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Phoenix’s Most Inspiring Stories

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. Check out our favorite stories from across the Voyage family.

Tiffany Ellington

When I was a little girl, I looked up to anyone in a crown and wanted to be just like them. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that I still want to be like them but that now looks like being a role model for others, being a hard worker, and honing my communication skills. As Miss Phoenix, I’ve been in a unique position to not only share my mission of Literacy for Life through exciting young readers, educating the community on the importance of literacy, and expanding the access to books and reading materials but also to be that role model for others. I grew up on a farm in Indiana and have brought those lessons of hard work and perseverance with me to Arizona. It has helped me succeed in a competitive speech in the debate, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and in my career as a marketing professional. Read more>>

Diantha Rose

I began this journey to assist the public with my gift 25 years ago in my early 20s. I knew as a child I had an ability to channel information and communicate with people in other realms. I didn’t love or even like this ability at times when I was younger but I lost my brother at 22 and it was then that I found solace in my ability and actually started to consider it a gift. I was in cosmetology school at the time and had every intention of continuing life as a hairstylist but it wasn’t long before I understood life had other plans. I went from hairdressing to nursing to working at a tech company all the while holding sessions for people on my days off and growing a clientele. I began publicly announcing my gift and offering my services professionally rather than just by word of mouth in 2012. Read more>>

Shelley Franklin

I’ve always been what I refer to as “a creative” and have enjoyed painting, drawing, and art of many forms since my childhood. Photography was a way I found and enjoyed as a way to express myself even as a child. When my daughter was born in 2008 my husband purchased me a “good camera” so I could capture memories for our family. At this time Facebook had just become a thing and I started following several photographers and comparing my images to theirs. It didn’t take long to see I needed to learn to use my camera more proficiently if I wanted to capture photos anything like what the professionals were creating. I started doing online tutorials in my spare time to find ways to make my photos better, sharper, and more beautiful. This was a slow process as I was raising four kids and life was busy, but it started becoming more and more of a passion. I realized learning to light was something that would take me to the next level so bought my first Alien Bee light and learned from a few local photographers the first steps of lighting my images. Read more>>

Thao Lam

We make offensive greeting cards so you get the glory of being funny as f**k. Why? You know your friends and family well. Really well. These are people you laugh with ‘til it fucking hurts. Your ride-or-dies. You’re inappropriate. You say offensive shit. No one judges. We launched Dirty Pop Cards in July 2020 because we want people laughing together. Way more frequently. The harder the better. When people open our dirty 3D cards, half the room laughs out loud while the other half gasps, “that’s offensive”. B-fuckin-ingo. It didn’t take long for us to adopt a company philosophy of “Fuck ‘Em”. Life’s too short to give a shit about not offending people. So, every time we see customers cackle like hyenas, we do a little happy dance. When someone complains because they’re offended, we do an aggressive happy dance and say, “Fuck ‘Em”. Read more>>

Kat Parks

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, I absolutely LOVE the sunshine (that’s even my Instagram handle: @kat.loves.sunshine), so it’s no surprise that I have been absolutely loving my last two years in Scottsdale! My husband Dr. Ryan Iskenderian and I moved out here at the end of 2019 after spending five years in Washington state, where we created our own five-star wellness center and yoga studio, called Via Vita Chiropractic & Wellness. For each of those years, my yoga studio was voted the #1 studio in our town, and Dr. Ryan and I got to share our unique brand of joy and wellness with our patients and students. Ryan and I had met in a yoga class that I was teaching nine years ago in Orange County, California, where I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Positive Psychology from Chapman University. Soon after we met, Ryan completed grad school as a Chiropractic Applied Kinesiologist, and we moved from California to Washington to open up Via Vita before we got married in 2015! Read more>>

