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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.

Artur Menezes

Artur Menezes is taking the blues rock scene by storm! As a highly energetic guitarist, singer and songwriter, Art impresses the crowds with his feeling and showmanship. Although very much influenced by blues, he crosses genres with psychedelic rock, funk and brazilian rhythms such as “baião”, creating his own voice and sound, which has been attracting younger audiences and helping to keep the blues alive. Read more>>

 Sean Elayda

I was introduced to the real world of advertising at a very young age. At eleven years old my Dad would frequently take me and my brother to major commercial shoots and expose us to all the controlled chaos behind the scenes.
As a young teenager I started working as a Production Assistant on any job I could find. I was excited to start working in production in any capacity I could. I decided to save and buy a Canon 5D Mark II when I was eighteen years old and began experimenting on my own with making basic interview content for local car dealerships. A few years later I was producing national and international airing broadcast advertisements for Perricone MD, Scopely and other beauty and wellness brands. Read more>>

Jaden LeBel

My story begins… lol could you imagine? I started my career as a writer by working in a bar at night and writing comic book reviews by later night. Eventually someone over at an entertainment company asked me if i’d want to join a bi-weekly panel where i’d come on and debate nerdy stuff like Batman vs Superman or who would win in a fight between Green Lantern or the Hulk, the Hulk every time obviously. Read more>>

Jesus Molina

I started when I was 4 years old, my grandmother gave me a little piano when I was a kid, they said I was playing happy birthday and other melodies without having any knowledge or anything. My mother took me to church and I’m so grateful with her for being the tool God brought to my life and encourage me to doing music without having any musician in my family. I’m the first one. Right now I am honored to be playing everywhere in the world representing God and representing my country! God is good!!! Read more>>

Kesha Alexander

It has been my dream to care for the elderly since I was a young girl. I grew up watching my family care for my great grandfather who lived with Alzheimer’s. It was such a struggle keeping him safe, happy and stimulated. My Aunt and Mom would take turns staying the night to assist my great grandmother in caring for him. I also remember the wonderful time we had playing and running around their large backyard and the amazing stories they told me. The relationship I had with my great grandparents sparked the love and respect I have for our seniors. I knew at a young age that I needed to work with the elderly, I just didn’t know exactly how. In College I met someone who had multiple care facilities and that is when I realized how I wanted to serve the elderly. Read more>>

Olivia Wickstrom

I grew up on Central Coast and left at 18 years-old, eager to escape my small hometown of Morro Bay and experience urban life. I spent my late teens and early 20’s living in Portland, Oregon; St. Andrews, Scotland; Cape Town, South Africa; and Minneapolis, Minnesota- cities known for their creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Each place I called home taught me something new about myself and encouraged me to explore and express my creative ideas, though my trips home to the Central Coast brought a spark of energy and inspiration I couldn’t find elsewhere. Read more>>

Yahaira Flores

Yahaira Flores started Ink Beauty LA in 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a full-time mom and college student. She graduated from Cal State University, Northridge with a B.A in Journalism, emphasized in Broadcast and Multimedia in 2021. Read more>>

Brownie & Princess Sims

My sister Brownie Sims and I were born and raised in Berkeley California. A total of three girls growing up on Delaware street during the 70s not far from our grandmother’s home. Both of our parents and extended families migrated from the south during the 50s and brought with them the art of southern soul food cooking. As a large family, traditions from generations passed down from the family to us included bringing family together and cooking good food. Something we looked forward to every year. During these years, our Aunt Marion Dixon managed a famous barbecue restaurant more than thirty years ago in the Bay Area. Barbecue was always available and present in our home. I remember Mom bringing pans of ribs, chicken, links and the famous barbecue sauce to go with it for dinner. My favorite was the sliced beef. Read more>>

Chandler Austin White

I was 20 years old, the year was 2012 and I had just decided to straighten my teeth after always hiding my teeth as best I could when laughing or smiling . After a year + with invisalign. I had MY smile. It was life changing, I felt called to do my best to provide that feeling for anyone else who wanted it. I began hanging out with my dentist when I wasn’t working or in class. Just listening and taking notes. I fell in love with the dental field. I decided to change my choice of study in school. I went to trade school got the certifications required to work in an office hands on. Read more>>

Candace Charee

I began my journey as a working coach in April of 2020, right during the pandemic. I knew it was now or never. I wasn’t going to let the outside world dictate my purpose in this world which was to help heal the minds of those who are suffering. I grew my business from a hundred people watching me go live on Facebook now how having a thriving and very successful business with a large social media following. Read more>>

Tami Farrell

During the pandemic, my best friend and fellow Mom, Kimberly, decided we wanted to start a business. I was featured in a series by artist Rebecca Moses “Stay at Home Sisters” where she created a unique piece of art for me about finding the beauty in the chaos of parenting in the pandemic. The art inspired our wine company, and now adores our Cabernet bottles. Rebecca would later feature Kimberly in her series and that art is now on our Chardonnay. Read more>>

Shir Baron

Born and raised in Israel, my path towards animation began during my senior year of high school. I majored in both Computer Science and Art, while working at the local cinema. Movie after movie I would open the theater doors, and while I loved movies myself, what inspired me to pursue this career was seeing the audience’s reactions to films. Children would walk out of animated films alongside their parents. I once asked a child if they enjoyed the film, and as they opened their mouth to answer my question, they were pushed aside “it was amazing!” the grown child (aka their parent) answered. We’re all children at heart and that experience sparked something in me. Read more>>

