Real Women of Rochester | Sydney Bell

Sydney Bell | Age: 29 | Podcast Co-Host / Major Gifts Officer

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood:

A: So much of what I’ve focused since graduating from college seven years ago is finding my identity. As a woman, as a biracial person, as a perpetual people-pleaser… There’s a lot to unpack. Actively seeking to educate myself has been the best thing for me. Finding like-voices, or voices and identities of strong, vocal women has changed everything for me since then. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Seek help!! Doing some homework and searching to seek out women who have overcome the same struggles, or have ways they’ve educated themselves will help move you forward. Finding my voice as a biracial women came from seeking out resources that were written by, spoken by, and lived by black women and biracial women. It opened me up to a dialogue I had been missing.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: That I had so much fun! I laughed and smiled and felt so confident because there was someone who was making me feel like I was on top of the world. I didn’t think I’d ever be that happy in front of a camera. 

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I remember thinking I could not imagine how being so uncomfortable behind the camera would produce the best photo I’ve seen of myself in a long time — it made me think that maybe if I could push myself to be a little more uncomfortable more often, maybe some really beautiful things could happen.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: I would say that Natalie finds a way to bring out the very best in each person she photographs. She finds what is unique and special about each person and zeros in on that — she will take a million photos and show you that each angle you take can produce a different feeling, and she will help you find the one that you love, because she’s taken so many phenomenal photos. She makes you feel beautiful because you are beautiful. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Get comfortable with rejection. The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll probably get rejected, but learn how to push through it. If you’re someone that needs to take a breather, take it, but don’t let it stop you from giving it another try. None of us are special, all of us are going through something, and if something/someone rejects you, that’s just part of the journey, not the end of the story. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: That beauty is different for everyone, and you need to come up with your own definition. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: Get off your phone! Kidding… but seriously! Getting sucked into whatever narrative is hot at the moment will steer your course, and you should have every opportunity to make decisions for yourself. Also, take some solo time and do some active work on yourself. Read books to figure out what your values are, work hard, and don’t be discouraged if your “thing” takes awhile to figure out. Enjoy the learning process. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: “Find your strengths, and run in the direction that allows you to live them every single day.”

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Never stop learning! It does not have to be in a classroom, but continue to read and educate yourself. Challenge your way of thinking, connect to different people, find what makes you look in the mirror and say “I love this person, no matter what.”

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Taking on a new podcast, grad school, and working full time — I didn’t think I could manage all of them, but I don’t think I ever challenged myself to take on so many things that would make me happy, and here I am doing it!

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Knowing that fighting for our rights as women is as important today as it always has been, because somehow someone else thinks they have control of my body, my mind, my actions, and my emotions, is something that I never take for granted. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I’m laughing with my friends and family. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love that women are so many things to so many people. We are powerful beyond measure. It is absolutely incredible what we’re capable of, what we overcome, how we overcome, and how we talk about our lives.

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Sydney is the other half to Queen Speaking Podcast (make sure to check out co-host Breanna’s RWOR interview, too!). You can also find Sydney on Instagram at @mindbodysyd!

Real Women of Rochester: Breanna Banford

Breanna Banford | Age: 30 | Community & Marketing Director / Podcast Co-host

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: It’s been an endlessly eye-opening experience, especially the last decade. One that’s an inquisitive quest to understand my whole self — a journey I couldn’t have prepared for or understood until I was in the midst of it. The most important lesson: always continue to grow and learn. I think I’ll always be challenging my understanding of self.

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: You are enough. It’s the one lesson that’s been the hardest for me to learn. I’m still learning it!

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How comfortable it was! It can feel awkward to pose for the camera, but Natalie made the experience so comfortable, fun, and casual right off the bat. She posed us perfectly and the session flew by.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Is that me? It’s amazing to see yourself the way other people see you. It’s an opportunity for self-reflection in the best way.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: You are beautiful! There’s no other you in the world and it’s the most empowering thing to embrace that about yourself.

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: We are unstoppable! I’m so impressed by all the things women are capable of and want each of us to all have the confidence to challenge ourselves to take on whatever we dream up.

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: I wish people saw themselves the way their close friends or family see them. The realest of real and most beautiful, confident versions of themselves. It’s easy to get stuck in a comparison spiral, but the world needs our individuality. Beauty is embracing you as you are.

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: Love yourself first — explore your passions, your desires, your needs, your wants. Learn what you love, what you dislike, stand behind your values, and be aware of and present in your everyday experiences.

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Embrace your youthful innocence. Work less, you’ll do that in your 20s. As a teenager, I wish I spent less time worrying or being self-conscious. I wanted to do more, but held myself back, thinking I couldn’t do it or didn’t have the skills or money to pursue things. Since then, I’ve learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to. You figure it out along the way. That’s the beauty of it!

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: I think we all need to love ourselves a little bit more. Understand and soak up the things we want as individuals and go after them despite fears that hold us back.

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Understanding that your career is not your identity. You are not defined by what you do, but rather who you are, what you value, and how you are in the world. Be open to all possibilities.

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Standing up for myself. Staying true to who I am and what I know best.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I feel comfortable in my own skin — healthy, strong, and hydrated. Plus, an outfit that’s tailored perfectly and a great loose wave in my hair.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Being able to show people our strength, magic, understanding, and compassion. I want everyone to know we’re capable of anything we set our minds to.

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Breanna is the Community Director for @yelproc and Co-host on Queen Speaking (@queen_speaking) podcast with Sydney Bell.

Real Women of Rochester | Amanda Wattie

Amanda Wattie | Age: 40 | Somatic Sex Educator / Intimacy Relationship Mentor

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: This human be-ing is something. Everyday, each moment here we are in this body. Whether or not we are present to that experience doesn’t matter, we are still here in repeating moments of be-ing. Over and over and over.  

When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to grow up, be on my own, somehow I thought that life would begin for me the moment I was on my own. And even more importantly, that I would do it better than my parents.  

Over the years, especially since the birth of my first daughter, (I have 3) I realized that I was no different than my parents, in their struggles, joys. It’s been a humbling process. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Lean in. Don’t run from the hard stuff. Be acutely present to it and breathe deeper. How does it feel in the body when you’re anxious? Stressed, angry, frustrated, rejected, tired to the bone?  

There is a whole world going on inside of us.This is not wallowing in it. This is dropping out of the mental chatter and instead listening to our body’s wisdom.  

Most of the time I find this practice takes less than 5 minutes. Sometimes I experience it like blowing up a bubble til it bursts. Other times it’s like picking up the child who’s been crying all day and just needs a few minutes of our undivided attention. But that’s the point - we aren’t running away, but taking a minute to be with what is. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: There are certain people who have the ability to be authentic right away. I felt that with Natalie and it really helped me to be myself 100%.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Happy!

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: The nature of this question answers it all. Not “beautiful enough” is a thought, it’s a story. It’s not actually what’s true. Even if someone said, “You aren’t beautiful.”  Well, that’s just what they said, that’s what happened. Who cares? People say lots of things. And it doesn’t make it true. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: If someone chose you over someone else, and you deemed them more beautiful than you, it’s meaning you added to what happened. Beauty is a construct, it’s an opinion.  

And we have the potential to rise above that, to be free. We are who we are. Just as a chair or a tree is what it is. Not seeking to be anything other than what it is. Perfect, whole, complete.  

