When four women came together to share their varied personal experiences, three themes emerged: strength, perseverance and faith.
On Nov. 19, the Chamber Women’s Business Network hosted a luncheon called “Extraordinary Women Taking Care of Business.” Four women took the stage at Hinnant Family Vineyards; WRAL anchor Debra Morgan moderated the panel. More than 100 people attended.
Lori Lee talked about her experience starting the Me Fine Foundation. Doctors diagnosed Lee’s son, Folden, with leukemia just before his second birthday. He died after a 15-month battle with the disease. Despite the pain that came with treatments, when asked how he was feeling, Folden always replied, “Me fine.”
Lee channeled her grief into starting a nonprofit. She said all around her, families with ill children were losing their jobs and then their homes. “It was very casual; it just happened to all of them,” Lee said. “I felt like there should be a resource where it wasn’t so devastating for the families.”
So Lee started the Me Fine Foundation, which helps families deal with the financial burden of illness.
The foundation didn’t start with a detailed business plan. “No, it was faith,” Lee said. “It was hope, and it was seeing those faces every day and feeling like we can do something.”
For Crystal Roberts, starting her own company also required faith. Roberts had lost her job in communications and was searching for a new one. Meanwhile, she was starting to pick up freelance work on the side. One day she had lunch with a friend, Sherry Harris, who asked, “Well, which are you going to do?”
Roberts realized she couldn’t work for someone else and herself, so she started Mountaintop Productions, a public-relations firm. “What led me to it was just realizing my strength and my power and knowing that this was going to be a faith walk regardless,” she said. “So I just stepped forward, and I did it.”
Roberts recalled a business coach who taught her an important life lesson. After getting a new job, Roberts called the coach, who said, “That’s wonderful Crystal; now start working on the resume for your next job.”
“What I got from that ... is you forge ahead always,” Roberts said. “Put one foot in front of the other always, and don’t let anything get you down. The challenges that we face tomorrow, there’s joy in the morning, I promise you, and that joy just comes from having another opportunity to see another day and to make a difference.”
One of her important lessons came when she broke her leg, and all of a sudden, all of her plans in life came to a halt. “What I learned form that experience is to slow down,” she said. Now she makes sure to pay more attention to her family and friends and to reflect.
Carrie Peele started her company, Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation, the day of her divorce; she maxed out three credit cards to buy her first limousine.
Peele said the business has been a team effort. “It’s never ever ever about me; it’s about our team,” she said. “And we’ve taken that business over 25 years to a multimillion-dollar worldwide company, and we serve almost every city in the world.”
As a close friend was dying of breast cancer, Peele painted a limousine pink and began donating 10 percent of sales to the Pretty in Pink Foundation. She has convinced about 35 other limousine services to join in.
Peele said people often ask her if she has a backup plan, and she always tells them no. “Because I don't expect to fail,” she said.
Stephanie Beasley, a radiology instructor at Johnston Community College, talked about her career and going back to school to further her education. Beasley, who is adopted, also talked about the search for her birth parents.
Beasley said she had a great life thanks to her adopted parents but had always been curious about her biological parents. She started to search for them, but at first, she got nowhere. “God does things in two ways,” she said. “When he shuts a door, it is saying no or it’s saying it’s not the right timing.”
After some roadblocks, her husband was able to save some money and hire a private investigator to continue the search. Eventually, Beasley was able to meet her biological mother and brother.
And her husband told her biological mom: “Ma’am, before I died I was going to find you to thank you for my family,” Beasley recalled. “You see those two children right there and my wife? I wouldn’t have them if it weren’t for you, and I thank you for giving her life.”
Beasley’s interest in radiology came from long stays in the hospital growing up. Even while raising a family, Beasley was able to go back and get her bachelor and master’s degrees later in life. “We were broke as convicts; we were paying for day care for five years,” she said.
To her, success is about God. “Work as if you’re working for the Lord, for it’s the Lord you’re serving, not man,” she said, quoting the Bible. “And that’s how I try to live my life.”