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Portraits of the Valley

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around the Valley.

Brett Karabinos

I am 23 years old and I currently live in Los Angeles, California. I was born and raised on the east coast in Westampton, New Jersey. It’s been quite the wild ride- and if I’m being completely honest, I never imagined myself living in LA. So, how did I get here? Well, it all started when my parents noticed my left leg turning black and blue a few days after I was born. After getting my leg checked out, the doctors told my parents that I had something called “vascular malformation.” That essentially veins in my knee had collapsed and would transpire into a more severe case of varicose veins as I got older. Read more>>

Brittney Escalante

I’m an actress born and raised in Los Angeles. Grew up dancing as a little girl and got the chance to do my first theatrical production with McCoy Rigby at the age of 8, The Wizard of Oz as a munchkin, haha. I was hooked ever since. After that, I continued working in shows and booking commercials as a child. I traveled the world performing with a company known as The Young Americans for a few years teaching music and dance all over. After I left the group, I went on to focus on Television and film on my own living in LA and have been training and auditioning since! Read more>>

Brooke Ishibashi

I’ve been clear about my life’s purpose since age 6, when I told my Mom, “I want to be a tap-dancing doctor. I want to help people, but entertain them too!” While my current profession may look a bit different than my childhood fantasy (I’m now a professional actor and singer), my devotion to the intersectionality of Arts and service has only deepened. My work as a core member of Fair Wage Onstage and as National Councilor for Actors’ Equity Association sparked a hunger to advocate for my community and speak up against systemic injustices; and now, I’m lobbying Congress on behalf of 5.1 million Arts Workers and nearly 675,000 institutions in the U.S. Creative economy with my grassroots organization Be An #ArtsHero. Read more>>

Nathan and Sarah Shaw

It all started in 2017 when we first met. Being two creative individuals in a city full of talent, we knew not only the importance of standing out but also giving back! Whilst our love grew for each other, our passion for creating and producing content drew us even closer together, so much so that two years later, we ended up getting married. After taking the time to enjoy our first year of marriage and putting out over 60 videos on our YouTube Channel ‘SHAWthing’ – 2020 came and well, you know what happened. Read more>>

Brett Fromson

I grew up in Solon, Ohio with two supportive and loving parents and two siblings, all of whom are musical. Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, and Bruce Springsteen played in the car on drives to school. I wrote my first song at age 5, and by 12 I was writing and imitating my favorite bands like Counting Crows and Barenaked Ladies. By sophomore year of high school, my first band had come and gone. They wanted to play other people’s songs. So I put together coffeehouse shows and focused more on my acoustic guitar, harmonica, and songwriting. Read more>>

Amy Wolkove

Bobkat Babkas was born when lockdown started in March. I had yeast a friend gave me to keep me busy. I decided to start gifting my friends, my babkas in an effort to keep us all happy. It soon turned into request after request. I gave my dear friend Meri Cherry a babka and she posted about it on Instagram. I woke up the next morning to a full inbox! I had so many emails asking how to purchase one. I quickly had to pivot to selling them. I had a logo I had been working on for a different company and it just worked. Suddenly I knew what the logo was destined for all along. Now I’m making babkas three days a week! This has been a dream come true for me and I hope to have a Babka/Coffee shop in Encino soon. Read more>>

Daniel Hashimoto

All my life I’ve been in love with movies like Star Wars and Roger Rabbit – not just the movies, but the idea of making those movies. When I was six years old, I began using an Amiga 2000 and Deluxe Paint to animate monsters and robots frame by frame – then film them off my screen onto a double-decker BetaMax. Over the next 25 years, my tools improved – the program After Effects allowed me to create “epic” videos in high school with my friends – adding amateur visual effects to create dinosaurs, helicopters and explosions to spice up our school assemblies. I attended USC Film School where I continued to focusing on visual-effects-driven shorts. Read more>>

Mollie Hogan

The Nature of Wildworks (Wildworks) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1997 with a two-fold mission: To provide inspiring educational live wildlife programs for children and youth to enhance their understanding of animals and nature while also ensuring lifelong quality care for non-releasable wild animals. I formed this organization in response to a need resulting from the cancellation of an indigenous wildlife presentation at the Los Angeles Zoo. I was a keeper at the time and I was attached to the animals that I had raised and was determined to provide a home for them. Read more>>

Lindsay Pennington

I’m originally from a small town in Kentucky but moved to Los Angeles about fifteen years ago to practice corporate law. Although my mom is an interior designer, she encouraged me to pursue a more traditional professional field. I really had no idea what I wanted to do “when I grew up” and that’s how I ended up in law school; I figured that a law degree was very versatile. And while I don’t rely on that aspect of my education very much today, at least in a literal sense, I remain convinced of the benefit of my law degree and the years I spent practicing law. I don’t know that I would have ended up in LA otherwise, and I absolutely love this town. Read more>>