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Lately, I feel most beautiful when I am really present with others. It’s in those moments of being authentic, not on auto-pilot, that connect me deeply to them and myself. Like I don’t really need to be anything other than who I am, just present. And that feels like a beautiful thing.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I’m having a hard time answering this but I really want to! So let me try. I love being alive as a human and that doesn’t feel unique to me identifying as a woman. However there is something that I do love about being with other women, including my 3 daughters. Even though they are my children, there is a sisterhood we share. It’s beyond makeup and fashion advice. We’ve got a bond that sometimes has us laughing or crying on the kitchen floor, with love, so much love. We get each other in a way that I don’t know would be possible if I identified as a man. But it might be. 

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You can find information about Amanda and her work on her website at www.amandawattie.com 

Real Women of Rochester | Ilana Griffo

Ilana Griffo | Age: 29 | Illustrator & Designer

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: What a wonderful, exhilarating journey it's been! I was the tallest girl in the 5th grade, but my  peers quickly caught up (and surpassed me) the following years. That feeling of being uncomfortable and self-conscious stuck with me for a long time. As a new mom, I can honestly say I am starting to know myself in such a different way, and feeling more comfortable in my skin than ever before. Even though I can still point out my flaws and imperfections, it finally feels like my body is my home. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Most of what I'm about to say sounds cliche, and I'm okay with that. You are NOT alone. You are capable. It's okay to not be okay. When I talk with a friend, I consider how they need to be spoken to, what's going to lift them up? What can I say that they need to hear? That's different for every woman, and every scenario, but if I can be present, and show up for them, whatever that means, that's gold. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I was surprised by the level of comfort I was able to feel in front of a camera. I feel pretty awkward most of the time, but Natalie metaphorically held my hand through the whole process, giving me the tools to rock out a pose, or find my best angles. Natalie flatters you about a thousand times throughout the time you spend in front of her lens, making you feel beautiful inside and out. Natalie's gift is finding the best in people, and making it come through in a photo. 

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I'm reminded of a fun time, a great memory, an exciting time, a funny joke, and good company. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Every. Body. Is. Beautiful. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Through my work, I feel best when I'm encouraging others. That may be to stand up for themselves, or to carve their own path, either way, I want them to feel strong to make the best choices for themselves. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty looks different for everyone, but it always starts on the inside. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: YOU DO YOU, GIRL!! I hope the next generation of women follow their own path, wear sunscreen, let their phones die, and feel confident standing up for themselves, their passions, and their rights. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Embrace your weird! Over the years I've lost some of my love for creating or exploring without purpose, but how fun would it be to just play? Just try something, just experiment, without feeling any pressure to share it on social media, or worry about what other people are thinking?!

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Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Whenever I'm asked about "one piece of advice" I feel overwhelmed with the possibilities. I think each person deserves to be heard, and the message I'd give to each person after hearing their story is different. What I know to be true is that love is powerful, gratitude is great, and that each one of us is capable of so many incredible things!  

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Every hurdle has turned into an opportunity to learn, grow or pivot. I love what makes me unique, even though it may mean it's not right for someone else (client, employer, peer, etc). 

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Becoming a mother. Whoa. It's like my heart is now crawling around outside my body in the form of a tiny human. Becoming a mother... I had no idea such love could exist! It brought more love for my family (which I already loved to the moon and back), more love for my wonderful husband, more love for my body, and of course, so much love for my son. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel beautiful when I'm comfortable, both in my skin, and in my clothes. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: What's not to love?! 

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Ilana will be offering the promo code NSPLOVE for 20% off at ilanagriffo.com/shop so that our readers can go out and CRUSH THEIR DREAMS. Check out the rest of her badass work on her website above and her Instagram @ilanagriffo

Kazemian-Kennedy Wedding

Congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Kennedy! We could not be happier to have witnesses and captured the STUNNING wedding celebration yesterday at Oak Hill Country Club. A couple has never been more loved than these two…. with guests hailing from all over the country to honor the union of Chris & Nina, it was one of the most joyful and intimate days a couple could hope for :) Congrats and enjoy this slidehow we produced and displayed at the reception!

Real Women of Rochester | Juanita Medina

Juanita Medina | Age: 56 | Student, Mother, Feminist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: My parents brought me home to what we used to call the "projects" in Buffalo. I was the sixth mouth they would have to feed, with one more sibling yet to come. Neither parent cared enough to learn the basics of parenting so it was a very meager existence. Many essentials were non-existent or in short supply; food, clothes, nurturing, recognition, security, honesty, approval, tolerance, love. However, I was incredibly blessed that I had an older sister who believed that you are not what has happened to you, you are what you choose to become. She was a teenager when the women’s movement rose up in the sixties. Watching that sisterhood march and burn their bras and make demands for equal rights opened her eyes to sexism and its deep roots. The courage of those early feminists empowered her and changed her view of herself and the future. She had a tremendous impact on me. Without her love, guidance and support through adolescence and into adulthood, I would not be who I am today. There were bumps in my road, but her faith in me never wavered. She taught me that we ALL stand on the shoulders of the women who have come before us. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: This too shall pass. Life is unpredictable so have faith. Without faith, you are dead in the water. Faith and patience are the foundation to strength and understanding. Always, always trust your instincts. Never give up your power. Learn how to forgive someone even if they are not sorry. Find someone who takes you seriously and will listen to you and your problems. The impact that kind of validation will have on you will enable you to become a strong, resilient, confident, resourceful and independent woman.   

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How carefree I felt! The entire process was relaxed and natural with Natalie and Molly. I had been entertaining the idea of a boudoir shoot for years and always seemed to find an excuse to not do it. I now know that it was because the universe was leading me to Natalie. :) Seriously though, I encourage every woman to do it. It was transformative for me.  

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I feel sassy, smart, accomplished, and finally comfortable in my own skin. The aging process is a funny thing. Your priorities in life shift and come into a sharper focus than when you were younger. It’s very liberating.     

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Beauty is subjective and fluid. My ninety-one year old aunt is the most beautiful woman I know. If a woman feeds into her fears about what defines beauty, then her faith is going to starve. She must flip the equation and feed into her faith about her own magical beauty and then her fears will starve. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: “Do not let what you think they think of you make you stop and question everything you are.” - Carrie Fisher  

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: There are two kinds of beauty. Physical beauty and beauty which comes from your soul. To me, physical beauty has little value and is overrated (apologies to all Kardashian fans). But throughout time in all patriarchal societies, including here in the United States, a woman’s worth has been been defined by her looks, her weight, her age, blah, blah, blah. And with the pervasiveness of social media, society’s values are becoming even more superficial and we've reached a new low. To me, internal beauty is what people should strive for, no matter their gender. Beauty to me is sacrifice, imperfections, authenticity, courage, truth, integrity. People who own their own flaws. To me, that’s beautiful.

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: My hope would be that women would learn to stop being so hard on themselves, and each other. Just be who they are born to be, not what the world teaches women to be. Support one another and applaud one another’s successes. Drop the judgment and suspicion. And for God’s sake, don’t forget to breathe and use sunscreen. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: You place WAY too much importance on how you look and what people think. Stop trying to be a people-pleaser. It’s a dead-end road that leads to unhappiness. Snap out of it.  

