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Portraits of Orlando

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 Orlando.

Paula Gallafrio

Everything started with my search for high-quality freshly baked bread. I was born and raised in Brazil, where it’s in our culture to eat fresh bread every single day. Bakeries can be found very easily – there’s one on every corner. Starting at a very young age, I remember my mom asking me to go to the bakery in our neighborhood, to buy fresh bread. Because I missed that so much after moving to the USA, I decided to start making my own bread for our family. Everything in the “bread world” was new to me – I have a Bachelor in Architecture and Urban Planning, I never thought I would become a baker… During my research, I came across Sourdough Bread (Naturally Leavened) and just got enchanted by it. I made my starter from scratch in 2015, the same one I use in all my recipes still today. I started following bread bakers on Instagram (I can probably call @trevorjaywilson my main master), and bought tons of books to study and learn (Tartine, from Chad Robertson is my favorite). Read more>>

Tim Pappas

I was born in South Florida, and my parents moved to Orlando when I was in elementary school, so I have been here most of my life. Since I was a child, I was musical. I’m self-taught on the piano and I played the cello all through school. High school was when I first started performing onstage. Though it was something I was always interested in, I didn’t pursue it until then. I started working at Disney when I was 16 years old, hoping to one day work as a performer. I worked at The Great Movie Ride, Guest Relations, and facilitated the Traditions program. Audition after audition, and several callbacks, and I never landed a role. I began music directing some productions with S.T.A.G.E (a Cast Member lead theater group) and the first two in-house musicals at The Garden Theater in Winter Garden, singing with the Encore! Cast Choir, performing in a few productions at the Orlando Repertory Theater, and narrating concerts with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Read more>>

Idwin Perez

I worked as a field assistant for the owners of a property management/development company, which included doing visual inspections on the 500 or so properties they managed but mostly involved working with them on their passion project, the Hourglass District. I loved my job; I love the Hourglass District and I love who I worked for. Unfortunately last year when the pandemic hit all things pointed to a complete collapse of property development and I was laid off. Laid off two weeks after I had gotten married! Talk about a bummer. After about two days of feeling bad for myself, and many conversations with my wife on next steps and finances we decided that being laid off was the perfect opportunity and kick in the butt I needed to take the time to start my own business. There was no time to waste, I had a family now. My wife, Melissa, was unimaginably supportive. When I came up with the idea her response was “yeah duh, get to it”. There was no time to waste, I had a family now! She could support us as a middle school teacher and we had savings but I needed to get the ball rolling right away if we were going to pull this off. Read more>>

Brittany Kolacki

I started getting into photography about four years ago. I started out taking pictures of people but after a few years of doing that, I found that I enjoyed taking photos of the nature and structures surrounding me more than pictures of people. Something about the unpredictability of nature and wildlife that allows each time I go out to shoot a whole different experience. Read more>>

Dr. Brooke Stuart

I am a holistic doctor in private practice as well as the founder of Let Go & Grow- where we are working to create the most direct and approachable way to experience growth in the world through our own products, services and collaborative efforts. Our intention is to curate and highlight the best to assist our community in living the life they are here to live and experiencing the power they are meant to have. I have always been interested and intrigued by unusual things, and while I was playing golf as a college athlete at the University of Miami, trying to improve my game, I spent most of my time on the putting green listening to countless self-help and sports psychology related audiobooks. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I realized I was far more interested in the self-help and psychology books than the game of golf itself or the business school I was enrolled in. So, I decided to drop the game and switch up my studies to pursue a dual major in both Anthropology and Psychology. Read more>>

