Fresh Faces of Upstate New York

By Amari D. Pollard

Jen Fabian

It’s hard to be anything but happy in the presence of Jen Fabian. With her effortless smile and kind nature, positive energy radiates from every part of her as she walks through the halls of her alma mater, Le Moyne College.

In college Jen was a star midfielder on the women’s soccer and lacrosse teams while majoring in psychology with a concentration in education. With her heart set on staying in Syracuse and being close to her family, Jen decided to get her masters degree in literacy at Le Moyne after graduating in 2013.

Halfway through her grad program Jen accepted a job with the athletic department as its grad assistant; but she never expected her new position to change the course she had carefully laid out for herself.

Jen Fabian

Jen Fabian

“I was doing a lot of marketing, advertising, graphic design and I realized that my passion truly lied in that and not teaching. So I made a little U-turn and began my MBA,” said Jen.

Now, at only 24-years-old, she has landed her dream job as the Assistant Director of Athletics at Le Moyne. She’s young, vibrant, and accomplished. It would be easy to look at Jen and assume her life has been nothing but content. Then again, like she says, everyone has a story.

The toughest goodbyes are the ones you least expected, especially when that means saying goodbye to your best friend. When Jen was a junior in high school her older sister unexpectedly passed away, and that loss has left Jen with a certain hollowness she faces daily. But with each passing day she allows that experience to help her live a life of love and understanding.

“It really helped me shape my perspective on life. You don’t know what’s going on in everyone’s life, so I just keep that in the back of my mind as I make my daily interactions,” said Jen. “I love random acts of kindness holding the door for people, just smiling, saying hi to people I may not know, asking how their day is because you never know what is going on in their life, and that simple smile that you can provide might be the highlight of someone’s day.”

When asked how she maintains her spirit, Jen’s answer was pretty simple: God. She’s able to maintain her firm belief system through all of life’s joy and unexpectedness by always carrying a grateful heart around with her.

“Yes, we will face hard times when things seem to go terribly wrong but reflect upon and recognize all that is going right. Some people are praying for the very things that you have, that you take for granted,” said Jen.

So instead of crumbling under the weight of her troubles, Jen chooses to accept what she has been given and find happiness in the little things. For her, that means spending time with her family, or getting lost in the motion of running, or the exhilaration of storm chasing. Even though Jen may encounter difficult days, she lives with the attitude of: “At least it is another day.”

“You’re going to come across challenges in life that’s what life is about, but it’s how you respond to those challenges that matter. I’m not saying I’m perfect all the time,” said Jen. “In overcoming things, I definitely have my moments of weakness, but my philosophy is looking at an obstacle or looking at a challenge as something to overcome and better yourself. Use it to fuel your next greatest success.”

When it comes to the future, Jen has no problem putting her trust in God and letting the road take her where she’s supposed to go. And although she’s travelling towards something unknown, she makes the best out of the present she has now; seeing everyday as an opportunity to learn, to grow in her faith and make memories.

“I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Jesse Pardee

Wake up at six a.m., put name on list for audition, perform piece, go to work, come home, sleep, repeat. This is the set routine Jesse Pardee follows while gradually uncovering her path to Broadway. And while the scrappy concrete streets of New York may not be coated with the glamour captured on screen, Jesse can’t imagine herself being anywhere else.

It was while watching the mesmerized Christine Daaéobey her Angel of Music in the Syracuse showing of The Phantom of the Opera that first drew Jesse to the stage when she was 10. After that, dreams of auditioning in the city coaxed her to bed at night and woke her up in the morning. 14 years later Jesse is trying to fulfill the life that little girl dreamt of for her.

Jesse refers to the process of auditioning in New York as extremely frustrating, because each day she’s waking up before the sun has streaked the sky to put her name on a list of 200 people who want the same exact thing.

Jesse Pardee

Jesse Pardee

When asked why she repeatedly puts herself through the frustration and scrutiny of Broadway Jesse said it’s because you never know what opportunity an audition might bring you. “You never know what day is the day, and you have to play the game in order for it to pay off,” said Jesse. “It’s a double-edged sword because you don’t want to wake up and go, but in order to get what you want you have to keep going and going.”

Coincidentally the concept of fixed perseverance is nothing new to the Camillus native. During her senior year of high school Jesse was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. At a time when anticipation for the future was supposed to be high, she was left sitting in a hospital bed for five days at a time questioning whether she’d even have one.

