WeddingPro is pleased to introduce the 2021 Class of Fellowship for Change, a program that gives pros in their first years of business the chance to pursue their passions and accelerate their growth through self-paced educational content, expert-led talks and so much more. Research shows not enough small business owners in underrepresented communities get access to funding and education that will truly help them thrive. That’s why we created Fellowship for Change. We can’t wait to see how the Fellows grow their businesses over the course of 2021 and beyond.
And now it’s time to meet the Fellowship for Change Class of 2021!
Alesha Marie De La Cruz
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? When I was a senior in college I worked for a bridal designer but wanted to see what the wedding industry was like on the events side. I had zero experience working real events so I went to craigslist to try my luck. I was searching for people who wanted help on their wedding day or a full coordinator (back when more people used craigslist). I ended up finding someone who was willing to interview me and met her at a coffee shop and she ‘hired’ me! On the wedding day I co-coordinated with another girl that she also found on craigslist. I was truly thrown into the deep end and I loved every second of it. It was a day of running around, problem solving and so much learning. At the end of the day the coordinator and I looked at each other absolutely exhausted but with the biggest smiles on our faces. After that wedding I just knew I had to do more.
I stand for… uplifting others and going the extra mile.
My clients are…warmhearted lively humans with a love for a timeless luxury style.
If I could… give advice to my younger self it would be don’t doubt yourself if your path looks different than others.
One time I…sat under a bridal skirt in 115 degree weather to do an 18 tie bustle.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do?My love of event planning and design began at home with my mother. She catered as a side business, and really went above and beyond with tablescapes for our family celebrations. Watching her put love into every recipe and detail (paired with loving every early 90s wedding rom-com!) are where my passion for hospitality comes from.
I stand for… good manners and great style.
My clients are… people with beautiful hearts with an affinity for classic details and modern sophistication.
If I could… eat my way through Europe, I would hop on the first flight out tonight.
One time I… planned a socially distanced wedding dance party with a second line band a bride in a rainbow dress.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Weddings are one of the few times in our lives where everyone we know and love makes their way from various cities to the same place at the same time. They arrive joyously, dressed their best, and ready to celebrate. Finding yourself surrounded by all of these people in your community at the same time is rare. I love being able to photograph and document it all.
I stand for… respect. Everything begins with respect and can go on from there.
My clients are… proud and authentic. They don’t pretend to be anyone but themselves.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I really enjoyed designing my own wedding. I found myself so invested in the overall design of the day and guest experience, but it wasn’t until we experienced the sudden loss of my father-in-law that I realized that I needed to actively chase my passion.
I stand for… kicking down doors so that others who look like me can just walk through them.
My clients… appreciate great customer service and crave beautifully designed events that will create lifelong memories.
If I could… I would completely unplug for a few months and travel the world.
One time I… stepped out on faith and started a design business that I hope encourages little girls who look like to me to feel like they could do the same thing.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I was doing some deep reflecting on what I wanted to do with my life and knew I ideally wanted to be self-employed, and that I wanted to do something that made a positive difference in the world. I had recently attended my younger brother’s beautiful wedding, and also recently graduated from Duke Divinity School, and decided I’d try officiating weddings. Most of my friends and peers are not traditionally religious, geeky/nerdy/cosplayers, and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I knew they’d have a hard time finding someone to marry them who would understand, respect, and celebrate their uniqueness in an alternative religious style or non-religiously. These are my people, and every wedding I officiate makes me fall more in love with my profession.
I stand for… equality, inclusion, and acceptance of every gender and sexuality; Black Lives Matter.
My clients are… queer, geeky, nerdy, offbeat, unique, and unashamedly themselves.
If I could… communicate one thing to other wedding professionals, I’d beg them to ask their clients pronouns, and then use them. Nothing crushes me more than seeing a client misgendered on their wedding day.
One time I… wore butterfly wings while officiating a marriage in front of a butterfly house at a science museum!
Chantal Symone McHenry
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I wanted to offer an option for couples who needed someone who shared similar beliefs and believed that all love is love. Two of my best friends were getting married in the same year and they both were struggling to find someone to officiate their ceremonies. As a joke I offered my services and ended up officiating both of their weddings. It wasn’t until then that I realized there was a need for diversity in the wedding industry and a need to approach officiating and pre-marital counseling in a new way.
I stand for… inclusion, equity, justice and most importantly LOVE!