Taeylor White

I was raised in Chester, VA where the dance industry was not as progressive as it is in California. I had a wonderful childhood despite the typical teenage drama, but that never steered me away from what I loved the most. I went to high school at a Performing Arts program which later sparked my dance journey after I graduated. Right after high school, I attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and graduated May of 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Dance and Theater Studies. Soon after, I attended Mills College in Oakland, California and graduated during COVID-19 May of 2020 with a Master’s degree in Choreography and Performance. Read more>>

Michael Wilson

I think I’ve always been sensitive to music since I was a young kid, but I didn’t really take a strong interest in it until my teenage years. It was around this time that I started listening to a lot of soundtracks. Many of my favorite movies and video games were scored by composers such as John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, and Michael Giacchino. These artists, among others became my musical heroes. This led to me studying music theory in high school and eventually majoring in music composition during undergrad. After college, I worked for a few years and then applied to USC for their top-notch film scoring graduate program. I was accepted and just graduated in May with my master’s degree! Read more>>

Candice Cruz

It was quite a wild ride to get to where I am today… I am originally from Kentucky and moved to LA seven years ago. I always wanted to be in front of the camera, whatever it was; singing, acting, hosting. There are videos of me hosting my own cooking show when I was three, singing at weddings at age four and putting on my own plays at five. So needless to say, I think it was always in my blood to be in the entertainment industry. Read more>>

Alice Thomas

I’ve been cooking since I was about eight years old. But it actually wasn’t anything I aspired to do professionally. It wasn’t until 2007 when I was working as a therapist and pursuing acting, that I heard God’s voice tell me that I would eventually be a restaurateur as serve people my food professionally. I soon after quit my job to prepare myself and gain experience in the restaurant industry. Then in 2010, I was ready to launch my own. But many restaurants were failing because of the recession, so I chose not to. Fast forward to now. Ten years later, after launching and running several other businesses and periodically catering private events, I heard that still small voice again. This time telling me it was time to Go back to that promise. Read more>>

Mike O’Brien

My love for visual arts started early on in my childhood. Growing up around my grandmother, I was always exposed to creative expression, specifically painting. I was amazed how she was able to capture reality as she saw it and then re-create that image through the use of brushes and colors. Because of her, I began taking art classes and drawing frequently until my parents blessed me with a little digital camera for my birthday. Painting and drawing now transformed into photography. Just writing this, I can feel how cool it was to have the ability to click at will and hold an image in time. Once I found out that this digital camera had a 15-second video feature, it was over! Read more>>

William Hoggard

I grew up in the church singing in the choir with my mom and getting my hands on any kind of instrument I could find from playing the keys for church to playing the drums to playing my dad’s bass guitar. As I was playing his bass he ended up getting me my own acoustic guitar. I started playing that and got into alternative music at the time and older soul records my family listened to and gospel records my mom would listen to. I learned and taught myself how to play guitar and once I got to my alma mater UNC-Chapel Hill I would play a lot in an area we call the Pit where everyone would gather. I ended up meeting a lot of cool people and basically, they knew me as the kid with the straw hat and guitar around campus. Read more>>

Leslie Lee

My oldest memory shows my first “sketchbook” I owned as a toddler. A dark blue notebook, its pages filled with an incomprehensible mess of unsteady lines and violent scribbles that only a child can achieve. I still clearly remember one page, where amidst the chaos, my dad had sketched my portrait with delicate ink linework. Even at that age, I remember feeling the simple wonder at its creation and unconsciously recognizing the power art can achieve. Read more>>

Sara Saltos

Sara Saltos Jewelry flourished within the nature of New York style, which inspired the creation of fashionable accessories that portray special meaning to each piece created. Sara’s first contact with the jewelry world was originating from her grandma, by owning multiple pieces of fine jewelry but being able to sell them at a reasonable price to other ladies in her community. As a result of her upbringing, the presence of strength, independence, and confidence from her grandmother influenced her from a young age. All of which she wants to show within each piece she creates now. Read more>>

Elyse Bertani

I have always been an artsy, imaginative person. I constantly seek out new artistic endeavors to use as creative outlets. As a kid, I made crafts with anything I could get my hands on- sewing scraps, popsicle sticks leaves from the backyard- you name it, I’ve probably done some sort of art project with it. My mom ran a jewelry business when I was in school and I loved watching her mix around options and see how the sparkling beads came together into a beautiful piece of wearable art. I have a degree in Theatre Arts from Stephens College and have worked in performance, music, voice-overs, photography, and stained glass design. Read more>>

Josh Woods

My mixing journey began in 2009. I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps and had just returned from a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan. While on leave visiting friends and family during the holidays, I was involved in a car accident which ended up totaling my car. Instead of taking the insurance money and buying another used car, I decided to salvage the title and pay a family friend to fix it up for a few hundred dollars. With the rest of the money, I was able to buy my first MacBook Pro and began playing around with Logic Pro Express. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I began recording and mixing covers and original productions for myself and my brother when I would visit. Read more>>

