I haven’t written about this much because…well, because it’s personal in a way that the other stuff I write about isn’t personal.
It’s about what I’ve created from the ground up. My journey, my throughline in this life.
I’m talking about my business, and sharing it requires that I acknowledge myself, which is something I rarely stop to do.
But here I am, and here I go…it'll be my own version of Love Medicine...a tonic to ingest when I'm in need of some reminders of who I be.
Frank and I dreamed up a business in 2017, we decided to call it Outreach, Advocacy, Resources and Services (OARS) and knew it would serve the population of people with developmental differences in our rural community. The idea was born from deep in each of our hearts...we had worked with this population for decades and wanted them to have more, to do more, to be more than what was available. We circled around many iterations of what that could be…early intervention? Online therapy? Adults? Teens? A mobile van for rural assessments? An online platform to make friends? We were all over the place, literally… traveling across our far-reaching county and surrounding counties as well…sometimes we’d be on the road for 5 hours a day, and that was just drive time getting to and from a single client.
It wasn’t tenable.
Then COVID hit.
We closed shop for a bit, I went to work for the schools, and we tried to see what our next steps would be. Frank continued with his adult clients that were lonely, isolated, and needed his support to keep their heads above water.
My daughter was struggling, I quit the schools, became her teacher, and supported her needs.
I was lucky to get pandemic unemployment, and Frank worked to support us. His clients were thriving, and he figured out ways to see them out of doors…walking, riding bikes, whatever it took to see them and connect.
The school year ended, and COVID relaxed a little. Within the same month, Frank got diagnosed with cancer and we found an office building to purchase... I took over the workload while he went to Stanford for “Cancer Camp.”
I was asked to see a client for the summer that had nowhere to be for several hours between summer school and the long bus ride home. I said sure, of course. I paired him with another client and figured we’d see how that worked. They hit it off immediately..the light on their faces was remarkable. “Best Friends” they soon referred to each other as…they palled around everywhere and started texting to stay in contact.
Between visits to Stanford to see Frank and coming home to work we realized our new design.
We were here to bring our clients out of isolation through social opportunities and shared interests…to develop their skills doing things they enjoyed. We decided to focus on social pragmatics and skill-building by going to new places, trying new things and meeting new people...
It was so simple, and yet...transformative.
In August of 2021 we hired our first full-time employee. Frank returned from Cancer Camp and soon began seeing his regular clients. Business was good…we had new referrals based on the success we’d had over the summer. By November I had completed my TEDx talk and life felt pretty good…we wanted to move away from direct service and were trying to figure out how we could hire a manager and step away…what did we need to do? What could our business look like?
We talked about that a lot during our anniversary vacation to Hawaii in November…so many dreams, ideas, and next steps…it was our passion. I can’t tell you how many hours we’d spent talking about our business from 2017 until the very morning he died on January 7th 2022…our hopes for these people we serve…how bringing them out of loneliness, helping them advocate, and providing a safe and enriching atmosphere was so vitally important to us.
And then he died.
I wanted out. Work was the last place I wanted to be. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t see these people that were the soul of who Frank and I were. By then we had two employees…and they graciously stepped in and helped me during an extremely difficult time. Our office procedures were a mess and so was I.
Somehow…by the grace of a much higher power, we didn’t interrupt service to our clients. Our little organization went through a lot of growing pains…I had to fire an employee and hire a new one…I hired a business coach and declared that by summer this year I would NOT be doing direct service, that I’d be able to take summer with my daughter and not drag her to work with me every day. I needed a manager but couldn’t see how to find one. My part-time employee expressed interest and I began training them to take over.
6 months later here we are and I can’t believe what I’ve created.
But it’s not just me…it’s my clients and my staff who are making this happen.
OARS now has a full-time manager, 3 part-time employees and soon to be 2 full-time ones. We serve about 15 clients and have room for at least 5 more. Our program has grown from 3 to 6 hours a day. Our paperwork is getting set in order and there's a rhythm to the days.
And my staff is crazily excited to work for us…they understand the importance of what we’re creating and have all these amazing and incredible ideas of what more they can do…what they can create…who they can be.
Our clients are thriving…most of them started out at only one or two days a week and are now asking to be with us for 5 days. We’ve had people see us in the community and ask if they can be part of our program…
I stopped by the office the other day, and there they were, hooting and hollering with the sounds of power tools radiating from the backyard. I had to investigate…and there they were, building a garden box, encouraging one another, clapping for their successes…With pride, they showed me what they had done…”Cynthia, look! I did that screw. I put that together!”
I don’t have the words to express my deep and humble gratitude. I wish I could sit and talk with Frank about this…I wish we could celebrate the fact that all our years of trial and error have finally paid off…he’s certainly helping with all the little miracles, but wow…look at where we are and what I’ve created. What we’ve created. It’s crazy remarkable.
And here Lena and I are, on vacation together in Los Angeles…soaking up the sun and getting ready to attend Camp Widow in San Diego next week. It's Love Medicine, 100%. Who thought we’d be here, like this?
Certainly not I.
But here I am and I am grateful.
There's a lot of next steps for me in my new role as CEO. I get to grow the business, get our non-profit going and apply for grants while also doing the education and advocacy work my TEDx talk has brought about.
Humbled, I am deeply humbled and aware that I am not doing this alone, though it is I who is making it happen.
Deep breaths as I let it sink in.