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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.

Hannah Grushkowsky

Nursing became my desired career path after experiencing the caregiver role first hand with my mother who had terminal cancer. She was 58 years old and never had a colonoscopy. She died 3 months later of stage 4 colon cancer. While she was ill, I ensured that she had physical therapy, that books were read to her, and that she maintained her positive attitude. My mother was, in fact, my very first nursing patient. However, that experience alone was not the only force driving me into the healthcare profession.  Read more>>

Genesis Andino

Ever since I could remember I’ve been obsessed with the art of transformation. I’ve always viewed my face as a canvas and I can design whatever I wanted on it. I remember being in 7th grade and teaching myself how to wing my eyeliner. When I finally got it down, I felt like no one could tell me anything. It went from that to experimenting with eyeshadow and eventually my canvas was being transformed every day of the week. It took me a long time to realize that I don’t need an event to do my makeup, I can just do it for fun because I feel like it. That was when my page started. Read more>>

Melanie Cristescu

I became obsessed with makeup as a little girl. I used to watch my mother get ready every day as if it was a red carpet event. Even though I knew it was off-limits, I would sneak out of bed and play with her makeup as young as five years old. I was just so mesmerized by the transformation and how glamorous it made her look. As a self-educated makeup artist, I started renting videos, borrowing books from the library, and devouring fashion magazines to learn everything I could about beauty. A habit even to this day. Read more>>

Connor Ahlstrom

I started experimenting with music production on Garage Band when I was 11 years old. I had been taking piano lessons for a couple years and wanted a way to expand on the ideas and songs that I had. I later upgraded to Logic Pro X when I was 15 and started working with friends and classmates at my high school. When it came time to start looking at colleges, I initially had plans of getting a business degree. I had been accepted to Berklee College of Music but was debating on if I wanted to take the risk of getting a music degree or take the more traditional “safe route”.  Read more>>

Dani Van Buren

I came to LA in 2007 pursuing a makeup career, and attended MUD in Burbank. I fell in love with doing hair during my short hairstyling portfolio class there! My teacher advised I go to cosmetology school. Five years (and countless odd jobs I hated) later, I finally attended cosmo school at Toni&Guy and never looked back! I knew that shears and a brush belonged in my hands. It actually wasn’t until a few years after that I started experimenting with wild colors, and my love for hair grew even more! I love how far I’ve come the last 9 years! Read more>>

Jodi Watson

I am a native of Jamaica and migrated to Florida at the age of 5 with my mom and sister. I grew up in church where I met my best-friend, now spouse, a the age of 9. My husband, my mom, and my sister are the biggest supporters in my life and career story. At a very tender age, I had a calling to be in healthcare, specifically women’s health. I observed the women in my family, the matriarchs, nurture and take care of everyone and in many cases denied and delayed there goals, needs, and desires. Read more>>

Shalisa Chamberlain

Furry Faces Holistic CBD came about through a very personal journey. I’ve worked in the veterinary field most of my life. in 2008, I was brutally kicked by a horse while providing veterinary care. The accident left me with massive physical limitations, debilitating pain, depression, and anxiety. To treat all of my symptoms, doctors placed me on a multitude of medications. All these medications had many side effects. Making it almost impossible to function and stay in good health. My doctors kept giving me more and more medications to combat these side effects. Read more>>

Reed Lawrence

I’m not sure how to begin describing my story without going back to the beginning, because all of the pieces appear to fit together like a puzzle. I was born in Forest Grove, Oregon, 30 minutes west of Portland In a birthing cabin. My mother and I returned to central Oregon, and I continued to grow wild and free. Around the age of ten, I began skateboarding, which would become one of the most important escapes and influences in my life. Read more>>

Yeranoui ‘Noui’ Dzhigneyan

Movement always was and will continue to be a large part of my life. I spent my childhood years alternating between gymnastics and swimming classes every day after school. The balance between school, work, and sports began at an early age but it never felt like a chore because I truly enjoyed it. A few years later, I started dance lessons and immediately fell in love. Dance allowed me to express myself in ways I didn’t know was possible. It gave me the opportunity to not only form life long friendships but to also discover new cultures. Read more>>

