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.”

Tina Ambrogi: Setting Up Shop Her Way

Tina AmbrogiThere are two things that Tina Ambrogi dreamed about as a child growing up in Massachusetts: living in the San Francisco area, and building a tunnel between her home and the house where family members lived next door. She envisioned this tunnel as a place where artists could hang out, where people would barter and trade goods. “That never happened,” she says wryly.

But it’s a funny thing about childhood dreams; maybe they don’t ever really go away. (more…)

Esther Nio: Bringing the Sweet Taste of Deutschland to Silicon Valley

Esther NioIf you find yourself in Los Altos one day, pining for a bite of some authentic Bienenstich so good you lick your fingers clean of the vanilla custard, then you’re in luck. A small hike from Googleplex and a straight shot down San Antonio Road lies Esther’s German Bakery. You’ll have to do U-turn and probably fight over a parking space but it’s worth every bit of aggravation to get your hands on some of Esther Nio’s Echte Laugenbrezn (real pretzels) or Schwarzbrot (rye pumpernickel bread).

“And don’t worry about the calories,” Nio says, “We use organic whole wheat flour in our cakes to make them less sinful.” (more…)

Cindy Callaghan: There’s No Business Like Show Business

Cindy Callaghan

Here’s how Cindy Callaghan describes her story: “a bizarre and fascinating tale with lots of twists and turns and things that come full circle.” Here’s how we describe it – yet another person, who after a long and successful (and rewarding, but not passion-filled) career returned to a first love.

Callaghan grew up in New Jersey but wanted to get far away as soon as it was possible. As a kid she dreamt of being in movies – in front of the screen, behind the screen, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to be part of “the business.” (more…)

Leslie Fishlock: The Geek on a Mission to Take the Terror out of Technology

Leslie Fishlock Geek Girls

Leslie Fishlock is an unrepentant geek and self-declared rabble-rouser who loves nothing more than to disrupt.

Questioning her tactics for getting more women into tech, a smug woman once criticized her for “teaching old ladies how to open PDFs.” She was far off base in terms of what Fishlock and her organization Geek Girl is actually doing, but the 50-year-old founder admits if that’s what it takes to help them understand technology, then she’s all for it.

“She totally missed the concept that if you don’t start somewhere learning how to do things for yourself, you’re never going to get into more advanced fields like aerospace or engineering. Maybe I’m not training astronauts of the future but I certainly am making technology accessible.” (more…)

Aurora Anaya-Cerda: Moving her Community Forward, One Book at a Time

Courtesy of Johnny Ramos
Courtesy of Johnny Ramos

Opening an independent bookstore at time when most were shuttering their doors against the Amazon giant might seem like a risky and even foolish venture to some. But not for Aurora Anaya-Cerda. The determined California native spent six years working multiple jobs before she realized her dream of opening a literary hub in the heart of East Harlem, New York.

“I wish every neighborhood had an independent bookstore. There are stories at Casa Azul that are not told anywhere else in the city; that’s what’s magical.  Customers realize how important La Casa Azul Bookstore is for our community, how our buying power can ensure our stories remain in El Barrio. My dream of opening a bookstore has become my community’s dream.” (more…)

Caren Magill: Flexing Her Muscle with the Perfect Protein Pancake

Caren MagillIt began, perhaps, with a fitness competition, which Caren Magill did not win. She finished, she says, “in the middle of the pack”.

Or maybe it began further back, when Magill was a teenager. “Growing up, healthy living was not a part of our general household conversation. I sustained myself on canned soup, white Kaiser buns, and processed cheese. From the time I got home from school until the time I went to bed, I was on the couch eating. By the time I left high school, I weighed over 200 pounds.

“I realized in my early 20’s that not only was being overweight uncomfortable, but it was going to limit me in all sorts of ways. When I finally lost the weight it made me realize I could do anything I set my mind to. It raised my level of self-efficacy, my pride in myself. It really did change the course of my life.”

(more…)

Lorene Grassick: A Life in the Hills with Load-Lugging Llamas

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Grassick with Major Spots, grandson and great grandson of Jedidiah and Fred Astaire

If you are lucky enough to go hiking through the Sierra Nevadas one summer and happen upon a woman in her late 70s leading some llamas and some equally lucky tourists, you’ve probably come face to face with Lorene Grassick. The grandmother of reinvention, Grassick is on her fourth career as a pack llama trekker and breeder.

“I had great examples as a child. My mother was an entrepreneurial woman and both my parents worked all their lives. I am just lucky that I was able to turn my passion into a business that allows me to spend my days with the special soul karma of friendly llamas.”

