Off the curb


Detroit Sip_off_the_curb.jpg


Then Story: Attorney/Mom
Now Story: Attorney/Mom+Entrepreneur/Founder of Detroit Sip
Curb Moment: Having someone invest in my dream

The city of Detroit is emerging from bankruptcy with a renewed sense of purpose attracting both corporate giants and solo entrepreneurs anxious to play a role in The Motor City’s regeneration. No one is more emblematic of the latter than Detroit native Jevona Watson whose curb moment included acting on a long held dream to serve up inspiration one sip at a time.

What do you do? Tell us about it.

Well in addition to my work as a full time attorney and a mom, I’m now the founder and owner of Detroit Sip which is a coffee shop and gathering place in the neighborhood where I live in Detroit.


Why did you make the shift to start Detroit Sip and what would you say was your “curb moment?”

I think I’ve actually had more than one curb moment!

I grew up being taught that you go to school to get a good education. Then, you work hard, and enter a profession. So that’s the model I followed my whole life with the focus on getting a good job. I never heard that I could create a job for myself or become an entrepreneur, so owning my own business was something I hadn’t really explored.

I went to Michigan State University, graduated with a law degree and became an attorney so I was following the traditional path. However, while I was at Michigan State, instead of studying at the library, some of the students would study at a coffee shop. Every time I studied at the coffee shop I saw people hanging out, drinking coffee, connecting with each other and having meaningful conversations. It was a positive feeling and I loved being a part of it and the relationships I built over a simple cup of coffee.

I think the dream got planted then, that ‘I’d really love to have a coffee shop someday.’ I imagined it was kind of a ‘if I win the lottery, then I’ll do it kind of dream!’ That’s how I framed it in my mind; as something I thought about long term, but was not actually going to happen unless I got the winning ticket. Then, something unexpected happened. Someone I shared my vision with, and who deeply cares about me, bought a building in the neighborhood not far from where I live and said, ‘here you go Jevona, now go make that dream happen!’


That’s incredible. So be careful what you wish for!


What kind of challenges have you had and how have you overcome them?

What challenges haven’t I had! Well it’s been a three year process. I still work full time as an attorney and have two kids, 16 and 11, so balancing my life with the business is a big challenge. (Note: during our interview, Jevona is multi-tasking; walking through a superstore on her lunch hour shopping for supplies needed for the shop’s upcoming weekend!)

We are opened Thursday through Sunday and I’m very hands on with everything. For a long time we were only an empty space and were letting the people in the community use the space for events, performances, and neighborhood gatherings until we opened as a coffee shop. Now college students, young families, retired couples all come in and I get to know them all but I had a huge learning curve in getting the shop off the ground.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know! For example, I didn’t know what questions needed to be asked or what documents needed to be filed. I also envisioned using local vendors and supporting other Detroit owned businesses in the process but wasn’t sure how to go about it initially. I didn’t know how to start a business or how to run a business. But my daddy calls them ‘bought lessons’ because I’ll never have to pay for the same lessons twice! So I obtained knowledge that I’ll never forget because I learned by doing or by researching. I also I think my training as a lawyer helped me navigate the system.


What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start a business?

I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who support your dream and what you are trying to do. There are enough people out there who will tell you something can’t be done and why you shouldn’t do it.

Another thing is to be humble and realize you probably know less than you think you do. Don’t be afraid to find others who have started businesses and ask them: ‘what mistakes did you make? what did you learn? what advice would you give?’ I love a quote by Bishop T.D. Jakes who said something years ago that defines my life as a business owner. He said, ‘If you think you are the smartest person in the room, you’ve outgrown the room.’ I have not been the smartest person in the room by far! It’s healthy to stretch yourself and to learn from others who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you are. So you need to take the lead from others who have already done what you want to do or who are currently doing it.

Your building is one of only a handful of occupied buildings on your street with the rest of the buildings being vacant boarded storefronts. This must be difficult. It seems you are a trailblazer in transitioning the neighborhood…

Well I’m very shy so I wouldn’t say that but others have said it, which is humbling. The surrounding area is not very appealing to the eye and in great need of redevelopment but seeing the residents in the neighborhood come in and visit with each other and the gratification I receive from them is very satisfying. It’s nice seeing all the pieces I’ve worked on come together. I also like having my children see that you can create a job for yourself and have impact on those around you and I think they are proud of me for that.


