Share Your Story To Inspire Others

We all have a story to tell encompassing both difficulties and successes.  Sharing your story allows you to write about your experiences and challenges to help encourage others.

Melissa Malzahn

Melissa Malzahn is the description of a survivor, having survived 2 marriages with domestic violence and addiction. In her first marriage, she was addicted to drugs, but quit when she married for the 2nd time. During her second marriage, she became addicted to alcohol, but quit drinking in 2006, and has been sober ever since. She was married to her second husband for 20 years. Her husband, who was also an alcoholic, died in 2013 after developing complications from pneumonia. She founded her 501c3 organization, Reclaiming You Inc. to fight homelessness, domestic violence and addiction. Melissa is working on improving her life and those of others in similar situations by returning to school. She has almost completed her B.A. in Human Services specializing in child and family welfare and is only 6 classes away from earning a M.S. in Human Services specializing in organizational and social services. She hopes to show others that no matter what your situation, you can improve your life.

Sonya Williamson

Sonya Williamson was born disabled, with Hydrocephalus of the brain and legally blind. As a child, she was always in and out of hospitals, and has undergone 9 brain surgeries to date. Knowing she could become fully blind at any time, by 8 years old, Sonya decided to learn how to play multiple instruments by muscle memory and as she got older, spent 10 years traveling the United States playing concerts whenever and wherever she could. She made people smile and happy with her music, which also made her happy. In her 30's, she got married and felt like she was finally living a normal life, where others didn’t see her daily struggle. Unfortunately, on her 40th birthday, Sonya was diagnosed with further conditions, Fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and Lupus due to the multitude of medications she had been on for most of her life. Her doctors told her that there was nothing she could do, changed her medications and instead of listening to her when she said she felt worse, just kept increasing the doses of the medications. She was told that her only option was to stop moving, stay home and be put in a wheelchair for the paralysis she was experiencing. However, Sonya knew there had to be a better answer. Not long after, she was introduced to CBD in the form of a salve, which she used on her hands. This rub helped within 5 minutes and the pain eased dramatically. She tried to play guitar for the first time in years, and did so with no pain! She started using CBD in various forms, and within a short time had regained the use of her legs, started working out and eliminated all of the prescription medications she was on. Sonya switched doctors as her previous ones were not happy with her taking the CBD, even though she was getting better. Her blood tests showed that she had put her Lupus into remission; she had no more seizures or paralysis. She has regained her life.

Sarah Benezue

Growing up in a small town in southern Mississippi, Sarah Benezue was abused as a child, but couldn’t say anything, due to being related to just about everyone. At 19 and pregnant, she earned her AAS in x-ray technology, where she went from job to job prior to discovering ultrasound, which became her passion. She began marketing a chain of Outpatient Imaging Centers, until 1996, when she began to notice symptoms such as extreme fatigue and numbness. Sarah was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at this time. As she was unable to work full time, she opened a nail salon, which unfortunately closed soon after. When she went back to work full time, she started to perform echo’s but again was hit with extreme fatigue. She was then diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, which also caused diabetes. Unfortunately, this diagnoses placed her in a nursing home on hospice for 4 years. Sarah moved into an assisted living facility for 6 years, but while there, felt like she wasn’t meant to be there. She felt like there was more that she should be doing for the greater good of those around her, and in the residence, she was not able to. In 2014, Sarah moved into her own apartment and went into remission. However, after being placed on long term steroids for the lupus and MS, she had realized that she had gained 200 pounds. When she looked in the mirror and realized that she didn’t know who she was any more, Sarah went through everything in her kitchen cabinets and realized that everything was processed with high fructose corn syrup, which bodies don’t process well, and which turns to fat immediately. As she loves sauces, especially ketchup and bbq sauce, Sarah started experimenting and created her own with no added sugars, no corn syrup and no high fructose corn syrup, and started her company J & L Sauces. Through using these sauces and healthy eating in general, she has lost 186 pounds and is no longer considered diabetic. She has used her personal experiences to help others change their lives as well. One thing she has seen from her own life is that no matter what you have been through, giving up is not an option. If you want it, you can do it.

