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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.

Kristina Grimm

For several years, I had this vision of a place where makers could come together under one roof to connect and help take some of that burden off of running a storefront solo. My small business journey began as a graphic designer for wedding invitations and small business branding. It then expanded into stationery. I really wanted a way to get in front of the community and be seen. I quickly learned how expensive, time-consuming, and risky it was to have my own brick and mortar. I had tried markets and doing pop-ups at other local businesses, but it just was not what I was wanting. A few years back, I started hosting “Shop Local” events in my home where I invited fellow local business owners to set up a display of their products and invited our friends, families, and neighbors to come mingle and shop. The events were a big success and kept getting bigger. Read more>>

Suzette Berkhalter

I started selling real estate in 2016 after leaving my ten years career as a legal assistant/paralegal. Once I had my first daughter, Aliyana, I realized I wanted to switch careers to have a more flexible schedule so I could continue to work, yet also be present as a wife and mother to my two beautiful girls. So, one day I took a leap of faith and enrolled in real estate school. Fast forward to today, it is now my passion and something I dedicate a lot of my time to. It has brought a fulfillment to my life that I could never replace. Read more>>

Michelle Jones

My official online biography begins, “Michelle Jones is an instrumentalist, composer, recording artist (including on several albums that have been nominated and/or won GRAMMY® awards), educator, GRAMMYU mentor, and producer/host of “Note-Worthy with Michelle Jones” (tv talk show). Scores of stringed instruments come alive in her talented hands when performing on international stages as bandleader to the string ensemble Violectric: Classic Musicians Who Rock®. Audiences are electrified time and time again by her versatility of style and custom arrangements ranging from classical to heavy metal to rock ’n’ roll. She plays a variety of violins and violas to achieve these styles and performs regularly on some of the world’s greatest stages.” Yes, all of it is true. I still prefer to think of myself as a very blessed person who gets to do what I love every single day as my career and my life. Even through a worldwide lockdown, I was able to focus my energies on creating new music, performances, shows and educational tools. Read more>>

Angela Herrera

I was born and raised in Colombia; I lived there my entire life and I was actually a fashion designer and had my own clothing line called “Angela Herrera”. The clothing line belonged to a luxury boutique, “La Casa Rosada”, which was a concept I created. This was my first real approach in the interior design world because the architects and I were in charge of the decoration. However, my life took a huge turn in a very short amount of time and I decided to move to Orlando, FL. My fiancé was living in Orlando and I was going back and forth between Colombia and the U.S, so I decided to risk everything. I left my company behind and my family in hopes of beginning a new life with my husband. Long story short, after designing and remodeling our own home, a couple of friends that came over and saw what we had done with our place asked me to help them remodel their living room and daughter’s room. Read more>>

Shannon Wolfgang

I am a co-founder of Lobogango, where I have a passion for visual storytelling. As a native of Orlando, I’ve seen it grow in many ways. I’ve been able to experience various trends and cultures while capturing those moments and talking about them. I share adventures of art, travel, food, and fun in our photos while promoting the Central Florida area and beyond. After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in Magazine Journalism, I realized I had a passion for storytelling, and I love to talk. I landed back in Otown and started a 10+ year career in print and digital media designing for various national magazine publications. During those years, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work overseas on a fashion magazine in a foreign language, which was scary because it was a language I was uncomfortable with, which pushed me outside of my artistic boundaries. That experience taught me to take risks even if I am nervous because you never know where it could lead you. Since then, I have designed in many different foreign languages. Read more>>

Mandy and Corban Young

We started Love and Lustre Weddings together in 2014 – a few months before we even got married! Corban had been doing photo and video work since he was a teenager, and he became involved in the Orlando wedding industry as a second shooter for a local photographer. That is, until a last-minute wedding he was supposed to assist with announced they were in dire need of a videographer. Corban stepped in and brought Mandy along for support…and Mandy HATED IT. She had never worked a wedding and was WAY out of her comfort zone. But then… Mandy was introduced to the editing process. She fell in love with the real-life storytelling aspect of weddings and almost immediately stepped in as primary editor for every subsequent wedding. Over the years, she has grown to enjoy and excel at the cinematography aspect of weddings. Now she and Corban work together as a team both behind the cameras and in the office!. Read more>>