Erica McQuown

It started when I found out I had a condition called PCOS, the leading cause of infertility. The regular medical doctors didn’t have many options for me other than fertility medicine when I was ready to conceive. They certainly didn’t believe that it was a condition that was reversible. I set out to prove them wrong. I started using the medicine that wasn’t supposed to work. Mainly having to do with diet lifestyle. I met my first Ayurvedic doctor then and he gave me some herbs. Fast forward a couple of years and I had started diving into the philosophy of yoga and even went to the Himalayas When I was pregnant with my firstborn daughter. The ancient sciences were helping me to be able to live a productive peaceful life. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga, and so I started to become interested in this. I officially started school when my oldest daughter was six months old. I was determined that others would be able to heal their own bodies and experience the health that I had. Read more>>

Laura Suarez

The Prestamos Women’s Business Center (WBC) had a soft virtual launch in May of 2021. We are a federally funded program in part with the Small Business Administration and Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) Prestamos Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Our organization exists to help women, especially women of color, have a space where they can get free to low-cost counseling and training as they either start, grow, or expand their small businesses. We want to provide a space where women can feel safe and seen as they enter our doors. We officially launched our center in person on November 2021 and since then have been able to serve over 280 women through our programs and 1:1 counseling. Read more>>

Andrea Faggionato

Hi! My name is Andrea Faggionato and I was born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio. I grew up in a family business that my dad owned and at a very young age, I was taught the importance of hard work and the value of a dollar. My first job was picking up garbage on the hotel property for 1.00/hour and looking back, it taught me more than I ever realized. I attended The University of Toledo where I earned a bachelor’s in science and then Baldwin Wallace University and earned a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. I knew there were greater places to live and explore and relocated to Arizona. I did not know anyone in Arizona and had only visited one time however, I had not one bit of fear in my body. I have a passion for working with young children with severe speech and language impairments. As there is a rise the Autism diagnosis, there is a huge shortage in services in Arizona. I then opened a pediatric home health agency in May 2021 to provide occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy to these children in desperate need of services. Read more>>

Andrea Williams

I have coached runners of all ages for over two decades now. My first coaching job was as an assistant junior high track coach in Laramie, Wyoming while I was in my junior year of college at the University of Wyoming. That was in the year 2000 and I was 20 years old. Every year since I have been a cross country, track & field, or club coach in some capacity whether it be kids, high school, or adults. I was ahead of high school cross country and track & field coach from 2006 to 2018 but in recent years, I have become an assistant after having my own children. I started my virtual coaching business, Virtual Runner Coach, LLC during the pandemic days of teaching at home (I’m a PE teacher). I posted a video for PE teachers about teaching kids to like running on my TikTok account (@virtualrunnercoach) and the video somehow went viral outside of my group of teachers with that I had been networking for teaching. Read more>>

Shane Huffman

My wife and I started a DJ business five years ago called DJ SNS World. We started our business to provide music entertainment for the school that my wife works out for low-income families. Within just a few months we decided that this can be a business that brings happiness and joy to kids, families, Newley weds, and more at an affordable rate. We started working with schools, churches, and small birthday parties. Before we knew it we were getting calls from word of mouth for more and more parties to include weddings, Quinceañera, Corporate events, and pool parties. At this point, we only work from referrals and recommendations with little to no advertising and book out for the most part 8-12 months out. This is a business venture that my wife and I can do together to bring a great experience day and entertainment to any party at an affordable cost. Read more>>

María Jose Cortés

I started making candles in the summer of 2020 as a personal hobby, which soon turned into a business. I was working as a manager at a financial institution and decided to start a small business on the side to do in my spare time. My family and community were very supportive and I started selling more candles that I had in stock. I signed up for my first farmer’s market in December of 2020 and I have been setting up at farmer’s markets and pop-up events ever since. I have now quit my full-time job and solely focused on my candle-making business. I am renting an office space, which is used as my workshop and have one employee who works with me. I am also proud to say I have my candles being sold at six different stores in Arizona. Read more>>

Matthew Boland

I began my journey working for Jim Harris at J.W. Harris Inc. He mentored me for almost a decade from the beginning of my internship to my very last day. He encouraged me to always be a visionary in my design process. In 2005 I was turning 30 and I was ready to open my studio and start my next chapter. 17 years in my own practice has gone by in a blink and the ride from intern to principal has been an exciting and very rewarding ride. I currently have jobs nationwide and an amazing team that supports me. We create worlds for our clients to live in and enjoy that is as public or private as each client chooses. No two clients are ever the same, so every project has a unique aesthetic and program. Read more>>