Amy Gilbride

My journey into the blogosphere started in 2018 when I officially created The Florida Travel Girl Blog. Before, I had always been an avid blog reader, and loved reading trip reports from other bloggers. I thought about starting my own blog often, but was never sure what to focus on. However, after moving to the Space Coast of Florida in 2010 from New England, I realized I had become quite knowledgeable about Central Florida attractions and experiences. When we were new to the area, my husband and I were eager to try different restaurants and explore every part of the state. After eight years in the Sunshine State, I found I had many stories to share. With that, I created my blog to show off hidden gems and fun adventures accessible to all Floridians. I currently run my blog as a side hustle while working as a systems engineer by day. My goal is to inspire people to take advantage of all the cool things to do in Florida and appreciate the beauty and quirks of this state. Read more>>

Ariana Melendez

I had always been interested in MMA. I remember watching Ronda Rousey’s fights on UFC and thinking “this is something I could definitely do”. But unfortunately I had no idea where to start. An MMA fighter came into a surf shop I was working at the time wearing a shirt representing the gym he trains at so I asked him a few questions which led to me being invited to go check out the gym and try out a class. After my first class I was hooked. And wanted to fight. Unfortunately not everyone saw my potential like I did. Some coaches were worried that I was just going through the “fighting phase” and would eventually stop training so I didn’t get a lot of one on one training right off the bat. I kept showing up and putting the work in eventually leading me to take my first boxing match. I won by unanimous decision. After my first boxing match it really solidified that this was my path. I had a pretty rough start for my amateur MMA career, it was hard for me to find the perfect “team” and a coach who believed in me just as much as I believed in myself. Read more>>

Tiffany Jones

I grew up with a love for design and a creative side that I never really let myself fully develop. I’ve dreamed for years of having my own business but never really thought I’d take the leap or thought I had an idea worth risking. In many ways in my life I was a risk taker and would easily make big decisions and big jumps. But not when it came to my career. Three years ago I got remarried to my love and as I went through the wedding planning process, I saw an opportunity to start a rental business for specialty tableware and decor. in a style that wasn’t really available at the time- a mix of boho, modern, and mid-century/retro. I grew up in California and have always been greatly influenced by that laid back, bohemian, and west coast vibe. I love texture and mixing aesthetics to create new and quirky, but cool ones. The business has evolved from just tableware, to lounges and some specialty furniture which has allowed clients to show their personalities more at their events and allowed me to design more which I love. Read more>>

Sakina Issa

My story began when I moved to Orlando eight years ago. I had come from NJ and was still searching for my passion in life. After taking some time off to reflect and understand what my life journey was about I was drawn to finding a career that would help others and allow me to continue to grow as an individual. I make the decision to pursue a masters program in Marriage, Family and Couples Therapy program at UCF. There I learned about myself and the way my family had impacted the way I saw things and what changes I needed to make in order to become a more dynamic human being. I learned about intimate relationships and common errors couples make when in a relationship and most importantly I learned how to help others understands the ways in which they can improve their lives and heal from their past family history- through identifying patterns, irrational belief systems, and educating them. I have been practicing in private practice for the past seven years. Read more>>

Kimberly Devitt

I have the privilege of overseeing brand partnerships and key accounts for Corkcicle, a global lifestyle brand that makes cool things. As the second employee at Corkcicle, I have had the opportunity to build the marketing team from the ground up along with our Creative Director Dylon York and Co-Founder Stephen Bruner, who both remain involved to this day. Before serving in a business development capacity, I supported our marketing team through external communications initiatives for the brand. This included social media, digital marketing, media relations, charitable partnerships, ambassador strategy, influencer seeding and more. It was definitely interesting being the first female team member, especially with four male owners and a male creative director, but these guys are great. The owners have truly adopted an “innovate or die” mentality for product growth and category expansion. Prior to joining Corkcicle, I consulted for more than a dozen brands. Today I serve on the University of Florida Masters of Arts in Mass Communication Social Media Advisory Board as well as the Board of Directors for the Orlando Regional Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA Orlando). Read more>>

