Deanna (2)

Deanna in her studio
Deanna in her studio
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“The original idea started about 10 years ago and it came about when my daughter started writing and I couldn’t find a mentor for her. I was like, ‘If I can’t find one for her, there are probably other kids that don’t have a mentor either’ and I didn’t want her to lose the inspiration to keep writing, to do this long term, because she was really good, so I went ahead and decided to ask for help at Hallmark, where I work.

They helped me figure out how to do it with the help of volunteers. It started with about 12 volunteers from Walmart and about 25 students in KCK. I didn’t have any funding, so Irene Caudillo at El Centro in Kansas City, Kansas gave me space for free.

The Latino Arts Festival was born out of the mentoring program. What I wanted to do was to give the kids more experience on what it’s like to showcase and sell your art. Instead of starting in college or after college, why not start when you’re 15? It is all sponsored because it’s a no cost festival for the attendees and it is no cost for the artist. We give them a booth, table and chairs and all they have to do is come with their creativity. I want them to bring exposure to their art within their own community, so that way, no matter what they do with their life, they’ll always remember where they came from.

There are kids here from all walks of life. A lot of these kids come because they want to be somewhere where they’re seen, somewhere where they feel welcomed. And then when they come in they see that there are other kids like them, they see the diverse culture and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is my place.’ And they just have fun. They don’t have to worry about the cost. They just have to get here and they have an outlet for their creativity.”

— with Latino Foundation for the Arts.

Deanna

Deanna

This is Deanna Munoz the founder of the Latino Foundation for the Arts a non-profit that is doing amazing things for children in the community. She was also featured in Season 4 of Queer Eye. This is part one of her story. —

Deanna

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“Being on Queer Eye helped me confront some truths about my identity that I had not confronted before. When I’m with Hispanics I have to be that and when I go to the suburbs, I then have to be something else. What I’ve come to find out is that it’s not just a Mexican-American thing, it’s a cultural around the world thing. All the way from Chile, all the way from Portugal, I’ve gotten people messaging me relating to my story of not fitting in. I just hope that in bringing that to light, people could talk about it more and they could share their stories more and that way people won’t feel so alone. And maybe we can all come together and find ways to help each other.

In the episode I also talked about discrimination I’ve experienced. It’s hard for people to understand what discrimination feels like if they’ve never experienced it. I’ve gotten the whole, ‘Oh, maybe it really wasn’t that bad,’ or ‘Maybe you’re reading too much into it.’ People say that because of everything going on in the news that I may be over thinking it, but the reality is that it’s happening here more now than ever before. I’m hoping that people can see my episode and realize that even though we live in the Midwest, in Kansas City, we’re still not safe. Anything can happen, any day.

And people who dismiss things that happens to us and say, ‘Oh, that’s not really racist,’ what they don’t understand is that the long term effect of those hurtful words can last forever. It makes us more afraid. Anything can happen. They can call the police on us and that can go bad quickly. People just don’t understand that their words can do so much harm.

One voice can cause a lot of trauma. I hope that maybe one day they’ll see that we’re people just trying to live our lives like everybody else.”

Lucas

Lucas Ryan

Lucas Ryan

This is Lucas Z Ryan. He’s the Operations Manager of Infinite Properties Group and he’s also running for City Council, District 6 in Topeka.

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(1/2)
“I kind of have run the gamut in terms of expectations. Freshman year of high school my Debate and Forensics coach sat me down and told me that I was going to be the next national champion she coached. Junior year of high school I did an interview with a teacher and they told me that they thought I would win a Nobel Prize at some point because of conversations we’ve had. My mom has two Master’s degrees and a lot of her professional life has been about college access for low income and foster care students as well as now being a school counselor. So, when I told her that I was taking two years off of school, her response was to tell me the statistics on how frequently people actually go back to school, which is a disheartening number.