Selera Perryman

Selera Perryman has overcome much in her life to be successful. She grew up living with her single mother and sister, with an absentee father. She was molested as a child, and a single mother at the age of 16. By the time she was 22, Selera already had 4 children with 3 different fathers, including a set of twins. Much like her mother, she worked 2 to 3 jobs in order to provide for her children. She often gave her own portions to her children to be sure that they always had enough to eat and not go to bed hungry. Several years later, Selera moved to Californina, with her 5 children, having divorced her husband, and father of her youngest. Soon after living there, she got sick and ended up in a coma, where her mother stayed with her while in the hospital. It was there that Selera discovered her calling to be an evangelist, even though she originally refused to accept it. It was while recovering from her coma that she learned that she first had to love herself and forgive herself for what had happened as a child, and forgiving those who had hurt her in life. She learned what true love is and learned to accept herself and own up to her mistakes. A short while later, Selera met her mentor, Judy Jacobs, who inspired her in many ways. It was she who convinced her to write a book about her experiences, even though she was a high school drop out. Selera started writing, and her story has since been published. This was the start of her desire to empower other single mothers and young children to follow their dreams and encourage them to be themselves. Selera founded Face to Face Ministries, Inc, which is a 501c3 organization and has become a publisher, coach, trainer, and speaker with the John C. Maxwell Team. In her own words: “If you could see it, I know you could achieve it now.”

Merry Citoli

Merry Citoli is an award winning singer/songwriter who is now developing a children’s music and game app. The idea was started due to her own journey of low self-esteem that was precipitated by an abusive childhood and alcoholic father. After years of challenges in the music industry, she never quite felt like she fit in as her music was very whimsical with a unique and magical side, something that didn't quite fit into the mainstream. Like many middle aged women, Merry developed anxiety and insomnia at menopause and was put on a benzodiazepine after over a month with no sleep. Also, like many, she was never well informed about the potential side effects and dependencies this medication came with. After just a couple of months on the medication, Merry started getting odd infections and other symptoms. Not one single doctor she saw suggested it might be from the medication. She went from one doctor to the next until she was nearly skeletal from what she was told was a parasitic infection. She incurred a skull fracture at one point from dehydration and ended up out on the streets as she had to wait close to a year to get any sort of help from disability as she was totally unable to work. Her health journey went on for nearly two decades before she found a compounding pharmacist who helped her get off of the medication. The withdrawal was worse than coming off heroin, and she was not prepared for the other harsh realities that the drug had caused. It left her with two more concussions, cognitive difficulties, balance issues, tight painful muscles, electrical pains, nerve damage and a number of other challenges even with being off the medication for over two years. During her recovery, she found that thousands of other people in online support groups were suffering with the same challenges from the drug and the medical community in general just wasn't listening to any of them. She started a non-profit called The Follow Your Bliss Foundation, where she educates the public on how to get off these medications and what they will be up against with her blogs and videos. She is currently healing herself with a Ketogenic Diet, TM and yoga and working on her new passions. Broken and discouraged during her withdrawal from the drug, and after years of rejection from the mainstream music community, she wrote a trilogy of animated musicals for families. She wanted to do something to not only entertain, but to inform people about the dangers involved with taking some of these medications. In the process, she felt that giving children the kind of positive reinforcement that she never received in childhood, might be a way to change how the next generation of children interacts and socializes in a new way. Her music is about self- empowerment and creating a new world for ourselves and future generations that is compassionate and just. The children's app she is currently creating, is designed to teach children self-empowerment through an interactive virtual reality platform and by engaging them with magic characters who teach the power of Abjurer. An Abjurer is one who embraces their own personal empowerment by going through a self-mastery, apprenticeship program that is taught by these magical characters. They lead the apprentice through levels and lands that teach transformative habits and use magical songs and stories as rewards. Merry feels that if children develop good lifestyle habits early in life and deal with their root issues, they can avoid needing to lean on other substances from years of burying un-recognized pain and self destructive behavior patterns that can begin early in life.

