Category Archives: Bella Features

Extraordinary Women: Sonya Clark

Featured Photo: Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstylists with Sonya, 2013, Eleven inkjet photographs, Eleven color photographs: Each 28”x 28”,The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

To say that the work of African American multi-media artist Sonya Clark is dynamic and powerful would be an understatement. Throughout her career, Clark’s work has often featured hair and combs in the place of more traditional fibers and art-making materials. Her exhibition, Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark, is currently on display at the Taubman Museum of Art and will remain there until May 14, 2017. It addresses the roles of hair in African American society and features site specific installations. Last month, it included a performance entitled, “Translations.” This performance featured stylist Kamala Bhagat, who reinterpreted an African hairstyle on Clark’s hair as she read poetry by Rita Dove and Nikki Giovanni. Both the performance and the exhibition explore hair as an indicator of social status, a symbol of age and authority, a statement of contemporary style, an object of beauty, and adornment.

As we all know, hair is a medium with which we express our identity. It is a political statement as much as it is a personal one—the idea that we can be ourselves while being professional, active members of a society that tells us what is in fashion or appropriate in magazines or on television.

Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013, Silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on eleven canvases, Nine at 29” x 29”, Two at 33” x 33”, The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013, Silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on eleven canvases, Nine at 29” x 29”, Two at 33” x 33”, The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Unfortunately, those differences are often made into something negative. A trait as innocuous as hair can be made into the thing by which we set ourselves apart—and even above—other people. Understanding the importance of a hair style to everyone’s freedom of self-expression is a key component to removing ourselves from the dehumanization that plagues media and entertainment. It is the same dehumanization, Clark reminds us, that has made it easier to subjugate groups of people throughout history.

“Angela Davis was wearing a huge Afro during the black power movement,” says Clark. “It became a symbol of embracing identity. The idea of celebrating the kink, the curl, and the twist is something that is celebrating a rich history and legacy.”

In addition to hair, Clark integrates plastic pocket combs into her work. She describes them as objects that are invested with a lot of cultural identity.

“The unbreakable comb is designed that way to win the battle against knotted hair. It is pocket-sized to be carried with you all the time,” explains Clark. “A tool like a comb has to do with certain groups of people that grow hair in a certain way. They tell us something about our economic structure. Being groomed means something.”

Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark will be on display until May 14, 2017. It is an exhibition rich with history that you do not want to miss! For more of Sonya’s work, visit www.sonyaclark.com.

“A Sense of Place” with local artist Clara Heaton

Photo credit : Kirsten McBride

At Bella, we are lucky to work in close proximity with some amazing artists in our community, like Clara Heaton. Clara is a prolific painter in her own right, but she also does a lot to support other artists in Roanoke and the surrounding counties. She recently completed her BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in painting at Radford University. Through a strong mentorship with one of her professors, Dr. Halide Salam, and a passion for creativity, Clara is emerging with grace and tenacity into Roanoke’s flourishing arts community.

The passion in Clara’s paintings speaks volumes. It is a beautiful abstract culmination of her thoughts, how she interprets the beauty of her own personal experiences, and ultimately the world around her.

Dr. Salam and Clara. Photo credit : Kirsten McBride
Dr. Salam and Clara.
Photo credit : Kirsten McBride

After becoming Salam’s personal assistant, Clara saw her work for the first time. She immediately noticed connections in their work. Shortly thereafter, she also began a friendship with one of Salam’s graduate mentees, Kevin Kwon.

“Before I met Kevin, we were in a juried show together. One of my pieces was placed next to Kevin’s, and my dad pulled me aside and showed it to me,” Clara explains. “My work was very linear, and Kevin’s was incredibly organic.”

Both pieces were the start of something new for them as artists. Kevin and Clara were fascinated that, without having ever met one another, their two bodies of work had the exact same color scheme and such a cohesive presence in the room.

Months later, Kevin asked her if she would like to do a show together and Clara immediately said yes. She also suggested the include their mentor, Salam.

As serendipitous as this all may appear, the truth is, Clara’s dedication, courage, and love for art propels her forward as she pursues these opportunities.

