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Inspiring Stories from the North Side

The heart of our mission at VoyageChicago is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our city. In the recent weeks we’ve had the privilege to connect with some of the Chicago’s finest artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with our city’s incredibly deep talent pool. Check out North Side’s rising stars below.

Blaine Swen

I moved to Chicago to go to grad school at Loyola University. I had dabbled in improv in high school and college and I recognized that living in Chicago gave me a special opportunity to study comedy in the city that is widely considered the capitol of modern improvisation. So, I signed up for improv classes at The Second City. During that time, I started The Improvised Shakespeare Company (ISC). I asked Thomas Middleditch if he would be interested in doing a show where we would improvise a full narrative play in the style of Shakespeare, just like the one we do today. Read more>>

Don Zegler

Don Zegler is Principal and Owner of Big Design in Chicago. Big Design partners with our clients to create brand experiences that are so dynamic that they define categories and establish customer loyalty. Our mission is achieved through outstanding storytelling presented across expertly curated digital and print touchpoints. I started Big Design when I turned thirty. I had been fired from one of Chicago’s hottest design firms. It was the first time in my life I had ever been fired. The firm had a reputation for being a “meat grinder” of creative talent. I worked on some inspiring projects, made some long-lasting connections and learned a great deal in what turned out to be my short time there. Read more>>

Dr. Fangxi Zhou

My background includes the training at one of the top medical schools in China and the practice and teaching of western medicine at one of the most respected university hospitals. During my medical training, I also learned and began to practice Chinese Traditional Medicine, including acupuncture. I have more than twenty-five years of experience in Chicago and am a diplomate of the NCCAM and a licensed acupuncturist in Illinois. I practiced and taught acupuncture in the Center for Complementary Medicine at Lutheran General Hospital for ten years. Read more>>

JC Mountainbear

My life is a story of overcoming adversity and going that little extra to make things happen; this has shaped me as a person. I grew up poor, living in low income housing in the Bronx, NY and my parents stressed that education was the only way to move out of the cycle of “not having” to “having”. I studied very hard and received my BBA in finance from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and my MBA in Marketing at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and I worked in Global Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), essentially advising others how to grow their businesses, for 15 years. Read more>>

Dave Frech

After being active throughout my early life by playing sports, I fell out of shape after graduating from college and working 50-60 hours a week. After a few years of poor eating and living a sedentary lifestyle, my health suffered and my anxiety increased. I realized I needed to change. Slowly I started being more active, eating healthier and began meditating. Then about ten years ago, I became interested in acupuncture through personal experience.  I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the second metatarsal of my left foot.  I was told I needed to wear a walking boot for three weeks to allow the fracture to heal.  Read more>>

Sharon Kristjanson

For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by the complexities of communication and what makes it effective. How do we perceive each other and act on those perceptions? I have also been fascinated by the interplay between culture and character: To what degree are misunderstandings between people due to cultural differences, and what might be attributable to personality traits? Much of my work has revolved around these issues, with the aim of improving how we understand and interact with one another. Read more>>

Jane Lee

Jane Lee, President of RE/MAX Top Performers in Lake Bluff, Illinois, has emerged as one of the most successful Real Estate Brokers in the United States. After 26 years in the business, and nearly ten years of working as a highly productive Sales Associate with RE/MAX, Jane achieved #1 Agent status in the Northern Illinois region. In 2000, she purchased her own RE/MAX Brokerage and formed her award-winning team of agents and industry experts, The Jane Lee Team. Read more>>

Rod Holmes

In 2007 I was managing a medium-sized real estate brokerage that needed a new marketing director. In the job ads, we emphasized we needed someone who understood digital marketing. Of the 100+ resumes we got, only a couple had any mention of digital marketing, let alone experience. Ben Robinson had digital marketing experience and got the job. I had been building websites since the dawn of the Internet and knew it was the future of marketing, and especially for real estate.  Ben began teaching me about SEO and PPC advertising and through his work, our brokerage began to compete with the big firms in Chicago in the Google search results. Read more>>

Sara Silver

My background is in education.  I have a Master’s degree in Advanced Teaching from Northwestern University and am a certified educator in Illinois.  After retiring from the classroom, I wanted to do something to combine my love of teaching, my interest in digital technology and service to others. I also wanted to find a second career where I could still experience the “aha” moments that all teachers crave! I founded Computer Companion in 2014 after realizing the need for quality, personalized tech instruction and assistance for older adults on the North Shore. Read more>>

Donna Matthias

At the age of 5 years old I would sit in church each Sunday and mentally redesign the Alter flower arrangements, I always felt they were not designed to my liking. This was the beginning of my love affair with flowers! The 2nd thing that stands out in my memory is, I was walking through the halls of my high school and came across a girl carrying flowers in the hallway. They were so beautiful, I asked her where she got them, she stated, “she had arranged them herself” Read more>>

David Yang

My co-founder Nimit Maru and I have been friends for 17 years since the first day of college back in 2000. We’ve worked at Yahoo back in the day and many projects/companies since then. Around 2012, Nimit was graduating from Wharton and I was visiting him to brainstorm ideas for our next venture. Many of Nimit’s classmates were asking us to do a class on tech/programming so we started doing these seminars at Wharton (secretly sneaking into classrooms). Read more>>

