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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.

Alexandria Ruiz

All my life, I struggled with my weight. No matter how active I was or how healthy I ate, it always felt like this challenge that would never end. After years of depression, eating disorders, body image, and struggles with self-esteem and self-worth, I finally thought I had the answer. In 2010, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and then with the autoimmune disease, Hashimotos in 2016. Once I was diagnosed, I assumed all my problems would be solved. I would finally lose the weight and feel confident in my own skin for the first time in my life. In 2019, after failing another diet, something clicked in me. I decided to just allow myself to live life. To enjoy the little moments that make life unique and stop fixating so much on making myself smaller. Read more>>

Aziz Tazi

I was born and raised in Morocco, went to college in France, and became a film director in the United States. My debut feature film, Night Walk, starring Mickey Rourke, was released with Lionsgate on June 15th, 2021! It’s a romance that evolves into a crime drama and a story with which I aim to disrupt stereotypes perpetuated in the media about Muslims and Arabs. Read More>>

Mackenzie Coffman

If you would’ve gone up to five years old me and told me that I would be an actress one day….first of all, my face would turn red from embarrassment, and then I’d run away crying. It wasn’t until I was a teenager (and deeply struggling with self-esteem issues) that I discovered acting. I started going to an Improv class outside of school for fun. I thought if anything, I would learn how to step out of my comfort zone and make new friends. After one class, I felt like I had found buried treasure. I mean, what better way to get over your shyness than to crawl around on a stage with strangers as different types of animals? For the first time, I didn’t take myself too seriously. It was liberating, and I wanted to hold onto that feeling forever. Read more>>

Joe La Barbera

I was taught drums, clarinet and saxophone by my father starting at age five and was part of a family band which includes two older brothers, Pat and John, both well-known professionals. Read more>>

Robert Craighead

I wanted to come to Los Angeles and become an actor for as long as I can remember. As a child growing up in the tiny Texas oil town of Electra, the idea of being in movies and television was pretty much a pipe dream. However, watching my father’s somewhat rags to riches story in the oil business gave me hope that all things are possible. So, at 18 years old, after graduating from High School, I loaded up my car and moved to Los Angeles and began my studies at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I attended classes full-time for two years and then another year of repertory before ever venturing into the professional arena. I knew extensive training would be essential to a successful career in this industry. Read more>>

Araik Sinanyan

I grew up in the Los Angeles city of Glendale in an area populated with many Armenians. I never realized what a luxury growing up among your own community was. Oftentimes, I would get frustrated and want to explore beyond my horizons. Eventually, I moved to rural Northern California for college. After college, I moved to the East Coast and lived in DC and Baltimore for work. After moving back to my hometown of Glendale, I’ve been so much more appreciative of being around my community. I often talk to people from all over the States (and world!) who were not lucky enough to grow up in their ethnic community. Oftentimes, these people are jaded or are not sure how to navigate the waters of growing up outside of their homeland. They’re often assimilated beyond their liking or have a clear, defined separation between their “ethnic” self and their “American” self. Read more>>

Janey Nel

I grew up in South Africa, with two parents who supported me but were very much not into the arts. In the third grade, I started singing lessons for the first time and that’s where I fell in love with entertaining people. I eventually moved onto doing acting in High School, where I was told on multiple occasions that I wasn’t good enough. After high school, when having to decide what to study, my heart was telling me acting but due to the lack of reinforcement from my high school acting experience, I was unsure. But luckily, in a strike of fate, I was scouted to audition of The New York Film Academy and got accepted with a Scholarship. So off to LA to pursue my dreams it was. Read more>>

Shayan Valaie

I was always into music ever since I was a kid. I was captivated by live performances and I always knew there was a place meant for me in music. I was never really naturally good at anything until I started music. The first instrument I picked up was a viola in elementary school. I played for about five years in an orchestra until I reached middle school and thats when I decided to pick up a guitar. I was obsessed with it. I kept playing more and more and kept getting better and better until towards the end of high school. I started drifting away from music and began to practice less, though my interest was still there, part of me just didn’t believe in myself as much. I was arrested after high school. Ironically, it turned out to be a blessing in my life. Throughout my time incarcerated, I started to write my own music. Read more>>

Carla Berger

I grew up in NYC and actually just moved to California in 2020. My partner and I had been looking to move to the West Coast for years, and remote working during Covid made that a reality. I began my career in advertising, and somewhere between different marketing & agency jobs, I knew the food industry was where I had to be. I had no idea what I wanted to do in it, I just knew I had to get there. So I enrolled in NYU’s Food Studies Master’s program and took six years to really figure out what I wanted to do. Turns out, what I wanted to do had actually been my childhood dream of owning a specialty food store! I’ve always been obsessed with food, and it’s always been a really important part of my family. I’m the type of person who wakes up in the morning and thinks about what I want for dinner for the next three nights. As much as I knew I wanted to work in food, I never thought I’d actually start my own business. Read more>>