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: The miracle of grace is that you can give what you have never received. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Professionally, most of my life people have judged me on my appearance. That stung for a very, very long time. It just seemed so unfair, I am so much more than my hair color or bust size. I spent most of my career trying to prove myself to people who never really mattered. It was a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I now realize that it works in my favor when people underestimate me. It always has, I was just too idealistic to see it.  

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Becoming a mother. The sense of accomplishment I felt after giving birth has not been overshadowed by anything else in my life. Yet.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When my dog is kissing me.

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love being the underdog in the race, it’s as though I have a secret. But I usually end up with the upper-hand.

Real Women of Rochester | Melissa Briscoe

Melissa Briscoe | Age: 43 | Mom, Former Mrs. NY America and Total Badass

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: Most people that know me today would not be surprised I was a very outspoken child. What I think some would be surprised to know is for a very long time that very self-confident girl was lost. I married very young, was a stay at home mom to my oldest two sons. I was raised to believe in the value of a higher education and that it was an absolute must-have. With the support of my family, I went to back to college as an adult student part time and eventually I graduated college with honors at age 28 with a B.S. in Political Science. All while I was fighting a personal battle with depression and anxiety. I went on to speak out about depression and anxiety awareness after being crowned Mrs. NY America 2003: a competition I entered never expecting to actually win, but one that I wanted to be a part of to make the statement that depression and anxiety were actually illnesses that no one should be ashamed to have or seek treatment for.

I chose to leave my first marriage in 2008. I continued a passion of mine working in the jewelry industry with RW Manufacturing becoming a CAD designer and wholesale manager. I also began modeling in print, video and runway. 

I reconnected with my high school sweetheart and remarried in 2012 officially becoming Step-mom to three amazing individuals. I had my youngest son in 2014 and once again became a stay at home mom for a short period of time. Suddenly and unexpectedly in 2016 my husband, the love of my life, passed away. Shortly after his father passed, our son was diagnosed with a severe language delay along with other developmental issues resulting in eight therapies by four different providers a week. 

Becoming a widow, a word that has taken me almost two years to be able to say, is like joining a secret club. A really crappy club, one that you wish you were not a member of, as well as one that is very hard to explain to people who have not experienced this loss. The best description I have is to imagine waking up one morning to find a tsunami has taken place. You are staring at the remnants of the life you had, every part of which was destroyed, trying to decide which part that is now on fire to save first, after which you can deal with what is just submerged under the water or missing. 

Now, two years later I am still working on putting the pieces of my life back together while simultaneously making a new one. A process which has shown me that I am stronger than I ever believed I could be. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Accept help when it is being given to you and don't hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. I am the type of person who used to believe I should be able to tackle all of life's challenges alone. I was only able to triumph over the diseases of depression and anxiety when I reached out for help. When my husband passed away I wouldn't have been able to get where I am today if I had not accepted the help I was offered. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How completely at ease all of my boys were during our shoot. Especially my older children. It felt like you had known my children for years when in reality you had just met them minutes before we started shooting. 

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Proud. My favorite shot is with my three boys. I am proud of the mom I am despite being far from perfect at the job. Proud of the amazing young men that stand next to me and the opportunity to help Harrison (my youngest) grow into the amazing person who he will one day become. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Get over it! You are not alone. I think we are our worst critics. I know I am when I see myself in images. I used to focus on all of the things I felt was wrong with me. When Riley, my step-daughter, came into my life I felt I needed to change that. I never wanted her to look at a picture of herself and not love what she saw. So I changed my focus to what I do like when I see an image of myself. I understand that long after I am gone my loved ones will want to hold onto the images of me. I don't want them to have to search for one. Feeling beautiful or not, I always am in front of the camera at some point. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Value your girlfriends. Make time for them. If you do not have a tribe, find one. Create one if need be. There is nothing more invaluable than surrounding yourself with honest, caring, and supportive women. I am blessed to have a group of girlfriends that I have shared some of life's most exciting adventures with. More importantly though when we need someone to lean on one of us is always there to hold each other up. Usually without anyone ever having to say a word.  Having these women's support has been life changing for me

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

I think Judge Judy said it best: "Beauty fades, dumb is forever". As a society there are so many more important things to give value to. Beauty is subjective, ever-changing and honestly all around us if we look for it. The most beautiful people are the ones that are comfortable in their individuality and use it to make the world a better place. Think about it, when you look into a crowd the people that are truly the most beautiful and most confident are the ones that love themselves for who they are, both inside and out. It is a beauty that you can both feel as well as see and comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I think the next generation of women are entering such an exciting period in time. One that we as women are continuing to break down barriers and stereotypes. My step-daughter Riley and her sister Gabby are part of this upcoming generation. My hope is that they see and value themselves as individuals above any labels that may be placed on them.  That they define who they are and who they choose to be, not the views of men or women or even society itself. My advice is the same I give my children. Don't be a lemming! Value your individuality! Use it to figure out your place in the world.  

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: F*** it! Nothing you currently think is important actually is. Focus on your education as it is the one thing in life that can't be taken from you. 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Be the streak of shocking pink in a crowd of all black. Embrace your individuality and all of the talents that make you stand out in a crowd rather than blend in. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Very honestly, I am in the midst of my biggest hurdle career-wise.  After the loss of my husband my main focus has been being a caregiver and advocate to my youngest due to his developmental issues. As he enters a five-day a week program this fall I now have the ability to focus on rebuilding a career for myself. A very empowering and terrifying reality at 43. 

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Competing in the Mrs. NY America Pageant. I grew up watching Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe. The thoughts that ran through my head as I watched those pageants were always how I was not as smart, as pretty or as confident as those women that walked across the stage. Even as I became an adult and a mother I still felt as if I wasn't "enough" to do many things I wanted to try. I entered the pageant after I had finally gotten my depression and anxiety under control. I wanted to show the world but more importantly myself that I was smart enough, that I was pretty enough and I was confident enough to do anything I set my mind too. Stepping onto the stage for the first time was such an empowering experience that I will never forget. It was the beginning of the journey of becoming the women you see today. One that absolutely believes she is "smart enough, pretty enough and confident enough" to do anything she sets her mind on. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I am walking down the runway modeling. Not because of feeling physically beautiful, since usually professional hair and makeup artists work their magic, but because I once lacked the confidence to walk out into a crowed room let alone down a runway. I feel beautiful knowing that I have conquered my fears and not let them hold me back. 

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Q:What do you love about being a woman?

A: The color PINK, sparkles, glitter, lipstick, high heels and false eyelashes. LOL. On a much less superficial level: being a mother/mother figure, mentor to my three boys, my three step-children and my Goddaughter Gabby. I consider this to be the most important job I will ever hold. I constantly strive to better myself, step outside of my comfort zone, do things I honestly never thought I could, to show them that they absolutely can achieve any goal they are willing to work for or handle any hurtle life may throw at them. 

Two organizations that cannot go without mentioning in Melissa's story are Dress for Success and Inspire Learning and Childcare. "Dress For Success is a huge supporter of women, as well as playing a role in rebuilding my life. Inspire Learning and Childcare is a place I trust with my most valuable possession. Prince Harry."

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Real Women of Rochester | Fatima Banister

Fatima Banister | Age: 29 | Social Worker, Graphic Designer, Educator

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: Wow, what a loaded question! In a nutshell, My journey through womanhood has been what I would describe as a maze. I have had lots of fun discovering who I am, but have also found myself to be frustrated at times because the journey has not always been easy. I didn't always know who I was, had to deal with the issues of my past, and really truly believe in myself, and see myself the way others saw me. Becoming a mother in December, and turning 30 in January, the maze that I have found myself in from about 18 to now is coming to a close. While I believe womanhood is an ever evolving journey, I don't believe that I will be entering my 30s in a maze. I'm not quite sure what the next chapter will be, but I'm ready and anticipating what God has in store for me as I enter my 30s.  