What keeps you going?

In addition to my kids, I love the energy of the shop and the camaraderie and connection but I also have a bigger vision and that is I hope my shop and what I’ve done leads others to start their own businesses in Detroit. It’s a vibrant city and I want others to see the potential for the future that I do.

Another interviewer asked me if I thought now that big companies are investing in Detroit whether their actions have paved the way for entrepreneurs and small businesses to succeed? I actually think it’s exactly the opposite. I think big businesses are investing in Detroit because they’ve seen entrepreneurs and small businesses succeeding despite the city’s circumstances and challenges. It’s a hopeful message. I think that if they see that we are pulling it off and making a difference with limited capital and resources then they can too!

Visit Jevona and Detroit Sip at 7420 W. McNichols, Detroit, MI 48221

To learn more visit

ProfilesLynne Cage


Then Story: Garden Manager and Sustainability Coordinator
Now Story: Farmer, Chef, Teacher and Owner of Farmbelly
Curb Moment: Realizing it was finally time to turn her “side hustle” into a full time venture

Have you ever dreamed of turning your “side hustle” into a full time gig? Then take a cue from Farmbelly founder Michelle Aronson who nurtured her love for Irish butter, sweet potatoes and potluck dinners into a full time entrepreneurial adventure.

What do you do? Tell us about it.

I am a farmer, chef, and owner of a farm to table cooking school called Farmbelly. I love empowering people with the skills to grow their own gardens, support local farmers, and to cook confidently + joyfully in their home kitchens. I teach private cooking classes and public workshops to the community, and I also share stories, interviews, and recipes on my website and through social media.


What did you used to do?

I’ve had a wide range of jobs over the past few years, and each one taught me valuable skills and helped me on the path towards owning my own business. I’m a bit of a Jill-of-all-trades, and I’ve worked as a sustainability coordinator, educational farm manager, a high end caterer, a chef at a local restaurant, an elementary garden educator, and as a sales manager at a local produce distributor – just to name a few!

Why did you make the shift to something different and what would you say was your “curb moment?”

I’m grateful to say that I’ve truly loved all the jobs I had prior to starting my own business. That being said, I’m an entrepreneur at heart – and I craved the freedom and independence that comes with being your own boss. I initially launched Farmbelly three years ago and taught classes as a “side hustle” while maintaining a full time job at Westmont College, as the Sustainability Coordinator and Garden Manager. Slowly but surely, Farmbelly grew and I was consistently working 17+ hour days to make it all work! By the fall of 2017 I finally hit a breaking point, and I realized that if I wanted to keep growing Farmbelly (and if I ever wanted to get a full night’s sleep!), I needed to jump in with both feet.


What challenges have you had in making the shift?

Being your own boss requires a lot of discipline and grit – it’s definitely scary to leave the safety net of a secure 9-to-5 job! I’ve had to embrace the fact that being a small business owner means (as least for now) wearing ALL the hats – from scheduling, to accounting, social media, creating new class content, recipe testing, etc.


What has helped you overcome these challenges?

First and foremost, the overwhelming support from my family and friends has been absolutely invaluable. My loved ones have cheered me on since day one, and I never would have been brave enough to make this leap without them. I’m also a devoted list-maker – every night before I go to bed, I make a very detailed to-do list for the following day. That way, when I wake up I’ve already done my “homework” and I’m ready to tackle each day head on.


What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start something new?

Don’t be afraid to just START, even if it’s not perfect. I’m all about cultivating new ideas + businesses as “side hustles” – meaning you don’t need to quit your full time job right off the bat! Give yourself the time to work out the kinks of your new venture, and make sure it’s work that you truly feel passionate about. Last but not least, surround yourself with a small but mighty tribe of family, friends, and mentors who will support you and push you forward when the going gets tough. You got this!

To learn more about Michelle and Farmbelly visit

ProfilesLynne Cage


Then Story: Product Design Engineer
Now Story: Remote Fitness Coach/Writer/Teacher
Curb Moment(s): Realizing he was not meant to be an engineer and making his
last student loan payment

What do you do when you finally pay off your student loans? If you’re Justin Lind, and have a deep yearning you aren’t meant to be an engineer for the rest of your career, you quit your job, buy a one way ticket to Istanbul and trust you’ll not only figure out the next leg of your travels but also your life!

What do you do? Tell us about it.

