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The Change-Makers: stories that inspire

The heart of our mission is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our communities. In the recent weeks, we’ve had the privilege to connect with some incredible artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with the incredible group below. In coming weeks we’ll be sharing some amazing stories from Tampa, St. Petersburg and the surrounding areas.  Check out our favorite stories from across the Voyage family.

Olivia Karaguezian, Rachel Thompson, and Elliot Daugherty

Unified Dance Crew is the University of Tampa’s hip-hop team. UDC was founded in 2015 and has always remained a student-led organization on campus. In the past, the team at the time was only allowed one practice per week and would often have to hold additional practices in public spaces around campus to accomplish their goals. The team started off performing alongside greek life and in other smaller events on and off campus. With each performance throughout the years, our team has gained more attention within the school which has brought dozens of new students auditioning each semester. Read more>>

Dr. Terika L. Haynes

Fourteen years ago, I decided to follow a long-time passion of travel and start a business. I started the business working part-time but over the years things became so busy that I had to make a critical decision. Would I continue living safely with a stable and dependable income? Or would I step out on faith to pursue my passion full-time? I decided to step out on faith and work as a full-time entrepreneur with my travel planning business. Today I have survived a recession, and a pandemic, and I have appeared in over 70 notable press outlets. Read more>>

Nicole Calabrese

From the age of 3, I fell in love with dance instantly. If I could live at the studio, I would have. I then started competing at a young age and fell in love with it even more. The thought of performing was a thrill to me. Bright lights, the stage, stage make-up, glitter, rhinestones, and showing the world how much, I love to dance! I’ve won numerous awards and was given so many opportunities through dance. When asked what I wanted to do in life, I would always reply with, I want to open up my own dance studio, and inspire others. Read more>>

Candi Gibson

This story isn’t just about one woman, it’s about me and my business partner Alison. It’s about two women who built a tribe…. The Morph Tribe!!! Get some popcorn and a box of tissues, but don’t worry you’ll smile in the end! Let’s go back to the beginning. Our story has some deep layers, but I’ll stick to the facts and if you want the juicy stuff we can dig deeper later. Alison and I met working across the hall from each other at Sola Salon Suites in 2016. For those who don’t know, Sola Salon Suites is a place where independent hairstylists can work in their very own studio and be their own boss. Read more>>

Austin Farmerie

My name is Austin Farmerie, and I am an Instagram content creator. My social media journey actually started on YouTube. When I was younger, I was always the loudest one in the room. I loved to pretend to make videos, or literally force people to sit in my living room and watch me perform. When I went to high school, I honestly did not have that many friends at all. And that goes for middle school as well. I had niche interests that I found only people on the internet sharing. That is when my love for social media started. I started creating YouTube videos about the Hunger Games when I was 12, and then slowly fell into my lifestyle niche. Read more>>

Melian De Carolis

I am originally from Italy but I spent my teenage years in England and eventually ended up in America where I met my husband and we are now growing our family. My passion for food started in Italy where I would follow my Italian grandmother around baking and cooking with her. I was always interested in her delicious desserts and magical dishes. When I moved to England I got more curious about cooking foods from different cultures and so I started working at restaurants in the area where I made friends with the Chefs and started shadowing them. I learned a lot from them. Read more>>

Rebecca Silva

Over 9 years ago, after planning and creating my own wedding, I entered the wedding world with an Etsy shop that I curated full of silk florals, customized signs, and all sorts of personalized wedding goods. At the time South Louisiana was home, and this seemed like the best way to reach more clients. I was right. Quickly, we were shipping all over the US, and just as fast, began coordinating & providing florals and décor for local weddings as well. It didn’t take long before I realized that it wasn’t just the wedding world I loved, but it was being a part of my client’s love story that was my favorite part of all. Read more>>

Toni Bloomer

Growing up I’ve always loved cleaning and organizing. I value clean spaces because I know that in order to think clearly and to be more efficient, a clean and orderly space is essential. Upon graduating high school, my very first job was as a housekeeper. Then from there, I worked as a housekeeper at another facility. Within that time period, I grew much more about upholding cleaning standards and guidelines. After numerous years of cleaning facilities, I finally decided to start up my own cleaning business – Millennial Maids in 2022. Read more>>