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Photo credit: Kirsten McBride

“The cool thing about art and artists is that you cannot become a powerful artist by relying on your talent,” says Clara. “You have to start dedicating hard work to it. You have to say, ‘I’m going to set time aside for this.’ If you can’t get over your ego, then you won’t ever grow.”

Opening night for “A Sense of Place,” in which Clara, Kevin, and Salam will showcase their work, will take place in the Aurora Lightwell Gallery on September 2 at 5 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Together, the three artists from three different cultural backgrounds and levels of academic training, will respond to the feelings and perception of places unique to themselves through the discipline and practice of painting.

Visitors can also tour the gallery and view their work on weekdays from 10 am to 5 pm until September 30. For more information, visit www.aurorastudiocenter.com.

Collaborative Coloring with Artist Linda Cato

Photo by Dan Wensley of Visual CMG

Stroll through any retail establishment selling art supplies or books, and you will see them—adult coloring books. Marketed towards older teenagers, grandparents, and everyone in between, they are taking the world by storm. In the beginning, it was easy to dismiss them as a fad that would disappear in a few years. However, as they increase in popularity, community events are starting all over the country where adults can meet, color, and explore their creativity. They have become a way to bridge the thriving arts community and those of us who are still searching for an artistic medium in which we can express ourselves.

Last summer, Tucson artist Linda Cato visited Roanoke and provided a hand drawn 16-foot mural for the public to color at 16 West Marketplace. Seventy people participated, and completed the gorgeous and unique piece in three hours. It was on display in 16 West Marketplace for about three months.

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Photo Credit: George Warner

It wasn’t Linda’s first experience with this type of event. In addition to being an artist, Linda is also an educator. She believes in the power of creativity to ignite positive change on personal, community, and global levels. Her passion for using the visual arts as a tool for change-making helps her students and people from around the world reflect upon and put forth solutions to issues that face us all.

Creating murals for her students and people in the community to color not only taps into that passion, it also helps strengthen the ties between those participating. In 2011, a few weeks after Gabby Giffords was shot in Tuscon, Linda was asked to do a healing art event for kids at the site.

“I asked the kids to draw with black and white sharpies on the theme of healing and nonviolence. We cut up all of the drawings and out of that we made a composition so every child’s work was represented in a mural,” she explains. “It was a wonderful example of how a community could come together after a tragic event and use this platform. It is just as relevant with adults. You just have to ask yourself what you want to say about your community, facilitate the work, and then you come away with a piece of work that is a testament of what you are holding in your heart.”

So often, as adults, we do not have the confidence to attempt to express ourselves through art. However, a desire to do that dates back to the days when humanity told their stories through pictures on the walls of caves. It exists, albeit more subtly, today in clothes we make or alter for ourselves, our gardens, and DIY gifts we give one another. Coloring takes that desire, makes it accessible to everyone, and allows for an expansion on that creative process.

Linda Cato portrait-2“Coloring is a way for people to connect and make something beautiful,” says Linda. “I think, on a group scale, it is really powerful. When we can connect with people in quiet ways and look towards the goal of making something beautiful together, we can begin to work towards healing and strength as a community.”

Come learn more about community coloring events and Linda Cato at Bella’s Lunch & Learn on July 19. Email us at editorial@beckmediagroup.com to RSVP and receive more information.

For more information on Linda’s collaborative coloring work please visit silverseaspr.com/content/coloring and to keep up with Linda’s projects please “like” her Facebook page, facebook.com/lindacatocoloring.

Extraordinary Women: Monique Ingram

If you have ever met Monique Ingram, you know that she is an amazing woman who gives her all to her commitments and truly changes the lives she touches for the better. She is involved in many aspects of our community from her role as a health educator for Roanoke’s Planned Parenthood Health Services to volunteering with the Showtimers Community Theatre. Her interests have taken her around the world, and we feel very fortunate that she continues to share her knowledge and experience with the people in our area. 