That’s always a fun yet difficult question for me to answer because it is multi-faceted and in flux. I tell people that I am a writer and coach. When I left engineering, I committed to fitness coaching full-time; something I had done on the side for years. This led me to focus on several specialties within the fitness world: kettlebells, gymnastics, and teaching. I consider myself a teacher by nature and I love to explain complex or confusing topics in unique and simple ways.

I have recently realized a long-time goal of location independence. I work completely from my laptop (with help from a camera, digital recorder, and various pieces of fitness equipment). My two primary income streams are both fitness related: private online coaching and freelance work for an online fitness publication.


I coach individuals remotely – similar to when I was a personal trainer – but many of my clients I have never met in-person. Once we get to know one another and I understand them as a human and an athlete, I create a custom program for them to follow. They send me results and photo/video feedback of various exercises. It’s not for everyone, but works out extremely well for those who are both self-motivated and move well enough that they do not require constant attention. I also teach in-person workshops in variation areas of my fitness expertise. I maintain to host all of my fitness offerings.

My other income source is freelance writing and video work for a publication called Breaking Muscle. I contribute a piece of writing and/or instructional video weekly. Most of these are technical and focused around my specialties of both kettlebells and gymnastics, but many delve into other physical and mental aspects of health and fitness. (Note: Check out all of Justin’s great articles at his Breaking Muscle coach page!)

I have a new project in the works that will soon become my primary focus. My partner and I are building a website called Super Human Things. The brief explanation of our goal is sharing the stories of super humans, ie. people who are doing amazing things for humanity in any realm from humanitarian work, environmental causes, human growth and development, sports, health, fitness, and nutrition. We are excited to share inspirational stories of people who are advancing the human condition through written and podcast interviews and short, documentary-style videos. Super Human Things will also showcase some of our personal quests as we travel the country in a campervan (currently under construction), such as visiting all 59 US National Parks and honing our skills at big-wall rock climbing.

What did you used to do?

I used to be a Product Design Engineer for an LED lighting company. My degree is in Mechanical Engineering and after interning with the same company for two consecutive summers, they brought me on full-time upon graduation.

Why did you make the shift to something different and what would you say was your “curb moment?”

I feel that I knew for years that I was not meant to be an engineer. I excelled in school, especially math and physics, so my parents and advisors recommended engineering. While in college, I enjoyed my classes and projects but knew I did not feel the passion or enthusiasm that most of the other engineers seemed to exude.
This feeling continued and deepened once I found myself at a desk 9-10 hours a day. I even told my mom less than a week into my first “real” job that I wasn’t planning to stay very long.


My “curb moment” came in paying off my student loans. Once I began working full-time (and making more money than any 23-year-old needs) I committed to paying off my student loans as quickly as possible. I didn’t have excessive debt and managed to pay it off in two and a half years. I remember the tremendous lightness and freedom that followed my final payment. No longer financially beholden, I realized that I no longer needed my job. Within two weeks of that final payment I had made plans to quit and purchased a one-way ticket to Istanbul for 6 months down the road. I wasn’t entirely certain of my next step, but decided that long-term, solo travel was a great way to figure it out.

What challenges have you had in making the shift?

I didn’t really face many challenges upon first leaving. I saved a big travel fund in the 6 months before departing and all of the co-workers, friends, and parents were extremely supportive of my decision to travel indefinitely.

Most of my challenges came once I returned from my 9-month travel adventure. I struggled to figure out my next steps, and returned without a clear plan and essentially no savings. I knew that I wanted to focus on my passion for coaching, writing, and teaching. My stated plan at the time was to surround myself with the types of people that I wanted to be surrounded by and be open to step through doors as they opened.
Another huge challenge came in explaining all of this to my parents and the other important adults in my life. I received mostly support and trust, but also a lot of not-so-subtle, unsolicited “guidance” on what they all thought would suit me best. It came from love, but it also cast doubt on my plans.

The most difficult challenge is one that I still face with many of my closest peers and friends. As with anyone who steps “off the curb,” I felt my peers’ resistance to the broad scale changes that I was making. My friends were always supportive of my decision but I found that in expressing my values and desires for a big shift I had to tread a fine line to not sound critical of their life choices. I was critical of my former path and found that my shift could be received as an affront to many of my friends’ chosen paths.

What has helped you overcome these challenges?

