In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re putting the spotlight on 23 influential women/working moms in SoCal who inspire us with their vision, missions, products, service to the community, work ethic, imagination, strength, fortitude and more. From Vanessa Bryant to the mother at the helm of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, and the founder of Baby Tula to the founder of The Honest Kitchen, read on to be wowed by local moms who are changing the world for the better.
Vanessa Bryant recently experienced an unimaginable tragedy––yet she’s continuing a legacy to help others. Her husband, Lakers basketball legend Kobe Bryant, and daughter Gianna, died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. In the wake of their death, she has renamed Kobe Bryant's charity organization the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, honoring 13 year-old Gianna, whose nickname was Mambacita. The Foundation is focused on creating a positive impact through sports and aims to help kids in underprivileged communities develop learning skills, enhance character traits and expand personal values that empower and inspire self-confidence.
Susan Brandt, President of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.
Working alongside the visions of Dr. Seuss is something that would inspire any parent. For Susan Brandt, it’s all about sharing the wonder of Dr. Seuss’ world and making kids and their families happy. She loves bringing joy to kids, whether by introducing a new generation to Ted Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss's) wonderful stories and characters with books or by bringing families together to enjoy his films and television shows. Brandt is also the mother of two sons: Liam James, 19, and Aidan Patrick, 17. She enjoys spending time with her kids playing games and exercising together. She’s proud of having raised two boys as wonderful, caring and compassionate young adults.
Kathryn Cloward, Founder and CEO of Kandon Unlimited, Inc.
Kathryn Cloward, also known as “Kathryn the Grape," wears many hats. Cloward is an award-winning book series author, performing songwriter, media publisher and producer, director, entrepreneur and mother. She founded her award-winning media company, Kandon Unlimited, Inc., in 2010 to independently publish the series of children’s books she wrote featuring “Kathryn the Grape®.” Since then, Kandon Unlimited has expanded to become a full spectrum media publishing and production company. Cloward admits that she is inspired daily by her 13 year-old son, Landon, as well as ordinary, everyday moments. As a parent, she tries to be mindful about not over-scheduling, and enjoying spending time simply being together. Aside from Landon being her greatest pride and joy, Cloward is extremely proud of the positive impact she has made through her books and songs.
Shanna Nelson, President, Jazzercise, Inc.
Shanna Nelson is inspired that the work Jazzercise does helps people lead healthier and happier lives, and she witnesses this in every class they teach. As president of the company, Nelson loves that Jazzercise has provided thousands of opportunities for women business owners through their franchises. “I feel really lucky that I get to not only oversee the business and programming side, but also teach the program myself as I’ve been an instructor since I was 18!” said Nelson. She is also a mother of two daughters: Skyla, 17 and Sienna, 14. Now that her daughters are older, she can see how they value education, being kind to people, their strong values and morals, and she takes a deep breath and thinks all the hard work, sitting through homework, conversations and “being there” for them has paid off.
Ula Tuszewicka, Founder and President, Baby Tula
Baby Tula was born out of a practical need. After Ula Tuszewicka’s daughter, Amelia, was born, she and her husband, Mike, wore her predominantly in a sling and loved how convenient babywearing was for both parents. When their son was born a few years later, they discovered the ease of ergonomic carriers. After trying several that didn’t quite work, they asked a family member to sew one for their specifications and it was perfect. Ula and Mike continued to make baby carriers for family and friends. They eventually turned the passion project into a business and created Baby Tula in order to fulfill their mission to promote babywearing worldwide. Ula oversees the company, while also being a mom to three kids!
Lucy Postins, Founder and President of The Honest Kitchen
Although she's the founder and president of The Honest Kitchen, Lucy Postins didn’t start with the goal of creating a pet food company. In 2002, in an effort to help her Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mosi, with ear infections and skin problems, Postins started mixing up fresh ingredients in her kitchen to create a raw food diet. When she saw how much Mosi’s health improved on the new recipes, Postins realized she could help other pets as well, and The Honest Kitchen was born. All the ingredients are human grade, minimally processed, organic when possible, sustainable and the end product is a labor of love. She oversees company operations while still making time to be a mother to her children.
