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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.

Chase Parker

I’ve always been creative, from painting cars to my career as a hairstylist for the last 16 years. I created a craft room at our house for my daughter and her friends to use, but I had no idea I would soon take that over as a studio. A friend came over and liked a piece of art that I made for my dining room so much that I told her I would create something for her. The finished piece was a Kurt Cobain charcoal drawing over his handwritten lyrics. That piece was posted to social media, and from there, I got my first commission, which was also my first oil painting. I also received an offer to place my work in Luxe Gallery in West Palm Beach. I wasn’t exactly an “artist” at the time, but that moment changed everything for me. I just started creating and pushing myself to see what I was capable of creating. Since then, every moment I have free is spent making art. I have been pretty blessed in the sense that everything I have created has sold immediately and sometimes before I’ve even finished it. It’s been amazing and I feel like I found my purpose in life, all by chance. Read more>>

Teresa Jennings

As a doula, I strive to create change in the way birth is viewed. It’s important that birth be given back to the birthing person. I want families to become trusting themselves and their decisions as to what’s right for them. Its viewed as a being a doula is more than just holding babies. Read More>>

Nate Blakely

I was born in Orlando, Florida, when I was five, my family moved to Vienna, Virginia, which is about 30 minutes from DC. Words have been hard for me to find all my life, I have always gravitated towards visual storytelling. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school in 2010, I started to do video editing, this was my first real love. Read More>>

Pete Mahoney

Just a little background about myself, my company and our product. I’m a US Navy veteran and classically French-trained chef who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. I’m also a third-generation ice pop maker. I’ve been living here in Florida with my family for about five years now. I came up with the name and branding idea as a tribute to my Grandfather, Father and to the 1950’s era on how ice pops and ice cream used to be sold using an old-style ice pop bike cart. We make all-natural handmade fresh fruit ice pops. There are no additives, dyes, preservatives or corn syrups in any of our ice pops. We pride ourselves on quality and ensure there is plenty of all-natural fruit flavor in our ice pops and never watered down. I wanted to make a healthier version of ice pops for all to enjoy, from kids to adults. We do make cream-based ice pops for those who like to indulge as well, such as Cafe Con Leche, Key Lime Pie w/graham cracker and Banana Pudding w/Nilla wafer, to name a few. Read more>>

Blaise Ryndes

The roots of Spheres Bubble Show originated in 2010 when the artist Blaise Ryndes received a magic kit for his 9th birthday. He quickly mastered all of the tricks and longed for more. He convinced his father to take him to a magic shop called “The Magic Emporium” in their hometown of Tampa, Florida. The staff there was very helpful and nurturing. Blaise began to immerse himself in all things magic. He acquired new tricks, attended seminars and conventions, as well as going to see as many professional magicians perform as he could. After about nine months of practice and serious dedication, Blaise started to perform small magic shows for friends and relatives. He also taught himself how to juggle and make fantastic balloon art. It was so well received that he was actually hired on several occasions to do birthday parties for kids in the neighborhood. This marked the beginning of the segue from the amateur hobbyist to professional. Blaise and his family were always big America’s Got Talent enthusiasts, and it soon became his dream to appear on the show. Read more>>

Amanda Sagarian

I was lucky enough to be the dog mom of an amazing 11 and a half-year-old German Shepherd named Taz. We did everything together, from traveling to the west coast to hiking the Grand Canyon to swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Taz was my best friend since I was 20 years old and had been by my side for most of my personal, educational, and career development & growth. Taz and I moved down to Florida from MA in 2011, where I attended USF to complete my bachelor’s degree. I struggled with many trips to the vet due to Taz’s allergies and sensitive stomach issues similar to many German Shepherds. I went through numerous amounts of medical bills, specialty foods, hypoallergenic treats, expensive allergy testing, allergy shots, and medications. It was so bad that I stopped feeding him treats completely to help control and pinpoint what was causing so many problems. I finally had the allergy testing done around 9-10 years old. Results came back that Taz was allergic to the environment such as grass, trees, and dust mites. Read more>>