“It’s a very overwhelming thing to take on the idea of dying especially when you’re seventeen and you think you’re supposed to be invincible. As I wrestled with that idea more and more, the fear just became not so much being afraid of dying but being afraid of having to say goodbye,” explained Jesse.

The experience of trying to stay a normal teenager while going through chemotherapy often left Jesse tired and angry, but it also taught her a lot. Especially that, you’re stronger than you think you are when you really don’t have a choice.

Six years later and cancer free Jesse is still bouncing back. But over the years she’s found that what helps her heal the most is taking each day as it comes, and allowing herself the freedom to do what needs to be done in order to cope with her feelings. If she needs to scream, she screams; if the heavy feeling of sadness is weighing her down, she cries.

“At the end of the day I’m getting dressed in the morning, I’m doing a job, and I’m in the city I want to live in. Whether or not I’m handling things the right way, I’m still on the path that I wanted to be on,” said Jesse.

Life in the city never slows down, and Jesse still finds herself adjusting to the pace. She officially moved to New York last September and landed a gig doing the Bush Garden’s Christmas Season in Virginia, so the city is still a treasure to be uncovered.  But in the meantime, Jesse will continue to chase her dreams while holding on to the person she has always been. Which means watching Netflix in her free time, attending Broadway Shows until she knows them by heart, and singing until she finds herself on one of their stages.

“I may not have done what I want to do yet, but I’m where I want to be right now,” said Jesse. “So I must be coping okay, even if it’s a long process.”

Courtnee Hutch

When most college students see their bank accounts quickly approaching zero their first move is to reach for the phone and call the bank tellers, better known as mom and dad. But instead of asking for money and explaining her near bankruptcy to her parents, CourtneeFutch decided to whip up a quick batch of bacon-cheesecake brownies in a makeshift oven to sell on Facebook.

For two dollars a piece Courtnee sold all of her cupcakes in less than an hour. With 86 dollars in her bank account there was no more need to tell her parents she spent all her money on Chipotle. After such a successful night Courtnee realized she could continue to make a profit off of her baking.

“I thought about it for a little bit and said what am I going to name it, and ThunderCakes was the first thing that came to mind,” said Courtnee. “My nickname given to me by some guys on my floor was Chocolate Thunder and I wasn’t fond of the nickname at first but then it grew on me.”

Courtnee Hutch

Courtnee Hutch

It all started her freshman year at Syracuse University with an idea and some ingredients. Now at only 21-years-old Courtnee is the CEO of her own business. In the beginning she started taking orders and selling cookies on Facebook, but when the orders kept rolling in Courtnee decided to make it into a full-fledged business. The ThunderCakes menu expanded from just cookies to brownies, cupcakes, rolls, and cheesecakes. Her creations include funky and creative combinations like maple bacon cinnamon roles and chocolate covered potato chip cupcakes. But even with such an extensive menu Courtnee’s favorite thing to bake is crème bulee.

“Crème bulee is my absolute favorite thing, and not like regular crème bulee either. I’m really interested in flavor combinations,” said Courtnee. “I’ve done an orange almond, I’ve done a chocolate hazelnut I really enjoy that, that’s a lot of fun for me.”

ThunderCakes became so big it eventually outgrew SU’s campus. People all around Syracuse were hearing about the business and its young entrepreneur. It all came together so quickly that it seemed as if ThunderCakes had been planned from a long time ago, but Courtnee said it was all by chance and a bit of business acumen. With her mom working in marketing and her dad in engineering with a background in architecture, logistics and event planning she was able to pick up on a lot of things.

“It was consistent good luck, and then it was good timing. It was just one of those things I kind of knew how to operate. Everything really just fell into place. Everybody I was meeting was introduced to me by someone else, and they were saying you have to meet this girl who has this great business,” said Courtnee.

The young CEO started baking when she was around 8-years-old. After her mom stopped baking Courtnee often found herself in the kitchen, looking through her mom’s cookbooks to figure out which recipe she wanted to try next. But it wasn’t always as simple as picking a recipe and seeing what ingredients were around the house. Courtnee admits to being pretty terrible at first. “I was really bad at least until I turned 12. And then after that, I started having a lot more fun in the kitchen, and got creative,” said Courtnee. “I started figuring things out and how chemistry effects baking, and what ingredients help and compliment what.”

Since baking started as a hobby for Courtnee, she felt a little odd at first when people started calling her an entrepreneur for making a business out of something she loves. But when more and more people started using that term to describe her she thought it was time she adopted the title herself.