Sonya Rogoobeer and Will Adkison

I got my Bachelors of Fine Arts back in 2009 from IADT. However, I really only shared my gift for drawing with my closest friends and family. I was very shy and protective about letting people see my work. This being the case, art wasn’t my career for a long time. I was serving, working in retail, and teaching children in public school with special needs. None of which were fulfilling or making ends meet. Finally, in 2017, I’d had enough of jobs draining me of time and stressing me out. I started watching YouTube videos of how to make art your career and I stumbled across some videos of how to become a caricature artist! I found some events through Craigslist who needed entertainment and they took a chance on me; a very inexperienced, fledgling entertainer. It went great and I followed this by landing a job at the place every one always told me I belonged, Disney! After a month of training with retailer Angies Arts!. Read more>>

Yami Soto

From a young age I was the go to for my family and friends to plan their Weddings and Sweet 16’s . At the time it was more of a hobby since I went on to Nursing School. Luis loves music. I call him an old soul. He started DJ’ing over ten years ago and he can play any and every genre of music. He attracts people from all age groups because of it. After an interesting year, in October 2019 we decided to join our talents and start what at the time we called DJ Ltunez Ent. & Events. We had always talked about starting a business together, having the time and freedom to work for ourselves and found the perfect timing to do so. We offered DJ, Wedding Planning and Photo Booth services. We started off slowly and just as we were gaining momentum Covid hit. We truly took this time of pause to really think about what direction we wanted to take our business. So in October 2020 we decided to rebrand. We were finding our style and wanted to change the name to something that represented us both. That is how Vision & Vibe Events came about. We are big on Vibes so part of our mission is to be able to share genuine connections with our clients which we call “Familia”. It’s so important that you feel that from us and that we bring your Vision to life. Read more>>

Rebeka “Beckee” Edge

In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the US is diagnosed with autism- 1 in 34 boys and 1 in 144 girls. We are a family that personally knows about Autism. Our son was diagnosed with autism at the age of eight; he is now 23. Autism Awareness and education have come a long way since our son was diagnosed. Many years ago we were told that our son could not have autism because he was too affectionate and too verbal; today we know that children with autism are affectionate and can learn to communicate very well along with so many other skills. Our son was referred for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy shortly after being diagnosed. At the time my husband was in the military and Tricare was the only insurance covering this type of therapy. As of 2019, all 50 states now have insurance mandates to cover ABA therapy. ABA is considered the gold standard for individuals with Autism. After seeing how much progress our son made through the science of ABA, I decided to return to school to become Board Certified. In 2010, we opened our first center in Alaska; we now proudly serve families in Alaska, California, Florida, and Nebraska. Read more>>

Calvin White

There are many battles we are fighting in our county. Racial injustice and discrimination, mental and physical health and a global pandemic. Fit for peace, incorporated is a non profit organization dedicated to the health and wellness of the black community. We belive through physical fitness, nutritional education, and charity, we can build a better tomorrow, today. Read more>>

Olivia Jacoby

2018 was a life changing year for me personally. At the time I was enrolled in graduate school, had just recently been married, and this coupled with my father’s cancer journey really made me consider the fact that life was fleeting and that we truly have a finite period of time to pursue our passions. I am the granddaughter of a couture level Cuban seamstress consequently clothes, fine fabrics, and sewing are and always have been very much a part of my family’s culture. After deciding to no longer pursue graduate school I reflected for an extended period of time where my natural strengths were. I have always love to draw clothes and have always been talented in the area of design. I took this talent coupled with my desire to bring Polk county a true boutique experience that did not require that Lakelanders have to drive to their communities to find arguably the most important garment they would ever wear. Thus, The Southern Swan was born. The swan is the signature icon of the city of Lakeland but it was chosen mainly because Swan’s are some of the only animals in nature that mate for life. After the name was decided I went on to determine what I wanted the central motto of the store to be “Where The Girl Comes Before The Gown”. Read more>>