Patience and commitment. Leaving one path before fully understanding my next step meant that I needed time to both figure out my new direction and develop those pursuits. I had to constantly remind myself that I made these changes for me, and thus I was the only one who could possibly judge the merit of my choices. External guidance and advice can be invaluable but ultimately these changes need to be “selfish.”


I also had to remain committed to my personal values, even when they flew in the face of societal or peer group values. I made my switch based on maximizing my freedom and ability to explore the world, myself, and my passions. Finances are secondary to all of these pursuits. I often joke that I traded income for quality of life. Holding this value in mind helps me feel gratitude for the freedom and excitement that fill my life and accept that at 30 I make far less money than I did at 24.

At times I still feel like a mirror that reflects back my peers’ discontent. I remind myself that making a huge shift comes with sacrifices and trade-offs. My friends who follow very different paths also have amazing benefits with a few trade-offs. Our paths diverging is only a result of us each being strong individuals and it only strengthens our love and respect for one another.

What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start something new?

Just start.

This is the obvious and cliched first piece of advice, but that’s because it is also the most potent. I could have been better about planning my next phase, but feel no regret at all for the way that I went about my stepping off the curb. You are at the beginning of a road. You can see the mountain in the distance but can’t see anything around the first bend. The only way to travel that road is to begin, addressing each twist and turn as they come. It wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if you could see the whole road in the beginning.

Doors are always opening. Put yourself in the spheres, communities, fields, etc. that you would like to be and you’ll be amazed by what type of opportunities begin to arise.
I write and continue to write about my experience and values. If you are interested, please check out I would also love to hear from you if you would like some guidance on your “off the curb” pursuit.
Photo Credit Links
Habit Group NZ –
Michelle Ramirez –
David Kafer –

ProfilesLynne Cage


Then Story: High school sophomore/sales associate
Now Story: High school senior/Founder of CHESS-CLUB clothing
Curb Moment: Realizing instead of working for someone else’s brand he could create his own

A pivotal moment at a summer job working for a men’s clothing store taught 17 year old Gabe Nelson that it’s never too early to follow your instincts to make a change.

What was your inspiration for starting your own business?

My inspiration for starting my own business was my dad. My dad started his own business after working for someone for several years. He started it because he realized working under someone was not what he was meant to do and because he needed to provide for us, his family.


What Is CHESS-CLUB? Why did you choose that particular name?

CHESS-CLUB is an empowering, urban, luxury brand based on Martha’s Vineyard, it aims to spread positivity and creativity through its characterization of the rook, its logo. The rook symbolizes elegance, honesty, and practicality. It symbolizes elegance because of its resemblance to an ancient castle. It symbolizes honesty because of the straightforwardness of its moves. It symbolizes practicality because even though it is easy to move and understand, it is one of the most crucial and important pieces on the chess board.

What were you doing before you started your business?

Before I started CHESS-CLUB, I was working at a retail store called Jack Wills. I was a sophomore in high school at the time and I worked night shifts from 5pm – 11:00pm.


Did you have what we call a curb moment: a moment that inspired the need for change?

My curb moment occurred towards the end of my sophomore summer. While I was working at Jack Wills that night, I realized, “why work for someone else’s brand when I can work for my own brand.” That night, I began the sketches that eventually resulted in CHESS-CLUB.

What have been your biggest challenges or struggles so far?

Our two main challenges have been funding and exposure. It’s been incredibly difficult to get funding to have product made. We’ve tried pre-orders, special promotional offers, and more. We’re currently trying out Kickstarter. We have a campaign running right now to get our first batch of product in. Exposure has been another challenge. Exposure hasn’t been as difficult as funding because social media is free. It still very difficult to get your brand out there because everyone wants to be the next Bape or Supreme. This causes a problem because you’re competing with so many other urban brands to get the limelight.


What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to manage a clothing brand while still being in highschool. There have been many nights where I’ve had to stay up late to finish up a design or finish editing a photo.

What do you see happening with your business in the next year or two?

In the next year or two I see CHESS-CLUB having its own office space and having a warehouse. I’m currently working out of my room and I think it would be very beneficial to have a more professional work space.

If you had to give advice to someone at the “curb” what would you tell them?

If I were to give advice, I’d say don’t be afraid to fail. I think people hold themselves back because they tell themselves they can’t when they really can. If I was able to get this far with no budget, no professional help, and still in high school, then you are completely capable of creating your own business and succeeding.