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Don't give up. Never give up. Tap in to your faith and believe in yourself. Believe that you deserve all that life has in store for you. You are the head and not the tail, above, and not beneath. YOU ARE WORTH IT. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I don't consider myself a photogenic person, and I love the way a photographer is able to capture the beauty that I don't see, or to see an angle I haven't discovered yet. Light is also so important, and I was amazed at how the light illuminated my skin. I was 5 weeks pregnant when I did the photoshoot, and was just so so happy, and I think that special glow helped!

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: My honest thoughts are "Wow, that's really me!" I feel empowered and beautiful. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Put your best outfit on, beat that face, get your hair done, and do it girl! Every woman deserves to be photographed, and to feel beautiful including you. If you need a cheerleader behind the scenes to say "yassssss" "work it girl!" "oh yes, thats the shot!" I'm here for you! 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: I believe that we all have something to offer to this world and there are unique qualities and gifts that we each possess. The world is waiting for your gifts, your talents, your expertise, your story.  What do you need to release in order to unlock the gift that is inside of you?

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: While it's a cliche statement, I do believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As women, we all possess beauty, and it shines through in different ways. It may be the way that we look, the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we carry ourselves, or the way we treat others, but we ALL possess it. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I love this question because my daughter will be here in December, and I think about this all of the time. My prayer is that the next generation of women will continue to defy odds, believe they can do anything they put their minds to, and reject and break generational and societal curses that they face. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Oh boy. I would tell my 16 year old self, you are worth more than what you are allowing. Stop suffering in silence. Be yourself, love yourself, and don't worry about the pressures you face to be like the rest. You are set apart.

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: You are a royal priesthood. Hold your head up high like the queen you are. Being a young woman this day in age is not easy, but set the standards for yourself NOW. What will you allow, what will you not tolerate? What do you need to feel valued, loved, and appreciated? Think about the life you want to have and live with those goals in mind. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: I think one of the biggest hurdles I've overcome in my career was learning not to be a 'Yes' person. It's so easy to be caught up in saying yes, especially on the job, because you want to be the best, you don't want to disappoint people, and you want the people you work with to like you. However, that is just not realistic. Yes, you should strive to be your best, but you WILL disappoint people, and everyone is NOT going to like you! There is so much more power in a "no", with a justified reason, than saying "yes", to appease whats comfortable and safe. 

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Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Having my own business (Freely Fatima Designs) has been quite empowering, particularly because I have no background in graphic design whatsoever. I had no plans to start my own business, or at least in the industry that I'm in. Being able to work for myself and see my creativity shine through my work has been an amazing experience. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel most beautiful in a dress, and a fabulous pair of heels. Those who know me consider me a girly girl, and I am! I just love to dress up.

But I also feel most beautiful when I'm in my sweats in the kitchen with crazy hair and my husband comes in and gives me that look that no other man has the privilege of giving me.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love everything about being a woman. We possess so much power, we bring forth life, figuratively and literally! Our souls give us the capacity to love the people in our life that goes beyond what sometimes we can even imagine. Our strength is unmatched and we continue to defy the odds that are set against us. We are unstoppable. We are trailblazers. We are queens.

"Broaden Your Borders" | Rochester Global Connections Visits NSP

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Earlier this year NSP was connected with a local organization, Rochester Global Connections, by our great friend and one of Rochester's biggest cheerleaders, Alyssa Belasco :) Rochester Global Connections is a nonprofit that promotes “international understanding and cultural exchange between our community and international students and visitors”. Alyssa called us after an overwhelmingly inspiring meeting she had with a delegation of women from all around the world hosted by RGC, with the resounding declaration, “You just have to meet them!” All of the women are creative entrepreneurs and business owners within their own home countries, from Algeria, Tanzania and Malaysia, just to name a few.

The ladies were on a journey throughout the States and came to Rochester through the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a program designed to build understanding between professionals from abroad and local communities during short-term exchanges. The delegation traveled and participated in workshops and site visits, as well as met with local specialists among many different careers. We were lucky enough to be included on that list!

 Olori Ajayi | The Katie Wang Company (Founder, Chief Operations Officer) | Nigeria

Olori Ajayi | The Katie Wang Company (Founder, Chief Operations Officer) | Nigeria

 Dr. Welyne Jeffrey Jehom | Anthropologist, Emporoh Plt. (Founder) | Malaysia

Dr. Welyne Jeffrey Jehom | Anthropologist, Emporoh Plt. (Founder) | Malaysia

 Lynda Serir | Urban Music Artist, Business Owner | Algeria

Lynda Serir | Urban Music Artist, Business Owner | Algeria

The goal of the IVLP is "to provide firsthand knowledge about U.S. society, culture, and politics, while cultivating lasting relationships." There is no application process for the program - participants are nominated by the staff at the U.S. Embassies, and each delegation or project has a theme. Themes can be anything from Civic Education, to Energy Security to Environmental Protection. This particular project theme was Women and Entrepreneurship (so you know we're ALL about it). The ladies were accompanied by a liaison officer from the Philippines, Dr. Teresita Bernales.

As soon as these women walked through our doors, our studio was alive with conversations, hugs and instant friendships. We met Olori Ajayi, Foudner and Chief Operations Officer for the Katie Wang Company, an ethical apparel sourcing and production company in Nigeria. The brand focuses on transforming and empowering women through their choice in fashion and lifestyle. Olori has been nominated as one of the Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Nigeria! We were also introduced to Lynda Serir, an urban music artist and bakeshop owner from Algeria. She has released several albums and sings in Arabic, French and English. In total, there were six women in our studio, sharing their stories and their passion for connecting others through their work. It was so inspiring to be in the same room as women from different corners of the world, who are dreaming big and pushing boundaries. We felt like we had known them for years, instead of the 30 minutes they were able to take out of their busy schedule to spend in our studio!

 Teresita Bernales, Ed.D. | President of Bridges, Etc. | Philippines

Teresita Bernales, Ed.D. | President of Bridges, Etc. | Philippines

 Mariama Colley | Proprietress, Studio 441 | The Gambia

Mariama Colley | Proprietress, Studio 441 | The Gambia

 Aysha Boma | Founder and Managing Director, Tembea Mara | Tanzania

Aysha Boma | Founder and Managing Director, Tembea Mara | Tanzania

“Broaden Your Borders” is RGC's slogan, and a sentiment we hold near and dear to our hearts here at NSP – keeping our hearts open to all the beautiful and unique people we meet on a daily basis, never limiting ourselves to fit into a certain mold, and always learning from our neighbors. These badass women continue to be an inspiration for us (we're all Facebook friends now!) as they travel the world and strive for success in their personal and professional lives. So, we encourage you to meet someone new this week, listen to their story, share yours, and maybe even start chasing that dream you've been putting off for a while.

Special thanks again to Alyssa Belasco for connecting us with the organization, and Josephine Perini, Director of International Visitor Programs at Rochester Global Connections, who hosted the delegation here in Rochester.