Cheryl Kinney

Cheryl Kinney is a former rape victim, who took 3 and a half years to heal from the trauma. By using her belief in God and his healing power, Ms. Kinney helps others find courage, heal the scars and recover from their own trauma. In her words, “Where does Courage come from? An inner strength and that inner strength can only come from God.” She had to stand before a judge and protect herself from her perpetrator. She faced scrutiny but stood with courage and has four beautiful children all serving the Lord today, and her daughter and son in law are in ministry, but it was not an easy road and as a single mom, it took courage. If you break down the word COURAGE, you get “Called Out Under Righteous Anger for Good to Emerge.” Can anger be used for good? To bring change? Yes, it can to help someone through their trauma. If directed in the right direction to inspire and help others heal. There is strength in numbers in healing, in women bonding together to not only overcome but heal. Ms. Kinney’s story is probably some other woman’s story maybe many, but they will overcome with God’s love caring and support. She states that she is not an overcomer. She is a business professional who writes beautiful poetry and runs a Home Décor/ Interior Design business, doveworld373, for 8 years now. Ms. Kinney was a model in her church for 5 years for the community fashion shows that were set up to bring women together. She has received modeling certificates for her years of service. She has also earned 2 degrees in business. Ms. Kinney wants women to know that God wants them safe, He wants them smart and he wants them to Succeed. “When you put down an anchor its steady’s the boat to a dock.” According to her, the Anchor to your soul is “Christ’ and he will steady you through the storm of Trauma and not only heal you, but help you inspire others. She wrote two poems “The Art of Apology” because you must forgive for your healing and the “Journey” even though you may have gone through the Journey of trauma you can inspire others. As she states: Dream Big on your Journey. You can change the world one life at a time. Be empowered to succeed.

Kerri Ledoux

Kerri Ledoux created a new business called Heart InSouls during a time of intense grief, pain and darkness, following the loss of her son, Johnny, in a car accident. During these times, she turned to scripture and God’s promises to guide her. Within His word, she found the inspiration and comfort she needed to not only survive this difficult time, but to thrive as “God works all things together for His good…” Romans 8:28 Heart InSouls are for the Believer who knows the power of God’s word and wants to literally stand on His truths. Made out of genuine goat skin, each insole is imprinted with a scripture, designed to serve as a daily reminder of God’s promises. As Heart InSouls desires to be more than another profit-driven contributor to the massive economy of consumer footwear, a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to the LiveLikeJohnny Organization, the 501(c)3 namesake organization for the Heart Insouls founder’s son, Johnny Callan. The mission of the LiveLikeJohnny Organization is to support the engagement of at-risk, underserved and often times overlooked young people who have the potential for personal and professional success. The faith based approach is designed to ignite the passion for living an extraordinary life…just like Johnny.

Nicole Badrudeen

Ms. Nicole Badrudeen is an entrepreneur and author of The Gorgeous Skin Handbook. She wrote the book and built an automated sales and marketing system to market and sell it. She has started building similar systems for other businesses and wants to give back to the world through her social missions, which include teaching girls about sexual violence and helping those in need. As she states: “Life has given me a second chance and it is my duty to give back.” Ms. Bardudeen used cocaine and pills and suffered from depression. She even tried to commit suicide at 17. She states that she didn’t think big, was a dermatologic and plastic surgery medical assistant. She earned a GED and never finished college. With this history, she accepted defeat and felt that she would never amount to much. Three years ago, Nicole hit rock bottom when her lifestyle caught up with her and she lost everything. She sat in her bathroom, contemplating suicide, thinking that she was out of options and her only option was death. However, soon after, she discovered entrepreneurship, and her life was changed. Ms. Badrudeen started learning new skills and building her dreams. This has shown her a new way to think and live. Entrepreneurship is all about mindset, and she realized that she would never reach her goals if she didn’t change every aspect of her life, and she started to do so and continues to do so today. While she sometimes gets insecure or scared talking about her past, Nicole ultimately knows it will inspire others to change theirs as well. Too many people are scared of the unknown, feel they are shackled to their fears, insecurities and past. She wants everyone to know that they are not! No matter how hard their goals or “dream life” may seem, it is within reach.