Vanessa Exil

I became a Real Estate agent about three years ago. At the time, I was married but going through financial hardships as well as just had a baby so going Full-time with Real Estate wasn’t an option. So I continued to work a 9-5 to make ends meet but ended up going through a divorce that I had no idea was coming later on that year. I decided to start nursing school in an effort to become a Registered Nurse and be able to support myself and my four children. I was one year into school and one year from graduating but my heart just wasn’t in nursing. I was working as a Realtor part-time while going to school and realized more and more that Real Estate was my passion and I had to make a choice because I wasn’t going to be able to do both. I chose Real Estate and it was the best decision I could have ever made. I have been able to assist so many families in obtaining homeownership as well as assisted several people in selling their homes and starting new journeys in life. Read more>>

Paola Angarita

I am the owner of Florida Food Trucks LLC a food truck event management company. I founded this company in April of 2020. The idea of the company came to me during the COVID-19 Pandemic when everything was at a standstill. At the time, my family owned two food trucks and I started to see how this pandemic not only affected me, as I was laid off from my current job, as well as my family members that owned food trucks. Pre-pandemic, I had the opportunity to see how the industry was growing and continued to grow. Food truck events and catering opportunities were growing in popularity and the pandemic really hit these small businesses hard. I started the company with the goal to grow my own small business, help my family with their food trucks, and help grow the businesses of other food trucks within the Orlando area. I saw the potential and endless opportunities for the food truck industry and wanted to provide them with every opportunity possible.  Read more>>

William (Bill) Ruszala

I was always the kid that would pick up a magazine or a book and just look at the pictures. To me, they told more of a story than the actual words. So when my little brother was given a camera all those years ago, I borrowed it constantly. I was born in Edison New Jersey, at eight years old, my parents moved us to Missouri, I lived there until I was 20 then made my way to Florida. We always took some kind of trips in the summers when I was younger, after each trip I wanted to see more and more. My first SLR was a Minolta camera, it was film, which I feel limited my learning. Then came the Canon DSLR, with digital I could practice more and try new things. I love to photograph anything and everything, Portraits, Travel, Landscapes, etc.I am at an all-time high when I have camera in hand. Read more>>

Vanessa Daboin

It started last year, a couple of months before Covid-19 when I realized I was feeling lost in all ways possible in my life. I did not know who I was anymore. I was not doing anything for myself or anything I liked. As a result of this, I knew it was time to change. I did not know how but I knew I was going to do it. So I did it. Just when I started to work on myself, the covid-19 appeared, and I lost my job. But it was not an excuse. I started eating healthy, exercising, working on my general wellness, my mind, my spirit, putting everything on to find myself again. Everybody did notice my physical change and mental change too. My vibes started to get a lot different and optimistic. People started asking me how did I reach that. Unconsciously, I helped some people through my experience. Therefore, I wanted to, in a certain way to keep transmitting my change to help others. Read more>>

Eddie Rios

DLE Vision was born out of a passion for tech, storytelling, and helping people make their visions become a reality. Founder and owner Eddie Rios has always been a tech fanatic. As a kid, Eddie loved piecing apart technology and very much enjoyed piecing it back together. Eddie always became the “Guru” of anything he got himself into and eventually was recruited by one of the most recognized brands in the US, AT&T. Eddie was able to enjoy working with technology while simultaneously providing solutions to customers. His love for tech and passion for sales & business also allowed him to explore the automobile field. Eddie became a team member of Mercedes-Benz as a sales representative (Arlington, VA location), where he would also aid with the social media and content creation for the dealership location. Eddie was learning the art of filming and cinematography through online courses when he was given the opportunity to help and take part in a TV commercial for Mercedes-Benz. Read more>>

Evgeniya Palta

Our story…is to help you write your story and create memorable moments by living your best life on your special day! For more than three years, we have been professionally designing, decorating & producing our clients’ events, which include weddings, birthdays, bachelorette parties, baby showers, corporate events, and more. However, the passion for event design & production began much earlier for me. I have always been a party girl, which started in my waitressing days dancing the Zorba on top of the tables at Taverna Opa on International Drive. The gratification culminated in planning my own wedding with my wonderful husband Bobby in Santorini, Greece five years ago – it was amazing! From there, my infatuation for events grew as I started throwing many karaoke parties for friends’ events at Orlando area restaurants & venues. And in 2019, as my son Maxim started preschool, I founded Haute Spots. Read more>>

