Orange County Women Taking the Lead to Make an Impact in the Community
Written by: Priscilla Ng Orange County Women
Photographed By: Patrick Martin and Noble Andrews
Entrepreneurship. Empowerment. Empathy. These five women have been able to make a difference in each of their industries to improve the overall lifestyle of the Orange County community. Be inspired by their work and revel in their bravery in starting their own successful businesses and organizations. LOCALE conducted an online poll, brought to you by Wells Fargo, and these ladies came in at the top, including: a talented interior designer, Italian chef who switched from a corporate job to the culinary life, fitness expert with an effective way of maintaining the body, a woman dedicated to helping low-confidence individuals get back on their feet and an advocate for children with life-threatening illnesses.
The Expert: Shannon McLaren Wilkins: Owner, Prairie Home Styling
Shannon McLaren Wilkins began as a stylist in the fashion industry, but has expanded her talents into designing and staging homes for the reseller market. She finds her appeal in redesigning homes into fresh and timeless sanctuaries. She’s lived in New York, London, Seattle and Los Angeles, all of the world’s finest metropolises, which has helped her develop the sleek, comfortable, antique, and modernized style that so many people crave in their homes.
Q: How long did it take for you to stabilize your company, and what were some of your initial struggles?
Shannon McLaren Wilkins: Since launching, we have been successful due to the booming real estate market in SoCal. Some of our struggles have been keeping up with demands because inventory is always coming in and out.
Q: What visions and future plans do you have for your company within the next five years?
SW: We launched a remodel/interior design aspect of our business a few months ago. It’s going really well and I love working with clients on their personal homes. I would love to continue that aspect. It’s also always possible that we open up a home store in Newport. That’s just dreaming though. I can only imagine our warehouse and inventory will keep growing with the staging side as well.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into the same field as you?
SW: Do it! I started with one house at a time.
Q: What is something you learned on the road to becoming an entrepreneur?
SW: Good news travels fast. If it’s going to work and catch on, it is usually a quick positive response. Grow funding as needed, and don’t invest money when you’re not forced to. We started in my garage, then got a storage unit, then a smaller warehouse and now we are in an even larger warehouse.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
SW: It’s a new project every few days, which can be chaotic for some, but I love the design challenge and the ‘before and after’ satisfaction.
Q: What are some of your biggest challenges when designing a particular room?
SW: In staging, sometimes we need to furnish homes that are NOT updated, which helps mask some of the design flaws, however it is less inspiring.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
SW: I get my inspiration from design magazines, flea markets, Instagram and the black hole that is Pinterest. I look internationally in Australia, London and New York as well. I always take what I find abroad and add elements that make it feel more Californian. Australia seems to have that laid-back design nailed!
Q: Can you explain your process when redesigning a home?
SW: I’m all about the flow. I start at the front door and walk the whole house. I take on a weird intuition feeling on how the house should move. If something feels wrong, I fix it. Then I focus on the exterior of the home and ask myself ‘What style is it?’ Then I take the vibe of the house in consideration when selecting materials to update it.
Native Knowledge: Shannon began as a stylist in the fashion industry, but has expanded her talents into designing and staging homes for the reseller market.
Down Under Design: For a laid back design, Shannon looks to Australian elements as an inspiration go-to.
International Smile: Shannon has lived in New York, London, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Prairie Home Styling
The Expert: Amy Jo Pedone: Certified Master Chocolatier, Owner of Valenza Chocolatier
Amy Jo Pedone committed to an inspiring feat. After leaving a fourteen-year long career in the real estate lending industry, she went back to school to Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts to learn the delicate art of chocolate making. She now runs her own small business and creates one-of-a-kind authentic Italian confections that many in the community recognize as the best and purest kind of chocolate.
Q: Will you tell us a bit about your delicious chocolate?
Amy Jo Pedone: It’s an Italian inspired artisan confections company. We use old family pastry recipes converted to different ganache flavors, as well as doing traditional chocolate pieces. I use the purest single bean origin out of Venezuela. I don’t use any additives or preservatives, so everything is made fresh.
Q: Tell us about your transition from working in the corporate real estate industry to becoming a chocolatier.
AP: I was in commercial real estate lending for 14 years. Then I left to help my cousin who was battling ovarian cancer. She left me with this amazing gift of really stepping back and thinking, “If I had to do it all over again, what would be my true passion? What is the job that I want to do?” You can’t live with regret. Although I loved what I was doing on my corporate side, I wasn’t getting out of it what I was putting into it. I basically did this soul searching of figuring out what my passion was. Fortunately, I was able to transition my diligence from my prior job into researching what I needed to do to start my chocolate company.
Q: What does a typical day as a chocolatier look like for you?
