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

Marsherrie Madkins

My first company started out as a side hustle back in 2014, it’s a really simple story… There was a point in my life where I began to feel uncertain and question my purpose after being cut from full-time to a part-time employee. Eventually, I sought out one of my best friends, who asked if I was praying, with confidence, reassured her friend that I was. The second question and advice are what put it all into perspective. “Are you listening? If you are, then you would know.” my friend stated, to which I truly believed I was listening. The next day, I met with a fellow entrepreneurial confidant who advised her to start my own hair company. There it was the lightbulb when I realized that it was only confirmation from the many signs of life and the divine had given over the years. For the love of hair! Whether it’s to experiment with styles, cuts, colors, etc., or to inspire others to explore self-confidence, Belle Noir Extensions (Belle Noir Beauty) has it all! Over the years, people have always asked me about hair extensions, my personal style, and beauty tips so I decided to go for it while juggling full-time and part-time employment between 2014-2019. Read more>>

Myron Kamihara

Over ten years ago, I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while attending law school in Michigan. I was a lot heavier and wanted to get healthy and active. Further, I wanted a stress relief from the rigors of law school. I was hooked as soon as I completed the first class and immediately became a member of that gym. I trained all through law school because I absolutely fell in love with the martial art. I returned home to Honolulu, Hawai’i after law school to take the bar exam and start my career as an attorney. One of the first things I did was find a Jiu Jitsu gym. I found a gym that I liked with a great family atmosphere. At this time, I was working my way up the ranks and introduced my two daughters to Jiu Jitsu. I always wanted them to train so that they could have the knowledge to defend themselves in certain situations. Not to mention the intangible lessons that Jiu Jitsu teaches kids. Read more>>

Allie Martinez

I attended high school in Houston, TX, where my mom, grandpa, and aunt were all Realtors. So, real estate was always a dinner table topic and the somewhat unconventional work schedule was my normal. I majored in Economics and Asian Studies at The University of Texas, certain that I wouldn’t follow in my family’s footsteps in the real estate industry, and then took off to Alaska as a member of Texas 4000 right after graduation. After a round-the-world backpacking trip and roughly six years working in tech here in Austin, I was craving a bigger challenge, more autonomy, a more direct way to impact my community, and less bureaucracy. I finally decided to make the leap of faith and get my real estate license. Watching my grandpa navigate the real estate market as a teenager, I learned that doing the right thing and being a true support for your clients is where you find the real rewards – he’s in his 80s and has been retired for years now, but his past clients still call him just to chat. Now in my 4th year of real estate, I’ve steadily grown my business to roughly $9M in 2020 and recently brought on my first full-time team member. I pride myself in an honest and data-driven approach and always aim to exude calmness with my clients in this somewhat chaotic market. Read more>>

Natalie Shaw

I’m a non-figurative painter whose work is informed by human movement, the fragility of things half-formed, and the power of process. Before I could put words to it, I felt something strange inside pulling me towards art as a child. One of my earliest memories was at our home in Chicago. I remember sitting on the carpet at our coffee table with my set of colored pencils, carefully taking each one out to look at the pigments. The desire to be an artist was there from a young age but the world makes being an artist feel so impractical, I completed a few degrees prior to my degree in studio art. My professors had a profound impact on me and continue to influence me on both a professional and personal level. Since moving to Austin, my time has been marked by the incredibly supportive community of artists. We show up for and support each other’s endeavors, and I feel very lucky to have access to such a generous network. Read more>>

Tre Pham

I started playing guitar when I was six years old because my mom said drums weren’t as popular. My first real band started with Blue Tongue, which began with the sole purpose of dominating our high school Battle of the Bands when I was about fourteen. About eight years, seven drummers and one bassist later, Blue Tongue has evolved from high school garage rock band doing their best Led Zeppelin impression to a tight psychedelic funk rock trio, with which I’ve managed to play most of my favorite stages in town. Blue Tongue, plus a thousand other bands I’ve been fortunate enough to play with throughout the years, has helped me to abandon all college debt dreams and service industry jobs and make a living entirely from music before I was legally able to drink. Read more>>