Cheyenne Williams

I left an abusive relationship and had my first child at 19 years old and was dirt broke. I was working for $2 an hour was a waitress at Denny’s in Illinois. I was eating at work and showering at school. I would steal for food. And breastfed as long as I possibly could. When you experience that, it breaks a person mentally. I was alone with no family. I worked hard every day to scrap pennies and after I graduated college, I moved back home to California. After three years, I got blessed with another child. I was now a 23 years old mom of two full-time employees and full-time grad students. I lost my mind and was enter a dark hole. My friend on Instagram was glowing and thriving and I craved what she had so I would constantly ask her for her secret and she said Arbonne. After six months of mental depression and PTSD, I finally said yes to arbonne because who was going to take care of my kids if I didn’t take care of myself and was no longer here. Read more>>

Eulogia Goree

By age 25, I had become a celebrity photographer, a mother, and was finding my purpose through the trenches of life. Now a few years later, my accomplishments and experience include certifications in different areas that serve various communities. It has been very hard writing about myself due to a fear of coming out of other people’s shadows. I am very honored to be chosen to talk about my experiences. I realized that in order for me to really flourish in the world, I have to let go of the pressures of being judged for speaking my truth. Between 2007 and 2009, A camera fell into my lap by way of me being on summer vacation on what I like to call “The Deserted Island”. I was always asked if I was in school for “it” and my answer was always the same, “no, it’s my passion and gift from my ancestors. Never did I think that I was being asked because people thought that my work was good. Read more>>

Mayra Diaz

I’m one of those people who has always known what I wanted to be when I grew up. I decided I wanted to be a therapist when I was 13. Now, I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. I specialize in working with millennials struggling with anxiety and BIPOC. I’m so happy to be where I’m at, but it was a definitely a tough road to get here. My dream is to start a group practice and hire other therapists of color. I want to be able to show other BIPOC therapists that the journey doesn’t have to be as hard and they can also be successful entrepreneurs. Read more>>

Ike Carter

Things started for me about 17 years ago, I fell in love with music production and wanted to become a great producer, so I began recording songs at 14 and I’ve never really stopped. Along the way, I picked up drums as a principle instrument which gave me a foundation in music. I produced original music with indie artists all the way through high school and college. After some time of diving into the music business, my success started to develop within sound engineering and mixing. After graduation from Florida A&M, I moved to Atlanta where I continued to build my understanding for production technology, I picked up cameras, lights, anything that I could learn in order to have a better understanding of shows. Now living in LA, I focus on my production business (Black Giraffe studios) a company and brand that is build to bring you immersive production experiences. Read more>>

Athena Demos

In 1996, I moved to Southern California to pursue a career in acting and modeling. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to work steadily and continue to do so. Early on, I worked for many years as a figurative art model. My likeness has been in museums, galleries and shows all over the world. More recently, I became involved in film production. I spent eight and a half years working for an Oscar award-winning documentary film company, Moriah Films, as their production manager. I was fortunate to be able to continue my acting, as well. During that same time, I increased my involvement in the Southern California Burning Man community. Within 15 years, I served as the Los Angeles regional contact producing festivals, orientations, and film festivals. I was a founder and producer of the LA Decompression Arts and Music Celebration in Downtown LA from 2002 to 2017 that allows hundreds of artists from the Burner community to showcase their art to the greater Los Angeles community. Read more>>

Sierra Nowak

I always knew I was an actress, when I was eight years old, I started putting on plays in my neighbor’s backyard. I had a fascination for telling stories, and creating characters allowed my imagination to run wild; at times providing a brief escape from reality. As a brief insight, I grew up in a “low income” neighborhood, my mother suffers from a mental illness, my father is a disabled veteran, and my brother was born with cerebral palsy. While the odds may have seemed stacked against me from a young age, I now am able to use all my childhood and life experiences to bring depth to my work. Acting became my therapeutic outlet. I began acting in school plays at the age of 11 and continued to participate in choir and drama club throughout high school. After high school, I didn’t really think acting could be a serious career for someone like myself. Also, I truly loved academia and knew I wanted to be the first person in my family to receive a college education (I could write a whole other story on the experience of being a first-generation college student). Read more>>

Charlotte Wilson

I started my business as a new entrepreneur out of my garage. I worked really hard to get him. Lots of struggle, disappointment but most importantly, I had and have faith. I’m totally blessed to hold the gift of skin gift from God. Read more>>