What inspired you to get involved with Planned Parenthood?
As an adolescent, I found out that my grandmother had breast cancer and I didn’t know what that meant until she was leaving us. I remember hearing conversations in hushed tones between my family members about doctors and reproductive health. After she died, I knew I wanted to have a career where I could teach people, particularly women, about their bodies and how to help themselves.

I thought the only way I could do something with women’s reproductive health was to be a doctor or an OBGYN. I started talking to people at Roanoke College, particularly Dr.  Deneen Evans. We discussed how to craft my academic career to achieve my goals. There was a need in our area for women of color, and for women in general, to know their choices and how to find their voice when it came to reproductive healthcare.

My mom helped encourage me to fill that void. She is a strong woman, a minster. We started out in a small community where she was told she couldn’t be a preacher. She found a church home where they embraced women in ministry. I recognized that same fire in me too, and I started to create my own path. I looked into an internship at Planned Parenthood, and there I was mentored by Dina Hackley-Hunt. I used to watch her and think, “Man, I want to be just like her.” Some of my students say that about me now, and it’s crazy because I can’t believe I’ve come full circle.

monique
Photo by Jeff Hofmann

After I completed my undergraduate degree, I went home for a while before deciding that I wanted to go to graduate school at Virginia Tech. There was a job opening at Planned Parenthood. I thought, “Oh, I’m not going to be able to get that because I need my masters degree.”

However, my mom encouraged me and told me to apply because I might get it. I did, and they hired me.

I am so thankful for all of the wonderful women in my life. They’ve invited me to climb on their shoulders and see the endless possibilities of the world. They knew I would have a limited vantage point from my place on the ground. I love them so much for encouraging me to dream bigger, be better, and pay it forward.

What is your wish for every woman?
I wish that every woman could have the time and the space to find her voice—to figure out how loud she wants it to be and when or if she wants to use it. That is my wish for every person. It’s a difficult thing to try to figure out who you are and it takes time, effort, and some tears. You have to flesh out what you’re scared of, what you’re willing to stand for, and how you’re willing to grow. Growth is a huge part of finding your voice and figuring out who you are. One of my favorite quotes is, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.”

What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a member at the Showtimers Community Theatre, and I’ve been part of that family for about ten years. I don’t mind being on stage, but I adore being stage manager. I love being behind the scenes and bossing people around. That’s my comfort zone. I’m the cochair of the hospitality committee and we put on all the opening night parties for our patrons and actors to thank them for their support. Actors are volunteers, so they don’t get paid. This gives us an opportunity to recognize the gift of their time and efforts. Showtimers couldn’t happen if it weren’t for the patrons and the actors.

I am also an education partner with Project Real Talk, an all girls leadership and life enhancement nonprofit in Roanoke. Additionally, I serve on the board of Girls Rock Roanoke.

What do the upcoming months have in store for you?
This summer, I will travel to Uganda to work with women and children who are HIV positive and hopefully shadow some educators in and around Kampala. I want to listen and learn how certain educators in other parts of the world approach sex education, particularly in areas where it is difficult to be comprehensive about it.

In July, I will be going to Cyprus to work with high school students from around the United States on a service learning trip. Then, I will head back to Roanoke and start graduate school to get my Master of Public Health degree.

I am also hoping to help schedule “Are You An Askable Parent?” workshops through Planned Parenthood for parents and adults that work with young people and teenagers. The goal is to get them to a place where they feel comfortable having conversations with young people about sex education. Ultimately, our goal is to get parents to a place where they feel more comfortable having those conversations no matter what is going on with their teens or how they identify.

Visit our website during the month of June for Monique’s full interview! If you are interested in learning more about the programs that Planned Parenthood offers our community, go to www.plannedparenthood.org. To view a full list of upcoming performances by The Showtimers Community Theatre, visit www.showtimers.org.

Serve It Up Sassy: Celebrate It!

RECIPE DEVELOPMENT, FOOD STYLING, PHOTOGRAPHY, and ARTICLE BY LIZ BUSHONG

What are black, white, and red all over? Are you guessing?  Nope… it’s not a newspaper, it’s not a sun-burned penguin, and it isn’t Santa, it’s a dessert buffet!  Time to Celebrate-It! what-ever the “it” occasion may be. Whether you are hosting a graduation party, bridal shower, or anniversary reception, celebrate the occasion with a black, white and red dessert buffet table.

