The White Ribbon Project gives new voice to Lung Cancer Awareness

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Lung cancer survivor, Heidi Nafman Onda said she has a goal to put a white ribbon in every lung cancer patient’s hands so they know they are never alone, and what started as a simple gesture to have a voice has taken life into a growing movement bringing new hope.

In October of 2018, Heidi was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).  Initially, she received a phone call and was told with chemo and radiation she would have 4 to 6 months.  In a miraculous turn of events, when she met with her oncologist for the first time, he had a totally different story and she was told of a new trial immunotherapy specifically for her stage with, “curative intent.”  Three cycles of chemotherapy and thirty radiation treatments later, followed by immunotherapy infusions for one year, in January of 2020 Heidi received the report there was no evidence of disease. 

While Heidi did not have an active history of tobacco use and was educated about health, because of the lack of preventative screening for lung cancer she was not diagnosed until late stage.

“That’s our story here.  Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer,” she said.

Before The White Ribbon Project came to life, Heidi said she was working with all her might to advocate for better screening and for the public to become aware that anyone who has lungs can get lung cancer.  For a cancer that is the deadliest among all cancers, she said the stigma of smoking has taken a detrimental toll on the truth of lung cancer and what is being done for prevention.

When she and other advocates started asking care centers across the country what they were going to do for lung cancer awareness month in years past, Heidi said they were not only unsupported, they were dismissed.

“We were either getting ignored, or dismissed or down-right humiliated,” Heidi said.

One day, the hurtful responses and comments brought Heidi to a point where she said she felt she had to do something, somehow, even if it was just putting a white ribbon on her door.  She said nobody could tell her she couldn’t do that, so she asked her husband Pierre if he could make her a ribbon for the front door; Heidi said she was ready to scream to the world she had lung cancer.

“I didn’t have to ask permission from anybody to do this, and it gave me some control back in the process,” she said.

Heidi didn’t start with only putting a ribbon on the door though. She decorated the whole front of their house with tied white ribbons on trees and even the mailbox.  She said she took a picture of the scene and put it on a private Facebook page for advocates in Colorado.

From the picture, people started asking about the ribbon on the door and how they could get one.  What started out as one became dozens a week Heidi said, but because of the time of the pandemic they were just leaving the ribbons on the doorstep, and she never really got to meet many of the people who would share their pictures and stories on social media taking the ribbons out in the public, to landmarks and to their doctor appointments.

Pierre said it didn’t start out with the vision of a grass roots organization, but it just became more, and they kept getting signs from survivors and caretakers who also felt neglected and alone in some way on their own journeys.

“I think it was more responding to the needs of a community,” he said.

As Heidi and Pierre continued to network it became clear to them they needed to think more broadly and began connecting to other advocates all over the country like Liz Dagrossa from Bohemia, NY.  Liz was diagnosed with NSCLC at the age of 53 and 9 years later at the age of 62, Liz said she wakes up every day not thinking she is a patient with cancer.

For years, Liz said she has not only fought lung cancer, but the stigma that it is something she deserves.  The reality is that many people who are diagnosed with lung cancer have never actively used tobacco and even if they had; nobody should be treated like they deserve to be sick.

“Nobody deserves this.  I don’t care if you were a smoker or not,” she said.

Liz has been actively using her voice to bring awareness to lung cancer through social media and in her local community on Long Island for years.  Through her determination and persistence she joined the mission of The White Ribbon Project after seeing a Facebook post and reaching out to Heidi to see how she could get involved.  Most recently, Liz and her family started doing their own ribbon building distributing to others locally and she even brought her own treatment team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) on board in support.

“People don’t even know that the white ribbon stands for lung cancer,” she said.

Before living in Colorado, Heidi and Pierre lived in Los Angeles where she was a health educator with the HIV and Aids community and said the exact same stigma that happened to their community is what is happening to the lung cancer community.  Heidi said the fact that the mention of lung cancer automatically leads people to the question of smoking needs to end.

“We are going global now,” Heidi said.

“Ribbon Builds” are now taking place and people are gathering together to make the ribbons including patients, survivors, advocates, families and industry leaders, as well.  The feedback that Heidi and Pierre said they have received from countless clinicians who have begun to have discussions with them is that they have felt stigmatized as well not only for their patients, but by lack of funding to treat the disease.

“When you just focus on prevention then I think it ignores the fact that the public, doctors, we as a society have a responsibility for a better early detection, better treatment and for better outcomes,” Pierre said.

One of the biggest things Heidi said she would like to see stopped are the prevention commercials that show such horrible images.  She said chances are people who are eligible for screening who see those images are not being scared into screening, they are being scared away from ever wanting to know.

“They need to start showing images of hope, like Liz of 9 years. I’m 3 years and it was very tolerable treatment.  I never got sick.  I don’t know why, but that didn’t happen to me,” she said.

Impactful people like former NFL linebacker Chris Draft have made The White Ribbon Project a mission in their lives and Draft has become a national spokesperson for the organization having lost his wife to lung cancer. Industry leaders have also taken notice and met with Heidi in Colorado last month; building their own white ribbons to take with them to start their own missions.  Heidi said from that meeting alone, 20 countries have already been identified to begin using The White Ribbon Project as a template to educate and unite.

In addition to the support of industry leaders, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) has also shown a sign of forward movement and solidarity releasing a language guide to use a first-person language with specific focuses to “Eliminate Blame Language” and “End Stigma.”

When asked what her goal was for Lung Cancer Awareness Month and beyond, Heidi said it is to simply give a lot of love to those that support and continue to distribute as many ribbons as possible with the hopes of continued forward discussions and positive steps towards a cure.

“We are fighting for our lives and we are worth it.  We are worth demanding treatment like any other cancer,” she said.

For more information about how you can obtain a white ribbon, become involved or to learn more, visit www.thewhiteribbonproject.org or follow them on social media platforms Facebook and Instagram @thewhiteribbonproject.

Photos courtesy Heidi Nafman Onda & Liz Dagrossa

A Token of Luck within LI Garage Art

By Amy Nicole Tangel

In an age where repurposing the old into new has become not just a luxury, but a necessity from shortages in wood supplies, one LI craftsman has flipped the coin with one-of-a-kind restoration in his newly-opened sign shop.

Tom Cassanello opened LI Garage Art at Barntique Village in Moriches, NY, in the early summer of 2020.  With so much uncertainty for businesses during the height of the pandemic, Tom said he wasn’t even sure he wanted to entertain the idea in the very beginning and had resorted to just working out of his garage but when he looked at the space, the rest was history.

“I always did signs.  I did airbrushing a long time ago,” he said.

What started primarily as specializing in signs,  has now expanded to all types of custom furniture creations and refurbishes through Tom’s craftmanship.  Graphics, wood working, welding and most recently,  Tom has added leather working to his list of skills. 

A native of Huntington, Tom has lived the last 35 years in Rocky Point and is a Navy Veteran who served four years from 1975-1979.  Among fighter squadron Ghostriders and Tomcat, Tom’s service includes multiple deployments on USS America, which now rests on the ocean bottom and USS Eisenhower; one of the oldest still floating in service.

During his years of service Tom worked as an Aviation Metalsmith, but he said his main job was mostly painting F-14’s.

“When I got in the paint shop, we just stayed in the paint shop,” he said.

