If someone would have asked you five years ago what you thought 2020 would be like, what would you have said? Surely, no one thought in-school learning would be canceled and every level of education would have online classes. Nor would anyone think that wearing a hospital mask or latex gloves everywhere is the norm. While we have all dreamed of working from home, it is now the only way to work if you have a job outside of healthcare, banking, and retail. But if you worked in the restaurant industry or a few other industries, you are probably looking for work. I can honestly say that the last five years as an entrepreneur have prepared me for our world’s new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a young girl I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but I was uncertain of what profession to pursue. I thought of starting a law firm, an accounting firm, or maybe even run an insurance agency. But the attraction of those disciplines diminished. As I continued to live the normal 9–5 lifestyle, I was not happy. How was I going to make a living, be happy, and be a positive role model for my children? Reviewing my job history, I worked at many service industry-related jobs throughout college. The most beneficial was with a full-service hotel where I worked in every department. I also assisted in the creation of two organizations while at college. These organizations proved to be the foundation of my entrepreneurial endeavors. After college and a personal tragedy, my professional career began in the sales departments for a full-service hotel. From there I went into logistics and almost every aspect of the insurance industry. Little did I know that all these professional experiences would lead to an understanding of what it takes to operate a business. Shortly after I graduated from college, my world turned upside down. My father had been ill and the local hospital in McAllen, TX transferred him to a hospital in Houston to do more testing. There he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He called me to say the doctors recommended I visit for the weekend. Later I discovered they did not expect him to survive the weekend. Well, not only did he survive the weekend, but he continued to do well and that he had now become strong enough to begin chemotherapy. So for the next six months, I cared for my father while I lived in temporary housing that was provided by a local organization. As he neared the end of his treatment, the doctors confirmed that the tests no longer showed evidence of lymphoma, but they wanted to do one more round to make sure they got it all. Unfortunately, he never made it to that last round. After returning from a quick trip back home, my father passed away from a heart attack. I was devastated. I made the trek back home to Indiana and eventually went back to work. I had to financially recover from the time I was caring for my father.
As my life continued, my father frequently visited me in my dreams. The dreams were always the same, we were moving into an apartment together. I chalked these up to the fact that this was the last experience I had with my father.
I had not yet realized he was urging me to start the non-profit. Then one day as I sat in a networking group it hit me. The presenter was from a local organization that assisted individuals in launching a non-profit. While listening to the presentation, I realized I could start a non-profit that provides temporary housing for adult patients and their caregivers as they travel for medical treatment. Between my professional and personal experiences, I knew this was what I was called to do. I made an appointment to speak with the representative the following week and I started the due diligence. When I met with the representative, she helped organize the business plan. From there it was all a blur. I had hospital representatives calling me back very interested in the services that we would offer. I also made connections to the two existing hospitality houses that focused on pediatric patients. I met with each one and they both believed I had a great plan. They excitedly agreed to help me in any way possible and provided very comprehensive information. One of the executive directors later recounted that since she delivered so much information to me that she assumed she would never see me again. She is now on my board of directors.
On December 28, 2015, I registered Paul’s Place: Support for Families, Inc. as a new business in the state of Indiana. In July of 2016 we received our 501c3 non-profit status. In March of 2017 we housed our first family. In November of 2017 we leased our second apartment. In May of 2018 we leased our third apartment. In July of 2019 we purchased land. Soon we will be starting the funding process for a custom-designed three-bedroom home that will house three families at once.
As with many startups, this journey has seen a fair share of setbacks. At the end of 2018 we did not renew the lease on the second apartment so we took a slight step back in occupancy. As with many other non-profits, I have seen a revolving door of board members in a short time. Even now, with the onset of the pandemic, we have had to cancel a fundraising event and pivot to earn donations through an online campaign.
For the first three years of the non-profit, I worked a full-time job to keep a second income stream for my family. As the non-profit grew, my husband decided that he should return to a lucrative management position in the restaurant industry. Then, I could eventually walk away from my job and concentrate on the children and the non-profit.
What came next was a true test of my conviction and passion for the non-profit. Approximately a month after returning to the restaurant industry, my husband asked for a divorce. With the tremendous growth from the nonprofit, I was now working the equivalent of two full-time jobs. Roughly a year after my husband and I divorced, I made a HUGE leap of faith (or was extremely delusional) and left my full time paying job. I felt this was the best thing for my health and sanity as well as what was best for my family. There were a few grants that had been submitted that would help pay my salary IF they were awarded. I knew that we would not starve nor lose our home if the grants came through. Sadly, those grants did not come through and I depleted my savings trying to keep things afloat. Almost a year later, I finally received a salary from the non-profit. If the salary had not come through, I was in a position where I would have to sell my house to try and keep my car from being repossessed. During that year of no full-time salary, a few people closest to me thought I was crazy and that I should go back to the regular workforce. But I knew in the long run, it would be the best thing I could do for my family. It would show my children that it takes a lot of sacrifice, resilience, and grit to overcome the obstacles when working towards your goals. But most importantly, you have to have belief in yourself and have the ability to inspire others to accomplish your goals.
Big Goals Should Be Scary
I learned that if the goal is big enough, it should take much more than just one person to bring it to fruition. The more passionate you are about your goals, the easier it is to get others on board with you, in one way or another. But remember, it is also ok to be afraid of the process and to have thoughts of it not succeeding. If your dreams do not scare you, then they are probably not significant enough. Yes, there were times during that very rough year or so in my life that I thought about closing down the non-profit. But what about all that hard work I had put in to make it work? The demand for our services was still there. We frequently had waiting lists for our apartments. If I could not make this work, then who would? If I could not sustain the non-profit, then hundreds of families would not have a cost-effective temporary housing option while going through a medical crisis. Some families would not have the opportunity to receive the medical treatment they needed as they would not be able to afford the travel and temporary living expenses. What would be the worst-case scenario for my family? We would have to sell the house and use the equity for living expenses in an apartment. While not the most ideal situation, we would still have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I knew I had to keep driving onward. When I had these moments of doubt, somehow one of the guests would call and thank me. Many times, I was checking in a family and they cried with gratitude for what I was able to provide for them. These seemingly random moments always came when I needed them most. I knew I had to find a way to make things work.
This brings me to the most recent realization of my entrepreneurial journey. It also requires the ability to be able to adapt to changes quickly enough to power through the tough times. This is true for both personal and professional experiences. So when the world has been slowly shutting down and requiring others to stay at home, I have found that my work situation has had minimal changes. My meetings became Zoom conference calls and people were accepting the idea of electronic communication and transactions as the new norm. This new reality has helped me save money and be more efficient with my time. I am also able to spend more quality time with my children and be the role model of how to work effectively at home. I am also teaching them to be adaptable in challenging times. I feel that if I had not started the non-profit or quitting when it got too arduous, my family’s situation would be drastically different and for the worse. I believe the foundation of my entrepreneurial experiences, especially the last five years, has allowed me to flourish during the most chaotic times such as our new reality with the COVID-19 pandemic.