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Michigan’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.

Lara Wagner

Over the years, many photographers have become available across the country. As I watched friends and other parents struggle to find something different to represent their seniors, athletes, clubs, and dancers, I decided to go outside of the box. I developed my own unique style and approach to photography and created my business, Thumb Sports Photography. I have been developing my style over the last ten years. My imagery has been showcased nationwide on many social media platforms. My clients receive my full attention so I can get to know them and create unique memorable images. Read more>>

Leticia Arocha and Adriana Torres

Mother and daughters’ business! Growing up we always watched our mother create parties, decorate church events, and plan trips. And of course, she was our inspiration. Whether we could only afford to shop at dollar tree and thrift stores to shopping brand names. She would always create the best events because every event she would fill with love. I personally never thought I was creative enough to do anything like this, but with she always pushed me to believe I was creative, and one day I started believing her. With all the items we gathered over the years from the parties my mom used to do. Read more>>

Hannah Karel

I came work as the bookstore and café manager of Reformation Heritage Books (RHB) and The Bindery House during a time of transition. In the spring of 2021, I had just moved back to Grand Rapids and was fresh out of graduate school, having just obtained my Master’s in Music Performance (voice). Although I loved classical music and wanted opportunities to teach and perform, my other interests were very diverse, ranging from history, philosophy, literature, languages, and theology. This new path gave me a means to integrate my various interests and develop skills in business and leadership. Read more>>

Debbie Maciolek

From around eleven years old, I’ve always had a camera in my hands. I was the person who always wanted to document family events, sports, friends, and nature, and I found that most people have a story to tell whether they realize it or not. In 2015 I had some friends ask me to take portraits of their children, and it made me realize how much I missed photography in my day-to-day life. This was the beginning of Debography. Senior photography is my main brand, but I have branched out to event, sports, and family photography. Read more>>

Julia Stevens

I started Active Nutrition as a grad student looking to do some side work, and it has slowly evolved into my full-time job that I am so passionate about! There are always struggles, the latest being covid, but thankfully I was already seeing clients about 50% virtually, so I just had to switch my group classes and the rest of my clients over to a virtual telehealth platform. Being flexible is something that I really work on with my clients and their food decisions, so I just had to practice what I preach and figure it out! Read more>>

Trendell Fordham

I studied graphic design in high school, helped with projects that turned into a physical products. I originally started out making custom shirts (@designingsolutions) to avoid paying $50-$100 for T-Shirts and to help other people grow their business. Designing Solutions is a marketing company that is currently focusing on shirt design and printing that I created. The Prosperous Collection started as my personal motivational streetwear line made by Designing Solutions. At the time of conception, I was completing a Street Wear Master course by Complex Magazine & Parsons University. Read more>>

Bobby & Michele Johnson

Thank you! I’ll start with what our business is – Our business is called Colors Of The Wood – we are a husband-and-wife woodworking small business that creates handcrafted wooden kitchen and home decor like cutting boards, serving trays, charcuterie boards, bottle openers, coasters, key holders, ornaments, keychains, gift tags, and hearts! We work with over 30 different types of wood and everything is the natural color of that wood. We do anything from wedding gifts, housewarming gifts, corporate gifts for an event, closing gifts with realtors, holiday gifts, or a custom butcher block for a kitchen! Read more>>

Rachel Brow

As a teenager, I was totally obsessed with the 1980s — the music, the fashion, and especially the movies. My search for ’80s-era clothing is what first got me into thrifting, and from there all sorts of different styles entered my radar. Taking inspiration from Vogue, I would attempt to recreate the outfits I saw there with garments from my own closet and my thrifting trips. (Rest assured; the results were not always so fashionable!) My interest in style carried through my college years in Seattle, and in 2010 I started my blog, Inspirsession. Read more>>

Tierra Edmondson

I was born and raised in Detroit, MI. I grew up with a huge family. We didn’t have it all growing up, but we made due with what we had. At the age of 16, I dropped out of high school and opted for a GED (That I never received). I hung around with people who had no aspirations and they were comfortable with their current situations, while I wanted more. Mainly due to my mom had just given birth to my younger brother Brian and I had a nephew just born Miron. A year and a half later my mom gave birth to my youngest brother Braylon who was a twin (the twin didn’t survive). Lana, Brian, Miron, and Braylon was my motivation to do better, but I was holding myself back because I was comfortable. Read more>>

Houuropinion Podcast

The podcast was birthed through the vision of voice one, Brandon Macnear. Brandon and host at the time, Muffy completed the first season before taking a hiatus. Voice 2, Dennis Gregory was added at the start of season two. We started season two by recording in Brandon’s living room. After conclusion of the 8-episode season, we kind of felt something was missing. That something was the need to take the show visual. So, visual we did! After season two wrapped up we not only decided to turn our podcast visual, be we added a third voice, Shay, this was the third and final voice we needed. Read more>>

