HER:STORIES – Karen Cecilia

Hi Friends!

This last Her:Stories of the month features me with questions by YOU! It was so fun going over these and sharing my heart with you all. Thanks for being a part of this! I hope you enjoy.

x KC

Who are some strong women who have influenced you?

Karen Cecilia: Wow, I honestly have so many. From my family alone: my grandma, her six children—all girls—my mom, my sister. I have some pretty amazing strong women as my very best friends in life. Then I look at the churches that I’ve been a part of over the years filled with such strong women, standing firm in knowing who they are and what they’re called to, outworking the call of God on their lives with so much grace and transparency. I mean, literally, any given Sunday I could easily point out about five women I admire in the room! I actually wrote about it once, how inspired and encouraged I am because of the example set by these women who have gone before me—and those are just people that I know, that doesn’t even include women like Donna Crouch, Priscilla Shirer, Bobbie Houston, Lisa Bevere…the list goes on…Michelle Obama! Ha! Seriously, I love that they are all so different, but each of them have an amazing strength that inspires and influences me in some way.

First of all I want to congratulate you on your wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing with us the gift that God has deposited in you. As your big sister and biggest fan, I’ve seen you grow in many aspects of life, in particular your walk with God. I am witnessing you transition from a shy and reserved person into a bold, brave woman, who is stepping out from behind the curtain where you have worked hard, humbly and served diligently and onto a more visible platform where your voice and your gifts are displayed. Can you share for us how you took the leap to put yourself “out there” and what your experience has been?

KC: First of all, thanks for making me cry. Ha! This question is really loaded for me. I’ve known for a while that I am called to ministry. All my life there’s nothing that I love doing more than serving and building the Church in any way that I can. For me, I know that calling is multi-faceted, but there have been and still are some sides of it that scare the bejeezus out of me. For a long time, I’ve avoided those things, particularly public speaking, writing and leading in places that required me to be visible. But over the years I’ve learned that, honestly, God is so good, and gentle and kind and that there’s so much more at stake than my comfort. I’ve also learned that “yes” is the best thing we can say to God—there’s so much that He can do with a willing heart and he makes us brave. I can’t love something and not give it all I’ve got, so over the past year or so, I’ve decided that I’m in. I’m all in. I’m terrified. Sometimes I feel like I’m over my head when I think about some of the things God has put in my heart, but I’m in. I’m constantly wrestling with feeling like what I have to “put out there” is not really important or needed or making a difference, but it’s honestly not mine to hold back, so I’m going to do what He’d have me do. There’s a scripture that I love so much, Galatians 5:25-26, I particularly love how its put in the Message paraphrase, it goes: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” This verse hits the core of my heart every single time because this is the life I’ve chosen, I’ve said yes to God and all that means for my life, so I’m intent on living out the implications of it in every detail of my life—not just in the areas that I feel readily comfortable in.

What are you reading right now?

KC: I just recently started a 6-week Bible reading plan by Angie Smith called Seamless, which truth be told, I’m a bit behind on! Ha! I did the Bible-in-30-Days plan in January and it was super intense (and so good!), so I’m thinking 6 weeks won’t be so hard! I’m also reading “Everybody Always” by my absolute favorite, Bob Goff. I admire him so much, he’s like a mentor to me.

What made you want to start writing a blog and what is your vision for this blog?

KC: I’ve wanted to do some version of this since I’m about 17-18 years old. I remember being up late one night and brainstorming for hours ideas for a Christian teen magazine (back in the day before blogs, ha!). Over the years it evolved into different variations of blog-like writing until it became what it is right now. Writing is something that I really love and encouraging people in any way I can is something that I’m passionate about. My blog has been an outlet for that. I’m not sure where this will go, but for now I’d say my vision for it is just to be a space where I can do that. Whether it be through a blog post about some area of growth and learning, a post reflecting on a Bible scripture or through something like Her:Stories, my hope is that everyone who comes across this blog would leave refreshed and encouraged in some way.

hs kay

If you could encourage your younger self, what would you say?

KC: For starters, I’d say, “Throw away your timeline!” Ha! Seriously though, I’ve learned that God’s plans are truly so much better than ours—they’re so much richer, fuller, more beautiful. I’d tell myself to invest more time investing in growing my gifts and strengths and to not try so hard to be what others expect or hope. I spent a long time trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life because I spent so much time trying to fit the expectations of others. I’d also probably encourage myself to avoid certain crushes, ha—but seriously though.

You’re a strong confident woman. Many women in the Bible, like Esther and the widow that Elisha helped, had to overcome fears to get God’s promises. What fears do you have and how are you overcoming them?

KC: This is a great question. I recently wrote a post called “Just A Girl”, where I talked about some of the fears in my life that I’m overcoming—particularly insecurity. For a long time I was afraid of sharing because I felt like I just didn’t have much to contribute and like what I had to say didn’t really matter. It held me back for a long time, but I’m confident now that those things aren’t true—even when I’m not feeling particularly confident in myself. I think there’s really something to be said about renewing our minds with the Word of God and I’m learning the power that the truth has to set us free. So much of my fear stemmed from insecurity and feelings of inadequacies, which I still deal with, but I’m reminded constantly that: 1-its not about me; as in both Esther and the widow’s cases, overcoming means life for other people! It’s always about others! 2- God is for me, he loves me, he made me, he’s with me and is doing something great in and through my life. That’s the truth and insecurity and fear crumble under the weight of it.

If you could see one thing change in modern culture as it pertains to women, what would it be? 