Lynne Banach, Founder and Creative Director, Sakura Bloom
Lynne Banach is proud of being a small business owner that makes her products right in their San Diego studio. The mission of Sakura Bloom is to simplify and beautify modern parenting through the use of baby carriers made out of exquisite natural fibers, including organic Irish linens, Indian dupioni silks and southeast Asian wild silks. The hand-crafted artisan baby slings are designed for infants all the way up to 45-pound toddlers. Banach partners with local artisans and family run businesses like hers that share the same values and goals. When she’s not brainstorming new ideas and implementing them, she spends her time as mom to her two children, Teja and Jai.
Judy Forrester, CEO of The New Children's Museum
Judy Forrester joined The New Children’s Museum in 2015 to lead one of San Diego’s most unique educational and artistic institutions, while establishing a sustainable business model for the museum. She will be leaving her position this summer after significant accomplishments to the downtown mainstay. Museum attendance has grown more than 40 percent on her watch. They’ve also grown their program and exhibition space, increased the budget, and because of a community outreach expansion program, 25 percent of attendees visit the museum for free or significantly reduced cost. Forrester achieved all this while also being a mother to three children.
Juliana Flores, Owner of Pachis Art Studio
Juliana Flores started Pachis Art Studio as a brick-and-mortar store with a single mission: to support the healthy development of art in kids. Unlike other art programs, Pachis is focused on teaching kids life skills through art making and exploration, with curriculum designed with important elements for a little one’s personal development. Recently, she transitioned to an online forum and sells art kits to foster creativity. Juliana and her husband, Cesar, moved to San Diego from Tijuana, Baja California in 2009. They now live in Linda Vista with their 3 year-old and newborn daughters. Juliana believes having a business geared towards kids has helped her tremendously to create a balance between being a business owner and mom. When she’s not working, she enjoys going to the beach and picnics, doing art and having deep conversations with her little one.
Christy Heiskala, Victim Advocate
Christy Heiskala gave up a long and lucrative career to start anew, teaching child sexual abuse prevention and advocating for victims. As a victim advocate, this La Mesa mom helps parents navigate the very complicated process if their child has been a victim of negligence or abuse. She is also a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for kids whose parents are going through dependency court. Her passion grew out of advocating for the conviction of a local teacher who was molesting his second and third grade students for seven years. Christy worked tirelessly to assure the instructor had his teaching credential revoked, ensuring countless kids be spared. Christy lives in La Mesa with her husband, biological daughter (Jaiden); step-daughter (Kaya); and step-son (Lee).
Shannon Higgins, Founder of Studio Barre
Shannon Higgins, a South Carlsbad mom of three, is a true warrior. She merged her passion of fitness and business to create Studio Barre, a national ballet barre-based workout studio and franchise. She’s also extremely proud to be a breast cancer survivor after undergoing chemotherapy and two surgeries. While Shannon credits the doctors for treating her, she is happy she never let the disease get her down and that she was able to keep her family life as normal as possible. She also started a blog to educate and share her journey. Shannon opened her first Studio Barre studio when her youngest son, Joey, started kindergarten with the vision of creating a “happy place” for women to not only workout, but also hang out.
Carly Garrett, Teacher and Girl Scout Troop Leader
Carly Garrett wears many hats. This Western La Mesa/Rolando mom of two (Ethan and Maddie) is a teacher of a continuation high school. She spends her days helping students in danger of being high school dropouts, a job in which she was named District Teacher of the Year. She also started the Palomar Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to kids from her high school who are often the first in their families to go to college. However, her proudest “hat” is serving as the leader of Girl Scout Troop 6190 of La Mesa for nine years and counting. Carly admits being a part of the 17 Girl Scouts’ lives is one of the greatest honors of her life. They do thousands of hours of community service and five of her troop members earned the Presidential Volunteer Service Medal from President Obama in the past two years. Carly likes to remind people to buy cookies from the older girls (other than the younger girls) because “big girls” have big dreams and goals too.