Following his time in the Navy, Tom worked in commercial diving, machine shop work and then as a cable splicer for 27 years until his retirement.  After Tom retired, he continued to follow his passion for building and painting and went to work for a sign shop but he said he felt it didn’t have the soul he was looking for working with vinyl and knew he wanted to focus on working with wood.

Over the years whenever a friend of his would open a shop, whether it be a tattoo shop, bike shop, junkyard or welding shop, Tom said he would make them a sign for their business as a token of good luck.

Time would go by Tom said, and businesses would evolve or run their course, but the signs would live on in their owners’ garages.  People would always say to him, ‘Hey, I still got your garage art,’ and with that Tom said the name LI Garage Art came to life.

Ever since Tom became part of the Barntique Village community he has been making signs for other vendor shops and said it’s like a little family there.  Over the years through word of mouth and from people who have visited, it is said that stepping into the village itself is like a rare step back in time.

All of Tom’s business likewise has come simply through word-of-mouth over the years and even though Tom said social media is not his forte, he does showcase his work on Facebook and the Marketplace and is working on building an Instagram platform.

LI Garage Art is open Friday through Monday leaving Tom with the days in between for building.  While most of the heavy work is done at his home garage workshop, if you come down to LI Garage Art, chances are you will find Tom in his seemingly ultimate man cave working on anything from painting to leather work or sharing stories with customers.

“It’s like a makers’ kind of place,” he said.

For LI Garage Art and every other shop in Barntique Village, they are only open in the daylight as there are no outdoor lights for evening shopping, but Tom said he is hoping to stay open some evenings during the holiday season.

Plans to decorate the village this year are in store for the holiday season with lights outside throughout, and Tom said he is looking forward to putting his artistic touches to work.  Keeping with the theme of antiques, Tom said he refurbished the village Santa and wants to create an original Christmas piece in the middle of the village with every shop’s name on display.

While other people who work with wood faced shortages and sky-high prices from the pandemic, for Tom he said he eliminated that problem when he decided to begin taking old furniture and repurposing the wood he already had just as was done in the past.

He said he always explains to his customers who want multiple pieces alike they are not all going to be exactly the same; each piece is handmade and one-of-a-kind.  Tom said he loves Long Island and making custom signs with the island engraved; still each island is just a little different.

“I love doing the nautical stuff,” he said.

Taking pictures all while he goes, Tom said, he doesn’t remember the first custom craft he ever made,  but his favorite one is always the one he just made.  Personal works of art are taken to heart with Tom who has made keepsakes for many veterans and in memory of those lost in service such as a custom sign which hangs at the Michael Murphy Museum in West Sayville, NY; honoring Navy SEAL LT Michael P. Murphy.

A craft Tom hasn’t tried his hands at yet and has his sights on learning next is working with stained glass but he said it’s a whole different thing.  Eventually, he said the shop will be set-up where each craft has its own station separated by woodworking, leather and glass.

Carving the wood is done at the home garage because it’s too messy for the village shop Tom said but  plenty of work is done right on-site where visitors of LI Garage Art can witness when they stop in.  Tom said he initially got into leather work from making leather oil cooler covers to replace the standard vinyl ones on motorcycles for himself and for other fellow riders.  He just kept thinking about it until one day he said he bought some old tools on Facebook Marketplace and started practicing different techniques.

“My stuff is a lot more primitive looking, because I want it to be,” he said.

As much as Tom said he loves talking with customers and working while he chats, he tries to avoid letting his customers see the work in progress and prefers to reveal the craft once it’s complete.  Aside from the element of surprise and capturing a moment, he said during the building process the work doesn’t look like what it’s going to be, “so it just makes sense.”

Shipping has been Tom’s biggest challenge for the business with costs and weights of items, but in spite of it all Tom said right how his work is in 17 states, and he most recently shipped his first piece internationally to France.  One piece at a time, Tom’s work is beginning to make its way around the world.

Looking to the future, Tom said he has so many things on deck he is never at a loss for inspiration or stories to tell.  Feeling grateful to just be busy and doing what he is doing, Tom is focused on making more custom creations and the ideal he learned early on of how important a sign is for a business opening.

“They get the rent, the furniture but when they get the sign, it becomes real,” he said.

To find out more about LI Garage Art, visit www.ligarageart.com or on Facebook @ligarageart.  For inquiries by phone, call Tom at 516-650-0500.

Holtsville Girl Scout Creates Innovative “Healthy Hearts For Happy Kids” Trail

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Looking for new ways to spend time outside and stay active is at the forefront for many parents with growing kids, and a Girl Scout in Suffolk County has recently answered the call bringing her passion for fitness and helping others together by creating a new trail for kids to have fun and stay fit.

Holtsville resident and 16-year-old junior at Sachem East High School, Adriana Ancilleri is finally seeing the vision for her Girl Scout Gold Award come to life with the “Healthy Hearts For Happy Kids” Trail at the Town of Brookhaven’s Holtsville Wildlife & Ecology Center Fitness Track after almost a year and a half of planning, countless hours of work and enormous support from the local community.

“Adriana’s Gold Award project, ‘Healthy Hearts For Happy Kids,’ is a wonderful addition to the walking track at the Holtsville Ecology Site & Animal Preserve.  From the activities she created for children to stop and do while walking, to the signage, benches and stencils along the track, I am confident visitors to the Ecology Site will be enjoying these stations for years to come,” said Town of Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro.

Adriana is no stranger to service and has been actively volunteering from the time she was in early elementary school not only with Girl Scouts, but with organizations such as Island Harvest and the Lighthouse Mission.  In spite of all her experience, including Bronze and Silver award projects, Adriana said when it came to undertaking such a task this big she was worried about being able to make it happen at first, but took a chance and reached out to Losquardo to introduce herself and share her project proposal.

To her delight, Adriana said she was thrilled to hear the Town of Brookhaven loved her idea and offered to donate her signs and help build the stations.  Adriana and her mom Sharon, who has guided her daughter every step of the way and is Sachem East High School PTA President, both said they could not be more grateful for Brookhaven Town Highway Department Public Relations Assistant Kristen D’Andrea for her constant communication throughout the project and for all of the Highway Department employees who worked to help build the track.

“They took the idea and ran further than I ever thought,” said Adriana.

Great support for Adriana and her project have also come from generous contributions in the local community with grants given from Walmart of Commack and Farmingdale in the amounts of $2500 and from Sam’s Club of Medford in the amount of $2000.  She said Home Depot of Centereach donated items such as paint kits, brushes and roller pans, and Sherwin Williams of Patchogue donated 15 gallons of asphalt paint to complete the project.

The track consists of eight  stations with two signs at each stop to create different activities like stretching, hopscotch and running in place combined with positive and inspirational themes such as, “Be Kind,” “Let Your Imagination Fly,” and “Superheroes.”  Every sign includes a “fun fact” to bring the lesson together in a memorable statement with the final sign at the end of the trail closing out the activity course with a quote from Rocky Balboa reading, “Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.”

“My favorite sign to create was the Superhero sign because the idea was inspired by my cousin Sean’s love for superheroes,” she said.

For Adriana, aspiring to build a kids’ trail came from wanting to make a track to meet various physical abilities and something for all levels of physical fitness.  This vision she said was inspired not only by her passion for fitness, but by her 11-year-old cousin Sean Montera, who is living with one of the rarest diseases in the world. 

