Small Business, Big Return

Document created by rae on Nov 3, 2015Last modified by amara.mastronardi@socialedgeconsulting.com on Dec 5, 2016
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Okay, so I've never had money. Really really. My family has never had money, I got through my undergrad on scholarships, grants and loans, and got used to a budget of $20 a week. No kidding. $20 covered my gas, groceries and clothes and anything outside of the rent, utilities and phone bill. How did I do it? Well like lots of college folk, I went to thrift stores for fall sweaters, fancy shoes, I rode my bike whenever I could, ate lots of bean burritos and worked my *** off so that there wasn't time to spend money. I finished two degrees in pretty good shape, as long as I didn't dwell on my loan balance too much, and without credit card debt. I got through it! So why in the world did I enroll for grad school just a year later?

   I loved school. I studied printmaking and cultural history, I proved to myself that I could do what I never thought possible when I graduated. A year later I was still working at a cafe and I realize what I really wanted to do with my life. I wanted to go back to school, not just as a student, but to teach, to relate over the things I had learned that were so important to me with others, and what better time to do it. I had taken a year off so I felt rested up, but also not too far out of the loop. Was it the right decision? Well there's only one way to find out.

   I am now in the middle of my first semester with only a year left to achieve my teaching certification. Part of my plan when I am done with grad school is to pursue teacher loan forgiveness by working in a high needs school which I've done before through CityYear (a mentor program for schools through Americorps). So far I've kept up a good pace with my school work, though I had no idea that grad school was going to be three times the amount of work compared to any of my undergrad semesters. As part of my coursework I've been volunteering regularly at a local expeditionary charter school ten blocks from my house in addition to working at the cafe and keeping up with my course work.Its been a rather packed schedule, but my partner has a good job and so I've been cutting back hours at the cafe. So one morning after my partner had left for work and I finished my breakfast, I grabbed my purse, coat, and keys and went out to my car, as I unlocked my car, my partner pulled into the driveway. Confused I thought it must be a holiday or something, in which case there would not be anyone at the school either and I'd have the day off too, but when I saw his face, I knew something was wrong.

   I asked him what happened and whether or not he had work this morning. He responded calmly but I could see trouble in his eyes. He said he was fired.

   "Fired? What do you mean, how could you be fired?" Though I had known that something was off, I had never anticipated this. In the two years that he's worked there he's been promoted as far as you can be promoted without being handed the deed to the shop and never once been late or in trouble. He had never taken advantage of his position there and had been given six different raises. The owner of the shop had gone out of town the week before and left him in charge without notice or question, but this happened every month. There had to be a mistake. I could see my questions reflected in his eyes. He told me that he really didn't know what happened. All he knew was that when he arrived at work all of his stuff was packed and sitting on his desk. Everything at work had changed and he was probably taking the fall for something he was unaware of.

   I went to the school that day as usual but my work there didn't take long. When I got home my partner and I decided it was time to take advantage of our skills and interests in a bad situation. Taking stock of what those skills are my partner has since been pursuing his life's work and dream of becoming a fulltime artist. I on the other hand have fifteen years of food and drink experience. As I was thinking about work at the cafe I remembered that my manager had asked me to write down the ingredients to my herbal cold and cough tea blend that some of the morning customers had come to rely pretty heavily on if they were feeling ill or congested. I asked my partner if he would draw me up some logo design stuff and started at work researching and planning out a business endeavor with my tea blends.

   That night I had put together three different jars of my most consistent recipes, packaged and labeled with a new logo, ingredients list and everything. The next morning I brought them into the cafe that I work at and they bought the local organic tea blends on the spot! Within the week I had my licensing and three other cafes in town interested in ordering at least one of my  blends.

   Now we have moved into a bit quiet house with a friend, we have simplified our phone and internet bills and are splitting utilities to help cut down on bills. I am catching up on my school, my partner is pursuing his dream as a fulltime artist, and my tea business is a quietly steady and gratifying supplementary income making it possible for me to focus on school instead of working at the cafe, and be financially supportive while my partner starts builds his business as an artist. We know that it will take a lot of hard work and patience to pull it off without seeking stable work outside of self employment, but the benefits outway the trouble and that is how we have made it through so far. This to me is success.  

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