Any time is an occasion to host a sassy soiree with simple elegance and delicious sweets as with this dessert buffet.  A dessert table is a festive and fun table that is spread with luscious little bites of small desserts usually in the same color family as the overall color scheme of the event. There are candy buffets, pie and cookie buffets, chocolate buffets and many other wonderful creative buffets that can be featured as a dessert table.

Tred-3his dessert table features all décor and food in black and white with accents of red. Behind our dessert table is a festive wall of hand-made tissue and paper flowers that bloom like a summer garden.  Each flower bursts open with red, black, or white centerpieces and is arranged on the wall touching other flowers for impact and drama at the dessert table.

The large tissue flowers are made from tissue paper that is accordion pleated, paper clipped, and edges cut to resemble flower petals. Each petal is spread open into a blooming flower and glued to a cake board round for support and attached to the wall with Command Strips.  For more information on the tissue and card stock flowers go to lizbushong.com.

The table top is draped with a solid black damask linen table cloth.  For the centerpiece and height, two different cake stands in black and white are used interchangeably to create a graduated large to small tiered stand that holds decorative mini chocolate cupcakes with tiny candied red roses. Black and white polka dot to stripes in cardstock, wrapping paper, and cupcake liners supports the overall black and white color scheme. Mixing pattern on pattern in the same color family will add interest and intrigue to your table.

red-6Desserts for this table are variations of the black and white color scheme. Black and white butter cookies, Pecan Honey Bites dusted in confectioner’s sugar, small round red and black macaroons with white butter cream frosting, and a pure chocolate Whippet, a “cloud-like marshmallow cookie coated in pure dark chocolate.” This cookie was purchased and accented with white butter cream stripes. You don’t have to be a baker or decorator to make everything for your table. Purchased little treats from your local bakery or specialty shop can be transformed by placing in decorative cupcake liners, paper cups and other decorative containers for a pretty presentation. Paper lanterns, flowers, pennants, and other party décor can be ordered online or purchased at a party shop. Just keep your theme and color scheme in mind and run with it.

whippet cookies-www.lizbushong.com (2)A dessert in small bites and variety keeps your buffet easy and elegant. Three to four mini desserts per person is the recommended serving size if the guests are not eating a slice of cake, as in a wedding. You don’t want to overwhelm your guests with too many choices so offer 2-3 desserts per person with 5-6 dessert varieties.  Serving large cake pieces on the dessert buffet can prove to be messy and unattractive. To solve this challenge, precut the slices into a 1 X 2 inch slice and serve it up sassy on a special individual small plate or other decorative container. Decorative cakes are beautiful on a cake stand, but not really practical for a dessert buffet. Although, it is your party and if you want them to eat cake and see your masterpiece, let them eat cake. Weddings will have a separate cake table with someone cutting and serving the cake.

Presentation for any party is important. People eat with their eyes first so your desserts will need to be garnished with special details and displayed at various heights on the table. Take the time to think through how the guests will approach the table and how to serve each item. Provide small plates and utensils if your desserts require the assistance. Decorative paper napkins are appropriate and necessary. Small labels at each dessert will notify guest what the dessert is and if it has nuts or other allergens. These labels can be decorative with flourish and sometimes as simple as chalkboard stickers.

Beverages can be served, but on a separate beverage table. Colorful punches, small water bottles with decorative labels, and fruit juices make delicious drinks for simple receptions. Creating a beautiful table for your special events will bring great joy to you and your family and friends.

Celebrate some good times!  Find a reason to celebrate, be a clever hostess, and turn an ordinary day into a special occasion; just remember to “Celebrate It” with a lovely dessert buffet.