Cathy Nguyen, Health Educator at California State University, San Marcos
For more than 20 years, Cathy Nguyen has been educating, advocating and empowering college students to lead healthy lifestyles and make responsible choices through various health promotion programs. She also volunteers as a sexual assault response team (SART) advocate for Center for Community Solutions, a non-profit that operates the only rape crisis center in the city of San Diego along with a countywide 24-hour bilingual crisis helpline. This San Marcos mom has two kids: Tristan and Kaitlyn, both of whom are budding entrepreneurs. In addition to working full time, volunteering and being a mom and wife, Cathy is the co-founder of several online businesses that distribute to Amazon. She and her family are big Disney fans and are working on their goal of visiting all the Disneyland parks in the world. So far, they’ve visited four out of six parks, and are already planning their trips to the Shanghai and Hong Kong parks.
Michelle Lomelin, Founder of Sweet Petite Confections
Michelle Lomelin launched Sweet Petite Confections after leaving a two-decade career in fashion design. In her role as chocolatier and shop owner, Michelle creates and sells bonbons, meltaways, barks, salted caramels, custom chocolate business cards and ice cream, and teaches candy-making classes to families. Michelle lives in Bay Park with her two sons, Santiago and Kaleo, and started Sweet Petite Confections so she could make her own schedule, while being a mom and business owner at the same time. After overcoming the fear of “What if …” she’s launched a successful business, and at the same time, can attend field trips and teach art in her kids’ classrooms.
Jennifer Tandy, Owner/Founder of Nightingale Music Studios
Nightingale Music School was born out of Jennifer Tandy’s strengths in music and a love of kids. This former professional musical theater actress started with a small "mommy and me" music class out of her home, which turned into a successful business in the Bird Rock community that has served thousands of families in San Diego over the last 14 years. Jennifer also successfully launched satellite locations in South Park and La Mesa. Aside from her love of music, Jennifer is a strong advocate for public education and has advocated for her cluster of local schools. As a result of her advocacy, many schools have the strongest academic and enrichment programs in San Diego County. In turn, her work reshaping public schools has changed the community as well, and was recognized by being named the Honorary Mayor of Pacific Beach for the year 2014. When she’s not teaching music and running Nightingale, Jennifer enjoys camping trips or a National Park visits with her husband and three children. She credits her three children as her creative, musical inspiration.
Music Watson, Chief Communications Officer, San Diego County Office of Education
This Del Cerro mom is responsible for bringing classrooms into living rooms. As the Chief Communications Officer for San Diego County Office of Education, Music Watson is passionate about the power of public education to change the lives of individuals and whole families. She describes her job as using different media vehicles to help connect two audiences. The first is the 70 percent of California's voters who don't have kids in K-12 public schools, and the second are parents like Music whose daughter, Michaela, is in public school. Music credits her parents for helping her be successful in her career. “Until they retired, my dad was a blue collar worker and my mom was a school secretary,” said Music. “Neither of them earned a four-year college degree. I'm really proud of the hard work I put in––with their encouragement and support––that saw me through college and graduate school, and now to a successful career. I owe them a debt of gratitude for the decisions they made that led me to have access to high-quality education, and I'm proud of the fact that I pay that forward through my job.”
Salina Yoon, Author and Illustrator
Salina Yoon is an award-winning and bestselling author and illustrator of more than 160 books for kids. She travels to book festivals, conferences, bookstores, and schools all around the country to share her books and inspire the love of reading and writing and literacy. While her “Penguin” picture book series has been the most popular, she is most proud of the book “Be A Friend,” which celebrates individuality, encourages self-acceptance and promotes kindness and friendship. One of Salina’s proudest accomplishments is something that many moms can relate to. As a work-at-home mom, Salina was always sharing her creative space with family. So one day, she claimed a room and made it her own personal reading and writing space. She encourages all moms to claim a space of their own in their home. Salina lives in the San Elijo Hills community of San Marcos with her husband Chris Polentz (also an artist), and their two sons, Max and Mason. She has yet to outgrow her love of reading to her sons before bedtime.