Real Women of Rochester | Jessica Lewis

Jessica Lewis | Age: 32 | Communications Specialist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: As a little girl I always admired beautiful, strong, smart women. I looked to those women as an inspiration for myself because I've always been driven, hardworking and goal-oriented, and aspired to be the best person I could be. As I grew and matured I knew how important it was for other girls to see someone who could be an example to them. I made it a priority to pay it forward to other young women coming behind me. I've always prided myself on living a life that could be an example for others. I want girls to know that you can love yourself, be confident, strong, and in charge of your life and make decisions that make you happy and feel fulfilled. Those principals have guided me on my journey to womanhood.

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: My advice to another woman going through something I’ve been through is to always stay the course. I would encourage her to step out on faith, being unafraid to make mistakes. It is through mistakes that we develop our own path to self-discovery.  I would also say don’t let fear, doubt or anxiety get in your way. You are an over-comer and victory is an arm’s reach away. I would caution any woman against comparing themselves to others as each woman has her own journey.  And, lastly, in the face of adversity never comprise your integrity.

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I feel awesome. It’s like I’m in awe.  

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: I would say “pish-tosh.” Every woman is beautiful. Beauty is not just what’s on the outside, although society has conditioned us to believe that. Beauty is what’s on the inside. Furthermore, we are each beautiful in our own way. We have to look beyond society’s standard of beauty and create our own. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Women have been constantly told how to look, act, dress and carry ourselves. Women are blazing trails as entrepreneurs, professionals, mothers, business owners, and often doing so simultaneously. While women wear many hats, and play many roles, our appearance can often be scrutinized. Recognizing who we are and the greatness within us affirms our ability to excel in our various endeavors and empowers us to persist.   

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty comes in many different forms. On the outside it’s represented by various hues, tones, shapes, sizes and color. On the inside it’s represented by joy, peace, love, confidence and positive self esteem.  

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Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: My advice to the next generation is to continue to blaze new trails and break barriers. I hope that each generation learns and grows from the last, and creates new standards for themselves that are empowering, encouraging and uplifting. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: I would tell myself to continue to follow your dreams and passion. Don’t be deterred by outside forces that have no bearing on you and avoid the guy that’s coming your way senior year.

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: My most empowering experience as a woman is the launch of my public relations firm, LáLew Public Relations. My passion for public relations began in college. While an undergraduate student at Buffalo State College, I served as the president of an on-campus club called Black Active Minds which led student meetings around pressing issues such as race, equality and social justice. I often found myself engaging in meaningful conversations with peers and would promote club activities and publicize special events. Years later, those experiences coupled with my professional experiences would come full circle with the launch of my own public relations company.    

In March, LáLew PR turned two years old and I can proudly say that I am a successful entrepreneur, owning the fastest growing, Black-owned, woman-owned public relations firm in Rochester, New York. 

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel most beautiful on the outside when I feel good on the inside. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love the strength of being a woman.

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Headshots For Empowerment

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We are so humbled by all those who came out to support Teen Empowerment through our Headshots For Empowerment fundraising event. Since 2003, Teen Empowerment has employed hundreds of Rochester youth who have engaged thousands of their peers, adults, and community leaders in youth-led initiatives.You all blew us away with your dedication to your careers, ambition for new endeavors, and passion for making Rochester the greatest it can be! Thank you again to our sponsors, Haigh Wealth Management Group and Haven Hair Salon, and ALL those who participated! We hope your new headshots bring you SO much success and prosperity. Special thanks to Shawn Brown, Erin Julian and Lauren Gallina for helping make this event run so smoothly and for all you do for our wonderful community!

Here are photos from TE's Let's Be Friends event, at which the youth of TE performed spoken word pieces they had written themselves. We were blown away by the courage, skill and depth these students demonstrated in the poetry and lyrics they prepared and performed for a room full of adults. We could not be happier to have the $2000 we helped raise go towards supporting them in their future endeavors.

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Real Women of Rochester | Annette Abell

Annette Abell | Age: 45 | President, Business Owner

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: I was raised by a single mom, put myself through college and worked nights as a cashier for an extra $0.25/hour, graduated and started my post-college life as a Manager Trainee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Rochester instead of Syracuse because the white collar job prospects were better here. After rear ending a renter's repaired car with the very vehicle she had just returned to the office I was let go only to start a cold call center job where I cried in the parking lot during lunch each day. Eventually, thanks for an aunt who worked at Xerox (network was key!!!), I joined the trade show industry and was so very fortunate start a career. It was here that I learned what marketing really was and gained a small glimpse into the beast called sales. It was also a rude wake up call for how corporate America worked (and still does work). My role at an agency that served a then successful firm allowed me to see how decisions are really made and how people really behave in the workforce. (Remind me to tell you how I returned home after a trade show where my three clients were blonde women like me and how I returned home with fire engine red hair and a belly button ring because i was too chicken to get a tattoo). This job was an appetizer to the thick, raw steak serving with a side of whoop ass that would be my next job where I felt like I really started to come into my own. 8 restructurings, 5 job changes, 1 major jump from marketing to sales (with a $20,000 pay cut), and a layoff will do that to you. Fast forward to a sales job that brought me to London and Paris, and how kids led me to accept a job at a small, local firm to launch an entirely new business line for this firm. I took the pay cut to strike a better work/life balance. This, ironically, only lasted 4 months. I was fired. They said they did not think I knew what I was doing. I was defeated. Crushed, embarrassed. Then pissed. The next morning I woke and decided to implement the exact plan they rejected. This spawned Able Cloud Advisors. We are 8 years old now and have a 5 star rating on the Salesforce.com app exchange. Did I mention I'm a one-man band? I do it all myself: sales, marketing, HR, legal, accounting, and all fulfillment of the work we win. (We = me and the 700 voices I hear in my head that demand I do this and do that. "Forget about that last date. He was an a**hole anyway." But I digress.) In true fashion, karma wore red and a year after launching the man who fired me was himself fired. He implemented my business plan and became my competitor. He--with his condescending, arrogant partner--ran the company into the ground leaving 21 people without a job. Today, after 8 years, I feel like I'm finally ready to think about what's next. It truly took me that long just to establish a groove. I'm not certain I want to grow where I have employees yet. Maybe I'll learn from the others in this group so I can decide what's next.  

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: It's so freaking hard. It's so easy to fail. It seems insurmountable. Ask for help, guidance, a shoulder. Focus on what brings money in the door. The rest can wait. If there is no income then it's all for not. Know that at the end of the day you must take care of yourself first: body, mind and soul (BMS). You have to be at your best physically, emotionally, and spiritually (PES) to get through a single day. Your personal life may suffer. For me, a divorce actually helped me gain the PES I so desperately needed. You have to surround yourself with the right people--not just women. It's a man's world, unfortunately, and omitting them from your tight circle of sage business advisors is a mistake. You can do it. The cards are stacked against you, no doubt. But it can be done.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How passionate Natalie was. How she made me feel great about my physical appearance. I needed that. Thank you.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I love it. It captures exactly who I am--even if I wish I did not give off the persona I do. My friends said I look like an in-control badass in both the boardroom and the bedroom. LOL! Maybe THIS is why I cannot get a date. Again, I digress...

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Fuck that! Put on your best outfit and go. You will finally find a picture of the true you. You deserve it.