Adrianna Gurrola

I’ve been in the housing industry since 2006. I worked for a temporary housing company for a few years before transitioning over to permanent residential/commercial. The transition was easy as it was all very relevant and built my business on the relationships I created over the years. Finding a home is a huge deal, every family and every transaction is different so I also pride myself on truly getting to know the needs of my clients and executing. We become family in the end you they are stuck with me! Trust, value and sincerity are also important. People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust and that has seemed to work for me. Read more>>

Ani Shaboyan

My journey to this point in my career has been everything all at once. It has been exciting, nerve-wrecking, draining, and yet extremely empowering. I am in fact still on this journey to discovering myself and seeing myself in the world of makeup. I’m in fact not a professionally trained /educated makeup artist, on the contrary, my educational background is in public health. I think it took me some time to accept myself as the artist that I am – I am in constant need to express myself through art. Makeup has been the most sincere outlet for me because it allows me to connect with my clients, encourage them to feel their best self and create everlasting memories. Read more>>

Renee Pulve

Art has always been a life-long interest and passion of mine. While taking a drafting class in high school, my Industrial Arts teacher Mr. Wunderley suggested I consider pursuing a path in the design industry. I loved the attention to detail drafting had taught me along with the block style lettering techniques. These words of encouragement led me to follow my passion and further my artistic kills by attending college. Read more>>

Kristine Kimmel Danielle Koenig

Danielle and Kristine first met in 2008 as comedy writers on the television show “The Dish.” They quickly bonded over their love of classic sitcoms, intense anxiety, and Diet Coke. Over the years of their friendship, they longed to collaborate on a creative project together, but work schedules and parenting small children kept them from fulfilling this dream. The pandemic gave them a chance to re-connect creatively. In October of 2021, the comedy podcast “How to Survive With Danielle & Kristine,” was born. Read more>>

Grant Crocker

I moved to Los Angeles on September 1st, 2020. It was mid-pandemic and I recently graduated from Webster University with a bachelors in screenwriting. I booked an Airbnb, packed my car, and said goodbye to my entire life. It was exciting getting to start over, the idea felt fresh and I was ready to accomplish my professional goals. That’s until, well, I was about 6 hours into the car ride. I broke down. “Am I making a mistake?” Read more>>

Evan Rashby

My whole life has centered around music and movies. If I wasn’t writing songs or trying new instruments, my time was spent in the halls of Hogwarts, or up on the hill with Mr. Scissorhands. I cannot imagine my life without these two passions. I grew up playing and writing music in an array of genres because I was never fully satisfied with one. In the midst of my music, I created a plethora of silly home videos that were loosely based on my favorite films as a child. It wasn’t until my last year of high school that I found myself in the perfect blend of these two worlds. I discovered the life of a film composer. Read more>>

Kelvin Kaoz

I started out playing guitar when I was 11. I was entirely self taught until I took lessons at Los Angeles Valley College when I was about 18. I learned about music and the music industry (how to start your own brand and publishing company) then I received a scholarship to study with the president of the GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) at Loyola Marymount university where I graduated with a degree in Classical Guitar Performance. From there I sold antique guitars for about two years then I taught at various schools for a bit. I created my performance platform Alternative Kaoz to fill a need for all the friends I have that are excellent musicians and performers but don’t have a place to express their true artistry. It has since organically grown to include elements of esoteric information and kink. Read more>>

Josh Morrow

I came up with the idea of Sliders Bakery and Ice Cream Factory about 5 years ago. I had always been a creator of sorts with a various of things in my life. I had been churning my own ice cream for the better part of a decade for my friends and family, I would often here the same response “You should do this for a living”. I have a food industry background in various facets that range from chef, bar and waiting. The seed was planted and my best friend and I (whom has always been a big encouragement in my life) began to discuss the venture from A-Z, how to’s and where to’s. Read more>>