According to Sean’s mom Rita Montera, Sean who has UBTF disorder, is faced with an extremely rare progressive neurological disorder which affects his cognition, speech and physical functioning causing the affected children like her son to slowly lose all of these abilities by their early 20’s.  Through Adriana’s trail for kids and her mission to help her cousin, Rita said she hopes to bring awareness to this disorder to work towards finding a cure.

“When Sean was diagnosed there were 11 other children with this disorder in the world.  Currently, there is no treatment to slow it down or cure it, but we will always have hope that a cure will be found,” said Rita.

The saying, “It takes a Village” seems to be the case for Adriana as her list of inspirations and special people who have helped her become the dedicated person she is a long one, but at the top of her mentor list is Sachem East High School 9th grade history teacher, Ryan Fatscher.  Adriana said she has known Ryan for 3 years and she is ultimately the person who introduced her to working out, guides her through her fitness journey, and is her advisor for her Gold Award.

“We became really good friends and she has played a large role in becoming the person I am today,” said Adriana.

While Adriana is completely humble in her sentiment, her mother Sharon is her biggest fan adding that not only does her daughter dedicate her all to her community and the people she loves,  but to her school work as well, carrying an approximate 102.5 average taking all honors and AP courses. 

On top of Adriana’s academics and community service, she is also junior varsity captain of her basketball team and is a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol; all made possible with mom getting her where she needs to be every day.

“My mom’s amazing support means the world to me. Growing up I have always admired her and valued her opinion on everything I do. We have a relationship like no other and having her support gives me the drive to conquer the world,” said Adriana.

The physical work to build the trail began this past June and although the asphalt is poured, the signs she designed on word with QR codes are up, and the benches Adriana built engraved with her inspirational quotes such as, “Believe in Yourself” are in place, there is still work she said she has to do.  In the coming weeks, Adriana will be taking giant stencils such as a hot air balloon, a shuttle and the sun to personally paint each of the eight stations with asphalt to complete the project.

One stencil alone was at the cost of $300, so in true Adriana fashion she said she has already been brainstorming how she can continue to use the stencils to put them towards good use in the community.  An idea she said she is currently exploring is the possibility of asking local pre-schools if she can paint little activities for the kids.

“Adriana is an extremely driven, ambitious and hard-working Girl Scout. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with her Gold Award project and didn’t stop until she saw her ideas come to fruition,” said Losquardo.

An unveiling is in the works and Adriana said she is hoping in about six weeks to coordinate an event one day after school.  Once the project wraps, Adriana has no intentions of slowing down and said she is ready to start pursuing her ultimate life’s mission and dream to one day becoming an Aerospace Engineer when she begins taking flying lessons. 

In the meantime, Adriana is focused on the trail’s completion and is excited to see the final outcome.

“I hope the kids will love my project’s creativity and I hope they have fun learning about the benefits of exercise with their friends and family,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Adriana and Sharon Ancilleri

Feature and Sign Photos by Amy Nicole Tangel

Lazyboys Cornhole Tournament to benefit Tunnel to Towers

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With fall upon us come tailgating and football, but there also comes the remembrance of 9/11 and honoring those we lost.  This year, one of Long Island’s most popular custom cornhole builders is bringing it all together in a tournament for charity.

Jeff Garrison, a native of Coram, NY, said the first cornhole set he built was just on a whim.  The former career bartender and recreational cornhole tournament player said it was eight years ago when he and his cousin decided to go to a game at MetLife Stadium and began planning their tailgating activities.  Cornhole was an idea Jeff said, but they didn’t have a set, so he just randomly went to Home Depot one day and bought the wood to make the boards.

He made his first set, one board for his team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one for his cousin’s team, the New York Giants.  Jeff brought it to the stadium gameday and while tailgating, he said a man kept coming up to him and haggling him in disbelief that he made the boards himself.  One last time the man came up to him again, offered him $150 if he swore he made it himself, and Jeff said the rest was history. 

From that moment on, Jeff said he began thinking about making a business out of it and started making them for family and friends.  Through word-of-mouth and Instagram as his only two means of advertising, Jeff has become one of the top Long Island Cornhole custom builders working right from his garage.

“It’s just always been out of the garage,” he said.

As his first charity tournament since Pre-Covid in honor of 9/11 and the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, Lazyboys Cornhole in partnership with apparel company, Back the Blue NY Inc., are presenting “A Tournament for Heroes: 20 Years never Forgotten,” a 32-team-social cornhole event hosted by America’s First Warehouse in Ronkonkoma, Sunday, Sept. 12 to benefit Tunnel to Towers Foundation. 

Tunnel to Towers is a non-profit organization that supports military and first responders in honor of firefighter Stephen Siller, who heroically sacrificed his life on 9/11 to save others.  Jeff said for Lazyboys Cornhole, 9/11 is near and dear to their hearts and they hold great pride for first responders.  Even if it’s in small ways Jeff said they always want to do whatever they can to help.

“I’d hate to see another Sept. 11, but I’d like to see another Sept. 12; that was the day when everyone came together,” he said.

What started out just as a simple idea of building his boards is now taking on a life he never imagined, and so has his support for charity and helping others. Last year was the first year Lazyboys Cornhole raised funds for Tunnel to Towers. When Jeff made a set of boards and raffled them off to benefit the organization, he raised $3500. The Sept. 12 event is the biggest cornhole tournament Lazyboys Cornhole has hosted to date, and Jeff said he hopes for this to become an annual event.

Before the tournaments comes the board-building operations, which run from March to December, with Jeff making about 300 sets a year. But with Covid, Jeff said he has been lacking access to affordable wood. With the inflation in prices, he said the demand became a challenge for him to keep up.

“I couldn’t get my hands on any wood last year, so I did what I could. I was selling sets I had from tournaments and now I am back filling that this year,” he said.

The demand and popularity of Lazyboys Cornhole boards has recently led Jeff to moving from his home garage in Coram to a bigger workshop in Ronkonkoma. But that doesn’t mean the business has expanded beyond its roots; along with the support of his wife and parents, he brought the whole family along.  Everything Jeff learned about woodworking came from his father Jim while he was growing up he said, and when his dad retired, they just started building together naturally and working the business.

The quality is of utmost importance to him, so if a request takes that extra touch artistically to come out just right, Jeff said he to turns to Mario from Red Dragon Graphics to make it all happen.  Most requests for sets involve sports, but Jeff said they never cease to amaze him from time to time.  While trying to keep it “family-friendly,” he said he loves to be as creative as possible with logos and designs. 

“I love doing monograms, any kind of custom lighthouse, Long Island-based stuff is fun, but we’ll do anything,” said Jeff.

Builders of Jeff’s kind are rare in the Northeast, but he said in the south cornhole boards are being made hundreds by the day with the recent trend in the game.  Major companies like State Farm and AT & T also caught on and have recently used cornhole sets with their logos on them as part of their advertising campaigns.  Locally, Lazyboys Cornhole has built sets for businesses such as Chubs meats, Claudio’s in Greenport and for all Miller’s Ale House locations across Long Island.

“It’s perfect for advertising; It’s just amazing.  You can make a game out of it.  Anyone can play, any age,” he said.

Logos are where it’s at Jeff said when it comes to sparking his creativity for the sets he builds and the merchandise he creates for his own company logo, “LBCH.”  Taglines such as “Bags, Beers, Holes” and his Ocean Parkway logo have become the most recognizable images.  Jeff said he is excited about his new fall merchandise which includes a new neon “LBCH” logo that looks like a beer sign and long sleeve t-shirts.

