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Portraits of Raleigh

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 Raleigh.

Winter McMannen

My story began when I graduated high school in 2009, 4 months pregnant. I was determined at that time not to become another statistic. I knew I would have to work harder than most because of my childhood, as I knew it was over. I had a strong village behind me that allowed me to go on to college and pursue a nursing degree at Hampton University in Hampton, VA, while they raised my son. The funny thing is I never wanted to be a nurse; I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I knew if that didn’t work, I needed a career to fall on that would still make me a lot of money, lol!  Read more>>

Jordan Murray

I’ve always been fond of capturing photos, but I didn’t pursue it. My uncle became a photographer, and I learned that my great-grandfather was also a commercial photographer. Seeing this inspired me to pursue it. I went to a pawn shop in 2016 and bought a starter camera. One of my friends mentored me and taught me how to shoot in a manual; the rest was history. I’ve been shooting for 6 years and operating as a business for 4 years. I picked up videography about 5 years ago and added that to the arsenal. I do many photo/video shoots for products, portraits, events, weddings, music videos, and more. Read more>>

Danielle Barcos

I have always had a camera in hand since I was little. I grew up with my mom and grandma always taking photos of us growing up and having 50 photo albums. In 2018 my friend told me how she loves the pictures of the dogs I post on Facebook and asked if I would take maternity photos for her, and I was like hmm, are you sure? So I did them and honestly fell in love with the human interaction and story everyone has. Read more>>

Muge Ozerten

I am originally from Turkey. The company I am working for (a global company and market leader in its field) relocated me to Raleigh, NC. I have worked for the same company since 2010 and have had several roles in Research & Development and Product Management as an engineer and manager. I started my education in Turkey and continued studying in Italy. I have 2 MSc degrees and an MBA. Besides all these, I have a passion for cooking. Turkish cuisine is very multicultural, including but not limited to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern styles. Read more>>

Stephanie Cisko Whitfield

Hi, I’m Stephanie, owner, and creative director, of Viva L’Event, someone who will support and educate you through this fascinating time in your lives. Born and raised in Chicago, I’ve had the opportunity to plan and design weddings, corporate events, and galas in the US and Internationally since 2005. I can speak and teach locally at workshops and a national level. Having my hands also in floral design for the past 6 years has given me additional knowledge and expertise in the design industry. Read more>>

Ronald Chloe II

I am the second of four children to the most incredible parents anyone could ask for Diron & Djenaba Chloe. My siblings and I are very tightly knit (Diron, Emmanuel & Amani), they are my best friends. I was born in Fort Washington, MD and we moved down to North Carolina when I was 3 and have been central to North Carolina ever since (About 21 years now). I have had a passion for artistry since I was around 4 or 5, and I knew I had to find a way to monetize my love, so graphic design has been a great avenue to do so, primarily as a freelancer. I graduated from the illustrious North Carolina A&T State University with my bachelors degree in 2019 and have been doing freelance graphic design work ever since. Read more>>

Molly Chopin

I’ve been a visual artist my whole life, and my story begins in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I grew up in a household where my creativity was encouraged. From the time I could hold crayons and markers, I was drawn to creating art, but throughout my childhood, I was influenced by the “starving artist” stigma not to follow the path of being a full-time creator. After graduating from high school in 2003, I went to college and earned a degree in K-12 art education. I then worked as a full-time secondary school art teacher for seven years, which was an overwhelming but incredibly fulfilling experience. Read more>>

Taylor Willingham

I started this business to bring self-care back to the forefront of my routine when my life & the state of the world were turned upside down. I knew that at the height of the pandemic, I was not alone in needing to focus on my self-care with limited options available. My why here is to ensure that people like myself, employees, mothers & people that may only have the time it takes to shower have something to help push through their day or help them shake the troubles at the end of the day. Read more>>