Tomeka Soremekun

After moving to Tampa, FL to begin my career in Law, I started to gain a love for visiting new establishments and concept restaurants. I would often catch myself daydreaming about owning my own business and serving the community. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was at home watching an episode of Fixer Upper, that I saw Joanna Gains was building her own dream bakery. She stated that you’re never too old to start. It was just the push I needed. I was so moved and motivated that I rushed to Michaels Craft store and purchased a planner. I was ready to set my dreams into motion, but first, I had to get my feet wet. Now I may not be able to paint, draw, or knit, but I consider myself a very crafty individual full of ideas. I knew I wanted to base my business around something I was passionate about – Ice cream! I began by making samples for my family, coworkers, and friends to taste test, but I was still hesitant. What if my product isn’t good enough? What if I fail? I was so riddled with self-doubt that I met up with a business guru and shared my fears with him. Read more>>

Hope Donnelly

Florida native and world-educated Hope Chanel Donnelly founded 8-Count Productions in 2011 as the umbrella brand to create and consult, at the end of a decade working in professional sports entertainment while teaching art and coaching collegiate dance. Hope purchased and re-envisioned the Rialto Theatre in 2013 as a mixed-purpose arts and events space. The Rialto is now filled with wedding celebrations as featured on Southern Living, Pop Sugar, and Carats and Cake, along with an assortment of photo and video productions, dance showcases and cyphers, gallery receptions, community gatherings, and corporate events. Outside of venue management, Hope also curates gallery spaces featuring local artists, volunteers for community and arts planning committees, coordinates public art installations, and consults for historical projects and creatives. She believes in taking risks, historic preservation, making events and spaces green, and community over competition. Read more>>

Carmen Navratil

In 2017, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, for myself, as a career. My kids were now older, both in Elementary school and I had been a stay at home mom for their primary years. But, I always knew that I wouldn’t be a stay at home mom for their entire childhood and frankly, I was beginning to need more adult interaction. After discussing things with my husband, who I have also helped with his family business of real estate property management, about what to do, he suggested buying a business. I knew that I could not go back to a corporate job, and I had already owned my own business in the past, with little success at making a profit. But, this time it was different. We were looking at buying an existing business or franchise rather than starting from scratch. Eventually, in my search for what to buy and what to get into, I stumbled upon a franchise broker who asked me a very significant question; “what are you passionate about?”. At the time, almost hitting 40, and I had finally begun to appreciate an active lifestyle and was I was feeling the physical and mental benefits of it. Read more>>

Carol Valderrama

I love red wine and create, I was able to realize my life-long dream… when I opened my flower boutique. I’m the owner of Blooming Flower & Art, located in Winthrop Town Centre Riverview, Florida. Growing up as a young child, I fell in love with the creative arts, always trying to find papers, glue, and crayons to create something!!! I’ve been blessed like my mom with a creative eye… “I was a born artist like her.” 15 years ago, I became a designer, after I graduated with a degree in Interior Design. To be honest, I didn’t set out in life to be a floral designer, I actually have nothing to do with flowers…. But here I am. I possess a passion for design, and I express it with fresh flowers. I wanted to learn how to create beautiful arrangements, and without any training, I start designing and creating unique flower arrangements. Initially, it was for my friends and family, but my passion, drive and hard work led me to the world of Professional Floral Designers. I was convinced that my calling had been found. For the past 13 years, I have been meeting amazing people from all walks of life. Read more>>

Breanna Browning

Cookies have always made me happy. They’ve been my go-to dessert. Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, M&M, they’re all sooo good! But there’s something about that Snickerdoodle cookie. There’s something about the way the cinnamon flavor lingers on your tongue for a little while after each bite. After perfecting my Snickerdoodle recipe, my friends and family fell in love! That’s when I decided that I was the perfect person to satisfy my own cookie cravings. So I began baking every flavor that I ever loved and then some. I set out to create cookies in flavors of other desserts that I like (strawberry cake, s’mores, butter pecan ice cream, sweet potato pie, etc.) because everything’s better as a cookie. Soon, I was convinced by friends that it was only right to share these goods with the world. Thus, The Cookie Monster Cookies was born! I began selling the cookies at a local farmer’s market once a month. I eventually began going to a different market every week and was able to introduce many more cookie lovers to my company. Read more>>

