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The Trailblazers: Rewriting the Narrative

The editorial team has a special attachment to our new series, The Trailblazers: Rewriting the Narrative, because so many of us feel that media portrayals of women have been too one dimensional. Today, women are doing incredible things in all fields – from science and technology to finance, law, business, athletics and more.  With the Trailblazers series, we hope to highlight and celebrate female role models, encourage more equal and just representation in the media, and help foster a more tight-knit community locally helping women find mentors, business partners, friends and more.

Fiorella Villarruel

I was a Loan Officer for seven years, and I put my position on hold to be a full-time stay-at-home mom for almost a decade while my husband was traveling for work. I loved being available for my children, so I worked in the school system for a few years to be able to be flexible for my kids. As they grew, eventually I needed a change and I wasn’t sure what direction to go with my life. It admittedly felt very isolating having given so much to my family and wondering where that left Fiorella as an individual career woman… I know this is a feeling many moms can relate to. One day my husband had suggested getting my Real Estate license. It was an interesting idea but didn’t immediately spark to me. He convinced me that with my knowledge of the area, my love of homes new and old, and the people skills that I had honed through the years to give it a try… and it was just one day in and I fell in love with my new career! My husband loves to remind me that it was all his idea. Read more>>

Ashley Walling

In 2017, I started my small business Ash Art in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, I was attending college at Trevecca in Nashville, TN pursuing a degree in communication studies. My grandmother had passed away in 2015 and I was looking for something to do in her memory. There were a bunch of mason jars leftover that were passed down to me that used to be my grandmothers and instead of keeping them in kitchen cabinets, I wanted to make something beautiful out of them. I painted a few mason jars and it all started from there & I decided to name it Ash Art. In 2017 there was a job opening at a local boutique called Bits & Pieces in my hometown of Nashville. One of the students that I went to school with posted the job opportunity at my college. I started working there as a shopkeeper. The shop was full of antiques, vendor booths, boutique clothing, records & it was so inspiring. The owner of the shop, Aubrey Prosser, had a few students who included their art in her store & sold it as vendors. Read more>>

Rachel Penn

Floral design has always been a form of creative expression for me. I grew up around flowers and gardening in Nashville, but I first took a floral design class while I lived abroad as a way to unplug from my demanding tech career. Eventually, I realized my passion for floral design was more than just a hobby and started freelancing for other florists and for events. I eventually helped launch a botanical design studio in Singapore as their Director of Operations & Events. In early 2020, after my husband and I moved back to Nashville, we found out we were pregnant with our daughter, Lillian. In June 2020, Lillian was born premature and passed away a few hours after she was born. Due to COVID, I wasn’t able to have anyone in the hospital with me, we weren’t able to have a funeral for Lillian, and I had nowhere to put my grief. I had all this built-up parenting energy and love for a child that had nowhere to go, so every week I would buy flowers from local wholesalers and make arrangements to take to Lillian’s grave. Pretty soon, I realized that I wanted to create a legacy for Lillian so that her short life would always mean more than our loss. Read more>>

Diana DeRossett

You could say that I got here by honoring my life experiences, especially the parts of myself that I once felt I had to hide and be ashamed of. The more I have accepted my shadow aspects the more I have been able to be present for myself and therefore, my family and community. With my reiki practice, I wanted to help others heal through “laying of hands” so that they could experience a gentle warmth that would allow them to release their blocks and pain. As I grew in my practice and connecting with clients, I knew I had an ability to further help them in processing their emotions and soul coaching was a natural next step. Everyday Diosa has been grown from a space between life experience and consciously choosing healing and what we really want for our lives. Read more>>

Marquita Jackson

As a spouse of a soldier living in upstate New York, I felt so far away from family and friends. During this time, it was my son, my husband, and I. While living in New York I met a young lady by the name of Kendetta and she is still my best friend until this day. We began to hang out and get to know each other. There wasn’t much for us to do in a military town, and we began to have dreams of becoming Makeup Artist’s. I began to watch makeup tutorials on YouTube, and I mean tons of them. I bought a lot of makeup because I wanted to know how to do my own makeup and to begin my journey. I relocated to Tennessee to a small military town outside of Nashville. After I had my second son, I started a freelance course at Academy of Makeup Arts here in Nashville, TN. Suddenly, my life shifted before my eyes. I was now divorced and a single mom of two boys. Through my pain and struggles, I tried to survive on my own and raise my sons. Read more>>