Amy Jolley

I always knew I was a sensitive person. I have always felt deeply for others, sometimes holding the weight of the world when someone was in need and when no one in the room noticed the subtle discomfort, sadness, or anger someone is feeling, I notice it and I feel it. It is a lot to manage and hold, sometimes exhausting. I have at times learned to push this intuitive nature away because it was overwhelming. When beginning my Graduate program, I learned more. My program was a Counseling Psychology degree with a concentration in Integral Counseling Psychology. What did this mean, I honestly wondered, just that, an integration of mind, body, and spirit. Some integration was explored within me. But, also, many new questions unfolded in my own personal journey of healing and self-love. Read more>>

Brittney Lyons

Both of us started with photography as a fun hobby when we were younger. It gave us a reason to get out and explore with friends. We both love to travel and photography just kind of fits! The first time we met we actually took a small road trip from Prescott to the Grand Canyon so we could get some photos of the sunrise, so we like to say that photography and adventure brought us together. After that, we started to take it more seriously and realized we loved being there for everyone’s big moments. So we decided to combine our love of people with our love for capturing photos and we formed Brittney & James Photography! Read more>>

Daniella Medina

Growing up, I had always had health issues. It wasn’t until 2020 after having Covid that my health immediately spiraled. Painful gastrointestinal issues, seizures, bleeding from the eyes, vomiting blood, dangerously low white blood cell count, the list goes on. Towards the end of 2020, I was declining so fast with no answers that death was the only certain one. That’s when I decided to travel and complete my bucket list. I posted my first solo trip out of the hospital to TikTok and overnight it went viral. I was getting so many comments and messages saying I changed people’s views on living so I continued to document my journey. Which brought amazing places and connections. The most important ones were the people telling me they had lost loved ones with similar issues. Read more>>

Jason Anthony

I got to Arizona in late 1999. I already wanted to be a tattooer and had quit a floundering apprenticeship in South Carolina. I met a few guys and started a punk band. One of the guys in the band, Taylor Ryan, was learning to tattoo at the time and said he’d teach me after a few years if I hadn’t lined anything up in the meantime. Taylor ended up moving to Syracuse after his apprenticeship was done, so my sure thing for an apprenticeship had fallen through and we had to replace a guitar player in the band. I did try to get an apprenticeship going with other shops with varying levels of failure. Taylor moved back to Phoenix after a year or so of being gone and we picked up where we left off. He started teaching me to tattoo in early 2003. By 2004 he was done teaching me and released me into the world with just enough information to be dangerous. That first year or so was pretty shaky, but I eventually got my legs underneath me. Read more>>

Stephanie Mundt

I started running in elementary school and fell completely in love with it – nothing quite compared to feeling fast, strong and successful while training and racing. When I started high school, I was pretty successful at the state level right away and wanted to do anything I could to get faster and perform at a higher level. In my junior year, I started to run a little extra after practice and cut back on my food intake with the goal of being “fit” and fast. This began a long struggle with anorexia and exercise dependence that would have a huge impact on not only my running career but also my health. My first running injury happened my senior year of high school and was the first of what would become many stress fractures in my legs. Inadequate caloric intake combined with excessive exercise led me to develop osteoporosis (usually a diagnosis reserved for the elderly) at the age of 19. Read more>>

Thomas Nasser-Taylor

We launched New Haven Communities a Behavioral Health Residential Facility for adolescent boys and girls this year in 2022. I left the corporate job that I was at for about six years, I was mentally burnt out. I did not know what I was going to do, I just knew I had to leave that job, at this time COVID was really bad and it was taking a huge toll on my mental health. My sister Amber had recently opened her Behavioral Health Residential Facilities, where I started working for her and learning and understanding the business, and how mental health is honestly so real. Mental health is just something we are not used to talking about, I myself was afraid to talk about my struggles with mental health. My sister Amber threw out the idea that maybe I should open a Behavioral Health Residential Facility, at the time I was fresh out of my old job and was not sure what I wanted to do. Read more>>