“Keep it relevant. Keep it Long Island.  Keep it home-based,” he said.

The upcoming tournament is coming close to capacity for teams to register, but there are still spots available.  Sponsorship registration is set at $200 for a two-person team and $50 for non-players which includes all you can eat and drink. In addition, there will also be a DJ, raffles and guest speakers throughout the day.  To date, over twenty local vendors and sponsors for the event have signed on to support such as Daisy’s Nashville Lounge, Blue Line Beer, Boozy Cupcakes, On the Border and Village Cigar. 

As far as getting back to making boards in his new location, Jeff said he will be taking new orders with a limited run now through December, beginning the week of Sept. 13.  Having finally been able to re-stock on wood, Jeff said he is ready to get going again and make all the sets he can possibly make and have them ready.

“My goal is to have cornhole at every house on Long Island and hopefully, I make it happen,” he said.

For more information on the tournament and everything Lazyboys Cornhole, from orders to staying up-to-date on the latest designs and events, follow them on Instagram @lazyboyscornhole.

Trendsetters in Fashion Join Forces to Inspire and Empower

By Amy Nicole Tangel

In a time when arts and entertainment are entering a resurgence, so is the world of fashion, and for two women designers on a mission to empower, not only have they overcome the setback by emerging with new collections, but they are thriving through inspiration with support for other artists.

It was 2017 when designers Ayesha Khanna and Imani Jones first met at a fashion show, and since then together they have brought their vision of clothing design and empowering women to the forefront of fashion capitals all over the world.  Between Ayesha’s clothing line, Naurah USA and her entrepreneurship, combined with Imani’s modeling, design and business marketing endeavors, the two women said they have been inspiring each other to build and grow since day one.

“I see Imani and it’s like two cars side by side,” said Ayesha.

Most recently, Ayesha has signed on with Shop Local Designers, a new creation of content for designer brands and a platform for them to stand on conceptualized by Imani along with Co-Founder and Program Director, Joseph Ralph Fraia.  Shop Local Designers was launched in August 2020 as a means to help designers and small businesses recover and bounce back from the effects of Covid; bringing Ayesha and Imani together once again.

Ayesha said she is just one of many designers who are part of the program, and she has launched her line with them not only in NYC, but in Atlanta, Ga., as well.  What started out initially as online support, until in-person shopping and events opened back up, has rapidly grown into weekly events, boutiques in major cities along the east coast and beyond, and both women are now gearing up for their return to Fashion Week in NYC and Milan this September.

“They (Shop Local Designers) will have my back.  There is this desire that if ‘we grow, we’ll grow together,’” she said. 

Inspiration for Ayesha’s clothing line comes in large part from growing up in India in a world of dance.  She was trained from a young age as a classical dancer and said as a teenager in college she began choreographing routines, but distinctly remembers it was at the young age of 14 when she first had visions of having her own school.  For seven years, Ayesha was a member of the first school in New Delhi to bring jazz dance to the city and toured internationally with Dance Works Performing Academy.

Ayesha moved to America in 2005 after she married her husband and thought she left her international dance career behind.  With accolades in India, Ayesha said she didn’t know how she would continue her dance career, but with determination and passion she distributed flyers door to door at her apartment building and turned her living room into a dance studio.  Initially, Ayesha said she moved to the states for love and knew professionally she would have to start from square one. 

“Basically, everything I have built over the last 15 years both in dance and fashion is literally from scratch,” she said.

Fast Forward over a decade and a successful dance company founded by Ayesha, Bollywood Funk NYC Dance School, just celebrated its 14th anniversary.  In the midst of it all, Ayesha was living life as a working wife and mother in NYC when she said she began to feel like she was missing out on all the colorful clothing from her native country while living a non-glamorous and hectic life.

“I was getting sucked into the monotony of the black dress.  I was losing the part of me that wanted to look cute and unique,” she said.

With a growing desire to bring effortless clothing with a unique style to the young, professional working people of NYC, Ayesha said she took her family roots in Indian Couture and re-invented a casual yet glamourous take with a handful of samples in 2017.  She launched her Naurah USA boutique in her living room, just as she did with her dance school, and not long after she said Imani’s fashion show with FIND Your ID NYC came along.  Ayesha said she had never done a fashion show in her life, but she had this nagging feeling she had to do it, and the rest was history.

“Seeing Imani juggle five models with steamers going…you realize when you see something so perfect, there is a storm going on behind the scenes,” she said.

A seemingly natural-born entrepreneur, Imani grew up in Queens and started modeling when she was a 16-year-old, but she said it was in college when she started really doing runway.  While she started out in Brooklyn, she eventually spent five years abroad in Italy and attended Bocconi University in Milan where she studied business marketing and broadcast journalism.  It was in Milan when she developed her first company, Find Your ID NYC, and in 2017 she brought the company home to NYC.

The now 27-year-old said she started the creative agency to specialize in helping artists by providing outlets to showcase their talents through events, media, and networking opportunities.  During her time in Milan, Imani said when she started the company she was primarily working with Italians, and from that experience it helped broaden her business mindset.  Ever since her return to NYC in 2017, Imani continued to travel, work, and live between Milan and NY until COVID came along, and now she said she is eager to finally be making her return to Milan for Fashion Week in September.

“This is the longest time I haven’t been back since I moved there,” she said.

Being led in heart and forward-thinking, in 2019 Imani began another entrepreneurial venture and launched the now non-profit organization, PYNK NYC as a continued effort to support women in the arts. Imani said the inspiration stemmed from seeing women often sexualized in entertainment industries, especially creative industries, and she wanted to provide a safe place and networking platform to connect with other like-minded individuals. 

Events are currently held monthly, and Imani said the organization has recently been signed on by Airbnb Concerts to sponsor PYNK NYC.  In addition to the new sponsorship, Imani said the organization has grown in mission and has recently become a 501 (c)(3), with the intention to provide funding for women creatives toward their projects to take them further with creative exploration.

“The idea originally was just we wanted to do something to create a safe space for women creatives to showcase their talents,” said Imani.

In addition to the creation of Shop Local Designers, Imani branched out yet again during her downtime and found her own creative outlet through the development of her new fashion line, Kühler Co. NYC. When everything was shutdown, she said she began working with her design team and put out the first collection in October 2020.  Designs from the collection can be found not only in NYC, but shops in Washington D.C., Charlotte, and Atlanta.

“This was kind of like a pandemic project.  It was in my mind for a while, but I didn’t have the time to do it,” she said.

Both women agree they feed off each other’s energy and said they have stuck together the longest out of other people who have come and gone.  As for what’s ahead, if the future is a reflection of all Ayesha and Imani have respectively built in their careers and passed on to others, this could be just the beginning.

To view Ayesha’s collections, visit www.naurahusa.com and follow her on Instagram @naurahusa. For more information about, Find Your ID NYC, visit http://www.fyidnyc.com and follow them on Instagram @findyouridnyc and to keep up to date with Shop Local Designers, follow them on Instagram @shoplocaldesigners or http://www.shoplocaldesigners.com.

Photos courtesy Joseph Ralph Fraia (@jrfstudio) & Ayesha Khanna

Bee Charmer, Wildlife Rehabber and an Unsung Hero: A Life Dedicated to Preserving Long Island’s Ecosystem

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It takes all kinds to make the world go round.  By committing her life to helping animals and keeping the environment thriving, keeping the world going has been an ever-growing demand for one Long Island woman.