 

red-4Mini Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Roses|www.lizbushong.com

1-18.25 ounce package dark chocolate fudge cake mix
1-3ounce package chocolate instant pudding and pie mix-dry
1 1/3 cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
½ cup mini chocolate morsels
1-teaspoon vanilla

Garnish:
2 cups dark chocolate butter cream frosting*purchased
¼ cup dark cocoa for dusting-optional
Pre-made tiny rose Icing Decorations-tested Wilton

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Prepare cupcake pan with liners. Combine all cake batter ingredients. Beat batter for 2 minutes to blend.
Fill plastic zip lock bag with batter, clip end of bag to ¼ “.  Pipe batter into mini cupcake liners.
Bake cakes 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven.
Frost cooled cupcakes with dark chocolate butter cream frosting. Pipe frosting using small round tip or opening. Dust with dark cocoa powder in a small sieve if desired. Garnish with tiny rose icing decoration to center of each cupcake.  Serve the mini cakes in a decorative regular sized cupcake liner for presentation.  Do not remove mini cupcake liner from baked cakes.

Yield: 50 mini cupcakes /24 regular cupcakes

 

Liz Circle 2013 smallHelping you Make a Statement, Make it Sassy and Make it Yours!®
Liz Bushong is an expert in the three-dimensional art of entertaining. She transforms simple dining occasions into beautiful and memorable moments by adding a touch of her own “sassy” style. For the past several years Liz been entrusted to decorate the White House for several Holidays. She is a featured monthly guest chef/designer on Daytime Tricities, Daytime Blue Ridge and other television shows. Liz is the author of the Just Desserts and Sweets & Savories cookbook as well as a contributing writer for VIP SEEN and Bella Magazine. For more information about Liz go to www.lizbushong.com/www.serveitupsassy.com.
Additional information: Black, White and Red riddle: http://wikipedia.com; Command Strips: http://www.command.com/3M; Whippet Marshmallow Cookies-Dare company http://www.darefoods.com/ca_en/brand/Whippet/17

Extraordinary Women: Gina Bonomo

Gina Bonomo, owner of Wool Workshop, is a large part of a movement that is redefining the knitting community. Sewing, knitting, and crocheting are regaining popularity, and the influx of younger customers in the market is challenging the concept that these hobbies are exclusive to older generations. Her attention to detail, passion for creativity, and use of social media to promote and sell her products have made Wool Workshop the place to go for unique and trend-setting yarn and patterns. However, what keeps the customers coming back is not only the quality of the product they are getting, but the welcoming learning environment that the store offers.

What made you want to start a boutique yarn store?
I owned a shoe store called Sole Mate for over ten years. It was humming along really nicely, and it was very established. Then my best friend was diagnosed with lung cancer in Richmond. I felt like it was a good time to spend more time with him. I tried to look at the big picture of what was important. I wanted to open something there, so I decided to sell my shop to my manager. I also signed a non-compete agreement that said I could not sell any clothing, shoes, or accessories in the New River Valley or Roanoke area.

I was preparing to move up there and start a whole new business venture, and he died. I did not want to put down roots there if he wasn’t there anymore, so I had to rethink what I was going to do.

I had always been knitting things for people and enjoyed that creative side. This was at the same time that the scarf-craze was happening. Knitting was becoming mainstream. So I decided to open a knitting shop, and it was exactly what I needed. It was healing my soul from the loss of my friend and the business I didn’t have anymore.

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Photo courtesy of Wool Workshop

Let’s talk about the name “Wool Workshop.” Why did you choose it?
Workshop implies a creative space. I don’t like to view this yarn shop as a brick and mortar retail location, but instead as sort of a think-tank, fashion-driven, garment-driven space. It fits with my fashion background and what I have been doing my whole life. I know when I first opened, people didn’t see the connection, but I still feel like I’m in the fashion industry. We are creating garments with sticks and string. I don’t feel like that is a stretch at all. In fact, it is more creative and fashion-driven than what I was in before.

Why do you think knitting is increasing in popularity now?
Sewing, knitting, and crocheting, and many other handiwork things got lost when women went to work. Leisure time went away, and in terms of the garment industry it became cheaper to buy a finished garment than it was to make one yourself like our mothers and grandmothers did.

