The Bright Young People Shine


The Bright Young People will be honored and recognized at the Allies Free for All on Friday, May 3, register and attend for FREE here.

When Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Allies for Health + Wellbeing was planning for their 2022 Free for All event, they decided to honor ten “Bright Young People” in Pittsburgh. They are now going into their third year of nominating and honoring Bright Young People.

Allies for Health + Wellbeing “empowers individuals and communities through high-quality integrated medical care and supportive human services.” Allies offers services ranging from primary care to holistic HIV treatment.

Mary Beth Wyko, Allies’ Marketing and Communications Manager, explains that the idea to celebrate young people came from a brainstorming session a few years back for their Allies Ball.

“Our event architect Thommy Conroy always comes up with some kind of over-the-top, extravagant theme so that we can go all out,” Wyko says. “We are really trying to make our event the MET Gala of Pittsburgh. So for our 2022 event, the theme that he chose was Bright Young People.”

The theme was inspired by the photography of the Bright Young Things, or Bright Young People, which was a young group of socialites and aristocrats in Great Britain in the 1920s. However, a more modern, inclusive spin was put on the idea for the 2022 Allies Ball.

“One of the things about the Bright Young People at that time is that while they were progressive for that time, it was still a really privileged group,” Wyko explains. “It was a very white group. So we had this theme, and we wanted to take it and turn it on its head and look at what Bright Young People means in the 21st century in a more inclusive light.”

So the Bright Young People were chosen from those who work primarily in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We thought it was important to recognize people who weren’t already being recognized and to shine a light on some of the incredible work that’s being done by young people in our community that people just might not be aware of,” Wyko says.

Many of those chosen to be Bright Young People are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and many work at organizations that “mesh well” with Allies and align with their mission.

The Bright Young People are chosen by community nomination. Wyko sends emails to media outlets, colleges, partner organizations, and more sharing that they are seeking nominees. If someone thinks they have someone who is a good fit, they can submit their name for consideration. From there, a selection committee chooses who this year’s honorees will be.

This year, a change was made to the selection committee – previous Bright Young People honorees were invited to join the committee. They were brought in because after the “explosion” of nominees provided during the second year, choosing became a much more difficult task.

“We’ve had several people over the last two years who have been nominated by more than one person,” Wyko says. “When we see that kind of enthusiasm for this person and the work they’re doing, that’s kind of a given.”

Wyko shares that choosing the honorees is a great reminder that they are people making a difference.

“It was really heartening for me to talk to all of the Bright Young People and to be encouraged that so many young people are doing so many great things and have enthusiasm for it,” she says. “And they do believe in a bright future, and they’re helping to build it.”

Rian-Louis McNeil

Rian-Louis McNeil is the Outreach Coordinator for Amachi Pittsburgh.

“We are the only nonprofit in Allegheny County that dedicates our mission to youth who are impacted by parental incarceration,” McNeil says.

McNeil primarily works in getting out into the streets and spreading the word at events and engagements. He has been with the nonprofit for about a year, joining after previously having had a bad experience with a toxic work environment.

“I kind of lost my vision and focus for about a month or two,” McNeil shares. “I wanted to be very intentional about what I did next.”

He was heavily inspired in the nonprofit world by his mother, feeling as though she “passed the baton” to him after her retirement last July. He found Amachi through Indeed, did research on them, and “absolutely” wanted to be a part of this mission.

“I’ve always wanted to be a resource or tool and provide guidance for young people in some form,” he says. “I always say that if I leave this earth knowing I impacted one person, I’ll be okay.”

Amachi offers several programs for impacted youth. One of these is a one-on-one mentoring program called the Amachi Ambassadors.

“We teach our youth, give them a voice of their own, sharpen their leadership skills, teach them advocacy to stand up for themselves, and we teach them that they are not their circumstances,” McNeil says.

An important point that the mentors emphasize is that they do not have to always end up like their family member/guardian who is incarcerated because kids in these situations tend to have that mentality.