Sheena Foster

In 2008, founder Lucy Dilley started the Can-Do Kitchen because she saw a growing demand for locally-made foods but a lack of space to legally produce them. The program was initiated much like the efforts of so many of the entrepreneurs that the organization now supports – with little money, a lot of grit, and the desire to build something new. The Can-Do Kitchen began as a tiny shared-use kitchen and grew into a food business incubator as it gradually got bigger, added more staff, and supported a growing number of food entrepreneurs. Read more>>

Kyria Smith

Wolf and Bear began as a dream to pursue a simple life fueled by creativity. Before we even met, my husband, Nigel, and I had each considered what it would look like to live a different kind of life — one defined by working to live rather than living to work. When Nigel moved from Ireland to Northern Michigan, we realized we had an opportunity to try starting our own small business. We built a small house on my parents’ farmland and began building our art and design business. Shifting to a lifestyle of growing our own food and living a little more simply gave us the time and resources to pursue our art full time while still being provided for. Read more>>

Douglas Brooks

We live in a society where between 64% – 80% of Black people can’t swim and over 240,000 people drown each year. My story began much differently here in Detroit, MI as the son of a special education teacher and high school swimming coach. I swam competitively since the age of 5 at Detroit Adams Butzel Recreation Center and our team had a number of state and nationally ranked athletes. I decided to attend high school at Henry Ford High, where my dad worked, to spend more time with him. Read more>>

Andrea Oneal

Scrublife was birthed in 2017, while O was employed with one of the biggest major health organizations. I remember sitting and watching my coworkers’ order uniforms and talk about how much they cost. They would complain about the price point as well as the lack of colors that were provided, I then began sketching out what I wanted my scrub line to look like along with my mother, and from there, Scrublife was born. Challenges with launching any business are inevitable. One of my major challenges was dealing with someone who had stolen my business name and branded it as their own, I had to go through a very difficult trademarking process in order to secure that name back and continue on with my business. Read more>>

Tonya Vukpalaj

My family has always owned restaurants. I’ve grown up in the industry, and it’s second nature to me. My parents would take us to work as kids and put us to work. My brothers and I would dread it but looking back now, I am thankful for those experiences because they helped to form my work ethic. I worked for the family business for many years, but my husband and I decided that we wanted to build something for our children. Our children take such pride in the business, and it warms my heart to see. They are true naturals, and I cannot wait to see where they take it. Read more>>

Rani France

I started this journey 11 years ago as a hobby baker and have always had family and friends tell me that I should start a baking business because I loved baking so much and very passionate about what I made and created. This is how Sugar Shack Baking LLC began and has taken off more than I have ever imagined. have felt that baking is an expression of love and appreciation to my family and friends. I think of the kitchen as my sanctuary: alone with my thoughts, good or bad, and the only sounds of the utensils. Read more>>

Marie Herron

I started NovellaIcecream Boutique in 2015 after the birth of my daughter Jordan. I have always wanted to operate my own business. After the birth of my fourth child, I decided to take a chance on a dream. I didn’t really have a whole lot of support with the idea, but I knew that it is what I wanted. I decided to do my research and just dive in. I began creating, I got my packaging and all those little tidbits and just ran with it. I began selling my handcrafted jewelry, trinket boxes, and artwork at vending events and online. Because I put a lot of love and detail into my work, I genuinely get a lot of joy from each piece. Read more>>

Julie Davis

I have always been the “picture taker” in my family. I was the one that wanted everyone to get together at every event and say “cheese.” I purchased my first “real ” camera in 2018 and I really thought by buying this camera, I would magically be a great photographer. I was discouraged when my pictures looked the same as they always had. After hiring a photographer to take some family photos that I felt I could do better a job at, I dived into learning everything I could about photography. I bought books, signed up for a free online class called A Year With My Camera. After that year was up, I found Click, Love, Grow online. Read more>>

Aaron Brooks

Birds of Prey are a progressive Bluegrass band and bond between brothers in music. Composed of Aaron Brooks (Guitar), Thayer Niemi (Upright Bass), Rob Wardell (Mandolin), and Jayson Brooks (Banjo), their music is layered and lovable, human and huggable. Dance, be merry, be joyful, be free! Rapid Nu-Grass with space to breathe; a reminder that if it’s holding you back, perhaps it’s time to take a breath and let it go. Rooted in spiritual alignment with this earth, their message is hopeful, accessible, and actively being written as they spread their wings, soaring through the Great Lakes region, having opened for prominent national acts as Yonder Mountain String Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Henhouse Prowlers, Dixon’s Violin, and Arkansauce. Read more>>

