JOEL

My dad was a professional music teacher and my mom was an accomplished piano player and, in fact, my entire family was very musical. I was the only one who had not been involved, yet, in learning to play a musical instrument. My parents enrolled me in cello lessons, yes the cello, even though I had absolutely no interest in learning how to play it. So, it began. Lesson after lesson I endured but rebelling at the time it took to practice – I’d rather have been outside playing with my friends. Finally, I just quit practicing and my music teacher told my parents that I was hopeless. Great – no more cello lessons. The music story doesn’t end here, it goes on to where I figured out that I truly missed playing the cello. I guess for me, I had to be the one who made the decision.  My parents were just trying to do what they thought was best and I truly appreciate them for giving me the guidance and the freedom to become the person I am today.

GIANA

When I was a senior in high school, I got very interested in the fashion industry, looking at blogs and obsessively staring at models in magazines. After dropping 20 pounds, I had my sister take pictures of me in a bathing suit, which I then emailed to all of the modeling agencies in New York. A few of them asked me to come in and meet with them. I was offered five contracts, but all of the really “good” agencies told me to lose weight. So I chose one of the other agencies, and I would skip school a couple days a week to come into the city for test shoots to build my book. I was held back from the great jobs because I needed to lose more weight—36-inch hips would just not do. It was all about having the “right” measurements: I was constantly being told to lose eight pounds, or an inch in my hips or waist. Over the course of a few months, I ended up losing 20 more pounds. Eventually, I switched over to another agency that had initially asked me to drop an inch in my hips by “just eating salads.” I had dropped 2 inches when they finally signed me. I had an eating disorder prior to modeling, but it worsened tenfold once I started working. I went from dabbling in restriction and laxatives, to full on starvation and purging even water. By the time I was 18 I had lost 40 pounds. I think the modeling industry is incredibly bizarre. People are so desensitized to the wildest things. It’s so crazy to me that it’s glamourized.  I quit modeling when I turned 20, but a small part of me misses it. Not the actual experience—but the pride of saying, “I’m a model.” Unfortunately, I’m still very sick. I still measure my hips and waist to make sure they’re perfectly even though I haven’t modeled in years. The modeling industry has a serious impact on impressionable young girls. I realize this myself and have still fallen into the trap. It’s addictive. I hear so many little girls saying they want to be a model and I immediately try to turn them off of it.  At the end of the day, the industry makes tons of money, so the people in charge have no great incentive to make a difference which is so unfortunate.

HIRO

“I’ve been attracted to men since I was about 12 years old, but coming out wasn’t very easy.  Growing up in a very strict and religious family, I didn’t dare share my true feelings about my sexuality.  I suppressed my thoughts and desires and even dated some girls for a short period of time.  However, 2 years ago, I made the decision to have the conversation with my family.  I think it took me over an hour to get the words out to my father, mother and little sister.  Their responses were unbelievable.  Embracing me and telling me how much they loved me was not the reaction I was expecting.  I feel so fortunate that I have a family that understands and appreciates the fact that there are differences amongst us but we can still get along and love one another.”

THOMAS

“I went to work, like any other day, opening the door to my law practice.  As I stood in my office, the sight in my left eye was gone.  It happened so quickly that it felt unreal.  I naturally called my wife, immediately, to take me to an eye specialist.  As I tried to stay calm,  I couldn’t help but begin to imagine if I was going to lose my vision in this eye, or even worse, that this could happen to my other eye as well.  After I was examined by the doctor, he informed my wife and me that I had a detached retina.  The doctor asked me if I had been experiencing any floaters in my eye.  I told that I had but I didn’t think anything of it.  Big mistake.  He then went on to say that if I had addressed the floaters early on that my eye could have been saved. But unfortunately, at this point it was too late and I would be completely blind, in that eye, for the rest of my life.  I began to cry and wonder what would become of me and my practice?  How was I going to support my family?  My wife loving turned to me and said, “I love you and we’re going to get through this together. You still have the use of your right eye and I will be there to help you any way I can.”  My incredible wife was right.  Over the last 6 years, I have continued to practice law and take care of my family.  I have come to appreciate everything I see and everyone I come into contact with.  Never take anything for granted because it can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye.”