When she finally accepted her entrepreneurship her investment in the business became more serious. She started taking classes in business management, accounting, legal and public policy anything that would help her business grow. Although when it really came down to running a company Courtnee said none of those classes actually helped, but she did learn how to better delegate. “Sometimes you’re not cut out for certain tasks and I wasn’t. I think entrepreneurship takes a certain amount of self-awareness. You have to know what your strengths are,” said Courtnee.

Courtnee is now getting ready to pursue a master’s degree in entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. With school taking over her schedule ThunderCakes will have to take a backseat. But she hopes to do pop-up shops and occasional themed days, which can allow customers to pick up everything they’ve been waiting for in one day. ThunderCakes was a fluke born out of a pertinent need, but it has become so much more to Courtnee and the Syracuse area now.

“It was a lot, it was incredibly stressful but hearing the good reviews and seeing people who were so excited to eat a cake they had been hearing about for so long. I think that was worth it to me,” said Courtnee. “I think I became a better student because I had ThunderCakes. I had a sense of purpose I knew why I was here.”

Julia Goodwin

She’s been called a prodigy, a wonderkid but Julia Goodwin says she’s just like anyone else following their dreams.

Julia was first introduced to the world on the ninth season of America’s Got Talent [AGT], but she had been no secret to Syracuse for a long time. The sweet tone of her voice had garnished stages throughout the area for years before she decided to enter the national competition. “They had found me on YouTube and asked me if I wanted to come out and audition for the show,” explained Julia. “The opportunity just happened. So I wasn’t planning on auditioning at first but then I got the opportunity, and I was totally for it.”

Julia credited her father for her love of music, remembering how she would always sing along as his finger softly caressed the music out of their piano. “He was the one who really inspired me to become a musician,” said Julia. Along with her dad, getting the lead in her elementary school’s production of Annie in the third grade helped to reinforce her love for music, and find a new interest in theater.

Julia Goodwin

Julia Goodwin

For some who find themselves with a special kind of gift they say there’s a moment when you realize how talented you are, that you could actually make a career out of your passion. Julia said that moment never exactly happened for her it was just a matter of her singing whenever and wherever she could, and being fortunate enough to have people who liked listening.

Julia’s rendition of “New York State of Mind” got her a yes from all four judges on AGT, sending her to the “Kid Singer” category for Judgment Week. She was able to make it all the way to the quarterfinals but didn’t receive enough votes to push her through to the semifinals. Although her journey was cut short Julia said being a part of the show was surreal, and it was humbling to see the community come together in support of her.

“That was crazy. The audition was probably one of my favorite days. It was awesome, being on the show. I had a great experience with it,” said Julia. “It definitely gave me a lot of exposure, and showed me how to be one TV and stuff like that. I also got to meet a lot of people, producers, and contestants who were extremely talented.”

Before the talent competition Julia won Michael Feinstein’s 2013 Great American Songbook High School Vocal Competition. Winning the contest gave Julia the chance to open for and perform nationally with the five-time Grammy Nominee Michael Feinstein at places such as Carnegie Hall, Birdland in New York City, and The Palladium in Indiana, just to name a few.

At only 17-years-old the singer/songwriter’s list of accomplishments is overwhelmingly extensive, and it continues to grow daily. Between performing, school, sports and her social life, Julia somehow manages to maintain her normalcy and feel grounded in all the chaos. “I like to stay busy. I mean it’s definitely hard to fit everything in it’s not an easy thing. But with school, I’ve had a lot of teachers and my guidance counselor Mrs. Foote and my principal Mr. Edwards he was one of the biggest supporters of my whole career who have made it a lot easier on me to go for what I wanted to do,” explained Julia.

Many may wonder what could possibly be next for someone who has done so much at such a young age. Well, based on what Julia’s up to and what she has planned for the future, there’s a lot to be done.

Over the summer she performed during the 93Q Summer Jam at Paper Mill Island in Baldwinsville along with artists like Andy Grammer, Jake Miller and Katy Tiz; and even traveled to Italy to perform at the Bvlgari designer’s daughter’s 18th birthday party. You know, just normal everyday kind of stiff no big deal.

But before the mega talented singer fully dives into the industry she has one more thing to cross of her list: graduating. This fall Julia will be entering her senior year at C.W Baker High School and while the idea of leaving saddens her, she’s excited to venture out and see what the future brings. Which hopefully includes an album coming out soon.

“I think my goal is to one day go on tour and have my own show. That would be really cool for me,” said Julia. “I’m just really grateful for all the different opportunities I’ve had. Not a lot people just get this handed to them.”