Georgia Jones

I’m one of those lucky people who kind of always knew what I wanted to do. I started out doing social work very early, and still love it! I was also “lucky” to have had anxiety as a child. After determining that nothing was physically wrong, a kind doctor suggested I use some meditation techniques to promote relaxation in my body. I’ve been using those ever since and felt great relief. Over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in how meditation changes the way we relate to emotions, pain and suffering. I started using mindfulness meditation with clients many years ago, and decided that would be my focus when I began Chicago Mindful Psychotherapy. Read more>>

A. Anique Snell

I started working in this industry after working for several blue chip companies in the banking and real estate sector. Working in the banking industry, I gained experience with working with many consumers that were business owners and/or home owners or aspiring to be one of both. I was exposed to the lack of knowledge that was available to business owners relating to successfully securing funding to start or grow their businesses which caused them to consistently be declined and not because they didn’t qualify but because they were not compliant. I never understood the importance of being compliant to obtain funding until I began working as a credit analyst in the business department of a mid-sized corporation, which extended lines of credit to business owners based on compliance and credit history. Read more>>

Laura Goltz

I always knew I wanted to devote my life to helping people. This desire guided me toward occupational therapy when I was in college at Boston University (I loooong time ago : ). After spending some years gaining as much experience with various populations as I could (premature infants, medically fragile children, youth with brain and spinal cord injuries, at-risk pregnant teens, all the way up to the elderly recovering from hip replacements or strokes), I decided I would most like to help children. Read more>>

Silviu Gansca

My business partner and I started Redefined Fitness in 2002 with just the two of us training clients. We quickly expanded and grew the business to have a team of 12 trainers with a passion for health and fitness. What distinguishes us from other gyms in the area is our unique 3 dimension training methods. We are passionate about health and helping our clients get moving and feeling better. We have been in business over 15 years now and it has been an adventurous road. Especially in the last five years, the fitness and training landscape has changed tremendously. Read more>>

Jonathan Carroll

I am an adult with ADHD. I was a Special Education teacher and saw an opportunity to help individuals with ADHD and Executive Functioning challenges in the private sector. I decided to open my own private practice around 14 years ago and have been helping clients ever since. My business has grown and I’m helping clients all over the world of all ages and backgrounds. I think anytime one leaves a steady paycheck for a new business is always a challenge. Being a one-man solar system presents its challenges. It is important to constantly seek and develop opportunities. If I do not do this, my business will struggle. Read more>>

Holly Katz

I’m a former human resources executive, Northwestern MBA graduate, and was a Big 10 tennis player. I understand from personal experience the toll that anxiety and self doubt have on feeling confident and calm, and ultimately fulfilling potential. My experience combined with a passion for helping people, led me to get a Masters and License in Professional Counseling. I began my work in this arena as a career and executive coach in my own business about 10 years ago including serving as a “go to” consultant at JPMorgan Chase and executive coach. Read more>>

Christy Kaskey

I founded Kaskey Kids in 2002 to create a toy that I thought would entertain my kids. None of the many toys we had acquired over the years held their attention long enough for me to make dinner. I knew that if I could design classic, “Old School” action figures with a sports themed twist, similar to the super heroes and army men action figures that have entertained children for generations, my children would be happy. I spent a few months thinking about all of the things I loved about iconic toys and then asked friends, neighbors, teachers, neighborhood children and my own, what they loved about their favorite toys. I came away with the exact vision for what I wanted to create. Read more>>

Asrat Sellassie and William Glastris

The Wild Hare & Singing Armadillo Frog Sanctuary has been “REGGAE CAPITAL USA” for nearly 30 years. Originally located a block south of Wrigley Field, The Wild Hare has since August 2012 been located at 2610 N. Halsted Street (at Wrightwood) in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Live Reggae in all its forms from all over the world is our passion and our terrific crowds of long-time friends and new enthusiasts reflect the wonderful diversity that reggae music brings out. We feature local, regional and international artists performing nightly Tuesday through Sunday at 9pm. Come early for our killer food (dinner begins nightly at 6pm with late night snacks until close), ice cold drinks and the friendliest, all-welcome Irie Vibes anywhere. Read more>>

Erin Kelly

Thirteen years ago, I was looking for a change. I was sitting in my Aunts closet at 3 am organizing. She simply told me- “Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.” The next morning, I researched professional organizing and Arranged By Erin was born. As with any business, you have to find your way. I was a marketing major and pride myself on always thinking outside the box. I believe in developing strong relationships with other business owners. Read more>>

Bojana Ilic

Bojana Ilic is a Serbian-born artist with a degree in clothing and textile design. After as successful 10-year career in the fashion industry, Bojana was ready for a change and moved to the United States in 2007 where she found painting as a form of expression. Her company, and artistic name, BOJITT leverages over 15 years of creative experience helping clients express their brand, vision, and passion. Ranging from corporate clients like Philip Morris and Chevrolet to passion projects like her own fashion design/production studio “Tigidi” based in Belgrade, Serbia, and after school art, design and fashion program for young artist, Bojana’s work has enhanced lives world-wide. Read more>>

Jennifer Froemel

I began working in the field of behavioral health while in undergraduate school in 1991.  I worked in a DCFS run residential treatment center. Upon graduation, I taught Kindergarten and Preschool and while working with young children I realized I needed to obtain a Masters’ degree to make more impactful change in the lives of children and families to help them improve and thrive. While working on my Masters’ degree in Clinical Psychology I worked as a Director of programs in Residential Treatment with Adults with severe mental illness and developmental disability. Read more>>

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