Samantha Boyd said she has been an animal lover her whole life and knew from early on this was her calling.  Certified dually as a New York State (NYS) Wildlife Rehabber and a NYS Veterinarian Technician, the lifelong Northport, N.Y., resident has saved countless wildlife creatures over the years and continues to grow new life through her mission to help save the endangered bee population. 

“I’ve been rescuing animals since I was 6-years-old; all kinds,” she said.

All kinds seemingly is a vast understatement, but her current life surrounded by bees stemmed initially from her passion for gardening and the shared interest with 21-year-long life partner, Neal Wechsler.  Samantha said it was about 15-20 years ago when she said they started noticing there were not many bees in the garden anymore.  After having huge vegetable gardens for years and seeing fewer and fewer bees, Samantha said Neal suggested they think about raising bees themselves.

In 2010, Samantha and Neal decided to forge ahead and took their first bee keeping classes with a Master Beekeeper on Long Island to learn all about them.

“In 2011, we got our first hive and we just fell in love with it,” she said.

Soon enough, Samantha said it got to be they had more and more hives and had so much excess honey they decided to start selling it at local farmer’s markets.

With the profits from the honey sales the couple decided to put it towards the wildlife rehabilitation facility Samantha founded and the exceeding costs that Samantha said comes along with the ever-growing demand of her rescue.

“Basically, all the profits (from the honey) get funneled into the animals, because there are just so many and it is just so costly, so that enables me to do all the wildlife work,” she said.

People donate occasionally which Samantha said helps immensely and a lot of times those who drop off babies will give whatever they can even if it’s just a few dollars, but it doesn’t go very far when hundreds of babies are being cared for throughout the year.

In 2020, Samantha’s Safe Haven Wildlife Rehab Facility rescued 183 babies, and this year she said she has already rescued more than 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.  Samantha rescues wildlife such as squirrels, opossums, rabbits, chipmunks, and little baby birds such as pigeons to name a short-list of her most common rescues.  What would seem to be a daunting task for anyone, is simply a life that Samantha said she wouldn’t have any other way.

In addition to her rescue and beekeeping, Samantha is a veterinarian technician by profession and said she has 30 pet rescues of her own; taking in any pets she can in need of a home.

“Basically, anything that needs help comes my way,” she said.

Samantha said Northport was much more rural when she was growing up with bigger animals such as horses and goats, but even though it is very developed now a lot of wildlife still exists in the area. Living with close access to a very wooded area near the Makamah Nature Preserve in Fort Salonga, Samantha said provides her a perfect location with deer, fox, and opossums to release most of her wildlife rescues.

If raising bees, rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife on top of caring for family pets is not enough for one, Samantha also works full-time at the Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center of Westbury as an oncology technician who gives chemotherapy to dogs and cats.

Samantha said the people she works with are simply wonderful and very kind in allowing her to bring her babies to work with her, even helping her carry them in and out of the car. Just last week, she said she had 45 babies with her at work, and even though it’s a 24-hour a day job, she loves it with all her heart and wouldn’t change anything.

“It’s a project.  It takes an hour to just get them all loaded into the car,” she said.

When Samantha rehabilitates and releases an animal she rescues, she said it means just as much to her every single time, because every little one is different with their own personalities and traits, so she gets to know them all specifically.  Whether they want a worm or a seed, she said she knows and loves them all.

“I love it.  I love being able to save them.  They’re all little souls,” she said.

Educating the public is just as important to Samantha and Neal respectively to spread awareness and knowledge to others across Long Island about the importance of not only bees, beekeeping, and the health benefits of honey, but what people can do themselves to help the wildlife ecosystem. 

The couple offers simple tips in their lectures such as putting a dish of water out when it is hot for squirrels to drink and having a bird house up in your yard, to knowing if a baby opossum falls off its mom it will always need a rehab; all differences Samantha said people can make that go a long way. 

“They (mother opossums) have so many, they can’t count and if one tumbles down…mom leaves and she’s never going to come back,” she said.

As many people would feel, the first time Samantha encountered her bees she said she was scared to death.  For Samantha, who has come to love beekeeping, the first few times she put the suit on and opened the hive to pull out almost 50,000 bees swarming, her heart raced to say the least.  Samantha said she quickly got over her fear though and the bees are actually gentle and calming even though they try to intimidate you.

“If you move slowly, you have a rapport with them,” she said.

When describing the experience in the hives once acclimated, Samantha said, it is beautiful and the only time they really get upset is when the honey is taken, which usually only happens once a year.  What started out as one hive quickly grew to countless hives, mostly due to separating and moving hives to prevent swarms, said Neal, but at the end of the year they are typically left with 70-90 pounds of honey on each hive.

Neal, who became a Master Beekeeper through Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said they started out thinking one hive would make a difference and realized after the first year it really didn’t make a difference having just one, so they continued to grow in numbers.  With a calling to help the declining bee population and the knowledge that everything humans consume foodwise needs to be pollenated, Neal said bees really need our help in order to survive.

“They are vitally important and that’s why we do this,” he said.

Throughout the summer, Samantha said they will be selling their BeeWitched Bee honey products at local farmers’ markets across Suffolk County.  BeeWitched Bee can be found at Northport Farmers’ Market and Tanger Outlets on Saturdays, and on Sundays at the Patchogue Outdoor Market and Smith Haven Mall’s farmers’ market.  BeeWitched Bee can also be purchased at Stony Brook Farmers’ Market inside the hospital, as well as the Farmingville Historical Society Market.

For more information on Samantha’s Safe Haven Wildlife Rehab Facility and BeeWitched Bee, visit www.beewitchedbee.com or call 631-606-3330.

A Heart Called to Help

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With the resurgence of live entertainment upon us, people everywhere are ready to get back out and come together with a newfound appreciation, but for one man who has dedicated his life to entertaining while helping others, it is now a time to give back more than ever.

John “SohoJohnny” Pasquale, has a spark in his smile and a compassion in his heart that seemingly shines through in everything he does.  An entertainer, philanthropist and commercial real estate company owner, John describes himself as “somewhat of a mad scientist” when it comes to the missions his heart is called to.  Through producing live events and a passion for bringing people together with music, John said his real work is simply to spread joy to others.

“We need this stuff. We need content.  We need people to be uplifted,” he said.

To understand the philanthropy of John and the platform of SohoJohnny, John said the root of who he is lies in the positive influences his parents imparted on him from childhood.  His mom was a music and arts advocate who John said performed some Off-Broadway plays here and there, but the foundation really came from her always playing music in the household.

His dad grew up in the Great Depression, and John said because of his father’s humble upbringing he seemed to always have had the ability to make people feel good.  It didn’t matter to him what people had or what people didn’t have.

“He had that sense of humility and humanity.  That’s part of what I picked up from my dad,” he said.

When he was growing up, John said he had a studder and from that he subconsciously evolved into a class clown; a shield of nerves filling his heart with the need to entertain and relate to people.  With a lifelong passion for bringing people together through music, John said it all started in his garage during high school days having friends over and playing DJ. It became the place to be, and he said parents were just happy their kids weren’t roaming the streets.

Home to John is within four generations of family in Manhattan’s historical district of SoHo.  John started working for the family trucking business alongside his dad in the 60’s and 70’s and he said growing up and working in a city that is probably the biggest melting pot in the world helped define the man he is today.

“For me, I consider that a second education, a valuable education; how you see people from all walks of life and adversity,” he said.