“That program is a tool to show them and teach them and empower them and give them a voice of their own, which they already have,” McNeil shares.

Another program the nonprofit offers is a Family Strengthening Program, which includes mentees, mentors, and caregivers. They attend sports games, go to Kennywood, and do other activities together.

McNeil was familiar with the Bright Young Person program, and was pleasantly surprised to find out he was nominated and being recognized.

“If you had told me last year that I would be nominated as a Bright Young Person, I would have been like, ‘What?!’” he shares.

He is very grateful to Amachi for his experience, and for nominating him to be a Bright Young Person this year, sharing that he cried when he found out.

McNeil looks forward to continuing his work with Amachi and having an impact on young people.

Duane Binion

Duane Binion is one of the founders of True T Pittsburgh.

True T is an organization dedicated to celebrating queer People of Color through creative arts, social activism, and meaningful resource sharing.

Binion specifies that “meaningful” to True T means resources that people can actually use in their day-to-day lives, such as bus passes, housing assistance, etc.

“We center ourselves between community health and arts and entertainment,” Binion says. “We find creative ways to uplift the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as educate people about HIV, AIDS, STIs, through our art.”

The members of True T find creative ways to implement resources from their places of employment and bring them to the community, Binion shares.

Binion is passionate about this work because of life experience. Those who work at True T are part of the communities that they serve, so they have experienced the exact things that they are trying to change.

“We have struggled to find comfort and safety and to express ourselves as just individuals and humans and finding out how to navigate the world,” Binion says.

The co-founder was familiar with the Bright Young People at Allies before being nominated, having previously emceed the Free for All, and has worked with Allies for many years prior.

“It was like a full-circle moment that they decided to recognize me this year because I definitely was not expecting it at all,” he says. “I’m super humbled. And the fact that they have even been paying attention to the work that I do to consider me for this award is beautiful.”

Binion wants those who may be unfamiliar with True T that the organization is run by a passionate group of individuals.

“The goal here is to level and equalize the playing field so that our community members all have a chance at thriving and not just existing in today’s world,” he says.

Stavi Xinos

Stavi Xinos is a Master of Social Work candidate at the University of Pittsburgh who works with The Open Door, Inc.

The Open Door, Inc. (TOD) is a “nonprofit that supports people with HIV and chronic homelessness through housing first and harm reduction models.” The nonprofit works to provide low-barrier housing and supportive services for those who are considered high-risk, such as those who are actively using substances.

Stavi was placed with TOD through Pitt and is very passionate about the mission.

“When you prioritize safe housing for people experiencing homelessness, when people have their basic needs met- rather than coercing or forcing people to take care of their (mental health, substance abuse, etc.) challenges first in order to be ‘worthy of’ and eligible for, housing and other necessities – you save lives.”

Stavi is new to Pittsburgh, so was previously unaware of the Bright Young Person program, making the news of being recognized a surprise.

“I felt very honored to learn that I was selected for this honor,” Stavi says. “I am so appreciative of the recognition for my work – and I especially feel proud to be recognized for doing work that is rooted in harm reduction, abolition, and liberation for all people affected by oppression.”

Saint-Osei Valentino

Saint-Osei Valentino is one of the Co-Founders and the Director of the Black Liberation Autonomous Collective.

“The Black Liberation Autonomous Collective is a predominantly Black and Brown transgender and gender non-conforming-led collective located in Allegheny County,” Valentino says. “We have an intentional focus on relationship building, mutual aid, and social justice issues.”

The collective was formed in 2021 after realizing that Black Trans and queer people’s problems were not being addressed compared to other issues.

“We formed due to the lack of space for Black trans and queer folks in the organizing scene and saw how our struggles were usually left on the back burner and the lack of inclusivity,” they share. “We originally did not focus only on our TGNC siblings in the beginning, yet as said previously, we saw what was lacking and wanted to be a platform for those like us.”