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: I took a deep breath in after reading this question. There is so much to share... Where do I start? It's hard. I've made so many mistakes. I'm the only employee so there is no one to blame when things go south--and they will! BUT it can be done. You have to allow yourself to hear the things others are telling you whether it's that your business idea sucks, or that your marketing proposition that you came up with yourself is off or whatever. You have to listen. Do you act on everything tiny piece of feedback? NO. Do you listen to the people who never started a company? Hell no. But you do have to listen. You have to leave your ego at the door. Conversely, you get to own every single success and win. You made it happen. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: I struggle with this. I'm in a good space now but have grown comfortable with who I am today. But that took me 20 years to get here. Dating in today's day and age quickly tests my resolve, that is for certain. All in all 2018 is a great place to be in terms of diversity and acceptance of all the various forms women take. We need not be size 2, tall and blonde. But self doubt is pervasive. It's a FT job to love oneself. To put yourself FIRST. Be that allowing yourself down time, a massage, going to the gym, trying a new lipstick. There is nothing more attractive to me than confidence. That said, this will scare people. It will turn off people who can only function if they are the "big man on campus." You have to decide who you want to be. How you want to be known. Whatever you decide that is--THAT is what is beautiful. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: That they see themselves as women, but that no one else cares about their anatomy. Advice? Own who you are. Own your mistakes. Own where you are in life. Sure we face discrimination (women of color and different sexual orientations more-so) but so what? If a door is slammed in your face either knock on a new one or kick the first door down. 

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Your thighs are not as fat as you think they are. 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: You have to learn from those around you. You do not know it all. Yet your naivete is an asset. Ask an older woman: Knowing what you know now, would you get married? Have kids? Start a business? Have taken that job? The answers will probably be, "No." The secret is to make a life for yourself while your still naive and before you become jaded or cynical.  

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Accepting that failure is a big part of my success. And I hate failure.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: You want me to be honest? When a handsome man engages me in a dating context. Sad but this "oh he likes me" is still the best validation for me. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: That I am raising two boys who see a woman doing for herself--all of it. I fix the leaky facet, I run the house, I run my business. I expect them to respect me. Nothing is more empowering than raising two boys who I hope will grow to be respectful gentlemen. 

Real Women Of Rochester | Sharitta Gross-Smith

Sharitta Gross-Smith | Age: 42 | Assistant Director, Student Development

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: My journey through womanhood was not linear. While I always knew I wanted to be an educator, somehow helping others in my community, as an introvert I did not consider the possibility of how that would come to fruition. My journey involved much introspective work that was helped along by an ability to artistically express myself through dance as a School of the Arts student. I'd like to think of my journey as still in progress, as my latest pursuit is a doctoral degree at St. John Fisher College. And to think that at one point my main goal was just to finish high school?

My maternal grandmother was a great part of my journey, encouraging me along the way with the following words: "You can be whatever you want to be. God knows the desires of your heart." She said it to me so much that throughout adversity I believed that it must be so. While embracing my womanhood, I became more and more fearless in approaching who I wanted to become. It made me take the limits off and I draw from her mantra sometimes daily.

Now I'm a selective extrovert. LOL

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Forgive yourself. Often a decision is made based upon the information and emotion we have within a given time, not realizing how things might unfold. Part of living, learning and loving involves risk. If you stay with your arms closed to your chest for fear of hurt or failing, you will never embrace anyone or be embraced. This doesn't mean you approach situations with no thought or strategy, rather, it is a pass to live a little, realizing that the God of your choice is in control anyway. Be kind to yourself in your life's process. Always choose you first.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Much like our fingerprints, we are unique, making the interpretation of beauty quite individualistic. As women we are so intricately made and complex that embracing all that we are becomes a necessity when combating all the stereotypes within society of what's beautiful and what's not. Beauty is in the curvature of your neck to shoulder, your smile, the lines in the corner of your eyes...you embody beauty everyday. Own it. Embrace it. Work it (and the camera)!

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Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I hope that they kick a$$ and take names.

I'd advise them to find a mentor or several mentors, taking note of and respect for those who have come before them, as they can create a path of ease in a situation where you may not know how to navigate the landscape. Be specific when seeking a mentor (e.g..: career development, spiritual advisor, personal development), as that helps manage expectation and ensures that both parties are reciprocating as appropriate. And acknowledging the infinite benefits of diversifying your world. There is much to be enjoyed outside of the boxes we comfortably place ourselves in. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Wait. Breathe. Slow down-it's a marathon, not a sprint. You'll figure things out in due time because you don't know what you're about to do, but it's going to be awesome since God authored your story. Stay present in the present, because as cliché as it may sound, you can't get certain moments back when looking so far ahead.

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Take the limits off and don't measure your success against that of others. If you can conceive an idea in your mind, pursue it to the end so there will be no wonder or regret. Know that there will be naysayers and/or dream killers that will come with their proof positive examples of why 'it' won't work, but stand firm in who you are and wish to become. In part your life's purpose is to find your gifting and give it away to the extent that the world is left far better than when you found it.

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Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Transitioning from human services to career services within higher education. The process was an exercise in humility and creativity that caused me to seek out those I could learn from and, in some cases, be coached by. It also reminded me that finding a job is indeed a job. I learned relatively quickly the importance of networking, requiring that I stayed ready for an opportunity as opposed to getting ready (which takes work!).

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Wow--do I have to pick one experience? I've been blessed and fortunate to have several, past and recent. I'd say that one of the most empowering experiences was being the chair of 2013 YWCA's Empowering Women Luncheon .  I had an opportunity to assemble and work with some of Rochester's most talented, creative and resourceful women to achieve the ambitious goal of 2,000 people. We were faced with having to leverage media platforms in a way that we hadn't previously, while finding ways to better educate the community on this event. And we did it!

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: After a 90-minute deep tissue massage on a sunny day. Sun on my face, moon roof open and in that moment all is quiet, allowing me to just be.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Knowing that I have the ability to heal with a smile or hug. That I can inspire young ladies just by the life that I lead and the mentoring that I provide. By being I can help someone else become and with any luck, they will exceed my and their own expectations.

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Man Crush Monday | Brad & Maggie Humberstone

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Tell us the story of how you met...

After moving to Rochester, I wanted a way to casually meet new people and explore my new town.  Being your typical millennial with a "What's the worst that could happen?" kind of attitude, I joined Tinder.  If all else failed, at least I would get a nice meal every now and then, right?

And then Brad happened.  The one who changed it all.  

We agreed to meet on a dark and and cold Tuesday night in October, at a tiny bar called Half Pint.  We sat on bar stools for hours, talking and laughing like we had been friends for years.  From the moment I met Brad, he made me feel like the most special person in the room.  Our first date was so easy and comfortable, I was hooked. 

Two and a half years later, Brad would take me back to Half Pint on a summer evening and ask me to marry him. 

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What was the first date like?

Our first official date was an afternoon of hiking through Letchworth State Park.  Everything about that day was perfect.  After our hike, we stopped for cider doughnuts and apple cider.  We took the long way home on back country roads and grabbed dinner at one of his favorite spots.  I went home thinking about what life could be like with this amazing man by my side.  

What makes him crush worthy?

Brad is such a special human.  Not only is he an amazing husband, he's an incredible friend, brother and son (and doggie-daddy).  His warmth, unconditional love, relentless positive-attitude and sense of humor make being his wife an absolute privilege.  Brad is the best man I've ever met and I consider myself a pretty lucky lady to have him as my daily crush.  