Grassick has always been ahead of the game in terms of life events. Before attending high school, she starting a career in book-keeping for her apricot-orchard owning parents in California. By 16 years, she was married and at 19 she already had two children. For the next ten years, Grassick was an accountant for several businesses until she fell out of a tree picking apples and broke her right arm. (more…)

Yael Benamour: Crowdfunding Music à la Française

Yael 2

Starting a new business is hard enough. Leaving an entire life behind and moving to a foreign country in order to do so would be nearly unimaginable for most of us. And yet that is exactly what Yael Benamour did. “Every single day of this process was a leap of faith,” she says. “Nothing was easy.”

So what made her do it?

Yael Benamour began her career in France as a singer and songwriter. “After performing for many years, I decided to become a producer. I’d always been interested in the production side of the business and having had the experience and perspective of being a performer ultimately made me a better producer.”

So Benamour worked as a producer for several large studios as well as smaller independent labels. “While working in-house, I was approached by Marie Paule Belle, a well-known French singer. She had become disenchanted with the music industry, and asked me to manage her career. I had no intention of turning down such a wonderful opportunity, but I couldn’t do it while working at another label. So in 1998 I created my own label, Beny Music.” (more…)

Sandy Slade: Basketball-Spinning Queen Turns Game Entrepreneur

4 x 6Sandy Slade has lived a colorful life. The former basketball handler has rubbed elbows with the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kareem Abdul Jabaar and even sparred on the court with Hollywood star Benjamin Bratt as Halle Berry’s stunt double in Cat Woman (yes, really). She can spin up to eight basketballs at one time, and dribble four basketballs at once and has appeared on national TV many times including a Nintendo Game Boy commercial during primetime over the holiday season.

But Slade’s real achievement has been her success in breaking down any sport and making it easy for children to enjoy. Her oversize board game business, Skillastics, has gotten school children moving and now she’s aiming to get you and your kids off the couch.

“To be able to do something so unique and make a living at it, it’s something I will never forget. But in a way, doing my performances and all the things I did with basketball has been the training ground for bigger ventures. I’ve redefined myself now three times, from entertainment to education and now to the consumer-based market. I just feel like I have a bigger purpose … to make a shift in the way we view physical activity as a society. In my own small way, I am trying to ignite that change.” (more…)

Farhana Huq: What’s Your Lie? Here’s mine

This post is modified from www.surflifecoaching.com/

sunset-at-ocean-beach-random-photoshoot-farhana2 (1)What’s your lie? I asked this question to a recent client of mine who was feeling very stuck with what she wanted to do regarding a major life decision. She couldn’t answer me on the spot, she needed time to think. But I have a lie…let me tell you about it.

For 11 years, I worked to build a non-profit organization in service of helping immigrant and refugee women start their own businesses. They faced systemic challenges in getting their businesses up and running – mostly due to language and economic barriers.  In 2010, I took a sabbatical from my organization to recover from burnout and to figure out what was next for me. I was relatively free of stress during my sabbatical; it gave me the opportunity to really experience life in a way I had never been able to in my adult career and to realign my passions with my work.

What became clear to me was my commitment and support of women’s empowerment. I also valued freedom and independence greatly. (Yes, I was the type of kid who would look at our shed outside my suburban NJ home and wish I could live in it by myself.)  I wanted to empower and work with women, regardless of whether or not they were immigrants. When I came back from sabbatical, I realized my lie was deep inside, I was not the one who should be running this organization. I knew it should be led by the people it sought to serve – by fellow immigrant women in the community. Only they really knew and understood their circumstances and challenges and could organize and represent themselves in a way where they shared power and were the ones making change.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had developed an innovative curriculum in the process, and I believed that could be spearheaded independently of the organization by a motivated entrepreneur who could take it to the next level. At first, I thought that entrepreneur was me but, on further reflection, the thought of raising capital and driving forward another start-up – which would take everything I had – made me cringe.

This realization only came to me after stepping away from what I was doing and giving myself a break. I actually had no idea about the amount of financial stress I had been under all those years running the organization. Don’t get me wrong; we did AWESOME work. The team was even more AWESOME, and our clients – amazing.

When I started working with low-income women entrepreneurs and was thinking of starting the organization, an early donor – herself an immigrant – 2803746_origsuggested to focus on immigrant women. She hadn’t seen anything substantial being done for the community in this respect. In some way, it had felt as if I had been partially carrying someone else’s agenda all these years and not been feeling my full authenticity. There were elements I felt I owned, but in the spirit of a non-profit, at the end of the day, I worked on behalf of the interests of donors and institutional funders. I never felt stuck, per se, but the year upon returning from my sabbatical, I knew it was time for a change.  I acknowledged my “lie” and what the right decision for the organization was.

