Washington, D.C.
These days the 26-year-old Nsenga’s travels take her to various parts of Maryland to visit her clients, Frederick County children, whose ages range from infants to 20, who were placed in foster care by the courts after suffering neglect or abuse back home. The official designation is Children in Need of Assistance (CINA), and Nsenga is a zealous advocate for their cause. “I represent either their best interests, if they are too young to advocate a position for themselves, or their stated interest if they are old enough to say, ‘I want to go home’ or ‘I don’t want to go home. I want [my] parents’ rights to be terminated.’ I do all of that, and these cases can take years.”
FM: Tell us a little about your job.
Angele: I represent youth who had been removed from their families in Frederick County and who are in what’s known as CINA proceedings. So there are additional determinations being made about if they can return home, when they can return home … [and] what services need to be provided to their families [so they can] return home.
FM: How challenging is it working with your clients?
Angele: The challenge for me is that they are minors, so intuitively you want to protect them. You want to kind of have a parenting approach toward them. But once they reach a certain age where they are able to communicate what they want, what they desire—even if, in my heart of hearts, I believe that’s a wrong decision—I still have to advocate for that position as zealously as I can.
FM: Are there types of cases that especially trigger your “parenting” approach?
Angele: That frequently shows up for me in clients who have been removed from their families because of sexual abuse and they desire to return, with the knowledge of the risk and with safeguards in place should an incident occur again. But they understand what is going on, they understand the proceedings and they want to go home. So … you have to fight for something that, in your heart, you’re kind of like, ‘I am scared for you.’
FM: This must wear on you.
Angele: It does because they are kids and they are incredibly vulnerable and they’re experiencing things that no one should ever have to.
FM: But is it rewarding, too?
Angele: It is when you see them smile, when you see them happy, when you see them heal, when you see them removed from a very dangerous situation and find peace. … The kids make it worth it.
An engineer by profession, David Newman’s career and life have taken some interesting turns. The Massachusetts native found home on the west side of Frederick three decades ago when he and his family moved south when he took a job in Germantown. He and his wife still live on the west side, but 10 years ago he decided to move out of engineering and co-founded Leadership Techniques, a consulting firm that aims to help project managers become more efficient and improve processes in organizations. “Because we thought if we could help them be better at doing their jobs, be able to do the project management tasks more easily, their entire lives could be less stressful,” he says.
But that’s only part of his story. David’s personal interest in the west side led to him joining the board of the Golden Mile Alliance, an organization committed to the revitalization of the U.S. 40 retail thoroughfare. David serves as the organization’s president, a role that often devours his hours away from work each week. “It’s a lot more-time consuming than I thought it would be, but that’s fine. We are making progress.”
FM: First, tell us about the need for improved project management.
David: Project management is known as the accidental profession, and the reason for this is you don’t hear of many children in middle school or high school saying, “Wow, I want to be a project manager when I grow up.” We all study something else. … And then people find out they have projects to do, and so they start getting interested in being able to more efficiently do the project work.
FM: How does Leadership Techniques help?
David: A lot of project management has to do with relationships, so where we focus a lot of our energies is on the soft skills. We like to say the hard skills—like risk management, schedule, budget … anything with math—are easy because you can always get an answer. The soft skills are hard because you are never quite sure what the right or best answer is.
FM: Is it rewarding?
David: The most rewarding thing is when someone tells us, “I tried something you taught us and it worked and now that part of my life is just a little bit easier.”
FM: As president of the Golden Mile Alliance, what is your assessment of that part of the city today?
David: The Golden Mile is in terrific shape. It’s currently in much better shape than it’s given credit for. There are lots of great places to eat, there are good places for shopping … but obviously there’s a lot of opportunity, as well, on the Golden Mile and I think we are poised to take advantage of that.
FM: What role will the planned Warehouse Cinemas in the nearly vacant Frederick Towne Mall play in the future of the Golden Mile?
David: We’re excited about that because it’s going to spur growth within the mall itself. Clearly the mall owners want to re-tenant that building. … I think Warehouse Cinemas is going to be the seed that helps everything grow.