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What are you looking forward to most in your future together?

I am excited for the whole journey.  To watch Brad evolve and change and grow.  I can't wait to start a family and watch Brad transition into the role of being a new Dad.  I can't wait to see our how love evolves and changes and grows.  Brad has never loved me like I'm ordinary and it's made my life better in so many ways.  

Tell us about your wedding day

In October 2017, Brad and I married in front of our family and friends at the Woodcliff Hotel.  We were blessed with seriously the most beautiful sunset during our ceremony.  The clouds literally opened and a beam of light lit us up as we said our "I do's".  You can't make that stuff up!  

The whole day had "us" written all over it.  It was super romantic and full of love.  

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Anything else you'd like to share??

I was twenty minutes late to our first date.  He will never let me forget this and even managed working my tardiness into his proposal when he said, "although you were late to our first date, Maggie, you were right on time."

Ladies, find someone who sees the best in you and hold on to them forever.  

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Spoleta Perri Wedding | 04.28.2018

Yesterday, two of the kindest souls pledged their lives to each other - and it was stunningly beautiful (in more ways than one!). While we could make an entire slideshow dedicated to the decor and details of this wedding - from the flowers to the napkins, the dress, and the place cards designed by Celebrated Events at The Wintergarden by Monroe's - the most gorgeous thing witnessed during this powerhouse couple's wedding was the incredible love that Michael and Jennifer share.

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One of the most special moments as a photographer was getting to capture Mike and Jen's new beginning at the place they first met - City Grill. After a busy morning of getting ready, the ceremony, and family portraits, the whole bridal party went to City Grill and it was a great time of looking ahead while appreciating how everyone got to this moment. Seeing Mike and Jen sit in the very seats they met in was so special. 

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Finally, as the couple and their guests danced the night away, nothing could take away from how much these two are head over heals for their daughter. Their little family could not have been any more bursting with love.

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Lindsey, Jennifer's sister shared that she has always said the one thing she could eat every day was pizza - so marrying the owner of Rochester's best pizza brand - Perri's Pizza -just makes sense :) Congrats to Jennifer & Mike Perri!

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Bridal Boudoir | The PERFECT wedding treat (for bride and groom!)!

 BRA & PANTY SET: SOMA INTIMATES 

BRA & PANTY SET: SOMA INTIMATES 

While preparing for your wedding day can be about many different things; dress shopping, choosing the perfect florist, sending out all the invites, and doing just about everything under the sun besides spending some (probably much needed) time on yourself, we've created our boudoir sessions to be a complete celebration of YOU from start to finish. This shoot also makes the perfect groom's gift - many of our brides use their boudoir album as a gift to give to their soon-to-be-life-partner on the wedding day. And we think that's wonderful! But what YOU will receive out of the experience is such a gift in and of itself, and that is what we're always most excited about for our bridal boudoir clients :)  

 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

 LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

 BRA & PANTY: SOMA

BRA & PANTY: SOMA

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We know what you're thinking. "This is great.... for other women" or "I could never do that - I'm too [awkward, un-photogenic, need to lose 5-30lbs]." And while you may feel some of those nerves the night or morning before your shoot, or maybe don't normally describe yourself as "sexy", by the time you see yourself on the back of that camera within the first 5 minutes of your shoot, we promise there won't be a trace of those nerves to be found. This is one of the most special times in your life, to celebrate who you are to yourself, and to your future partner. Your fiancé sees you as the most beautiful, strong, compassionate goddess in the world (he put a ring on it, didn't he?!), so why shouldn't you?

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Trusting a professional to find your best angles, understand lighting and lens choices and to help you choose the outfits that will photograph best will ensure your photos come out just how you've always wanted to see yourself. As we like to say, “you can't mess this up.” We take the entire day to celebrate your style and personality, and pamper you with our on-site hair and makeup services by Special Occasion Hair Design, and of course, a bubbly mimosa as soon as you walk through the door!

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 BRA & PANTY: SOMA 

BRA & PANTY: SOMA 

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

We love incorporating unique details, like the shoes or veil you'll be wearing when you walk down the aisle, or your man's favorite shirt and tie. Floral designs can also add some bridal feels to your shoot (we love working with Stacy K)! And of course, a ring shot or two never hurt anybody :) But in the end, you'll be the star of this show – we want to capture your most authentic self at this extraordinary time in your life.

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

So get that Pinterest board going, and have FUN with it! We can't wait to meet you and create the bridal photoshoot of your dreams together :)

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 LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

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 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

Thank you to Stacy K Floral for the beautiful floral designs, Chrissy from Special Occasion Hair Design for being our hair & makeup guru, Lovely Bride Rochester for the stunning bridal wear, Hair Comes The Bride for the bridal headpieces, and Revival Rentals for her killer vintage furniture collection that rotates in and out of our studio. And of course, our wonderful models!

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE | BRA & PANTY: AERIE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE | BRA & PANTY: AERIE

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 WHITE SLIP: LOVELY BRIDE

WHITE SLIP: LOVELY BRIDE

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 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

LaVoie Haenisch (Surprise!) Wedding

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It's always an honor to shoot someone's wedding. Even moreso when it's a friend. Add to that the fact that your friend is also in the wedding industry, and you've done dozens of weddings together - and now it's her turn?! Honor doesn't cover being chosen for such an event. It was truly one of the high points of my career as a wedding photographer to be able to shoot such a special occasion for Brittney LaVoie and Coby Haenisch. But in true wedding planner fashion - her own wedding had to be a bit out of the ordinary....  so while most of their guests thought they were attending an engagement party last night - their closest family members joined Brittney and Coby earlier in the day as they exchanged their vows in a private ceremony at St. Joseph's Park. You'll have to stay tuned for the reception photos at the stunning Arbor Loft, but in the meantime please enjoy this Same Day Slideshow that we created just after their ceremony, and played as the surprise-newly-weds entered their "engagement party" reception to share with all their very surprised guests :)

 CONGRATS BRITTNEY & COBY!!!

CONGRATS BRITTNEY & COBY!!!

Man Crush Monday | Jared & Tabatha Vander Weel

Tabatha's everyday #ManCrush is her husband, Jared Vanderweel.

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Tell us the story of how you met...

We met in May of 2013 through Jared's sister Brigitte. I had just moved to Rochester from Chattanooga, TN, started working with her and we became instant friends. She invited me to her house for a cookout which Jared was also invited to. We both liked each other but wouldn't admit it for months until he asked to take me out for my birthday to Tapas 177.

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What makes him crush worthy?

His confidence when he walks into a room, his heart of gold, and his trusting eyes. 

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What's your favorite story about the two of you?

Getting caught in a storm in the Caribbean Sea. We were on our honeymoon island hopping on a personal catamaran for a week (a wedding present from my in-laws.) Jared was the captain and I was the skipper. Just the two of us on this boat without a care in the world, and we see the storm up ahead. But like most tropical storms, you are in it for a few minutes and just a few miles ahead it is nothing but sunshine. The rain was coming down but we still had our reggae music playing and drinks in hand laughing because nothing could bring us down. It was a perfect imperfect day.

When did you know you wanted to spend the rest of your life with this man?

The first Christmas we had together. Jared went out of his way to make everyone happy including me. I realized then that he was the most selfless person I had ever met.

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What are you looking forward to most in your future together?

Retiring in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands

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Tell us about the proposal...