Manju Narmada Ulaganathan

I was born and raised in Southern part of India in the city of Chennai. I have an undergraduate degree in Manufacturing Engineering and a master’s degree in Geography from India as well. I moved to Los Angeles eight years ago following which I completed a master’s degree in Geography from Cal State Long Beach. However, my first daughter was born in 2016 post which I decided to take a break from academia to raise my child. My second daughter was born in 2020. I realized that it was very important for me to be there with my children during their childhood and decided not to take up a full time as I would do justice neither to the job nor the children. But during my stay at home endeavor, I tried not to just get stuck with the mundane. I tried my hand at yoga, jewelry, cake decorating, painting, etc. just to keep my sanity. Read more>>

Luke Shelton

I started playing music in junior high school. I played percussion in the orchestra, learning all about how to read music, and playing anything from the marimba and crash cymbals, to the timpani and jingle bells… Meanwhile, outside of school I was teaching myself how to play drums and occasionally taking lessons. I soon was dreaming to get good enough to play in a rock n roll band and eventually be able to tour the world! I got real into classic rock in the 8th grade. My favorite bands were becoming the likes of Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin… these bands would influence me heavily not just in music but in my entire existence. Reaching high school, I had continued to play drums everyday and furthermore expand my musical knowledge. I would spend most of my time listening to as many songs in the day that I could and trying to learn the drum parts to every song. Taking lessons at this point didn’t interest me very much. Read more>>

Sadaf Nezhad

My journey began with my father, who started his business- the first Persian restaurant in Orange County, CA. I was born into a life of food lovers and my passion for food and restaurants continued until I was able to work at my father’s restaurant and gain knowledge and experience and then ultimately open my own Restaurants in Los Angeles, under my own name- Sadaf Restaurant. Before I opened my own restaurants, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship and then my MBA with an emphasis in marketing. I went on to work for the hospitality industry for four years, gaining the 5-Star Customer Service training which would help me in my future businesses. Then, with the help of my father and uncle, I decided to open my first restaurant in Encino, CA in 2011. It was not easy starting a Persian restaurant in Los Angeles, where there were so many other successful restaurants, but like my dad taught me. Read more>>

Katie Hunter

I started specializing in pelvic health physical therapy (PT) in my last year of PT school. Upon receiving my Doctor of Physical Therapy, I worked for a large organization specializing in pelvic health in Orange County. I gained experience working with a variety of pelvic floor dysfunctions and decided I wanted to explore the small business world. I accepted a position with a small business in West LA who worked with a challenging part of this patient population. I gained invaluable knowledge and skills working with many mentors along the way. After seven years working in the field of pelvic health and motivation through the COVID-19 pandemic, I finally started my own private practice in Ventura County where I was born and raised. I fulfilled my dream of bringing pelvic floor PT to my community. Read more>>

Arielle Sanders

Several years ago, my husband, Jonathan, and I decided to adapt a new eating lifestyle: vegan. The switch from pescatarian to vegan was a huge leap for us. Neither of us knew many vegan recipes so we leaned on Pinterest for inspiration. At first, we made small changes with our meals. Instead of our weekly baked lemon pepper salmon, we opted in for baked cauliflower. Rather than having eggs with our banana pancakes, we scrambled up some tofu. As we started to learn more about how to shop for vegan food, what vegan alternatives existed, and how to cook with them, we wanted a way to document our new recipes for future reference and to share with our loved ones. Our recipes landed in multiple places: the Notes application in our phone, on random pieces of paper, and even in memory. To our surprise, there was one place in particular that would jump start our family business. Read more>>

Brandon Brown

Born and raised in Memphis, Brandon’s love of music started at a young age. Born of musical parents and in a spiritual family, Brandon became captivated by the sounds of the region. He began playing bass at 15 after hearing Victor Wooten’s cover of “Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder and never looked back. By age 19, Brandon was playing on the Academy Award-winning soundtrack for the movie Hustle and Flow and was the bassist for Isaac Hayes. He has since been credited with artists Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Black Eyes Peas, Boyz II Men, Fergie, PJ Morton, Chrisette Michele, Jessica Simpson, Keyshia Cole, and toured with American Idol (2010-2011). He has performed with artists on TV Shows such as The View, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Today Show, and Rock In Rio. Read more>>

Amandalee Rivera

Mandeigh is made for women of all shapes and sizes. Mandeigh is here to build confidence and analyze self-love while providing the best quality in each garment. I’ve always had the vision in become a Fashion Designer ever since I could remember. I enjoy keeping up with the trends while helping style others around me. I started designing a year ago and I absolutely love it! Growing up, I’ve always been into the fashion icons lifestyles and I’ve always dreamed of designing garments for myself but always for others. I believe my purpose is to give fashion a more meaningful definition. I believe fashion is the main source of express your daily mood with what type of garments you are wearing. Mandeigh will be build off of confidence and give out self-love with the quality that women all over will enjoy. Read more>>