Gabriella Cammarata

I’ve been known as the “photographer” in my family since I was a kid. Taking pictures at every birthday party, vacation, and family reunion. In high school, I was introduced to photography classes and the possibility of turning it into a career and instantly fell in love with the idea of doing this for the rest of my life. There’s something about the way photography creates relationships and brings people closer together that I find so powerful. I grew up a Georgia peach and had many opportunities to live out my passion through being an assistant photographer and working alongside several fine arts photographers in Atlanta, Georgia. I studied photojournalism at the University of Georgia in 2018 (GO DAWGS) and after graduation, I came down to Orlando to participate in the Disney College Program. I have always had special place in my heart for Disney and knew after my program that I had to find a way to express my love for people, photography, and Disney. Read more>>

Shantanu Sen

Chef Shantanu Sen has an excellent record of a well-rounded career in the food industry. Starting his early days in the heat of the kitchen as a chef trainee in one of India’s foremost hotel chains, he was extensively trained in all departments of the kitchen. Early during his period of training, he made a quick ascent to a responsible position in the Garde Manger (Cold Kitchen). Here, by displaying his artistic abilities in producing quality vegetable carvings, ice sculptures, margarine molds and sugar work, became the chef of his specialty division of the kitchen. Born to Bengali parents at Chennai in the South of India, his taste buds evolved to encompass the culinary best of East and South. Pestering of his mother from an early age for recipes and the permission to wield the ladle had its rewards. At the tender age of ten, Shantanu could cook an entire meal for his family. Read more>>

Thomas Unrath

The history of this property goes back to a time about 3000 years ago. The Ais Indians used this area to escape the mosquitos in the coastal sites where they lived. A couple of thousand years later, General Hernandez led his troops through here in January 1837 during the Second Seminole War. More recently, Brevard County used the 114 acres, which is now Hundred Acre Hollows, as rapid infiltration basins for a water treatment plant. By the mid-’90s, the recently developed neighboring communities had outgrown the treatment capacity, and the plant was moved. The 114 acres were left as an emergency backup area for stormwater overflow, etc. and the county kept it mowed for that purpose. When the county commissioners decided to sell the property in 2015, people from the surrounding communities worked together to ask that the sale not happen. The commissioners listened and asked what should be done with the property… Folks took some time to investigate possibilities, and the commissioners agreed that “Conservation and Education” was a good use. Read more>>

Tahitiana Chaffin

Born in Mexico City, my parents migrated on work visas to California when I was three years old. They sold produce out of their pickup truck near a Jewish community. In 1989 they had my middle brother, Max. We lived in East L.A. (this was in the 90’s) so it was a rough time with drive-by shootings, the bronco riots and one of the largest earthquakes in ’92/93 (can’t remember which year). Shortly after all the riots and such, my parents decided it was time to return to Mexico City, where I studied middle and high school. In 1998 my youngest brother was born, Samuel. He was born premature and with a lot of health complications from malnourishment. Even tho we were technically considered middle class in Mexico City, we didn’t have but the bare necessities to survive. Mom couldn’t get the medical help she needed while pregnant and that would end up costing Sammy’s health. Water, a luxury most Americans take for granted…I learned while we lived in Mexico City. In the city, the government shuts down the water access to parts of the city for days. Read more>>

Kayla Crane

I graduated from Paul Mitchel the School in Orlando back in 2010. I focused on hair but always had a desire to do nails and have done my own and friends many times. I ended up giving up on a career in the salon and went back to school. Doing hair was just not for me. After that, I worked as a bartender and server while I went back to college. I then graduated with an AA degree with the plans of transferring to UCF to finish my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. This is when I realized as much as I love physics and mathematics, I was not an office type of person. I continued on in the service industry because I really enjoy it and I’m able to make a living while still be present for my family, I’m a mom of four and a wife. While working as a bartender in November of 2020 a guest was handing out her business cards to us and mentioned she did eyelash extensions. Read more>>