Marcos Justo

I’ve been a horror film fan as long as I can remember. Many people found that very unusual when I was younger, but with the encouragement of my parents and a few great teachers, exploring my interests has led to a very unique and fun life here in the So. Cal. horror loving community. I began cosplaying at horror conventions at 8 years old, winning the Best Costume trophy at my first Monsterpalooza in 2019. That same year, I became involved with Motion Picture FX Company’s Monster Kids Club. MPFX is a leading supplier of special effects make-up to the film industry. Monster Club Kids matches kids like me with industry leaders as
mentors in all aspects of Horror Film Special Effects and Movie Making. Read more>>

KeKe Montoya

My love and passion for event planning started 21 years ago when I was planning my son’s first birthday party. Shortly after, my family and friends began asking me for help to plan special events of their own. In 2011 one of my clients suggested I start my own business as an event planner. I gave it some thought and figured why not me? All of the self doubt started to kick in because I am not a college graduate. I literally worked two jobs during my Senior year in High School. My mother was a single parent raising me and my two siblings so I made it a point to give her the bigger of my two checks to help out with whatever she needed and I kept the smaller check for myself. Read more>>

Xinhui Ma

I grew up in China, and had asthma as a kid, due to the general lack of sportiness I was always really into reading, the hunger for stories and adventures had kept me turning the pages. Then in middle school, I discovered the visual side of storytelling and took inspiration from animations and movies, I started drawing comics and become more serious about pursuing animation as a career, so I can tell my own stories. I moved to America and studied animation at the School of Visual Arts, my graduation film Filla’ Void won several awards and was screened internationally which got me started in the industry, now I’m working as a 2d Animator and designer for clients like MTV, Giphy, Pepsi Co. Read more>>

Jermaine Moses

I was born into a music-loving family of creatives. Raised in church, he had a healthy diet of gospel artists such as Donnie Mcclurkin, Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, and Fred Hammond as the musical backdrop of my youth. Between my friends at school and some of my cousins, I began getting exposed to other genres – R&B artists like Montell Jordan, Aaliyah and Brandy, as well as hip-hop artists like Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, and Jay-Z. Growing up I was surrounded by art – it was just a matter of time until I found a creative path of my own. Poetry was the first way I learned to express myself and my thoughts/feelings, and was a comfort throughout my adolescent years as I grew. Read more>>

Suzy Espinoza

Hello! My name is Suzy & I’ve been doing hair for 12 years, but it feels like I’ve been doing hair since I was a baby. My barbie dolls were my first ‘clients’; However, it never crossed my mind as doing it as a career until I was a freshman in high school. I was just looking for an escape & that’s what lead me to Cosmetology. I was bullied basically my entire life and it seemed to get really bad and frustrating during my freshman year. I went to my school counselor and asked her what my options were to leave my high school. She told me I could A) Move to another town B) pay for a private school or C) apply for a vocational school that I could attend but only for half the day. Read more>>

Iman Drummond

Let’s start by saying, I’ve always had a thing for books. You can find me in a bookstore curled up reading and looking through titles, so it only makes sense that I would one day become an Author. When I decided to take the leap into “author-land”, I honestly wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go but knew I was in motion. Then, in 2016 my nephew arrived, and he changed me. We would read books together before bed, learn together and when he got older, he would always ask me “Auntie Iman, what are you doing? Are you talking to your work friends?” And from there, I told myself I would write a book for him so he knows what Auntie does but also has something he can learn from. Read more>>

Isabella Sementilli

Well, it starts when I dropped out of community college to pursue a career in hair! My dad was a hairstylist and I saw how much he loved his job so I wanted to give it a shot! Turns out-I love it too! I found myself begging my friends to let me style their hair and take pictures for my portfolio and instagram feed, but the photos weren’t just about the hair. I would make full on photoshoot productions in my house and would try everything from retro 60’s hair, trendy 00’s hair, and even dressing my friend up like a bride to practice wedding styles. Read more>>