KC: Ok, so this is a really big deal to me and it’s definitely something that I think about all the time. For most of history, the value of a woman is defined by either her relationships or what she can produce. There have been so many revolutions and movements and yet here we are, in modern culture that says a woman is as valuable as the pleasure her body can bring, the children she can produce, the work that she can do or the relationship that she is in (be it a girlfriend, a wife, someone’s daughter or mom). Turn on the radio and you’ll hear songs telling women to shake this or shake that, there are songs—sang by women, mind you—about how they are nothing without the man they are with. There are songs encouraging promiscuity by women in one breath and in the very next, berating and degrading them for it. We’re encouraged to respect a woman because “that’s someone’s mother/daughter!” Beyond that—there is human trafficking which is NOT limited to women, but women and children are the highest percentage of enslaved people in modern society. If I could change one thing, it would be centered around women understanding and embracing their intrinsic value—knowing that its not about who they’re with or what they can offer physically, but rather that we are made in the image of God who meticulously designed each and every one of us. I’d like to see a revolution centered around women awakening to their God-given identities and I believe its happening. I’m witnessing it with my own eyes and my heart jumps for joy.

What’s your “Dream Job”?

KC: Easy: working in ministry and writing. Also being a mom. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

KC: Working in ministry and writing books and hopefully being a mom. Ha! Oh and married! 

What are some major lessons you’ve learned this past year?

KC: This has been a growing year for me. My mantra right now is: Your God-given domain will always extend far beyond your comfort zone because God will always take you further than you think you can go. I’m learning to not back down from the stretch. I’m learning to say “yes” even when its uncomfortable or scary and even when I feel unqualified.

What do you want to be remembered for?

KC: It’s funny, I love asking this question, but being on the other side of it is a bit more difficult than I thought. I feel like I’m still unfolding and growing and uncovering a lot of things about myself that will hopefully be a great part of my legacy—but overall I want to be remembered as being a lover of God and a lover, encourager and champion of people. I want to be remembered as someone who poured into others. I want to be remembered as a good friend. I don’t want to keep anything for myself, in the end, I just want to be someone who gave it everything I have and I’d love to be remembered for actually doing that.

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.

HER:STORIES – Shanelle

I actually remember the first time I met you a few years ago.  I was on line for church outside of Irving Plaza. We were meeting there for maybe 6-8 services per Sunday and the line to get in would wrap around the block! You were volunteering Connections at that time and you came to chat to me and my friend online and you remarked on how we both had gapped teeth! Haha. I said we were gap sisters and you smiled and walked away. Now it’s about six years later and you’re still one of the most welcoming, friendly faces people see when they come to our church! I love it and I love YOU!

Karen Cecilia: A lot has happened since we met at Irving Plaza years ago, hey.
Tell me a little about yourself—a little history of the life of Shanelle and can you share a bit about what life is like for you now?

Shanelle: Before I accepted Jesus I felt like my life was like a TV show — specifically like “The Cosby Show.” I thought my life was perfect and problems were easily and quickly resolved. There was no need for a God in my life. And, I honestly had a great childhood.

But as I got older I realized that life wasn’t perfect. And, I realized that I needed savior — although I don’t think I realized what the word “savior” meant. I had never heard about Jesus in the way I know now. I just knew that Jesus was associated with a god. I didn’t know what being saved meant; or who the Holy Spirit was; and on and on.

Now — I know God has a huge plan for my life. So looking back I can see how He guided me to Him. I was saved in college. And my life changed even more when I came to Hillsong years later. I learned about real love.

Now, I’m a girl who loves Jesus, loves life, my friends, this crazy city, and more. I’m really enjoying life. God has been revealing to me little nuggets about who He is. Those nuggets are treasured, valuable, and priceless.

I feel like He’s got so much goodness for me. He blesses me with beautiful dreams, thoughts, and reminders of His love and goodness and Grace. He answers my prayers. I feel loved and honored and valued and wanted. God is Good.

KC: I feel like there’s a hundred and one things I can sit and chat to you about, but I’d love to zero in on something that’s been particularly important to you as of late. Over the past few years, at least since I’ve known you, you’ve started on what could pretty much be described as a health and fitness journey. Can you tell me a bit about what got you started on the path of health-consciousness?

S: Yes! Actually the keyword there is “journey” because from when I can remember up until years after I moved to New York I was always overweight. I even developed diabetes in high school.

Also there’s been a lot of sickness in my family. One of my grandmothers died from a heart attack. She also had diabetes. My other grandmother died from years-long complications of an aneurysm. My mother has diabetes and she also has a kidney failure and other health complications. A lot of people in my family from cousins, aunts, uncles and so forth also suffer from similar diseases.

The most important thing health-wise that happened in my family is when my mom got breast cancer in 2015. Her cancer with the chemo treatment and diabetes took a really big toll on her life — and actually resulted in some serious complications that almost took her life. That was a two-year battle.

It was during that time that I realized I needed to make a change because I didn’t want to be another person in my family that suffered from similar diseases – because I was on my way there.

I first started with working out a little – walking, running up steps in the park, and taking an occasional work-out class, but my food choices didn’t change for years. I LOVE ice cream, cake, cookies, burgers, pizza, chicken, pasta, biscuits.

I would work out and eat the same, but I wouldn’t see a difference in my progress or my health. It wasn’t until about 2017 that I decided I needed to make a huge change in the foods I eat.

I started reading books and learning about how food affects the body! That’s when real change happened for me.

KC: What does living healthy mean for you? What are some things that you’ve centered this lifestyle around? (ie exercise, eating, classes, etc.?)

S: Living healthy for me – first, is making the right food choices. For me, it’s not necessarily saying “no” to certain foods (like: “I’m gunna do no carbs” or “I’m going vegan” or “Keto diet”). Rather, I’ve been learning about how certain foods affect the body, metabolism, and overall health.

For example, eating vegetables that are high in antioxidants, like blueberries, actually fight off free radicals floating in your body. Free radicals are nasty things that actually can feed cancer cells. On the other hand, white bread lacks all nutrients and immediately spikes your blood sugar because of the glucose in the bread. This then creates an increase of insulin. If this continues to happen with other types of highly processed foods, then our bodies can become insulin resistant – which leads to disease like diabetes.