Trisheana Barzar Hunter

I got started, unlike anyone I know. Before the 2nd grade I had seven brain surgeries and struggled with disabilities, The brain surgeries I had during kindergarten and 1st grade left me needing to learn how to walk, talk and feed myself all over again. I wore a helmet through first grade as part of my skull was missing. I grew up around a lot of domestic violence and trauma. That, the brain surgery, and illness caused me to develop PTSD, depression, and anxiety by the age of 8. I didn’t know it then. It was just my normal. I pushed through, graduated high school, and Went on to get my bachelor’s and three Master’s Degrees. My Master’s degrees are in Management and in Psychology. In 2014, I was again diagnosed with an AV malformation in my brain. Read more>>

Oswaldo Ramirez

Back in 2015, I got laid off from my corporate job, I couldn’t stop work I had bills to pay and my family to support. I was debating about getting another job or starting my own business with the experience I got from my past jobs. While I was trying to find another job, the corporates, to which I applied, were taking too long to give me an answer. With the experience I got from my last jobs, I started doing side jobs here and there while waiting for an answer. Then I realized I was capable run a business, I didn’t want to go take a risk and through the same thing again, I take the leap of faith and decided to start my own company, and then I started Tino’s heating and cooling. Read more>>

Joia Cook

In 2015, I started a personal styling and fashion blog as a hobby. Craving a creative outlet from my stressful 9 – 5 at the time, I purchased a Canon and MacBook and had some fun. A year later, I was a featured blogger for an entertainment website where I got a lot of questions about how to shop and style pieces. Once realizing the need, I began researching and found personal styling to be the answer. The first several styling opportunities I had were as a wardrobe stylist for photo and video shoots. Eventually, I began working one-on-one with clients for more personal needs (vacation, events, closet refresh, etc). Over the next four years, I continued working full-time as I made slow, but steady, progress with personal styling. In July of last year, I officially launched my styling business as a part-time entrepreneur! Read more>>

Wendy Ellis

After closing my successful Pilates/Sports Conditioning and Dance business in Texas to move to Carefree, Arizona, in 2017, I struggled to figure out how I would begin again to share my passion for movement. As a previous Professional Dancer, Educator, Choreographer, and Certified Pilates Instructor, and being very involved with the Pilates and Dance Community, starting anew seemed very daunting. One day, a friend mentioned she had recently been through a lumbar spine fusion. I asked if she would give me the opportunity to help her move again and gain confidence to do the things she wanted to in her young life. Dedication, commitment, and precision to her Pilates journey started my business journey in 2019 from my new home to the Mariachi Plaza in Carefree/Cave Creek. Shortly after, as my business grew, I expanded to different locations including a studio in Tempe to work with NFL players. Read more>>

Gabby Wallace

I have followed the path to becoming a professional portrait and wedding photographer for the past seven years. In those years, I have fallen even deeper in love with capturing my client’s most authentic moments and special milestones. I first became interested in photography as a young high schooler when my teacher/mentor who was a Sedona wedding photographer took me under her wing and started showing me the tricks of the trade. I started out doing the most basic grunt work – carrying bags, setting up lights, helping with edits, etc. but from the very beginning, I fell in love with witnessing the intimacy of each couple’s wedding day and the immense love they have for each other. After graduating high school, I pursued a bachelor’s degree at NAU in business marketing. All the while shooting weddings on the weekends and breaks. My photography business grew as I met more locals and fell further in love with the hustle. Read more>>

Jeff Gulino

In 2008, I (Jeff Gulino) and Mikey Sarratt decided to partner up and create a tattoo shop with a southwestern cowboy theme. We had been friends for a few yrs and the time just seemed right to partner up and start something new and different. Central Phoenix. In those days it was extremely hard to open a tattoo shop in Phx, it required a 6-month rezoning process, city council meetings, and lawyers. We stuck with it and say the process thru and we opened for business. In the beginning, it was just the two of us. We tattooed our clients and built up a small walk-in base. Both of us had been tattooing for a while, Mikey focused on a very American traditional style of tattooing, and I focus mainly on large-scale Japanese and illustrative tattoos. Read more>>