In the 80’s, John said is when he went into commercial real estate and began planning and putting on events purely based on an ever-growing passion.   For a number of years John said he would DJ various events and put on small family-style parties, until 1994 when his father passed away from cancer.

In that moment in time as John reflected on the fleeting nature of life and wanting to live life to the fullest, he said he decided to take his event and party planning to the next level.  John said he wanted to take a step up and channel his grief to do something good for others to honor his father’s life through celebration.

“It’s my privilege to be able to lead the charge in my own little way for that upheaval of good-nature, love and celebration of life; appreciation of what life has to offer,” he said.

John is the co-owner of PEP (Property Enhancement Programs) Real Estate based in Soho, a full-service real estate management company which separates itself from the rest by offering event planning and management for clients to their list of services.  John said it is everything he has done with his work in real estate that has enabled him to be able to pay forward in such impactful ways.

The first organization John began working with was the American Cancer Society.  For John, he said hosting events for such a cause to benefit the fight against cancer with the American Cancer Society was like the “trifecta” of helping people; and being able to work with so many “like-minded” people opened so many other doors.

“It was such a feel-good thing to do, and I chugged from there, and slowly but surely…the entertainment organically grew more and more and more,” he said.

What followed were new branches in representing artists and another that got John involved in the film industry co-producing movies. Earlier this year, John once again took his passion for music to another level launching Tribeca Records and SohoJohnny Records (SohoJohnny LLC) with the assistance of entertainment executive John Velasco.

The respective modern-independent labels have most recently signed project, AniMaze X, a metal show for all ages formed by members of Walt Disney Records D-Metal Stars, renowned musician, producer and composer Randy Edelman and solo artist April Rose Gabrielli, to name a few.

Sadly, like many others effected by Covid, John lost his mother, age of 93, to the illness, and that is when John said he started to think outside the box once again; growing another branch and forming a new foundation to help various charities across the board.  Let Me Help, Inc, a foundation created to support different charities for multiple causes was founded in large part through John’s wanting to help others and a vision to continue to do more, but he said he owes most of the credit to the team that carries out the missions.

“I owe it all to the team around me and some blessed people who have supported me,” he said.

Let Me Help, Inc., was launched with a six-hour Celebrity Benefit Concert: Mandate for Humanity, an event John said included footage, shout-outs and performances from artists and celebrities all stepping up to the plate to support and contribute.  Celebrities included dozens of artists and top entertainers such as, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Jeff Goldblum, and Cedric the Entertainer.  Causes the foundation supports presently are prostate cancer, anti-bullying through the support of Andrew Cole’s #IamNoJoke campaign, and Covid-19 Relief.

John said the commitment and charity of others is a testament toward the ethics and the spirit of humanity, and that in itself is the spirit of the SohoJohnny platform he helped build.

“It was a wonderful event.  We raised some money, and everybody that was part of it, all the celebrities; they just gave,” he said.

“Mandate for Humanity” is also the title of a yet-to-be released comic book to benefit Let Me Help, Inc., conceptualized by John with a theme he said was gestating with him right before Covid.  He said the timing became clear. It was meant to come to life during the pandemic as a way to share joy and lift people’s spirits when they needed it the most.  John said the premise of his character, “SohoJohnny” is his mission to go out and spread cheer across the world when the world is depressed in almost like a “Covid-Pandemic World.”

Friends of John’s in real life and fellow collaborators, Scott Page of Pink Floyd, DJ Monti Rock III from Saturday Night Fever, and PR agent Howard Bloom all become characters in the story who each have special powers they bestow upon “SohoJohnny” to help him help other people become happy again.  John said his character’s main goal is to get people out of the shells and ruts they have been in.

“The timing of it was almost predestined that we made the comic book during that (Covid Pandemic),” he said.

The summer season into fall is filling up rapidly for John with events across the country and with live entertainment coming back to life, people can find him presenting events from Montauk, N.Y., to Los Angeles.  In addition, Let Me Help, Inc will be sponsor to The Marshall Tucker Band in August to support renovations needed for the Montauk Lighthouse. 

As for the acting and producing branch of John’s creative tree, he is the producer of interview talk show, “Profiles,” hosted by his friend and mentor, Mickey Burns. Most recently, John has started shooting a new talk show called, “Soho at Night,” and there is no stopping there as he is also launching a new membership club for models and actors. Soho Innovative Studios, located in SoHo, is a membership modeling/acting school with a special focus on art fashion, and just one more way John is working diligently to open doors in the arts.

“Re-Light Broadway” is another upcoming project John is currently working on for the fall to help support getting Broadway back on its feet, and with the demand he said he is seeing in content entertainment as a whole he predicts the second half of the year to be one for the records.

As far as humanity as a whole coming out of Covid, when people have been isolated, homebound and who are now coming out, John said he hopes people will not make light of anybody else’s suffering and always try to help others in good faith and love.

“It doesn’t matter what you have or what you don’t have.  If you get on a bus and you see an elderly lady sitting, just say something nice to raise her spirits,” he said.

On July 24, 2021, SohoJohnny will be taking part in a VIP Art / Charity reception at Steven Calapai’s Park South Gallery on Long Island to benefit Let Me Help, Inc, with a portion of proceeds from the evening’s art sales going to support the foundation.  The night is scheduled to have live musical performances and special guest appearances. For those interested in celebrating an evening of exclusive original art and to help others through purchase, RSVP via email to calapai@gmail.com.

For all things happening with “SohoJohnny” and more information on how you can help support any of the foundation causes, visit sohojohnny.com and letmehelpinc.org.  John can also be found on Facebook @sohojohnnyLLC and Instagram @sohojohnny.  For more information about PEP Real Estate and the services provided visit, peprealestate.com.

Photos courtesy SohoJohnny

Feeding a Community with Love and Charity in Tashana’s Kitchen

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It may seem impossible to imagine how one can withstand trial after trial and still seem to rise.  But one woman who has selflessly dedicated her life to caregiving for others has found a way to rise again taking her passion for cooking to new heights and spreading love throughout her community with food from the heart.

Tashana’s Kitchen all started six years ago at Tashana Small’s Patchogue, N.Y., home as a simple love for cooking that eventually turned into a catering business, and a means to help with additional expenses for her 31-year-old daughter Ishana “Shani” Small, who has suffered a lifelong battle with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS).  LGS is a severe form of epilepsy onset during childhood with symptoms of countless seizures and cognitive dysfunction. 

The seizures of LGS are known to be difficult to treat with antiseizure medications, and the single mother of two has openly shared not only her fight to keep her daughter alive, but also her advocacy with the public on the effective medical marijuana treatment Ishana has experienced.

“I am just going to keep moving,” she said.

Right before Covid hit, Tashana said Ishana became gravely ill and suffered from aspiration as a result.  During this time, Ishana was discharged from her day program and when Covid came along Tashana said there was no place for Ishana to return to when she was well. The day program re-enrollment is still on hold according to Tashana, because of staffing related issues, no weekend respite, and now she has been left with not being able to work outside the home as a result of her need to provide round the clock care with limited help.

When everything shut down, Tashana was hit with a second blow when there was nothing to cook for anymore.  She said she couldn’t sell dinners or have a function, but through it all she stayed in a grateful heart and just did what she had to do to keep going.

“I have been affected by it (Covid) in such a traumatic way,” she said.