ProfilesLynne Cage
off the curb

Strength in What Remains is the not-to-miss true account of Deo (short for Deogratias) Niyizonkizain’s prolific American journey written by Pulitzer-prize winner Tracy Kidder. It is at the top of Off the Curb reading list for its lessons in personal leadership: the power of vision to propel us forward and the tenacity and sheer grit sometimes needed to overcome tough, and seemingly insurmountable burdens to change our story.

Deo is a Tutsi who managed to escape the vicious civil war between his people and the Hutus in Burundi and neighboring Rwanda. When the Hutus were on the offense; indiscriminately killing Tutsis they found in their path, Deo was a 24 year old Burundi medical student. He survived genocide by clinging to

the under rails of a hospital bed in the clinic where he worked while everyone around him was slaughtered. Fleeing the clinic after the last of the Hutus had left, and with no living coworkers left to join him, he left on a solo journey of survival spending months on the run from the Hutus. He often crawled along river banks and hid in the bush to survive while he fought off malaria was further challenged by infection and injury.  All the while, he was haunted by the reality that his parents and siblings who had not seen in months, had probably been killed.  

Escape from his circumstances seemed unlikely. Yet, in a stroke of luck we might deem miraculous, an aid worker’s tip led Deo to gain a plane ticket to New York City. He landed at JFK with $200 in his pocket and knew no English. Eventually Deo eked out a living delivering groceries for $15 by day, and slept  in Central Park at night as he tried to move past the troubling images of the war, and the betrayal of those who sacrificed his needs for their own survival. Yet, he also reflected on the strangers who saved him, such as a mother he met in a refugee camp who falsely claimed Deo as her son, risking her own life to help him avoid persecution.

Two years after his escape, complete strangers Deo met in New York, offered him housing and helped him enroll at Columbia University. After further studies at Dartmouth and Harvard, he met of all people famed physician and humanist, Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in HealthWith Farmer’s work as inspiration, and his rising desire to help the tumultuous community he left behind, Deo returned  to his homeland to start a new story as founder of Village Health Works, a clinic he now runs back in Burundi.

If you have any doubt that you can change your own story, read Deo’s.

Pick up a copy of Strength in What Remains.

Feeding the MeterLynne Cage


Then Story: Working for a shoe company
Now Story: Creator/Owner Hygge Life
Curb Moment: A walk on a gloomy day in Amsterdam

Inspired by the feeling gained from a single word, Alexandra Gove followed her heart and her ingenuity across multiple continents to create a home decor brand intended to bring joy, comfort and meaning to life’s every day moments.

Your career path is not the most linear or traditional, tell us about it, and your background?

I grew up in Castle Rock, Colorado and went to school at Wake Forest in North Carolina for track and field. I was a hurdler. After graduation, I worked as a track and field coach, and then in hospitality and events management up in Vail. While I was in Vail, I met Koen who is now my fiancé, and we started dating. Koen was doing an internship in

Vail but he was scheduled to return home to his native Netherlands to finish school and since we wanted to continue to see each other, I decided I would move to the Netherlands for a while. So, I ended up taking a job working at Crocs, the shoe company. Eventually I left Crocs and I started Hygge Life. That was 2013!


How did Hygge Life come to be?

The first inkling, (what you might call a curb moment) came when I was working at Crocs. Crocs was actually a very good company and I was grateful to be there, but at the same time, I felt like there was a different path for me; like something was missing. I remember one particular day when I was walking to work from my commuter train that I felt a bit down. Here I was in a foreign place which for the most part was really exciting but, at times, I also felt lonely. Not long after that day, I was in Copenhagen where I noticed candles lit in the windows of the houses I walked by, which is something they do in the Netherlands to make things cozy and I liked the feeling that gave me; kind of a warm and comforting feeling. Not long after that day while traveling, I picked up a magazine with a description of a word that reflected that feeling: Hygge. The word is used to describe the way Danish people live; being joyful, living in the moment, and making their homes warm and cozy. I thought ‘whoa, this is it. I’m going to create a business around this concept.’


So you quit your job?