Annie Bedford-Cokley

I am the middle daughter of the middle daughter. My sisters call me the lil big sister… I’m the dominant one! I’ve always had to look after someone since a child. My mother was a single parent who suffered complications from a brain tumor during my childhood. I became a teen parent at 17 and by 19, I had two daughters myself. Determined to not become a statistic, I vowed to raise my children in a manner that would ensure their success. I moved away from home into the projects so I can have my own space to teach them. I got my GED and worked various jobs before I decided to pursue a career as a hairstylist. Once I finished Cosmetology school, I set out to own my own business after working at a celebrity-owned salon. I felt that it was important to use my business to start an organization Beauty over Bruises. BOB started as a Fashion Hair showcase to bring awareness of domestic violence. After dealing with multiple forms of abuse from past relationships, I wanted to provide a voice for those who felt shamed and silenced by their bruises. This has been an annual event since 2014, but every year I battle with whether I should continue or not. It can become pretty stressful being that I’ve always been the sole person financially invested. Read more>>

Darline Turner

My story really began in late July of 1978. I was sitting at the kitchen table, my mom was cooking dinner and the news came on with Walter Kronkite announcing, “This is CBS News with Walter Kronkite. Today, British researchers James Watson and Francis Crick announce the birth of the first-ever test tube baby!” The news summary went on, and I was mesmerized. My 12-year-old brain could not wrap itself around the fact that a baby had been born in a test tube. How did it fit? How did they get it in there?? So many questions…That one news report sparked my curiosity about women’s reproductive health. It influenced how I studied in school, the undergraduate programs to which I applied and it breads in me a curiosity of how can women’s health be done differently and how can women’s health be done better? When I got to college and started the pre-med curriculum, I quickly learned that it was not the discipline for me! I did graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree and went into reproductive research. That was fine, but I missed working with people, so I went back to graduate school and earned my Master of Health Science Degree as a Physician Assistant. Read more>>

Anastasia Smith

I’m a lifelong creative with a passion for words; I’ve been a writer and rapper since I can remember, and I’ve got some background in piano. I started my musical career by writing lyrics for other artists. Within the past few years, however, I’ve really begun to focus on growing myself as a performing artist and stepping into the spotlight as my own brand. For me, making music is has been a way to mark the chapters in my life. My discography tells the tale: my first projects are very rap-heavy and aggressive, the next few are more experimental, and yet another chapter follows me into a more confident phase – both conceptually and sonically. When I look back over my career, I can identify recurring themes of growth and innovation. Even during low or difficult times, when I wasn’t writing much or at all, I was still developing myself and my story. And I’ve got a few stories to tell!. Read more>>

Jessica Hernandez, APRN, PMHNP

While it was not a conscious decision at the time, I believe what led me to my career in mental health was a desire to better understand my own adversity and the challenges I experienced growing up in my family of origin. After getting my undergraduate degree in Psychology, I started working as a direct care staff at The Settlement Home for Children, a residential treatment center for girls who have experienced severe emotional trauma, abuse, and neglect. It was during my four years working there that I discovered my passion for working with vulnerable populations and supporting their mental health. At this time, I decided to pursue a career in psychiatric/mental health nursing. I entered the Alternate-Entry MSN program and graduated in 2012 with a specialty as a Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. For the first five years of my career, I worked at Austin State Hospital and gained invaluable experience serving marginalized peoples with serious mental illness and substance use disorders. While I found great meaning and purpose in this setting, I found myself chronically frustrated and disappointed by the constraints and barriers within our current mental health care system. Read more>>

Candace Bellamy

From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. When that dream came true, I automatically assumed it would be my life but it became apparent very quickly I needed a hobby. I had always loved music and I started taking voice lessons. My love of music continued to grow and my friend John said to me, “if you really want to make music and be in bands, you need to move to Austin, TX, the live music capital of the world”. I flew to Austin, fell in love with the city, went back to TN where I was living, sold my home and moved to Austin. The first band I auditioned for lead singer hired me. It was an incredible learning experience, fronting a band solo and singing forty songs a night. That experience led to other bands, a decision to attend a one year music program for working musicians at UT Austin and ultimately to songwriting and forming my own band, The Candace Bellamy Band. Prior to the pandemic the band performed around Austin at One2One, The Airport, Central Market and at various private events. In 2018, I had the opportunity to play Roberta Flack in The Voices of Donny Hathaway, which premiered at Ground Floor Theatre in Austin. Being a huge fan of Roberta Flack, this opportunity was a highlight of my music career. Read more>>

