Written by Bernadette Pello | Livingstone Academy | KNOW Tampa
There are times in one’s career where a door opens and invites you to walk through it. Doors of opportunity, success, and promotion. There are other times when a door commands your attention and invites you to turn the doorknob yourself. Each in their own way requires vision, commitment and the willingness to take a step of faith. However, in addition to providing a pathway to success, some doors will also illuminate a life of significance.
In 2003, I was enjoying a successful career as a Regional Operations Manager with a Fortune 500 company when a door caught mine and my husband’s attention and seemed to scream, “Open me”. A door that if opened would meet an unmet need in our community. A door that would invite new challenges and opportunities. Leaving behind what is familiar can be difficult. Leaving behind what has brought you success is even harder. Yet, after a significant amount of prayer and planning, we made a decision to answer the call and opened a school to support students with learning disabilities. A school that would give parents hope and students the resources they needed to be successful.
After spending twelve years as a business executive, we were now the proud owners of Livingstone Academy. One season had ended and another was about to begin. As new entrepreneurs, stepping out was both exciting and terrifying. We began with thirty-five students, four employees and a second mortgage on our home that we used as capital. We were a start up in every sense of the word. My husband Chris taught classes (being a prior teacher, coach and administrator), chose curriculum and met with prospective families. I utilized my prior experience and focused on administration, met with families and taught in the classroom when necessary. We worked hard and utilized the skills we had honed in prior careers to launch the business. We also sought out resources and programs that would help us grow as leaders.
One of those programs we identified was Leadership Brandon, a program of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce. This program taught us how to connect and collaborate with emerging leaders in our community. It taught us the value of networking and afforded us the opportunity to develop strategic relationships. After graduating from this program, additional doors of opportunity opened to serve in the community. Chris began serving on the Board for the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center and I began serving on the Board for the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce as the Vice Chair of Programs and Events. This led to the honor of serving as the Chairman of the Board. Most recently, I accepted an invitation to serve on the Board for Center Place, Civics and Fine Arts Center. These influential roles allowed me to not only serve, but also learn from high impact leaders, which strengthened my ability to lead in my own business.
With experience and knowledge in hand, over the last 18 years, we have successfully grown our school to 4 locations, almost 400 students and over 80 employees. We have become one of the State of Florida’s largest private schools for students with special needs. We are proud of our accomplishments, but to be clear, we are still growing. One day we dream of creating a transitional program for our students who are seeking employment in trade or non-degreed vocations. In order to do that, we will once again need to partner within the community.
Our journey has been more than an adventure. We risked it all to support a need we saw in our community. We risked our family’s financial security to give someone else a paycheck. We risked successful careers to redefine the definition of success in our lives. I am delighted to say those risks have paid off. It paid off in the treasure of relationships and knowledge. We met great people and we learned that if you want to grow your business, begin by serving your community. If you want to create a life of significance, find a way to make an impact and then, walk through that door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bernadette Pello is the President of Livingstone Schools, Inc. – private schools for students with learning disabilities. She also co-owns the Pasta Monsta Food Truck. Bernadette is very active in community issues.
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