Susan Benjamin

My mother, Syd Entel, who started the gallery in 1980, instilled a deep love of the arts in me. Art is simply part of our family heritage. Together, we have established a gallery that brings beautiful and meaningful artwork to our community that can be loved and appreciated for generations. Every piece of art I bring into the gallery is something that I love. I hand-pick items based on design, color, and quality. My belief is that one should buy art because it moves you. There is no wrong or right to collecting art, and I want people to feel comfortable and at home when they walk into the gallery. Read more>>

Queen Lexx

Hi, I’m Queen Lexx. My birth name is Alexus; however I do go by Queen or Lexx, you pick. I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and then later raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Right after I graduated from Columbia High School in Alabama, I joined the military and became a 68W or in layman’s terms a combat medical specialist. I served for about three years, was discharged in 2018, and haven’t looked back since! Getting out of the military was a big transition that civilians really don’t understand but I’ve been much happier and more fulfilled since. Read more>>

Dana Marino

After the passing of my younger sister, Jenna in 2020 I found myself in a place of grief and was in search of an outlet to place the pain. Before graduating with a Master’s in Business Administration, I attended Ringling College of Art & Design and majored in Interior Design. After my sister’s passing, I purchased a home and began to remodel the house room by room. It was during this time that I rediscovered my passion for architecture and design, and this is also where I began to heal. In 2021 I partnered with my sister, Michelle, who lives in Atlanta and we founded Dimora Designs, an Interior Design studio, and Home Décor retailer. Read more>>

Kristen Molinaro

We first opened our doors in June 2021, eager to share our love of yoga with others. Based in Brandon, Florida, our intention at Keystone Yoga is to help our students listen to their inner selves and find the courage to step out of their comfort zone. Yoga is an ancient art that teaches us to be present in the moment. We hope that our students experience the joy that this practice brings us. Our Yoga Studio has something for everyone, and at all levels. Keystone Yoga offers Vinyasa & Hatha Yoga. Kristen, the owner, picked the name Keystone Yoga because she is originally from Pennsylvania, nicknamed The Keystone State. Read more>>

Suzy Solar

Growing up, my dream was to become a DJ, vocalist, and musician. I’m Asian-American and had constantly faced racism and bullying as a child, then went home to an abusive paranoid schizophrenic mother. Music has always helped me cope with life, so in 1997 I decided to follow my childhood dream. The style of music that I’m most passionate about is Trance, and back then it was still new to Florida. There was no scene for it here yet, so I set out to build one. I gave out my mix tapes at clubs and began DJing anywhere I could get a chance. Read more>>

Blair Valentine

My name is Blair, founder of The Market Culture, which is home to The Market Marie and The Market Elaine! I grew up loving the arts and anything to do with creating! I majored in Psychology & studied Art in school, and have always followed things I was passionate about! I am the mother of 3 amazing daughters who motivated me to dream big and choose a career that combined my love for art, people, and creativity while giving me the schedule I desired. The Market Culture began in May of 2021 and has quickly become a success for small businesses. Read more>>

Jeannie Vazquez

After living in the wilderness for 7 1/2 years of my life I then pursued a baking career searching for purpose and fulfillment. (Long Story) I wondered if this was really the way I intended to live life. I prayed for guidance and asked God to help me. I didn’t want to work for other people anymore. Bosses can be so cruel. My heart yearned for something where I could be free to be my inadequate self, express creativity, and still be able to make a living. I discovered artistic furniture painting and was fascinated by the idea! I knew a little about paint and thought this could be the way to start a business!!! Read more>>

Jane Morse-Swett

My first husband died of AIDS and we had been living overseas for our married life as educators/teachers. We had three children. My world was shaken to the core when he was diagnosed and I had no idea how we were going to survive and if we had the disease and knew very little about it at this time…. this was in the 80″s. We were also in a small city in Spain with very little outside information and no computers at this time. Only one newsstand in the city for me to go to get anything in English. When I moved back to the states, littering started over. Read more>>

Phylicia Wagner

I started my real estate journey as a compliment to my home decor business that I started last year called Phyl Rose Collection. I always had a passion for home decor and design and wanted to use real estate as a precursor to my home staging plans. I never knew that I’d end up loving real estate so much. I went from just selling basic residential properties to snagging commercial listings and selling land. Everything about real estate interested me! And seeing the smile on my client’s faces as I help them achieve their biggest asset in the world was everything to me! Read more>>