I’m not a doctor, obvi, but these are things that I’ve learned.

Living healthy also means staying active with exercise. How can I challenge myself? I read that at age 30 our bodies start to break down muscle. So we need to train our bodies to build muscle.

Also – staying healthy spiritually (staying in the Word), mentally, and emotionally.

KC: I can speak for myself (and I’m sure many others) when I say that staying committed to getting healthy is NOT EASY! I have put in a consorted effort many times over the years and it’s been a struggle to stay committed. How do you stay on track? (Particularly when you may feel like giving up or giving in?) What are some ways you stay motivated?

S: Well, one reason is vain: I want to fit into really pretty clothes and jeans. Haha.

Also, I read this book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg which went over topics such as creating new habits, stopping bad habits, how to identify cravings, and how to create a reward system in your brain to maintain good habits.

Through this I’ve identified some cravings I have for food. I have to sometimes tell myself that my brain is craving ice cream but I’m in control, not my brain – if that makes sense.

Also, creating good, healthy habits comes with a reward. My rewards for working out are vain – haha – I like to post my work outs on Instagram.

I also, like I said, love clothing, so I have goals to fit into jeans. I buy jeans and other pieces in faith. For example, recently I’ve purchased some size 4 and size 6 jeans in faith. I hope to fit into those size 6 by the end of this year and the size 4 jeans by next year.

I also have number goals in terms of my health. I have a A1C goal to reach, a BMI goal, a Body Fat Percentage goal (notice I didn’t say a weight goal!).

KC: That’s awesome! I agree that it’s so important to look at health holistically and not measure it by just our weight—which is sometimes the only numbers we care about!

KC: We live in a very competitive culture where comparison is difficult to avoid. I think the temptation of comparing our progress to the progress of others is one of the biggest detriments to our joy and celebrating our individual achievements. Have you encountered the temptation to compare yourself with others on this journey and if so, how do you combat it?

S: I sometimes compare myself to JLo. I mean… c’mon! Her body is fire.

But seriously — when you think about health, not just the physical aspects of your body, you learn you can only compare yourself to yourself. My body doesn’t react to food the same way JLo’s body reacts to food. We are different, not only physically, but health-wise, culturally, and in lifestyle. So, I learn to think what is best for me. What are real goals that I can reach?

And, honestly I don’t really have a big problem with comparing myself with other ‘real’ people… Like my friends and other girls I see in the city or at the gym. If anything I’m challenged, in a good way, by it. If I see another girl who looks great (especially if I know her and her progress) then it inspires me to do better with my food choices and activity.

Also, I hang with people who inspire me and who are positive. I don’t spend too much time with negative people. Negativity can create a negative mindset where you start comparing yourself to other people in an unhealthy manner.

KC: That’s a really great way to see things and I can definitely appreciate the healthy kind of comparison where it’s more about inspiration than self-deprecation and negativity! Having a squad around you that lifts you up rather than tears you down is healthy in more ways than we can count!

KC: We’ve been friends for a few years and over the course of those years we’ve shared with each other some of our hopes and dreams for the future, including marriage and starting families. I think about the things we’d pass down to our children and the culture that we want to model for them. Setting the tone for the future of our family’s health isn’t just limited to their emotional or spiritual health, but their physical health as well. What are some ways, taking into account the health history in your family, that you hope to effect change in your family now and in future generations?

S: Oh, this is a good question. I have been thinking about this. I have also read many books that discuss ‘western diseases’ (such as diabetes) that are caused by the western-diet (processed foods). These diseases can get a head-start as early as in the womb. If the mother is over-weight, diabetic, has high blood pressure, etc. – then it can have an effect on the baby.

Disclaimer: Again, I am not a doctor. These are things that I’ve read and researched. Do your own research or speak to your doctor to learn more.

So, for me, although I am not married, a mother, or even expecting, I am working on my health now so that my choices are passed on to my future children. 

KC: Let’s talk about self-care for a moment. Life is obviously pretty full and in a city like ours it’s easy to get caught up in the go-go-go of life. What are some ways that you practice self-care?

S:  I have a thing called self-care Saturdays. I usually do it every other Saturday, if not every week. I use that time to do my nails, toes, give myself a facial. I also meal prep and get my week prepared. I take time to spend alone time. I love ‘me time’ and thinking, praying, and journaling.

KC: You’re also a bit of a nutrition-book nerd. What are some of your current favorite reads? Do you have any good recommendations?

S: Oh my gosh! Yes! One of my favorites so far “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. He discusses the ethical and sustainable nature of food and how it is grown and produced. The book focuses on corn, soy, beef and chicken products. Very interesting! It has honestly changed the way I think about food.

Another recent favorite is “The Case Against Sugar” by Michael Taubes. Taubes investigates the history of sugar, the sugary industry, and how the white stuff affects our bodies and contributes to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Taubes also wrote “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It”. The book looks at western diseases that have developed in modern history due to our consumption of processed foods.

Another great read is “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. The book goes in-depth about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Currently, I am reading “Salt Sugar Fat “by Michael Moss. I’m learning about how the food industry has created processed foods with these three ingredients and how their foods contribute to diabetics, obesity and other sickness. The book also discusses the history of the food industry and its products.

KC: Let’s get into some questions I like to ask my Her:Stories gals, shall we?

KC: If money weren’t a factor, what would you spend your days doing?

S: Honestly, I love this city, my church and my life here. I’d probably be here helping to build the church with my free time. At other times I would occasionally travel the world, but not too much — As they say, “there’s no place like home”, right?

KC: Haha, right! I love this city, too!

KC: What do you want to be remembered for?

S: A woman who pointed people to Jesus and who spent her time with Him.

KC: Simple, powerful and to the point. Love it and I love you! You’re definitely already someone known for this.