Yonna Jones

My father’s a DJ & my mom enjoyed singing throughout my childhood so I was born with the love of music. My oldest brothers & my cousins started rap groups with their friends, so this really inspired me to try writing songs at just six years old. Shortly after, I was deeply influenced by Michael Jackson, Omarion, Chris Brown, Tpain, Eminem, Lil Wayne &, etc. Once I graduated high school, I let sports go & decided music was more of my passion. I studied commercial songwriting for two years & now I’m continuing to be independent along the way. Read more>>

Olivia Cadet

I’ve always been extremely independent and high-strung. I’m the youngest of three. My mom moved us from Queens, NY to Nashville in the late 90’s. At that time, Nashville was such a boring city. In my ten years old mind, I was being punished for something, but I just couldn’t remember what it was for. Growing up with a single mother came with some quirks. We didn’t have a lot of family in Nashville except for my older brother, sister, and my uncle and aunt. As a teen, when I wanted to get out it was always a challenge. If I wanted to have freedom, I’d had to get it myself. I was determined to buy myself a car, learn to drive, and explore the city on my own. At 16, I got hired at Applebees at the Raddison Hotel as a morning server on the weekend. My shift started at the crack of dawn-5am. I was responsible for serving and refilling the guest drinks, keeping the buffet food hot, and cleaning off the tables. Read more>>

Elisabeth Marsch

Everyone draws when they’re a kid, but most stop after a while. I just never stopped. When I was about 12, my grandfather saw me struggling with decade-old craft paints and gave me my first set of acrylics. I’ve painted ever since. As a teen, my top two college majors were art and astrophysics, and when I graduated with my Bachelor’s in art my top grad school degrees were art history and philosophy of aesthetics; somehow at both junctures art won out, and studio art at that. In October of 2015, I was preparing for grad school and working part-time as a metalsmith when I realized art history wasn’t the right path. I quit my job, put grad school aside, got a residency at the New York Academy of Art, and in 2016 I moved to Franklin and started my business as a portrait and abstract painter. I’ve been here for five years now, making portraits, miniatures, chemical reaction paintings and getting involved with the unique art and design communities of Nashville. Read more>>

Cristina Vane

I was born in Italy and grew up mostly in Paris before coming to the U.S. for college at 18. I have always loved music; I sang to myself as a baby in the crib and played piano, flute and sang in choirs growing up. I picked up guitar around 13 and used it to play my favorite songs of the time before starting to write songs around 16 years old. When I graduated college, I made the decision to really give music a try, as I had played my first real gigs the summer before while home in London. That same summer, I discovered slide guitar and began teaching myself bottleneck slide and open tunings. By the time I moved to L.A., I was already playing in the style, but when I heard Blind Willie Johnson, my interest skyrocketed. This led me down the rabbit hole of American Folk music, which was supplemented by my time working at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and learning fingerstyle/travis picking from my mentor during that time. I also picked up banjo then. Read more>>

Jade Griffin

My business started in 2018 when my friends were getting married and asked if I could do a “Behind The Scenes” of their engagement photo shoot. I loved being in front of the camera doing youtube but, when I finally got behind the camera, it was like a new level unlocked. For the last three years, I turned that experience into an amazing business. When the pandemic hit last year, I wanted to expand my business from just videography and add photography as well and it’s been an amazing journey thus far. I’m proud of the work that I have done and can’t wait to see how I will continue to grow this passion. Read more>>

Raquel Kelley

About Us: In 1997, Raquel and Maury met at sea working for Princess Cruises. Raquel, from Melbourne, Australia, grew up with five siblings all in the music and entertainment industry. Her dad is a jazz musician, mother a professional dancer and Raquel was in musicals including Miss Saigon before performing on cruise ships. Maury grew up singing in Memphis before moving to Nashville and performing at Opryland in the ’80s. After graduating from Belmont University, he traveled with his band entertaining the troops around the world. In 1992 Maury, became Deputy Cruise Director for Princess Cruises in charge of entertainment. In 2003, we started Franklin Brentwood Arts Academy to give kids the opportunity to develop their talent, build their confidence, and learn how to perform on stage!. Read more>>

Elizabeth McGlathery

In January 2019, my husband and I became first-time parents to a beautiful two years old boy through adoption. I wanted a way to be able to stay home with my son since I had already missed out on so much of his little life already AND a way to give back. I had a background in marketing & apparel and love for retro aesthetics. With the help of YouTube & Google, I learned graphic design and began creating. I ended up leaving my full-time job, launching my business, and here I am almost three years later still getting to stay home with my son. It’s been a dream come true!. Read more>>