Courtney Hart

I am a 3rd generation Los Angeles native. My great grandfather worked in fashion and my grandmother graduated from UCLA in 1937. LA is in my roots and because of that, the entertainment industry is as well. I grew up in studio city and dedicated much of my free time to acting and eventually musical theater. I majored in theater at San Diego State University and it was there I first discovered my love for makeup. Learning theatrical technique helped me understand how transformative and important makeup is in creating character. It also gave me a creative outlet which grew my passion for the process. As makeup application came easy to me, I began working in retail, where I continued to hone my skill. Read more>>

Alexandria McCale

I came out of the womb doing jazz hands. (Sorry Mom!) My childhood was full of dance recitals, singing lessons and community theater, and at age 12 I announced that I was going to be an actress. Once I decided on my path, I never wavered. I went on to become the star of my high school when I took on the challenging role of Gabriella in the musical theater classic ‘High School Musical.’ Then I went on to be a leading lady in every season of my college theater career, taking on roles such as Cassie in ‘A Chorus Line.’ In my mind, I was on course to be a big success. I packed up my Ford Focus in 2012 and headed from Kansas City to Los Angeles to stake my claim in Hollywood. Read more>>

Jener DaSilva

I was raised in South Florida (Pompano Beach) and moved with my family to Seattle, Washington. I started acting from a very young age doing professional theater and improv throughout Florida and then later in Seattle. I moved to LA to pursue my dream to act, write, and produce feature films. I began acting in LA and recently appeared in the Blumhouse Film, “The Gallows Act II”. As well as currently have a horror feature slated with Tremendum Pictures. So that’s still very much the dream but I recently stumbled into social media. Read more>>

Felicia Barton

I grew up in Virginia Beach, VA singing anywhere and everywhere. My dad’s a pastor, so I mostly grew up singing there and then got involved in choirs, musical theater, and jazz ensemble in High School (I attended Frank W. Cox HS in Virginia Beach.). In 2008, I started in singing on the street corners during the summertime on the Boardwalk at the beach, playing local bars and restaurants, and then in 2008 auditioned for American Idol. I always thought ya know I am big fish in a little pond, but I would love to see if I could be a big fish in a big pond…could my talent hold up on a bigger level…..So I auditioned for Idol and made it to the live show during Season 8. I think my time on American Idol gave me a taste for the business. Read more>>

Kristina Kury

Marketing is actually my second career. I decided to go back to school in my early 30’s to get my Marketing degree because marketing was always a passion and something I naturally gravitated towards in everything I did. I had already gained real world experience naturally through previous jobs and getting a degree seemed like the obvious next step. As I was getting my degree, I decided to have a part-time side job for a little extra cash. I was in Austin, Texas at the time and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise was just opening up. I applied and ended up opening the very first coffee shop there. Read more>>

David Fernandez

My father was a mechanic who owned and ran his own business; to our luxury it was in our backyard. His dream was to be a Pilot. Needless to say, his dream for me was to be a Pilot. We were living in Melbourne, Australia at the time. I remember him coming inside the house after a 12 hour shift exhausted, smelling like grease and sweat, begging me, “Son, please don’t be a mechanic. Be a Pilot.”… He would show his hands laced with cuts and sores; grease still stuck under his nails even after vigorously washing them with thinner and soap. Read more>>

Cheryl Farrell

I am a Black woman “of a certain age” with many stories to tell. I was raised in South Los Angeles in the late 1960’s. In middle school, I took math and science classes, and I did well because my mom was an aerospace engineer. But, I enjoyed English and the school choir. I felt I was pretending in school because my mother did not appreciate the classes I enjoyed. I was lucky to have teachers like Mrs. Abramson who would pick me for special projects that required writing and speaking. Read more>>

Cyazon

The first time I listened to Edm was around when Skrillex was coming up so let’s say around 2009-2010. I was introduced to a lot of the UKF uploads on their Youtube channel at the time through skatepark friends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I did not like the music at all and was mainly into Hip-Hop/Rap, Indie Electronica, and Alternative/Rock music. Mainly only those genres of music since I discovered a lot of that music on iTunes at the time. My sister also had some Alternative/Rock music and maybe some Indie Electronica as well that she shared with me throughout my childhood and teenage years. Read more>>

Belinda Enriquez

My foray into nail art began as a hobby. In my teens, my sister and I would collect nail polish colors and switch out our colors and designs weekly. Initially, I never planned on making nail art my career; I also never expected to find myself owning and operating a nail art studio. I graduated from art school having studied baking and patisserie. After a few years in the industry, I quickly realized I was not well suited for a life as a pastry chef. Although the position required a certain amount of inventiveness, I found the actual process a bit too precise and rigid; I also missed having brightly colored fingertips. Read more>>

