lean in milwaukee: sharing stories and support

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The Empowerment Project asked us in their documentary, Sheryl Sandberg asked us in Lean In, and now we’re asking you.

Lean In Milwaukee

Kate R., on the left, started Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Way to Lean In, Kate! In this picture, I am holding the group’s namesake book, and everyone else has a “You Inspire Me” PWP postcard.

But first let’s rewind a little to 3 years, 6 months, and six days ago: January 20, 2013, the day before Kate and I launched our favorite little corner of the Internet—People with Panache!

Back then, Kate and I found reasons and ways to see each other in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the best rest stops in between just about every other week. In our professional lives, we were securely situated in jobs that fit well with our paths so far, but we weren’t quite satisfied. Sound familiar?

We wanted to start something that kept us challenged, something that connected us to each other and to the fun, innovative region we love best—the Midwest. In college, we had worked on several publications, even launching one of the nation’s first completely student-run online magazines during our senior year, which was all about the “flyover” states. (Check out the blog portion that still lives on.)

But after our craft vodka taste test, trying out quirky art classes and dabbling in fencing, we had a better plan: We’d use our journalism skills to interview and feature in-depth stories of Midwestern women who might not get all the press, but are paving paths that bring them to their passions! And we’re still going strong, nearly 150 interviews later.

Since then, we’ve grown this beautiful community of women, collecting and sharing their stories with as much of the world as will read us. (The punny person in me is also happy that we’ve featured a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker—though I suppose Big White Yeti’s scented little beauties really classify as tins.)

BlogHer Conference 2013

In 2013, we attended the BlogHer conference and got to see Sheryl Sandberg speak in person! We were close enough to get an autograph but missed our chance.

A few themes have emerged throughout our time traversing the Midwest meeting wonderful women. Last week, I was lucky to have the opportunity to share several with LeanINg Together: Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter—and they all had to do with support.

  1. Love. Every single woman we feature is shaped by the love in her life. Sometimes that love is in the form of family, starting a foundation together like the McGinnity clan or launching a salon as sisters and business partners like Mal and Corinna with Goldpaited. Other times, it’s deep caring for children and wanting to show them that following dreams really is possible—á la Sarah of Treat Bake Shop and Lindsey of Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space (and many, many more). Who in your life lovingly provides you support?
  2. Mentorship. We love hearing about good mentors—because we hope to be them someday! Joey from Escuela Verde mentioned Bobbi, who was her sounding board and ended up starting EV with her. Carolyn, our resident financial whiz, told a great story about a man who mentored her, helping her launch her trading career to become one of the first women to trade on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. Remember Jamie’s tip: When you find a mentor who can help you grow, find a mutual connection and ask for a warm introduction.
  3. Commitment to self. One of the most important keys to every woman’s story we feature is her commitment to her dream, her job and her vision that keeps her going. Although those outside forces can be the vital energy that brings a mission to reality, it takes daily perseverance to make it happen, and to keep it happening day in and day out. I always think about this quote from Lisa at Sister Pie: “The thing about being an entrepreneur or following a dream is that you have to give it your all, and there’s no time as an adult when nothing will distract you.”

So before we ask again what you would do if you weren’t afraid, how about instead we think outside ourselves:

  • How can we better provide love to those in our lives who are striving for something bigger?
  • How can we share our wisdom lovingly and compassionately to give others a leg up?
  • What can we do to help hold others accountable to their own dreams?
BlogHer Conference 2013

We were asked what we would do if we weren’t afraid, and we said: Start People with Panache to share women’s empowering stories!

Standing in front of smiling and thoughtful women at Milwaukee’s Lean In chapter, I was so grateful. Their chapter just recently launched, but it was already so warm-fuzzy-feeling knowing these women are on a journey together sharing some of the same struggles, helping hold one another accountable for their dreams, and providing inspiration and maybe even a little kick in the butt to help each other keep going.

Lean In chapters are like the umbrellas under which Lean In circles live. In Milwaukee at least, the chapter meets quarterly, while circles meet monthly or as often as they choose—and they could be circles of co-workers, friends, people with common interests in anything. Interested? Find a Lean In Circle in your area!

