Five amazing women charting bold and innovative paths
Story By Shanee Edwards | Photos by Courtnay Robbins
Susan Ko uses personal experience to heal others
While Susan Ko was born in America, she is the child of Korean immigrants. She remembers watching the struggles her mother experienced when they went out shopping. “I watched as salesclerks assumed she couldn’t speak English and turned to me, a 7 or 8-year-old kid, to ask questions or start to speak more slowly and loudly,” says Ko. While these may sound like small incidents, they were highly impactful and remain vivid.
“I remember wondering why people treated my mom like she was invisible. I couldn’t understand it. And I also heard her express to me and to other immigrant friends, her sense of isolation, and sometimes sadness about missing her country, her ‘home.’”
These experiences and the lingering sadness they caused remained a mystery to Ko until she took a high school psychology class.
‘It was really eye opening to me. Words like acculturation and assimilation pieced together the struggle that I had observed.’
She learned that her mother’s experiences, or “micro-aggressions” and other challenges her family faced, related to their different experiences being first and second generation Korean-Americans. She was fascinated to discover there were psychologists and sociologists who were actually interested in learning more about these experiences.
Ko wanted to learn more too.
Her observations about the hidden hurts of immigrant families, together with her curiosity about why some types of challenges are acceptable to share (e.g., broken bones, medical illness) while others are stigmatized (e.g., depression) made her want to find a way to learn from her multicultural background and provide a bridge towards making mental health services more accessible and acceptable for everyone. So, she became a clinical psychologist.
But to be fully present for clients takes a lot and she also had an interest in a “big-picture business.”
For Ko, that “big-picture business” was Science 37 whose mission is to “accelerate biomedical research by putting patients first.” It sounds simple, but their goals are huge. “We are looking to change the world and we actually have a shot at that.”
When she’s not seeing patients or trying to change the world, she’s expressing herself through creative outlets like piano and baking. She says it’s possible that later in life she may just find herself as a student at a culinary institute to become a chocolatier. Though psychology and chocolate may seem like completely different paths, Ko says there is one thing they have in common. “They both have the potential to make you happy. But all things aside, it’s about creativity. A lot of therapy is about thinking about things differently, finding a different way and being able to explore your feelings.”
Actress Ciarra Carter cares deeply about women and kids
Originally from Nashville, Ciarra Carter has wanted to be an actress and model since she was about seven years old. Luckily, her mother supported that dream but also gave her some good advice. “My mom told me,” says Carter as we chat at Runway, “’You have just as much of a right as anyone else. If you want to do it, do it. But whatever it is you want to do, be the best at it.”
Those words stuck with Carter and she made her way to Los Angeles about 10-years ago. Like anyone coming to Hollywood to follow their dream, she had to hustle.
“There was a lot to learn. I’m still learning,” she says. But Carter has a gentle confidence and warmth that makes her approachable in a way that women with her beauty sometimes are not. Those qualities have served her well and her first breaks came fairly quickly. She landed spokesmodel deals with both Pit Bull Energy Drinks and Rosco’s Chicken and Waffles.
“For the energy drink, they would fly me to military bases all over to hang out with military guys and talk about the drink. I enjoyed it because it gave me some patriotic stripes.”
Her affable, breezy demeanor also helped her meet her husband, film producer Paul Goldsby.
“I was walking out of a restaurant on Pico and saw this producer who looked familiar, I think I had auditioned for him before. He was with an artist and he came up to me and said, ‘Are you an actress?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’”
Turns out, he was shooting a very legit music video for a rap artist and was in desperate need of an actress – the timing couldn’t have been better. Carter showed up to the packed set ready to work. Goldsby was impressed.
“After that, Paul would ask me to go to movies with a group of people, or dinners. It felt very casual. I didn’t realize until later that he was courting me all that time.”
The couple married and now have a 19-month-old daughter with an unusual but beautiful name.
“We knew we were having a daughter and Paul said he had the perfect name. He asked me questions to see if I could guess it.”
He asked her what she thought of when she thought about God, but she wasn’t sure how to answer. Then he asked her what she thought of when she thought about them as a couple.
“I said, ‘Unity? Hope?’ I was all over the place. Finally, I just said ‘Tell me!’ He said, ‘Love.’ I said it out loud, ‘Love, come here Love. Baby Love.’ I loved it.”
