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Unexpected Gifts

photoIn my six year journey of retail-store ownership, I’ve been blessed in innumerous ways – some predictable and some  not so much. I have a fantastic, dedicated staff that has helped brand Aries Apparel in the community the way it should be; always encouraging females athletes to be their best inside and out. I’ve met awesome customers and vendors who share their enthusiasm for our business with me and do all they can to support us, and us to support them. I’ve made the most phenomenal business contacts – men and women professionals who are uber dedicated to their businesses and are eager to learn and share and mentor right beside me.

And then there’s my true inspiration from the beginning -- the girls we’re here to serve.

One of the great business partners we have is Laurie Vizzini (see Laurie is an extraordinary girls basketball coach who coaches the whole player – meaning teamwork is paramount for her Oregon Extreme LViz Basketball Oregon Extreme LViz Basketball[/caption] girls, not winning. Now mind you they win (Laurie’s three NCAA Div. 1 basketball championship titles with Univ. Tennessee helps), but Laurie grows her girls into confident young women who can do more than play basketball. They will be able to play on the field of life. Since not everyone is an athlete, I’m glad there are other activities for young girls such as music and theatre and academics that provide opportunities for exceptional coaching and mentoring. My viewfinder is witnessing the benefits gained through participation in sports.

As part of her program, at the end of each season Laurie has her girls ‘interview’ (yes, even 5th graders) with local business owners. I’ve been honored to be one of those people. These young girls, ages 12-17, come in and talk with me, some with trepidation, some with strong handshakes and great eye contact and some twirling their hair while we chat. But they all have one thing in common.

lauriethreegirlsThese ladies have shown me their drive to be the best at what they do whether it’s being a student, a sister or a team player. They know who they are and where they want to go in the future and they are truly inspiring to me – every one of them. Then my part is easy. After we chat, I shower them in compliments and encouragement and reassure them they are on the right path. And they better stay there.   ;o)

Way back when I was planning to open Aries Apparel, my huge wish list included having a program in partnership with local high schools where we would have exceptional female student athletes be our eyes and ears in the clackhischools so we could really know what they need and want.   I’m proud to say, thanks to the hard work Laurie Bailey, we’ve just launched the Aries Apparel Ambassador program starting in the fall of 2014. We’ve chosen six outstanding local female high school athletes to be Aries Apparel representatives in their school with each girl having the opportunity to earn a $500 annual scholarship. We recently brought the girls together with our management staff for an introductory dinner.   Their stories are both amazing and humbling. 

Girl's ClassAgain, listening to the day to day of these young ladies and learning about their backgrounds (one  has experienced homelessness) and plans for the future is empowering and humbling. I certainly  don’t remember being so focused and driven at their age. These girls balance school, their multiple  sports, family responsibilities, friends and sometimes jobs with smiles on their faces and a 'what's the big deal?' attitude. When I list it like that it makes me a little worried for a healthy balance in their life, but they’re young and we grow (read: age) into balance I believe.

There are days I drown in insurance paperwork, HR issues and unsuccessful marketing campaigns. And then I think about these shiny-faced young female athletes and all their pride and drive and they are my gift and I want to do better – for them.