Connie A. De La Rosa

As a member of a religious youth group, Ms. De La Rosa remembers visiting convalescent hospitals to sing and spend time with the elder patients at least once a week and she enjoyed it a lot. Bringing a smile to someone who had little to no visitors made her feel good and she knew that her journey would involve helping others feel good by showing compassion, love and giving them the most valuable aspect in a elders world, “time”. Growing up in a single mother home taught Ms. De La Rosato be a lot like her mother, who exemplified discipline, hard work, integrity and helping out your neighbor. Her neighborhood consisted of many single moms who all lived in low income apartments that were owned by the Housing Authority. Her mom worked in a packing house as a grader and always pushed Connie to live a better life, owning her home and have a job that paid well with benefits. She decided to be a Social Worker and knew that she had to get into the Welfare Department. She worked her way up from Clerical, Supervisor in Clerical then Benefits Specialist. During her employment, Connie’s mother became very ill with COPD and she had to care of her in her home. There were many visits to the hospital, convalescent, back home, etc. Ms. De La Rosa become frustrated with not understanding the kind of care her mother needed and if those needs were being met by professionals, was overwhelmed and required much attention. Once her mother passed, in 1991, she decided to work harder and become a Social Worker so that she could learn more about medications, rights, and know the resources to help others whether they had a similar situation to hers or not. After becoming a Social Worker III for several years, Ms. De La Rosa retired at age 50 and started her business in helping families find the right kind of care and offer guidance, resources, etc. This is much of what she needed during the time she cared for her mother. Her found passion and experience has joyfully led her to assist families (with no costs involved) in finding the right care home such as tours, background checks and follow up visits to ensure the care for their loved one is provided.

AC Moon

Born and raised in the off grid isolated mountains of Northern California, A.C. Moon early on developed a strong love for plants, nature, helping people and creating things. With the help of her cancer ridden survivalist mother, she learned quickly about the botanical resources around us and the drive it takes to make it in this world. After many years of living on her own and traveling to cities where the cancers of the world condemned society most, she started Harvest Moon Munchies Co., (a legal organic medical Cannabis Bakery) by age 21 and dedicated huge amounts of time to advocating for the health benefits of cannabis. As she attended college she lived off the grid, raising her son alone and often traveling for business. She managed to obtain a degree in Environmental Horticulture with a minor in Forestry studies and applied them to the newly evolving medical cannabis industry. By age 25, she had a professional growers permits and was working as a partner to cannabis collectives in California. She also began writing for advocacy groups and attending events that would later pave the way for an exciting life in the industry. Through years of battles in the constantly changing society of legal cannabis, Ms. Moon decided to try her real dreams at becoming an inventor and innovator. She began this journey with her first patent pending invention Croptopsgreenhouses.com. Her instant popup greenhouse has been featured in several magazines and events for Botany and is only one of the many innovations she hopes to create and evolve to help people grow in diverse environmental conditions. A.C. Moon speaks out that even helping save one lemon tree in your yard without a garbage bag, is worth it to the planet. (Please grow Organically!) More recently, AC Moon was voted one of Skunk Magazines “Women of Weed”, obtained several certifications and continues to offer her services in her co-ownership and partnership with Golden Blaze Consulting Inc. of Northern California. In this consulting venture, she helps newly legal companies, brand, market, innovate and grow organically a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to cannabis commerce in all ways. She also continues to work on gaining investors and partners for her inventions and continues her work as both a student and teacher in several fields from cooking to creations. Her passion and drive for helping people diversify, reach for their dreams and never give up will hopefully encourage others past fears and let them know... “Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself, passion is the fuel to catch your dreams on fire….”