Emergency Exit Podcast

The show started with Carlos Richardson as a way to debunk and discuss various topics including mainstream conspiracy theories. Over the years, the show has had a few co-hosts come and go. (Andy, Nick, Lemon, Jimmy, Dwayne, and David) Brandon Mitchell was brought on board while the show was only about 30 episodes in and has never left. He has assumed the technical producer role allowing for Carlos and David to focus on doing the show. Prior to the pandemic, we would record our show out of the Austin Public television studios to be aired on regular old television, historic Austin Channel 10. The studios swiftly shutdown, we were lucky enough to have the last live broadcast out of the studio before they shut down. Since then, we have been sending out video signal to the TV station and it is then rebroadcast, so we have still been able to air on channel 10. The show is recorded and aired from a spare bedroom in Brandon’s house. Our show has had many topics of discussion but has also always had an element of comedy which we feel is very important. This being very true the way things have gone as a whole. Read more>>

Alexis Krasinski

Before I was directly involved in SEO – Search Engine Optimization – helping websites and businesses rank higher in Google without paying for ads, I had graduated from Arizona State with a Journalism Degree. Post-college, I worked in social media and as a content manager, but go figure, in order for the content I was writing to perform well, I had to understand what search engines prioritized. That led me to discover SEO and from there, I’ve built my consulting business from the ground floor. Read more>>

Sonali Prabhu

I started taking photos in my sorority in college and one of my sorority sisters asked if I’d take her graduation photos. It was my first time charging someone for photos and that’s where I fell in love with taking graduation photos. I moved to Austin in 2019 and I knew that I had to get my name out to college students. I offered free shoots to some college girls and sororities and then it was a domino effect from there. I photograph anything except for weddings, but grad sessions are my favorite!. Read more>>

Mia Shannonhouse

I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and playing “beauty shop” as a kid, so cosmetology school was a natural choice for me. But my parents really wanted me to get a degree so I spent a lot of time in my late teens and early twenties trying to achieve that for them. But it wasn’t until I had enough confidence in myself as an adult that I had the courage to just follow my dream and not live for anyone else. I went to Avenue Five Institute at 23 and I can honestly say that the most fun I’ve ever had in a classroom environment. I was not expecting to fall in love with lashes though! It became almost a meditative practice for me. To put myself through school, I worked at Hoppdoddy and one of the owner’s wives happened to have a gorgeous, very high-end lash studio. I wanted to work in that beautiful space so bad, and I was so proud when I landed that job right out of school. The owner was extremely meticulous and serious about training her employees to do lashes as gently and healthily as possible. I learned so much from her and feel very lucky to have been able to start my career with a strong foundation that many lash artists don’t get. Fast forward ten years later and I’m finally working for myself thanks to final push from the pandemic. Read more>>

Christo Amp

I was born into a family of four (at first, I met my sister at 15). My parents are mixed foreigners in America, so they knew how cruel the world can be. My family tried their hardest to shelter me from what could expose me to a life outside of our church teachings. My curiosity eventually drove me away to find my own path- that wasn’t so mundane. I know now that without my faith in God, I couldn’t have made it to where I am. Period.m I’m lucky enough to have found something I loved to do at a very young age. I loved catching attention. I’d had a good grasp as a kid that you had to be busy to make money. But, when I would dance, or sing, or write and rehearse a rhyme, and draw something appealing, I could suddenly draw peoples’ attention. I’ve always aimed to be a well-rounded person, so whatever I was bad at I wanted to get good at. I’m definitely not perfect, but getting better everyday. That’s the goal. Read more>>

