As a former Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department corrections officer, Cleveland resident Stella Lewis has a deep understanding of the challenges offenders face when returning home from prison. For many individuals and their families, this re-entry into society is accompanied by strong feelings of both optimism and anxiety.
Starting over is a difficult journey for anyone who has been incarcerated, but especially difficult for those returning to economically struggling neighborhoods such as East Cleveland.
“East Cleveland is like a throw-away zone. From the businesses to the people that come out of jail. They often go back to crime because they can’t get a job,” said Stella. “In this neighborhood, many families and individuals face low-income situations.”
Finding Inspiration In The Most Unlikely Of Places
Stella always knew there was tremendous opportunity for community change, and for the last few years, she has been putting the pieces together to begin enacting this vital change herself.
“Believe it or not, the idea for my business was sparked on the day of a funeral. My aunt had passed away and when we were coming back through East Cleveland, I noticed all these storefronts and beautiful brick buildings were just boarded up, but nothing was wrong with them,” said Stella. “And my husband was like, ‘Ok, what are you thinking?’, and I said, ‘These are so beautiful! We could do all kinds of things with these!’”
Her husband questioned what she was going to do and how she was going to do it, but back in 2013, she just didn’t have the answers yet.
A Taste Of Entrepreneurship
Although still unsure of how she would eventually impact East Cleveland, Stella pushed forward in her entrepreneurial pursuits, becoming a Mary Kay consultant—a role that would prepare her for starting and running her own business.
“I was a quiet person, so when it came to business I thought people would laugh at me and wouldn’t believe me. With Mary Kay, I learned my strengths and I learned that what I had to say was credible and worthy of being heard.”
As the days went by, Stella became more and more confident in her skills as a businesswoman, and the pieces for her own venture began to fall into place.
Transforming A Community
Four years after the initial car ride that sparked an entrepreneurial vision, Stella founded Tremendous Outlooks, a community development project whose mission is to give the city of East Cleveland a fresh look at how to live, prosper, inspire and encourage one another.
The project includes affordable housing, transition housing, domestic violence safe houses, a community center and community gardens, all with the hopes of repurposing long vacant buildings in the neighborhood.
“This is a platform for you to be able to do whatever it is that you dreamed that you wanted to do before you got mixed up in all of this,” said Stella.
How Core City: Cleveland Has Helped
Stella knew she needed additional direction to refine her vision, so she approached JumpStart’s Core City: Cleveland team with her idea.
“I don’t know anything about business, I just know how to pay bills. I really honestly and truly needed guidance, because I didn’t know how to start a nonprofit, set up an LLC, or any of that,” said Stella. “I just had the vision and I needed someone to help me get it started and to hold my hand through the process. Core City: Cleveland has the tools to help individuals with what they don’t know or didn’t even think of.”
What words of wisdom does Stella give to other budding entrepreneurs?
“Be open to receiving advice. Don’t be rigid and say, ‘I already know that.’ You can always know more, and there’s always a corner you can turn that you haven’t been around yet.”
To learn more about how free one-on-one business advising sessions from the Core City: Cleveland program can help you move forward in your own entrepreneurial journey, click here.