Well not at first, but ironically my work visa was only for a year so I needed to figure out a new plan to stay overseas. I had a minor in entrepreneurship so the idea of being a business owner appealed to me. Koen and I were brainstorming options and came across something called the Dutch American Friendship Treaty which granted Americans a visa to start a business. It required putting a business plan in place to demonstrate how your business could contribute to the Dutch economy. When it got accepted Hygge Life was born! That was in 2013.


“hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is the Scandinavian art of creating joy & coziness in life’s smallest everyday moments, whatever the season or time of day… the hygge life shop is a curation of European home decor inspired by these moments.” 


Can you elaborate?

Sure, when I was living in Europe there was so much about the European way of life that I loved. My general experience was one where people savored things more whether it was a good meal, or glass of wine, or a simple conversation with a friend. There was more of an emphasis on creating an inviting, comfortable and cozy home. Sometimes it was just a few simple items, such as a glowing candle, a beautifully woven wool blanket or a special coffee mug that made the difference. This lifestyle made an impression on me and I wanted to bring it with me to the US and recreate it.

At first we started with European vintage items like wool blankets and candle holders. Then we came across these beautiful old antlers. I stuffed suitcases full of beautiful things and brought them home to the states to sell. The following summer we decided to do some traveling and took Hygge on the road. We bought a 1971 camper, painted it blue and wrote on the side. We called it the Hygge bus.

We drove through the Swiss Alps, Germany, France; all over. We used our bus as kind of a general store to sell our goods. We also sold poffertjes which are mini Dutch pancakes that we cooked up in a large iron skillet and sold at festivals. We’d figure out how to get permits or work with the local mayor of a town so we could sell our poffertjes. Along the way we’d drink coffee at little cafes, share meals with total strangers, and mark special moments with a glass of wine or ale. The elements of that lifestyle was something I wanted to capture and evolve in my business.

Clearly you have! What’s ahead for you and Hygge?

Well as you know we already have the Turkish textiles, and now we are expanding and are bringing in these wonderfully soft European sheepskins in unique sizes. We are doing pop up shops and markets but have now also moved into retail shops and will have a wholesale business as well so it’s all very busy but exciting right now.


Obviously you are comfortable taking risks and doing some creative problem solving! What advice, tips or insights can you offer to help others get Off the Curb?

One of the most important things I’ve learned (that I wish I’d learned earlier) is to be confident and speak up about what you want to do even if you don’t know how you are going to do it. When I first had the idea for Hygge I was insecure about sharing my idea with my peers because it was different than the typical career path others my age were following. I was also basing my business on a ‘feeling’ not necessarily a fully baked plan or direction. Maybe because I didn’t want criticism, I held back. What I found out though, was the more I talked openly about it, the more my idea started to gel for me. So I would say, ‘don’t hold back, speak up for what you want and how you see things, and just put yourself out there!’

To learn more about Alexandra and Hygge Life check out

ProfilesLynne Cage


Then Story: International banking/Full time mom
Now Story: Founder, Heart Trust
Curb Moment: Meeting a boy named Henry

In a strong departure from her initial career in international banking, Shereen Abdel-Meguid credits finding her true calling to a particularly poignant curb moment; a chance encounter with a young boy named Henry who inspired Sherry to pursue a new path “saving tiny hearts” around the world.

You once had a financial career in New York City, how did you end up doing what you are doing now?

My learning curve had become flat; I was in the Northeast Africa Lending Group in the ’80’s for a U.S. major bank and was saying ‘no’ all the time to banks in Africa who were looking for loans or lines of credit. It just wasn’t challenging anymore. My creativity was stifled and I was no longer drawn to the idea of an international banking career. A few years after my first child was born, I decided to stay home full time. In my heart I knew that’s where I needed to be but intellectually I wasn’t growing the way my soul needed and I knew I needed to pursue something more– I just wasn’t sure what that should be.

And you did.

I did! A woman I volunteered with in the PTA, was part of a non-profit (Heart Care International) which performed heart surgeries on children in Guatemala. She invited me on a trip to Guatemala and it shook my world up in a way I never could have imagined. I met the most extraordinary people and was touched forever by the gravely ill children and their families. I arrived on that trip as a volunteer extra set of hands with no idea what my role would be. I ended up organizing the anesthesia supplies. During that trip, I was invited into an operating room where I watched Henry, an 18 year old Down’s Syndrome patient, turn from blue to pink. That moment literally changed my life. I knew then what my life’s purpose was to be. Following that trip, I went from a former banker and then stay-at-home mom to running cardiac missions to help children with congenital heart defects. Shortly after my return from Guatemala, I was asked to join the Board and eventually I became the Executive Director, a role I held at Heart Care for eight years. I oversaw the procurement and all the logistical details of the medical missions as well as the on the ground troubleshooting during each mission.