Devshree Golecha

Ms. Golecha started her journey at the age of 17 as a door-to-door sales person selling bank accounts in the scorching heat of Mumbai, India. With her inability to speak good English, she had a hard time convincing customers at the bank, so her manager thought she would be better off sourcing customers in the field. She was driven, passionate and persistent and, with her hard work, managed to outperform all other sales people to become the Best Sales Person across all bank branches in India. She kept her journey going and in no time, she landed a job with Citibank as an NRI Customer Executive. Ms. Golecha’s career was going well until she realized she was not good enough for the job as she did not have an MBA. Her peers would often criticize her for the lack of a good Master’s degree. She worked hard to pursue an MBA and ranked 21st nationally on her entrance test and went to one of the top B-Schools in India. Her placement post MBA was one of the highest packages at the campus. After getting married, Ms. Golecha moved to the US, leaving her high paying job as a Commercial Banker in India. As she came to the US on a dependent visa, she was not allowed to work. Her husband was very supportive and motivating. With his suggestions and her own desire to bring her life back on track, she decided to volunteer her time as a Research Assistant at the University of Chicago. She also volunteered at a Risk Management company. During that time, her husband introduced the concept of ‘Six Sigma’ to her and recommended she study for the Green Belt certification. She had just given birth to her baby and thought it was a great idea to use the time at home and started preparing for the exam. She was so intrigued by principles of Six Sigma, the rigor and discipline of this methodology made her so excited that she decided to make a career in this field. She cleared her exam and became a Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. Ms. Golecha started working as a Process Engineer with a major Insurance company, leading enterprise wide process improvement and optimization projects. After spending several years optimizing business processes, and having gained substantial experience, she pursued the path of Black Belt and earned certification by ASQ (The Global Voice of Quality) as a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt. Currently, Ms. Golecha works at United Healthcare as a Six Sigma Black Belt driving millions of dollars in benefits to the organization and coaching Green Belts. She calls herself a Process Psychologist as it gives her immense pleasure to listen to customers and fix their business processes by making them lean and effective.

Charlean Maxwell

Ms. Maxwell was born in Los Angeles, California, moved to Sacramento and now resides in Rancho Cordova. She loves helping others and is a kindhearted person. She is a very dedicated person and does not like to give up. Ms. Maxwell never takes life for granted because it’s not promise. If she can’t do something, she will learn how. Not long ago, she suffered with pneumonia for 7 months, which made it hard to do things like walk, talk, and breathe on her own. She was basically was just existing, but she never gave up. She kept pushing herself and every day she prayed that she would overcome and she did. Ms. Maxwell still has some issues and challenges, but she does not let that get her down. She loves to dance and was not able to do that at that time. She was really stuck in a hard place in her life. She got an awaking by God through her body and it was deep. Ms. Maxwell kept telling herself that when she recovered, she would get out of bed. She had faith and recovered. She enrolled in a dance class at Studio Urban Dance Academy where she found hope and security. Dance was an escape for her, which was a good thing. Ms. Maxwell wants young women to know that despite hardship in your life you can reach for the stars. She continuously expresses her thanks to Helen, her mentor, Miss Alison, her teachers at Studio T Urban Dance Academy, her mother for pushing her to be the best, and her son Tyler for all of their support.