Catering is Tashana’s biggest endeavor in cooking presently, and is available in Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as all five boroughs.  Tashana works alongside her sister, Jazmin McCain, entertainment company owner and manager of Tashana’s Kitchen.  Tashana said for years prior to opening her business she would regularly entertain family and friends on weekends, and they would always tell her how much they loved her food; building her passion to take it to the next level. 

The first place Tashana said she ever cooked professionally was for a jazz place in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that needed someone to cook food to bring in clients.  Tashana said the owner’s daughter continued to reach out to her after she moved on to tell her the people missed her food.

“The people loved the food even after I left there,” she said.

Tashana said growing up in Brooklyn, she had to grow up very fast and had a very hard life.  Her parents both suffered from addiction, so Tashana lived with her grandmother and helped raise her brother and sister.  It was during this time, when Tashana said she learned to cook from a young age.  She would watch her grandmother in the kitchen, and she said she naturally got a knack from that to cook.

When she was 14 years old, Tashana said the first dinner she ever cooked was beef stroganoff.  After her grandmother ate her meal, Tashana said she remembers her grandma calling her friend and telling her she couldn’t believe how good it was.

“It’s really engrained in me from my grandmother and my family,” she said.

Before cooking became her full-time mission, Tashana was an Aide and LPN in nursing.  Now retired from that profession due to a car accident that left her with severe back injuries, she has taken that same passion for caring for people as a nurse and applied it to her passion for sharing love through her cooking.

Six years later to date, Tashana said in spite of the Covid setback, she has watched the business grow tremendously.  Between social media and always having so many of her self-described “bonus kids” around the house with her 17-year-old athlete son, Joseph Harrison, word-of-mouth has traveled. Her regular dinner nights open to the public happen as often as she has the means to do it, she said, but hosting them as often as possible is her goal to take the business to the next level again; saving enough money to buy a food truck and expand her brand.

“I am at a place now where I want to truly branch out and make it a big business,” she said.

Living in Patchogue for the past 21 years, Tashana said she has never cooked for restaurants or any other business than for her family, friends, and community other than through Tashana’s Kitchen, and is primarily supported with the help of her best friend, Cheryl.  Not only does Cheryl help in the kitchen, but Tashana said she is a constant help with Ishana as well. 

“You’ve got to start from somewhere.  I stay humble and I am blessed because of it,” she said.

While Tashana and her volunteers run multiple ovens, grills and smokers built one piece-at-a-time surrounding her outdoor kitchen, members of the community come and go steadily to pick-up food. For now, Tashana said she pays forward by giving food to her volunteers and their families but she said she hopes one day soon to able to have a paid staff.  Tashana tries to make everything as welcoming as possible and even has a section of comfortable outdoor seating set-up for people to wait for their orders.  At any given time, you can hear people talking amongst themselves and sharing stories of how they met, know, and love Tashana.

Thanks to her passion for cooking and the support of her community, Tashana has been able to also host dinner events to help keep up with necessities such as repairs for Ishana’s handicap accessible van.  Tashana said she was blessed to have purchased the van for only $1 from a dear friend who wanted to help the family stay on their feet, but when the van needed thousands of dollars of repairs, she didn’t despair and turned to her cooking.  In the one weekend of opening her kitchen door for the event, Tashana said she earned enough money to cover costs for all of the repairs and couldn’t feel more blessed for all the people who continue to enjoy her food.

“I used my God-given gift to do the fundraiser.  That’s what I do,” she said.

Sundays through September starting this Sunday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tashana will be selling take and bake gourmet baked macaroni and cheese cupcakes at the Patchogue Outdoor Market in the LIRR parking lot.  Continuing to pay forward, Tashana’s Kitchen will be selling meals at the first annual Robert Permenter Memorial Car Show on June 19, 2021 in honor of her son’s best friend who tragically passed away in a car accident.  Tashana said helping others means everything to her and she will be donating half of her proceeds to the Robert Permenter Scholarship Fund.

“The family lost their son, their only son, and then their father a year later,” she said.

As far as favorite foods to cook, Tashana said she loves to cook anything seafood, but no matter what she cooks it is making others happy and she said she lovesthe reaction to people when she gives them their food that she loves the most.  Dinners such as crab clusters, jumbo shrimp, smoked sausage, and shrimp jambalaya are favorites. 

“It’s not one specialty.  I have been blessed. Anything I put my hands on and my mind to I have mastered it,” she said.

Tashana’s Kitchen is located at 76 Thorne St. in Patchogue.  Customers are encouraged to call 631-627-9201 to book a catering event or to order meals in advance.  You can also follow Tashana’s Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram for future dates and new menu items.  For more information about catering and everything else Tashana’s Kitchen, you can visit tashanaskitchen.com.

Feature Photo: Amy Nicole Tangel

Gallery photos courtesy Tashana Small

The Process of Country-Pop Artist Arizona Lindsey

By Amy Nicole Tangel

If you looked at country-pop singer Arizona Lindsey and saw her bubbly disposition, one would probably never imagine what adversity lies beneath, but with her recent second album release, “The Process,” she opens the door to her own trauma with hopes of letting others know they are not alone.

With an emerging career as a recording artist, the 24-year-old Lindenhurst, N.Y., native has been a musician and performer for almost her entire life, and with that she has also dedicated her life as a counselor who advocates for mental health.  Although she said she has always been completely open in talking with other people about mental health it was when she was recovering from her own life-altering event when she decided she was going to share her experiences with others in hopes to help and heal through her music.

“’The Process’ is a concept album that is about going through life-altering trauma and entering into the trauma recovery process,” she said.

Arizona said the reason she describes her recent work as a concept album is because it starts out from a place of being stuck in mental illness, and the aftermath of what she refers to as being diagnosed with “complex trauma,” leading to her getting help.  In the past two years, Arizona has opened-up with her own personal trauma as a childhood abuse survivor singing her opening track, “The Desired Way,” and said like a lot of people who have been through what she has, she thought she would just “get over it” into her twenties; until a tragedy happened.

“I was hit with a pretty major trauma which was my mom’s unexpected passing, and it seemed to have sparked something in my brain where I was having uncontrollable symptoms of what I later learned was a trauma disorder,” she said.

Arizona suffered paralyzing flashbacks of childhood abuse stemming from her mother’s passing and panic attacks that eventually got to a point where she said she was dealing with severe suicidality. It wasn’t until some time later, when Arizona said she finally got help and pretty much wrote the second half of the album in the hospital over a two-month-period.  This June, it will be three years since her mother passed and it was the year following her passing when Arizona said she had her first intervention with trauma disorder.

“It got to a point I was completely debilitated.  Not getting out of bed, not eating, not showering; I was scared to move,” she said.

This past week, Arizona announced she has recently collaborated with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., and will be releasing a yet, unnamed bonus track, to the album this upcoming September as part of awareness during Suicide Prevention Month.  McDaniels is the author of, “Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide,” a memoir that shares his own personal story about his battles with depression and fighting suicidal thoughts.  Arizona said she is so excited to have the opportunity to create a song with him geared towards suicide prevention.

The music in Arizona’s heart has led to an emerging career as a performing artist that began at a young age in the second grade when she started lessons with drums.  In junior high, she picked up the guitar, and from there it was highlighted by theater work, primarily as an actor until she started focusing on her voice years later.  She continued with classical percussion all the way up to college, and it was on the day of college orientation when she said she decided to switch gears, eventually going to school for psychology.