My clients are… fun-loving, kind, and up for an adventure.
If I could… I would retire asap and live my best white turtleneck sweater Diana Keaton beach house dream life.
One time I… officiated a wedding at a beautiful chateau in France.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? To be honest weddings scared me. Mainly because of self doubt but after training I fell in love with them and taking part in this life changing moment for my couples. Also, I met my husband and married him a month later (our secret). I remember that even though we didn’t have a huge budget, florals, or a “big time” wedding how special our photographer made us feel in that garden gazebo in Old Town Alexandria. I want to make my brides feel the way my photographer made me feel. I want to give them a pleasant experience and give them images that remind them of the start of their journey.
I stand for… inclusion.
My clients are… kind hearted, passionate, successful humans with a sophisticated classy style and a desire to be different.
If I could… cure the world of hunger, poverty, and pain I would have done it yesterday.
One time I… lived in Germany for 6 years and loved every minute of it.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I planned my own wedding in 2006, dealing with many trials and tribulations – it sparked a passion in me to want to be “that person” for other people. My desire turned into wanting to help couples execute their dream wedding while educating them and alleviating as much stress (and family drama) as possible.
I stand for… respect, morals and purpose.
My clients are… loving and down-to-earth people with a love for luxury and uniqueness.
If I could… be anywhere, I would be on a gorgeous beach with a fruity drink taking in all the sun and ocean air.
One time I… coordinated wedding logistics within 48 hours for a wedding that didn’t have a planner because there was a hurricane headed to our area and the whole wedding had to be changed.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I grew tired of seeing social media post “#relationshipgoals” and praising the most unhealthy or “toxic” relationships. I believe in documenting authentic love that a couple can look back on and remember their “why” through the good times and bad.
I stand for… authenticity and purpose
My clients are… adventurous with a taste for elegance
If I could… eat one dessert for the rest of my life it would be a red velvet cake
One time I… went snorkeling with barracudas in Barbados
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Watching and witnessing the overwhelming and intense emotion of love between 2 people exchanging vows and beginning of their new love journey always brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. The happiness and coming together of family and friends hitting the dance floor is a favorite, especially under the stars. I saw a niche to provide spaces for people to come together. My passions have always been in music, design, art and creativity growing up as a young girl. My goal is to build a career combining all elements.
I stand for… love, creativity, details, freedom, spontaneity, elegance, and success
My clients are… sophisticated, savvy, adventurous and fun-seeking individuals with an exquisite mix of modern and rustic elegance topped with contemporary and rhythmic vibes.
If I could… I would take spontaneous trips at a drop of a dime with my son.
One time I… planned and hosted an ultimate surprise birthday party for a Smooth Father
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I had an ahh-ha moment and decided to embrace my talent. Every professional path in different fields always circled back to planning and executing deeply fulfilling Weddings and events. An indescribable magnetic energy surrounds the industry for me. I feel most at home and fulfilled creating experiences for couples that they will value for a lifetime.
I stand for… inclusivity and team work!
My clients are… nontraditional, with a quirky twist and modern romantic accents. They value fun memorable experiences in unique venue spaces.
If I could… earn a living eating chocolate chip mint gelato I would be a millionaire!
One time I… completed an urgent 36 hour install request of over 1,000 plastic fringe cuts for a breath taking ceiling install!
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? My wedding planning process in 2016 was every emotional for me. I did not have a lot of support from my family and friends. I decided from that point on, I wanted to fill in the gap for all couples who may experience a loss of support from family or friends during their planning process.
I stand for… inclusivity and authentic love
My clients are… thoughtful individuals who love minimal décor with an elegant flair.
If I could… wear graphic tees everyday, I would
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? In 2018 I did my first wedding at the recommendation of a friend. In 2019 while at my 9-5 as a special events manager I stormed out of my office to dramatically announce to my team that the color of the year was living coral. The awkward silence to follow was the moment I know I needed to find a different path in the event world and no amount of PTO would keep me in my current position.
I stand for… solutions. My personal motto is there is no such thing as a problem, just a challenge that needs a creative solution.
My clients are… progressive couples, looking to create an experience for themselves and their guests. They love details, live outside Chicago and for some reason, and having a wedding here they need feet on the ground. Our clients are very aware to they world works. During times of apparent injustice in the world my clients reached out and checked on me to show their support
If I could… have dinner with Valerie Jarrett & Mellody Hobson I would feed my family Ramen Noodles to make sure I’m on time and fashionable.