Thanks so much for taking time not only to share a bit of your story, but also for sharing some of the things you’ve learned along the way!

x KC


This week’s Her:Stories is one for the books. Before you read on, I’d suggest you grab a couple of tissues because you’ll probably need them! I had the opportunity to interview Dre Thomas, CEO and Founder of Smile On Me. She’s a friend, a world-changer and such an inspiration to me.


…and seriously, grab those tissues.

Karen Cecilia: Tell me a bit about yourself. Where do you come from? What brought you to New York?

Dre: I’m originally from Los Angeles, California (s/o Inglewood!) I came to New York in 2011 because it’s always been my dream to live here! I fell in love with the idea of New York in high school, because of the movies and tv shows like Sex and The City, I wanted to live like Carrie Bradshaw! Until I moved here and realized how unrealistic that dream was. I came here for a year-long program I was doing with Americorps and after that was up, I decided to stay longer.

KC: You recently began an organization called Smile On Me that aims to empower and encourage young inner city girls. First, what’s the idea behind the name? Would you share how this came about and what your goal is for it?

D: Smile On Me actually started 13 years ago when I was a junior in high school. I remember my mom and I were having a conversation about girls in our community and I wanted to provide underwear and bras for girls. I grew up in low-income neighborhoods my whole life, was raised by a single mom and had 3 other siblings, two of which were girls. I never had my OWN things, everything was hand me downs, even my underwear! So, initially, I wanted to provide “gift baskets” for girls with new underwear and bras, and little something extra like chapstick or their favorite body spray. After a few years past, and I moved to New York, I was motivated to actually start this! I launched last year on my birthday, encouraged friends, family, and co-workers to bring a feminine hygiene product to donate instead of a gift. That day, I collected 500 products! That’s when I knew I had something here. Since then, I’ve donated those products to girls throughout NYC and have facilitated workshops on self-esteem and hygiene. It’s really funny to think that this dream started when I was 16 and now, at 28, I’m actually able to see it come to fruition! The name Smile On Me actually came from a Frank Ocean song called Lens and was later confirmed by a bible verse:

The Lord will smile on you and be kind to you. Numbers 6:25 (GW)

KC: Starting any type of business or organization is really hard work. It involves a lot of determination. I know that first hand. What have you found to be the greatest challenge so far? What motivates you to keep pressing forward in the face of setbacks?

D: God, honestly! I recently closed out a fundraiser and it has truly been the most stressful thing I’ve done in a long while. I was actually becoming bitter when people wouldn’t donate, it was really affecting my whole attitude towards Smile On Me. Like when I saw people on Instagram going out to eat or whatever but said they couldn’t donate to Smile On Me because money was tight, that really made me bitter. I even told myself that I would cut off everyone who didn’t donate. That’s honestly what made it so stressful, I was just becoming such a bitter person and not celebrating the fact that I get to do this. I was losing sight of the vision. So, I believe it was about a month in when God told me to relax, literally (he knows what I respond to, ha) So I prayed and asked God to help me be grateful. And so, he did! Every time I started to feel that bitterness come up, I’d just pray and thank God. I realized that this was a moment of growth for me as a new business owner and I no longer wanted to complain through it. Although the fundraiser was only 60 days, I feel like I’ve grown so much since we launched on April 9. I learned that God was building my character through this. I mean, what kind of CEO would I be if I cut everyone off who didn’t support me head on? Who wants a bitter CEO? Who wants to follow someone who is fickle? So, God came through as always, and it was truly an incredible experience.  There have been so many times since I launched last year where I wanted to quit and give up, but I just couldn’t. Because even if the summit doesn’t happen, even if no one donated, Smile On Me is my heart. I can’t get away from it. And that’s given me so much peace because I don’t feel like I have to rush this. I believe I’ll be celebrating girls for the rest of my life, whether it’s through Smile On Me or not, this is who I am, this is what God has called me to do and it’s such an honor.

KC: What’s been a favorite experience with Smile On Me so far?

D: My favorite part has been hanging out with the girls! We did a photo shoot in March for the campaign and that was so exciting. Not only because the images came up perfectly (s/o to Sylvie Rosokoff) but hearing the girls share their expectations of summit and what they’d like to see, was gold! Also, it’s been really refreshing speaking to other entrepreneurs and hearing them share the same frustrations or struggles. I was joking around with a friend of mine back home in LA who started her own cooking channel on YouTube about how we should start an Entrepreneur Support Group, and I quickly realized that we actually should!


(Photo by: Sylvie Rosokoff — Instagram: @sylviethecamera)

KC: As a Christian woman and churchgoer, what place, if any, do you feel feminism has in church?

D: God is obviously a feminist! I strongly and wholeheartedly believe that. God is FOR women, he favors women, he blesses women, he makes space for women, he celebrates, elevates, inspires, and impacts women every day! Just like every other word, including Christianity, feminism has so many negative connotations. In fact, I refused to even call myself a feminist for a long while because of how it was portrayed, or what I thought it meant. But just like Christianity, I decided to create my own meaning of feminism.  I think if you were to describe a feminist as someone who celebrated, inspired, made space for women, everyone would be on board. And that’s how I define feminism. And I believe the church is the same, or at least it should be. The church, boardrooms, offices, operate better when women are at the table. I’m glad people are becoming more aware of intersectionality and inclusivity when it comes to discussing women’s rights & equality, and I am hopeful that the church will lead by example.
KC: How, if in any way, does your faith impact the message and meaning behind Smile On Me?

D: The number one thing that women and girls tend to lose or forget is their worth. Growing up I never thought I was worthy of anything good because I believed all the negative things the world told me. I bought into the narrative of being a poor black girl who would never measure up to anything, that became my identity. A major part of my restoration with God was him reminding me who I was and who he called me to be. It took me a long while to believe what he said about me, and even now, I still struggle with believing that truth. I know girls around the world have the same doubts and negative thoughts that I had growing up and I believe God has put me in a position to remind girls that they matter. I’ve found 12 verses in the bible that say Smile On Me (or shine your face on me in other translations) and in each verse the ask is for God to smile on them and bring kindness, strength, restoration, and peace. A smile can bring a lot of healing, and so the message behind Smile On Me is to awaken every girl to her inner greatness. Every time I hear a girl share her story, or I get to empower her to stand up for herself, I feel like God is smiling on me, and it brings me so much joy and peace — there’s no greater feeling!

