Going back to college as an adult with young children was an incredible challenge for me. Aside from all that I had to juggle in my personal life, I wasn’t exactly sure what it really was that I wanted, or needed to be doing with myself. I had a small art studio in my home and I spent many years successfully marketing and selling my artwork online and as a vendor at local arts and crafts festivals. But I had hit a glass ceiling of sorts and deep down I knew that if I really wanted to grow, I needed to expand my skills.  So, I headed to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.


My Journey

At first, I studied Business because I felt like the business aspects of selling art were my greatest struggle. However, after submitting my first piece to the annual college-wide art exhibition, I just couldn’t stay away. I am not sure if it was the compassionate and driven faculty or the quirky and vulnerable students that I loved the most, but I very quickly realized that the Art Department was the place for me. It became my home away from home and before I knew it, my first two years were complete and I was transferring to UNC Greensboro where I completed my undergrad program. I won scholarships, was awarded the highest academic honors and excelled in all of my courses. And once I graduated, it all felt like a whirlwind. Suddenly, I found myself alone and looking for a job. I tried job websites, local businesses, and even worked with staffing agencies. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but my fine arts background had granted me the skills to embrace many different fields with a fresh and imaginative outlook.

Still, everywhere I turned, I hit a wall. For months, I continued to fill out application after application until I found myself feeling incredibly defeated and doubting everything I thought I knew. My husband helped me to change my perspective and told me enough was enough. He encouraged me to continue to live my life the way I always had, by taking risks, by letting my creativity flow, and by giving my all. He reminded me of how far I had come and reminded me that I got to this point by being my authentic, over-zealous self. So, I started making art again. I started writing. I started marketing myself to the world and I used my unique skill sets to embrace this creative economy in every way I knew how.

Before long, I had more going on than I ever could have anticipated. I was being accepted into exhibitions, hired to create murals, and being paid to write about topics that I deeply love. My social media presence lead to opportunities for freelance digital marketing work, and influencer opportunities. I even secured a position at the local community college assisting with a major public art project. When someone asks me what I do for a living, it is often difficult to answer. Not only do I have multiple jobs, but I am also a mom, a community advocate, a volunteer, and a self-proclaimed foodie. Life stays incredibly busy, but it is also incredibly fulfilling. My schedule changes from day-to-day and as one of my supervisors says, “I work 7 days a week for 30 minutes at a time.”

And while I consider myself to be incredibly blessed, I sometimes feel isolated because so few people truly understand this lifestyle and how rewarding AND complicated it can be. At least, that’s what I thought.


The Discovery

As I began learning how to effectively articulate this self-made sort of lifestyle that I have created for myself, I reached out to my Facebook community. I began joining local groups such as The Tribe of Women Entrepreneurs headed up by local entrepreneur Paula Bohland, Business Consultant, and Life Coach with ​Mavensoul​. This group is filled with women dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs achieve success. I followed along, listened to their podcasts, and read their tips. Suddenly, it became abundantly clear that I am not now, nor was I ever, alone. Well, not alone here in Rowan County at least. One after the next, unique, powerful and highly creative women began stepping into my life and helping me to believe that I really could do anything I put my mind to. Perhaps the most notable of these, the award-winning kitchen and bath designer, Sara Lee.


My Hero

Sara Lee is a Rowan County citizen who has been working in the design industry for two decades. She has lent her unique style to companies including American Woodmark Corporation, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen, and Bath and Furnitureland South. Recently she made a bold leap into the wonderful world of business ownership. Her newest project SISU Home Designs by Sara Lee, LLC is a “small kitchen and bath design firm with the vision of transforming spaces and coming up with new ways to recreate home.” ​On her Facebook page, Sara shares inspirational photos from her many travels across the U.S.  These include new furniture designs, color combinations, textures, fabrics, slabs of granite, and artworks. I mean, who needs HGTV when you’ve got SISU Home Designs by Sara Lee?


Sara Lee of SISU Home Designs by Sara Lee, LLC.


And while Sara is truly a gifted and stylish designer, that is only one facet of her fascinating life. You see, in addition to running her own top-notch design firm, Sara also serves her community in a wide variety of ways. She serves on the Board of Directors at First Presbyterian Church of Salisbury and volunteers at her local community swim club. If that weren’t enough, she also performs regularly on the black box stage at Lee Street Theatre where she recently joined the cast of “Blood Done Sign My Name” and for the very first time, shared the stage with her eight year old son. This unique performance marked Sara’s fifth role with this beloved community theater.


Sara Lee performing on the black box stage at Lee Street Theatre.


While Sara is far more amazing than I could ever hope to be, her busy schedule, her multitude of creative outlets, and her desire to keep her family close all mirror my own in many ways and because of that we have become fast friends. As it turns out, female entrepreneurs here in Rowan County are coming out in droves and are searching for innovative and remarkable ways to contribute to our creative economy.