Emma Makdessi

My parents moved from Lebanon to the US a month before I was born – they actually track how long they’ve been here by my age, so 32 years. We bounced around from Ohio to Florida and finally settled in Palm Harbor, FL, when I was in middle school. It was interesting being in such a Lebanese household but growing up in the US. I would say I got my start in the work that I’m doing now because I was able to push back against some of the expectations and break down the barriers for my sister and brother. After much research and conversations, I convinced them to let me attend a week-long leadership and residential diversity program called ANYTOWN when I was 13. That week changed my life, and as soon as I turned 15, I returned as a counselor. I attended college at the University of South Florida and had no idea what college was about. I was the first person in my family to go to college. Once I got there, I did what I could do to graduate. In a way, I fell through the cracks. It turns out there were so many scholarships and programs for first generation students, and I had no clue. Read more>>

Brittany Borders

I have loved photography for as long as I can remember. My Granny started buying me disposable cameras when I was about three. I grew up in an Army family, and we were always traveling to wherever my mom and dad were stationed. My Gran would mail the cameras to me, I would take the pictures, and the next time I saw her, we would develop the film and go over my pictures. She was also a photographer and taught photography as well, so she would show me where I cut someone’s feet off or how it was blurry, etc. We did this for most of my childhood. It wasn’t until I entered high school that my love of photography became the focus of what I wanted to do with my life. I got on the yearbook photography team and began taking photos. When the yearbook was finally published, I was hooked! I loved seeing my images in print. I decided I wanted to get a degree in photography and learn history as well as new techniques and equipment, so I enrolled at Daytona State College. It was there that I earned my Associate’s Degree and knew I had to know more. Read more>>

Bonnie Hough

I think the work I do today has just always been in my DNA. I grew up in a family that volunteered quite a bit and gave to community organizations regularly, so in many ways, my passion for what I do grew out of that. Career-wise, I’ve been working in the nonprofit world since 2011, full time since 2014. I’ve worked in Texas, Virginia, and Florida, at organizations that are both focused on solving community problems and those that fund the organizations doing community work. I’ve supported causes from food banks to community health clinics and focused on serving every age, from young kids to older adults. I’ve held a blend of roles in fundraising, communications, and project management. So I’ve been a little bit all over the place! But in every organization I was in, I noticed the same thing: feeling like we didn’t have enough SOMETHING – whether it was people, funding, or time – to focus on the strategies that will move the mission forward and ultimately make our community a better place. This feeling kept showing up, and it pushed me to create systems and strategies to stay focused on the big picture in my day-to-day work. Read more>>

Melissa Dozier

I started taking photos at the age of fifteen years old. I remember it like it was yesterday as a yearbook photographer. It’s funny because I remembered how much I didn’t like taking photos of my yearbook class. I pretty much only liked the fact it got me out of class sometimes. My real love for photography started more with Myspace, believe it or not, and yes, with those hilarious selfies of ourselves with all the angles and photos with our friends, haha. I would get so many comments on my photos. I started to take more photos of outside scenery and people. It became an outlet to express myself as a young plus-sized teen. After high school, I had many people reach out and tell me, hey, you have an eye for this. Why don’t you go to school for photography. I was already going to a public college for my AA degree, and I loathed every part of it. I just wasn’t great at school. Actually, at the age of ten, I was diagnosed with SLD (Slow Learning Disability) so every academic class was hard for me, it took me twice as long as a normal student to understand common things, but I worked so hard to get good grades and graduate high school without any special help from the school. Read more>>