Madeline Miller

NexTiles is a Detroit-based textile recycling and secondary use company specializing in manufacturing eco-friendly building insulation that can re-enter the circular economy at the end of its life. The NexTiles vision uses textile waste from Detroit’s automotive and apparel manufacturing industries as feedstock for a circular building insulation material. NexTiles will change lives for Detroiters by locally manufacturing building insulation to create clean jobs, decreasing the utility burden on families, increasing diversity in the energy industry, diverting textile waste from landfills, and contributing to the growth of the circular economy. Read more>>

Michele Olson

Michigan has such a special place in my heart, including Mackinac Island and Traverse City area. I’ve been a corporate and commercial/media writer for over forty years. I always knew that when the time allowed and was right, I was going to write novels – and they would take place in Michigan, starting on Mackinac Island. In 2019, I was able to accomplish the goal of publishing my first novel- Being Ethel (In a world that loves Lucy). It hit right at the same time as covid which put a delay on many plans to visit Michigan areas to promote it. Read more>>

Tanya Schneider

I have always been so curious about coffee – even at a young age. I would watch my father take time in his busy life to sit down early in the morning to enjoy a cup of coffee. Then he tackled the day. I actually had my first cup of coffee aside my father when I was a young girl. For many people, it is an acquired taste, but for me – it was love at first sip. And the fact that it was time spent with my father made it even that much better. It wasn’t until I was nearing my 30’s that my curiosity and love for coffee grew to the point, I was reading books about how coffee is grown, processed, roasted, and different brewing methods. Read more>>

Max Grean

Sometime ago, after my son was out of the house, I needed a creative outlet. I did not have much for money but found I could podcast with what I had on hand and a few free downloads. I started Uncle Ghoulie’s Fun Time Radio Program. A half-hour show playing themed music with a message, protest music, anti NWO stuff. I didn’t just spin tunes; I dropped in samples and did remixes live. All of my shows were done live. This started me down a path. I met other podcasters in the podcasting community then branched out to do a longer show, 3 hours. Read more>>

Anna Olejnik

Well, currently I’m a model and an Office Manager who has been in management for about 14 years. My modeling career is more hobbyist these days as I focus on my career and my goals of moving up the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and being a permanent Yooper. I began modeling in approximately 2004. I modeled amateurly for a few years. In 2009, I lost my father and began to take a really hard look at my life and how fleeting life is. Losing my father made me really grab life by the horns and pursue everything I love. I became a professional self-managed model in the Chicagoland area and spent about 10 years modeling professionally. Read more>>

Alyssia Cruz

Looking back the signs always pointed to me becoming a therapist. Not only did I love talking, but I grew up watching my mom be the person in the community who gave advice and helped others. Seeing this value as a kid, I knew I wanted to “help people” too. I attended university for the first time straight after high school, but the culture shock of being at a primarily white institution got to me. I withdrew after a semester of being homesick and feeling like an outsider. I joined the military to travel and get money for college. When my service was over, I was busy raising a family and pursuing my professional interests. Read more>>

Nick VanCourt

It all started with homebrewing for me. I thought, way back in 2008, after a few years of homebrewing, I’d start a brewery. My wife, Marina, who is much smarter than me, pointed out that I should get some professional experience! So, I attended and graduated from the World Brewing Academy in early 2009. From there, I got experience in a whole bunch of breweries -The Great Dane, Milwaukee Brewing Co, Tyranena Brewing Co., and then finally Ore Dock brewing, where I was head brewer for the first five years of its existence. At that point, we knew the next step was starting our little niche brewery in a destination location. Read more>>

Aaryn Lindow

Back in the day, Jordon and Tyler started Red Baron, and after years of playing together with various lineups, added myself (Aaryn) to the mix in 2019, right before we recorded the self-titled. After we finished recording, we decided with the new sound and line-up to change the name and start fresh under Edison Hollow. In 2021 we officially added David Alan Vida to the mix and now exist in the format you see us now. We pride ourselves on being one of the hardest working bands in the area and have made a name for ourselves with energetic and engaging live shows that are hard pressed to be matched. Read more>>

Hubert Massey

Hubert W. Massey graduated from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts. Prior to graduation, Mr. Massey was selected by the University to study Fine art at the University of London – Slade Institute of Fine Arts. This experience provided Hubert with a real vision and the realization of the importance of the marriage between art and architecture. Massey began to see how art should be intertwined with architectural projects at inception rather than as an afterthought when a project is near completion. This realization inspired his interest in Community Public Art projects and the rest is history. Read more>>