Afrocentric Inspired & Designed Hair Accessories

When I began writing this blog, I planned to focus it on a few select women who I have come to know and adore. But as time went on, and follow up emails began to roll in, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming numbers of Rowan County women who are taking our creative economy by storm. For example, Tonya Cross graduated from East Rowan High School before attending the prestigious UNC-Chapel Hill. She returned to Rowan and is now the visionary mind behind ​Accented Glory​, a handcrafted women’s fashion accessory brand dedicated to creating specialized and Afrocentric accessories for natural hair. In addition to her fashion business, Tonya also facilitates workshops and events through The Vine Event Planning. This position facilitates a merriment of all of her passions and allows her to share tips and tricks of digital marketing with other female business owners. When I asked Tonya “Why Rowan?”, she responded saying, “​My local community has helped me succeed through support! Whether it’s an online or in-person event that I’m hosting or vending at, ​my community shows up​. Their engagement inspires and motivates me to do the work I’m called to do!” Tonya went on to say that other creatives here in Rowan are always ready and willing to assist with and collaborate on projects and events allowing her to further expand her network. She also shared that, “being allowed to use one’s creative imagination to increase a product, service, or idea’s value embraces the diversity of our community. When a variety of expressions are permitted it enhances our community!”


Tonya Cross of Accented Glory and The Vine Event Planning.


Female Owned Shops in Downtown Salisbury

We see instances such as this over and over again. One stroll through Downtown Salisbury and you might notice that business owners, such as Abigail Young of Abigail’s – A Cake Affair, are sharing their creativity through a variety of outlets. In addition to owning and operating her adorable bake shop, Abigail displayed her paintings as part of “The Color of Motion” exhibit at the Salisbury Business Center.


Abigail Young of Abigail’s – A Cake Affair located in downtown Salisbury.


Around the corner, owner and operator of ​Hive​, Michelle Pentoney, is sharing her talents in many unique ways. With a background in Art Education, Michelle opened Hive as a way of marketing local craftsmen and women while also offering unique arts and crafts workshops to the public. Additionally, Michelle owns and operates Dog Days Pet Sitting, where she offers a variety of dog sitting services.  These businesses allow Michelle the opportunity to express her many passions and it is through these outlets that Michelle has had the opportunity to transform her love of art, of education, and of animals into unique business ventures that aid and improve our community.


Michelle Pentoney of Hive in downtown Salisbury and Dog Days Pet Sitting.


Finding Healing in Horses

The same holds true for local yogi and horse whisperer, Stacey Carter of Heart Centered Horsemanship.  Stacey, who was ​trained through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, strives to make all interactions with horses therapeutic, for both horses and humans. As stated on the website, “At Saving Grace Farm in Salisbury, Stacey helped grow a therapeutic horsemanship program for people with special needs, developed the GALLOP (Growing And Leading Lives Of Purpose) program for at-risk youth, and provided services for veterans. She currently works in partnership with local organizations to provide horsemanship, riding, and equine assisted learning opportunities for local youth. She has over 25 years of experience starting young horses under saddle, rehabilitating horses, helping riders overcome fear and gain confidence, and teaching basic riding and horsemanship skills with an emphasis on connection, communication, and positive leadership.” And like so many of the women I have already mentioned, this is only one aspect of Stacey’s busy life. She has begun teaching yoga classes, most recently at Heart of Yoga Salisbury, and is an integral team member at Happy Roots, a local 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing nature-based, therapeutic, and educational services to enhance the wellness of both the community and the environment.


Stacey Carter of Heart Centered Horsemanship.


Homestead Sanctuary of Health & Wellness

This led me to Chantel Johnson, owner and manager of ​Off Grid In Color​, a small local farm dedicated to leading others to greater self-sufficiency through farm raised food, birth coaching, and community outreach. This is another example of a female entrepreneur breaking the mold and contributing to our local economy in unique ways. Unfortunately, as I wrote this article it became increasingly clear that it was impossible to mention every single outstanding female entrepreneur in Rowan County who sent a story my way.


Chantel Johnson, owner and manager of ​Off Grid In Color​.


Salisbury Named #16 Best Small City to Start A Business

D.C. based financial website, Wallethub, has shown that small cities like those here in Rowan County offer many advantages to entrepreneurs including low overhead costs and closer customer relationships. In a recent article published on Wallethub, Salisbury was listed as the 16th best city in the nation to start a business and for the women I have met this certainly proves true. For the full article, click here.

When discussing the ups and downs of starting a business in Rowan, Jessica Buckwalter, creative mind behind The Arts at Happy Roots and owner of the former Salisbury Art Station, said that female entrepreneurs in Rowan “hold hands and get through.” This sentiment was further explained by ​Grievous Gallery Co-Owner Elysia Demers, “I think Salisbury has a very good support system of encouraging people. I haven’t heard anyone tell someone their dream or idea won’t pan out,” she told me. I read through countless pages of stories and found myself immersed in an exciting, innovative, and empowered world where women, and where mothers pave their own way and in the end. I walked away with the knowledge that if Rowan County is a hub for so many self-made, brilliant women… then Rowan County is exactly where I want to be.