Jack Kinyon

I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with visual storytelling, but five sounds pretty safe. Back then, Calvin and Hobbes and The FarSide ruled the Sunday papers. They introduced me to the idea that someone could make a living out of drawing. Imagine that! Before long, I was “borrowing” paper and pens from Dad’s home office and cutting off cardboard box flaps to make my own comic books. While the adventures of “Bob and Teeth” aren’t going to win any Eisner awards, they grew my love for drawing and encouraged me to keep telling stories. As the years passed, the storytelling bug kept biting. In middle and high school, my four brothers and I started our own comic company and sold original content to our neighborhood and church friends. In college, I became the school cartoonist and was privileged enough to illustrate a story of our school mascot. Upon graduating, I decided to pursue animation, eventually moving to LA to train as a background/environment artist. I love the idea of inanimate objects telling a story. Don’t ask me why. Read more>>

Candice Wenzel

Making elderberry syrup wasn’t what I went to college for, nor is it what I have my degrees in. I was actually an elementary school teacher and reading specialist for twelve years prior to starting the elderberry syrup journey. I absolutely loved my career and found it to be extremely rewarding! But, after dealing with infertility for over six years, my husband and I decided to move forward with IVF to get pregnant. Once I got pregnant, I decided to put teaching on pause and stay at home with Sweet Adeline. Little note – I used to sing “Sweet Caroline” to Adeline while I was pregnant with her. I changed Caroline to Adeline in the lyrics. The song is why I call Adeline “Sweet Adeline.” Anyway, becoming a mother inspired me to lead a holistic/clean life as much as possible, which lead to elderberry syrup. My massage therapist actually first told me about it. I started making it at home and began sharing it with my family and friends. Read more>>

Conrad Khalil

Honestly, going as far back as before Middle, I was fascinated with recreating scenes and photos I watched on TV and saw on MySpace. I had one of the tiniest Nikon point and shoot cameras ever and found a way to make images that had my family shocked by what they saw as a natural talent. Following me through my teen years, I went to Arts High, the first Performing Arts School in Newark, where I was always the kid with the camera. Fast forward to College, I sharpened my skills by using my friends as muses and found a way to monetize my gift in my community. It all made room for my transition to Los Angeles and the opportunities that have followed since. So grateful!. Read more>>

Helen Wright

Growing up, my father was in a bluegrass band and my mother was (and remains) a costume designer. I used to sit on her sewing room floor, roll around with the dogs, and listen to everything from Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell, Ricky Lee Jones, Steve Earle to Sondheim, Phillip Glass and Herbie Hancock – you name it. Between my dad’s weekly gigs and rehearsals and my mom’s creative nest – music was an essential element in everything my family did. Flash forward to 2014 – I was working as a production manager in New York and just felt like a huge part of me was missing, and I couldn’t quite place it. I used to sing with my father and in a couple of blues bands in high school. I realized that singing had always been a part of my life until then. At that time, I was battling some pretty severe health issues and had to return back to to my folk’s place in Sunland for medical treatment. Read more>>

Kayla Johnson

Aart by Kay was birthed in March 2019. Yes, that is the month that the effects of the pandemic begin to show on the majority of the world. To some, this was the beginning of decline or misfortune but to me, by the grace of God, it was the inception of a mutifacidid Fine Art business called Aart by Kay. My skills as an artist were first realized in my freshman year of high school. I can remember it being very easy for me to illustrate and paint things. I assume my art teacher could tell that I didn’t have to put much effort to accomplish beautiful artwork. From then on she always challenged me. And for that, I am grateful. I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art. My time in college was thankfully filled with multiple international trips that broadened my perspective of the world and my ability to impact it. This led me to have a heart for those most disadvantaged. Read more>>

Justin Chambers

I grew up in a small town where nothing ever happened and the idea of doing anything other than a traditional job was seen as so strange. Needless to say, I packed what I could fit in my car and put that town in my rearview and headed to LA. I’ve been making films since I was nine, being in entertainment is all I’ve ever wanted and frankly all I know. I can’t imagine being or doing anything else. No, it hasn’t been easy and in fact, it has been really really hard sometimes. But anyone who has ever succeeded in entertainment will never tell you it was easy. We’ve shed blood, sweat and tears to get where we are and I’m just thankful I have a career in film and can support my family while living out my dream!. Read more>>