Kathryn Fulp

I began my journey with photography through self-portraiture. When dealing with a long-term eating disorder, self-portraiture was a large part of the healing journey. Eventually, I started assisting a videographer in town, shooting behind-the-scenes photos of bands in local recording studios. I moved out from there to the regular commercial work: graduations, weddings, and family portraits, all while working on my unique style. Today I’d describe myself as more of a fine art photographer than anything else, though I enjoy all the work I get to do. Read more>>

Jennifer Funaro

I have yet to take a straight road to psychology. Although, when I reflect on all the decisions that led me to this career, it was always in the cards for me. When I walk into a gathering, I would rather have a deep, meaningful conversation than talk with everyone in the room. Who I am is someone who enjoys sharing life with people. This is one part of me that I bring into the therapy room. While the conversation is different in the therapy room compared to a gathering, one thing that draws me towards my job is that I have the privilege of being invited into my clients’ lives. Read more>>

Pam Baldwin

I worked in research for 11 years and, while working, started a creative business where I would turn my art into invitations and stationery. In 2017 I decided it was time to leave my full-time job and run my business Paperclutch. I loved being able to support myself through creativity. I built a successful business using online platforms like Etsy, Pinterest, and Instagram. In 2020 life changed for many, myself included. Running a business is hard; running a business that depends on celebrations during a pandemic is hard on top of also being all the things (mom, teacher, chef, maid). Read more>>

Reginald Stepney

I am a native of New York City, New York, and was licensed to minister the gospel on June 21, 1981, by Pastor Rosa Lilly of Lilly’s Chapel Church in New York City, NY. I was ordained as an Elder in 1992 by Pastor Willie Vaughn of Emmanuel Pentecostal Church in Hertford, North Carolina. I served as an associate minister in the United Student Fellowship Campus Ministry at North Carolina State University, assisting Dr. Shelton Murphy from 1981 to 1992. Dr. Stepney served as Pastor of the United Student Fellowship from 1993 until 2000. Read more>>

Dave Finucane

Valerie Courreges and Dave Finucane founded and co-directed the Westchester Jazz Workshop in Peekskill, NY, from the mid-1990s through 2005, when they moved with their 2 boys to Durham, NC. The idea behind the workshop came from adult jazz students (including Valerie) who wanted to play and learn with other students while being coached by Dave. The initial workshops began in Valerie & Dave’s apartment, then moved to an art space in Peekskill, NY, called “One Station Plaza.” Valerie and Dave later began directing One Station Plaza and created a regular jazz concert series on the weekends at the venue. Read more>>

Caroline Pate

When I was younger, I always knew I wanted to do something about art. 10 years ago; if you had told me that I was a hairstylist and a bridal makeup artist, I would have been so confused. I started in my mom’s stylist’s salon. I worked for her during the summer, sweeping and cleaning for her. And in the meantime, she was teaching me how to be a hairstylist, and I didn’t even know. Soon after that, I enrolled in cosmetology courses. After graduating, I began working in a salon with a fantastic boss and eventually opened Studio Strands a mile from that salon. After learning how much I love bridal makeup, two other stylists and I opened Pastel Beauty, a travel hair and makeup trio. Read more>>

Kate Runy

In 2018, co-founders Colleen Bouchard and Kate Runy, along with their former partners, decided that instead of creating a rescue, they should use their talents in fundraising and raising awareness to help reduce the number of homeless dogs through spay and neuter initiatives. They also have helped with medical fundraising for difficult cases from friends in rescue. Now Colleen and Kate co-run. Read more>>

Hanna Lafko

My shop started as a fleeting thought during the summer of 2020. I’ve been practicing varying kinds of witchcraft since I was 13. At the beginning of the lockdown, I joined TikTok (like so many people) and saw that witchcraft and spirituality were becoming increasingly popular. However, I was dealing with an illness and couldn’t practice my craft as I had in years prior, and I found quite a few friends who were also dealing with their disabilities and chronic illnesses during that time. We all felt vulnerable in a world where we felt like we weren’t prioritized during a global health crisis. Read more>>