Dennis Romero

I got my Bachelors of Fine Arts back in 2009 from IADT. However, I really only shared my gift for drawing with my closest friends and family. I was very shy and protective about letting people see my work. This being the case, art wasn’t my career for a long time. I was serving, working in retail, and teaching children in public school with special needs. None of which were fulfilling or making ends meet. Finally, in 2017, I’d had enough of jobs draining me of time and stressing me out. I started watching YouTube videos of how to make art your career and I stumbled across some videos of how to become a caricature artist! I found some events through Craigslist who needed entertainment and they took a chance on me; a very inexperienced, fledgling entertainer. It went great and I followed this by landing a job at the place every one always told me I belonged, Disney! After a month of training with retailer Angies Arts!. Read more>>

Natasha Martinez

I started waxing in my mother’s beauty salon at the age of 14. She taught me some techniques and tips and from there on I practiced. Guess what?! I loved it!! Little by little I began building a clientele and my business grew. At the age of 17, I moved to Orlando. I put my business to rest for a couple of years but in 2012 after many 9 to 5 jobs and lay offs, I decided I was going back to what I loved. At this point I was jobless and practically homeless but I managed to buy a waxing pot, made some free business cards on Vista prints and started passing them out. I worked out of the second bedroom of my home for a few months. As I built my clientele I moved to a small room in a business center, at the same time I found out I was pregnant and definitely going to be raising the baby alone. The big F word got into my head. I didn’t know whether to push on with the business or once again retire and give into fear and settling for what life dished out for me. After much faith and prayer, with a burning desire I decided to move along with it and make it work. Read more>>

Brian Marotta

We started Movez Dance in 2017. We saw a big need for a local Dance and Allstar Cheer Academy for children and adults alike. My wife Nicole and I have five children, four of which are girls and love to dance. We believed that this would be a great opportunity to not only fill a need for the community, but also fill a need in our family. This allowed us to spend more family time with our girls and share a love for their passion. In 2017, we started with a small facility with two studios and 1,500 square foot of Space. Since then, we have added 9,000 square feet of space and provide Competition and Recreational dance classes ranging from ballet to hip hop. We have added a regulation size Allstar Cheer Spring Floor and have beginners to advanced cheer and tumbling classes. We are proud to be the Home of the Nona Elite Allstar Cheer Program and are winning many accolades across Florida for our Teams. Read more>>

Nathalie Gaines

I am a wedding and portrait photographer serving Central Florida. I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants. Their hard working nature inspired me to pursue greatness in everything that I do. My mother started her journey in entrepreneurship early and helping her with that gave me some skills that I still use to this day. My love for photography started early. I’ve been the unofficial photographer for everything I can remember since high school. I was the yearbook photographer and it gave me a taste for documenting memories for myself and others. I graduated from UCF with my degree in Information Technology and I have been working in the web hosting industry ever since. Craving a creative outlet, I picked up the camera again, shooting my very first wedding in 2012. Since then, my camera has connected me with some of the sweetest couples & families in Orlando. Coming to my niche of weddings and portraits wasn’t a direct route. I’ve tried everything from shooting construction sites, traveling to parties around town selling portraits on-site, real estate photography, night clubs… I feel like I’ve done it all. Read more>>

Fameisha Williams

After I graduated high school in 2002, I started completing my AA degree at a local community college. I decided on the nursing profession & start those prerequisites. During that time, I started working certified nursing assistant in 2004. After completing my AA degree, I transferred to a four year college, UCF to complete my BSN in nursing. I graduated with honors in 2006. I passed the NCLEX and got my RN license. I started a critical care nursing training program right after graduation. I soon found out I was pregnant. I had my daughter and kept working. She was my new motivation. I realized I was now responsible for someone else’s well-being and I had to be a role model for her. I worked in a cardiac progressive care unit for two years, then advanced to work in a CVICU. I decided I wanted to advance my nursing career and apply to nurse practitioner school. I got accepted. I worked full time in ICU, went to school part-time for 2.5 years, and raised my daughter. This was a hard time for me. I guilty for studying instead of spending more time with my daughter, it was definitely a balancing act! But it paid off in the end.  Read more>>

