Bonnie Moore: Bringing the Shared Housing Movement to Boomers

Bonnie MooreWhen asked to tell her story, Bonnie Moore laughs. “Well, I’m 70 years old, I have a long story. I’ve been through three husbands. I was divorced before I even went to college. And while the truth is, I’m not cut out to be a wife, I’m definitely built for working life. I’ve run my own businesses before, but I didn’t become a serious entrepreneur until I was 69.”

At a time when most people would be putting their feet up for a long-deserved retirement, Moore was writing business plans and seeking developers to launch her online network supporting communal living among mature adults.

Moore’s drive to launch the Golden Girls Network was created out of necessity, but perhaps it also has its roots in her early years as a college graduate and divorcee living the hippy life in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. “I’ve always loved the camaraderie and convenience of communal living,” she explains.

A hippy perhaps, but for 27 of the 30 years she lived in the “City by the Bay,” Moore was an accountant. That is until she brought a class action suit against the California State Board of Accountancy in a fight over her right to refer to herself officially as an accountant rather than a bookkeeper. The case ended up before the California Supreme Court, and – although she lost by one vote – Moore became something of a celebrity, giving lots of talks on the issue of commercial speech. The experience sparked an interest in law, and so at 44 years of age she enrolled in law school, while working part-time.

“I was 50 when I graduated and the first question I asked myself was, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’”

But unlike her fellow eager graduates, Moore had to put her legal dreams on hold. “My 29-year-old daughter was diagnosed with AIDS and there was no question that I would drop everything to take care of her. She was one of the first patients in 1995 to get the untested cocktail because she was dying and had nothing to lose. Within one month she started to improve.”

It took almost three years for Moore’s daughter to get back on her feet, but as soon as she was, Moore decided to move on to the next chapter in her life. With a second divorce behind her, she set her sights on Washington DC, and with nothing more than a 15-year-old two-seater sports car packed with a suitcase and a blow-up mattress, she hit the road to finally live east of the Mississippi.

DC was a good move. After several temp jobs as an accountant, Moore secured a consulting gig with a CPA firm and stayed for 15 years until semi-retiring at age 69. She still works part-time for the firm on a project basis.

Bonnie Moore“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,” she laughs.

Moore’s inspiration for her next move came directly from her own experience. Divorced for the third time in 2008, she was saddled with a large mortgage for her newly remodeled 5-bedroom home in Bowie, MD. “Home renovation is a stressful process,” Moore says wryly. The recession had started and the house value was plummeting.

“I had my dream home. But my income was cut in half and I had 100% of the bills (her ex filed for bankruptcy). I knew I wanted to keep the house so I decided to start looking for roommates. Bowie is primarily a family town so it was challenging to get people to move out there.”

She focused on women in the same age-group. After some interesting experiences … the woman who reorganized all her drawers and the Jehovah’s Witness who shunned her Halloween decorations … Moore finally found four roommates that worked. Multiple house agreements have helped maintain order and balance the demands of five different personalities.

Fast forward five years to retirement and Moore realized her next opportunity was right in front of her. There was a market of mature women struggling financially and searching for housing, and the Craigslists and rent.coms of the world were not meeting their needs. She would establish a business to help other women do the same thing that she and her roommates were doing: find like-minded individuals to sharing housing.

Golden Girls Network is a membership-based organization modeled after match.com that provides an easy-to-use platform for mature women (and men) to search for and find shared living arrangements from a national database. Users can be seek housemates to share in their home or rooms in other Golden Girls homes. Bonnie is also working on a foundation which will support a home companion program through which a housemate could receive a reduced rate for rent in exchange for providing assistance in the home of an older adult. “This wouldn’t include medical needs, but rather help such as changing light bulbs, doing the grocery shopping, and shoveling snow,” Moore notes.

“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,”

And while the idea came easily and the business plan has evolved, setting up Golden Girls Network has not been without pains.

“We were trying to do too much and there were liability hurdles that I didn’t foresee. Then I found someone to build the database, but let’s just say it didn’t go very smoothly. I almost packed it in until NPR contacted me. I wasn’t even in business yet! Three developers later, the database was ready to launch and the very same day, we were on the cover of the style section of The Washington Post.”

Completely self-funded (although looking for an investor), the network currently includes more than 900 people in 47 states. Moore is in licensing talks to expand the network outside of the US. And even though she doesn’t sport a hoodie, she joined a business incubation center at Bowie State University shortly after her launch.