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Black Liberation Autonomous Collective, Valentino wants to emphasize the care that the group has for their Trans and gender-nonconforming siblings.

“Our programs and resources come from listening to our sibs,” he says. “ Whether it’s our Trans-aissance(said like Renaissance) Project giving out gender-affirming essentials or our Kiki Project to combat the loneliness we experience, we’re here to help our siblings not just get by, but flourish in southwest PA.”

Valentino feels very honored that he was nominated to be a Bright Young Person, despite not knowing who submitted their name.

“I feel blessed and grateful as one of the few Black transmasculine people in the organizing scene to get recognized,” Valentino says.

The news that they were being recognized couldn’t have come at a better time for Valentino, who says prior to finding out the news, he had been doubting himself.

“I questioned if I was doing enough for my siblings, and worried about how we would be able to support them as much as we want to,” they say. “BLAC is just a group of young Black and Brown TGNC folks, so the majority of our funding comes from our own pockets and donations, yet we are now in the process of obtaining our 501c3 and have a fiscal sponsor. When I found out I was selected, I finally felt that I was doing something right and that I needed to keep going. And I will keep going.”

Naomi Allen

Naomi Allen is the Assistant Coordinator and Vocal Coach at KRUNK.

“KRUNK is an after-school program that focuses on the four elements of hip hop,” Allen says.

KRUNK, which stands for Kreating Realistic Universal New school Knowledge, is part of the nonprofit organization Center of Life. The program operates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and is open to students ages 14 to 18. Allen has been working with Center of Life since November 2023 and initially got involved due to her genuine care for youth and enjoyment of mentoring.

“I also think it is extremely necessary and vital for students to have an outlet for creative expression especially since many schools are removing these subjects altogether,” she says. “I also know that I did not always have positive influences growing up and would prefer to be and model the kind of person I really needed in my youth to these students so they do not have to turn to harmful sources and negative images or figures within media.”

While Allen does not know who nominated her to be a Bright Young Person, she is very thankful and extends her thanks.

“Being nominated for this has made me feel seen and has helped me remember that my work is important, is not in vain, and that people are watching you whether you recognize it or not,” Allen shares. “I am humbled by this achievement but I am even more grateful to know and be in the presence of the brilliant and talented young minds that I work with everyday.”

Daequan Andino

Daequan Andino is the Coordinator of the program for Volunteers at Shepherd Wellness Community. He has been with the organization since April 2022, shortly after moving to Pittsburgh from New York.

“My job is to engage with community members to see what they like and then also engage with the community in Pittsburgh to see who can fill in those gaps,” Andino says.

Prior to moving to Pittsburgh, Andino was a teacher in New York City. He taught students about fashion for several years, where the students experienced hands-on learning and created their own designs.

“I did that for about 18 years before the pandemic, so that’s what got me into working with young people,” he shares. “Their minds are so fresh in their different approaches to design or just expressing themselves. It was very motivational and inspiring.”

Although he was unaware of the Bright Young Person program prior to being nominated, he has worked closely with Allies for Health + Wellbeing before with Shepherd Wellness. Andino was nominated by his boss, whom he is very close with.

Andino would like those who may be unfamiliar with Shepherd Wellness to know that it is not exclusively for LGBTQIA+ people – they will help anyone with HIV.

“And with my art, I want people to feel free to express themselves as often as possible,” he shares.

Hazell Azzer

Hazell Azzer works with both the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and AIDS Free Pittsburgh.

With AIDS Free Pittsburgh, Hazell primarily works in community outreach.

“AIDS Free Pittsburgh (AFP) is a public health movement to end the AIDS epidemic in Allegheny County by 2020,” the website reads. “AIDS Free Pittsburgh is a collaborative initiative comprised of government agencies, healthcare institutions, and community-based organizations that strive to support and improve the care of people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as communities most at-risk for HIV. AIDS Free Pittsburgh does not provide services directly, but rather works to raise awareness and build collaboration among community stakeholders.”