We are so tech-driven now, and I think that is making us begin to move towards things that make us feel human again and less like machines. Knitting allows people to get back some of the things they have lost. It is about regaining some leisure time and things that have meaning.

How do you choose the yarn you offer to your customers?
Anything local is very appealing. We get something in from a local farmer, and people know the cotton was grown, picked, dyed, and processed in Virginia. Customers love that, because it makes us feel like we are looking out for each other.

I also stay on top of the trends just like clothing stores. There are things people want to knit with and things they don’t want to use. We pay attention to the Pantone colors of the year, and we also offer a lot of products from popular Indie dyers.

When you aren’t knitting or helping others work on their projects, how do you spend your time?
I like to read and spend time with my kids and my husband. I run file miles every day, and I have for the last thirty years. That’s really important to me. I like to keep moving—it makes me a more interesting person to get out of my little circle and see other shops. I am an entrepreneur first and foremost. Of all the other things I do, like designing, my main thing is I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I’m a retailer. I’m having the time of my life really. I could do other things that would make more money, but I just want to be fulfilled, live an authentic life, and be happy.

For more information on Wool Workshop, visit www.skeincocaine.com. Follow @skeincocaine on Instagram for special yarn auctions every Thursday and Friday! Finally, don’t miss Stephen West—the biggest name in knitwear design and knitting. He is coming to Roanoke and Wool Workshop on June 11-12.

Extraordinary Women: Krisha Chachra

For our 10th birthday (our first issue premiered in June 2006!), we profiled 10 local women who, against odds or in the face of uncertainty, raised the bar, achieved success, and continue to inspire those around them every day.  Interviews will be posted throughout the month, and you can pick up a copy of our June issue to read all 10! Enjoy!

In local government, it is important to have strong women who represent the community and advocate for diverse interests. That’s why we love Krisha Chachra. Krisha is currently serving her second term on Blacksburg’s Town Council. In 2013, she became the first Indian-American and first under 40 professional to serve as Blacksburg’s Vice Mayor. She continues to be heavily involved in the community through her duties as a council member and by serving on several committees. She also published a book of essays about her experiences while growing up in Blacksburg entitled, Homecoming Journals: Dreaming big in a small town. When she isn’t attending to her professional commitments, Krisha enjoys spending time with her husband, Derek, and their 11-month-old daughter, Mina.

What makes you passionate about investing your time, energy, and education in Blacksburg?

Blacksburg is my hometown, and I think that no matter how far you travel and how much you explore, it is always important to remember where you came from. I was very interested in community service and running for office, and there was no better place than my hometown to pursue both. The people here helped me become who I am, travel far, and experience different things. I knew I would enjoy being able to give that back to the community. 

KrishaWhat obstacles did you encounter as Blacksburg’s Vice Mayor? How did you overcome them?

I felt like I had to prove myself because I was younger than everyone that has ever held the position. I wanted to make sure people knew I was the real deal and that I had a vision for Blacksburg that was shared by many people in the community. I listened a lot and asked a lot of questions so I could represent my community in a very authentic manner. When I first got elected, some people were skeptical and had the wrong impression about what I stood for, but I just stayed focused and worked hard to build relationships. At the end of the day, the criticism faded and I was re-elected as Vice Mayor. 

Making connections with local businesses is very important to you. Can you tell us more about why it is one of your main objectives?

The small business sector of the economy is Blacksburg’s future in terms of job providers and bringing the type of creative employees and professionals that we want to be the future leaders of Blacksburg. It is very important that we support small businesses so they can be successful and hire people who want to live, work, and build a life here. This will allow for a more creative and diverse economy for years to come.

What advice do you have for young professional women who are looking for additional ways to give back to their communities and better ways to manage their time?

All of us are busy. Everyone is doing things that are important to their families, communities, and career paths. Saying you’re busy is not a good excuse for not doing things that you are passionate about or not being involved in your community in a meaningful way. 

Being organized, present, and having a sense of visualization helps me get through my day. In addition to that, I think it is important for women to know they don’t have to take on everything to be successful. It is better to do one or two things really well than to spread yourself too thin and do many things for the sake of being involved. You’re not going to be your best that way. 