Corina Andino

The Magical Latina started when I was working a boring corporate job. I was different and by different I mean a big nerd! I had Harry Potter merch all over my desk and people surrounding me who lacked imagination. So, I made an Instagram page to share nerdy things. I initially wanted to share everything the theme parks (Disney & Universal) had to offer. I’ve always been a lifelong fan of Harry Potter & Disney and all of the magic behind it. I would share photos around the park and provide updates on events and merchandise. I soon realized I wanted to show the face behind the page… That is when everything changed. I had so many people reach out in response to my post and in conclusion realized there needs to be more representation within fandoms. Together a group of friends and I created Masterful Magical Minorities a page on Instagram where individuals of all background can celebrate their differences while being a part of a magical community. Through M.M.M. I’ve met so many creative individuals who all want to see each other succeed. Together we work to help each other reach our goals. Read more>>

Tracy Kuch

I grew up in an Italian family, so eating/food and love are synonymous. I grew up around large meals and having them with people I love. Along the way, over the years, I have come across people in all of the places that I have lived that have a passion for food and trying new food. As I have moved around the country, I had the opportunity to work in a couple of gourmet food shops; the most recent one being The Ancient Olive in Winter Park. There I met a number of wonderful people who also shared in my food passion; some of them are the purveyors of these foods. As the years have passed while here in Orlando, my passion has grown for trying new places to eat, but also for supporting those local restaurants. The world of food has grown exponentially in Orlando and there are so many folks that also enjoying these places or even opening their own unique eateries. Having been on other food tours and also wandering around Orlando trying new locations, I wanted to share in my experience with others who may not know that Orlando has so many great local food spots to try. Read more>>

Breena Johnson

My passion for photography has always been present even as a young girl. At the age of 12 with my Olympus Stylus 35-70mm in hand I would enjoy capturing everything around me. Even then I was the one in the family with my camera always by my side. While I went on as a young adult to obtain degrees in Chemistry and Speech-Language Pathology, I never quit photographing. After the birth of my first daughter, I wanted to pursue photography at a deeper level and be able to preserve moments for others and not just for myself. That’s when my business was born, in April of 2010. I was so in love with preserving these precious moments that my business began to bloom, and I began professionally photographing full-time. Read more>>

Geraldine Jeannot

I started photography in High School. I joined the yearbook and photography class, I walked in thinking it was going to be an easy A. Ironically, I failed them both. Fast forward to college, I saved some of my scholarship money to purchase my first camera. I figured “Why not try again?” Six years later, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I started photographing my friends for graduation. Then they referred me to their friends. Soon, became known on campus as one of the go-to photographers for graduation. I spent four years of my college career studying medicine but in the back of my mind I wanted to be a photographer but I was scared. So, I did it as a side gig. At the start of 2021, I decided to fully pursue photography. I had a four month plan to quit my full-time job, save up and get my LLC. But about two and a half months in, I couldn’t do it anymore. I took the leap and quit my job in the middle of the day on a Monday in February. March was my first month of being full-time and it was amazing. I had so many past clients book me. And I booked five weddings in one month which is major to me. Read more>>

Elizabeth Fiegle

Being a barista had been a dream of mine since I was in college. There was an old home that had been converted into a coffee shop a short walk from my college campus and it was there sitting on their couches that I fell in love with all things local coffee shops and coffee in general. My friends and I spent hours and days there, this place becoming a second home to us all. The baristas became our friends and the drinks our companions long into nights of studying. I observed the life that happened in coffee shops and knew something in my heart had sparked. Fast forward about three years and a move back to my hometown of Merritt Island, Florida in 2015 and I began to think more seriously about what it would take to open my own shop – but now, not just a coffee shop – a coffee and popsicle shop. I had lived in Jackson, MS and it was there that I watched a local coffee and popsicle shop thrive and thought it was the most natural idea for a business in Florida, one that had yet to be done in Brevard County. Read more>>

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