Kayleigh Bain

How did I get to where I am now? Well, it has been a wild ride over the past 7 years! Let’s say getting to where I am now has not been easy. Moving south, I had yet to decide what I wanted to do, so I had a few different jobs, all of which were fun but nothing I loved. Then I got into the gym and marketing industry, where I came to own a boutique cycle and yoga studio in Myrtle Beach. With that business, as amazing as it was, I had a lot of hardships from it. I lost all my money and my pride. I knew I couldn’t mentally come out of this dark place staying there, so I decided to leave. Read more>>

Monica R. Edwards

You can say that hospitality is in my blood. Ever since my husband Daniel & I have been together, we’ve hosted social events and had people living with us in our home. Our friends and family looked forward to our annual NCCU Homecoming parties. In 1995, the UK-based biotech company I worked for here in the triangle was sold. The new company, located in Boston, promised us that it would be a smooth merger of companies. Well, about 2 weeks later, they came back and said that they had decided that they were going to shut down our office, and they wanted us to pack up the office so that operations could be moved to the Boston area. During this time, one of my husband’s colleagues at the Durham Police Dept gave him a gift certificate for a night’s stay at a local B&B that he’d won at his grandkid’s fall festival. Read more>>

Petra Alejandra

Hello, world. I’m Petra Alejandra, the CEO of Kulture Beauty By Alejandra. It all started when I was a little girl. I always loved art and bright colors, and I loved playing dress-up. My mom and aunt would do my hair, get me big pretty dresses and we would play dress up in the house. Since birth, everyone always told my mom I was such a beautiful baby. When I was two years, I won a beauty pageant contest. As I continued to get older, my love for beauty and fashion grew more and more. Back in high school, I started doing my friends’ makeup for football and basketball games since they were cheerleaders and dance girls. I saw that my work was getting better and better.  Read more>>

Amy Brooks

My husband and I moved to Central NJ with our infant son in 2000. I didn’t know anyone and was eager to make friends, so I took a stained glass class in a local shop. I didn’t make any friends, but I fell in love with creating glass art. I started fiddling around with projects in our basement while our children napped, which evolved into making commissioned pieces. I decided to try to make a stained glass business work for my family instead of returning to my previous type of employment and me. It was a great creative outlet, and the flexibility was a perfect fit. Read more>>

Chloe Benhaim

My husband and I are avid kava drinkers, and I’ve been a part of the community for almost 20 years! We’re passionate about the medicinal work kava does regarding anxiety, stress, and insomnia because we’ve witnessed the changes my husband experienced after drinking it regularly. He has severe and chronic PTSD from 24 years of military service, and kava helps soothe him, sleep better and stay calmer throughout the day. We decided to open a kava bar in Fayetteville and Sanford to cater to the military community. We plan on expanding once the two bars are settled because we believe the kava community is something more people should experience! Read more>>

Apache Knapp

Since the golden era began in 1988, I have been working on my skill of writing and freestyling lyrics. Around 1991 I started performing and recording in local talent shows and making demos to send to radios and record labels. By 1992/1993, I was performing all over the tri-state area and opening up for major acts like The Lost Boys and others. I always was eager to use my voice, even as a young child, and I knew I was meant for the life of a lead musician. I kept performing, recording, and rocking in the outdoor ciphers and block parties and events. By the time it was about 2000, I was making my beats and had a crew around me that also had many talents. Read more>>

Madison Cubbage

I used to be a music teacher and taught a wide variety of age groups – I loved it until Covid happened. So, while dealing with the struggles of teaching during that time, I picked up my old Nikon D3000 my mom had gifted me back in high school, and I started taking photos of flowers to decompress. I’d go on walks/hikes with my dog and take photos of landscapes I saw on trails during golden hour. One day, I was getting coffee with a friend in school for PR/marketing at UNC, and she mentioned how good I was at taking photos of her for her blog and how I could “make a living “ off it. Read more>>