One time… as an intern I was the event coordinator for a PBS special An Evening With Nikki Giovanni interviewed by Pearl Cleage. It was my first internship out of college and I still thought I would going to be a curator. This event changed the trajectory of my life.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? When I saw that my work and talents were able to make someone so happy and make their special day so memorable, I knew that I wanted to continue doing what I do. So many couples don’t know that they need help and being able to step in and take the stress off of their shoulders
I stand for… positivity and happiness.
My clients are… exceptional brides and grooms with the need of exceptional and personalized assistance.
If I could… build and live in a house on the beach, I would be a happy woman.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I totally fell into this industry! I did some part-time event planning in college, and was offered a job in the industry immediately after graduating. I worked in venue and catering management, and then opened my business 4 years ago. I knew early on that I LOVED events, but I never considered opening my own business until it happened. It’s been a wild ride, but I could never do anything else.
I stand for… honesty, compassion, and advocacy.
My clients are… creative minded professionals who need guidance in their wedding plans.
If I could… go back to Italy, I would be on a plane right this second.
One time I… had to do a private concert for Jeb Bush’s wife.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I have always wanted to be my own boss. One day, my 40 minute commute turned into a 3.5 hour commute and I knew it was time for me to do what I had always wanted to do. I had been designing wedding invitations on the side for friends and family and decided I wanted to make that my job. I love the creativity involved with it and I have always loved weddings. It was a win win!
I stand for… positivity and equality.
My clients are… super fun and unapologetically authentic.
If I could… I would spend all my time with my kids. They are awesome! And only young for a short time.
One time I… had a 20 minute conversation with a baseball legend and had no idea. My husband still rolls his eyes at me about it.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Yes, doing my first wedding back in 2015 and seeing all my favorite things in one room: Love, family togetherness, cultures & traditions, made me realized I wanted to help more couples accomplish that on their wedding day.
I stand for… making my couples feel heard, understood and at ease working with me.
My clients are… kind humans, love and embrace the culture and want a fun wedding.
If I could… go to Costa Rica to visit my family, I would have left already!
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I sort of fell into weddings because of the lack of wedding vendors on our island but at the first wedding I coordinated, the bride and the mother of the bride were so happy and grateful that I knew it was what I wanted to do. Giving the couple a hug at the end of the night and sending them off to spend their newly married life together–no better feeling!
I stand for… authenticity and loyalty.
My clients are… down-to-earth humans who want to provide the ultimate PNW getaway experience for their friends and family.
If I could… relive one day of my life it would be the day my daughter was born.
One time I… literally had to herd cats at a wedding. There was a maniacal cat creeping up behind the arbor during the ceremony, meowing like it was in pain, and I had to figure out how to discretely get it to come over to me and take it away from the ceremony.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I got started shortly after my wedding 5 years ago. As a bride, you put in over a year of your time into wedding planning, and then all of a sudden, it’s over. After spending all of my time planning for my own wedding, I found myself yearning to stay in the industry. I love speaking to other brides about their vendors or providing guidance wherever they needed it. I really enjoyed playing that role. I also made my own wedding dress and found that this was the perfect opportunity for me to stay in the bridal industry. Additionally, I didn’t have the greatest experience shopping for my dress. I found that stylist didn’t understand how to cater to my body type, nor did they appreciate it. I love(d) my figure and I constantly had to defend it. I did the sample sale thing, that was a complete FAIL. I was considered plus size in bridal and at the time it was hard to find designers that designed for plus size the same way they did for “regular” size and even harder to find a bridal salon that carried those designs. So, I put two and two together, I wanted to stay in the bridal industry and I also wanted brides to have the experience they deserved when it came to shopping for their dress, one that made them feel comfortable and included.
I stand for… inclusivity and integrity.
My clients are… amazing! They are genuinely kind and warm people with an appreciation for extravagant simplicity and craftsmanship.
If I could… travel back to a pre Covid world where we have the freedom love on our loved ones, travel the world, with less heartache and loss, I’d jumped in that time machine ASAP.