What do you mean when you say “turn from blue to pink?”

Well, Henry was blue because his body was not receiving enough oxygen due to his heart defect. After surgery, his heart was pumping properly and his blood was oxygenated causing him to turn pink, as it should be. Since then I’ve seen this happen hundreds of times to children in developing countries around the world. When I see those pink lips, I know that child now has a future. Maybe that first job of organizing the anesthesiology equipment doesn’t sound that significant but I felt involved and stimulated in a way I hadn’t felt for so long. My world opened. I felt something shift for me that is hard to articulate. I guess you could say it was my Curb moment. As a child, I grew up going to Egypt in the summers and seeing poor children all the time. I always knew that I wanted to help but, until my experience in Guatemala, it had never become clear how I was going to make a difference. That experience in Guatemala made it clear as day.

How did you transition to starting your own non-profit?

My trips with Heart Care International were wonderful trips and I will forever be grateful for that time. We performed hundreds of surgeries with teams of 70 to over 100 volunteers as we tried to meet the high demand for children needing surgery. We were working to decrease the huge waiting list of gravely ill children who did not have local options for safe surgery. We were doing our best to work with local surgeons but, because of the staggering need, the focus was on volume first, teaching second. My vision in founding Heart Trust was to focus primarily on teaching, so that we could not only do the surgeries but also leave behind a legacy of improved medical care once the missions were over. So, with Heart Trust, we take very small teams of a maximum of fifteen medical professionals to work hand-in-hand with our local counterparts, in an environment that promotes the comfortable exchange of learning.

We travel to countries where there is a pediatric cardiac surgery program currently in place but where there is great room for improvement in skill and patient care. Our teams teach the medical teams in the other countries how to do the surgeries themselves. Our approach is, ‘give them a fishing pole and teach them to fish;’ cardiologists, perfusionists, O.R. nurses all working together, hand-in-hand…our small team working side by side with the local team. In the US, kids born with congenital heart defects generally have surgery right away but in other countries, the procedures are not routine due to lack of resources and medical training. The local surgeons, and the rest of the pediatric cardiac team really need the hands on experience and that’s where we come in.

So for us, it’s more than the 10 kids or so we operate on that trip, it’s about the next 100 kids that will be successfully operated on after we leave. For example there’s a condition called Epstein’s Anomaly, a problem with the tricuspid valve. I brought a surgeon from Children’s Hospital in Boston to Guatemala, and he was able to teach the local surgeon how to repair the tricuspid. By the time our flight landed back in the States, the local surgeon had successfully completed the repair of a child suffering from Epstein’s Anomaly on his own. Now they can routinely do them. That’s what our trips are all about.


Right now you recruit U.S. surgeons and other medical professionals to join your volunteer teams, but you are the only member of the Heart Trust administration team. What does that mean?

It means I handle all the logistics of each mission, from team recruitment, procurement of all the donated or purchased medical supplies, travel arrangements, dealing with the host hospital staff and troubleshooting during the trips. We also prepare a “post-trip memo” based on our observations and suggestions during the mission which allows for a helpful guide for improvement for the local team. All our work is done on a strictly pro bono basis. No one receives any remuneration for any work they do. My team members donate their valuable vacation time to work on these trips. Our cost of an open-heart surgery or electrophysiology procedure is about $2,500 per child as compared with almost $80-100,000 in the United States. I’m extremely proud that 100% of all donations we receive go directly to fund our program services.

Thus far, my cardiac work has taken me to Guatemala, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Uganda and Egypt. I have also run a burn mission in Tanzania and recently ran a pediatric urology mission in Costa Rica.

You take risks to do this work. What are they?

Not intentionally! In Egypt, the first revolution took place while we still had kids recovering in the hospital. There have been times in Guatemala where we needed to be concerned about security issues. In El Salvador, our driver was carjacked and they were burning tires and protesting Americans outside of the hospital. We could smell the rubber burning while we performed the surgeries inside the hospital. I am very conscious that my team is donating their time, and I don’t forget that their families are giving up precious vacation time as well, and I deeply value the safety of each of my team members. We usually stay “just under the radar” wherever we go. For this reason, I usually will not agree to a press conference until the end of the trip– and will only agree to do so if I know it will benefit the local cardiac program.