James Connell

I’ve been a graphic/web designer since 1999. Part of my college requirements for my graphic design degree included photography as an elective. I always enjoyed taking photos and hoped to someday own some decent equipment. That day came in 2013 when I purchased a Nikon D90. As soon as I learned my way around a camera through experience and watching YouTube videos, I was hooked. I knew I couldn’t get my wife to sign off on the ten thousand dollars worth of equipment I would need to be successful, so I searched Google for the most renowned wedding photography companies in Manchester, NH to fund my venture. Dave at A Photographic Memory hired me based on my limited portfolio. I was hired as a second shooter and photographed approximately 15 weddings as well as a handful as the main shooter for myself. At the end of 2013, my wife and I decided to move to Florida – which at the time had approximately 144,000 weddings more than New Hampshire. I again searched Google for the best wedding photographers, only this time I searched for Tampa, Florida. Read more>>

Sesto Ramadori

Sesto was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1963 but grew up in Northern Italy. He graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree but still retained a strong passion for food. Following his passion, Sesto Ramadori decided to give up his engineering career to open up his first Italian restaurant, Pasta Casareccia, with his mamma Angela and dad Lorenzo. Sesto’s Mechanical Engineering degree proved useful in helping him start Techno-Pasta, which specialized in the sale and service of pasta manufacturing equipment. This would eventually lead him to service Florida Pasta Company in Clearwater, Florida, and in the end buying Florida Pasta and moving his family to St. Petersburg in 1997. For over ten years, Sesto managed Florida Pasta Company before deciding to open up his own restaurant, Da Sesto Italiano Ristorante e Vino in 2007. Da Sesto Italiano Ristorante e Vino opened its doors in January 2007. Starting out as a boutique size restaurant, chef Sesto has since grown his business and relocated the restaurant to the larger present location on 66th St N., in Pinellas Park, Florida. Read more>>

Jamie Santillo

I have always had a spirit of adventure. I want to explore the world and experience all that it has to offer. However, being born with muscular dystrophy and utilizing a power wheelchair for my mobility, exploration can oftentimes be a challenge. Despite my physical challenges, I have been blessed with the most amazing family who always supported and encouraged me to find ways to achieve my dreams – travels being one of them. As I grew older and my travel experiences expanded, I saw, to my surprise, that there were many accessible options for those with disabilities that I never knew existed. In addition to traveling by air, rail, and sea in a more relaxed fashion, I have also experienced more heart-pounding, adventurous travel types. I have adaptive zip lined over hungry alligators, floated above the clouds in a wheelchair-accessible hot air balloon, and most recently, explored the Florida marshlands in a wheelchair accessible airboat. As much as I love to travel, life can’t be all play and no work. Read more>>

Amanda Girton

Our story began in April 2013.. my dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. As you can imagine, this was tragic news to our family. I was born and raised in Duette, Florida, eating meat, potatoes, boxed mac and cheese and other processed foods. We didn’t realize just how impactful our diets are on our bodies. It was then that we began to switch to a whole-food, plant-based diet and lifestyle. My family discovered that we needed to eat food. Though we were not able to find snacks that we were looking for- nutrient-dense, vegan, (preferably raw vegan), and truly tasted great. As an excellent home cook, my mom took this as a challenge. We began to make our own raw vegan snacks. We sold them to our neighbors and at many local farmer’s markets. Slow Foods Kitchen began to become a reality. Today we have a commercial facility in Palmetto, Florida, with wholesale and retail customers across Florida. We are excited to be able to use our snacks to help busy families snack well and teach others how they can begin to live a more plant-based lifestyle. We welcome all diets. Part-time vegans are welcome. Read more>>

Allie Benson

The 4th of July is a day of celebration. We celebrate the Declaration of Independence with beach days and barbeques. We celebrate America with patriotic music and fireworks, and in 2016 my husband and I celebrated the news that we were pregnant with our first child. We went through the typical ups and downs of the first few weeks of pregnancy, but the first time we saw her tiny little heart beating like a flashing grain of rice on the ultrasound screen, we fell in love. As the weeks passed, we tracked her growth from a sesame seed to almond to a grape. We talked to her and played her music. We started to collect toys, clothes, and baby gear. Then, at a routine ultrasound in August, we have blindsided with terrible news: our so far perfect little girl had a severe birth defect called an omphalocele. Due to a complication early on in development, her abdominal wall didn’t close and all of her abdominal organs were growing in a round, beach ball like sac outside her body. Read more>>