KC: You have a summit coming up, can you share about that and what you plan to do?

D: This July, we’re hosting our very first summit! It’s something I thought of doing last year after Teen Vogue launched their first summit. The thing with Teen Vogue, however, is that the tickets range between $300-$400, I can’t even afford that! When I was younger, there were so many cool events I wanted to go to but was unable to because of the price. My mom had four kids, so if one of us was going, we all were going! I couldn’t imagine my mom sending us all to an event with ticket prices at $30 let alone $300! So, I decided to host my own summit, where girls could come for free! At summit, we’ll be facilitating workshops based on mental health, self-esteem, and puberty. We’re even going to have a girl lead panel where panelists will share their story of overcoming adversity and learning to be confident in their own skin. My dream is to host this summit every year, growing in size and even expanding to different cities and states!  We’re looking to host 50 middle-school age girls throughout the 5 boroughs and, of course, each girl will leave with a bag filled with feminine hygiene products, and an extra special little something!

KC: For someone looking to partner with you and/or get involved, how could they do that?

 D: We’re always looking for partnerships, especially with organizations who work with young girls. We’ve been lucky enough to attain partnerships with a few organizations where we facilitate workshops and provide product and we’d love to reach more girls. If an organization wants to partner with Smile On Me, they can email boom@smileonme.org

KC: What’s been your greatest source of inspiration?

 D: My niece. I honestly do all this for her so that when she grows up she’ll have a strong community to be part of. Last fall she helped me pack bags to give to girls and she was so excited to count all the products. She even made a list of what she thought we should add to the bags and also suggested that I get prettier bags next time. I remember one time she asked me why I was doing all this and as I was explaining it to her, I could see her eyes light up and that gave me goosebumps.

KC: Ha! I literally wrote this question with your niece in mind! I remember you saying once that she’s your best friend and I totally understand because my nieces and nephews are my most favorite people on the planet!

KC: If you could meet and have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be and why?
D: This is always a hard question for me to answer because it seems to change throughout the different seasons of my life.  However, at the moment, I’d say Harriet Tubman. Last year I did an in-depth study of her life and found out she was so much more than what the history books portrayed her to be. She was so brave, and bold, and selfless, our American Moses! She gained her own freedom and went back for others. She made space for others and that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what I want my life to be about, simply making space for others. She challenged stereotypes of race, gender, and class and helped free 70 slaves, by herself!  I remember reading a story about how when she was invited to an event in her honor that she was still so poor that she had to sell a cow just to buy a train ticket! I think that’s so reflective of how much she gave, she gave everything to save a few and that’s so incredibly inspiring. I truly hope they put her face on that $20 bill!

KC: What do you want to be remembered for?

D: That I snort when I laugh! You know at funerals when they typically have a giant picture of the person on the easel? Well, I want one of me with my mouth wide open laughing, like seriously. Yea, that’s what I want to be remembered for, that I laugh hard and I laugh loud.


For more about Smile on Me you can visit: SmileOnMe.org or follow them on Instagram: @smileonmehq


It was an absolute pleasure (and sob-fest) interviewing you! Thanks for taking time out to share your heart with us. I know I speak for more than just myself when I say I feel more inspired and fired up to do my part in empowering the women of our city. Your work is important and its already changing lives.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for pressing forward in it, our girls need it!


Hi Friends!

June is HER:STORIES Month on the blog and I had the pleasure of sitting down with my very dear friend Danuvis last week and chatting a bit about her story and her life. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you!

Karen Cecilia: So, I’m really excited to do this interview and just chat to you for a bit about life and about what’s up ahead for you.

Danuvis: It’s funny that you want to talk to me about that because I literally was talking, on my way to church, to myself and to God, and just feeling a little lost. Like, I don’t have my next couple of years fully planned out. I haven’t really thought it through. I feel like life just hit me and it kind of left me trying to figure things out all over again as well as finding me all over again. So that’s kind of where I’m at. I don’t have some great things to say, haha.

KC: No, this is great! This is perfect and I feel like this is so important to discuss because we all get to that place where it’s like, God, what the heck? And we don’t know what he’s doing or we feel like he’s not doing anything and we’re like what is all of this for?

D: Yeah, and it’s scary because for a while I knew what my life was going to be like. I knew what I wanted to be, where I was going to go, even where I wanted to be at by now and now I’m just like, wait…what?

KC: Yeah, let’s talk about that! I know it’s a frustrating place to be in…

D: Yeah it is. It’s frustrating because I don’t want to be in this place and it’s uncomfortable.

KC: Ok, so let’s go down that road…what got you where you are right now? Not necessarily the events, but what is behind it? How did you come about to this place of frustration?

D: This was borne out of disappointment, for sure and I now stand in an unknown place and I’m just trying to figure things out. Starting with me wanting to be a registered nurse and that didn’t work out for me—

KC: I didn’t know that.

D: –I had to change my major and I couldn’t pursue becoming an RN anymore and that was highly disappointing. Just me and my faith with God. There were certain things that I believed, certain promises that I believed would have come to pass by now and not only haven’t they, but it just seems like it won’t happen now or perhaps plans have changed and I’m just trying to figure out what it is.

KC: Would you mind sharing some of the things that maybe at this point aren’t where you want them to be?

D: Well, for one: I didn’t want to be single at this point. Still a single parent to an 11-year-old daughter. I’ve practically raised her most of her life alone or single. So that’s frustrating. Career-wise, the change. Um…still single, haha.

KC: How do you navigate those disappointments? How do you deal with them?