Humairah Shams

I’ve actually always been a creative soul; I’ve been crafting since I was very young and have always loved working with my hands. When I started my calligraphy journey in 2015, my sister pointed out that she would love to see my work on bags and totes. We hadn’t really intended to start a full-blown business, but we sought out suppliers who could help us produce small quantities. Once we got things rolling, it really just snowballed from there! I owe so much to my sister Sarah, for pushing me to do this, and jumping on the small business journey with me! Read more>>

Sandra Hurtubise

The passion I have for helping others find balance and achieve optimal health began at a young age. When I was 5 years old my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and fought for her health until she passed away when I was 15. My mother’s drive to beat cancer and live a healthier lifestyle became the foundation of my eagerness to learn more about holistic healthcare. I originally thought I wanted to be a psychologist. However, during my undergraduate studies, I found more of an interest in sociology. Read more>>

Parth Shaha

I took over an overleveraged hotel in need of a lot of TLC back in 2008. It was a 60-room Super 8 in Kenosha WI. Over the next 4 years, I dedicated all my time and expanded operations with the purchase of an underperforming Red Roof Inn (Arlington Heights, IL). I knew at this point in my life I was willing to sacrifice just about everything you see 20-year-olds indulge in so that I could enjoy the best of the other decades. In my learning and growth mentality, combined with the ultra-competitive market (O’Hare hotel market), I learned what it takes to make a hotel successful. Read more>>

Charles Wright

I got started in the automotive field working as a test technician and worked my way up have had 7-8 jobs form 15-26 until the one, I currently have landed me down here in Sarasota selling private jets. I’ve had my ups and downs and highlight reels so you could say, the hardest thing for me was always torn between doing something with an extreme sport of some kind to make money and excel or making it through a strategic mental aspect through working. I sell private jets for Individuals simply put in meet and talk to some of the richest of the rich in the world and I make a part of their life a lot easier which is selling one of their most used assets or dinging them a new one, while then enjoying the seamless process the whole way through. Read more>>

Darcy Greco

I moved to Tampa 19 years ago and fell in love with palm trees and my now husband Gavin Greco. We have 2 incredible children ages 9 & 6. I’ve been a licensed hairstylist for almost 20 years, 18 of them have been at, Salon Belladonna, in South Tampa. It’s a fun evolving industry that helps me to stay current and inspired. 6 years ago, I pursued my dream of being a writer. Starting off with a small mom & lifestyle blog, that allowed me to stay consistent in releasing 1 new article a week. Being able to fit that into my schedule encouraged me to see I could begin working on my bigger dream of completing a novel. Read more>>

Maya Brown

I grew up in DeLand, FL before moving to Tampa to attend college. I then graduated from the University of South Florida in 2015 with degrees in Sociology and Africana Studies, as well as a minor in Women’s Studies. For almost the past decade, I’ve centered my work around political research, campaigning, and public advocacy. I’ve been involved in several organizations across the state including previously serving as the President of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats, the Communications Co-Chair of the New Leaders Council, and the Government and Legislative Affairs Committee Co-Chair of the Volusia County African American Leadership Council. Read more>>

Melissa Sontheimer

Hello! I moved from the Mid West to St. Pete when I was 18 years old in 2005. I grew up visiting my Grandparents who had a home in Bradenton. Funny enough, my high school sweetheart had family who lived full-time in Gulfport. We came to visit over spring break our senior year when everyone else went to Mexico. We decided quickly into the one-week trip that we were going to make Pinellas County our permanent home as fast as we could. Read more>>

Chris Lazorcheck

The Coco Wood Grill is a gastropub concept that caters to foodies in a fun, family-oriented atmosphere. This concept was developed by the husband & wife team of Chris & Jennifer Lazorcheck through their passion and love of food & social entertaining. After buying the the Old Lobster Pot location in Redington Shore, we wanted to focus on providing the community with a full-service neighborhood restaurant that takes traditional family recipes and puts a twist on them. Read more>>

Taylor Dunworth

In 2015, I purchased a sewing machine in hopes of reviving some of my favorite memories of making pillows, cutting out quilt squares, and learning how to use a sewing machine with my grandmother. Of course, it arrived, I was intimidated, and it sat in its box, unopened with the packing tape not even sliced open for 4 more years. In 2019, I decided to start searching for a creative outlet beyond my full-time job working in tech as a developer. Read more>>

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