So, those expectations have always been there, from teachers, from parents and from friends. And I think I internalized a lot of that when I was younger in a way that wasn’t healthy and that’s where those lost years were. I was asking myself, ‘What am I really doing? Am I doing these things because that’s what people expect of me? Or am I doing them because I want to?’ And there was a lot of internal dialogue going on around that process. I was really in a fog. But now I have settled very firmly into understanding the systems and structures that have been built around all of our lives and the way that we interact within those systems and structures and how they’re good and bad. I think a lot of that comes from having those structures putting a whole lot of expectations on me and then really thriving within that in high school and then graduating and realizing that a lot of those structures are artificial as hell.

There’s a business quote that Keller Williams often espouses and I’m real reluctant to use the gimmicky, motivational quotes that a lot of companies use just because a lot of times they’re clichés and overused. I believe a lot in the power of words, so I’m reluctant to use things that are false anachronisms or analogies, but they got this one that’s ‘No pressure, no diamonds.’ And as cheesy as it is, it’s something that I’ll often tell myself internally. ‘You know there’s a whole lot of pressure on all ends, but I know that at the end of the day, even if doesn’t work out, it’s a learning process and I’m better for it.’”

 

Vidhi

Vidhi looking at camera with henna on hand
Vidhi looking at camera with henna on hand
This is Vidhi Heiland, although she goes by V. She is the owner of Essential Henna By V. This is part one of her story.
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“Henna has always been part of my culture. My mom used to do it on me when I was younger, so when we moved here my friends were like, “Oh, you got Henna done, that’s so cool” and they would ask to come over and have my mom do Henna on them. Then one day she was just too busy so I decided to do it and that’s how I got started. I started doing Henna in fifth grade and that’s when I started practicing.

My dad’s uncle is the one who brought us out here to the United States, to Topeka. He came first and he brought the rest of his family and I started school in the third grade. The transition from leaving what I’ve always known and coming here and starting fresh—having no friends at all and the language barrier—was hard. I did speak a little English but it’s taken me a long time to come to a place where I have no accent and be able to talk fluently. The progression of those things was hard. I just did me for a while and built myself up.

When I first came here, kids made fun of my accent and also because my food was different than theirs. School was hard. What really helped me were my teachers. I wasn’t an A+ student, but I was a great student. I didn’t make a lot of friends at first. When I learned that my culture was setting me apart, what I did was try to find a medium place for myself. I took some things out of my Indian culture and took some things out of the American culture and mixed them together and kind made it all fit. To me, I’ve never been an American and I’ve never been an Indian. When I’m here I still feel displaced and when I visit India I don’t fit in either.

My real name is Vidhi, but I wanted to do something different for my business, so I started going by “V” just a couple of years ago. I guess that part of me when I was younger has not left me and I was still aiming to do something different and new. I always give myself a new identity, but the one thing I’ve always kept with me is Henna.”

 

Lexi

Lexi smiling

Lexi smiling

Lexi Rodriguez is the creator of Hope Through Headphones, a nonprofit that started out as a Washburn Student Organization and is now looking to expand with chapters to other schools.

“I was bullied starting in fourth grade. I was called words that I didn’t even know what they meant. It just got progressively worse and worse, until sophomore year of high school which was my lowest point. I ended up eventually having to transfer schools because I just got so low. Everything that everyone was telling me to do wasn’t working. I would go home from school and go to my room and cry myself to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and I would feel physically sick thinking about going to school. I started skipping classes, then getting bad grades because I was skipping classes and getting into fights with my parents who at the time didn’t understand what was going on. Now they’re amazing and the second they realized what was going on they read books and articles and did everything they could to help, but for a while they didn’t understand what was happening.

It was really music that got me out of that and got me more hopeful and got me to feel better about myself. Ever since then I kind of stuck to that– this is what music can do, this is what music did for me. That transition from high school to college can be a crazy hard one, especially if you’re moving away from family and so seeing college students go through breakdowns, anxiety attacks and depression, seeing all that happen around me, is why I’m so proactive about mental health.

We may not be able to get students to just go sit and listen to five speakers about mental health, but we can get students to listen to music with mental health thrown in between it. So we did that and it was terrifying. I had never put a concert together ever. I had never planned a big event like that. Out of a core group of students putting this concert on I was the oldest one, and I wasn’t even 21. We had 13 bands and five speakers. Washburn Student Government gave us funding since we’re a student organization and that was super helpful. We realized that on top of the speakers a lot of the musicians had their own things to say about mental health and so that’s where I think it really expanded from.

