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Meet The Team


Meg Rust

I have (almost) always very much been unapologetically myself. I tend to do everything just a little bit differently, and am one who typically wants to go deep and will draw out what you really want to say with my fairly unabashed vulnerability. I come off extroverted, but value my moments of solace most. In those moments I can write, introspect, fall into music endlessly, dream, romanticize, and really get into my head. I am always thinking, always drumming up new ideas and projects and ways to make myself better; though sometimes to a fault. I struggle most with my body image, comparison, internal competition, and over-analysis, but I am also learning how to leverage these so called setbacks to become stronger and more respectful of my body, to build others up and admire their successes, to improve upon myself, and to instead ruminate on positives and the present moment.


If I could go back to my younger self and give her my “if only I knew then” perspective, I would tell her: you’re not always going to be everyone’s cup of tea or going to follow the path everyone wants you to follow...but you are you and you belong to only you, always. Trust yourself and the rest will come, in beautiful, manifested succession. There is no map.


Ajna Vuk

To know me, you must learn a little about my upbringing and the life events that define me. I immigrated to the US as a refugee in the early 90s fleeing a war-torn country with my parents and younger sibling. As a six-year-old, this was a defining moment for me. Within a few days of arriving to the US, I was entering my first-grade classroom, in the middle of the school year with no understanding of the English language. It was traumatizing. It did not help that my mom shaved my hair off to keep me from getting head lice while we were moving around refugee camps before arriving to the US. I very much resembled a boy. I spent the rest of the school year trying to catch up and blend in.


Fast forward to my early 20s, I felt as if all my hard work was paying off and I was becoming someone. I was the first in my immediate family to graduate from college (something my foreign parents and I are incredibly proud of). I was living in San Francisco, had a solid job and amazing group of friends. I was living the ‘American Dream’. Then on an incredibly ordinary day, I went to my dermatologist for a routine appointment and the next few years were a blur. I learned that I had stage three cancer that spread and would have to undergo multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. I was devastated.


If I could go back to my younger self and give her my “if only I knew then” perspective, I would have told the six-year-old me to be gentler with herself as ‘blending in’ with the crowd diminished her individual beauty. That being ‘different’ does not equate to ‘ugly’ or ‘inferior’ or ‘embarrassing’. Rather, it equates to ‘uniqueness’ and ‘originality’. I would have advised the 20-something-year-old me to slow down as there is no need to go into over-drive to compensate for these childhood insecurities that manifested on false pretenses at the expense of exhaustion and stress.


I continue to evolve into new versions of myself and I would like to think that each rendition is better. At my core, I have a strong attachment to my family. I am deliberate in my actions no matter the magnitude. I am an impeccable planner as it’s how I feel in control of my destiny. But I have also learned that life throws you curveballs and therefore I am learning to lean into my lighter side where I let loose, get goofy, and consistently remind myself to be present.


Shawna Potter

I’m a lover of humans. They fascinate me everyday. I’m inspired by the differences that exist among us — the different backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, and strengths each person brings to this world. It’s incredibly important to me to find and uphold community, providing support to those in need in all aspects of life.. I love helping and connecting others and watching them grow into their greatest potential, or work towards their next aspiration. I fully believe we all have so much to give and always have room to grow, which has led me to focus on my own growth and spend my career helping others grow. Inclusivity has always been a sensitivity of mine and seems to grow more acutely everyday, especially in these crazy times.


While growth, connection, and supporting others are deeply rooted in who I am, I’m painfully aware of the blind spots they cause. I struggle everyday with trying to please others and wanting to be seen in the most favorable light. I never want to let anyone down, even sometimes at my own expense. I’m quick to overcommit and have joked with friends that my word of the year as been “pause” for the last three years as I try to take a moment before committing to something to avoid overcommitting myself. I consistently struggle with feeling like I’m not doing enough — that I can and should do more for others, in my job, in my personal life, my growth, etc. While I love to help others through their emotions and encourage vulnerability, I’ve learned that I’m horrible at slowing down and letting myself feel all of my feelings. I stuff them down by keeping myself too busy to notice. I’m hyper sensitive to being left out and leaving others out — sometimes irrationally.