April Harrington

I have been in Real Estate since 2013 and started as an independent agent. I am not a Firm Owner, a Principal Broker and a team leader. Incredibly proud to say that I have had a lot of help along the way. My team has pushed me, my husband has supported me, and my community has rallied beside me! I fell in love with Real Estate while on a journey with my Mother in Costa Rica. She built a home there and opened her own Property Management Company sparking an interest in investments everywhere. Read more>>

Susana Allen

Alex and I grew up drinking coffee, definitely part of our culture! Coffee to us is the bridge between lunch and dinner on a relaxing Saturday afternoon where our families would get together to eat lunch, sit and talk over coffee about anything and everything and before we knew it, it was dinner time! Coffee represents relationships and family time so that has always been what has drawn us to it. We have worked in the Music Industry since moving to middle TN in 1993. We have lived everywhere from Bellevue, Antioch, Brentwood, Franklin and then made our way farther down to Spring Hill with our two small kids in 2008. This is where our boy (now 19) and girl (now 16) grew up, where we found our people and our community. We have homeschooled our kids all the way through. Through the years, every time we passed through this cute little house on Main St, Alex in particular would feel the pull of it and would dream about that type of business would work there. Read more>>

Laura Rodriguez

I fell in love with food and cooking when I lived in Italy. I had a writing degree so I started working as a dishwasher in a cooking school to get my feet wet in the food industry. I soon moved up the ladder and became the manager of that cooking school. So over the course of four years, I listened to hundreds of cooking classes and practiced everything I learned at home. I went on to work in a restaurant for a few years which inspired me to open my own catering company. We moved to Nashville when my daughter was born and that’s when I started working for The Heimerdinger Foundation – a non-profit organization that feeds healing meals to cancer patients. I did everything I could to study how food can treat cancer and started applying these principals to my cooking. In cooking and eating this new way, I managed to reverse several food/lifestyle related illnesses I had been dealing with for years. Now I’m on a mission to teach and inspire others to do the same. Read more>>

Erica Humphrey

I believe that my story truly started long before I was born. Both sides of my family had faced substantial pain and loss even before I came along. Addiction, abuse, mental illness, suicide, and abandonment, just to name a few. The mentality was that of just surviving and getting by. Generations of unhealthy patterns and brokenness repeated time and time again. My father spent the majority of his life incarcerated due to drugs and violence. My mother remarried a man that later adopted me, but the battles were far from over. With constant turmoil in the home, abandonment from my father, and my parent’s own struggles, I grew up quickly. I knew from a young age that I wanted so much more for my own life. I knew that parenthood, family, marriage, and living fully consisted of so much more than I had seen. I had a sense of depth and connection that told me that this wasn’t going to be my story. Read more>>

Alyssa Broome

I started Teacher Noire because when I clicked on the hashtag #TeachersFollowTeacher I didn’t see any teachers that looked like me. I wanted to create a safe space for teachers of color to display the hard work they put in, yet often overlooked. I also wanted to share teacher advice from fellow teachers, inspiration, and something I called the #NoireNook, where I was sharing diverse books for children as well. As the page started to grow, I created an Etsy to add a few items to here and there. Then, I got intentional and designed some enamel pins and earrings that hopefully will launch by the end of the year. I wanted to design something that would make a statement, be fashionable, and teachers would love to receive as a gift. Read more>>

Barb Hill

Like any good story, there were a lot of twists and turns that led me to where I am now. I was passionate about so many things over the years that it feels like I lived nine lives before becoming a therapist. I lived overseas in Africa doing missions work, worked in the corporate sector at a teaching hospital, as a digital media manager for an NGO, and a medical esthetician with plastic surgeons. What undergirded all of these pursuits was my passion to help people. One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick Buechner who says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” For me, being a therapist is the place where my deep gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet. It’s been amazing to see how all the experiences I had before working as a therapist allow me to connect with such a wide array of clients. Looking back, I’m really grateful for all the twists and turns that led me here. Read more>>

Nichole Foster

I’ve always been a little different from everyone in my family. If you ask my mom, she’d say I was rebellious. I say, I just like being different! We often had a different variety of family functions from birthdays to holidays or just because it was Saturday and it was a good day to get together. Often, each guest would bring a dish. Everyone loves a great Mac and Cheese (I loveeeee cheese!) I wanted to bring dishes that spoke to my personality and creativity. So I experimented and created things like apple pies made inside the apple, lasagna cupcakes, bacon wrapped meatloaf, and it was a batch of chocolate-covered Strawberries that started it all. My husband’s uncle invited us over for a boxing match, and I brought chocolate-covered strawberries. They were a hit! My uncle asked me to make more for a surprise 25th Anniversary party back in 2015 to which I obliged. Once I figured out chocolate could be colored, it was a definite game changer.  Read more>>