Donald McCloskey

I have always been artistic but never had the opportunity to take professional courses except for some ceramic classes in high school. I had lived in lower Manhattan for a few years right by the South Street Seaport. During the 9/11 attack, I found myself close enough to the WTC buildings while rushing home from my office on Wall and Water Street. When the buildings collapsed, I suffered a contusion that required a short hospital visit. My apartment was a few blocks away from the WTC and we breathed in that dust for many months. Well ten years later, I discovered that I had cancer of the tongue. After surgery, I was asked if I wanted to take some art classes for therapy which I totally enjoyed. From then on, I decided to take art seriously. I moved from New York to Orlando after I was offered to be the Technical Site manager. The first thing I did was to register for some design classes in Valencia College. I also discovered Crealde School of Art and signed up. Read more>>

Jada Jones

I started my small massage business called “Super Massages” in the middle of June 2021 out here in Orlando Florida, Long story short, it all started because back in Brooklyn, NY where I was born and raised, my mom always used to ask me to give her a foot massages since she was always working on her feet at her job, and I was really good at giving massages and I enjoyed being able to make my mom feel better. So when we moved here to Orlando, Florida at the end of October in 2019, I then realized one day that I wanted to use my other talents besides singing and writing music and doing what else I enjoy which is knowing how to give massages to help others and wanting to be my very own boss. So then I took a course and got certified as a Massage Therapist, An that was when “Super Massages LLC” was born! And I’m only 20 years old and the only masseuse working at my shop, An thanks to my mom who is such a strong-minded/ambitious person. Read more>>

M. Jackson

I am a former ballet teacher, performing artist, and choreographer. Currently, I am an emerging artist and indie author and have recently published my first children’s book. I had the desire to study ballet as long as I can remember but time and circumstance did not fall into place until I was an adult with small children. Walking into the ballet studio for the first time was magical. The child in me was elated and my true passion for ballet was born. I took more and more classes and was expanded in many ways. Blessed with a few gifted and compassionate teachers, I wanted to emulate them. Within a few years, I was teaching ballet part-time, performing with a college dance company and soon after co-founded a small dance ensemble which I directed for 12 years. I also co-produced Boomer Ballet, a ballet for exercise video. Dance gave me lifelong friendships and a greater appreciation for all of the arts. Read more>>

Meagan Goepferich

Over a decade ago, I set out to create a couponing site to help people save money. I outgrew the coupon world and moved through a few brands with a goal of helping people through different things that matched my phase of life at that point. A few years ago, I created the brand Meagan Gets Real. I have loved having the opportunity to help with encouragement, mental health tips, parenting helps, PR/Marketing advice, Florida fun, and more. My main goal is to help people live their best life and truly thrive. Read more>>

Ricky Hightower

I got into the entertainment field while I was living in Gainesville, FL. I started out as a street promoter for one of the local clubs. I was on a team that traveled from city to city with the club owners and managers. While working with that team, I was exposed to a different side of life. I’ve met and hung with athletes, actors, music artists, producers the list goes on. Even though I was in school studying fashion merchandising and product development, I knew the entertainment world was for me. I moved up from street team to team lead and was in charge of my own five man crew. I later linked up with some fellas from Ft. Lauderdale that put me on their weekly event called 4 Play Fridays at the Panda. We used to have the city going crazy every Friday night for almost two years. Those guys became family and showed me the game to event planning other than just street promoting.  Read more>>

Dana Brady

In 2013, I attended a Yoga & Meditation retreat at the Chopra Center (Now Chopra Global) in Carlsbad, CA with my husband. He was always the one in the relationship that was more deeply connected to the spiritual side of Yoga & Meditation; I simply saw yoga for its physical benefits and for my own running & race recovery. Four days into the retreat, I was inspired by those teaching me and sharing the spiritual gifts of yoga with me that I decided I wanted to share those same benefits with as many people as I could. By the end of the week, I had committed to joining the “Teacher’s Path” with the Chopra Center and signed up to receive my certification in the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. After one year of studying, practicing and in-person retreats, I received my Yoga Teacher Certification in November 2015. In January 2016, I formed my own business, Go With the Flow, and began teaching a few days a week to fellow employees after work as a little “side hustle” to go along with my 9-5 office job. Read more>>