Whether you connect with like-minded people in a formal quarterly meeting or a more frequent, more informal gathering, or anything in between, we’re so glad you Lean In with us week after week! And we hope these lessons help you feel less afraid to do that thing you are meant to do—because we’re so with you, and we’re willing to bet many others are, too.

[Photos by Alysse.]

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meet marta: using art to save chicago’s strays

Marta Kenar, MCP Rescue and Outreach, People with Panache

Marta’s best advice: “Just keep going forward, and work hard for what you believe in. It seems so cliché, but I’ve been doing it, and it’s working, and it feels amazing.”

The summer before 6th grade, I got bit by a cocker spaniel. I saw him wandering around our cul de sac and thought he must be lost. I remembered that when you meet a dog for the first time, you’re supposed to build trust by letting it sniff your hand. At 11 years old, I was feeling brave and worried for the curly haired pup, so I knelt down and extended my right hand. It turns out that dog wasn’t interested in sniffing and took a big ol’ bite instead. I had to have surgery, wore a sling for the first few weeks of junior high, and still have a huge scar on my hand to this day.

My relationship to animals definitely changed after that. Instead of the curious innocence and blind infatuation of a child every time they see a cute, furry being, I became more cautious; I needed to trust the animal before I could fully love it.

It’s not that I stopped loving animals—there are some I love very much, including childhood pets—it’s just that now the danger of a strange beast that communicates purely in loud noise and quick movement is always in my subconscious. And the proof of the danger is permanently on my right hand.

On the other hand, I do believe that some people truly have a gift for understanding another species. Marta Kenar is one of those people. From my stepmom Karen who is obsessed with animals and has allowed every kind of pet you can imagine into our home (dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, turtle, snake, various rodents) to my best friend and PWP co-founder Alysse who truly cares about the wellbeing of every living thing on earth from butterflies to exotic wild animals to her very own new brood of chickens, you’d think I wouldn’t know anyone who could love animals more than them. But Marta may be the exception. As founder of MCP Rescue and Outreach, Marta hopes to instill compassion for animals, involve as many people as possible in rescuing dogs, and use art and music to bring youth into her mission. Continue reading

meet jamie: chicago entrepreneur taking the pet world online

Jamie Migdal, FetchFind, People with Panache

“I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur until FetchFind,” Jamie says. “I was a business owner, but I never had business plans, financial modeling or a marketing strategy. For me, I was like let’s just do this because it feels right—and it is right.” Now Jamie has more in place, but she’s still led by her love of people and animals.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s house has been a revolving door of pets. My stepmom loves rescuing, and my brothers love encouraging her. Throughout my lifetime, we’ve had 4 dogs, 9 cats, 1 snake, 2 rabbits, 1 turtle and a bunch of fish in the backyard pond. The best one is obviously our orange tabby, Lucy, who I picked out when I was 14. And it’s well known to all of her furry (and scaly) companions that she’s the queen bee!

So when someone says they love animals, I know exactly what they mean. Jamie Migdal, lover of animals and founder of FetchFind, came up with a way to take working with animals to the digital space.

Instead of the typical route—vet or animal shelter—Jamie was looking for more connection between people and their pets. And boy did she create it. Continue reading

alysse is going to be a teacher!

“I don’t have a passion!” I remember whining to my mom from the kitchen table.

I was 17 years old, applying for colleges and attempting to pick a path for essentially the rest of my life. (LOL about the passion thing; I may have overcompensated since then.) Knowing how much I love people and enjoy writing, 17-year-old Alysse did a very nice service to 27-year-old Alysse and picked journalism. In journalism school, I met Kate, honed very handy researching and reporting skills, and gained experience with big assignments and tight deadlines—I really couldn’t ask for more. 

We both worked in magazines for several years during and after college, grew professionally, moved into our first adult apartments, and quickly wanted more from our jobs—in different directions. In the years I spent at Reader’s Digest, my first post-college gig, I found the time and freedom to figure out where all my passions—education, environment, social justice, people, animals, and more—intersected.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Lightbulb moment: The food system! Since that epiphany, I’ve hustled non-stop to help build a community-based, socially just, ecologically sustainable, nutritious food system for all—starting in my beloved Milwaukee, at Victory Garden Initiative.