Angela Bobbitt

GlamBerries by Angela was started by luck in 2017. The Raleigh-Durham area was under a winter storm watch, and my family was all hunkered down. My husband had a “sweet tooth,” and I being too “chicken” to drive out to the store, found a pack of strawberries in the fridge and a bunch of chocolate chips. I melted the chocolate like I had seen on tv and began dipping the berries. I served up my first little plate of the “ugliest” chocolate-covered strawberries and the rest, as they say, was history! He and I posted pictures of ourselves eating the dipped berries on Facebook and friends began commenting. After a few requests for chocolate-covered berries, I sold my first order on Valentine’s Day, and I’ve been dipping since then! Read more>>

Kayte Price

I have always made jewelry for myself. Graphic design has been my profession for decades. Somewhere along the line, I needed to quiet a restlessness, a desire to be more creative, and a connection. And then, I discovered old African Trade Beads and Thai Amulets. These spiritual and old artifacts, combined with the beauty of nature, made so much sense to me. I feel the strength from all the hands that have touched vintage objects, the maker’s energy, and the piece’s history. I took up making in earnest, and people wanted to hear the story about how I met my guys off the side of I-40 or I-95 after they had returned to their homelands and collected objects or beads for me. Read more>>

Ashley Agee

I obtained my bachelor’s in social work (BSW) and master’s in social work (MSW) at North Carolina Central University. As a student, I enjoyed the sociology field and the study of human behavior. I realized that there were few jobs in that field, so I changed my major to a field where I could study human behavior and make an impact on a micro level. My wide variety of friends with various backgrounds contributed to my wanting to pursue this career. I began my career in 2015 as a Child Protective Services Social Worker serving the Wake County area. During my 3 years there, I learned what aspect of social work I enjoyed most. Read more>>

Dre Smith

Welcome to FR8TEES. We are dedicated to giving you the best apparel by focusing our designs on quality, uniqueness, and, most importantly, culture. FR8, pronounced “Freight,” is a brand about connection, networking, and inspiration. Our brand represents the connections of individuals coming together to form: one unit, one team, and one love. Founded in 1988 by Dre Smith, FR8TEES has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the small town of Goldsboro, North Carolina. FR8TEES consists of friends dedicated to fashion, unity, and culture. Read more>>

Keya Isler

I always knew I wanted to start a business; I just needed to figure out where to start. I graduated high school in 2017 and attended Livingstone College, pursuing my degree in business administration. In the second semester of my first year, I knew I was ready. Livingstone helped me start my business from scratch in 2019. I put my business courses to use; it was no other way. This was meant for me. It was right in front of me. All I had to do was the work. The first product I released in 2019 was a black T-shirt with K2K. The people went KRAZY on campus. Read more>>

Renisha Mathis

While growing up, I was interested in art from a very young age. My earliest memory was coloring at the dentist or doctor’s office in those magazines with free coloring pages. I’ve always naturally been drawn to art and creative projects because it allows me to broadcast my imperfections, insecurities, and vulnerability. I would always stress myself out if things weren’t perfect with my creations or my life. It’s like that need to control something and the output. Yet, as I’ve grown older and experienced more life and different art forms, I can definitely tell you – nothing is perfect. Read more>>

Jennie Griggs

This will probably be more than you want to know; however, here goes. WHO AM I? Have you ever experienced special moments exemplifying “Life” at its best and worst and asked, “Why Me?” As I venture beyond my 70 years on this earth as a believer in Christ, two facts are evident. One is that even when you experience life at its best, you need to be grateful, remember and treasure those beautiful moments. Two, when you experience life at its worst, you must be grateful, remember, and treasure the learning moments.  Read more>>

Lisa Begley

In May 2020, I worked for an assisted living group. I was asked to build an in-house painting and flooring team and department ground up. Then, as I know so many of you can relate, I was let go due to COVID. I was offered the idea of “retiring” at that time. NO WAY! I said I was not ready for all that, my professional career was not yet complete, but I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I was headed next, and in the wake of COVID, did anybody really know?  Read more>>