Paula Sims

My mother had owned a restaurant/catering business for a good part of my childhood and my sisters and I were expected to help out. Although my sisters didn’t exactly take a liking for the food business and had went on to pursue other interests, I was drawn to this industry. I have worked many years at various restaurants and bars, but in 2019 the offer to purchase Hank’s was made to me and I made the decision to dive headfirst into becoming a sole proprietor… After having 25 plus years working and managing restaurants but I was in no way prepared for how to deal with the bottom falling out of our world six months after I took the leap!. Read more>>

Dawn Pfingsten

I’m a “late in life” mom with a teenager and a wonderful husband. We have a small business and recently moved and started fixing up an old farmhouse in Bell Buckle. I have been in the military and indirect sales, and when my daughter was very young, I started staying home with her. After she started school, I decided to find something “just for me” that I could do from home. I had already been involved in direct sales, but I wanted something where I could connect with women my age. After a few years of searching options, I decided to start a blog and then a YouTube channel for women over 40. Now, I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube connecting with and helping women over 40 and over 50 feel comfortable and relevant with their style and makeup looks. Read more>>

Lorie Ward

My life completely turned around when I discovered the power of nutrition in my early 20’s. I attended San Diego State University and had put on the stereotypical “Freshman 15” through late-night drive-through’s and no longer playing organized sports. Two things happened, I took a job at the spa at The Rancho Bernardo Inn and part of my job was making the fresh-squeezed orange juice every day, and secondly I enrolled in an Introductory Nutrition class which lit a fire in me like no other class had before. I quickly adjusted my nutritional intake to incorporate whole, plant-based foods and saw my energy, complexion and overall well-being improve significantly. I then changed my major to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Education. For 30 years juicing has been a part of my lifestyle. Although my career path took me into the Pharmaceutical Industry, my passion remained in prevention. Yearly I took courses either in healthy food preparation, raw food preparation, or Integrative nutrition. Everywhere I traveled, I sought out raw food cafes and juice bars. It wasn’t until I had been in Fairhope a few years and had become more disenchanted in my “career” than ever before that I started trying to figure out how I could start a juice business. Read more>>

Audry Deal-McEver

I was raised by a creative family. My mom has a degree in painting and worked in graphic design for most of her career. My father is a professional musician (primarily a jazz guitarist). My dad’s parents were professional photographers and my mom’s father built grandfather clocks from scratch. Growing up, I played 14 years of very serious classical piano before switching to the visual arts in college. While pursuing my Bachelors of Fine Art at Ohio University, I tried a ceramics class my sophomore year. At the time, I was planning to focus in photography and had never worked with clay before. It was a “Pottery on the Wheel” class and my professor was so hard! I was used to working hard and then getting good grades in school, but that didn’t work in this class. I was working hard and still not doing well. My professor didn’t offer much encouragement and I stubbornly decided I was going to prove him I could indeed figure this thing out. Over the semester, I spent every extra moment of time in the studio working on my technique and slowly began to get a little better. In the process, I accidentally fell in love with clay. Read more>>

Laura Scalone

Elle Jay at Home started in 2015 as a way to track kitchen experiments and recipes I made up so my mother-in-law and husband could make them again later. For a couple of years, it was a way for me to share recipes and personal updates with my family. In November of 2019, I was laid off and decided to take blogging more seriously. The pandemic kicked in a few months later and with everyone stress-baking, my blog turned to focusing on recipes that were comforting to make as well as eat. I encourage readers to enjoy the process of making something, rather than just eating it (even though that is fun, too). I think we all could use an activity to slow down and de-stress. For me, stress-baking is a great way to connect with other people. You don’t have to eat it all yourself; share with your neighbors!. Read more>>

Nikki Muhilly

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a love for decorating. It was a hobby of mine and at any time, you could find me rearranging/decorating my childhood bedroom. That carried on to when I moved into my first apartment in college. I loved going and shopping for home decor and coming back to decorate my apartment. I attended Western Kentucky University where I received a bachelor’s degree in Nursing. I always said if Nursing didn’t work out, I’d major in interior design. It’s funny how life works out. Now, I feel a little like I’ve done both. After graduating college in December 2010, I started working at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN and started dating my husband. We got married in October 2012 and had our first son the following year. After he was born, we decided that I would stay at home with our kids. We had our daughter in 2014 and another son in 2016. We bought our first home in 2017. I was so excited to decorate. I had Pinterest boards full of farmhouse decor that I wanted to replicate in my own home. Read more>>