AP: I start my mornings at 3 a.m. and I work from 4 to 9 a.m. Primarily because I don’t have my own kitchen yet and because I work out of a shared commercial kitchen, I have to deal with climate control. I have to have the kitchen between 67-69 degrees Fahrenheit for tempering chocolate. As a small business owner, it then leaves me the afternoons to deal with other aspects of business. Morning is all production. The afternoon is for PR, branding, social media, delivery, all of those functions of running a small business.
Q: What was something you learned during your time in Italy while completing your Ecole Chocolat Master Chocolatier Certification?
AP: I chose the Italy program clearly because it ties to my branding. We learned traditional pieces from the region that we were in, which was Piedmont in Northern Italy. They’re known for their hazelnuts. It dates back to the Napoleonic Era. They wanted to make chocolate last longer so they took hazelnut and mixed it into the chocolate. And since then, that’s turned into Nutella. And now it’s a sought after Italian chocolate. I brought it back to the states and made it in the traditional form, and I still get my hazelnuts from that region.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
AP: The whole genesis really stems from three women: My cousin Sheri, my mother and grandmother—[they] have had a lot to do with shaping my life and the value of the traditions that I carry on. Being a chocolatier is very challenging and it’s a lot of hard work. That work ethic is something that all three of those women have had, which has transferred into me. What also keeps me going are my customers. I am so humbly gracious for their support. Because business has grown organically, it’s almost like they feel my success with me.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge in your career?
AP: I think for me personally, it’s overcoming my stages of fear when I have a small business. I went from a corporate career where life goes paid every night and you have that infrastructure. When you launch a new business, each level of the business creates different uncomfortable hurdles. The next hurdle is finding a permanent base and knowing where I’m taking this. It’s overcoming [my] self-doubt. This goes back to what my customers have really done for me and being my sideline-cheerleaders to seeing how this business evolves.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you can give to another budding chocolatier?
AP: Be authentic to yourself. Are you going to be a trend follower or do you have something that’s specific to you? How does that differentiate you? For example, I’m not going to do bacon chocolate and I’m not going to do tea-infused because I stick with my authentic brand which is Italian inspired chocolate. I have my own niche, and it represents my culture and traditions. It’s really important that your authenticity is going to show through in your collection.
Italian Roots: Amy Jo is half Sicilian, and growing up, her and her mother always made Italian cookies together.
The Perfect Temp: The kitchen must be between 67-69 degrees Fahrenheit for Amy Jo’s perfect environment to create chocolate.
Early Bird: Amy starts her mornings at 3 a.m. and works from 4 to 9 a.m.
The Hood Kitchen
350 Clinton St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The Expert: Jerri Rosen, CEO/Founder of Working Wardrobes
Jerri Rosen is an admirable woman with a dedicated passion to help others. She started the nonprofit organization, Working Wardrobes, after realizing that many individuals and victims of substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and traumatic financial loss need help with restructuring their professional image and getting back into the workforce.
Q: Can you tell us about the mission statement of Working Wardrobes?
Jerri Rosen: Our mission statement is to do everything in our power to help our men, women, young adults, and veterans get back on their feet and back to work with dignity. We do that in a variety of different ways. We have staff who are working diligently with clients to do assessments to develop individual employment plans, to provide hard and soft skills training and to help them with interviewing techniques, resumes and pulling together the right questions and answers for interviews.
Q: What inspired you to start the organization?
JR: Originally we were working with survivors of domestic violence. That’s an audience of people that truly does need a boost to their self-esteem. But after working with them, we realized that there were more issues that they were dealing with, so we expanded over 26 years to do much more for many many clients, adding services for men, young adults and veterans as well.
Q: What are some of the biggest flaws in the way our working society is structured?
JR: I do think that people need to, early on, probably even in high school, get much more information about financial planning and how they can develop a financial health in their lives. I think that’s basic information for everyone. I think that because our audiences are so diverse, people are coming with different sets of issues. But at the end of the day everyone is dealing with this need to rebuild their dignity, self-confidence, their sense of who they are and to communicate their skill set in a very positive and powerful way to an employer.
Q: You’ve made some outstandingly positive impacts on the community, but how has Working Wardrobes impacted you as a person?
JR: I think it’s changed me in any number of different ways. This has been very powerful work for me to see evolve over the years. Everyone is touched when we can help an individual, so I think for me, my sense of compassion for the issues that are happening to our clients, makes me very much more aware of what people go through on a daily basis. I think I’ve become less patient with people who are blasé about what’s going on in the world, and I’ve become much more of a social activist over the years. I would love to think that people have the sense to do something to help whoever is next to us. Everyone can become a philanthropist and volunteer to help the community in some way.
Q: What are some of Working Wardrobes’ biggest achievements?