To raise little Love, she says she wanted to live in a place where she felt comfortable and knew there were other families around. “I wanted space, I wanted community, a place where we felt we could be here for a long time and get comfortable.”
As with the baby name, Paul knew the perfect place: Playa Vista.
“I had no idea this community was here. It’s everything I could imagine and more. The support systems, the mom’s groups, the activities for the kids – it’s everything a family could want.”
Since moving here, Carter’s acting career has really taken off. She almost had to miss the photo shoot for this story because she booked a job – lucky for us, the timing worked out. She recently appeared on an episode of CBS’s “Pink Collar Crimes” and her film “Dead End,” also starring Vivica A. Fox, is set to release this fall. In addition, her fitness video series will be coming to television in the near future.
If there’s one thing Carter wants people to know about her, it’s that she cares about women and kids. “I’m really into female empowerment and making sure kids and women are safe and have food in their bellies. Whether that means donating food to a food drive or going downtown to volunteer at the women’s shelter – I do all those things, especially when it comes to kids, they are the future.”
Carter’s hopes for her daughter are simple. “I hope that every day for her is a happy day. I don’t necessarily want her to follow in my footsteps but I want her to be carefree.” Playa Vista is certainly the place for that.
Mom of two, Courtney Fricke takes the unconventional road
When Courtney Fricke’s parents were anticipating the birth of their only child, doctors told them to expect a boy. The doctors were wrong.
“Instead, my dad got me – his one and only shot,” says Fricke who was born in China under the country’s one child policy. But instead of feeling disappointed, her father decided his dream of raising a son didn’t have to go entirely out the window.
“He was like, ‘By golly, I’m going to turn you into a boy.’ In second grade he cut my hair off and that was the beginning of my tomboy stage. He got me into sports, Tai Kwon Do, and fast cars. I was essentially the biggest tomboy ever.”
Her family moved to the United States when she was about four and she loved the empowerment that came from not having to conform to typical “girlish” tropes. As her love for cars grew, she eventually began to race them professionally.
“I started getting into the import culture and I loved it.” She had a Mitsubishi 3000 GT and started getting paint jobs and body kits to modify the car. “I had sponsors, and I did quarter-mile drag racing. It cost a lot of money, but it was so much fun. ‘The Fast and the Furious’ movies started coming out around that time which made it a little bit easier [to get sponsorship] but there was a lot of portfolio writing, making phone calls, sweet talking and begging. It was important for me because, at the time, I was one of very few women.”
Now a middle school science teacher at the local Westside Neighborhood School, she says racing cars taught her never to give up. “It may be a man’s world but there’s room for me if I make room for me. A lot of people said no to me without knowing what my skills were – it was the fact that I was a girl. Drag racing is a very male dominated sport and this was about 20 years ago. I want girls to believe in themselves. I have two daughters and that’s what I want them to grow up seeing, that’s also what I want for my students.”
Not surprisingly, Fricke also takes an unconventional road when it comes to teaching. Instead of relying on stuffy science text books or boring lectures, she teaches her students to problem solve using real-world problems like the one facing her soon-to-be two-year-old daughter.
“I have this problem,” she told her students. “The law says car seats need to be rear-facing until the child is two-years-old. Tell me why. What are the physics behind it? What does it look like when you’re in a front-end crash? Why is it safer to be rear-facing versus forward-facing and explain that in terms of Newton’s laws? So that’s what we did.”
She and her students went out into the community, became car seat experts and helped other people install them. “They learned about physics and that’s exactly how they’re learning right now.”
For Fricke, it’s not about teaching the information that anyone can find on Google. She says she wants her eighth-graders to develop grit and perseverance. “It’s my job to give them opportunities to practice these skills. They are changing their mindset. They don’t look at me and say, ‘Tell me the answer to this problem so I can remember it just long enough to take this test. Now, it’s, ‘What is the next problem I need to solve and which direction do I need to go in?’”
Bethany Joy Clark’s sense of ‘ohana’
Growing up in a large military family with a mother who’s a flight attendant, Bethany Joy Clark lived in or visited at least twenty different countries before she turned 30. But it was spending time in Hawaii that made the biggest impression on her. “I’m Hawaiian at heart. I love their sense of celebration, their love of nature.” But there’s one aspect of islander culture she’s vowed to live by. “I love the idea of ohana which means family. Nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
Given her personal motto of ohana, it’s no surprise she’s the Director of Community for five locations of WeWork, the office-share company that’s soon opening their second location in Playa Vista. But it’s easy to see how someone who moved around a lot as a kid, often not speaking the language as was the case in Panama, became an expert at making new friends. Clark is a natural community builder.