“We’ve tapped into something that people are really interested in, it’s a sleeper thing. Baby boomers are retiring and their situations are not what they expected. There is an epidemic of middle-age divorce. People who lost the value of their homes or their jobs through the recession don’t have the money to retire the way they thought they would. What’s more, women’s salaries are lower than men’s and often they don’t have secure retirement plans. Retirement communities are expensive, especially for people on a fixed income. Living in shared housing helps cut costs dramatically and the bonus is you don’t have a house or yard to take care of. It’s kind of nice.”

So what’s next for the septuagenarian after she finds that investor and takes Golden Girls Network to the next level?

“Oh, I’m going to be the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ lady – the face of the company – and let someone else run it! One of these days I’m really going to retire and live the life of a Golden Girl.”

Denise Roden: Loss So Often Leads to Gain

Denise RodenThe first line of Denise Roden’s scrapbook reads, “This is a book about me, for me.” You wouldn’t know it until you glance through those pages, but at one point in her life Roden weighed 265 lbs. It’s possible she weighed more but she can’t say for sure because she never stood on a scale until the morning of her life-changing bariatric surgery. Something else you wouldn’t know by looking at the confident blonde is that starting her own business at the age of 48 has been transformative – even more so than the surgery.

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following theDenise Roden money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

Roden grew up in Alabama, north of Birmingham, in a typical Southern family. Raised on fried food and Hamburger Helper, weight was always an issue as she and her siblings rarely exercised and were not encouraged to spend a great deal of time outdoors. By high school, Roden weighed 200 lbs. She tried aerobics and played some sports, but the slow slide into obesity had begun, interrupted by spurts of yo-yo dieting.

Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Roden enrolled in college to become an elementary school teacher, but her heart wasn’t in it so she dropped out after two years. Ideally she would have done something with computers, but it was 1983 in Alabama and there weren’t many options for that type of career, especially for a young woman.  She continued working odd jobs, toying with the idea of going back to school. She never did, though; instead marrying a soldier at the age of 23. The pair moved first to Virginia and then to Korea where he was stationed.

Weight gain continued to be a problem. “I tried everything. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, that crazy grapefruit diet. You name it, I did it. But nothing worked because I was looking for a quick fix rather than being mindful about what I was putting into my mouth and actually changing my lifestyle,” she recalls.

After Korea, the couple moved to Massachusetts, but the marriage was on the rocks. Roden took a secretarial position and taught herself how to use the Wang computer (remember those?). “I did a lot of payroll and accounting, and generally picked up the skills of whatever needed to be done. I was like a skills sponge,” she laughs.

Following his tour in Massachusetts, Roden’s husband was accepted into nursing school with the Army’s support and they moved to North Alabama where the marriage continued to flounder. “My parents had been married for over 40 years.  I didn’t think divorce was an actual option and deep inside me, I really thought I could make it work. However, I just gained more weight.”

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following the money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

After returning to school to get an associate degree in general studies, Roden held various office managerial positions and built her finance expertise. After several moves, the couple settled in suburban Washington DC, where Roden worked as Director of Finance and Administration at the non-profit Jewish Women International. She stayed for 14 years.

Denise RodenFour years after the move to DC and several counseling sessions later, the couple finally separated. When her husband got orders to go back to Korea, Roden declined to follow, choosing instead to do a BA in business administration while working full time. Around the same time, she began looking into bariatric surgery as a solution to her weight problem. She was suffering from a barrage of related health problems such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and hypertension, and the surgery – a stomach or intestinal operation that helps obese patients lose weight – felt like the last option.

After a year of reflection, Roden decided to go for it. As she was still covered by spousal military benefits, the surgery, and accompanying tummy tuck and breast implants to adjust for excess skin were all covered. “I just had to buy the bra,” Roden laughs. “It was such a gift.”

Roden dropped 100 lbs relatively quickly and was transformed. She attended bariatric support group meetings and after getting certified by the Bariatric Support Center International (BSCI), became a support group leader, a task she enjoyed but found frustrating when noticing who was attending the sessions.

“It was the patients required by their insurance firms to be there as part of pre-op or the success stories. The people who really needed to be there, the ones experiencing what I call ‘the creep’ – the slow but steady weight regain – were not coming. I had always felt there was a number on the scale that, if crossed, would be a slow descent from which I’d never recover. So I vigorously fought off the weight regain by focusing on my own wellness and happiness.”