Katrina Anderson

As a foster child, I was not taught financial literacy so I had to learn about budgeting and finances the hard way. I bought my first house when I was 19 years old. I kept trying to keep up with “The Jones”. My husband and I had everything that society says you should have, nice cars with big car payments, a house, etc. But we got in over our heads and when we got pregnant with our first son, life smacked us hard. I had to leave my job which put us even more in a big financial strain. We ended up having my car gets repoed, had to sell my husband’s truck, got behind on our house, and racked up $21,000 in credit card and loan debt. Read more>>

Carlos Smith

I trace the origin of my videography/photography/marketing business to my early childhood fantasies of flying and miniaturizing myself. Laying still in the grass, I would imagine my life as a bee hovering over the flowers and other insect citizens; creating movies in my mind about their interactions. In 2012, I graduated college with a degree in graphic interior architectural design; another place where I got to build small imagined worlds and models. In 2017, Four years into my corporate career, I was not content. I worked for a great company with great people, but something else was calling me. Read more>>

Dacia Zimmer

We started converting an old camper trailer in 2020 and have fully renovated the trailer from top to bottom. I, Dacia have over 18 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience. The idea to create a mobile coffee trailer came from me living in Spokane, WA for 5 years and working with many coffee businesses. I have always dreamt of owning my own coffee business and sharing a product she loves with others. My other passion is traveling and trying food and drinks all over the World. I bring my knowledge and experiences to Wilmington where I hope to delight others with my coffee and drinks. Read more>>

Bret Cooley-Jones

I started bartending in 2011, I went to see a friend who was working and was helping her clean up her bar. After that night, I told her how cool it was watching her work and she asked her boss if they could use the extra help, That next week I started working at the Taphouse in Elon, NC. Once I gained experience I put myself out there applying to several clubs in Greensboro and after landing on the rest is history. Being in a college city brought a lot of exposure and experience, which lead to traveling to Charlotte and Raleigh to do events such as CIAA or Homecoming events.  Read more>>

Shanelle Curtis

I began playing basketball at age seven through high school and intramural basketball in college. My parents would always buy me a pair of shoes/sneakers for the school year and then another pair for basketball season so I’ve always loved sneakers and fashion in addition to the colorways. As time went on I would collect sneakers based on what I liked whether it was based on colors due to my wardrobe or certain shoes/sneakers I liked based on the brand, style, comfortability, or just because I liked it. So now I want to help others with finding the shoes/sneakers they want or need whether they looking for a specific shoe color, style, or for comfort. We only get one pair of feet so we must take care of them. Read more>>

Serena Schultz

I can’t remember how exactly I fell into it but I first started modeling as a teenager and did it for a couple of years. As a young adult, I wanted to find a long-term career that made me happy so I found my other passion and got into the veterinary field and started doing wildlife rehabilitation also. Then, a few years ago my mom was taking photography classes and needed me for some of her photo assignments. One day I saw a photo from a local photographer at a really cool location and reached out to see if he would mind sharing where that location was and it ended up turning into us doing a shoot together, and the rest is history. Read more>>

Christine (Xine) Benz

It all started with the pink Sony Cybershot I bought on Black Friday of 2009. I’d convince my friends to do photoshoots. I kept practicing through high school, saved up for my first DSLR and continued my portrait practice through college. I was asked to photograph a classmate’s wedding and before I knew it, my business took off eventually expanding through connections within that city. While a full-time student, I booked my biggest season to date landing on a total of 27 weddings. Read more>>

Philippe Gray

I’m a software engineer and enjoy it, but my true passion is music. I spend most of my free time creating music these days. I played violin as a child (for eight years) but switched to the electric guitar as a teen. I used to mainly play covers of my favorite classic rock and heavy metal songs for fun without going any deeper than that, but in the last few years, but that all changed when COVID happened. Read more>>