Stenza Daniels

I graduated from The University of Central Florida in 2015 with my Bachelors in Health Sciences: Pre-Clinical, and a minor in Health Administration, Entrepreneurship, and a certificate in Leadership Studies. My goal was to go to medical school and become a dermatologist. Since I was in the 6th or 7th grade, I’ve always been fascinated with the skin and skincare techniques. I remember even telling myself back at that time that if I could be a doctor that focuses on skincare, then I wanted to be whatever type of doctor that is! After I did some research and found out that type of doctor was a dermatologist, that’s what I knew I wanted to be. When I was in high school, I fell in love with makeup, and when I got to college, I realized that I loved to do makeup on other people as well, and I was actually pretty good at it! I’m naturally an artistic person, so the concepts of color theory, blending, and skin tones were easy for me to grasp, understand, and execute. Read more>>

Celeste Burns

I am a Jacksonville native and I have had a passion for photography since I discovered it at the age of 12. Since then, I have been determined to soak up all the knowledge I can while developing my personal flare. I attended Parsons School of Design and studied photography and illustration where my love of documentation grew even more. When I moved back to Jacksonville, I met my (now) wife and was encouraged to take my passion to the next level – start my own business. I started focusing on families and couples, then moved into the wedding space and just fell in love with it. My photography always focused on love and passion, emotion and sunlight. I love meeting people and making them feel beautiful. I love being present for that moment when it seems like everyone in the world is focused on love at the same exact time. I love capturing the harmony between two people and how every single connection is different and unique. Most of all, I love providing a glimpse into every way love exists because ALL love is beautiful. Which is what lead me to be where I am today, and I love every minute of it!.  Read more>>

Anthony Freites

11 years ago, I started in the world of Real Estate. When you start, create a program called TU DOWN PAYMENT ASSISTANCE. Which has helped hundreds of people to acquire their new home. T.D.P.A has given all these families all the tools to acquire their new home. Read more>>

Jazzie Renee Washington

By far, the biggest struggle that has been encountered is COVID-19. The majority of our events have happened in person, from networking events, townhalls, and our annual Black Business Summit. We are still limiting our activity in person until the Covid numbers go back to a downward trend. We’re looking forward to our Black Business Summit in 2022. For more information, visit our site at www.BBOSummit.com. Read more>>

Elaine Duran

My journey started back in 2009 when the recession was in full swing. I was working a corporate sales job and was let go. I had a cake course gifted to me by a dear friend who worked with me and also lost her job that same day. Our class was scheduled to start that evening after work. She chose to opt-out and I chose to go. My husband had suffered a heart attack and was home healing. I didn’t know how to go home that day and break him the bad news. As crushed as I was and a bit anxious, I went to the cake class instead. All I could think about were my two babies at home and how was I going to support the family on NO income. The teacher asked everyone to introduce themselves and out of pure desperation, I said, ” My name is Elaine. I was fired today and this will now be my new job. I’m here to reinvent myself. It was like the light bulb went off! I thought to myself, “Wait, I am also a manicurist with an Arts Degree. If I can do art on itty bitty nails then I can definitely do it with cakes which are a bigger canvas.  Read more>>

Veronica Irizarry

We started out as 5 shops via Instagram (Michelle, thebohobedside, Maleah, Vase + Vignette, Veronica, EN!GMA, Taylor, Thrifted Theory & Kari Lynn, vyntagegoods) who love vintage & home decor. We came together and put on a secondhand sidewalk pop-up at Maleah’s home in the Hourglass District. It was such a successful event where we were honestly taking a gamble on how those in the area would react to an upscale “yard sale” Seeing its success we decided to do another one just a month later where we had our fellow co-founder join (Kat, socalrooted) to bring in more variety to our event. After putting on another awesome event in Maleah’s front yard we felt like it was time to scout for a larger scale location in which we could curate a longer list of vendors and bring the vintage experience to full circle. Read mre>>

Veronica Steiner

Born in Tampa, graduated from the University of Florida. I was a middle school art teacher for 11 years before I went full-time freelance artist. I’ve been painting my entire life but in the last five years, my art career really took off because of Instagram, doing artwork for craft beer labels, and working with Freehand Goods in Orlando.  I work mostly in watercolor. Even my beer labels are hand-painted and scanned. My artwork is most recognized by my depiction of not commonly loved animals (or animals that tend to get a bad rep) because I paint them in a beautiful way instead of viscous. Read more>>

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