Alen Kevorkian

I started working at an Engineering office in Pasadena “Called Parsons” worked there a total of ten years with two major layoff’s in between, during these uncertain times, I kept asking myself, what would happen if I had a mortgage or a wife and kids that I needed to provide for. Lucky for me, I was young in early 20’s to my late 20’s I worked there, and I was always able to get called back to work within a few months of being laid off work. I had very little savings to land on, however what I did manage to do, was keep my bills fairly low, this helped. Read more>>

Aundrea Marschoun

I began doing photography in High School after taking a film class my Sophomore year. It just seemed to fit naturally for me and people really seemed to like my work. Then I got pregnant that year and my daughter was born the summer before my Junior year. Having a new baby while being difficult at that age was also my new found inspiration. As the years passed and my family grew, I was constantly taking pictures of our life together and eventually friends and family started asking me to take theirs as well. Read more>>

Phil Wright

My career started in Miami Florida, where I danced professionally for about seven years. I was fortunate enough to dance behind artists at the Latin Billboard Awards, choreograph for the Miami Heat dance team, and build a name for myself as teacher/choreographer. In 2013, I moved to LA where I would continue my professional career and broaden my skills as a professional entertainer. Later in the years, I developed a brand called “The Parent Jam” dance class; a unique format where parents/legal guardian and kids dance together on youtube videos. Read more>>

Joseph Ehrenpreis

Music was my first language. I could read music before I could read or deliberately speak English. My Dad studied cello with the late Frank Miller of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra fame. And my mom is a Cuban immigrant, and like much of her family, she is tone deaf. She wanted to provide opportunities for me and my siblings that she didn’t get to have as a kid. She’s the youngest of five siblings and was the first in her family to attend university. My lullaby as a kid was my Dad Eli playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on the cello. Read more>>

Katie Thompson

I’ve always loved to talk, it’s my favorite thing to do. I’m sure it has something to do with watching my father (Mark Thompson of Mark & Brian) do radio in LA my whole life, and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. After going to beauty school and realizing I didn’t want to do hair or makeup, I was given the opportunity to work in radio as a field reporter named “Chick on the Street” on 100.3 The Sound. That job sadly came to an end when the radio station was purchased and they cleaned house, however it was then I decided to take matters into my own hands and start my own podcast called See You Next Tuesday. My show is all about honesty, sex, love, and being your most honest self. Read more>>

Mia Ballesteros

I have been styling hair since 2009, while I was going to cosmetology school, I picked up a job at a local theatre in their costume department which eventually led to me working in their hair and makeup department. I stayed there for a few years but started taking gigs on photos, television, and film sets. After a while, I left the theatre and started doing more set work as well as theme park hair and makeup work. In March, when quarantine started, I was placed on leave from my main job as a wig tech and needed something to do with my time. Read more>>

Leilani Sanders

I am the oldest of 16 children from combined marriages. Being the oldest, you learn how to do your younger siblings hair. When I was a kid, I used to have dreams of being a pediatrician or pediatric Registered Nurse. As I started my family, I completed medical assisting and attempted LVN and EMT while married, working and raising two children. After having to drop out of LVN schooling at UAV in order to step up and get a full-time job due to my husband injuring himself, I put those dreams on hold. I began to work at bank of America and after two years, went on to work at Macy’s. There I moved up quickly from an on-call associate to part-time lingerie associate, to full-time women’s apparel associate, to an I.N.C. specialist and finally, I ended up as an Estee Lauder beauty advisor. Read more>>

Jarid Root

I was born three months premature at 2 pounds and 10 ounces, so it’s a miracle I’m still alive. The doctor told my parents that it would be months until I would be able to flip my head over, and right as he said that, I flipped my head to the other side. A psychiatrist did a behavioral test on me when I was 3, and they concluded to my mom that I was a very belligerent child and I would be difficult to handle in the future. It is this stubbornness, I believe, that has gotten me to where I am in my life. When I was younger, I’d always been really good at school. However, I’d always had a hard time getting along with kids my age everywhere that I’d moved to. And that’s probably because I was slightly confrontational, but what I never understood was why they felt the need to target me, so I retaliated. Read more>>

Toccara Lanett

I moved to LA from the Washington DC area, where I grew up, a little over four years ago to dance and to act in television and film. It’s almost crazy that I wound up in LA because my dream since high school was always to live in New York. My background is in cheerleading and I majored in Broadcast Journalism in college, so dance and television have always been a part of my dreams. From competitive cheerleading in college to dancing in the NFL for a total of seven years for Baltimore and Washington. It was during my last season of dancing for Washington that the acting bug hit and I truly set my sights on New York. Read more>>

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