December 8th, 2015 we were at Disney World in front of Cinderella's Castle watching the frozen show with my sister, brother-in-law and niece. Jared was standing behind me and when the show ended - I turned around and he was gone. I looked back to my sister and said "I don't know where Jared went," she looked past me and said "he is right behind you." When I turned around he was in a Prince Charming costume, he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. I of course said yes!

Tell us about your wedding day!

April 5th, 2017 we got married at the Sand Dollar Estate in St. Thomas USVI. I couldn't picture a more perfect day than what we had. Surrounded by friends and family we said "I DO" on the deck of the Little Sand Dollar overlooking the bluest water you have ever seen without a cloud in the sky.

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Anything else you'd like to share?

I am the blessed one that gets to call him "mine". 

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Real Women of Rochester | Lisa Ostrander

 

Lisa Ostrander   |  Age: 50  |  Profession: Pharmaceutical sales specialist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: How much space do I have (lol) - my journey through womanhood has evolved. As a young girl I had a very clear vision of my life and what I wanted it to be. I wanted children, a husband, and  a successful career. I was not always sure I would have any of that. I have been a late bloomer throughout my journey. I went back to school at 32, started my amazing career in pharmaceuticals at 33, was married at 40, and had my daughter at almost 41. Prior to going back to college I had doubt that I was ever going to accomplish much in my life. The truth is that I did not feel I had a clear identity of who I was anymore. It had been mixed up in the relationships I was in, and those had been my focus. However, I had a desire in my heart to accomplish as much as I could. I am not really sure where I found the courage to go through the obstacles it took for me to finish school and break into a very difficult industry - but I did, and I persevered. I refused to give up and every door that slammed in my face made me more determined to keep going. That time in my life showed me that I had one quality that would carry me through my life above all else: courage. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: I have had a lot of experiences that have molded me into who I am today. I sometimes feel I could really write a book! For anyone going through any difficulties whether it is self-doubt or a career move and or cancer, which I was diagnosed with last May, the single best thing that helped me was having someone who would listen. We all go through seasons in life where we hit rough patches and speaking to someone who will simply be there to listen allows you to sort out your thoughts and be able to dig within yourself for the answers. And while it's helpful to have a listening crew, ultimately the momentum and action to create change has to come from within ourselves. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How comfortable I was. I felt confident and relaxed. Natalie did an amazing job of putting me at ease. 

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Proud. Not because of my appearance, but because the image captured who I am today. It captured my true essence and that is what I wanted to portray.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: First, this question makes me sad. I see many women struggle with self-esteem and it’s not an easy society we live in with so much emphasis on appearance which is a real thing, but I would share with women my favorite quote which is to "walk in faith and not fear". Beauty has such a spectrum . I teach my daughter that when she is around people to pretend everyone has a spacesuit on ...if you could not see their appearance- would that person still mean the same to you and would you want them in your life. Our exterior is only here while we are here. Our soul and the legacy we leave behind is what will shine on, and we all have something to share. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: It is never to late to chase your dreams and impact others lives. Do not let others discourage you from achieving what you desire, and have the courage to follow through. Also surround yourself with like minded people who will elevate you. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: This is a tough question. I am the only daughter in my family and as a young girl growing up, my father put a lot of emphasis on my appearance. As an adult looking back now and as a mom I know he did not do it to be harmful and that he was proud of me - but a lot of that commentary really stayed in my brain for a long time. For many years I felt that the value I brought was based on my appearance, and so I worked really hard at looking good. It was not until I was much older and began to get recognized for my achievements in my career that I was able to separate myself from that thought process . I do still work hard at taking care of myself and the truth is that there will always be that young teenage girl inside me remembering those comments, however the difference is that my appearance does not define me. It is just one part of the big puzzle that makes me who I have become .

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: To have courage. To not allow fear to hold you back from following the journey that was meant for you. Leap in, and take a chance - when you do amazing things will happen. I know this to be true because they happened to me!

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: I would tell my 16 year old self that your gonna have a rough journey and you will be tested in many different ways, and just when you think you may not be able to overcome a challenge you have to dig deeper - because you will overcome it. Don’t let fear stop you. It is going to hard and you will want to give up but don’t do it, and most importantly remember to live in the moment. 

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Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Be prepared for every opportunity that comes your way and go for it. It was brought to you for a reason and you never know where it will take you. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: If I am being transparent it would be appearance. Unfortunately we still live in a society that judges you very quickly on how you look and so I have had to show both men and women that I deserve to be where I am. 

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: My most empowering experience has been speaking at the Angelo del Toro Hispanic youth leadership program in Albany. I was able to share with this amazing group of future leaders the importance of melanoma education. Being of Hispanic descent I always felt that I was "safe" - that melanoma would not occur in me, but it did and I'm lucky to be alive. Having these future leaders resonate with my journey and understand that they should advocate for their own health was so important to me. Cancers from melanoma have increased over the last 30 years and it all starts with education. When you are aware then you are prepared! One person dies every hour of every day from melanoma and Hispanics and African Americans typically get staged higher when diagnosed because they have missed the signs. I am absolutely moved to action to continue to help educate and continue to spread the message of awareness. Don't forget- it all starts with a skin check!

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel the most beautiful on a Saturday morning with a great cup of Spanish coffee and reading the newspaper . 

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love the possibilities that are still out there for women to make an impact in our community and in the lives of others. 

Real Women of Rochester | Jenny Thomas

Jenny Thomas  |  Age 42  |  Profession: Motivational Mentor

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: My journey was filled with hills, valleys, and mountain peaks. I lived under the radar and my worth for many years due to overwhelming feelings of rejection, and lack of identity. For many years I felt like a lost little girl looking for love and validation. I made a lot of mistakes; however I got married and raised (still raising) four children, and managed to attain the career (Nursing) that I felt I needed to be in. As an adoptee I always felt like a human question mark. I finally received the gift that I’d prayed for, and that was finding my biological family. Only, finding them didn’t bring the love and peace that I’d dreamed of. The quest to find the answers about myself brought me to a place of awareness and understanding. Realizing the answers that I’d sought, I’d always possessed. My journey unearthed my purpose and passions that had been buried by shame, and abandonment for most of my adult life. 

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Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Let faith be your catalyst. Everything that you’ve endured has given you everything that you need to be the pioneer that you are. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How fun and relaxing it was!

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Empowered 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: We don’t give ourselves permission to be our own kind of beautiful. Not the beauty that we compare ourselves to. Remove the labels and allow YOUR beauty to be released and exist. 

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: There is nothing that you’ve done, or endured that can cancel who you are destined to be. Don’t ever dim your light to fit in. Instead hit them with your high beams. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Physical beauty is totally subjective. Kindness, love, and the ability to make people feel special are the most beautiful.

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I hope women will be innovators, and no longer live within limits. If you haven’t found where you fit in, create it.

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: I need you to know that you were born with purpose. There are no mistakes, and you will understand everything you’ve endured. I love you!

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Don’t wait to be told how great you are. Know your worth for yourself, and if people don’t acknowledge that, let your success leave them with no choice. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Realizing that what I initially chose as a career wasn’t ultimately what I was born to do. Overcoming the fear connected with “letting go” and becoming an entrepreneur. 

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Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Understanding that I can conquer fear. One of our biggest setbacks. My saying is: “be scared and do it anyways”.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I’m happy 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Our ability to battle back. 

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