Photo by Jim Baron
Q: You earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Kent State in 2004. Your first jobs post-graduation ranged from high school ceramics teacher to bartender to licensed massage therapist to sales. Was that a type of self-discovery period for you?
A: My interests are varied, and I always was filled with a desire to go after my dreams, but after college it felt more like I was learning what hard work was, working three jobs, living on my own, and trying to find out what makes me happy and fulfilled. The self-discovery continued throughout my 20s.
Q: In 2006 you started your first business — In Touch Massotherapy. How and when did you become interested in massage therapy?
A: I had my first massage therapy session when I was 18 from my cousin Jackie Thomas. She was a firefighter and also an amazing massage therapist. Her skills and understanding of the anatomy inspired me to eventually get a certification and then become a licensed massotherapist in 2002. I worked on weekends to pay for my needs at college as I had transferred to Kent State to receive a BA degree in art education. After I graduated from Kent, I spent time juggling multiple jobs and was burning out. I decided what I really wanted to do was own my own business and try to make a go of doing massage therapy full-time.
Q: Your career then took a different path — all the way to Italy and the Dominican Republic. Could you break down that 14-month journey?
A: At 28 years old I realized I felt unfulfilled and full of wanderlust. When I looked in the mirror, I lacked passion and self-confidence. I asked myself, ‘What was preventing me from doing the wildest most adventurous thing I could think of?’ I thought, ‘What about Italy? What would I have to do to live there? What is preventing me from going there?’ And my honest answers to these questions led me to becoming a private English tutor and au pair for a family in Northern Italy for five-and-a-half months. I applied with an online agency and was placed with a family. I sold my car, had a garage sale, and moved there with open intentions. When the family took me to work on holiday in the Dominican Republic, a chance encounter with some business people led to an opportunity to help start a nonprofit microfinance institution in the Dominican Republic. I took a risk and decided that I would learn more in the Dominican Republic than Italy, so after a break in Cleveland I moved to the Dominican Republic. Timing was not good, however, with the housing market crash, and within four months those that thought they could fund the project were having major losses. I tried to work odd jobs in the Dominican Republic, until I succumbed to the truth that I was broke, and needed to start over. I moved home to Cleveland and in with my folks.
Q: In April of 2011 you again became a business owner. What was the motivation behind starting your current venture, Vision Yoga and Wellness?
A: During my travels my private yoga practice blossomed. I fell in love with how I felt after yoga, and beginning a meditation practice I started to feel a new flicker of contentment and awakened new passion into my soul. When I returned home, as I lived with Mom and Dad, I received my 200-level yoga certification, and my true path started to come to light. In yoga teaching, I found the balance for my massage therapy half. I felt bodywork was one tool to help people, but yoga and mindfulness was the rest of the solution. In moving back from living abroad, I really wanted to be in a place with other visionaries that were doers — in the trenches of change-making. And also live in a region of diversity, culture, that is walkable. And, after moving to Ohio City a year after returning back home, I knew I wanted to open a business here. I was in back in love with Cleveland … big time.
Q: Did you always envision owning a brick-and-mortar business?
A: I think before I moved I had always assumed I would be an awesome manager for someone else, as I didn’t have the confidence that I could do it on my own. Living in two foreign countries with no money and throwing so many fears out the window gave me the confidence to start to see myself as an entrepreneur, and then the vision started to come.
Q: What made you select Ohio City for your location?
A: I love Ohio City. There is so much to be proud of in this neighborhood. The business owners, residents, Ohio City Inc., and council people all love and believe in making this a great place to live, work, and thrive. With a growing region come challenges. Parking at some peak times is a concern that does not yet have a solution yet. I also would love to see more healthy eateries open up to balance out the brew pubs and more retail shops. I love that this region is adding to the economy, and it’s my hope that we are leading in the health and happiness of Ohio City as well.
Q: There seems to be quite a few yoga practices opening across Northeast Ohio. How has business been and how do you differentiate yourself?
A: Vision was part of the start of a wave of new businesses and interest in Ohio City, and we had to hang on pretty tight those first few years. Our area does not have suburban clientele to fill up the daytime classes, so we had to become embedded in our community and find brand new practitioners in the neighborhood. It takes a ton of passion and fortitude along with long hours to make this business work. It’s not for those in it for the money. What I have learned is that when you are in it for the right reasons, love all the hats of being an entrepreneur, and surround yourself with passionate team of experts, business will flow, and it has.
Q: Your fifth anniversary is in April. Any big plans?
A: With five years under our belt, we are looking to grow to a larger space. We will stay in our region and have no firm plans, but we are working toward a much larger location with two studio rooms, five or more treatment rooms, showers, sauna, and larger lobby area. There are several locations we are looking at, but we have a lot of work to do to take the next leap forward. It’s what I stay up late dreaming about.
Q: Between massotherapy and yoga throughout your career, is there any age group you haven’t covered?
A: Wow, what a fun question! I love all age groups. I have taught K-12 in art education, worked with geriatrics currently with chair yoga at Riverview Towers and as a hospice volunteer for the Western Reserve in the past. I have taught kids yoga at Urban Community School. All ages can benefit from various forms of yoga and massage.
Q: What have you learned from working with both geriatric and youth clientele?
A: The older populations need touch, especially when they are isolated in assisted living, at home or in nursing homes. They benefit so much from hugs, hand holding, and massage. They have some of the best stories! I love asking questions, so that is a great way to break the ice before starting bodywork with those who may never have had massage therapy before. I have 19 nieces and nephews under the age of 13, so I have done massage and yoga with them as well. When kids learn compassionate touch at an early age, it makes them more compassionate individuals. It makes my heart melt when I see the kids helping each other if one falls and gets hurt or when they massage their moms. Compassion needs to be encouraged.
Q: The Ohio City Games are now two years old. How have you been involved and how fulfilling has that experience been?
A: I started the Ohio City Games two years ago when I realized that as a local resident with connections to St. Ignatius, Cleveland Fire Department, and area nonprofits, I was a connector between the business and residential community. It was a dream come true to get everyone involved in what will continue to grow to be THE free event for kids and families to launch next summer. I am thankful to have found other individuals who have joined our team, people who believe strongly that we need to keep kids active and introduce fun healthy lifestyle habits that can be replicated at home or in our parks. Look for it again in 2016, the Saturday before Father’s Day.
Q: You are a corporate wellness speaker. What is the hot issue among employers and employees?
A: Companies are well aware that mindfulness and ergonomics can make a big impact on increasing their bottom lines. By investing in their employees’ ability to manage stress and reduce workplace injury or strain with wellness talks, they can also save on insurance premiums. I love bringing in my real-world knowledge and experience in massage therapy to educate on the small changes one can make that, compounded over time, can make one happier and healthier.
Q: Included on your LinkedIn list of interests is “my enormous family.” Exactly how big is your family?
A: I am the youngest of seven children with five brothers, one sister, and 19 nieces and nephews under the age of 13. My whole immediate family still lives on the west side of Cleveland, and I have a lot of extended family as well. They love and support me, but I’m definitely the one that has chosen the path of adventure, challenge, and risk. I wouldn’t change a thing — I am stronger and more compassionate for it.
For more information: visionyoga.net