Being clear with myself on what I really wanted to do was key. It took time and space to figure this out but, when I finally did, everything seemed to flow like a river. No more getting sick. No more stress. No more feeling like I was pushing a boulder up a hill. I could just flow, knowing I was on a path to live my truth: to work one-on-one with successful women and leaders, in service of their personal and professional transformations, and guide them in using their success to have a positive social impact on individuals and the planet. While all these years I had dedicated myself to working on behalf of women with few resources, I knew my calling was to work with women who had the resources to give back.

Sometimes we do good work, and it is not exactly the path that we know will most fulfill us. Sometimes we do work that sucks the life out of us. It’s what Greg Levoy, author of Callings calls a “parallel path”. It’s like the dancer who becomes the dance critic or the novelist who instead ends up in journalism. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes parallel paths are very necessary. But what is your “truth” that keeps popping up?  What are you hiding from? What parallel paths do you keep creating for yourself to avoid your real path? Give yourself space and time to reflect. If you don’t, you will feel stuck, unmotivated, and even sad.

4387505I was fortunate to have the time and space to figure this out.  I was able to explore and make so many different discoveries about my next steps.  If you cannot make physical space or take time off, it’s critical to make mental space. Keeping a journal and adding a self-reflective process to your regime will help immensely with this.

So what’s your “lie”? Really mull it over. See what comes to you. You may be surprised at what pops up and how this bit of information can help ignite momentum for your next big leap, whether it’s a career change or new business idea. The other way to explore this (also great advice from Greg Levoy) is to have someone ask you over and over: “What do you KNOW to be true?”  Have them keep asking it and see what it uncovers in you.

Farhana Huq is an award-winning social entrepreneur, executive coach, and founder of several globally conscious ventures including Brown Girl Surf. You can find out more about her at www.surflifecoaching.com.

Kathleen Marinaccio: The Art of the Matter

KathleenThe old saying goes, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. But that’s not quite the way it worked out for Kathleen Marinaccio who had a full and prosperous career as a corporate creative director before eventually opening her own art school. Not only was she ready to be the boss, but she was also drawn to the idea of encouraging others to entertain the idea of a career in the arts.

But it didn’t always look that way for Marinaccio. For as long as she can remember, she wanted to be a nurse. “My father had MS and I thought if I was a nurse I could cure him,” she says. Marinaccio would watch the nurses taking care of him then she would paint pictures of herself as a nurse, also taking care of her dad. “I have tons of pictures of me in all different scenes, making my Dad better.”

But when she was 12, her father died, and with that so did her dream of a career in medicine. But her love of art didn’t, and Marinaccio continued to paint from 12 on, expanding beyond the nursing pictures.photo (4)

Her focus on art continued through high school, and when she was considering college, Marinaccio’s high school art teacher encouraged her to apply to the renowned Pratt Institute in New York City.  Knowing she would have to bear the financial weight of college on her own, she applied for the Pratt Scholarship. Although she didn’t win, she placed 13th, still quite a feat, and enough to push the college to entice her to come with other grants.

So in 1987, when she was 18, she packed her bags for Brooklyn. “At that time, Brooklyn wasn’t the best place but I loved it.  And I decided early on to become a graphic designer. I knew I couldn’t paint the rest of my life and needed to make money.”

Her senior year at Pratt, she did an internship for NBC studios, a stint where she was producing ads for Emmy-nominated shows and logos for sports events.” She loved every minute of it. From NBC she jumped to Harper Collins the book publisher as a graphic designer.

It was not the pay or the job description that sealed the deal for her: “The woman who was interviewing me couldn’t find a pen to write notes, so after looking all over, she picked up a purple crayon – which happened to be attached to my coloring book resume – and took notes with that. I just thought that was so awesome and funny, and clearly there was some sort of chemistry because at the end of the interview she said you’re hired!”

It wasn’t just interview chemistry. The woman became a mentor to Marinacco, and the two struck up a lifelong friendship as a result. “She always wanted me to strive for the best and always try to do as much with art as I could. It’s hard to believe an art director I met almost 23 years ago is now one of my closest and dearest friends.”

Marinaccio stayed at Harper Collins for a year and a half when she moved to take a position as a junior designer at The Lotus Group, a NYC design firm. “I was just 23 at the time and was supposed to be out partying and doing real life stuff, but yeah, I wasn’t doing that. I was working.” Six months into her job at Lotus, she moved into the senior designer position, and then a few months after that she heard from a Pratt friend who was working with Marvel Comics that they were looking for a freelance graphic designer. Marinaccio had the skillset and the work sounded interesting so she took the position … as a night job.

