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The Valley’s Hidden Gems

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series.  Check out some of the Valley’s gems below.

Amanda-Jayne Hofstetter

I am an Equine Trauma Specialist, holistic horsemanship mentor and integrative riding instructor, Certified Usui and Equine Reiki practitioner and Master Teacher, and Personal Growth Coach. I was first introduced to horses by my godmother when I was five months old. I was immersed fully into the life of a horsewoman before I was walking or talking, even riding for the first time as an infant in a baby bjorn. During this time, I was recovering from having Repair of Tetralogy of Fallot at just eight weeks old, the open heart surgery that inspired the name of Open Heart Horsemanship. I then had cranial reconstructive surgery at six months old. Throughout all of this early childhood trauma, horses were there beside me. Read more>>

Bari Gratton

I have always been curious, questioning authority or seeking the answers to the reasons why. I was a serious student in high school, a bit of a loner, but when time came to explore college, I wanted to go wherever seemed the furthest from my bubble in suburban NJ – so I went to school in New Orleans and spent four years studying culture, art, while steeped in a wholly unique city and with no understanding of what was to become of my future. Read more>>

Riley Roddick

I began my career in wine in Paso Robles at L’Aventure Winery. From working the tasting room, harvest production to vineyard work, I completely immersed myself and even lived on the property for a few years. Building on the experience from L’Aventure, I moved to the Barossa Valley of Australia and worked a harvest at Torbreck Winery. Committed to learning more, I then moved to Montpellier, France and began working on my Master’s Degree with the Vinafera Euromaster program. During my time in France, I worked at Domaine d’Aupilhac in Montpeyroux, and then finished my degree in Udine, Italy, while working for an organic viticulture consultant. Read more>>

Eric Potapenko

My music journey started pretty early with my rendition of “Do It Again” by Steely Dan when I was two years old for my parents living room entertainment. My version consisted of me yelling, “Jack, Jack…” into the microphone, among many other incoherent words. Music was always around me, especially from my family. Hearing my mom playing vinyl records in her office of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to America’s “Greatest Hits” gave me my love of Motown, RnB, Pop while my dad would play classic rock records like Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin, and The Doobie Brothers. My aunt would always blast all sorts of different hits from different eras in her car, so many of my favorite songs came from her car rides. Read more>>

Sebastien Lagree

I came to Los Angeles to pursue acting. I became a personal trainer to support my acting ambition. The personal training business took off so rapidly that I decided to focus on that instead. I opened my first studio on 9/11/01 in the living room of my apartment. Since then, we have grown to over 500 locations throughout the world. Lagree was voted #1 workout on ClassPass in 2019 out of 100 million purchase! We have now extended our presence in the home workout market. Read more>>

Laila Souktani

Since I was a little girl, I always loved helping people and knew that was the path I wanted to pursue as a career. In middle school, I started organizing my school’s Operation Christmas Child event, a Holiday initiative to fill shoeboxes with toys for kids in third world countries, not knowing that 14 years later, I’d be doing the same thing but for professional athletes. I played volleyball growing up, as well as in college, and was able to experience the power of sports and the incredible impact that it has on the youth. This experience was something I wanted to help share with and give access to others. Read more>>

Emily-Mae Kamp

I was born and raised in West Hills, California and have been involved in the performing arts for all of my life. When I was two years old, I performed in my first theatrical production, and at three, I began ballet classes. I always dreamed of pursuing the arts I just never knew which avenue was right for me. As I grew older, I started to veer more towards dance, filling my days with training and competition. Theater was the furthest thing from my mind, however, several injuries later I found myself back confused and not sure what to pursue. That’s when I rediscovered theater. Theater had a sort of whimsy to it that dance didn’t. However, all of my technique in training was able to benefit me. Read more>>>

Yulianna Garrido

I’m an actress, producer, and writer. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic; I lived in Miami for a second between the ages of 1 and 4. My family quickly decided to move back to the Dominican Republic where I finished High school and attended University. After finishing my BA in Social Communications, I decided to move to New York to pursue my life’s dream of becoming an actress. I was accepted to The William Esper Studio where I completed their full-time acting program. During my time in NY, I found amazing teachers and mentors that helped shape me as an artist and always encouraged me to strive to be the best that I can be and to honor my individuality and uniqueness. Read more>>

Marinna Benzon

I actually got started in the fifth grade, strangely enough, when I used to tell made up scary stories to my classmates at recess; sort of as a ploy to make friends. My teachers championed me into creative writing and theatre which I figured was so I could exert some displaced energy outside of the classroom. Meanwhile, I was put into dance classes since the age of six, and learned about stage presence, musicality, audience interaction, theatricality and where downstage left was. As time went on, I studied theatre at various institutions such as Sheldon Studios, Academy of Arts San Francisco, Overcast Theater, Leela Improv theater Company and San Francisco State University. Read more>>