“My job is to serve and support those community teams and our members in doing what they love. When we’re doing that well, all businesses thrive.”
She and her husband Trevor, who’s a fitness trainer at The Resort, moved to Playa Vista in 2013 and even appeared on an episode of “House Hunters.”
The Clarks now have a one-year-old daughter named Cali Joy and by working at WeWork and living in Playa Vista, Bethany seems to have found the perfect family-work balance. “I love that there are so many sub-communities in Playa Vista that support mothers, especially working mothers.”
The vast network of working moms is another example of ohana. But that’s not a coincidence. Clark is convinced that one of the reasons WeWork has been so successful in Playa Vista is because the company and the local community share the same values.
“Playa Vista was built with community at its core. It was built so intentionally to live, work, play. You have homes, businesses, medical facilities, a grocery store. WeWork is the same way, it has community at its core. We want to take care of all the little things so you can come to work and do the thing you love. We want to set you up for success so you can thrive. I think when they were building Playa Vista, they were thinking all of those same things.”
WeWork’s new location will be in the same building as The Honest Company on Millennium Drive. It opens December 17.
“We are taking over the second and third floors. We’re excited to be neighbors with YouTube, Facebook and Google.’
After helping so many female-led startups thrive, Clark has this advice for women who want to start their own businesses. “I’m a big fan of mentors. Find an amazing mentor and have them hold you accountable – someone who cares about you and can be your champion, but also pushes you to achieve your dream.”
Kelly Rudnicki found her life’s purpose in Haiti
After being a stay-at-home mother of five for over a decade, writer and documentary film producer Kelly Rudnicki came to Playa Vista to kickstart her career after getting divorced.
From her Playa Vista base, Rudnicki spends most of the week working on her film projects, then co-parents her kids with her ex in San Clemente the rest of the week. Currently, she’s finishing her film “Latter Day Jew” about a gay comedian who survived cancer and converted to Judaism.
But it wasn’t by chance she chose Playa Vista as her home away from home. Her childhood friend and Playa Vista resident Liz Peacock invited her over to get to know her neighborhood. Rudnicki liked what she saw. “I went to the leasing office and chose an apartment that day. I fell in love with the community aspect of Playa Vista and the fact that when I come home, I’m able to walk to the grocery store, walk to restaurants, really enjoy just being home and not have to get in the car to go get something.”
When Rudnicki isn’t making films and parenting, she’s giving back to a community in need that seems a world away from Playa Vista. About five years ago, another friend invited Rudnicki and her daughter on a volunteer trip
“I knew a little bit about the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake there,” says Rudnicki, “but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I got there, I quickly realized you can’t even begin to describe that world unless you step foot in it. That’s the only way to really understand what it means to be in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. That trip changed my life. It changed my daughter’s life. She’s studying international relations at Boston University.”
Rudnicki is now a board member of the non-profit organization, Global Family Philanthropy, that is based in Arizona and visits Haiti two to three times a year. She says she can’t get enough. “People go ‘why Haiti? It’s such a difficult place to work in.’ It is difficult and that’s why a lot of charities have closed down. I feel a responsibility to go to the places nobody wants to go to.”
Between raising money to set up an orphanage and medical clinic in Haiti, visiting the children in need, and working to thwart sex-traffickers, her volunteer work was a guiding light during one of the most difficult times of her life – her divorce.
“I clung onto my experience [volunteering in Haiti] for dear life because it kept me out of what was going on in my own world. It gave me a sense of perspective. It truly saved me – it allowed me to be inspired.”
It’s no surprise that the mother of five says she feels a responsibility to take care of people in need. “Whether it’s taking care of your neighbors, saying something kind to someone or helping a third world country – it doesn’t matter. It’s the idea that we have to step out of our circle of problems and always take care of each other. That’s really become my life’s purpose as I moved through the pain of my divorce and the shift in my family, having to work again and rediscovering my creativity in my work as a writer that I really silenced for many years to be a stay at home mom. I really owe a lot of that to working in Haiti. I’m super grateful that I get to go back in a couple weeks.”