It was a grueling schedule but she loved it … working three jobs (oh, did we fail to mention the weekly bartending gig?), doing what she loved for great companies. “I didn’t sleep and I worked a ton. I don’t know how I did it all but I just kept working and banking the money.” But at 25, she needed a break, just a vacation really. After meeting someone in a bar who lived in LA and extended her an invitation to visit, Marinacco decided a vacation was long overdue. Her boss agreed and even said, “you need a break. Take the trip, and I’ll pay for it.”

After a week in California, Marinaccio knew she had to move there. She loved the weather and the beach and the laid back lifestyle after seven non-stop years in New York City. “When I got back my boss said, oh my God, did I just pay for you to realize you want to leave your job here?”

Marinacco never had trouble landing jobs. Her work ethic preceded her and when she put the word out that she wanted to move to California, her colleagues at Marvel connected her with people at New World Entertainment (of Wonder Years fame) who were looking for a creative director.

With $6000 in her bank account, the 26-year old headed West.  New World eventually got sold to Fox, a move that led Marinacco to take her design skills in-house … literally. “I realized I really wanted to work for myself and I opened my own design firm, Fishbrain Graphic Design, out of a third bedroom in my house. From 1998 until 2010, Marinaccio ran her business, with her now husband, another refugee from NYC.

In 2010, it had been 12 years since Marinacco had “worked for the man” and when Warner Bros. came calling with the chance to takeover their Media Research design department, she jumped.  But it was that move that really brought it home for Marinacco, “When executives were banging their hands on the table in frustration during meetings, I realized I had been in the game too long.”

photo 1 (3)Those art teachers who had guided Marinaccio long ago must have been speaking to her subliminally because, one day at Warner Bros., it hit her – she had to open an art school.  “I wanted to teach all forms of art to all people. I had had a career already. I wanted to teach other people who liked art how to do it, how to practice it, and to get them to the point where they could have a great career in art if they wanted to.”

At first Marinaccio, started out of her house again, in the evenings and on the weekends. First one student, then three, then four. All of her students were people who had other jobs but wanted to be graphic designers – a challenge Marinaccio was well prepared to teach.

“I couldn’t wait to get home and help the students. It was like THIS – all of this has been for this moment right here. I would go to meetings and I would sketch my students’ projects and try to find solutions for them.”

Even though the writing was on the wall so to speak, it took one of her students to hammer the point home. “She came up to me and said, ‘you need to do this for real.’”

The next day while driving to work, a phrase popped into her mind: Reimagine, Enjoy, Aspire, and Learn. After work she told her husband she had come up with the acronym for the school: REAL. “My husband, who thinks most ideas are dumb just said, ‘brilliant’, and then of course, I said, ‘Shit, I don’t know anything about opening a school.’”

Over the next couple of months, Marinaccio networked like crazy. She reached out to funders, community leaders, teachers and more. Before she knew it she had 15 teachers saying they were willing to teach a class or more if she needed it and a commercial real estate location. She was on her way to raising $30K in crowdfunding through MoolaHoop, a crowdfunding source by and for women. With some money in the bank and her former student and now partner, Tina Cho, on board they launched REAL on March 19, 2014.

“I knew that if I didn’t try it, I would always regret it.”

It wasn’t easy but she kept moving forward. Her motto when she hit stumbling blocks was simply, “I gotta do it.”

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REAL’s 4th of July parade float

Today, REAL Creative Space occupies 1250 square feet in Los Angeles’ Westchester Triangle near LAX. REAL offers workshops and camps for adults and kids ages 5-18, that combine people’s current interests with their desire to learn art. A recent summer camp, MineCraft –ing, which focused on the popular game but combined the artist styles of Mondrian and Picasso was hugely successful. Marinaccio still works at Warner Bros., teaches at Otis College of Art & Design, but now also co-manages REAL and teaches Freelance 101, the graphic design class that launched this amazing art school.

She draws adults to the school with monthly couple’s art nights the 4th Saturday of every month. And importantly, in addition to inspiring others to pursue art, she is committed to donating a portion of all proceeds to rejuvenate art programs at the local schools. Open just since March, she’s already raised $1500 for local schools.

“Its not about us. Its about helping people learn art. I went from corporate to listening to my community, and this is exactly where I’m meant to be.”

Tips from Marinaccio

  • Always be learning. There is never a point in life where we know all the answers, challenge yourself to learn something new every day.
  • Be honest but be nice in the process. The best thing you can do for people is to tell them the truth, but please give criticism without being negative or mean. It’s important to let people know that you care about them and that your notes are meant to be helpful.
  • It’s never too late to try new things or change your life. Over the past 10 years, my students have taught me that if you are not happy it’s OK to make a change. Thank you to all of them for having the courage to make a change and open my eyes so that I could make a change too.