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Person of the Day

PERSON OF THE DAY: Andra Good Honors Best Friend’s Legacy with Leigh’s Blankies

Andra Good Honors Her Best Friend’s Legacy with Leigh’s Blankies

Leigh Ann Tonkinson/Andra Good and her daughter/2008/Photo Courtesy of Andra Good

Leigh Ann Tonkinson, Andra Good and her baby/2008

By Haley Christopher/March 27, 2017
Photos Courtesy Andra Good

Andra Good lived a pretty ordinary, happy life in Gilbert, Arizona until it was flipped upside down in 2010. Andra’s best friend Leigh Ann Tonkinson, who was her lifelong friend since high school, had been tragically killed in a car accident at age 35. Leigh and Andra’s families were both devastated and Andra knew she had to focus her grief into something positive.

To deal with her sadness, Andra decided to take up sewing and taught herself how to sew through Youtube videos. Sewing would change her life forever in ways she could not imagine!

“I just started sewing a ton of blankets and gave them to people. It felt good to create something and to put my eyes on giving to others and giving back,” Andra says.

About nine months after Leigh passed away, Andra was at a Christmas service at church when she saw a slideshow of a mission trip to Malawi in southeast Africa.  She got to thinking about how many blankies she was making and how they bring kids so much comfort. Plus, Leigh loved the blankets for kids. She had been a nurse supervisor at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and worked there for 10 years.

As Andra watched the slides of these children in Africa. she just kept thinking I wonder if they would benefit from having a blanket of their own? Andra knew making blankies for a good cause could only be called one thing, Leigh’s Blankies, in the name of her inspiring friend. When I heard about the good work Andra was doing, I wanted to find out more about how she turned this fascinating passion of blankies for kids into a successful international non profit.

Blankets for Children in Africa

In February 2011,  Andra and a group of her volunteers sewed their first batch of blankies equaling up to about 16 blankets, which was nothing compared to what was to come in the future. Andra sent these blankies to the same group in Malawi she had previously seen in the slide show in the church. These were the people who had inspired Leigh’s Blankies so Andra only saw it fitting that they were sent the first delivery.

Andra Good, Leigh's Blankies, with children in Africa/Andra's photoAndra received an excellent report back and was told that the children really loved having something to call their own. That prompted Andra and her team to start making blankies for kids in foster care as well because oftentimes they are removed from a home and don’t bring anything along with them. They also started making blankies for children overseas in orphanages and villages.

In addition to sending blankies across the ocean, Andra set up programs that were more local as well. She partnered with Christian Family Care, an adoption agency in Arizona. Andra now gives sets of blankies to this program, one tiny blankie for the birth mom and a normal blankie for the baby. This program is very important to Andra because she has personally adopted her two children.

“I adopted my two daughters at birth. I know the grief that their birth moms experienced. They left the hospital without a memento, and they were placing their child where they may not see or love on them again,” Andra says. “The adoption program has been really special and helps with the grief process for the birth mom and the adopted family.”

Coping Mechanisms

Andra uses blankies as a coping mechanism in various different ways for different people. In addition to the making and distributing of blankets, Andra decided to take Leigh’s Blankies a step further and has created a sewing program at an orphanage at Huruma Children’s Home  in Kenya where the children can make their own school uniforms. This home is also using the program to make money for the orphanage through different projects.

“We didn’t really have any set backs and it seems like God just keeps on opening doors.” Andra says.

Andra Good's Leigh's Blankies group/Photo on Andra's website

Andra’s team at Huruma’s Children’s Home, Kenya

Another project Andra and her team are working on is the Transition Housing Care Project. It allows children who age out of the Huruma orphanage to have support through a life skills class, a housing kit and the basic necessities they need to set up a small home.

This project has been running for three years now and it has been really successful for the young adults. Through this program Andra and her team has found the majority of students that participate in the program go on to attend an African university.

The biggest goal for Andra this year is to turn Leigh’s Blankies into Leigh’s Mission.  She feels that changing the name to Mission would encompass all of the projects they are working on. Andra also would like to build a home, Mama Leigh Ann’s House in Kenya, that would house the children aging out of the orphanage.

Starting Projects You’re Passionate About

Andra Good's Leigh's Blankies group gives blankie to person in Africa/Photo on Andra's website“If they were in a home together they could lean on each other, have accountability and it wouldn’t be such a hard transition going from living with 200 brothers and sisters at the orphanage to going out and living on their own,” Andra says.

Andra could never imagined Leigh’s Blankies would take off and be as large and growing as it is today. It began as a small hobby rooted from grief and has sprouted into something truly great and meaningful.

“Starting out in a project like this can be easy as long as you find something you’re passionate about,” says Andra. Her passion is truly inspiring and shows through all of her work and dedication to her program.