Asia Magness

I was working a full-time administrative assistant job from home. There was a building available in my small town that was currently being utilized as a storage unit for someone. I found out who owned the buildings and created Mae’s. My plan was to sale coffee and baked goods. I would bake the items after cooking supper every night. And I would continue to work my full-time job. My two older children helped me choose a name. Mae has always been my nickname growing up so we felt that was a perfect name. I signed my lease and my then landlord said, “Honey do you think you’ll make it in maiden”. Read more>>

Cassandre Dunbar

Shortly after completing medical school, I became pregnant with my eldest and was made very aware of the things that I put both in and on my body. In doing my own research, I learned that there was a large gap between what I learned and what it truly means to be well. Since then, I’ve been on a journey to be well in mind, body, and spirit. In my quest for knowledge, I quickly realized that Black women are often underrepresented or alienated in Wellness spaces yet also suffer the worst outcomes compared to our peers. Read more>>

Dustin Owens

I got my start in real estate flipping houses after I graduated from college. My girlfriend at the time had a sister that was a realtor. I started learning the ins and outs of real estate from them and then decided to get my real estate license after a few years of flipping properties. I got my real estate license right in the middle of the Great Recession. (Yeah, I have never been the brightest bulb in the box). But through the recession, I learned a lot about how to deal with the downtimes of real estate. I worked for them for a few years before deciding to open Mantle Realty in 2015. During the infancy of Mantle was a home-based real estate company. Read more>>

Jill Thompson

Ryan and I used to work in corporate America. I worked three levels underground and barely saw the sun or Ryan because we worked so much. It was the struggles in this chapter that made us realize what we want in life. We decided that our happiness was more important to us than our city jobs and life and that’s when we made the decision to start saving for a boat and pursuing a simpler life by the sea. Read more>>

April Dupree

Butterfly Counseling, PLLC started in 2021 and is named in memory of April’s mother. Butterfly Counseling officially opened in January 2022 in a one-room office. They provide face-to-face therapy as well as an encrypted zoom virtual option. Butterfly Counseling represents the transition of one’s life as a butterfly transitions from a caterpillar to a free-flying butterfly. Butterfly Counseling offers a self-pay rate and is credentialed with a few private insurance companies. Read more>>

Hytham Mouna

I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a pharmacy degree in 1988 and was fortunate to work at Wake Forest Baptist Health as a compounding pharmacist for over 34 years. While keeping my job at the hospital, I was able to launch Med Solutions Compounding Pharmacy in 2008 and a home infusion pharmacy by the name of Carolina IV Solutions in 2012. Currently, I am in the process of starting an FDA-registered 503 b outsourcing facility to help and participate in solving national drug shortages and provide other needed IV compounded medications to clinics and hospitals. Read more>>

DeVonnda McCormick

DeVonnda Shantel McCormick was born and raised in Durham, NC in a single-parent home. Despite the struggles and hardships that she and her mother faced, her mother persisted in instilling God’s word as the number one voice in DeVonnda’s life. Failure was not an option and being ordinary would not suffice. DeVonnda went on to earn a B.A. degree in history from Elizabeth City State University and later furthered her studies at Capella University where she earned a M.S.Ed. DeVonnda obtained the name VaughndaMonroe through her love for Marilyn Monroe’s Fashion and Sex appeal. Read more>>

Ramesh Dahal

I grew up in a village in Nepal near Mt. Everest. At the age of 16, I moved to Kathmandu and started at a culinary school while working in a restaurant. I graduated at the top of my class and was able to start at an airport restaurant managed by Crown Plaza. After this, I worked in a succession of establishments – hotels, motels, fine dining, fast food, and five-star restaurants, including the Angus Barn and Le Farm Bakery. Read more>>

Fangyi Cheng

My husband and I are originally from Taiwan. We came to NC in 2002 for graduate school, then stayed here for the job afterward. I put a pause on my career after our two girls were born. After our second girl A was born, we started to notice her unusually slow pace of development. She was not able to roll over even at six months old, so we started early intervention around that time. A’s official diagnosis is global developmental delays, and the genetic test showed a huge piece missing in her chromosome, which likely contributed to her intellectual and physical limitations. Read more>>