Sophie Arrick-Lewis

I was born and raised in NYC to an actor mother and director father, so I was doomed to be an actor from the very start. Although I wanted to work professionally when I was a child, my parents, knowing how truly difficult a career in the arts can be, insisted on me being a “regular kid”. By the time I was 18 and hadn’t budged in my choice of paths, I had their full support. Read more>>

Patience Owusu-Ofori

Right now I am a photographer by day and a video editor and podcaster all day. The plan for my future did not start off that way. I was on a path to do something in science. I am a first generation Ghanaian-American. Like most first generation Americans, my parents instilled in my siblings and I, from a very young age, that our career path should be in math, science, or something government related. Any other career will give you a life filled with struggles. Read more>>

Jeremy Brieske

I started playing drums in middle school and played in bands throughout high school and college, and into my 20s. I never really considered a career as a musician, so after college I started working in marketing for musical instrument manufacturers. I always seemed to have a knack for product development, and I felt like someday I’d like to start my own company. Fast forward to 2013, I started thinking about drumming products. At the time, there were dozens of talented builders making high end drums, cymbals and accessories. Almost every category had at least one company making really beautiful, high end drum products. One glaring exception was bass drum beaters. This was the realization that eventually turned into Low Boy Custom Beaters. Read more>>

Adam Mays

Comics n Chaos origin story is pretty simple. In 2020 talented and hard working promoters got together and tried to create something unique and fun! Maggi Mayfield met Adam Mays at an Open Mic serendipitously in North Hollywood. Maggie Mayfields background is being a disc jocky for LA’s KOST 103.5 & a Stand Up Comedian, Adam Mays’s background is being a promoter of rock bands in Los Angeles and Hollywood including venues The Bourbon Room & The Last Call in Tarzana. Tim Vest became apart of the team when Adam and Tim got together and discussed the future of the punk scene in LA & Tim did not disappoint with what he brought to the table which included bring founding members of The Circle Jerks Zander Schloss on acoustic and Greg Hetson DJING for our first show. Read more>>

Gabriel Bocanegra

I was born in a small, typical, middle class neighborhood in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla, Colombia. The expectation for Colombians is that you either dance or play music, whether in school or in the streets of the city for our annual Carnaval. It was during my childhood that I developed a deep passion for music thanks to the guitar. Read more>>

Amber Hopson

I grew up in Compton California in a single parent household. I was heavily Influenced by the hip-hop scene in the late 80s and became a rapper. In the mid 90’s, I was in an all female rap group called Da 5footaz which signed to Warren G’s production company called G-funk. I had the opportunity to tour all around the world and record songs for movie soundtracks. We also recorded a finished album. While our project was on hiatus, I had to apply for welfare in order to take care of my two-year-old son. The struggle was real but I ended up working at a hair salon braiding hair still waiting for our album to come out. Read more>>

Kierra Khan

My name is Kierra Khan. I am a model, actress and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, CA. I feel in love with Los Angeles at 18. I can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. As a creative, I am someone who is really passionate about creating art that makes someone feel heard or seen. I like to tell untold stories. It’s fun to look at a story from every angle and find an unexpected perspective in it. I recently have become really passionate about helping overs live their wildest dreams. Read more>>

Margaret Williamson

Currently in the role of CEO for PRSVR, I come from a background of marketing and promotions having run Nightclubs, and Comedy Clubs in The Midwest. My experience in those fields allowed for me to manage the lifestyle and the relationships between PRSVR and our clients. With the brand, I was able to establish a new Designer, and build a business around he and his family. It is a bit contained, but intentionally so..it is difficult to build a brand. Especially one that is establishing such new ideas that may take time to start selling. We have been able to grow as an artist, and also as an example on how to progress and build on an idea..we started at the bottom. Read more>>

Annaliza

I started working for Christian Dior cosmetics in college. I went on to work as a Regional Event Planner and Account Executive for Clinique and Account Executive for Avon, beComing Cosmetics, Account Manager for Dermalogica, Sale Manager for Thibiant Beverly Hills before consulting medical spa and businesses in the Health and Beauty Industry. After years of consulting I obtained my esthetician license and opened my own practice. Read more>>

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