Growing up doing musical theater and playing in pits on percussion, Arizona said it was a sudden switch of gears when the passion to help people grew stronger, but she followed her heart and decided she wanted to learn how to help people first and then she would be a band teacher.

“As that grew, this love for counseling and this love for learning how the human brain works grew,” she said.

In May of 2019, Arizona won the Gold Coast Arts Center’s Young Big Break Competition and met contest judge, former pro-wrestler and founder/host of The Grindhouse Radio show, William “Brimstone” Kucmierowski, who eventually became her manager after much self-described persistence.  Arizona said Kucmierowski introduced himself to her during the competition, and not only shared his appreciation for her work, but was the first person who really thought she could do it; what followed as a new manager and a revelation to bring the two missions together.

“He helped me to at least build the courage; I can do this,” she said.

Initially in her solo-music career, Arizona said she looked at her work as a mental health advocate working in the court systems helping  people convicted of felonies and being a musician as two separate careers.  After facing her own battle, she realized her destiny to bring the two together was meant to be and trusted she was on the right path to do more.

“When people found out that I was a trauma survivor there was a sense of quick acceptance versus a pushback of questioning it,” she said.

In addition to presenting herself from an authentic place through her music, Arizona said she also takes into account the importance of her social media presence and tries to make everything she puts out there a true-impression of who she is.  Whether it is putting a disclaimer out there every time she uses a filter to let other young people know it is not a realistic-image, to adding her touches of comedy every chance she can with her dancing videos and written dialogue, Arizona said if she had a second-life as a comedian it would be hilarious to her.

The pandemic hit Arizona just like most other musicians, and she said she used the down-time to learn to grow when she worked on trying to “put her guitar down and just sing.”  For Arizona, she said her guitar has always been her comfort zone with singing, but she was ready to challenge herself further to continue to build. 

While things continue to open back up, finding places to sing on a regular-basis is not only something Arizona said is necessary financially, but it’s the best way to build a fan-base; creating fans who come back and fans who request songs. Arizona plans on heading back to splitting her time between New York and New Orleans in the fall, but until then she will be spending the summer singing across Long Island.  As part of making that happen, you can see Arizona perform tonight for the first-time ever at Daisy’s Nashville Lounge in Patchogue as part of their new monthly event, “Bluebird Tuesdays-Songwriters in the Round,” featuring local country-pop-rock artists from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For all happenings with Arizona and to find local dates to check her out, you can find her on Instagram @arizonalindseymusic, Facebook, Tik Tok, and Twitter.  Arizona’s music can be found on all streaming platforms.

Photos courtesy Arizona Lindsey

Entertainment Diva Sonia Caligiuri Turns Adversity into a Life of Inspiration

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Setting goals in life and achieving milestones are drives of human nature. Although it has been an uphill battle for one entrepreneur who is expanding her career in entertainment amidst great challenges, she is determined to rise above and never give up.

Event planner, cake artist, model, actress and creator, Sonia Caligiuri has been building her brand Heaven Desires, LLC one venture after the next and if that wasn’t enough for one person, she is now adding author to her list of titles with her upcoming new book, “The Rise of a Broken Woman.”

Appropriately titled, the book reflects the adversity Sonia has faced not only in her personal life with an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship but her own quiet battle with cancer. Through the struggles Sonia has not let any of it slow her down. In fact, with every challenge Sonia said it has only made her drive stronger.

“I feel you can be anything you want to be no matter what,” she said.

While Sonia is still waiting for surgery to remove a tumor in her small intestine, she said she is expected to only have a few more rounds of chemotherapy when all is said and done and is looking forward to getting on with the rest of her life from there.  Sonia has lived by action and has continued to live life as much as possible everyday baking cakes for events, working on her book and filming in a new upcoming action/drama series, “The Italians.”

Sonia said staying busy with her ventures and remaining productive through it all helped her a lot and kept her going.  For Sonia, she said there was time when it was a little touch and go, but she is grateful she was able to fight it and make it through to today.

“It’s a little bump in the road; I didn’t let it bring me down,” she said.

With a career that began primarily as a cake artist, Sonia said her passion is driven by her love for creating and for making other people happy.  Sonia credits herself with being primarily self-taught thanks to the help of YouTube and Google, and said her process is easy and complicated at the same time.  Sonia said taking the time to really listen to her clients and customers is the key to get a feel and vision for each event.

“I’ve always been artsy. I’ve always drawn.  I was always playing with playdough as a kid; that’s how my mom kept me busy.  I’ve always loved to create,” she said.

In March 2019, Sonia said a highlight of her cake artistry career came when she had the opportunity to bake and present a Wonder Woman birthday cake to the late and legendary Mary Wilson of The Supremes at Big Apple Comic Con in NYC.  Sonia said it was an honor that she never imagined possible to see Mary so happy and amazed, and Sonia said she still looks back in awe of the memory.

“It was an amazing moment in my career as a cake artist.  It started out as a hobby, winded up being a business, and I love it; I just love it,” she said.

Prior to Covid, Sonia’s career had continued to expand in what she said were completely unexpected happenings when she began acting only to be followed-up by modeling; resulting in a television series role and becoming a Human Canvas Magazine cover girl.

Sonia said she went into acting as a fluke when “The Italians” creator and producer, Zach de’ Epey was filming in an office building where she was working at the time, and randomly approached her to consider acting.  Sonia said she told the producer that she wasn’t interested and didn’t take it seriously until he had searched the entire building for her after their meeting.  The rest was history for Sonia, and she said from that day on she and de’ Epey have been friends with a great working relationship.

“I am excited.  It’s my first-time-ever acting,” she said.

Just like acting for Sonia, she said modeling was also something that “just happened” when she accidentally walked into a fashion show at a photoshoot for “The Italians” when designer, Queen Iris of Queenslay Clothing, simply looked at her and threw something at her to put on.  Looking around at a room full of women younger than half her age, Sonia said she couldn’t believe what was happening and thought for a second there was no way she could pull it off, but ultimately she said to herself, “What the hell? You only live once.”

In that moment, Sonia began her modeling career and since then she said Queen Iris has become her mentor, promoter, and business partner. Most recently, Sonia did her first body paint shoot and said she felt a little out of her element, but in her true fashion she didn’t let it stop her, and as a result ended up as a centerfold on the cover of Human Canvas Magazine.

“Something that I was uncomfortable with and going out of my element turned out to be a very good outcome,” she said.

When Sonia said she realized she didn’t have to stay on the straight line in her career she knew she could do whatever she dreamed of and all the doors opened.  Sonia carries a strong-willed mindset and said she doesn’t care what people may think of the risqué edge to her photo shoots.  As a woman she said she feels good and is grateful to have a second chance, so she is living her life to the fullest in whatever way she can.

Like many others in the entertainment industry, Sonia was home during Covid and searching for ways to continue to expand her brand, Heaven Desires, LLC.  She said cakes were down, because nobody was having parties, and any fashion shows or performing was out.  While she has an existing line of jewelry, clothing, and makeup; brainstorming and creating during the pandemic led Sonia to expand from lip glosses, plumpers, and mattes to now developing eyeshadows.  All the while she said she just keeps asking herself, “What can I do next?”

To keep up with all things the ever-versatile Sonia Caligiuri is doing next or to inquire about any event services, you can contact and follow her on social media through Facebook at Sonia Caligiuri of Heaven Desires Events and Instagram @heaven.desires.llc.customs.