“Oftentimes we have our own ideas and our own plans and they can get in the way. Sometimes we do things to better our own purpose and not to better the purpose of the organization that has already been doing the work,” Andra says as a word of caution.

Her advice is to walk along with someone who has done something similar and make sure you ask them what would be helpful. Her blankies have been transported around the world. In addition to creating them for people in multiple villages in different countries in Africa, they can be found in India, Poland, Honduras and elsewhere. Since 2011 she has made over 6,000 blankies.

I am inspired by Andra’s story and how she was able to make the most out of a devastating accident. In talking with Andra I could hear the kindness in her voice and the giving in her heart. I hope this story will open the eyes of others and spread kindness and hope.

Leigh’s Blankies

Andra Good and Leigh's Blankies/Photo Courtesy Andra Good

If you are interested in Andra’s organization, you can find more info at leighsblankies.com.

Twitter: @leighsblankies
FB: @leighsblankies
YouTube videos


Written and Reported for TWE by Haley Christopher

Haley Christopher/intern for The Women's Eye

Haley is a graduate from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School with a Bachelor in Journalism and Mass Communication degree. She is at the start of her journalism/public relations career and loves writing about people who are inspiring and making an impact in our world. Haley believes in giving back because she feels that we rise up by lifting others.

PERSON OF THE WEEK: POP Pilates Star Cassey Ho On Expanding Her Fitness Empire

Cassie Ho and Stacey Gualandi

By Stacey Gualandi (@StaceyGualandi)/July 17, 2016
Twitter Cassey Ho: @blogilates

On a recent Saturday morning, I joined hundreds of other workout enthusiasts inside the 24 Hour Fitness Summerlin studio in Las Vegas to take a newly launched POP Pilates class with Cassey Ho.

I must say, it was shocking to see so many queue up and wait so patiently, just to be taught by Cassey herself. Well, I soon realized that I’ve been living under a yoga mat, because until that day, I was not familiar with Cassey Ho and her “POP army” of devoted POPsters!

“When you want something, it may not always be easy, but it will be worth it when you get there.” –Cassey Ho

When she finally arrived, there was an enormous cheer. That is, of course, because Cassey is the YouTube fitness star behind Blogilates, “the #1 female fitness channel with over 300 million video views and 3 million subscribers.” This class was special though because we were getting her LIVE, so she jokingly reminded us: “You won’t be able to put me on PAUSE!”

Cassey also created POP Pilates – an intense mat-based Pilates workout set to Top 40 hit songs – while a former instructor for 24 Hour Fitness. Now, she has partnered with the fitness chain to make her POP Pilates the official Pilates format for all their gyms throughout the U.S.

POP Pilates Total Body Sculpt Workout/Blogilates video

Cassey was all set to practice medicine, having earned a degree in Biology, but her passion was always fitness and fashion design. She endured dead-end jobs, and parents who thought she might be wasting her time on “fitness,” but she kept going.

It wasn’t until 2009 when she posted a workout video on YouTube – meant for only 40 of her students to see – that she realized her destiny. That one video gave way to thousands, and since then, she has written a best-seller, Cassie Ho’s Hot Body Year Round, and become a full-fledged entrepreneur by designing her own line of activewear and products.

At the end of class, I realized why she has millions of followers. She is infectious, motivating and is truly passionate about helping everyone follow their dreams. I now know what I’ve been missing!! I also was a little sore…but it was a good sore!

Cassie Ho class/Las Vegas/Photo provided by Stacey Gualandi

Now that I’m officially a member of the POP army, I got the chance to – first, catch my breath – and then ask Cassey what motivates her, how she found fitness fame and what one exercise she hates to do.

EYE: Before and during college, did you have a plan for your future?  Did you envision the “Blogilates” and “POP Pilates” success that you have today?

CASSEY: I always knew I didn’t want to pursue my parents’ dreams of my becoming a lawyer or a doctor. My dream was to become a fashion designer. But that wasn’t acceptable, so I went to college to study biology.

My heart was missing. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do or what my plan was, but I just knew I had to follow my passion for Pilates and design. I never envisioned Blogilates turning out the way it is today.

The World of Blogilates video

I just took a lot of scary risks, worked extremely hard and followed my heart. Today I’m able to share my passion with millions of people all over the world.

EYE: What sets you apart from other fitness instructors?  Did social media play a role?

CASSEY: I’m not your average fitness instructor. I’m not here just to tell you how to get in shape. I’m here to inspire you to live the life of your dreams while loving your body throughout the process. Social media plays a huge role.

Cassey Ho, founder of Blogilates/Photo provided by Stacey GualandiWithout YouTube, this never would have started. It’s how I communicate and stay close with my POPsters. It’s how I’m able to give free workouts to the world!