Krisha and DerekWhat is one thing that people may not know about your background?

My family was one of the first Indian-American families to come to Blacksburg and make this town our home. There were only a handful of Indians when we first came, but now it is very diverse. Back then, a lot of people didn’t know too much about where we came from. When I would tell people my family was from India, they would ask me what tribe! Back then I definitely stood out in my classroom, but I always took it as an opportunity to exchange ideas, learn about other cultures, and teach people about mine. I was never offended by people who didn’t know where I came from or who I was. When people are brave enough to ask, it is important to answer with respect. 

My life is richer for that experience, because I can connect with people from different backgrounds since I have enough respect to take interest in them. I think we need more people to show more interest about other cultures respectfully. The easiest way to do that is just by asking people questions about their origins. We have such a diverse community and we could really learn from each other if we just talked to each other more instead of assuming that we know people’s experiences. 

Visit to www.blacksburg.gov for more information on Krisha’s background and accomplishments!

Wishing for Hope– A Little Girl and Her Unicorn

Claire Cordell, a 4-year-old girl battling Ewing’s Sarcoma, received a gift from Unbridled Change on Saturday, May 21 that every child longs for– a magical unicorn.

Unbridled Change is a nonprofit Equine Assisted Therapy center in Boones Mill, Virginia. They provide interactive mental health therapy and Equine Assisted learning for families and veterans. Unbridled Change first heard about Claire’s wish from an email from her mother. Kimberly Cordell reached out to Michelle Holling-Brooks, Founder and Executive Director of Unbridled Change, to see if they could help grant this special wish. Claire was in the middle of treatment for her rare cancer when they received the anticipated response.

Claire began her heroic fight with cancer in September 2015. Her Ewing’s Sarcoma was growing off her nasal clavicle bone and wrapping around her brain stem. Her wish was granted in March 2016 after many efforts to make her wish perfect. The little girl described a specific pink unicorn that lived in the forest with many fairies. She recalled the unicorn’s name to be Sparkle Toes, because of its memorable pink,sparkling hooves.

During her explanation of her wish to Michelle, Claire asked, “Do you know how to talk to the fairies that know unicorns? If you do, can you ask them to use their magic in their horns to take the cancer ball out of my head?”

The task of granting this wish required creativity from many helping hands. They selected a pony named Puzzle to serve as Sparkle Toes. Puzzle was dyed head-to-toe with hot pink non-toxic chemical free semi-permanent dye that a local organic salon, Creekside Salon, helped them find. After 16 bottles of dye, eight bottle of spray dye for the mane and tail, one bottle of glitter for the hooves, and of course the magical horn, Puzzle was transformed into Sparkle Toes!

image3When the day came for Sparkle Toes to meet Claire, she received incredible news from her doctor. The 4-year-old’s cancer was gone and the treatments had worked to heal her back to health. Claire was convinced that Sparkle Toes must have healed her with its magical horn. The unicorn walked into the arena where Claire was patiently waiting and her face lit up with joy.

“Wow, you do know Sparkle Toes! But be careful. Don’t touch her horn, if you do she will lose her magic and not be able to help other people get better and be happy too!” Claire said, with a smile on her face.

Claire spent the next 30 minutes riding Sparkle Toes and talking to the unicorn about her journey with cancer. She knew that Sparkle Toes was going to help more people with its healing horn and never lost her smile during the whole ride. Claire thanked Unbridled Change with her dazzling spirit and everyone else that granted her one special wish.

Unbridled Change’s mission is to help people overcome obstacles that may come up in their lives. Michelle told the family to not use Claire’s official wish on them.

“I love my job, the smiles and hugs we received today from Claire and her family will be with me and our staff for the rest of our lives!” stated Holling-Brooks.

Unbridled Change wanted to do this wish for the little girl because of the complications she has faced in life with cancer. They didn’t receive any compensation for completing her wish and they simply wanted to help Claire overcome trauma. The work they do for people is made possible by the community and local foundations. For those seeking more information about Unbridled Change and their programs can visit www.UnbridledChange.org.

Written by Stacy Shrader