This year we purposefully picked artists who are passionate about the topics, so all of the bands are taking time out of their sets to talk about it as well. We opened the conversation to more than mental health this year too. We have a music therapy speaker, a speaker talking about substance abuse and addiction, as well as resources coming in and talking about domestic violence and abuse. It’s seriously just a room full of love.”

“What’s one piece of advice you want to give the people reading this?”

“Find the people that support you and help you and are there for you. Starting the Mental Music Scene I went up to my best friend and I said, ‘Hey, I want to have 10 bands, five speakers at a giant outdoor festival with food trucks. What do you think?’ And his first question was, ‘Okay, how can I help?’ Find those people in your life and keep them.”

Courtney (2)

Courtney outdoors smiling

Courtney outdoors smiling

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“I was trying to think of a clever name and my dad who’s not creative at all was like, what about ‘Bondbons?’ and I thought that was great.

Back when I started Bondbons, we had just started a Financial Peace University class by Dave Ramsey to pay off our student loans and get rid of our debt. Between the two of us we had $82,000 in student loan debt so I thought that maybe this was something I could do to help us pay it off. I posted something in January of 2014 and told people I was making cake balls for Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t expecting to get many orders. But I had a lot of friends and family place an order out of the kindness of their hearts and then I told my husband that I probably wasn’t going to get any orders out of this, but I did keep getting more orders from other people and it kept snowballing from there.

That class helped our marriage a lot. We were never on the same page financially until we took that class. We actually sat down and did a budget together. We just talked about money stuff last night and if that would’ve been five years ago we would’ve been screaming at each other because we would get in a lot of fights about money. This time we had a very calm and mature conversation about money because we’re on the same page about it.

My husband started painting on the side and I did this, and in 38 months we became debt free. There’s no way we could have done it without Bondbons and his painting business. That’s one reason why this is so special to me, not only because I built this from the ground up and came up with the concept, but the fact that it helped us get financial freedom is priceless to me.

It’s funny because when we got married I had never baked anything in my life, so he had to teach me how to cook. I remember the first time I tried to make something for him and he was very sweet and eating it and I hadn’t taken a bite. Then I took a bite and realized that it was disgusting! He was like, ‘Well, I was only eating it because I didn’t know if you found it gross, too.’ He had to teach me how to cook. It boggles my mind that me, who didn’t even know how to cook, can start this thing and turn it into something successful. So, I hope that encourages people. Don’t be discouraged where you are now or what you can or can’t do now because anything’s possible. Everybody starts somewhere.”

Courtney

Courtney smiling

Courtney smiling

This is Courtney Turcotte Bond. Courtney has been an English teacher at Washburn Rural High School for 14 years. She’s also the owner of Bondbons, where she specializes in “gourmet cake balls, cake pops, and various chocolate-covered bites.” Her husband Randall, along with their kids, also help out as needed. This is part one of her story.

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(1/2)

“People have a lot of issues with self-image because they can so easily compare themselves to others especially with social media, which I believe causes a lot of depression. Someone once said that, “comparison is the thief of joy” so I try to remember that. I tell my kids, like for example if they say that something’s “weird,” I tell them that I like weird. Weird should be cool and embraced and more accepted. So if you have a certain music genre that you like, or if you want to dress a certain way, just do that.

I did this social experiment three or four years ago, when I taught summer school, where I wore the exact same outfit every single day for four weeks. It was a black shirt and khaki pants. The way summer school works is just students going at their own pace and they can check out whenever they’re done. So as each kid was checking out, I pulled them aside and said, “Hey, did you happen to notice anything about what I wore during summer school?” And I’m not even kidding, not one kid noticed what I wore.

On the very last day I told the five remaining kids that I wore the same black shirt and khaki pants every single day to summer school and they didn’t believe me. So I wrote about that in my blog and it really stuck with me that we care way more about ourselves than anybody else cares about us. Even thinking about what I was going to wear today for the photo shoot I couldn’t decide, like what earrings, and then I reminded myself that nobody freaking cares. You’re going to look at whatever picture is posted way more than what anybody else is going to look at you. You’re going to notice more things about yourself than what anybody else notices, so that’s a piece of advice I give my students. Be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think.