Samantha S. Gray

Ever since I could remember, I’ve always lived in the clouds. I loved being in my room alone, escaping into my mind, making up stories, and drawing them out so my head wouldn’t explode from overflowing thoughts. By high school, I was convinced my path was to get into comics and I spent most of my college days working towards that goal. During my last year of college, I found the creative expression of 2D animation. The way you could see drawings move and seeing the technical and expressive extent of what people could do by putting what’s in their minds to paper entranced me. As I shifted my focus, I was luckily able to gain an internship at Titmouse Inc. working on China IL. Read more>>

Rayna Buxton

I grew up in an area surrounded by plants and wildlife, and I enjoy working with the themes of nature and fantastical creatures in my art. I’ve always thought it important to show that the world is filled with magic and mystery, even in the places and things that we have grown to consider mundane. My first experience with animation was through a 4-H project in grade school, and I quickly fell in love with it. I started creating animated shorts in my free time and took three internships at Grasshorse Studios. Read more>>

Justin Lennox Williams

I began my relationship with image making in Philadelphia in 2011. My first photos were mostly of my environment (primarily plants) that I took on my parent’s old Canon 35mm camera. From there, I began to learn the mechanics of photography and imagine the possibilities of the medium. After becoming proficient in photography, I began freelancing as a photographer in the Philadelphia area, photographing portraits, weddings, and events. I saved up enough money to eventually buy my first digital camera. Buying that camera introduced me to the possibility of filmmaking! Read more>>

Chris Kapcia

I was born in Detroit, and I grew up in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. Sports were an integral part of my childhood, and it’s hard to recall a time when ice hockey, baseball, and golf weren’t hugely important to me. My family has always been supportive of anything that I’ve wanted to do. When I told my parents and sister that I was quitting sports to try out for the school play, they were quite surprised to say the least! I became consumed by the possibility of having an acting career. Since I felt a little behind everybody else who had been acting for years, I worked on nine plays in a row. I knew that the harder I worked, the better I’d become. After a few years, I felt confident enough to audition for an acting conservatory called The American Academy of Dramatic Arts where I was accepted! Read more>>

Crystal Duran

It all started with a dream and became a reality. I’ve always dreamed of being a dancer and owning my own dance academy. I am a dancer, an Instructor, and now a young Latin entrepreneur. My mission is to motivate others and to crystallize their dreams, talents, arts for all ages. Read more>>

Eve Corso

Well, my career as a writer really started as a big reader. I have a problem, see, I hoard books. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d love to get lost in books. My mom would lovingly roll her eyes at me when I asked for another trip to the library, where I’d get out the maximum amount of books. I loved carrying them in my arms, piled high. It was a life-long passion of mine. I wouldn’t be found without a book under my arm. Later in life, when I was twenty-five or so, I tried creative writing and I wrote a very short story about a woman running into an ex-boyfriend and his new wife at her favorite bar. When I say it was a short story, it was very short, about the equivalent of a single chapter. Read more>>

Gabriel Palma

I think being a painter had a lot to do with how my brothers and sisters and I were raised. We grew up with a father who was a very socially radical catholic, who also was a playwright, an actor, and a World War II Veteran. My dad cared a lot about the poor, the outcasts of society, the oppressed, the homeless, but he was also very concerned with Heaven and Hell and everything in between. Read more>>

LaQuenta Martin

I come from a family of educators – my grandmother was a Kindergarten teacher, my father was a college professor, and my mom taught learners with disabilities. So I grew up with a joy for learning new things and helping others to have academic and personal success. I graduated from high school a year early and began working for the YWCA tutor and performing arts academy. After graduating college where I completed two years of AmeriCorp Service in the community program in Long Beach & Compton, I found my passion for building the potential of students. What I found in my years of graduate study and community involvement was that the home-life, family social dynamics, and parents can severely impact the outcome of the student success. Read more>>

Christie Conochalla

I think anyone who goes through their lives with the proclivity of being a creative of any kind, and maybe this extends to others regardless of passion, creatives are that before they even exist. We are born and we walk directly onto the path whether we like it or not! So it’s tough to pinpoint one moment that leads me to where I am; possibly the fan fiction screenplays I’d write as a teenager or my decisions to major in theatre which eventually lead to film school. I think the threshold I officially crossed into directing was in 2013 when my short film “Once Upon A Zipper” was financed. Read more>>

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