Catching Up With Former SJ Mag Profiles
People we’ve profiled have a way of staying in the spotlight
By Brenda Lange

Through the years, SJ Mag has profiled lots of people who make a big impact in South Jersey (and beyond) in unique ways. And often, we’ll see something about them on social media or in the news years after we told their stories that makes us happy, because their success has continued. Here are updates on 4 incredible profiles we’ve featured in the past – because their stories just keep getting better.

When Emma Hong was featured as a Kid To Watch in 2020, she had just appeared in season 2 of NBC’s medical drama, “New Amsterdam.” She played Juliette Kimura, an 11-year-old psychopath who chokes her brother, nearly killing him – because he won’t give her his phone.

The character of Juliette wasn’t supposed to reappear, but “the response was so strong, they brought her back,” says Emma, “which is amazing to me.” Juliette was written in to season 3 and was back yet again earlier this year. Her Juliette undergoes subtle transformations from one season to the next. In the last episode, she got to “go berserk,” says Emma, noting that it was a thrill to get a chance to channel the dark side. “I agree with those who say villains are more fun to play,” she adds.

At 14, Emma is a seasoned pro who made her acting debut as an extra on “Sesame Street” when she was 7. This was followed by more roles on TV – “Rise,” “Madam Secretary,” “Little Voice” and “The Blacklist” – and in films, “We Need to Talk,” “Glass” and “Lucky Grandma.”

Emma says professional acting is not all fun and games, but it is thrilling when roles pan out. “I think it’s really cool that I’m a teenager and I can get this successful early in life and that people get inspired by my work – people of all ages. That feels really good, and I like helping people know they can do whatever they want at whatever age.”

But does she want to make acting her life? “I get asked this question a lot,” she says. “My answer is always ‘I don’t know.’ I’m just living in every moment as it happens. Right now, I’m happy where I am, and if that changes. I’ll just go with it. I’m still having fun.”

Jessanya Pritikin has always had a certain wanderlust. In 2019, the South Jersey native quit her job at an event-planning agency to travel around the world.

In late February 2020, she touched ground in Panama’s Playa Chiquita for a global festival. A mere 2 weeks later – after days and nights filled with music, dancing and immersion in nature – the festival ended ubruptly when the world shut down. Concert goers were sent on buses heading inland. Pritikin expected to make her way back to South Jersey but her bus was turned around. With no way home, she stayed in Panama, resolved to make the most of it. That’s where she was when we wrote about her in August of 2020.

Next, she made her way to Kalu Yala, an ecovillage in the Panamanian jungle, where she met her boyfriend Buggy, a German DJ. The pair became inseparable and traveled to Playa Venao, a riverside shore town nestled in the jungle about an hour from Panama City. That’s where the couple stayed through the worst of the pandemic.

Pritikin remains in Panama, working as a “wellness partner” at Selina Playa Venao, a hostel with other locations around the world. She teaches yoga and develops the overall wellness program for the chain while Buggy works as the operations manager, organizing festivals for all the hostel locations when he isn’t working as a DJ.

“It’s crazy what’s developed in a year and a half,” says Pritikin, 26. “My eyes have been opened to the ways the Universe will provide when you travel the world and do whatever feels right.”

Like many assault victims, Glendora native Lisa Regina turned inward after being attacked by her former fiancé in Manhattan in 2005. Writing down her feelings and reading aloud with her writing group finally helped her begin to heal.

This inspired Regina to start A Write to Heal, a nonprofit with the mission of using writing and filmmaking to help others heal from trauma. In the years since, it has taken her in directions she could never have dreamed of when it first started.

When we profiled her in March of 2020, Regina was expanding her reach, helping military veterans write their stories. She was also developing the series, “Heroic Episodes,” which is filmed in South Jersey and features dramatic retellings of veterans’ accounts of war and their return home.

The relationships with veterans led Regina, a licensed drone pilot, to form a Veterans Film Apprenticeship, providing training and job opportunities for veterans in the film and aviation industries. “Through the apprenticeship, I can hire and train them and help them get licensed to find new jobs and careers,” she says.

Her latest project is a 30-minute film, “Dismissal Time,” which is loosely based on the personal experience of her friend and colleague, and the film’s writer/director/ producer, André Joseph, who suffered for years from trauma. “Dismissal Time” was nominated for multiple awards, including best actress in a short film for Regina, by the Annual World Music and Independent Film Festival.

 

When we last covered Dana Dewedoff-Carney in 2018, she had recently suffered a miscarriage and had started a nonprofit campaign that was catching fire. A photographer, she was using her craft to raise awareness of the grief women suffer following a miscarriage, and let us publish the meaningful photos she had created as part of Project Benjamin, named after the second child she had lost.

In the years since, Dewedoff-Carney started a new career as a real estate agent and expanded her family. Five of her children range in age from 13 to 1 – but her 2 “angels” are always on her mind and in her heart.

It was while slowly processing her grief with the help of therapy through Virtua’s Perinatal Bereavement program, Dewedoff-Carney came to understand that women often wear a mask as they struggle through their grief, pretending to heal from the pain of loss following a miscarriage when they have not. It inspired her to put her skills to work, snapping intense photos of mothers holding a chalkboard naming their babies along with written statements they had heard from others that were hurtful to them.

The Facebook campaign spread, and women from around the world submitted their own stories and tagging Project Benjamin on social media. Today, it continues as a Facebook group.

“Silence is so dangerous and it’s important to speak up because you never know who needs to hear your story,” she says. “With more awareness, mothers and fathers will feel more comfortable talking about the loss of their baby, siblings will acknowledge their brother or sister, grandparents will feel more comfortable grieving the loss of their grandchild, and others who haven’t experienced such loss will hopefully be more empathetic and understanding that the baby mattered to the person experiencing the loss.”

December 2022
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