We're excited to publish our first two Howard County encore stories! Encore Howard County interviewer Merle Schwartz recently spoke to Elexis Lawson and David Baker who each have very different tales to tell - which is to be expected - our encores are or will be as individual as we are!
Elexis Lawson: Going for the Dream!
by Merle Schwartz, EdD
Who is Elexis Right Now?
Elexis is a high energy visionary professional who is doing what she loves in her “day job” as well as in her entrepreneurial endeavors. With a master’s degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development from the Johns Hopkins University, and a BA in Public Relations from Howard University, she is perfectly suited as a Business Engagement Specialist and Workforce Consultant for the Howard County Office of Workforce Development. The work taps her skill set and has also provided opportunities to think about ways to give back in the community. Elexis serves as Executive Chair for the NAACP branch of Howard County, specifically over the Mature Active adults. The combination of her work and community experiences have led her to identify that she wants to fill a particular need she has discovered for older seniors. That need led to a spark, which led to a side business. And with that, an encore plan is developing!
Growing an Idea
As long as Elexis can remember, she has wanted to be an entrepreneur like her father. She describes him as a pioneer, breaking new ground as an African American man building a computer IT company in NYC on 42nd street. With this inspiration, she began thinking about a business idea about 15 years ago. She took advantage of a resource partner from the U.S Small Business Administration known as SCORE. SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors and Elexis worked with her mentor who provided feedback to her idea of starting an errand business geared towards seniors. The mentor asked tough questions and gave Elexis reason to pause for a while, about four years.
As fate would have it, Elexis met a new mentor who insisted that she complete her unfinished business plan in two weeks. With that little bit of push, ZippyErrand was born in 2015. To grow her side gig, Elexis did presentations at assisted living places. She has worked to get her business’ name out in the community.
Thinking about her Encore
Elexis has been successful in her small business idea. It has required little investment of capital. At some point as she enters her encore years, she wants to grow the business so that she is not the one doing the errands. This will require some investment seed money as well as staff who will be able to carry out the errands whether the need is day, night, or weekend. She is thinking that younger seniors might be a great source of labor, folks in their own encore stage, to join her efforts when the time is right. In terms of working capital, Elexis is amazingly resourceful and will be taking advantage of opportunities provided to help small local businesses.
Advice to Others
A powerhouse of optimism, Elexis shares some words of wisdom for others:
Don’t give up!
Keep the naysayers away.
Be a student of the business. Be willing to learn, humble yourself, and be open to advice from others.
For women, beware of being overlooked in settings that are predominantly male. Speak up and join the conversation!
Find your community, your “tribe,” so to speak. Take advantage of the support.
Clearly there is a bright Encore horizon for Elexis and ZippyErrand!
David Baker: Stepping Outside
by Merle Schwartz, EdD
Like so many of us, David Baker’s encore journey did not start with a calendar appointment to begin thinking about his encore. He and his wife had always planned to retire to the beach, travel and enjoy the fruits of their lifelong labors. Unfortunately for many of us, life happens along the way, with wakeup calls that require a total abandonment of those well thought out retirement dreams. Sickness strikes and all those plans instantly evaporate. Your singular purpose becomes prolonging a life and when that life ends, you are lost, devoid of hope, wondering, “What now?.”
When David recommends to “Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking outside of yourself,” it is a direct outgrowth of his winding road story about how he got to where he is today.
David’s career journey reflects a number of deliberate decisions along the way. He began as a teacher, moved to corporate work with the American Dairy and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and closed with the companies that morphed into Hewlett Packard. He was a sales and assistant district manager who particularly enjoyed being an individual contributor. Early in their careers, David’s wife, who was also in computer sales and still in her early 30’s, became ill with Progressive Degenerative Multiple Sclerosis. At first, it was manageable, but as the years progressed it took its toll on her life, their marriage and their family. For years David was able to juggle a demanding job, take care his wife and his home with the help of others. Finally, when the cost and quality of care was no longer tolerable, he retired to care for his wife full time. With his financial security from his working years, he was able to give his wife the gift of his time. During the many months and years that they “sheltered in place,“ he removed himself from activity outside of his home and most every moment was devoted to care.
When is wife passed away, he was left in a dark place without direction. It took months for David to stop mourning and shake off the debilitating inertia that had taken over his life. It would be easy to just give up and stay frozen in time, but he became angry with himself. He was never a quitter and it was time to stop feeling sorry for himself and re-engage with life and people again.
He began his uncertain encore by volunteering and getting involved in Howard County volunteer opportunities and groups like Widows and Widowers of Howard County. Like a rolling stone, he gained speed with the shear variety of things he participated in. He took his dog and became a pet visitor for those in need. He drove people to appointments and ran games, and trips for seniors. He became President of his HOA and served on the finance committee at his church. Additionally, David staged social events like wine tastings, bridge lessons and Christmas caroling, opening his home and himself to others. Is that enough? Not yet. He is contemplating what else to add to his plate full of purpose as there is still a lot of empty time in his life.
In his words of wisdom to those of us trying to figure out our encore, he advises to get out outside of yourself, involve yourself with others and with a diversity of experiences, and to never lose track of the need to care for both our minds and our bodies.