SAM

“I’m 86 years old and having the time of my life.  I’ve been married to the same beautiful gal for 61 years and we love to travel.  It’s important to stay active and what better way than to visit other countries and experience different cultures.  We usually travel on a cruise ship as its easier to get around and less of a hassle.  The people we meet along our adventures, are always nice and some have become good friends.  One of our favorite places we visited was Spain.  The food, the wine, the people…amazing!  Next month, we’re headed for England.  I’m really looking forward to seeing Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.  I hear the food isn’t all that great, but the scenery makes up for it.  We love our little town of Pasadena, but we’ve got to keep movin and groovin.”

PAULO

“I’m originally from Argentina. I came to Los Angeles, five years ago, to become an actor. I got a small apartment in Hollywood, which I shared with two other people.  I studied at a good acting school and went on a lot of auditions.  To earn money, I was a waiter at a nearby restaurant. But then, the restaurant closed and it was very difficult to find another job.  Within a short period of time, I found myself without any money.  I couldn’t pay my rent, buy food, nothing.  I never thought I would end up on the streets and homeless.  It’s very scary and intimidating moving from one location to another, not knowing if another homeless person will try to do you harm.  At this point in my life, I’m lost.”

DARRIEL

“I first started using cocaine, hanging out with my friends, because it was fun.  I continued to use because it gave me such a rush and a feeling of empowerment. I felt like I needed to experience that first high all the time, but I was just, as they say, chasing the dragon. After a while I became easily agitated and impatient getting into arguments with my family and friends. Then the paranoia set in.  I thought that at any moment the police were going to come rushing into my home to take away my drugs and arrest me.  I was out of control.  Once my girlfriend left me I knew I had to do something.  I reached out to a cocaine abuse hotline and asked for help.  I’m still living in a sober living facility, but I’m on my way back.  I want to be high on life, not cocaine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN

“Growing up , I felt the need to be perfect.  Nothing I did was ever right or good enough.  I had so much rage and anger that I could never meet my parents’ expectations.  I swore that I would do things differently.  However, by the time I reached my thirties I could hear my parents’ critical voices speaking through me because I was using the same words spoken to me.  I then started seeing a physiologist and, after years of therapy, he helped me see that I could change what I had experienced as a child and become a more pleasant human being.  It’s not to say that I don’t revert back to old behaviors from time to time, but when it happens I now have the tools to get back on track.  It’s truly been an incredible journey. I have since forgiven my parents’ which has freed me from the emotional ties of my childhood.  Today, I have a great wife, two beautiful children and a life I’m proud of.”

ABEL

“Five years from now, I would like to open my own authentic Mexican restaurant and nightclub.  The restaurant would be themed with a retro feel, somewhere around the 1960’s.  I have learned and experimented with many new recipes and techniques, and I’m looking forward to showcasing my talents to the public.  I have three children, ages 9, 10 and 11 years old.  My wife and I would like our children to work with us and build the business so that one day in the future, they can take it over and have financial security in their lives.  I’ve always felt that owning something of my own would be more fulfilling and satisfying than working for someone else.  Although I realize there are a lot of risks with owning your own restaurant, but I am willing to take that chance.  If you don’t take that leap of faith, you’ll never know what you can accomplish.”

SIRI

“I met my boyfriend 7 years ago on December 25th, which gives Christmas Day an added special feeling.  In that I’m only 22 years old, I hadn’t thought that much about marriage and/or being committed to one person for the rest of my life.  But, on March 17, 2017 while spending the day at Disneyland with my man Edgar, we were waiting for the fireworks to begin and I noticed that he got down on one knee and took my hand. I said, “Oh my God I can’t believe this is happening!” He looked at me and said, “you are the love of my life, will you marry me?’ And then he placed a beautiful ring on my finger. With tears in my eyes and excitement running through my body, I said “YES!”  The wedding is set for December 2, 2017.  It is so crazy to discover what actually goes into planning a wedding.  Everything from the dress, the cake, the flowers, so much.  We’re still undecided about where we’re going to spend our honeymoon, but we’re leaning towards Big Bear.  Since my engagement, I’ve been asked, “are you sure you should be getting married this young?”  I  tell them that Edgar and I have had the best role models growing up, our parents.  My folks have been happily married for 27 years and Edgar’s for 30 years.  Given the fact that 50% of most marriages end up in divorce, I feel that what we’ve been exposed to has taught us a lot about relationships and what it takes to make it work.  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy or a bed of roses every day, but Edgar and I are in it for the long haul.”