EYE: You have become a successful entrepreneur with your original Yoga bag line and Blogilates Designs. Did it come easily to you or did you learn as you go?  What one piece of advice do you give to other young women who want to become their own boss?

CASSEY: Being an entrepreneur is a lifelong journey. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that you don’t need a lot of money, a degree, or a whole team of people working for you.

As long as you have an idea that you’re passionate about, then you can make it happen.

EYE: What impact have you made on your fans and followers?  Is that what motivates you?

CASSEY: I’ve helped people not only transform their bodies, but also transform their lives and inspired millions to follow their dreams. It’s 100% what motivates me to continue doing what I do and provide the best for my followers.

EYE: You’ve written openly on social media about your own body image, being bullied and “chubby” as a child, striving for perfection, and developing an eating disorder.  Why do you think you fell victim to that mindset?  What feedback have you received from talking about something so personal?

CASSEY: I think my eating disorder and unhealthy obsession with exercise was partly caused by my ambition to work hard and achieve big. When I do something, I want to do it 100% and give it my all. I was far too obsessed with eating clean and my weight, that it became really unhealthy.

“I decided to talk publicly about it because I know many young girls go through the same experience. I wanted to let them know that it’s something that they can overcome.”

The feedback I received was amazing. At first, I really didn’t know how people would react, but everyone was so supportive and they even shared their own personal struggles with eating disorders.

EYE: What one thing has surprised you most about yourself?

CASSEY: Hmm, I don’t know if I really surprise myself very much, because everything I strive for comes from hard work, dedication, and a good heart. But I can tell you that the people I meet along the way surprise me.

Let’s just say that as the business grows, it becomes harder and harder to trust people’s intentions and sometimes I have to learn the hard way.

EYE: What is your personal message?  How has it evolved?

CASSEY: To find what you’re passionate about and use that to help people.

EYE: What is your proudest moment?  Do you feel like you are making a difference?

CASSEY: The moment I found out that POP Pilates was becoming a group fitness format at 24 Hour Fitness, my life changed. I never imagined that my twist on Pilates would turn into a class that people can go and take!

And the fact that people can now become POP certified instructors – ah, it’s just amazing and blows my mind every single day!

Cassey Ho/Pilates instructor, owner of Blogiates/Photo provided by Stacey Gualandi

EYE: Is there one quote – either your own or someone else’s – that represents who are you and what you’re about?

CASSEY: I love the quote “difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.” This goes for everything in life. When you want something, it may not always be easy, but it will be worth it when you get there.

And it’s so much more satisfying when you know it was a difficult path, but you got through it anyways.

EYE: Is there one exercise that Cassey Ho DOESN’T like to do?

CASSEY: I really don’t like running on treadmills. I’d much rather do cardio using my own body weight and without using machines.

EYE: What is your plan for world fitness domination?   (You’re so close!)

CASSEY: Connecting more and more POPsters together offline!

EYE: Thanks, Cassey! As a lifetime member of 24 Hour Fitness, I WILL become a POPster. Congratulations, again!

Photos provided by Stacey Gualandi



PERSON OF THE DAY: Author Kristi Ling’s 3-Step Plan To Being Happy


Kristy Ling, author Operation Happiness/Photo: Wally Hawkins

Kristi Ling

By Stacey Gualandi/April 21, 2016
Photos: Wally Hawkins

TWITTER: @kristiling

When I sat down to read Operation Happiness: The 3-Step Plan to Creating a Life of Lasting Joy, Abundant Energy, and Radical Bliss, it made me happy. And it was not because it promotes the “11 Habits of Happy People,” or that it comes with a “happiness tool kit.”

This part memoir/part self-help book made me happy because my friend Kristi Ling wrote it. I’ve known Kristi for many years. She was always a bubbly, positive, glass half-full kind of gal, but I never realized during that time, she was also on a mission: to help others find true happiness that had eluded her for years.

“I never gave up. When you’re on a path to giving and sharing whatever it is you have to share with the world, the doors will open.”  Kristi Ling

Over the past decade, Kristi endured a devastating divorce, a soul-sucking corporate position and, most frightening of all, a rare illness that left her unable to use her left shoulder, arm or hand for over a year. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, she got to work.

Kristi poured over happiness research, scientific brain studies and other books on “how to be happy” full-time. Four years ago, she was “heartbroken and thought her life was over.” She says now of those difficult and painful years, “It was a means to get to where I am today along with everything else I’ve been through in my life.”