Shannita Reid

Brown Beautiful Me Came about after noticing a void of positive images of African American women in the market. Also, I’m a natural encourager so I combined the two and you have Brown Beautiful Me. Read more>>

Chitrika De Mel

I quite by accident felt an unusual lump on my left breast in 2006 and that led me to see our family physician who examined me and asked me to see a surgeon who also checked me out and ordered an FNB. That report indicated it was a malignant lump and I had to do a couple of other tests which further proved I tested positive for Cancer. At the time no family or extended family had gone through cancer and it was something new to us. I must say the surgeon explained what the procedure is and set a date for surgery which I did and subsequently he referred me to an Oncologist. My real journey with cancer started here. The Oncologist explained to me what my journey would be in detail and that was a bit depressing. My husband who was a huge strength to me reassured me that we can overcome this as explained by the doctor. I had three sons aged 15,13 and 7 years and we had to tell them what was to follow. Read more>>

Elizabeth Funes

I have 4 beautiful children and 3 step kiddos and I have always found so much joy in planning and creating fun exciting birthday parties. I am known for my lavish valentine’s days too! For my daughter’s 12th birthday, she asked me for a fun sleepover for her girlfriends. I had no clue where I was going to put them all, so I hit the internet to get ideas. I found a teepee company in Alabama I believe it was and thought “oh yes I can do that”! We went to work straight away and hand-made almost everything! When the moms dropped off our guests, each and every one of them gasped and encouraged me to “make it a business”! It blew me away at everyone’s response! I thought it was cute, but wow that made me feel amazing! Read more>>

Lexi Brown

I got started in the hair braiding business in 2013. An ex-coworker of mine asked me to apply a crochet style to her hair. She was gorgeous and popular. She spread the word about me to her friends, they told their friends and BOOM! My small business started. That was in Jonesboro, GA. I moved to Phoenix about a year later and picked up where I left off there. Read more>>

Shelly Tran

When I first started working in Casa Grande, I was doing regular manicures & pedicures. I remember scrolling on Facebook one day and seeing someone share a gorgeous set of custom nails done by John Le; the one who gave me the opportunity to learn how to do acrylic nails. He gave me the push and taught me what I needed to know. Now I’m working independently at Stephanie Alderete Studio located in Old Town Casa Grande. Read more>>

Ivonne Serna

My name is Ivonne, I am originally from Puerto Peñasco Sonora, I am 30 years old, I have a degree in Psychology and my dream in life has always been to have my own business, I studied in Mexico and when I finished my degree I started working as an educator in some private universities and a high school in Puerto Peñasco and in my free time I used to go around town selling cosmetics. I always liked to work but unfortunately in Mexico, one job is not enough to meet your goals and more than three was excessive, tiring, and very absorbing, so I made the decision to do something about it. I decided to come to the United States like many people to pursue my dreams, at first it was not easy at all, the language was an impediment and I did not have my family here, which is still the most difficult part. Read more>>

Janna Kim

Growing up I learned at an early age that if you want something in life, you have to be strong enough to reach it since it’s easier said than done. I grew up in a family where empowering yourself was essential and remaining strong throughout your personal hardships and impediments will make you a better you. My dad and older sisters were prominent figures/guides my entire life and always told me that comfortability equals complacency in life so to keep yourself at a consistent pace to reach whatever it is I desire in life. I truly believe if you really want something in life, then it’s already yours. Read more>>

Kristin Chatsworth

My path took me from a corporate business career to being a stay-at-home parent to cleaning the bathrooms at a gym. Amazingly, this journey brought me to where I am today: Executive Director of Live & Learn, a small-but-mighty nonprofit that empowers women to break the cycle of generational poverty. I started my career in the corporate business world, working for Dun and Bradstreet and Experian as Manager of Partnerships and Alliances. Then, I stepped away for eight years when I had my son. When I was ready to get back into the working world, I did not feel confident. Instead of applying for jobs in the business sector, I took a job at a childcare center at a gym. I would watch the kids and clean the bathrooms, and it was hard work but not very good pay. After some time, I was starting to use my marketing skills to promote the childcare to gym members, those skills that had been dormant for so long. I started to see that I could do more. So I took an entry-level job doing data entry at a local company. Read more>>