Stefanie Nie

I grew up with my grandmother, having a traditional Indonesian upbringing with American values. At a young age, I always sat in the kitchen with her and watched her bake all of these delicious sweets such as Katetong and Spiku, which she always let me have a piece of here and there. Then starting at seven, I developed a passion for cooking that hasn’t stopped. I learned to cook a range of different foods besides Indonesian cuisine since my grandma was still cooking that at the time. I also wasn’t really interested in baking at that point. Eventually, while growing into early adulthood I realized I missed all of those Indonesian treats and overall food. The few Indonesian restaurants we had at the time just didn’t hit the bar compared to grandma’s cooking of course. When she stopped cooking, I asked her to teach me how to make everything she knows so that I could carry on. Read more>>

Danielle Fiers

I was raised in Baltimore, MD and found my love of music at an early age by singing in my church youth choir. Everyone would always be so shocked because my petite stature didn’t necessarily match the booming voice that came out of it. I was affectionally known as the “pint-sized powerhouse” and quickly added piano to my musical abilities, first taking lessons then solely playing by ear. I attended the alma-mater of Jada Pinkett-Smith and Tupac Shakur, the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts studying opera and being classically trained in voice to sing in French, German, Italian, and my native tongue English. After High School, I continued my musical training in college, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Music from Towson University, and obtained an internship turned career with the Number 1 Hip Hop and R&B Station in Baltimore, 92Q Jams. Read more>>

Kim Hopkins

It all started in New York when my mother took me on the subway one morning! Bert Stern, a very famous photographer saw me and thought I should be a model at three years old. Next thing you know, I was the first child on the cover of McCall’s Magazine, the big Christmas Issue! It was everywhere, the newsstands were plastered with the huge red magazine. Then Ivory Soap hired me to be an Ivory baby, it wasn’t long until I was the top child model making $25 an hour and working all the time. My mother kept me in the business until we moved to Los Angeles. At 18 years old, I went to Playboy Modeling Agency and met Judith Fontaine who would be my agent for the next seven years. Judith left Playboy and became The Fontaine Agency for most of that time. She procured me a contract to go to Japan for six months and kept me working regularly for that entire time. Read more>>

Yesenia Dominguez

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I received my Master of Arts degree in Social Work at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I’ve been working in the field of social work since 2010 in various roles including: case management, clinical social work for a nonprofit agency, emergency response in child protective services, dependency investigations in child protective services, school-based mental health services and mental health services at an outpatient medical clinic. I am proud to say that I am the daughter of immigrants and laborers. I’ve experienced depression, anger, frustration and anxiety, in part, due to the clash of both my Mexican roots and my American nationality. I was fortunate enough to find a therapist that related to my background and decided to open my private psychotherapy practice in order to help first-generation Latinx adults like me. I knew I could not be the only person struggling with similar issues and I felt empowered to help. Read more>>

Jaz Cotharn

I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I’m the oldest of four siblings, my parents had me at a young age so my childhood wasn’t like the average kids. I was taught to take care of things early, take risks, make big decisions, and work jobs to obtain income, nevertheless this is what made me who I am today. In middle school, I discovered that I was interested in Art, I taught myself how to draw. All through high school, I drew everything. I thought I wanted to be a tattoo artist, then I started taking graphic design classes in college and I thought I wanted to become a multimedia artist. However, I dropped out of college to take care of a family member who got sick with Cancer. At the time, life felt really dark.  About two years later, I was 22 and I moved to Los Angeles, California unexpectedly and somehow started a new life… I always wanted the feeling of actually living and existing in the world. I wanted to make an impact and have a successful future. Read more>>

Camalae Thomas

Since birth, I knew I had an affinity for art. In the early years, that manifested in the form of fashion. Searching for clothes on a high school budget while still trying to be more fly than the rest of the school. Fashion seemed like the only real outlet for art at the time. My surroundings and perspective helped shaped that skewed idea. High School had me thinking, my options were limited as I searched for a way to create my identity. “The Jock” (slightly above average athleticism wasn’t enough to make to the NBA) The “Cool guy” (what it took to be the cool guy at the time just felt ingenuine) so I went with the “Smart guy”. All that became important to me is to become successful. Success in my eyes was wealth. I went to Boston College for finance and ended up working for Banking of America in New York as a financial Analyst. I thought I was on the way to happiness. With each passing year, I become more vested in exploring my affinity for Art. I had just gotten out of a relationship. Read more>>

Mayam Lillard

I like to think of myself as a serial hobby finder or explorer. Professionally I’m a Senior Marketing Planner for Jafra Cosmetics, which pretty much entails planning monthly promotional offers across four different categories, coordinate with various parts of the business to implement marketing strategies, and I also do a lot of speaking/presenting to our consultants in regards to any “happenings” regarding marketing in the company. Outside of my professional life, I have a ton of varied interests and hobbies that I’m constantly looking for ways to share with others. I’ve hosted a pop-culture/lifestyle podcast with one of my best friends called “Homegirls From the Valley,” at the start of the COVID lockdowns in 2020, I started an Instagram handle called “quarantinefits” focused on everyone’s different fashion choices during the quarantine; whether it be one of the funny “business on top, pajamas on the bottom” Zoom meeting outfits, cool athleisure outfits, or just encouraging people to dress up at home solely to take photos. Read more>>