“I manage a lot of their media outreach and community engagement, and primarily what I do is develop programs for people to participate in to learn about safer sex, HIV, and just general health,” Hazell says.

Hazell was familiar with Allies and knew about the Free for All and Allies Ball, but didn’t know about Bright Young People until being recognized.

Jule Arney

Jule Arney is the Director of Training and Research at Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation.

The Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation is an organization whose mission is “Raising health with LGBTQ+ and HIV communities in Western Pennsylvania by addressing the Center for Disease Control’s Social Determinants of Health.”

In xyr position, Arney does training and consultation with different organizations and government entities.

“Most of the trainings are centered around providing some guidance around how to best serve the LGBTQ+ community,” Arney says. “And to kind of broaden people’s concepts around sexuality and gender, especially when we’re thinking about the assumptions that we culturally have around the gender binary and breaking that apart and helping people not make assumptions so that they could create more welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+ people.”

In working with Hugh Lane, Arney takes pride in being a safe person for those younger than xem.

“I really love my job,” they said. “I love especially being able to be that adult that I needed as a youth.”

Arney has a funny history with Bright Young People, actually having campaigned xemself last year to be nominated. However, after forgetting to remind people to nominate them this year, it was a bigger surprise when they received the email that xe had been not only nominated but selected to be honored.

“It was unreal,” Arney says. “I don’t necessarily love to toot my own horn, but who doesn’t love to be recognized for their work? That was part of the reason why I did kind of campaign for myself last year, but actually getting it was kind of a moment. Like, wow, I am seen as someone who is committed to doing work that will make the lives and welfare of our community better and I’m humbled to get that recognition.”

Arney shares that while the work they do can be difficult at times, that knowing the difference xe is making is worth it.

Elis O’Marehen

Elis O’Marehen is a therapist who works for Open Space Counseling, Consulting, and Wellness (CCW).

Open Space is a LGBTQIA+-affirming and poly/kink-allied mental health practice with offices in Shadyside and Wexford, as well as telehealth throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

“I do a lot of work with people exploring gender and sexuality, processing trauma, and finding ways to accommodate their neurodivergence,” O’Marehen says. “ also run two groups: TRANSforming Families and Chronic Illness Support Club. TRANSforming Families is a support group for parents and partners of people going through gender transition and Chronic Illness Support Club is exactly what it sounds like — a support group for people living with a chronic illness and/or a disability.”

O’Marehen has been with Open Space since interning with them back in 2021, then being offered a job after the internship was complete.

“From my days of being a ‘really good ally’ to finding pride in my own nonbinary lesbian identity, the queer community has been close to my heart,” they share. “My co-parent is a Transgender man, and seeing the negative impact of the rejection and isolation he faced throughout his transition is what inspired me to create TRANSforming Families so that parents who find themselves untethered by their child’s transition have a space to process and receive quality, factual information about the transgender experience.”

O’Marehen’s co-parent, Gavin, is actually responsible for nominating them as a Bright Young Person, which they were previously unfamiliar with until they found out they were selected.

“I have so much respect for Allies as an organization and to be recognized by them for the things I’ve contributed is truly an honor,” she says. “Plus, I love an opportunity to get dressed up like a diva and have people say nice things about me!”

O’Marehen wants people to know that Open Space is run by a bunch of “mostly queer, mostly neurodivergent nerds” who are incredibly passionate about the work that they do.

Dev Hayostek

Dev Hayostek is the final Bright Young Person being recognized this year at the Allies Free for All event. Hayostek has a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh and works with diversity, equity, and inclusion. They primarily work in preventing sexual violence.

This year’s Bright Young People will be honored and recognized at the Allies Free for All on Friday, May 3. This year’s theme is Night of a Thousand Divas.


Tia (she/her) is a recent Point Park grad who majored in journalism. She loves all things movies, music, and Pittsburgh! As the summer 2022 QBurgh intern, she’s looking forward to writing about Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ community and highlighting all the cool people doing cool things in the community.