But a simmering energy has been the undercurrent of nearly every job I’ve had, and over time it started to come to my attention with more and more clarity. I thought frequently of something I learned from Lisa at Sister Pie: Figure out the basic action that makes you happy, and build your career around that. All along, the thing I have been seeking is spending my days teaching kids. Challenging kids, sweet kids, struggling kids, goofy kids, all the kids. And what better way to influence the future than care for, educate and empower the pint-size people who are going to create it? There are nearly 80,000 children in Milwaukee Public Schools—80,000!!!—so why not pour as much positivity, resources and love as we can into a massive institution that will actually, literally, create our future?

I am extremely excited to share that I will be starting a certificate-to-Master’s teaching program at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee this August. I’ll be a teacher in a year in a half, then I can take a few final credits to earn my Master’s. From then on, you may call me Master Alysse. But just Alysse is okay right now. Continue reading

meet sarah: making milwaukee sweeter—and nuttier

Sarah’s favorite way to toast nuts: “I prefer the oven, but still watch it: They’re good, almost there, almost there—burned.”

Sarah’s favorite way to toast nuts: “I prefer the oven, but still watch it: They’re good, almost there, almost there—burned.”

My boyfriend gently suggested on Sunday that maybe—even just for a day—I take a Facebook break. (One more poorly fact-checked meme and I’m going over the edge, people!)

But for real. There is so much anger, divisiveness and aggressive misinformation batting back and forth across the intellectual wasteland that is Facebook—from all sides of any issue, mind you. If we’re playing pickle in the middle, I am feeling sort of like the pickle, and sort of overwhelmed, and more than sort of mad. I need a break.

So this week, can we all agree on something?

Gun laws? Women’s rights? Nah. We’re talking self care and treatin’ yo-self in the most deliciously scented way imaginable: SPICED NUTS.

Meet Sarah Marx Feldner of Treat Bake Shop, and then take a break from that smartphone bossing you around and visit her Milwaukee shop—or any of these (very astute) retailers across the country. Continue reading

meet anne: juicing for wellness in chicago

Anne Owen, Owen + Alchemy, People with Panache

“Being the person I want to be and being surrounded by people I find inspiring and creative fulfills me,” Anne says.

For the past three years, I’ve been on a health journey to try to figure out why the foods I love so much suddenly stopped loving me back. It’s like a classic text message break up: quick, painful, out of nowhere.

This March I finally did an elimination diet and discovered my biggest problem is gluten—luckily for me, it’s the trendiest of food intolerances. I also discovered I just don’t eat enough vegetables every day. I had no idea (a) how many veggies you’re supposed to eat, and (b) how few I was actually consuming. So my favorite way to get all those good for you greens became through homemade green smoothies. You can consume a couple servings of greens in one sitting, and with just a little apple or lemon, it tastes great, too. My latest favorite combo: spinach, kale, pineapple and cilantro.

I also discovered a new juice brand popping up around Chicago: Owen + Alchemy. Coincidentally, I learned that Owen is Anne Owen, a woman I quasi worked with at Modern Luxury media, my first job out of college. Naturally I had to track her down and find out how she went from being the publisher of Miami magazine to owner of a juice bar. Continue reading

meet emily: radio producer sharing milwaukee’s stories

Emily Forman's producer-phones, People with Panache

What does Emily’s job entail? Producing a radio story each week. That means she pitches ideas, does interviews, writes a script, collects the tape, mixes it together in audio software and delivers the complete radio package to the radio station.

I’m still waiting for Orlando being the “largest mass shooting in American history” to sink in. Filling my mind instead are images of the individual people: mothers texting their children to no replies, police officers listening to the haunting rings of owner-less cellphones, survivors wondering why they were spared.

This week, we’re featuring Emily Forman, producer of Precious Lives, a two-year, 100-part radio series about young people and gun violence in Milwaukee. Each week, Emily and her team weave together living snapshots of survivors, neighborhoods, families—of resilience. They’re 73 episodes in. With many episodes about healing and peace—rather than shootings and funerals—they frequently focus on the helpers, the people working to create positive change.