Daisy Martinez

I’m the eldest of three girls, in my Hispanic home which translates to I’m mom #2, and my mom’s go-to gal. To all of my fellow Mexican friends, you know exactly what I’m referring to. You become the backbone of the family at a young age and there’s so much on the line. I am a first-generation college student and graduate from an all-girl family raised by a single working mom. I claim that proudly because only I know how hard it was when there was no one to guide me along the way but that doesn’t mean I got to where I was alone. I met some amazing people along the way and I thank them for their influence and guidance in my journey. Granted my mom did everything in her power to uplift us and get us to where we are today, but her main focus was to financially provide and keep us in a secure living situation. I was blessed enough to have received FAFSA and grants in all of my years of college, so I graduated debt-free! Read more>>

Linda Chattin

I am a faculty member in the Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management programs at Arizona State University (ASU). My path started in Buffalo, NY at the university there, where I received my B.S. in Industrial Engineering. Way back in 1984. After working for four years in the Los Angeles area as a Systems Engineer and completing a master’s degree in engineering at the Univerisity of Southern California, I went back to Buffalo for a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and caught the teaching bug while there. I have been at ASU for 21 years and have a terrific job teaching applied math courses to undergraduate students. Read more>>

Mee Angel Clark

Ever since I was a kid, I always loved modeling but I never dared to join because I was a fat kid. During college, I was no longer fat—well maybe a little chubby and I joined our school’s next top model but the trainer just told me that I can’t join because no gown would ever fit me. From that day on, I promised myself that I will show them all that they will regret that decision. Read more>>

Rachel Lee

For years I wanted to start a business, but couldn’t quite figure out what it was I wanted to do. I love coffee and I love to travel, so a coffee food truck was a great way for me to have it all! Read more>>

Gerald Taylor

I have been involved in sports my entire life. I was a three-sport athlete and eventually earned a 4-year scholarship to a Division I University, in wrestling. I achieved All-American status twice and earned my degree. Once I finished school and my athletic career, I joined the workforce, like many other people in my position.  I quickly found out I could either work for someone else or utilize my own skill-set and blaze my own trail. Of course, this realization did not happen overnight. It took me nearly 20 years, and half as many jobs to figure out that I had the skills, drive, and talent to provide for myself and my family on my own merits. The first thing I did was open my own income-generating endeavor, an independent insurance agency. This allowed me to build a book of business that was residual in nature and allowed me the flexibility to pursue other opportunities. Read more>>

Ellie Evans

In my freshman year of high school, while listening to the radio I heard a commercial about becoming Miss Yuma County. My mom turned and asked if I would want to compete for the Yuma Scholarship Program. I don’t know what came over me when I shrugged my shoulders and said, “why not.” Because of those 2 simple words, I was filling out a candidate packet for the competition. Even though I had very little experience, I had a community of new people around me who truly wanted nothing but the best for me, and worked tirelessly to make sure I was prepared enough for the competition. Read more>>

Tiffany Taplashvili

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 11 years! I finally decided I wanted to do something creative, fun, rewarding, and unique. Candy is always a crowd pleaser and brings smiles to people’s faces. So I got an idea to get candy from all over the world and assemble it aesthetically in acrylic trays and cubes. Designed by flavor, color, and theme! Read more>>

Tawnya Landis

On January 1, 2012, I decided it would be the last year I would write “Get Fit, Get Toned, Get Healthy” on my New Years’ Resolution List. I was done with the quick fixes which only gave me short-term results. I was done with not feeling great inside and out. I did not like the way I felt. I was tired of counting calories and to be honest I was sick of saying… someday, I will. I wanted results that would last and also a realistic healthy lifestyle I could pass on to my kids! So with three little kids (2 who did not believe in sleep), I launched into my Fitness and Health journey. I created an online community and invited others to join me. Within 18 months with three little kids, I built a large corporation that has helped hundreds of women all over the US, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. Read more>>

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