This proved to be challenging considering what she was experiencing at the office.

“I learned a lot in the 14 years at JWI but I also grew up during that time. I was 34 when I started working there. For many years, the salary and work motivated me, but when I hit my mid-40s, I was no longer happy. I didn’t feel valued and wanted something more fulfilling. I’d start crying on Sunday nights when thinking about work the next day.”

A way out finally presented itself when, about two years ago, Roden received an email from BSCI offering her the opportunity to purchase a license for their bariatric support curriculum. At this point, Roden was on meds for high blood pressure and anxiety so she felt she didn’t have much to lose. Her new “permanent fiancé” was encouraging Roden to make a change and was unequivocal in his recollection of those days, “He reminded me just last week, ‘Do you realize the first word out of your mouth every morning was shit! Do you know what it’s like to start your day next to someone who says that every morning?’ I guess it was tough on him too,” she says a little guiltily.

She considered the cost of the license, and determined that she could swing it with the income from her condo rental and some Army spouse benefits. She gave six months’ notice and filed for an LLC.

Today Roden operates the Bariatric Center for Success. She earned a health coaching certificate from Georgetown last year and offers several services targeted at weight-loss surgery patients. Her educational curriculums include “Success Habits™ of Weight Loss Surgery Patients” and “Back on Track™.”

“For me and the 200,000 Americans who undergo this surgery every year, it’s not the end of worrying about food. You think it is the solution – albeit a drastic one – to your problems, but unfortunately it’s not. You need to change your mindset too, otherwise it won’t work.”

Getting the business going hasn’t been easy. Although most insurance plans cover bariatric surgery they surprisingly do not cover educational support services prior to or after the fact, despite that about 50% of patients experience considerable weight regain between 3 and 5 years following surgery. They even pay for revisional surgery when patients relapse but don’t invest in the more cost-effective and less invasive approach of peer support on an ongoing basis. Roden is working to build up connections and partnering with local hospitals to get the support services covered by insurance.

“It’s taking some time but it’s so worth it. On Sunday nights now, I start thinking about the week ahead, what I am going to be doing. I get excited and that means more to me than anything. Especially because I am helping people defeat those sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that cause weight regain and be successful long-term.”

Tips from Denise Roden
  • It’s really difficult to do everything on your own. Working from home, I found it hard not to let personal demands eat into professional time. I joined a women’s co-working space (Hera Hub) to address both of these issues. I’ve met a lot of women who’ve given valuable support to my business, I’ve learned from others, and I’ve been more disciplined about my working hours.
  • Keep lines of communication open with those around you. They might not know how challenging what you’re trying to do is.
  • Also, be sure you have enough for start-up cost. For example: website, CMS, accounting package, etc. There are so many little things.
  • As the President of BSCI, Colleen Cook said, “Reach Further, Dream Bigger, Aspire Higher” That’s exactly what I aim to do!

Alice Shepherd: When the Need to Create Triumphs

Head Shot

“When the horse dies, get off.” Strange as it seems, those six words may have changed the course of Alice Shepherd’s life.

At the tender age of 19, Shepherd began her career in bookkeeping in Nashville, TN, where she was born and raised. It wasn’t long before she had worked her way up to a position in public accounting and also became a certified QuickBooks Pro advisor, leading classes and instructing others in the use of the accounting software. When asked why she chose accounting, Shepherd replies in her lilting Southern accent, “I was good at accounting, plain and simple. It didn’t have much to do with liking it or not liking it; it served me well.” (more…)

Mary Beth and Helen Graham: A Tale of Two Sisters

Graham_SistersAlthough as close as sisters can be, Mary Beth and Helen Graham couldn’t have chosen more opposite paths in their first careers. They both graduated from Smith College, three years apart, and – through economic ups and downs, and workplace, and customer challenges – the two have leaned on each other to find their rhythm and passion. They eventually came together to fulfill a dream of running their own business and in the process have discovered the best coworkers they ever could have imagined – each other.

But their stories are their own to start.

Graduating with an English literature degree in 1988, Mary Beth left Smith not sure what she wanted to do when she “grew up”. After a stint in artist management, another at a veterinary front office, and a variety of other temp jobs, her uncle suggested teaching. “He felt I’d have a real aptitude for it and he was right. I loved working with the younger kids, molding their minds. That moment in kindergarten, when you can almost see the metaphorical light bulb switch on when they get reading – it’s a great feeling knowing you had something to do with that!” (more…)