Milwaukee, Orlando, and so many cities in between remind us constantly that life can change in an instant. So with each story Emily brings to light, we share the same hope that listeners grow in compassion, acknowledge the very different lives of others in their own city, and recognize just how precious every life is. Continue reading

meet kristen: lawyer changing chicago workplaces

Kristen Prinz, People with Panache

On challenges in her career: “One challenge I’ve had is just starting my own firm and becoming a boss. I thought I would be a really good boss when I quit my job and started my own firm, and then after a couple years I realized, I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong.”

“We had a week-and-a-half-long jury trial. The other side had been overly cocky the entire time. I had a dream two weeks before the trial that we were going to get a $10 million jury verdict. So, because of my dream, we changed the entire strategy of what we were presenting to the jury. And then we got the $10 million jury verdict! How funny is that? It wasn’t really a dream—it was a vision.”

They say if you verbalize what you really want, it’s more likely that you’ll take the necessary steps to make it happen. Apparently dreaming works, too!

I met Kristen Prinz at Money Smart Week 2016. She was a panelist for “It’s the Money, Honey!” the equal pay event, and her passion couldn’t be more obvious. Already, I knew she had to be on the blog.

Kristen started her own law firm, The Prinz Law Group, in 2009 to specialize in employment law. Her firm works with both employees and employers—with, not against, one another. For companies, they will prepare handbooks or represent them if an employee is suing them. They only represent individuals if they haven’t also represented their company. Through improving workplaces, Kristen affects people’s day-to-day lives, and she loves it. Continue reading

meet carrie: supporting sick kids in chicago through art

Carrie Spitler, Snow City Arts, People with Panache

Carrie with movie posters made for some of the kids’ films. In addition to executive director of Snow City Arts, Carrie is a community gardener, a beekeeper and a baker!

“Doctors find the illness, we find the artist.”

I’ve watched enough medical shows to feel those pangs in my heart, imagining just how strenuous and sad it must be to have a child—or be a child—experiencing an illness, especially a serious one. Snow City Arts takes an approach that I wouldn’t have expected to help sick kids stay on track with school while getting better: This nonprofit deploys a team of artists at hospitals in Chicago to work with kids on artistic, educational projects while they stay for extended treatment.

I first heard about this beautiful endeavor because of my boyfriend, Jim. Bringing his passion for music to a whole new dimension, he has served on the auxiliary board of Snow City Arts for about a year now. In support, we attended their annual Gallery Night last fall. Originally I partially agreed so I had an excuse to wear a fabulous dress, but once we got there, I was awestruck. Gallery Night showcased all of the artwork that the kids in the hospitals produce, from visual art including painting to 3D art to creative writing, video and music. All by artists under 18 years of age, the work was not only professional, it was impressive and smart, beautiful and funny and creative. I was completely blown away by the level of talent these kids have. We both were. These weren’t just kid “art projects.” Continue reading

meet carolyn: trailblazer in chicago’s financial industry

“Some of the guys thought that because I’m blonde, I was dumb. So they would talk about their trading strategy in front of me. And I would just listen and absorb everything they were saying.”

Carolyn Leonard, DyMynd, People with Panache

Carolyn’s philosophy on investing: “Diversity does go to the bottom line: all diversity – racial, gender, sexuality. If you’re looking to invest in companies that will outperform their peers, look for diversity and depth of experience in the C-suite and the board of directors.”

Way to turn lemons into lemonade and jerks into teachers, Carolyn!

In some ways, Carolyn Leonard’s story isn’t uncommon. She entered a “man’s world” and was treated brazenly unequally—but that’s where any notion of Carolyn being average ends.

Carolyn, 73-year-old entrepreneur and founder of DyMynd, says in America there are 9.2 million women-led companies with an economic impact of $3 trillion. While discrimination like she experienced keeps lingering longer than seems acceptable or necessary, we women can change it—together. And we are.

As one of the oldest entrepreneurs in the country, Carolyn is a real-life testament to facing your fears, taking risks on yourself, and never giving up. From being one of the first women to trade on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange to starting her own business four years ago at age 69, Carolyn’s story tells itself. Continue reading