Tisha Shah

When two Cary moms, Tisha Shah, a speech therapist, and Stephanie Hall, an occupational therapist, met while developing a PTA Diversity, Equity, Inclusion committee at Penny Road Elementary School, they began sharing with each other their concerns about healthcare access for families they serve. They then formed TheraFriends in 2021 to help improve access to pediatric therapy services and programs for families in the Triangle. Co-Founder Stephanie Hall explains, “Tisha and I have been private practice owners and have seen the struggles and barriers families have to deal with in order to receive quality services for their child. Read more>>

Krystel Bennett

I have always known that I wanted to do something creative in my future. I was 16 years old living on my own, working two jobs and going to school. One of my jobs was a shampoo girl at a hair salon. From that day forward I know I wanted to become a hairstylist. I didn’t have money for school as I was supporting myself so I took on an apprenticeship program that I did over a long period of time… I was working at a hair salon for a few years and at 25 I decided to rent a chair and run my own business. Being a single mom this was a very difficult decision for me but I was determined to make it work for my daughter and I. Read more>>

Constance Copple

I come from a lot of trauma and background, learning from my mistakes, many wrong choices, and turns to get me where I am today. Something I am still healing from and a lot of it I used to motivate me to be a better person and mother. I currently hold several educational certificates and a bachelor’s. My bachelors, I recently obtained in Sociology, and pursuing my Master’s in Social Work, then on to a PH’D. My educational background also consists of Bookkeeping, Certified Bridal Consultant and Event Planner, Paralegal Studies, and Veterinarian Assistance. Over the years I have had many different businesses, some I still consider operative. The first business I started was when I was living in Hawai’i and I took it to Newport News, VA when I moved there, as an Event Planner/ Bridal Consultant, which I still do from time to time, I found that when I moved back to my hometown that was not something many people could or would pay for. Read more>>

Alicia Marie

I have been singing and writing my entire life. Probably since I was about 8 years old. There was always a lot going on around me so I learned to use the writing as therapy early. I would just zone out in my own world. I moved to North Carolina from New York in high school and became heavily involved in the spoken word poetry scene with a group called Sacrificial Poets for many years which lead to the discovery that I could rap. I rapped and sang alongside two dope individuals for years in a group we called The Big Chill and that was my introduction to true music creation and performance on a more professional level. Read more>>

Tonisha Albritton

Created with my grandmother and niece in mind. I started Aria Jean in 2019 as a hobby. I was feeling stagnant in life and felt like starting a business would inspire me to want to do more than work, sleep, and mindlessly scroll on social media. My business has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and become more creative. I’ve worked so hard for other businesses with no reward or appreciation. It made me realize I needed to be part of a bigger purpose. That’s how Aria Jean came to life. Read more>>

Lydia Routhier

So far, my story is fairly short since I have been officially “launched” less than a year, however my motivation behind the brand goes back much further than that…I’d say all the way back to high school. Fun Fact about me…I was my high school’s Student Body President! In that role, I fell in LOVE with planning events like prom, homecoming, spirit week, etc. I was also a competitive gymnast my whole life…This sport teaches so much discipline and time management that pairs so well with the event planning process. NOTHING in gymnastics provides instant gratification…It’s months and months of diligent training all for one big competition. Likewise, event planning is weeks or months of detailed planning leading up to one special event or wedding. There’s so many parallels and I know that the gymnast in me is going to set me on a path of success in this industry. Read more>>

Vania Meyers

After college, I began working in the corporate world. A few years in, I decided to pursue my MBA and launch my own small business focused on my passion for crafting. Sewing had been one of my favorite hobbies since childhood and being able to leverage those skills in my own small business was a dream come true! Thanks to my phenomenal support system, I was able to build over time and hone in on my offerings and the platforms I sell on, to make them what I wanted. Some of the biggest hurdles were building my brand on social media and launching my own website. I’ve spent countless hours researching and adapting to trends to ensure high volume to my website and socials. Read more>>

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