Kimberly Tucker

I was born and raised here in Tampa, Florida. After graduating from Chamberlain high school, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida to attend Florida State University. Go Noles! I graduated from Florida State with a double major in Finance and Real Estate. Afterwards, I moved back to Tampa. My family is here and I think it is such a beautiful and fun city to live in! I tried the Finance route for about a year and decided the 9-5 job just wasn’t for me. I decided to get more into promotional marketing and started working at tradeshows, conventions, sporting events, concerts, and festivals as an independent contractor. I promoted brands at these events as either a brand ambassador, crowd gatherer, lead generator, or product specialist. I then signed on with Ford Automotive and traveled the country working Auto Shows as a Ford Product Specialist and Narrator for three years. Meanwhile, I also got my Real Estate license and been with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services for several years. I truly love both paths of work and they are each very flexible, so they go very well together. Since Covid, I have switched to do a little more online marketing for brands via Instagram and Facebook. 🙂 Read more>>

Ileana Urquilla

Born in Miami and raised in Tampa. I’m a Hispanic American who believes that anything is possible if you are determined! I began my career after going to Manhattan Hairstyling Academy. I obtained my license as a skin specialist, but my passion was always the fashion industry! I began doing makeup and worked as a makeup artist for eight years and realized I wanted to open up my own small business from home!! I have to say it wasn’t easy, and I really thank God for all the opportunities he has allowed in my life. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I definitely faced a lot of challenges & I began to have a lot of health issues where I had to stop doing makeup for good. I believe that God placed me where I am today, and now I have my own online shoe & jewelry business! I named it Ileana Shoe Boutique! One time someone asked me, “what is your dream job?” I said, “where I am today is my dream job,” like I mentioned in the beginning, I always had a passion for fashion and little by little, I was able to sell shoes online! Thank God I have been successful. Read more>>

Deborah Bostock-Kelley

My company, The WriteOne Creative Services, began in 2005 as a fun side gig in addition to my full-time marketing communications job. When the company I worked for went international, I was informed I would be taking over all design, newsletter, and intranet web design. Though I loved writing and did design as a hobby, my background was as a reporter. I was blessed to return to college, get my bachelor’s degree, learn everything I could about graphic design, and take classes in web design to apply to this role. In passing, I spoke to parents about my idea of starting a company because I could combine reporting, graphic design, and web design to provide a one-stop creative shop for entrepreneurs like myself. And then I did nothing more about it. For my birthday that year, my parents surprised me by purchasing my company name with Sunbiz and told me not to waste the opportunity. My first web client was actually my employer. My second was my daughter’s charter school. Nearly every client after that was referred by the client before. Read more>>

Erin Hurter

I began teaching yoga classes because I wanted to share something of value with the community. After a couple of years of working a couple of hours a week at a private yoga studio, I wanted to reach a larger audience. When COVID hit and classes began to dwindle, I had the idea to take yoga out to a waterfront park and see if I could help people get through the challenges of the pandemic. I wanted people to know that–while they couldn’t control what was happening–they could certainly control their reaction to it. The response was good at first–but due to social media and word of mouth, the classes began to snowball. We now average of 75 people per class on Tuesday nights at Bayfront Park in Downtown Sarasota. It’s so gratifying seeing all the people arriving from different directions and from all walks of life. I’ve had people tell me they’ve never done yoga before and know it’s the highlight of their week! The City of Sarasota reached out, asking me if I’d lead a second class each week. The same thing happened there. We get a huge turn-out each Saturday morning on the lawn behind the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Read more>>

Roc Rochon

For much of my younger life, I had access to participate in team sports. I was a student-athlete in college and when I left the team, I still played through local town recreation leagues and intramural sports. Beyond the “organized” sport, I am someone who has an appreciation for lifelong physical activity and movement. I believe that everyone should have access to accessible and affordable movement opportunities. Collective-community movement particularly. Rooted Resistance was founded in 2016 in Tampa, Florida. Read more>>

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