Claire Sully

I’m a 22 years old pop-country artist from Boston, MA. I started out as a pop singer playing at bars and restaurants. I’ve been playing guitar and singing for audiences since I was 13 years old. It started in Burlington Vermont, Boston, and I finally can say I’ve played Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee. I started writing songs professionally at the age of 15 and just developed a knack for it. I love songwriting, I love being able to express myself through music. Music and Love are the two most universal forms of language. When I sit down to write a song, I feel like I am in a place of purity. A place where I can gather my thoughts thoroughly and write my truth. Everything I write is based on real experience and the people I surround myself with. When I was a pop artist, I found myself writing music that people wanted to hear. Very similar to what you hear on the radio. The sound was electronic, very bubble gum pop as I like to call it. Read more>>

Jessica Randolph

When I was 16, I worked at an 1820’s farmhouse that was retrofitted into an ice cream shop right next to a train station in the suburbs of Chicago. Having grown up in a vinyl-siding, 1980’s development where every house was another shade of beige and featured popcorn ceilings, I fell in love with the historic charm of the shop. The way the floors creaked when I greeted a customer to the rusty old front door that still had the original hardware perfectly in tact, I was falling in love. I moved to Nashville after high school and quickly realized that I was not the only semi-talented 18 year old who knew four guitar chords, and my dream felt silly. I started to pray for some sort of direction. I honestly felt lost. What should I do with life?! Don’t we all ask that question at some point? It was shortly after that a friend asked me while I was helping him move into a new apartment behind Fido in Hillsboro Village, “If you had all the money in the world, and all the time in the world, what would you do with your life?” I knew immediately and almost screamed from excitement as it came out of my mouth. Read more>>

Hayley Gjertsen

Growing up in Seattle, I never had a direct interest in photography or videography and truly didn’t expect it to become such a big part of my life. But I think that’s the beauty of trying new things – you never know what will stick. I bought a GoPro in 2015 because I loved capturing memories with friends and of my travels. That’s where my initial interest started in videography. I contemplated buying a camera for a while and finally pulled the trigger at the end of 2017. I then spent months watching YouTube tutorials and self-teaching as much as I could. I realized the best way to learn was to shoot, so I roped friends into being my muse. As a lover of live music, I decided to merge my two interests and try my hand at concert photography and videography. I reached out to a friend from high school who started a band (shout out Marshall Law Band in Seattle!) and asked if I could come shoot a show. Looking back the photos were pretty bad, but it was the start of my love for capturing music-related imagery and all the energy, passion and movement that happens on stage. Read more>>

Kat Garza

My personal self-worth and esteem were at an all-time low. I was in a relationship that had gone bad. I had raised seven children and began looking in the mirror at the person I had become. What I saw troubled me. I had allowed others to dictate my life. I had two choices, give in to those feelings and let it define me or dig down deep and find out who I really was. What began as a work on the inside began to manifest itself on the outside. The first thing to change was my hair. I had seen a model, Cindy Joseph ( later the founder of BOOM! skincare line). She was in her 60’s, modeling, and had stunning grey hair. I spent some time looking at other women as well with natural coloring to their hair, like Emmylou Harris, and I knew this was the direction I was going to go. I was tired of spending time in the salon chair only to end up with results that were far from satisfactory. Read more>>

Emma Dodson

I used to model briefly as a child before middle and high school took up most of my time. I always told myself I would continue to pursue my interests – modeling and figure skating to name a few after I was finished with school. In 2017, in my senior year of high school, I was in a car accident that landed me in the coma in the neuro ICU for a week and left me with permanent changes – including bells palls, a partial facial paralysis. This, more than anything, let me know how important it is to pursue your interests before it’s too late. I eventually graduated and began studying computer science in college, which took me to Japan, where I began modeling again during my studies, as well as began figure skating again. Although it was difficult, I was determined to work through my conditions and not let them hold me back. I ended up graduating college in 2021 – as well as getting signed to Tribe Talent Management in Nashville. I now work as a cyber security engineer as well as a model in Nashville, where I am fortunate enough to work with many spectacular local brands and artists. Read more>>

Jessica Wiley

My journey to discovering I loved everything spirits was unconventional. I was looking for a part-time job and came across a Brand Ambassador gig for a new up and coming spirit in the Washington, DC area. I would go around to different liquor stores, pour samples and talk about the product. From there, I worked for different companies doing the same thing but for multiple spirit brands. It was so interesting(to me) learning different brand’s facts and how different spirits were made. Read more>>

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