Jamie Beutel

In the midst of 2020, being a hairstylist that was unable to work… I was lost, scared, and had never felt more alone. I had my own growing plant collection, and it truly gave me hope and purpose daily. I had an idea to start selling plants online to ship nationwide and for local pick up/delivery. I started an Instagram page in hopes to connect with the plant world and community. I wanted to connect with people during a time when connection felt lost. I started looking into licensing and permits. Once I had those in order, I decided to start a website where I would sell. I’d never built a website nor shipped a plant to another state. I learned it all self-taught with a lot of trial and error. I decided to place a greenhouse inside my bedroom in order to store my plant inventory. Then decided to place one outside on my patio and create an “outdoor” shopping area where people could book appointments and come shop. I wanted to provide a safe escape people could come to privately by appointment to look at plants and connect. I was able to transform the space into “night markets” and a glow in the dark “disco experience”, a night time shopping experience. Read more>>

Cara Carter

I’ve always had a passion for antique furniture and the idea of taking something old, sprucing it up, and making it useful. There’s so much beauty and history in those items and I love preserving that for people to use in their homes! This was something I started in 2013 and it was small at first, just a few pieces here and there that I refinished for myself and other people, then I started advertising a few pieces. Before I knew it, the idea took off! I had people from all over central Texas contacting me to refinish special pieces that were handed down from family members, revamp pieces that needed a fresh look, and look for other pieces they had in mind. I launched a Facebook page to get items advertised and that helped kick things off immediately! This recently grew into an expansion of sorts by launching a storefront in the sweet little town of Lexington, Texas and it has been an incredible blessing! I have established Circle C Living front and center in the square of our little town to give local families the opportunity to purchase home goods at affordable prices. Items I often carry are refinished furniture, decorative pillows, wall hangings and art, bath and beauty items, Circle E Candles, Consuela bags, small jewelry, apparel, and kitchen items. Read more>>

Elle Worsham

As I sat on my bed, one quiet, sunny Austin afternoon, I looked around my new room, in my new city, with all of my things in their new place. Deep breath. “Ah, I made it.” I thought. Deep breath. Silence. Anxiety. “Uh oh, everything feels the same. Did I make a mistake? Am I expecting a different result this time? Am I fooling myself?” I thought. For most of my life, I found myself in the same frustrating scenarios. I’d move cities, change jobs, start a new relationship thinking this time will be different. I won’t end up stuck in THAT job, fight or situation again. I moved to Austin in 2015 – everything was new: new nursing job, new relationship, new house, new roommates, new city to explore. And everything was new, except me. So, I quickly repressed the thoughts signaling to me on the bed perhaps this new move wasn’t going to make my life miraculously easier. Besides, it is just way easier to continue the same patterns over and over again hoping for a different result than to actually do the hard inner work leading to real peace and freedom. Right?. Read more>>

Chris Didear

I am what some folks these days call a unicorn; since I actually grew up in Austin and have been performing and recording with bands since I was a teenager. While attending St. Edward’s University where I earned a BA in Communication with a Minor in Political Science, I began played drums in original bands that sprinkled in a few covers. A self-taught drummer since age 12, I practiced hard and was able to incorporate my voice while playing drums for singing background vocals. I spent years playing in rock clubs, touring, and opening for many national acts on major labels, some of which include Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Sugar Ray, Vertical Horizon, Michelle Branch, The Calling, and Lifehouse. I was also fortunate enough to play drums at the Texas State Fair, The Indianapolis 500, and Sea World. After the last band I played drums in (50 Mission Crush) disbanded, I began a new musical endeavor as a lead singer. I sang in hard rock bands Deejer and Dark Summer Dawn before reconnecting with my longtime friend and business partner Heath Macintosh to form current indie rock band White Label Analog in 2014. Our mission was to create something fun and contemporary, and that challenged us outside of the normal comfort zone of our past. Read more>>