One time I… had the privilege of dressing both brides for a wedding. It was pretty epic being able to make sure that the two looks fully complimented each other.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I was ordained by One Spirit Interfaith Seminary as an Interfaith Minister in 2016. The day I arrived in New York for my ordination, an old friend asked me if I would officiate his wedding because he and his partner could not find an officiant who spoke both Spanish and English, understood his Dominican culture (I am Cuban), and respected the fact that they were spiritual, but not religious. I agreed to do it even though I had never really pictured myself officiating weddings (I had gone to seminary because I was interested in hospice and end-of-life work). I fell in love with the process of officiating a wedding from getting to know them as a couple, writing the ceremony, meeting the families and participating in their rehearsal, providing a pre-marital counseling session, and finally officiating the ceremony itself. I felt such a profound sense of joy and meaning from serving a couple in this way that I decided I wanted to do it again. A year later, I did my first wedding for people I didn’t know and enjoyed the process just as much. I decided this is what I wanted to keep doing.
I stand for… love, empathy, compassion, the courage and freedom to be who you are and love who you love, integrity and authenticity, and living in the flow of life.
My clients are… loving, thoughtful, compassionate, kind, and funny.
If I could… I would travel the world with my husband.
One time I… performed at a traditional Flamenco show in Madrid, Spain.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? The exact moment I decided to enter into the wedding industry was when I officiated my high school classmate’s wedding. Her uncle (a prominent preacher in the AME church) expressed how great I did at the wedding. The couple also told him how much they enjoyed my premarital counseling services. I hold a great amount of respect for preachers who have been officiating and counseling couples for years, so to receive that compliment from him was a high honor. Although I didn’t start my business at that moment, I never forgot those words and a few years later, “Serenity Ceremonies by Rev. Orsella” was created.
I stand for… peace, positivity, and prosperity
My clients are… usually extra like me…high energy, always living, laughing, and loving!
If I could… I would make sure that children everywhere would always have enough to eat and always loved.
One time I… took the leap of faith and started my own business. I’ve never been happier!
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Michele (my wife) and I decided to go into the wedding industry because of the lingering regret that came from not having a videographer at our New Year’s Eve wedding (we know – we’re still kicking ourselves). Not having our vows and wedding reception on film is one of our biggest regrets. That lingering regret, combined with our interest and background in film, inspired us to get into the wedding industry as videographers. Also, we believe the best wedding videos can spark positivity in a world that’s often overrun with the opposite – that continues to inspire us to be part of the wedding industry. Today, we love that we get to spend our time working with inclusive, often untraditional couples who believe that experiences are the best way to enrich, evolve, and entertain.
I stand for… equality, inclusiveness, and positivity.
Our clients are… discerning, warm, and sentimental. They are fulfilled by incredible experiences shared with good people. Most importantly, our clients are inclusive and open minded.
If I could… I would spend my time traveling with my wife and filming, directing, and acting in short films and crafting impactful documentaries.
One time I… was an extra in a movie (The Laundromat) and was in a scene with Meryl Streep
Oyuki Milly Segura
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? The moments after my dads ( Step dad who raised me & real father I was finally connecting with ) both passed away in march of 2019, I knew I wanted to do something to honor them. A wedding is a very special day for a family and as I help each partner pair get ready for their special day, big or small. It brings a different kind of joy.
I stand for… inclusion and openness.
My clients are… humble, kind and always seem to have spicy flavor with their request for custom orders.
If I could… I’d open a store front & have my mom retire.
One time I… took a leap of faith with my Step dad who believed in me & now I’m a business owner.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? I’ve always loved weddings – seeing guests happy and having a great time. In 2007 when my sister got engaged, she asked for my help in planning. I was not a planner then, but I obviously had a knack for it. She gave me creative control to plan the winter wedding of her dreams! From planning to execution was flawless. She and her new husband were so happy and all of her guests raved about her wedding. I knew then being in the wedding industry was for me.
I stand for… purpose and perseverance.
My clients are… very kind, sophisticated and down to earth with a flare for modern luxury.
If I could… I would travel the world eating delicious foods and attending concerts…I love music!
One time I… planned a wedding at a castle and while production was taking place, the owners peacock came and walked through the ceremony space and sat in the middle of the aisle!
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Officiating weddings is one of those strange blessings that pretty much just fell into my lap. My best friend asked me to officiate her wedding, and I soon became addicted to the rush of creating a marriage. There is no better way to make a living than to celebrate love and joy every day. When I realized that not all relationships are readily accepted, I knew with all certainty that I belonged in this industry to make room for all loving relationships to be welcomed with open arms.