Allie Messineo

I’m a 32-year-old mom to two dynamic gals, Maddie Skye (9) and Abbie Luna (5). They inspired me to start my business. I have been employed by The Maggy Haves School, a local preschool, for approximately six years. I consider myself to be both creative and artsy and frequently peruse Pinterest to enjoy the beautiful photos of party decor and elaborate balloon designs. Each time I scrolled through the photos II thought to myself, “I wish I could do that!” A close friend organized a Grand Opening for her hair salon in February 2020 and I offered to design a balloon garland for the event. What better way to practice and get started? I assembled a simple garland which felt complicated back then. After numerous popped glitter-filled balloons, I eventually created a perfect garland and tied it across a large window with a TON of duct tape. Despite high winds that day, the garland survived! I felt accomplished and proud of myself. This experience made me realize that I possessed the skills and aptitude to start my own business and became excited about how much more I could learn. Read more>>

Wesley Charlton

After receiving my degree in dance from The Ohio State University, I moved to LA to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Moving here has presented many challenges and I’ve certainly experienced the highs and lows of living in Los Angeles. I’ve met lots of different people and I’m fortunate enough to have had some pretty cool experiences as well. I had goals set for myself when first moving here and I’m grateful that I have been able to accomplish some of them. I got signed to an agency, I’ve booked work with celebrities and a few local artists, I danced and traveled with a professional company, and now I’m crossing over into modeling, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Some of my goals have changed in the years that I’ve been here and I think that I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want in life. I’m grateful for how far I’ve come and I look forward to continued growth and new opportunities!. Read more>>

Ryan Lewis

I believe my story begins as most artist’s stories begin, with a pencil, paper and the will to create. From an early age, I knew I was tethered to the art world, and in turn it was tethered to me. My earliest creations—which I exhibited a little too proudly—consisted of doodles and poorly executed sketches, but they certainly lit the creative flame. Coupling that with encouraging parents, and I was on the artistic highway to some professional career involving creativity in all its forms. As I got older, I would love to say that one career path shone brightest, but I was the kind of pre-teen that jumped at every opportunity. I was basically the starved child at the all-you-can-eat buffet. No rules, no limits, just countless opportunities. The journey, despite appearing glamorous, was tumultuous at best. Read more>>

Ilisa Juried

From the time I could walk and talk, I was dancing and singing everywhere. I come from a very strong lineage of professional performers, so it was only natural that I would follow suit in my parent’s footsteps. I’m the daughter of Phyllis Juried (Broadway and television performer) and the late producer/composer and recording engineer Michael “Skip” Juried. My first production deal was with Jive Records/The Cornelius brother’s when I was 14 years old. From there, I worked with many different producers and labels to develop myself as an artist. During this time, I was also touring as a professional dancer for Missy Elliott, City High and Busta Rhymes. In 2007, I was a member of the Pussycat Dolls: Girlicious TV show and from there everything changed with my career. Signed to Interscope/Geffen Records, followed by Can I Ball Records (Nick Cannon), I have had the opportunity to work with some of the greats. Read more>>

Danielle Sappleton

I was born on the little island of Jamaica in the 90s. My father is a chemical engineer and my mother is a stay-at-home mom and I have an older sister, four years older than me. My sister was and is still my first best friend. My mother dressed us like twins in the 90s (just imagine the outfits). Till this day, we are closer than ever and my sister is truly my rock. My family had a great life in Jamaica because my Dad was an engineer at the top of his field. We have a big family, my mother is 1 of 6, and my dad is 1 of 9 siblings. So I grew up in a house filled with aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. I was steeped in my Jamaican community, culture, food, proverbs, etc., and felt such joy at this point in my childhood. My sister and I often jokingly refer to this as the “before times.” Read more>>

Ana Mero

I always knew I wanted to be in the Fashion Industry from an early age, but when the time came to “get serious” after graduating high school, I pushed aside my dreams in an attempt to earn a “respectable career.” I didn’t feel supported in following my dreams of becoming a designer, in fact someone very close to me said, “I don’t think you have that ‘special’ something,” and the worst part is, I believed them. So I began my journey in college studying Political Science and don’t get me wrong, I liked being a Latina in politics because I felt I could help people, but I didn’t feel complete. I felt like I was just pursuing someone else’s dream for me. After my first semester, I was already exceeding in my academic goals and was even accepted to transfer to UCLA to continue my education. That same semester I found out I was pregnant with my son. I felt like I disappointed everyone around me for becoming a young mom and felt I had to strive even harder to be a “respectable woman” (because unfortunately being a young mom comes with labels and stereotypes). Read more>>