If I could go back to my younger self (even myself earlier this week 😂), I’d tell her that it’s enough. Whatever she’s doing is enough, that she is enough. If only I knew then that there is no recipe for what you “should” be according to others and that a life lived in pursuit of pleasing others and doing more never results in a destination of fulfillment — that you’ll forever and always be looking for the next thing to accomplish, the next box to check, and the next person to please.


LaMonica Richard

If asked to describe myself, I’d say I’m perceptive, understanding, and can connect with a variety of people.

But what I really want to say is I enjoy who I am now, in this present moment, while continuously allowing room to evolve in what it means to love myself, people in my life, and community.

It hasn’t always been this way for me as a Black woman in predominantly white spaces.

If I only I knew the armor of detachment and highly guarded walls I put on each day would get too heavy and break me, then I would have never put it on.

I would not have bonded myself to that armor based on the belief I had in order to be taken seriously and respected as a Black woman; contained, palatable, accommodating.

The price I paid? My authenticity. I listened to so many negative experiences it caused me to not only lose sight of who I was, but prevented from me from growing into who I wanted to be.

You won’t be accepted by everyone, sometimes you’ll be accepted by a few people. Regardless, being yourself, authentically raw, with edges, and soft spots is the compass for true understanding. And that is my power.


Jenny Swajkoski

As the youngest of four, I grew up in a household that was always bustling with energy and filled with people. Even before I was old enough to participate in activities myself, I went from sideline to sideline with my parents – with coloring books, a “my little pony” travel set, and, usually, a soccer ball in tow. Despite having enough toys to occupy me for hours, I mostly spent time interacting with everyone around me. Not just other kids, but everyone: siblings, parents, grandparents, people in positions of authority, bullies, neighbors, strangers – anyone who was willing to share their time with me.


Admittedly, at first, I spent the majority of my time talking. However, over the years, I learned that to have an honest and authentic interaction with someone requires far more than the ability to form words, or even hear what the other person is saying.


It requires the equally necessary and difficult tasks of observation, empathy, and continual reflection. Observation – of the context, background information, and non-verbal cues, which are all part of the story being told; Empathy – to make every effort to see through the lens and experience of the communicator without judgment or pretext; and Continual Reflection in order to understand how your own emotions, experiences, and biases affect your ability to observe and empathize.  


Over time, I found that people would often open up to me; share their darkness in hopes that I could help bring them light. It might not seem like much of a weight to bear but, my younger self constantly struggled to separate the problems of those around her with her own internal struggles. I often linked my decency and capability as a person to my ability (or inability) to solve or eradicate problems for others.   


I now know that one of my greatest strengths (and, according to Strengthsfinder, my #1 strength), is my ability to break down and solve problems.


What I wish I knew then was that “problems” (or struggles) are inherently intimate and personal. You will never know the layers that make up someone’s identity, and therefore can never really understand where they are coming from. All you can do is strengthen your own understanding and capacity for empathy, which will in turn help you endure through the darkness and bask in the moments that bring you joy.


Francesca Barbaro

From a young age, I have been drawn to learning about people. Curious and inquisitive, I have always asked questions. Questions that other people didn’t want to ask, questions that might cause a strong reaction, and questions that have ultimately led me to gain a better understanding of myself. I am a natural seeker of truth and vulnerability. Even though it is deep rooted within me, it hasn’t always been easy to tap into this part of my authentic self. Throughout my adolescence, I was led to believe that asking questions meant you were not “smart.” I vividly remember keeping my hand down in my classes and acting as if I had the answers rather than asking the questions. This ultimately shifted my focus from school to socializing and interacting with my peers. I was criticized by teachers for being a “social butterfly” which I (thankfully) took as a compliment. At times, these statements made by the adults and supposed “mentors” led me to question who I was and who I was capable of becoming. I went from a person dreaming of becoming a psychiatrist to a person accepting that I may not get into college. Despite the frequent feelings of hopelessness, I started to notice certain traits I had that I didn’t know what to label until years later. Empath, healer, and intuitive are words that I am now able to use to describe myself. As I have evolved into the person I am today, I can reflect back and acknowledge that I never needed anyone else to tell me who I was, I needed to find it on my own. I am constantly inspired by this and feel committed to helping others seek similar realizations.

IOIKT has granted me the privilege of helping others embrace discomfort through sharing personal experiences with the intention of reducing feelings of loneliness and hopelessness that too often overwhelm us.

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