Trinisha Smith

Southside Smitty was a passion passed on from father to son as Michael’s father was the initial master of the grill. Michael “Southside Smitty” attended culinary school where instructor Chris Bethany helped Michael realize his passion for cooking. Southside Smiitty started in 2010 as he catered family functions, private parties, and special occasions, Michael’s wife Trinisha Smith saw the potential that Southside Smitty BBQ could become and pursued to bring the family business to higher goals. Read more>>

Jodie Polk

In 1988, my husband Jim and I started a catering business called Culinary Combo. The name was in reference to our positions within the company: I was a pastry chef, and Jim was a chef. We also continued to work in restaurants while growing the business. In August of 2018, my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died one month later. Honestly, I never thought I would bake again. Lost and confused as to what my next step would be, a team of friends and family wanted to help me find happiness again. Read more>>

Ben Law

My journey with photography began in a rather nerdy yet honest way. When I was in high school, I thought that Apple computers were the coolest thing (and I still do). One aspect that drew me to them was the beautiful scenery of the wallpapers. After getting to the point where I was changing my computer background daily and trying to find the next coolest or most beautiful image, I decided I wanted to try to make my own. Not long after this, I began exploring photography with my dad’s old film camera, and I was immediately hooked. Read more>>

Michelle L. Steffes

For the past 2 decades, my mantra has been. “It’s ALWAYS about the PEOPLE.” With a history of 25+ years of leadership and building business, I have learned that the best investment for success is #1 – working to become the best version of yourself and #2 – drawing out the best in others. In 2012, IPV Consulting was launched with this philosophy at its foundation. The acronym “IPV” also carries with it 3 core values that define what it takes to succeed at any business endeavor. INTEGRITY – PEOPLE – VISION. Since its launch, I have had the privilege of working with multiple leaders and organizations that have made the decision to put people first, investing in themselves, so they lead from the heart and make an impact on those they touch. Read more>>

Markie Zimmer

I always loved rock hunting, when we first moved to the Leelanau Peninsula, we were planning our wedding and it was STRESSFUL, so we would go to the beach and rock hunt with a bottle of wine and calm down. We started collecting a lot and became enamored with Leland Blue. I called a local business to get a quote on a basic ring with one of the stones that I had found for my “something blue” for our wedding…they quoted me $400.00! I hung up the phone and swore I would learn to make it myself. I signed up for a silversmithing class that winter; I only got to attend 3 of the 4 classes and had to leave halfway through them to get to work every day. Read more>>

Alicia White

My journey with graphics began in 1995 as an undergraduate sophomore student at Central Michigan University. My original path was to become a pediatrician. That was always the goal growing up. However, once I began to partake in the science classes in college, I realized that maybe I need to change my path. I changed my major to Journalism and took my first graphic class and fell in LOVE! My concentration for this degree was Advertising, so everything aligned. I graduated 3 yrs. later with my degree and began my career in corporate America. I obtained a job with a local non-profit as a Marketing Manager, and my design career began. Read more>>

Jahlliel Stafford

I started doing music at an early age. Mostly just songwriting when I was 8 or 9. I moved on to full-on rapping around 11 years old but I didn’t really do it seriously until 15. That was when I started running the open mic circuit and getting booked for some local showcases like The Air Up There. And I’ve kind of just been doing it bigger and better ever since. Smooth is definitely not the word I would choose but it hasn’t been the worst either. I’ve had to take my losses in some places but I’ve also seen my fair share of wins. I’ve also had to add some new things to my skillset to make progress but It’s worked out so far. Read more>>

Jasmine Mitchell

While attending college and pursuing psychology, I landed a job being a retail store manager. I adored my job because I was able to change people’s lives in fashion and be a mentor to my employees. I love helping people in any way that I can! But, after eleven years, I decided to hang up my white hat and pursue my personal dreams. I honestly didn’t know what my dreams were until I focused on my baking and creating. A fire was lit! Read more>>

Stephanie Wakeman

My story has many twists and turns! My path towards a doctorate in physical therapy was long and winding, involving a career change and several college admissions! Right out of high school, I started at a community college and transferred to the University of Michigan to study microbiology. During the summers throughout my college years, I interned as a research assistant and worked on a project to develop a drug for colorectal cancer. Read more>>

Casleah Herwaldt

My dad grew up on a vineyard in Michigan so wine has always been a part of my life. When I was 22, I moved to Kansas City. I found a local wine bar where the sommelier walked me through the tasting notes of a Cabernet Sauvignon. She told me to imagine a campfire and to smell the wine. It was truly the moment I fell in love and became obsessed with wine. I found a local wine shop called Buckley’s Wine Market in Overland Park, Kansas that was always conducting tastings and doing fun wine events. I was here all the time because I became fascinated with learning about wine. Read more>>

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