Leng Caloh, Former Technology and Innovation Manager at KPBS
Aside from spending time with PBS characters like Daniel Tiger, Leng Caloh’s career can be described as bringing technology and people together in ways that educate and inspire — whether it’s technology for public use, or technology to help KPBS public broadcast staff better serve the public. Leng made an unexpected name for herself in 2007 when she led the KPBS web team in covering the October 2007 wildfires online, using Twitter (back when hardly anyone knew what it was) and Google MyMaps (which was just a few months old at the time). While that was a challenging week for everyone in San Diego, both professionally and personally (Leng hardly saw her toddler daughter), it changed the course of her career, and started KPBS on the path towards converging its radio, television and web news coverage. Personally, this Bonita mom is proud of her decision to have a home birth VBAC with her second daughter, after her first was born breech in a planned caesarian. Leng and her wife are proud parents of three kids: Siddha, Ananda and Treonte.
Amy Cullinan, Scientist, STEM Advocate and Communications Professional
Originally from the Midwest, Amy Cullinan describes herself as a scientist, turned communications professional, work-at-home mechanical engineer, who has been married ten years to a San Diego native. This Rancho San Diego mom has one daughter, Samantha, who is in the first grade. She currently manages social media for Illumina, a global biotechnology company headquartered in San Diego, and was previously a science and technical writer. Before that, she was a research scientist investigating viruses and the human immune system. Amy is moved by helping the next generation discover what they want to do, and is proud that she built the social media program from the ground up, for one of the smartest companies in the world. She loves spending time with her daughter, inspiring her to learn about science through “Science Sundays,” which Amy team-teaches through a group of like-minded friends.
Kristen Elgo, National Events Manager for PIRCH
Kristen Elgo’s mom hat touches every aspect of her life. She’s a full-time working mom, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts mom, soccer mom, running mom, and volunteers at her kids’ elementary school. This Mira Mesa mom is coming up on 14 years of marriage to her college sweetheart, Mike, and has two kiddos: Branden and Kaileigh, and two mini daschunds, Sumo and Geisha. She has what many consider a dream job: creating fun executive events in PIRCH showrooms designed to show off all the amazing products and features at the company. One of her proudest personal accomplishments has been running over the last four years, and competing in 12 half marathons and the full Rock and Roll Marathon. While waking up at 5 a.m. for a regular running group meet-up is early, she always feels fulfilled after the hour.
Amanda Bonds, Senior Program Manager at Words Alive
Amanda Bond’s mission is simple: to bring reading and books to all kids. She is the Program Manager for Words Alive, a literacy non-profit leading a movement to make reading matter in San Diego. This Hillcrest mom to 2 year-old Starling is most proud of starting the organization’s Family Literacy Program that empowers parents from under-served communities with confidence, techniques and materials to feel confident reading with their kiddos. On a personal level, Amanda and her husband, Tony (both transplants from Austin, TX), have had Sunday dinner with the same group of friends nearly every week for more than five years. She has worked hard to establish her “framily” (friend-family) and truly believes in the importance of connection and developing a support-system for each other as parents. And they love coming up with new recipes and eating delicious dinners once a week for five years.
Amanda Allen, Attorney
Amanda Allen is a business and real estate attorney (with a specialty in working with breweries and wineries), and she launched Enrich, a co-working space for lawyers. This mom to 3 year-old Jasmine Jane has been practicing law for eight years and started her solo practice when Jas was only one. Amanda is extremely proud of launching Enrich. While it felt outside of her comfort zone to do, she’s happier about that professional accomplishment than any award she’s received. While Amanda is a successful attorney, business owner and mom, she’s committed to living a healthy lifestyle. She loves doing crossfit, and says working out has been her therapy and her rock. Amanda’s favorite thing to do with Jasmine is dance, and they can be seen busting moves in the car, bagel shop, gym and in the living room.
Maggie Unzueta, Chef and Writer, Mama Maggie's Kitchen
Maggie Unzeta is passionate about authentic Mexican food, and about preserving and promoting the richness of her culture through cuisine. She shares the true flavors of Mexico to the United States and the world through her blog, Mama Maggie’s Kitchen. Throughout her life, she’s lived in different parts of Mexico and has traveled to 22 of the 31 states in Mexico and sampled the unique foods of each region. She’s also mom to a 12 year-old son. With Mama Maggie's Kitchen turning 10 this year, she has been a work-from-home mother since he was a small kiddo. She’s extremely proud of her blog and how its grown and flourished over the years, and believes her son and family are her biggest accomplishments.
—Leah R. Singer