Kristi’s Book Trailer

This is her first book and after its release last month, she was overwhelmed by the positive response from “old and new friends and many, many, many people she never met before.” She says she invested countless hours into getting her message out.  [Read more…]

PERSON OF THE DAY: Lizzie Velasquez Stars in New Anti-Bullying Documentary

Lizzie Velasquez, subject of documentary "A Brave heart"

Lizzie Velasquez on Capitol Hill/Photo: Women Rising

By Stacey Gualandi/March 12, 2015

TWITTER: @littlelizziev

The first time I ever heard Lizzie Velasquez speak was in October, 2014, at the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas, an annual three-day event she inspired. She immediately captured my heart with the story of her emotional journey from bullying victim to anti-bullying activist.

While this was my first introduction, the 26-year-old was already a web sensation, with over seven million views and counting on her 2013 TEDxAustinWomen speech. She may weigh only 62 pounds at her heaviest, but she is no lightweight when it comes to speaking out against bullies.

How Do YOU Define Yourself: Lizzie Velasquez at TEDXAustinWomen

Velasquez was born with neonatal progeroid syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that prevents her from gaining weight. Throughout her life, she has faced one bully after another for looking “different.” But in high school, she saw an online video post that named her “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” That video would change the course of her life…   [Read more…]

Author Laurie McAndish King Gets ‘Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive!’


Author Laurie McAndish King reading at Book Passage for "Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive"| Photo: Jim Shubin

Author Laurie McAndish King reading from Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive! at Book Passage | Photo: Jim Shubin

By Laurie Weed/September 17, 2014

“Whatever you keep telling your friends about when you come home, that’s probably where your creative juice is…although sometimes, stories just present themselves.” Laurie McAndish King, travel writer and contributor to The Women’s Eye

A truly curious traveler is the best kind to follow, I’ve found, whether on foot or vicariously through stories and books. Never bored with the world—and thus, never boring—a curious traveler will always teach me something new.

Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing) is the curious type, with a scientist’s mind and a philosopher’s soul. Her first book, Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive! True Stories from a Curious Traveler, takes the reader on an unusual tour.   [Read more…]

Innovation Dean Mitzi Montoya on Rock Stars in STEM

Mitzi Montoya, ASU Dean of Innovation at 85 Broads Luncheon 3/3/14

Mitzi Montoya, ASU’s Innovation Dean, speaking at 85 Broads Arizona luncheon 3/3/14
Photo: Bob McCarroll

By Pamela Burke/March 30, 2014

Recently I attended an 85 Broads Arizona “Amazing Women” event that featured a TED-like talk by Mitzi Montoya, Vice President and University Dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University. She made me understand the meaning and importance of STEM, especially for young girls who are growing up in a world where these sciences are essential to their future choice of profession.

“STEM is about innovation. And it’s not just about getting a degree in Science and Technology, Engineering and Math. It’s about being STEM literate. That’s the foundation of future innovation and innovators. These are people who make a difference and they make things that matter.”   Mitzi Montoya @innovationdean

Dean Montoya’s call to action is to get involved and after you read her speech, you’ll know why. We don’t usually post talks but this is one we wanted to share. Here’s Mitzi Montoya…. [Read more…]

Patricia Sexton’s Journey from Wall Street Banker to Anchorwoman in Mongolia

Patricia Sexton LIVE from Mongolia

Patricia Sexton on Mongolian TV

UPDATE 11/28/13: LIVE from New Zealand, Patricia launches her book in Wellington

By Bridget Stangland/November 24, 2013

TWITTER: @PatriciaSexton

“I was hungry. Suddenly, I had to make it, and I wasn’t going to arrive wherever I was going by coasting. This dream I believed I had—and I still wasn’t sure what it was—would have to be real.” Patricia Sexton

Everyone has a dream. Whether large or small, these dreams are what can motivate people in their daily lives. However, some never take the leap of faith to follow them. Patricia Sexton is an individual who took her leap. She’s the author of the popular blog and book, LIVE from Mongolia. I was excited to have the opportunity to speak with Patricia recently while she was in America touring for her book before returning to her home in New Zealand.   [Read more…]

PERSON OF THE DAY: Author Anne Lamott Stitches Life Back Together

Anne Lamott by Sam Lamott

Anne Lamott/Photo: Sam Lamott

By Laurie McAndish King/November 10, 2013


“People ask why I called the new book “Stitches.” It’s because when we are stuck, or lost, or too sad, we can take one stitch.” Anne Lamott

“I wrote this book accidentally,” Anne Lamott explains. Two days after Newtown (the site of the December, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy), Lamott found herself in her regular Sunday School class, wondering What am I going to tell these children? Where do we even start?

But Anne did know what to say. A popular novelist, essayist, memoirist and political advocate, she has been inspiring people with her words for more than twenty years. Tell them the truth, Anne reminded herself. Start where you are. Breathe. Stitch things together. And so Lamott’s latest book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair (Riverhead Books), was born.   [Read more…]