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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.

Jessica Rotter

I have been singing since I was a little girl. I sang professionally for movies/tv shows/etc. From the young age of four! I studied opera and went to school for that but ultimately that lifestyle wasn’t what I saw myself having for the rest of my life. I had started songwriting in high school and then finally got up the courage to share my own music in college. Once I learned how to merge my creativity with my vocal abilities, I found something I really love. I released an album as a soloist and then formed my trio JEMS. We are still together, writing and performing and recording our second album. I am currently working on my first album as my new project Monsterra. I’m excited to put out some new solo music in 2022! Read more>>

Michael Castaneda

My journey as a photographer began on my move from Florida to California. I was never a nature person, yet on that trip I saw parts of this planet that simply amazed me. I only had a cell phone at the time but I knew I wanted to capture what I was witnessing for all others to see. I bought my first camera not much longer after that and the rest has been a never ending road trip that is constantly evolving. Read more>>

Gerard George

I started my company back in 2018. I had no idea what I was doing and was pressured into creating it. However, that’s another story for a different day. My journey to where I am today was disorganized and accidental but completely necessary. I originally graduated with a B.A. in Psychology and landed my first job working in a pleasant organization that traded small securities (stocks). I knew early on that this wasn’t the place for me. On the day I got promoted, I handed in my two-week notice in exchange for interning at a theatrical booking agency, where I learned an insurmountable amount of information about the entertainment industry. Read more>>

Kristy Li

EXP Gained was conceptualized from the idea that life is an adventure and our experiences define who we are. EXP is an abbreviation for ‘experience’ and experience gained is inspired by the video game concept of the hero’s journey of gaining experience to level up which we find applicable to everyday life. We built the brand and created art to celebrate the experiences of others (heroes/customers we meet along our own art journey). Although the brand is based on a nerdy concept, we felt these concepts are applicable towards everyday life as well since everyone has goals they are striving towards everyday whether they be menial tasks to large milestones. Read more>>

Marguerite Nesteruk

I spent my childhood and formative years exploring the woodlands, meadows, and gardens of Long Island, NY, & developed an early, heartfelt passion for the natural world. As an adult, I nurtured and transferred this passion into my professional life. Upon graduating from Parson’s School of Design in NYC in 2006, I set off for a year on a work-holiday visa in New Zealand. It was in New Zealand – amidst the organic farms, local vineyards, and verdant plains and mountains — that I realized I wanted to dedicate my life and work to Mother Earth and the natural world. Read more>>

Randi Liberman

Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, I was a very active kid, playing on many sports teams, attending summer camp and most of all, ALWAYS dancing. As far back as I can remember, dance has been a part of my life; from running around my living room performing for my dad’s video camera to taking classes in my after school program, to eventually training in my craft every day of the week. As a kid, my mom tried to put me into technical classes like ballet, tap and jazz although I was not interested and opted into a class called something like “Funky Steps” instead. I believe my little heart knew what it was waiting for, and when Hip Hop classes came around at the age of 15, I knew I had found my true passion in dance. Read more>>

Casey Weitzman

I started as a film major at UCSB because my dad was in the entertainment business. After five years in the industry, I realized that my heart wasn’t in it and I decided to go to therapy school. I was not encouraged or supported by my family but decided to do it anyway. I started my career in the foster care system and ended up working as the Director of Foster Care at a gay and lesbian agency where we placed babies and children, infant to 17 years old, with gay and lesbian parents. This was in the late 80s/early 90s when it was not yet readily accepted. That was a huge challenge and I was very excited to be a part of something so groundbreaking and life-changing.  Read more>>

Julie Fernandez

It is because of my own personal experiences that I can show up authentically and support my clients on their own healing journey. Since my earliest memories, my life was filled with abuse – sexual, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I spent my entire adolescence suffering from trauma and its symptoms including depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders along with all it was accompanied by including shame, feelings of unworthiness, unlovability, disempowerment and an unshakable feeling of being stuck in my own body. It’s no surprise then that the cycle of abuse led me to unhealthy and abusive relationships later on in life and an inability to trust or feel safe in my body or the world. Read more>>

Steve Delgado

So I now started to be an Actor – Towards the end of my Senior Year in High School back in 2013, I was thinking about what should I do? Originally, the plan was to be a professional basketball player. I loved it so much, I played since I was five years old. During Senior year, a lot of things happened, and one of them was I fell out of love playing the game. It didn’t feel same anymore. Also going thru a breakup was a factor in that. So after I graduated, I went to look for stuff for acting, and I was living in Las Vegas at the time. The hardest part for me was the beginning because I didn’t know how to start. My brother saw something for acting classes and he passed along to me, and I figured that’s the route I should go on. Education and training is always important, I always value the craft. So I went to the school and learned the basics, I met my first Casting Director Jeffery Gafner, who was incredibly generous with his knowledge and extremely nice. Read more>>

Megan Stys

I am originally from Michigan but have been living in Los Angeles for almost seven years now. I started performing at a young age, I spent most of my free time in dance studios or in after school theatre programs. One of my first performing jobs was with Radio Disney. After high school, I packed up my things and moved to Los Angeles. Now I actively work as a singer, actor and dancer. I love singing live in front of an audience with a band or bringing a story to life through live theatre. Not only do I perform live but I also enjoy working On-Screen as well. Read more>>

Sharar Ali-Speakes

All my life, I played basketball and solely defined myself as an athlete. My dream was to always play pro, but one day I was no longer settled in wanting to be an athlete. I knew that I wanted to dig more into my creative side, but not entirely sure what else I could be talented in. Prior to exploring acting, I only have done two to three commercials and two were National commercials. My success in acting and push into at least “trying it” is due to my mom Bernadette Speakes. I was able to discover a new passion because she encouraged me and believed in me. My entire family has supported me throughout all the way and madness of self-tapes. Read more>>

Cammie Tolleshaug

I went to my first hip-hop class when I was ten years old. At the time, I was on a competitive gymnastics team and in our gym they would always be playing music. My teammate noticed how I would always “groove” to the songs while waiting for my turn on the beam or the bars, etc. and she invited me to her dance class she took at a studio down the street. So naturally, I’ve always been dancing, and I come from a very musical family, but this was my first structured experience. Once I started, I fell in love. And the grooving to background music has not changed. Grocery store freestyling anyone? No, just me? Read more>>

Joseph Metcalfe

Music has a funny way of finding us. It found me as a three years old, desperately wanting to learn the piano from my older brother, who told me that if I played the piano before I was eight, except for E & F above middle C, then a dragon would come out of the top of the piano and eat me. Naturally, I believed him. Who wouldn’t? One day when my siblings were in school and I was bored at home, I decided I wanted to see a dragon. I sat on the edge of my piano stool and hit a random note and ran out of the room fully expecting to see a dragon behind me. Read more>>

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