D: Day by day. Choosing to think positive day by day. Encouraging myself and speaking to myself until I reach a point that I actually believe that everything is going to work out and there’s still a plan and I’m still in it.


KC: Yeah, for sure. That’s great.

KC: I want to chat to you about parenting to an 11-year-old girl—

D: –Eleven going on thirty.

KC: Haha! An 11-year-old girl who is so smart; she’s amazing. A girl, specifically, in this culture and this society where girls are being misinformed about where their identity is found. How do you instill values in her that help her to navigate this culture in a healthy way?

D: Just telling her how beautiful she is and how amazing she is. Forever congratulating her every chance that I get whenever she accomplishes something. I just want her to get used to knowing that and hearing that from me first. So that she hears it so much and for so long, that it’s not something that she feels she needs from someone else. Whatever happens, happens, but it’s all with the hope to be that for her so that she won’t ever feel like she needs that from anyone else.

KC: I’m not going to cry. (definitely crying)

D: And it works so far! The other day she created a project with the theme “Who Inspires You?” She chose three people: Meghan Markle, me, and herself. And I was just like, you chose yourself! She put it on this board and she put pictures of her three choices. On the side of the picture [of herself] she wrote why she chose herself. I’ll read it to you. This confirmed to me, that whatever I’m doing—it ain’t much—but its helping her. She wrote, “I am athletic, I am beautiful, I am funny, I am a social butterfly—“

KC: Yeah she is!

D: “–there’s more about me, but this is just a little bit.” So, she knows that about herself which is…I’m very lucky.

KC: I don’t think that’s luck! That’s parenting. That’s good parenting! Not everyone has that kind of confidence instilled in them as they’re growing up. Parents don’t always understand how important it is to speak into their kid’s lives as individuals so they don’t have to struggle as hard to find out who they are. I think it’s amazing that you do that. You’re awesome.


KC: So let’s talk about some fun things and then we’ll circle back to talk about some more serious things later. You’re a creative person, what are some creative outlets for you?

D: I haven’t really been creating anything lately, but I would say the most recent thing that’s been on my mind to create has been the shoe idea that I talked to you about [a while ago]. I’m a woman who loves heels, if I could wear them every day, all day, I would, but it’s difficult to do because they hurt! So I’ve been thinking of creating comfortable six inch heels for women who want to wear them more often than they actually can.

KC: I know you’ve talked to me about this before, but what’s your signature, what mark do you want to leave on this industry if this is something you wish to pursue? You spoke to me about the potential for a product like that—particularly in the fashion industry—runway models (you see those videos of the runway fails with the models and the shaky ankles), can you expand a bit on that?

D: For women to be able to wear these shoes and walk comfortably down the street, down the runway, even dance in them. I think I may have said something about even playing basketball in them! Haha.

KC: That sounds like something women would be ready for!

KC: Another fun question: if money was not a factor, what would you spend your days doing?

D: That’s a great question…hmm…I greatly enjoy making someone else’s life better in whatever way I can, if  they need help in something or just guidance and direction. I enjoy helping peoples’ lives be better. I know so many people, especially where I come from, who don’t really have any positive role models or guidance or anyone to help them to be better, to do better, to become better. There’s a huge lack in that. For me, within my own circle, within my own friends, within my own reach, I always try to enlighten people. When I see a need, when I see that they’re missing something, when I see that they’re not getting it, when I see they just need someone to teach them otherwise…

KC: It’s funny, I was just talking to my parents two weeks ago, I don’t even know how we got to that conversation, but I was telling them about you. I was saying I never met anyone like you before with such a heart for people—It’s not that I think it’s bizarre, per se—actually I think it’s the heart of Jesus. I really do. You look at people with so much compassion and you act on it right away. Do you remember that time we were in a restaurant eating and across the street was a woman with a guy and she looked sick? You got up and went over with a bunch of napkins to see if she was ok—like we’re sitting in a restaurant having Mexican food and this woman is in a corner across the street probably throwing up because she was so drunk and you’re going over to make sure she’s ok and getting them in a cab safely! There were three of us sitting at the table, and you saw it and you went.

D: Ha, yes, I’m so strongly motivated in that.

KC: Yes! And I know the look that you get when you notice something, and I’m like there she goes, she’s about to do something. You do it all the time! I think its inspiring and convicting for all the regular people, like me, who see things, but don’t do as much as we could. So, thank you for being that example to me and I’m sure to other people in your life.

KC: Ok, I’m going to leave you alone soon, but not yet. Do you want to talk about dating? I have a couple of dating-related questions and you can answer them together. What is dating like as a single parent: what are your criteria, and how do you approach the idea of dating as a single parent? And does your faith effect the way you date and how so?

D: Everything about it! I would say that being a single mom totally changed my outlook on dating. I’m definitely more intentional about the individual that I choose to date versus “oh let me just give this guy a try”. I’m not as flexible about it anymore and I’m very specific about the individual, which is completely different from how I was before when I thought I had my whole life in front of me and I could just play around as much as I wanted. Also, the kind of role model or what that person would bring for my child—their personality, their character.

KC: How does faith play a role in that for you?

D: I would say faith is more the reason why I’m single than anything else, haha!

KC: How so? Tell me everything.

D: Because since having faith, I’ve learned or strongly felt like it can’t be just anyone. And because I feel like it can’t be just anyone, I automatically do not go out of my way to try to date just anyone. I think they work together: me being a single mom and me having faith, it narrows it down to a straight path in dating. So I’m [super] single because of both of those things.

KC: That is so real and I’m not even a parent, but I know what you mean about the faith thing for sure.

D: It’s a struggle.

KC: What advice would you give to a woman who is single and bringing up a young kid right now? Maybe advice to someone like yourself five years ago—someone who’s young with so many responsibilities.