Jillian Edwards Coburn

My husband, who recently retired after 30 years in the U.S. Army, felt it was best we move to Texas for his last deployment. I am a born cajun. I was born in Opelousas, Louisiana and grew up thirty years of my life in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. Killeen, Texas didn’t suit me and one of my dear friends shared the beautiful views of Lago Vista in my twenties. I knew that it was a small town and being a Deep South Cajun, I needed the water. So, I said yes, and we made the move to Lago Vista, Texas when our daughter graduated high school from Lafayette, Louisiana and began her journey to college at Tulane University. I knew I had to create things of my own while staying at home to be the house manager, counselor, and chauffeur for our family. Playing tennis and being classroom mom was not enough for the entrepreneur at heart that I was. I began writing my first book after my last child in 2013. I created the MommyGo-Bag in 2018 while traveling and always being on the go as a military officer’s wife. I wanted to produce a solution for moms like me and create my first book for woman who needed to elevate their lives to the next level who may or not have the self-worth to move forward to being their best. Read more>>

Dennis Welch

I have always loved books and started reading well before starting elementary school. In fact, I have written two books myself. When I started elementary school, I was blessed to have a forward-thinking principal who came to my class on day one during our reading circle. She walked me down to the library (I had never been in one to that point) and when we walked in she said, “Now, Dennis, when your reading circle gathers each day, politely excuse yourself and come down to the library. You can read ANY book you want.” That decision by Ms. McRee was life-changing. It caused me to fall in love with books and words. Doing publicity for authors and their books is a perfect role for me. I love what I do every day. It’s a privilege. Read more>>

Tanner Bleskin

I started personal training a few years after I graduated from college at Montana State. My degree is in Microbiology, the complete opposite of personal training. I was introduced to the industry by my old trainer who trained me in high school and then for college football. He helped me become a 4x All-Conference player and ultimately a collegiate All-American. My story is no doubt about hard work, consistency, and taking advantage of opportunity. Yes, I was blessed to be 6’4″ but I had to outwork others to have any chance. On the training front, I never truly appreciated my health and knowledge of working out until after college. A byproduct of college football is that you learn how to train properly and add lean muscle. I took that for granted until I got out of the football world and realized how many people in regular life don’t know how to train properly or to gain lean muscle. Add on top of that, people mentally didn’t understand the mindset needed for sustained results. Long story short, I fell in love with training because I believe there’s no better gift than having your health. That’s a mission I love getting lost in daily. How I ended up in Texas from Montana is a whole other story but that’s the gist on the training front. Read more>>

Jake Lara

Little Cantina was created in May 2020, early into the COVID-19 pandemic. It started as a fun way to pass the time since I couldn’t go out for a cocktail. I began making cocktails in my kitchen, aka my little cantina, taking photos with my iPhone, and posting them on Instagram. I received positive feedback and it quickly became a passion project and a much needed outlet for my creativity. Over time, I started learning how to improve my iPhone photography skills using inexpensive equipment like artificial lighting and stands. The more Little Cantina’s following grew, the more I wanted to invest in better equipment to up my game so to speak. Today I shoot with a DSLR, the same artificial lighting, and a plethora of staging equipment to create different looks. Oh and of course, my home bar has grown tremendously!. Read more>>

Celina Zisman and Dou Leveton

CELINA: After graduating college, we spent four months on the road touring the country, scouting cities for a new place to call home. We landed in Austin in winter ‘08, expecting to stay a month or two and never left. We quickly became involved in the art and music scenes. I began working with local art spaces, both for and non-profit, and eventually found myself running a metalsmithing academy in South Austin. DOUG: I dove into the music industry head first. I worked my first SXSW in ‘09 as a stage manager, joined bands, and picked up gigs doing anything and everything to gain experience: teaching drums, recording and producing music, stage production, throwing events, the list goes on. I had been playing live music weekly up until everything shut down. Cel and I also held a monthly residency where we spun vinyl as DJs Mom ‘n Pop. Because our lives were intertwined with our creative careers, we felt it was important to have an entity to umbrella what we loved doing; working for ourselves and with other artists, bands, and brands we care about. In 2015, Dug Fresh Productions, LLC was born. Our work grew to include talent booking and event coordinating. Prior to the pandemic, we were managing live music seven nights a week at multiple venues. Read more>>