Sundra Michele Bauman

Ms. Bauman is the CEO, Proprietor and Director of Shellie's Early Start Learning Centers, well established grade an nursery schools in Phoenix, Arizona. After working in a variety of industries, she founded her first daycare center in 1998, following a cancer diagnosis the year before. She refused to let her diagnosis defeat her and decided to open up the center feeling she had a positive influence on youth. Ms. Bauman wanted to be able to work from home and be available to her own children. Since 1998, she has opened a total of 4 schools dedicated to children ages infant through 12 years old. The school's mission statement is to seek to be a leader in providing high quality, focused early education for the whole child. She strives to engage and inspire parents, students and the broader community toward a deeper understanding of the wonders of childhood. Ms. Bauman's focus is on delivering excellence in childcare for the children, staff and surrounding community in a nurturing environment where the uniqueness of each child is recognized, respected and children are learning, growing and safe.

Fern Mehler

When Fern Mehler was growing up in the Bronx, all the kids, boys and girls, would play together on the streets; marbles, bottle caps, Acey/Deucy (handball against the wall but the ball had to first bounce on the ground before it hit the wall). There was only one rule. You couldn’t go home crying because a girl (or boy) beat you at a game. Everyone who played had a chance of winning. Her family moved to Queens when she was 13 and still wanted to play handball with the boys, but was told by girlfriends that, if she played with the boys, she had to let the boys win. “Why?” she innocently asked. “Because they’re boys.” they answered, as if it were the most logical answer in the world. Well, that didn’t work for her then and it still doesn’t. Ms. Mehler started out in college as an actress. In fact, she has a master’s degree in Theatre. While working on her advanced degree and trying to get acting jobs, she worked in a bank. At 28, Fern realized that acting was not the money making field she thought it would be, so she reluctantly took banking seriously and began working full time for Citibank. She had became a sales person, selling mortgage products. In 1988, the mortgage crisis hit New York and it seems that she was personally responsible for all of the bad mortgage loans in Citibank’s portfolio. At that point she felt that she needed to change her life and get out of banking. At 35, Ms. Mehler went back to school at night and became an attorney. She presently work for a large law firm in Manhattan, specializing in residential real estate. Her newest adventure is as a board member of W.A.R.E., Women Attorneys in Real Estate, a new group of women attorneys practicing in New York who specialize in real estate. They are establishing a network of women attorneys to collaborate, mentor, communicate and support each other in our practice. What she has learned from all of these changes is this: even though you think you want something, life can throw you a curveball and you have to take the swing at it. As a person, you can adapt to the changes that are thrown at you and find a new path. The skills Fern learned in the playground (fair play), as an actor (memorization, attention to detail and listening to others) and the skills learned as a sales person (organization, time management, prioritization, client contact and managing expectations) all help her in her practice as an attorney. Every step we take always helps us throughout our life. Lessons learned!

Julia Galloway

Ms. Julia Galloway started selling Avon online because of her disability. In 2006 she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had to go on SSDI. She felt that since she was not able to drive or work well with others, she needed something in her life to give it some meaning. Julia found Avon online which works perfectly for her as she doesn't have to interact with people face to face. Since the online store is open 24 hours, customers can place their orders whenever they wish. Ms. Galloway loves what she does because she sets her own hours, and work more when she is having a good day. Due to health limitations, this is perfect for her. She is looking forward to the networking opportunities that P.O.W.E.R. will provide to help her business grow.

Elaine Adevai

Ms. Elaine Adevai is the Executive Director and Founder of New Vista for Families, Inc., which is a national nonprofit providing services that assist families in need. She has been with this organization for the past 8 years. She also handles community outreach to raise donations and helps the women and children referred to them to get back on their feet and find permanent housing. Elaine was inspired to open a shelter because she, herself, was an abused woman who had to make it on her own with four children as there were no shelters of this type available at the time. When she began working with abused women at Safe Horizon Shelter, she knew that one day she would open her own shelter. Opening the shelter has been the highlight of Ms. Adevai’s career thus far. She looks forward to expanding her psychoeducational and counseling services and expanding the shelter. If you are interested in learning more about New Vista for Families, Inc. contact: [email protected]