D: Be strong. Believe in yourself. Keep going. Yeah…honestly there are so many struggles that you face being a single mom and not wanting to be there. I think the words that would matter in every up and down would be to be reminded to be strong; to believe in yourself through the doubts about how you are doing as a parent and the questions of how will you get things done. And just keep going. Don’t let anything hold you back, stop you or make you quit. Keep going because I just believe that everything will be alright.

KC: Yep, the Bible says it.

KC: Alright, last question, we can end here. I have a million questions, but this will be the last: what do you want to be remembered for? Years from now when your kid talks to her kids about you, when the history books are written, what do you want to be remembered for in the lives of people around you?

D: My heart. My love for people. Too many people walking around not caring about their neighbor. I want people and my daughter to know that I genuinely care. That in spite of everything that life has thrown at me and lack of resources most of my life, I still didn’t allow it to hold me back. I believe that I’ve overcome a lot of things.

KC: Would you like to share a few?

D: I was raised in a home with four other sisters and a single mom. No dad because he was gone when I was very young. The resources were limited, my mom, being a woman from a different country, she didn’t know how to help us in America and didn’t understand all the struggles that an American teenager experiences. So, for me not having the proper guidance or having anyone else that was a role model to me or cared enough about the things in my life. All the struggles I’ve been through I had to figure out on my own. I was the first to graduate from high school and the first to go to college and get two degrees (an Associates and a Bachelor’s). Now after me, my younger sister pursued her dreams and she’s in college and she’s the second person to go to college. My nephew goes to church and lives a much more positive life than what we were used to. My other nephew has dreams and goals and actually pursues them. I feel like I’ve overcome so many things in spite of the obstacles that it has opened up doors for those who are coming up after me. I’ve gone through things that make it so others didn’t have to.

KC: Yeah, I definitely feel that will be part of your legacy. You being the person on the front line, making a way for the people behind you and I think you do that in a lot of ways.

I just want to say THANK YOU, Danuvis. You are a one-of-a-kind friend and I thank God for you. I know that your story will bless many, just as it’s blessed me. Thanks for opening up and sharing it with us. LOVE YOU!

x KC

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

HER:STORIES – Samara Catherine

This week on the blog we’re rolling out something that’s very special to me—HER:STORIES! HER:STORIES is a space designed to share the lives of amazing, everyday women through interviews and round-table chats. It tells the stories of women who are impacting the world in their own ways; women just like YOU!

This past weekend, out in beautiful Ocean City, NJ while celebrating our mom’s 60th birthday, I got to sit down and chat with one of my most favorite people in the world: my big sister, Samara Catherine, who is undeniably a real life Superwoman. She is an all-around powerhouse: a scholar (with the degrees and nerdiness to match), a brilliant entrepreneur with a full time career, a makeup artist, a devoted wife and a loving and empowering mother of FOUR beautiful girls. She’s all these things and more!

This month as we delve into the topic of intentional living, I thought it would be great to interview Samara Catherine about what living with intention means to her.

Karen Cecilia: So, I know you have a very full life—tell me about what you have going on at this stage or season in your life.

Samara Catherine: At this stage in my life I am a very full-time mom. Four children. Four girls—adolescent and kid aged. I’m also employed full time. I’m a wife…

KC: And your job is an “involved” type of job, right?

SC: …well, yes, it’s a senior level position, if you want to say that. I’m also a leader in my church, leading a group of young girls…

KC: MORE young girls!

SC: Haha, yes girls are the story of my life! And they’re my passion actually. I am also…I wouldn’t say an aspiring entrepreneur…but I’m an entrepreneur in the beginnings of a cosmetic company.

KC: Well that’s a mouth full.

SC: It is, haha, it’s a very busy, very full life.

KC: It definitely is. Speaking of which, I’m talking about intentional living on the blog this month and I know recently you were talking to me about how the word “margins” kept coming to you—becoming a theme, almost. In the context of your life, that’s clearly very full-on, what does creating margin look like for you? What is it like for you to try to find margin?

SC: Oh boy! Actually, a couple of weeks ago, maybe a month, I was telling God that I felt like I was giving a little bit of effort to everything, but not doing anything fully. I was saying, “God, I just don’t have enough time!”

But he gave me the realization that there are only 24 hours in the day. I’m not going to get any more; that’s the allotted time. And so I basically had to treat my time like a budget.

He had me do this really tedious task of writing out what I’m doing every hour of the day. So, I wrote out my 24-hour day and I started to fill in everything I was doing—even when I slept. I noticed there was only 3 hours out of 24 hours that was in the “budget” for me to do things outside of working or wifely duties or parenting. There’s 3 hours for me to do anything I want to do: personal development, going to the gym…. I really didn’t have much time in the day. So he had me look at this and start to cross off things that weren’t important or productive… wasted time. Time spent watching TV and surfing internet. I had to weed out these things to try to accommodate the time for things that I want to do.

So, for me creating margins is just that: looking at the time you have, looking at the things you need to do and want to do, accommodating your schedule and omitting things that are wasted time. With a budget you have income and expenses, if you don’t watch it, you can spend more than you have. And so basically that’s what I’m doing right now, learning to budget my time and steward my time.

KC: That’s great you mention that. In my last blog post I touched on that a little bit. I talked about how sometimes doing less in general gives us space to do more in particular—intentionally making time to do things that we’re meant to be doing with our lives. In that vein, what are some things that you feel you’re meant to be doing with your life in this particular season?

SC: At this time in my life, I mentioned, I have two “grown” children and two smaller ones, so I feel like I’m not at the point where I was a couple of years ago when I was really hands on with the kids. I’ve freed up my time a bit where I can focus on different passions. In the last couple of months I took on this ministry with the young girls. I know that God has put a passion in my heart to work with young girls and women. I’ve taken some of that freed up time to start ministering to young girls in church. I’m also focusing on personal development, I’m a self-help…

KC: Yes you are!

