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Checking up on our Kids to Watch
SJ kids do big things, and we’ve been watching them since the beginning
By Elyse Notarianni

Over the years we’ve highlighted kids whose accomplishments blow us away. Some have started their own businesses and nonprofits that solve real-world problems, some have roles in TV shows or movies you’ve watched and loved. In other words, these are kids who are taking on the world before they can even drive. Here’s the thing about keeping tabs on kids for so long: They grow up. And many of them are now accomplished adults who are still worth watching. We caught up with a few of them.

 

Photo: Brittnee MN Photography

Christina DeJoseph, 24

When we sat down with Christina DeJoseph in June 2013, she was an 18-year-old competitive snowboarder. Today, she’s on the snow professionally – just not in the way she thought. DeJoseph is now a competitive dog sled musher.

“I had to make a choice for my health,” says DeJoseph, who suffered years of head injuries that forced her to give up snowboarding. “It was really tough, because I loved competing. I had dreams of going to the Olympics, but I ended up deciding I needed to take care of my body.”

After graduating from Palmyra High School, she took a year off, which she calls her “pioneer year.” She designed projects and experiences that took her to 14 states and seven countries and, she hoped, would show her what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She volunteered at a wolf conservation, worked with prairie dogs at the Philadelphia Zoo and learned to lead a dog sled team, which had the greatest impact.

DeJoseph went on to college in Maryland and graduated with a degree in kinesiology – where her classroom studies brought her to the Peruvian Amazon (twice) and Zanzibar. She moved to Minnesota to work as a lead dog musher with Gunflint Lodge.

Now, DeJoseph is heading to grad school to pursue rehabilitation sciences.
“The ultimate hope,” she says, “is to be able to work with both humans and animals in a healing program.”

 

Joshua Toro, 23

Moviemaker Magazine just named Joshua Toro one of the Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters to Watch, but we’ve been following him since he was a senior at Moorestown High School.

While completing his undergraduate degree at Yale University, Toro directed a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” attended a summer filmmaking program in the Czech Republic and wrote, directed and produced an original short film, “Suspicion.” The award-winning film was accepted in the prestigious Austin Film Festival, where he really started to make a name for himself.

“It was a very ambitious project,” Toro says. “But even after it was done, I felt so energized that all I could think about was what I was going to create next.”

Since then, he’s helped produce a couple of podcasts and a TV pilot, done freelance script consulting in Los Angeles, worked in New York with a Broadway lyricist, interned at Heyday Films – the company behind the Harry Potter movies – and has been working on a handful of new short films, features and a one-act play about him and his friends growing up in South Jersey. And, oh – did we mention he’s only been out of college for a year and a half?

His latest short film, “Rage,” is out in 2020.

 

Marissa Hacker, 23

When Voorhees resident Marissa Hacker last appeared on these pages she was a 17 year old with one focus: prom. Just not her own.

Inspired by her twin brother Matthew, who has autism, Hacker created the Fantastic Friends Social Group, where teens with special needs can come together to meet new friends during monthly social gatherings, including prom.

Hacker worked tirelessly to make it happen – even going so far as to create a “prom-posal” video inviting Bruno Mars, which ended up going viral. The singer wasn’t able to make it, but he did send a video with a special message to the teens along with a reminder for the DJ to play “Uptown Funk.”

Thanks to an award and grant she received for her work, Fantastic Friends Social Group chapters went national. There are now meetups across New Jersey and in states like Florida, California, Oregon and New York.

After graduating from Stockton University, she jetted off to Silicon Valley to become a development director for the Healthier Kids Foundation, an organization providing preventative healthcare services. Her years of running her own nonprofit, she says, inspired her to dedicate her career to helping others.

And Matthew? He’s doing great.

“He has a job and lots of friends, many of whom he met through Fantastic Friends,” she says. “He’s flourishing and becoming a very mature, handsome, independent young man. I’m very proud of him.”

 

Pilar Martin, 22

When we interviewed Pilar Martin for Kids to Watch in 2010, she had returned to Moorestown after a nationwide tour for her big-screen debut in the musical film “Standing Ovation,” which was filmed at the Shore.
Martin recorded and released an EP, continued acting on stage and performed with a nonprofit called Champions Against Bullying – all before graduating high school.

“Doing the movie at such a young age was a wonderful experience for me,” says Martin, who graduated from New York Film Academy last year with a BFA in musical theater. “It prepared me for the business early on, and it became a vital jumping-off point for the rest of my career.”

Martin these days is exactly where she wants to be: on stage or in front of the camera. You may have seen her on seasons three and four of Showtime’s “Billions” as an Axe Capital Employee.

Most recently, she had a main role in an award-winning short film called “Little Sicily,” which has been making rounds at film festivals. She also stars as the main love interest in an upcoming movie called “Neimand,” a Western/psychological horror film. The movie’s main cameraman, it so happens, worked with 12-year-old Martin in “Standing Ovation.”

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the experiences I gained during Standing Ovation,” she says. “The movie will always have a piece of my heart.”

 

Photo: Anastasia Henney

Anthony (26) and Dominic (25) Canonica

When we first featured brothers Anthony and Dominic Canonica as Kids to Watch in April 2008, they were Williamstown teens passionate about performing together in musical theater. Today, the brothers are forging their own paths.

“I want to be the person behind the scenes,” Anthony told us as a 14-year-old in 2008. “I love horror movies. I want to create the masks, do the makeup.”

Now 12 years later, that’s exactly what he’s doing. After graduating from a makeup and special effects program in Philadelphia, he moved to NYC and has done makeup for TV shows like “Saturday Night Live” and movies like “Joker” and “The Irishman.”

“I have a pretty preposterous job – it’s essentially just extreme arts and crafts,” says Anthony. “I feel like I’m in a weird, silly reality where I wake up in the morning and make zombies.”

 

 

Dominic, on the other hand, may have stepped out of the spotlight, but the confidence he learned on stage has been invaluable in launching his career. After high school, he joined the National Guard, working as an aerospace propulsion specialist at a fighter wing in New Jersey. More recently, he became a real estate agent and lives in Turnersville.

 

The O’Brien Sisters: Jamieson, Jordan, Jessica

When we met the O’Brien sisters in June 2011, they had just come off a national tour of “Gypsy,” (Yes, all three of them!) and were still filling their resumes with productions at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman. Jessica, the oldest, had also completed a six-month stint as Cinderella aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship.

These Haddon Township natives haven’t strayed far from the stage in the years since. They’ve shined in productions at the Walnut Street Theatre and other regional venues and have found their sea legs performing for various cruise lines.

A recent high school graduate, Jamieson just completed her first performance run with Norwegian Cruise Line, and she just found out she’ll be in Disney Cruise Line’s “Frozen: A Musical Spectacular.”

You may recognize Jordan’s voice from Disney’s Jr.’s P.King Duckling, where she plays the giraffe. After receiving her BFA in Musical Theater from Rider University, she set out to sea in Norwegian Cruise Line’s productions of “Kinky Boots” and “Prohibition,” where she is currently performing.

After cruising two more times, this time with Disney, Jessica, now 27, continues to make Disney magic onstage in Florida. The 27-year-old has her own “Kid to Watch” – 20-month-old Juliet.

January 2020
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