Cheyenne Tan

I grew up on the Borneo Island side of Malaysia in Southeast Asia and was 20 when I first moved here to LA to pursue a filmmaking career. When I first arrived, I knew absolutely nothing about filmmaking or what it means to move across the world, all alone, to a country I’ve never stepped foot in where I didn’t know one single person. Looking back, that naïveté and ignorance gave me the courage to take the plunge to do this. Once I got here, the intense homesickness hit and I was never more terrified than I was in those first few months in LA. I had to learn how to live alone and the craft of filmmaking and I had to learn, fast. So I did and graduated 3 years later, among the top of the class with two theses films, both documentaries. While making them was when I fell into producing and directing documentaries and haven’t looked back since. Read more>>

Amanda Quintero

Mama is a space & idea I dreamt; to create a space I wish existed for me throughout my pregnancies & beyond. Being pregnant every other year for the past 7 years, I craved a place that could make me feel held and gave me the time and attention to know that what I was going through was sacred. As a massage therapist of 11 years and holistic esthetician of 5, I knew I could bring that care to other women experiencing this super transformative time. So I created Mama so that people have a place to come where they can feel safe & nurtured knowing that every service I offer & every product that I use or sell is made up of only good things. Read more>>

Karly O’Keefe

My journey to becoming an Esthetician began with my own struggles. As a teen I struggled with acne and breakouts quite frequently. When I was around 15, I noticed it was a little more than what most kids my age were dealing with. It seemed like everyone around me was growing out of the “acne phase” while skin was only getting worse. I remember feeling alone and hopelessness more than anything. That’s when I decided to really focus on what I was actually putting on my skin and even more importantly, how my skin was reacting to these different products.After I started seeing a major change in mine own skin, I wanted to help anyone with skin issues who would listen. Read more>>

Megan Lynn

My journey begins as early as I can remember – ever since I was little I was so fascinated by watching my Mom get ready in the mornings. I would sit with her in the bathroom and watch her curl her hair and put on her makeup, and there was something about the ritual of it all and the transformation process that captivated me. I was spoiled during my teens by my older cousins and aunts who would shower me with all sorts of makeup sets as gifts, and I would certainly dip into my Mom’s makeup bag from time to time, whether she knew it or not! I make the joke that makeup runs in my veins, since I’ve been experimenting with it for as long as I can remember. Read more>>

Akilah Chopfield

I’ve always had an interest in media. I grew up watching tons of movies at the theater and many Blockbuster nights. It wasn’t until college that I considered it could be a career. After being accepted to Virginia Tech for both, I made the choice between Pre-med and Communications majors. Under Communication, I thought I’d become a journalist. Then, I took a film class as an elective and fell in love. I enjoyed writing stories and filming news packages with a documentary feel. I added Film & Media Theory to my degree. It didn’t feel like enough, so I went for my MFA at the Art Institute of Miami. After graduating, I stuggled to find work in Miami and Orlando and eventually moved to Atlanta. I started as a background artist and talked to everyone I could to get work as a PA. Read more>>

Melissa Peppe

Well where do I start? Hm! When I was a teenager, my first love/high school sweetheart died in front of me. He had a pacemaker and his heart stopped. This really affected my mental health but is the reason I am who I am today. I ended up getting mixed up with the wrong crowd and getting addicted to hard drugs for years. Meth and Heroin.. I was doing them with my boyfriend at the time (who is what I like to call the sperm donor to my children since he doesn’t deserve the term dad). He unfortunately physically and mentally abused me for years as well. So not only did I overcome being addicted to drugs, I am a domestic violence survivor too! I used to be ashamed of these things, but I realized that I can inspire others and remind them that there is hope on the other side! I got pregnant with my son during this time and .  Read more>>

Jason Pietruszka

I was a musician that needed a job, imagine that! Little did I know that this job would become my career. I started as a demo laborer and worked my way up. From that first job, I moved on to becoming a site supervisor pretty quickly. But I must admit, I wanted to get my hands dirty. So I tried my hands at most trades. I learned how to set tile and walk an inspection. Learned to read plans and handle city runs. I got my contractors license and partnered with a builder. We grew a company that developed over 100 single-family luxury homes. Eventually, we parted ways and I’ve been building on my own ever since. Its been twelve years now and I’ve never looked back. I’ve just always enjoyed what I do. Today, our business does about 15 new construction projects at a time. Read more>>

Karen Clay-Fenderson

After retiring early as an educator, for over 20 years, due to a car accident injury. I thought I would be in the hallways of schools for the rest of my life. But, God had plans for me that I never dreamed would lead me to studio sets to filming out of the country and partnering with some of the biggest brands on the planet, Procter and Gamble, Bayer, Sprouts Amazon, Amazon Fresh and so many more. I never dreamed I would film tv projects with my children or ever have a film production company. In the beginning, the pivot to retiring was tough. However, I adjusted and focused on raising our children. In the mist of that, my three children Brookelynn, Brayden and Bailey Rae began acting. Read more>>

C-Def

I started dreaming about having a career in music at eight years old, I was gifted with a guitar and fell in love. Shortly after, I found songwriting as an outlet for the bullying I would experience at school in the coming years. Around age 12, I decided to take it in a serious direction, I learned how to produce, record and market. I started by releasing mixtape after mixtape. Hustling them anywhere I could just to keep the money circulating. Most of my peers hated my ambition and made my life pretty difficult. Read more>>

Diamond Russ

It all started when I was homeless and strung out. I was in my early 20’s and back in jail when I moved into a cell with this old man. I knew that I was either going to be in jail or dead and had given up on having a life without booze or drugs, or honestly just a life. I got to my cell and – I’ll never forget – I put my things down on the bunk, and this old man looked directly into my eyes, took a deep breath and said, “This is not you”. And that shook me, and it has been ringing in my head ever since. Read more>>

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