SC: …Hahaha, Yes I love anything self-help! I am really into the Bible right now. I’m taking a lot of free courses and group studies on-line. I’m working on different online communities engaging with the Bible and other women.

KC: That’s awesome!

KC: You have four girls, as we mentioned before, I want to talk about that for a second. Raising girls in this day and age, what are some of your heart-dreams for them? What are some of the things in your heart for them as young women growing up now?

SC: What I see for my girls, what I want for them is I want them to know who they are. To know their identity in Christ. In this age of social media and television and magazines and books, they get all these images of what girls are supposed to be or what they should look like, sound like and what they should be doing. I want my girls to be able to stand up against that and know who they are in Christ and that it’s not found in these things that are fleeting. I want them to be the unique individuals that God has created them to be. You know, they’re siblings, but they’re very, very different. They’re growing up in the same household and with the same parents, but they’re unique and I want them to embrace their uniqueness and not think that they’re lesser than each other or anyone else. They’re special and they have their God-given brilliance and they can live in that and walk in it!

KC: That’s so beautiful and I feel like all of that ties into the heart of what you’re doing entrepreneurially with your company, Ella Es Cosmetics. This idea of women knowing who they are and embracing their beauty. Can you just share a little about what Ella Es Cosmetics is and what your heart is for it?

SC: Ella Es is a love project, I’d say. It came about when I realized the need that women of color in my country (Panama) had in finding cosmetics for themselves, in their shades. It made me think about not being accepted for who you are. I felt that these women had to almost live vicariously through others and they couldn’t experience the fun of finding makeup for themselves. They probably even find themselves wishing they were someone else, unable to embrace who they are. And so the idea behind Ella Es Cosmetics is to provide shades of cosmetics that aren’t being served in these countries to women of color. It’s also a project to get women and girls to accept who they are. In Panama, women often wear lighter foundation because they can’t find foundation for themselves and so this is an answer to that. They could go to the store and find something that’s for them. They’re important and their beauty needs should be met. Also, behind Ella Es Cosmetics, is the feeling of why wait for someone else to do it for me?Why wait for a cosmetics company to recognize and serve my need? Why not do it for ourselves? I’m educated, I have a degree in business, and I have the over-all idea of how it can be done. Why not me? Why shouldn’t I initiate it and go after it myself?

KC: Wow! Yes, yes, yes! My next question was going to be in what way do you hope to affect change in your sphere of life and community, but I feel like you answered a lot of that already in terms of Ella Es and even in terms of your girls. Is there anything else you want to add to that?

SC: Yeah. There are three words that Ella Es Cosmetics lives by: recognize, educate and celebrate. Everything that E.E.C. does has these 3 components in it; we recognize the needs of us women of color. We educate by informing and providing information and education surrounding beauty, the industry and techniques. We celebrate by providing a platform where women can see others who look like them represented in a beautiful way.

KC: Amazing and that’s so, so necessary.

 KC: I want to shift gears a bit so let’s talk 2018, hey. We’re already approaching the mid-point of the year. What is your biggest win so far this year?

 SC: My biggest win?

KC: Yep, your biggest triumph. What are you the most happy about or proud of?

SC: So far my biggest win was to actually accept the call that God has given me with young girls. Because of the lack of margin in my life (because I was in another period of life raising small children) I couldn’t do it before. But I always knew in my heart that it’s a calling on my life from God. It’s something I take so much pleasure in. That by far has been my biggest win, just to be able to commit to it. Actually doing it and getting past the fear of the commitment. Just jumping in and doing it.

KC-That’s a great one! What would you say is one of your biggest lessons this year?

SC: One of the biggest lessons…I’d have to go back to time. I was never very respectful of time, haha. That analogy that God showed me about time as a budget was pretty insightful for me. I’m a person who was always late. I just didn’t respect time. So being able to put it on paper and see what I had and what I didn’t have. It was huge for me. I’ve become so much more mindful of it. I have to steward it appropriately.

KC: Yeah, that’s really good. Ok so, fun question: If money were not a factor, what would you spend your days doing?

SC: What I enjoy most are three things that I consider to be my sweet-spot: anything to do with women empowerment…


SC: …education, and entrepreneurship. So the cross-section of those three–I’d do it all day for no money! It excites me, it motivates me! To be able to help women develop themselves using business. Yeah!

KC: That’s great and I feel like that’s not even an if money weren’t a factor kind of thing, but it’s a do it anyway thing and you’re already doing it! OK, last question and it’s a heavy one…

What do you want to be remembered for?

SC: I have a quote in my closet that says “she leaves a little bit of sparkle wherever she goes”. When people think of Samara, I want them to think she added something to my life. Whether its an associate or a friend, she added something to my life. That takes a lot of intentionality.

KC: Yep, that’s the word of the month!

SC: Yeah, its been the word of the past 5 years for me, really. Haha! Sometimes in our daily busy-ness we don’t take the time to stop and engage with people and give them attention. Real attention. This past week I was in an elevator with someone and I asked them how they were doing and they said “Agh. Here…” and I said, “Oh that’s good,” and I kept walking. Did I listen to her? I didn’t listen to her! Clearly the way she answered it wasn’t good. And I felt really bad, I said to myself, Samara, you can’t ask someone how they’re doing and not listen to them. Listen to what they have to say. I want to stop and connect with people. I don’t want to just go through the motions in life. I want to be known for always providing a life-giving word. Encouraging and imparting hope to others comes naturally to me. I want people to say she always made me feel hopeful.

I’d like to say thank you, Sam, for doing this. I have an enormous amount of LOVE and admiration for you and I’m really excited to share a bit about your story. Not speaking from bias at all here…you definitely have been a source of encouragement and hope for me and I know the same holds true for your girls and the one’s you’re leading in church. Cheering you on, always! x

Hey Friends,

I hope you enjoyed our very first HER:STORIES feature with Samara Catherine! You can find her on Instagram: @samaracatherinemua @ellaescosmetics

See you all next week!

x KC