Tania Banegas

CocoKnots Studio started as a combination of a lot of terrible things that happened in my life years ago. Both my adoptive and biological fathers passed away suddenly, I was working a job full of awful people, I was grieving and felt very depressed, but had an urge to fill the void. One day, I was talking to a friend about creating art, but not photography or painting because I thought that market is very saturated, so I started experimenting with fiber art. I started creating small pieces with yarn, then learned macrame and now I make a combination of the two. Fiber art has become my therapy. It soothes my anxiety and teaches me the art of patience. I see it now as a form of self-care. Read more>>

Judy Rosenberg

Director of the Psychological Healing Center, author of Be The Cause: Healing Human Disconnect, and creator of the Be the Cause: Mind Map system. I have been in the mental health field since 1980, helping people to quit smoking and lose weight through a clinic I created called Habit Breakers. I did my undergraduate studies at UCLA and went back to school to receive a Master’s and a PhD in clinical psychology at the California Institute of Psychology. I’ve always been interested in paradigm-shifting people out of mental dis-ease. With a particular interest in my studies of Kabbalah, I was inspired to create a pathway to healing global disconnect. This is where I came up with the Be The Cause Mind Map System, which was originally intended to be a global project called “Join the Human Race, Healing Global Disconnect”, and then became my psychological blueprint for therapy. The system of healing I created has been applied to several thousand people at this time, with remarkable success. Read more>>

Nigel Tierney

I was raised on a farm in rural Kilkenny, Ireland, but have always had an obsession with American culture, especially when it came to animation. When I saw Shrek in the cinema as a teenager, I told my friends that I wanted to do that, not really knowing what “that” was. Although my dream was to make cartoons, I was faced with the reality that I was a rubbish artist. My academic strengths always leaned towards mathematics and science, albeit barely. And thanks to the flexibility of swapping majors back and forth to validate my lack of artistic acumen, I settled on leaning into my strengths and studying computer science at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth. I lasted a year at Maynooth, before a brief and memorable summer abroad working on a J1 visa as a walking Irish stereotype in the Irish toy shop in Busch Gardens, Williamsburg Virginia, I knew America was the place for me! I came back from the US, immediately dropped out of NUI Maynooth and moved to Norfolk, Virginia to attend Tidewater Community College and after settling into the hustle of American life by transferring to Old Dominion University. Read more>>

Adam Aguilar

I began shooting in middle school, but only to keep memories of friends as we left for different schools. Sometime during my teen years, I had an epiphany on how photography can be art – as effective as paintings and sculpture. I guess my introduction to cameras and photographs were family, friend and memory oriented so it was a sudden turn. Since then, all my decisions have been photo-related. I’m happy to say that it’s still a fun and wild ride to have passion, creativity and art be the driving force. Read more>>


I started pole dancing in 2014. I always wanted to try it but like many, was scared. A group of friends found a groupon for $7 classes so I figured, what do I have to lose for such a great deal! I took my first class and had a blast! It was such a fun, sexy and amazing workout. That night I was so sore that I could barely pick my infant up (luckily mom was in town helping out, lol). I was immediately hooked. I was so surprised at the strength it took. I wasn’t even aware that I was struggling with embracing my sensual, feminine side and I enjoyed that pole dancing was bringing that out of me. As I continued with it, I found out that there were pole sports competitions. This spoke to the ex-athlete, competitor in me. I went on to enter my first three competitions and took 1st place in each one of them. That’s when I knew I had a gift that I needed to share with the world as a plus-size pole dance instructor. In 2020, I became an instructor and immediately caught the attention of popular Instagram pages like The Shade Room, Plus Size Is Beauty, and BecomingJai (of Dear Skinny Friend). It has been an incredible ride since then. Read more>>

Marissa Greenband

I loved doing a variety of arts and crafts growing up in Sonoma County, CA. I went on to college and graduate school, and the creative side of me took a backseat while I completed my education. And then, one holiday season I made my first batch of repurposed glass bottle candles as holiday gifts for family and friends, and they were a hit. For me, they were a journey back to my creative expression, an outlet I didn’t know I needed until I happened upon it. Things snowballed from there, and as a young woman in my early 20’s looking to establish myself financially, I saw the opportunity to create my own business doing something I loved and was extremely passionate about. For about a year after that first batch of candles, I made as holiday gifts, I tested, planned, and practiced my craft. And during that year, I also adopted two very loving kitties – Fish & Chip. Read more>>