I stand for… diversity and inclusion.
My clients are… secure in their sense of self and passionate about their journey in life.
If I could… win the lottery, I would fund wild and crazy dream weddings for couples (and have a lot of pets).
One time I… drove four hours to the beach on a whim in the middle of the night to watch the sun rise over the ocean.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Years before I decided to start my own wedding planning business, I was working as a temp at a small oil and gas manufacturer while getting my feet wet as a Realtor. I was the farthest thing from happy and so worried that I’d made a terrible decision after college to move back home (Houston) and start a real estate career. I remember telling (a.k.a. half crying/half yelling) my mom, “I’M NOT HAPPY…I don’t think this is the career for me.” I told her I liked being around all kinds of people, continuously learning and seeing new things, and doing something that mattered and helped someone else. Oh, and something that required shopping as a “job task”. I have no idea why, but wedding and event planning popped in my head, and I immediately went online, googled “wedding venues near me”, and sent my resume to the prettiest ones. A month passed before I got a response and interview with a venue only 15 minutes from my house. Fast forward to my first wedding as the only event coordinator (other than the venue owner): cried. like. a. baby! That was all the reassurance I needed that I found my happy place.
I stand for… equality, self-care, and being unapologetically yourself.
My clients are… hardworking couples with good hearts, a love for flowers and delicious food, and classic, elegant taste.
If I could… rewind, I’d choose my happiness earlier.
One time I… planned the wedding of my ex boss who made me cry for quitting my job.
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? My background has always been in Theater. When I was in college, like others, I was adamant about becoming a famous actor. I was always obsessed with being apart of the process of putting on a production. Whether it was behind the scenes or on stage, everything about it made me happy. After College, I enrolled in a Disney Program where I was a part of creating this magical experience for our customers. On my off days, I would find myself captivated with all of the Disney Weddings I would see. I enjoyed all of the elegant details of the décor and being able to see the look on the Bride and Grooms face . It was…..magical. After I got back, I researched about planning and the rest was history. I LOVE what I do. People say that when you find your purpose, it doesn’t feel like work. Well that’s how I feel everyday I plan.
I stand for… positive vibes and a peace of mind.
My clients are… incredibly compassionate and love all things luxury. They focus on making sure their clients have an unforgettable experience.
If I could… fix all the worlds issues with a wave of a wand, I would be the happiest person on the earth.
One time I… crashed a Disney Wedding. The Bride and the Groom were so kind and let multiple people come party.
Stephanie Lynn Brown
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? Yes! In two ways: in design & in meaning! As a newly graduated fashion student, I had the awesome opportunity to intern with Kini Zamora while we were stationed in Hawaii. We would make beautiful ready to wear garments for his brand, but It was when we started creating wedding gowns that a fire was lit in my soul, and I knew this is what I had to do! So I did! Not only are the gowns I create beautiful and unique to each bride, but the why I’m creating a wedding gown is the best part for me! As a hopeless romantic, I LOVE love and everything romantic! It’s a perfect fit for me!
I stand for… creativity and purpose!
My clients… exude modern luxury & sophistication!
If I could… do life all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing!
One time I… went scuba diving while living in Hawaii, but never again! Lol! It was my first time, it was beautiful & I even took a picture with a turtle on the ocean floor! But this sport wasn’t for me!
Is there a particular moment or story about why you decided that being in the wedding industry was what you wanted to do? One of my younger sisters asked me to officiate her wedding. She said she’d seen so much spiritual growth in me. I was honored. While preparing for her ceremony, I was having fun like I’d never known in a career. After her ceremony, I performed another one. The way the couple and the audience were engaged with every word I said – I knew I had a gift. I knew I had to do something with it. I have great skill connecting and working with people. It brings me such joy to serve in facilitating the magic of love. And it’s so humbling to hear the couples express their gratitude for how my presence made a difference on their wedding day and in their lives.
I stand for… kindness, love, and service
My clients are… amazing! They make me laugh and they are so inspiring with their wonderful journeys of love and happiness. Each of them holds a special place in my heart for their courage to stand before the world and profess their love.
If I could… I’d be a philanthropist and build homes for families in need.
One time I… traveled to Cuba on a cruise. After a dinner in Havana, my wife and I almost missed the tour bus back to the ship in the middle of the night. We had no cell phone service. But I would LOVE to return.