Breanna Jackson

I started so many times it was something I wanted to do but didn’t know exactly how so I took a break at first and at the time I was going to school full time & working full time & just like a lot of first time entrepreneurs I made a lot of excuses of why I couldn’t I do it but I knew I was tired of working at Walmart and wanted a back up in case what I went to school for didn’t work & even tho I took a break it I kept at it I still kept in contact with my vendor still was getting stuff I needed & drawing stuff up and planning what I wanted for my business then fast forward to 2020 when COVID got really big I found out I was pregnant & was having a boy & that right there changed my whole mindset I was going to school to be a nurse & I was like idk if I really wanna go to the hospital with all this going on I got a little baby to think about so I got all my stuff together to get ready to have him boosted my credit score buying stuff I needed for his arrival and everything I then later had him March 30th and that day I was like I’m going to do it and for real this he gave me that push I gotta do this for him so I started June 2020 with my business setting up social media pages and struggling for months to learn this website stuff and I finally got that down pack and I got my LLC March of 2021. Read more>>

Caleb Jost

I had a string of jobs over the course of two years after college graduation. Every single one ended for unexpected reasons: layoffs, or business closure, or unhealthy work environments. At one point, things got so tough that I was living out of my car and sleeping on friends’ couches. Adulthood wasn’t exactly off to a great start. After I was laid off from the last job I had, I realized traditional employment was just not stable enough for me. I was giving away too much control to unpredictable outside factors, and others were profiting from my hard work. I decided to start my own business and settled on web design because it’s creative work that can be performed remotely. This was appealing because I like to travel and wanted the option to pick up and spend a few months wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. The start was rocky – I was learning both how to run a business and how to design websites as I went. I certainly made a lot of mistakes, but I was always dedicated to ensuring the successful completion of any project, which helped grow a loyal clientele. It took over a year of 50-60 hour weeks before I was really making a decent living again, but I think someone with more experience and connections could have got there a lot faster. Read more>>

DJ Hannibal Beretta

My father was a Vinyl Collector and DJ and my Grandfather was the first black DJ in Tennessee. I have been collecting and DJing for 21 years. I have played venues all over Austin. I have opened up for Rza twice, Krs, Too Short, Questlove, Cappadonna, Talib Kweli, Devin the Dude, Willie D and DJ Spooky, I also produce for Stormshadow, Traygod and Lady Shacklin. I got into music from pops listening to artists like Isaac Hayes, War, Donald Byrd and Funkadelic. I post weekly on Instagram under my alias Ironfader. I’m a big fan of album art which is why I always show that and not me. Came in the hiphop game with Run Dmc, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy and listened to all coasts and artists. The person that made me want to DJ was seeing DJ Mel spin at Nasty’s. Some of my residencies and places I played at were Whisky Bar, Red Fez, Flamingo Cantina, Whisky Bar, Creekside Lounge, Beso, HiLo, Plush, Vicci, Shadow Lounge, Mohawk, The Ritz, Kopa, Nanami and Mercury. Read more>>

Steve O’Brien

I started as a bassist in Dublin, Ireland playing a lot of styles but mainly influenced by Texas Blues like ZZ Top. After moving to Texas on a whim in 2003, I played around the state with various Texas blues bands (including a ZZ Top tribute band). In 2009, I answered an ad for a bass player for a U2 tribute band. This led to the formation of THINK LIZZY with our Edge, Andy Sharp, in 2010 as a one off gig for St Patrick’s Day at Fado Irish Pub. After receiving positive feedback, I decided to see how far THINK LIZZY could go so I put a band together and dared/recruited Debrah Watts to be band manager to help spread the word around. Read more>>

Jennifer Dirlam

In 2008, I started a makeup and hair program in Hollywood, California. I graduated after a year of training and immediately started trying to work in production. My dream was to be a celebrity makeup artist or do special FX makeup for the movies. When I moved to Austin in 2014, I wasn’t sure what the industry was like. I started out working as a freelance makeup artist and hairstylist for weddings. After about a year, my business partner and I decided to start our own mobile makeup and hair service. The first few years were tough because there was a great deal of competition, but we have built our business and have become one of the top companies in Austin. We work on mostly weddings, but also do photoshoots and production. Read more>>

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