Marisa Avitia

I grew up in a small farm town in Central California. I’ve always been fascinated with filmmaking. I was always using my family camcorder any chance I could. Including recording over family trips. Oops. One of my life-changing memories was my family vacation in Mexico when I was 10. We went to Fox Studios Baja in Rosarito. The studio is known for its massive water tank right on the beach, and this is where they filmed Titanic at. Some of the sets were still set up, and half the boat was still set for pictures. We took photos on the bow of the ship and did the iconic pose. It was very surreal to be on the boat with the history of the film. A couple of sets from Titanic were still set up, and we recreated the scene in the elevator where the water rises. We got to see the movie magic at play. Planet of the Apes was also filmed there, and we got to go on the sets. This was my first taste of creating, and I knew I wanted to make movies from that moment. I went on to create movies with friends and family. Read more>>

Lainey Elizabeth White

The moment when I can remember the violin really speaking to me was when I was nine years old. I attended a “Celtic Christmas” concert at our local college and I remember there were these two fiddle girls who performed a very “Lord of the Dance” type Celtic dueling violin piece in these really badass leather outfits and I was just in absolute awe of the sound and the performance. It was also around this time when I had started to develop a very unique taste in music and was obsessed with all kinds of soundtracks, particularly James Newton Howards’ soundtrack for the 2003 remake of Peter Pan as well as music from The Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Dances with Wolves, Star Wars, Harry Potter and so many more. It was especially odd because I would listen to soundtracks for movies that I was not yet old enough to see! Anyway, after this concert, my mom noticed my interest in the violin and this type of music and she did what all great moms do; she signed me up for violin lessons with a local music teacher. Read more>>

Tara Nery

I always knew I wanted to help make people feel beautiful. I originally wanted to be a dentist, but after working on a dental office, I knew that wasn’t the career choice for me. At the age of eighteen, I started working in the hospitality industry. I always came to work with a full face of makeup on and that’s where I got the nickname of Tara Mascara. In my early twenties, I worked for the Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Doheny drive. There I worked directly with celebrities and entertainment people because that hotel was the number one hotel for press junkets. While I was working there, I met celebrity make-up artist Sam Fine. He gave me the best compliment by saying I did a beautiful Smokey eye that day. His words inspired me to go to make-up school so I can work as a professional makeup artist as well. I worked the overnight shift at the hotel from 11pm-7am and then attending school at Make-up designing from 8am-5pm. I met my mentor Jackie Mgido and immediately started working for Food Network and HGTV. Read more>>

Jah Darkod

Ever since I was little, I’ve always been inquisitive. When I was around 3 or 4 years old, I remember asking questions like “Why are we here?” or “Why do we only see one side of the moon every night?”. That curiosity grew as I got older. My interests then shifted to people. I started asking myself “Why do people react to words the way they do?” or “Why do people react this way when this song comes on the radio?” By the time I was 7, I had realized that nothing else created the type of atmosphere or emotion that music did. I wanted to create my own version of that. Something that people can resonate with relate to, and confide in. I had multiple family members who had studio equipment so when I was in 6th grade, I started recording my own songs. Not releasing much music but mainly spending the time perfecting my craft until around 10th grade. Around that time, I started building a regional buzz in my hometown – Montgomery County, MD. Read more>>

Luz and Caleb Fielding

Nostalgic Glory started after watching too many episodes of flea market flip and fixer-upper! We experimented with repurposing and restoring old furniture and went to the long beach antique flea market to see how our new creations would sell. Well, we practically sold out! We loved every part of it; that is where the idea of bringing glory to nostalgic pieces started. We continued to hunt for furniture with good bones and transformed them until we decided to get married. Furniture took a pause and we began to diy our wedding. Caleb built our wedding arch, he cut wood for wood signs, we continued to go to antique flea markets for nostalgic pieces to add to our wedding. We loved building and creating our own wood signs and loved the idea of being able to customize them to our personality. We started with basic stained wood, vinyl, our trusty Silhouette Cameo cutter, and paint. We created and created and created, after about a year, we decided to teach our craft through diy workshops. Read more>>

Renard Cheren

I’m 25 years old from Palm Beach, FL. I started my journey in the film industry in High School by making my teammate’s highlight tapes and filming dance videos around the school. Filming took a back seat while I was able to earn a scholarship to Northern Illinois University for football and studied media. As I was playing, I started to make several of mine and my teammate’s highlights on the side. This becomes a normal thing and after each season, I continued that path of making videos for the team while also playing. During my Junior year of college, I purchased my first Drone and started filming drone videos for local companies and a city near the Campus during my free time. Later that year, I got injured and suffered my 5th conclusion; I went on a medical scholarship (which meant I could no longer play but was still on scholarship and going to school for free). From here, I took my film journey to another level and began filming weddings, editing, and freelancing for several different media companies. Read more>>

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