JR: We now have seven chains of resale (thrift and outlet) stores that contribute revenue to help translate to helping more clients. Being able to serve now over 5, 000 clients every year, is an enormous effort. The first year we started with 67 women, so there is massive growth in that area. We also have our own army of volunteers to work with us in some shape or form every year. It’s an opportunity to give back and to make an impact on the clients we’re serving.
Q: Can you explain the Working Wardrobes process as to how you work with each individual?
JR: Each client goes through a series of assessments with our case manager, and an individual employment plan is put together for the client. That can look very different depending on the circumstances. In some instances, the client may need a very broad array of our services. Others are just here to get a professional outfit together for an interview. We want to provide a range of services, but the individual employment plan is critical. We need to know where they are and what they need so that we can make whatever they want happen for them.
Q: Who or what inspires you to continue your work?
JR: For me, what’s inspiring is always the clients that have gotten back on their feet. They’ve worked so hard to make their transition back into success. I never tire of listening to them and celebrating with them. They inspire me on a daily basis.
Thrift Shop: Working Wardrobes has seven chains of resale (thrift and outlet) stores.
A Big Promotion: The nonprofit now serves 5, 000 clients every year, whereas the first year they started with 67 women.
Give Back: $0.87 of every dollar donated directly supports client services.
1851 Kettering St
Irvine, CA 92614
The Expert: Autumn Strier: President and Co-Founder of Miracles for Kids
Autumn Strier is an advocate for children with life-threatening illnesses. She started Miracles for Kids to help families meet the basic needs of their children. The organization helps cover anything from financial aid to housing and other essential needs. With such a caring and humble sense of duty, Autumn has helped change the lives of hundreds of families.
Q: Can you tell us a little about Miracles for Kids?
Autumn Strier: Miracles for Kids began in 2004 and we are a nonprofit that provides aid to low income families with critically ill children. There were no solutions for families who had children battling life threatening illnesses. Miracles for Kids began as a solution that provided a community, resources, access to support their family, and also to take care of their children for treatment. We provide very simple ways to remain stable for children to have access to food and other basic needs.
Q: What got you interested in your career path today?
AS: I was on the receiving side of charity as a child. I moved around a lot and I was also in need of everyday health. I received support from various individuals who reached out. As I grew up I knew that my calling was to help others. Now, I’ve been a volunteer in management of a nonprofit for over 25 years.
Q: How has your experience with Miracles for Kids changed you as a person?
AS: I really don’t think of this as a job. It gives me perspective, reminds me of the value of health and family and to cherish the things that we have. So it’s taught me a great deal and I’m honored to know the families and spend time with them and to call many of them my friends.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve experienced so far?
AS: One of the biggest challenges is having a greater demand for our support than our resources allow. We have a waiting lists at all three partner hospitals and their child’s illness could last for days, weeks, months, a year. That is very devastating for a family. Our greatest challenge is to raise enough funds and secure enough support and resources to continue to serve these families while they’re in need of our help.
Q: What or who inspires you to continue your work?
AS: The families continue to inspire me through days that are very hard in a non profit business. We rely on the generosity of others and the support of large community, and we deal with families and their children with life threatening illnesses. We can’t change trajectory or make immediate improvements. All we can do is make their lives as stable as possible and it’s challenging because they have such great needs. Their basic needs. They need gas, food, shelter, but we have on any given day over 250 families to provide a solution for. And that is a challenge in itself, to introduce our organizations to those who need our services, and to have the ability to reach out.
Q: Can you tell us an inspiring story about a miracle you helped create?
AS: We have what we call Miracle Manor, the first housing solution for families at risk for homelessness because of their child’s illness. The most inspiring thing I do every day, is making Miracle Manor come to life. It’s the result of a year and half of renovations and support of over eighty-five companies who helped renovate a twelve-unit apartment complex into a beautiful sanctuary. We have hundreds of volunteers helping us with building furniture, fences, and painting. It’s a great place for families to come together to support each other. It’s all just incredibly inspired.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
AS: Meeting the children and spending time with their families. It reminds [me] how every day is a gift. They’re incredible; their laughter and how they believe that all things are possible, how they’re not weighed down by their circumstances. It’s an incredible thing to witness.
Q: What are some ways Miracles for Kids reaches out to the community?
AS: We have several volunteer opportunities every month. We partner with community organizations, and clubs in eleven different elementary and high schools. We give the children the opportunity to meet the families. We do a number of fundraisers, golf and tennis tournaments, fishing tournaments, music festivals, and we partner with some organizations, spend time in the community, raise awareness, and have new conversations with people who might be interested in helping.
Q: What future goals do you have for Miracles for Kids?
AS: It’s very simple. We want to raise additional funds and increase our resources in order to meet the needs of families whom we cannot yet serve.