Even when people pick up orders at my house you can easily get sucked into, ‘I want my house to look really nice’ or ‘I want the best things and the most fashionable things’ but is anyone even going to notice or care about that? Or if they care, why would I care that they care? So that’s been a large paradigm shift in my life during the last three or four years.

I’m also working on a book and since I’m an English teacher, I feel like I’ll be judged more harshly, so it isn’t coming to me as easily as I thought it would. I have a lot of writer’s block and I struggle with that because I’m quite a perfectionist, but I try reminding myself that I’m not Nicholas Sparks or a New York Times Bestselling author. I’m sure that Nicholas Sparks’s first book sucked or that he struggled, so I try reminding myself that I didn’t even know how to bake ten years ago and now I made a very successful side business that’s been fun and it’s something I can use to encourage other people.”

Elena (2)

Elena smiling
Elena smiling
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“Besides my photography business, three years ago I started Fig & Fern. I make photography props for newborns and babies that I market to photographers mainly.Before I had this last baby, I could work more a little bit more during the day, set the kids up with some toys or a show and then I would work.
Now it’s a little trickier with a baby needing me so much more. Any free time I have is usually spent working after the kids go to bed. It’s hard finding a balance between being a wife and making time for that, making time for the kids and making sure that I’m not too distracted during the day. And also time to just relax because I’m exhausted during the day, but at night is when I work. I feel like a crazy person most of the time. I’m going to start homeschooling in the fall so it’s going to be even harder.
Our daughter has some self-confidence issues and a little anxiety. I just want to build her up a little bit more before we send her back out into the world. I want her to grow more confident. I think she probably learns at a different style than at a classroom full of 20 other kids wanting attention, so I think it’ll be good for her to have a smaller classroom. People always say, ‘Your kids are only so little for so long’ and so, I think by homeschooling it’ll give me more time with the kids. This last year Ellie was in kindergarten and I barely see her, except for a few hours in the evenings and on the weekends. It’ll be nice to spend more time with her.”

Danny

Danny working

Danny working

This is Danny. He’s the owner of Corwin Guitar Co. Danny went to Midwest Guitar Building and Repair School in Saint Louis where he learned his trade.

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“It’s really awesome to have a personal connection with not just the instrument, but also the player. All of my orders are custom orders. I don’t make them just to stock the shelves in guitar stores. People contact me directly with something they want on their mind and I’m able to produce that for them. It’s cool to work with people who have a dream or vision and make that happen for them. It’s pretty special. That’s probably the most fulfilling part of this trade.

You have to have a very thorough knowledge of not only the guitar and its geometry and how things need to go together to be playable, but also a thorough understanding of wood and how it acts and how it reacts in different climates and how different species react under string tension and what different species sound like, so that you could mix and match them to produce desirable sounds. Most guitar technicians are necessarily woodworkers. They may have a working understanding of electronics, but then there’s fretwork, which is a jeweler’s trade. You’re working with precious metals and shaping them and polishing them. And then there’s wood finishing, which is a whole different things. There’s just a whole slew of different skills that are required to do this well. And I have to be able to do it all.”

“What was the happiest or saddest day of your life?”

“The happiest and saddest day of my life happened the same day. It’s kind of a weird story. The day I met Mandy I was so excited to have met this person who I just thought was incredible, but also, heartbreaking because she was married when I met her. She was a guitar student of mine. She was looking for some lessons and she was assigned to my student roster in my schedule and she walked in and we hit it off. We became best friends right away. She had one foot out the door before we even met and then they got a divorce and later we eventually got together. We were attached to the hip and have been ever since. And now we have two kids.

I feel like we found each other and made it work. It’s crazy to think back about that time in my life because I was a wreck. I didn’t have much going for me. We both regularly acknowledge and tell each other, ‘You saved my life.’ We were both in really tough spots personally and then found each other and everything came together. And we’re here now, living happily ever after. Sometimes the greatest things come out of the worse circumstances and taking the plunge is what you have to do. There’s little reward without great risk.”