Giving Back: As a child, Autumn was on the receiving side of charity. Now, she’s been able to give back as a volunteer for over 25 years.
Native Knowledge: Autumn lives in Orange County with her husband and three children.
Miracles for Kids
333 S Flower St
Orange, CA 92868
The Expert: Monica Pommier Grubin: Owner of Pure Barre Newport Beach, Mission Viejo, Irvine and Huntington Beach
Monica Pommier Grubin is a fitness guru with an emphasis on barre. As an innovative and safer form of exercise, Pure Barre is a lifestyle that helps shape not only the body, but also the mind. Monica advocates for positivity and permanent healthy lifestyle changes. Find out how she stays so fit and healthy all the time without the pain of a strict diet.
Q: Will you tell us a little about Pure Barre and the physical ability it requires?
Monica Pommier Grubin: Pure barre is a type of workout you can do almost every day. It is optimal for weight loss and building strength, and it’s a combination of strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is why you see fast results. Yet it’s still nice and easy on the joints deriving from how dancers are trained. Our teachers can work with any shape, size, weight, issue, and any injury. You can even do it during pregnancy, so it’s very user friendly. It gives you great results without causing more pressure or damage to pre-existing injuries or your joints.
Q: What sparked your interest in barre workouts?
MPG: I played college water polo, in addition to high school soccer swimming, and field hockey. We always did high intensity cardio workouts, so I was strong, but bulky. The idea of leaning my muscles and still getting this great workout was something foreign to me, so the first time I tried it, it was very hard. I was completely inflexible. But once I let myself learn the technique and stick to taking a few classes, my body completely changed. I was eventually able to do the splits. It was a great workout for getting a strong but non-bulky body. In addition to that, I also worked in orthopedics. My focus was total joint replacements, so doing research on how much impact people put on their joints, I was looking for something that would protect mine in the long run.
Q: What were some initial challenges you faced at Pure Barre or with the ballet barre in general?
MPG: For me, I wasn’t flexible. So it took a little bit for me to get flexible. I’m not good at letting myself be a beginner, so I really had to work to stay with it to see the results. Once you see the results though, you definitely feel like you want to keep going. I have been taking classes for over eight years now and try for four to five times a week. When I do that I am most happy with my body. My posture is better, my mind is more clear and I feel strong.
Q: Who or what inspires you to stick to this kind of lifestyle?
MPG: My clients and my staff are amazing. I love going into the studio every day. When [I’m] working out in a studio, [I] receive positive energy from the people around me. The instructors are highly motivational as well. They push you. That’s what they’re there to do. You have to keep challenging yourself to get stronger, but the instructor helps to make it easier to take your workout to the next level.
Q: Can you describe the Pure Barre community?
MPG: Everything we do in the studio is positive. Our cues, the way we run the class, we keep all negativity outside the front door. Our culture is very uplifting; we strive to help empower clients to reach their fitness goals, whatever it may be.
Q: What are some of your personal fitness goals?
MPG: I want to take classes more often. I think the biggest myth of people owning a fitness studio is that you get to work out every day, but most of the time you’re running around making sure everyone else can work out. So making a little more time for myself to take classes would be nice. I’m at each location multiple times a week and I’m familiar with everyone. I only teach in one location (Newport Beach), and that gives me the freedom to move around.
Q: If any, what kind of diet would you recommend that complements the barre workout routine?
MPG: I don’t believe in diets. I believe in full lifestyle changes. To get the best results with barre, I typically eat protein right after the class. This helps to fend off hunger and also give my body what it needs to repair the muscles I just worked. I try to only eat when I am hungry. I think that is the trick. If you listen to your body it will let you know what it needs. I try to start off the day healthy with protein shakes, yogurts and berries. Lunch just depends if I’m on the road, and sometimes I’ll just grab something. Every one of our stores is next to a Nekter which is nice. I’ll just grab a juice depending on the day. Salads and sandwiches are always a “go to” as well. Dinner is like a free for all. I just try to stay healthy throughout the day, but for dinner my family loves to cook…so we cook and eat healthy of course, but we enjoy ourselves.
Native Knowledge: Packages begin at $39 and can be used at any of Monica’s four locations in Orange County: Newport Beach, Huntington, Irvine and Mission Viejo.
Keep Up! Pure Barre Platform is a new fast-paced class created to maximize cardiovascular results and increase body strength.
Fit Girl: Monica played college water polo, high school soccer, swimming and field hockey.
Pure Barre Irvine
6791 Quail Hill Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92603
Pure Barre Mission Viejo
28321 Marguerite Pkwy Ste 201
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Pure Barre Newport Beach
Pacific Plaza Shopping Center
234 E 17th St Ste 116
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Pure Barre Huntington Beach
7101 Yorktown Ave Ste 101
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Who Run the World? These Girls!