Hmmm riots, robberies, and burning tires. Obviously you are a risk taker, do you also see yourself as a change agent or leader?

I’m able to motivate and mobilize a team and I think that’s a critical skill for what I’m trying to accomplish. None of my trips would happen if I couldn’t get everyone to work together, so I suppose I am both a leader and an agent of change. I know our honesty and pure agenda– to help the kids– also makes us effective agents of change because of the trust the local team has in us and our motives. Our team is there to work with the local team and make positive changes– and those changes absolutely take place. I’m very proud of our work. I believe that my passion and commitment shines through as well as my sense of humor. Laughter is a universal language and certainly helps in tough situations– I actually consider a sense of humor one of the qualities of an effective team member. I’m also not afraid to show emotion. I joke with the docs that I didn’t go through the medical school brainwashing that says ‘don’t show emotion’ like they did! These kids belong to someone and I carry that feeling of loving care with me.

I hope my own kids see the depth each of us has to increase our empathy and compassion even if it’s for a complete stranger.


What advice would you give to others who are at a curb moment in their lives and might be contemplating a change?

My answer is simple: DO IT! I simply cannot imagine what my life would be had I not stepped off the curb all those years ago. That step enriched my life in a way that I cannot adequately express. To find a passion which fuels you is the greatest gift or blessing a person can be given. I am not diminishing my other very blessed role as a mother to my three great kids at all– but, with my kids now on their own, I am so grateful to have a purpose in my life that brings me such joy. I am truly happiest on my missions.

ProfilesLynne Cage


Then Story: Working in online advertising
Now Story: Founder/Owner, Happy Body Kitchen
Curb Moment: A promotion (to a job she didn’t want!)

What happens when your boss offers you a promotion? “Give your two weeks notice and quit,” says Sommer Chaka, who skipped out on the new position but created a fulfilling new career instead.

What do you do? Describe your business for us?

About a year and a half ago I became certified as a holistic nutritionist. It was the best decision in my life, because not only did I learn incredible things about keeping myself healthy, I also learned how to help others improve their lives by simply improving the quality of what they are eating.

My business is called Happy Body Kitchen and my approach is simple; I teach a whole foods, plant based lifestyle.

I believe this lifestyle has the power to strengthen the body and maintain health in addition to fighting disease and illness. This is why I feel the holistic approach to being a nutritionist is important. The focus becomes more about finding a natural means for healing the body or keeping the body thriving. It’s also about getting the body back to a place where it can do what it is designed to do. My methodology begins with determining the root cause of someone’s problem and finding a healthy approach to improving the symptoms and/or even curing the condition altogether, versus using medication that most often just masks the problem. Therefore, I work with individuals who suffer from a number of medical conditions ranging from digestive problems to heart disease to cancer, because I feel that is where I can be the most helpful.

My mission is to help individuals learn how they can make their bodies strong again and to help them understand how the quality of food we eat can either be the reason for illness or the reason we thrive. I look closely at individual eating habits, emotional triggers, work, and lifestyle activities and design the best nutritional approach to support that person’s health goals. Our bodies are designed to fight, heal, and cure so I educate people as to how to optimize our bodies ability to do these things.


You  describe yourself as “a dog obsessed, sarcasm loving, nutritionist meets food blogger,”on your website. What were you doing before you started your business?

I graduated from college in fall 2010 with a BBA in Business Management and worked for an online advertising company, in Austin TX. It was a great job, but I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t doing what I was meant to be doing. There was still a void in my life and I wasn’t quite fulfilled. I denied this feeling for a long time probably because I had a steady paycheck and I wasn’t quite ready to take the risk that is sometimes required to make a change even when it’s a positive one.

What was the moment you decided to make a change; what we refer to as a curb moment?

I decided to make a change because my mother was going through cancer for the fifth time. Yep, five. It was the hardest thing to watch her go through and to see the toll it took not only on her body, but on her mind. I don’t wish cancer upon anyone even once, let alone five times. Her fight was what inspired me. It inspired me because we never know how much time we have in this life, and it is important to live the time we are given to the fullest. But, she also inspired me because I realized there had to be a better way; a way where cancer is not a common thing anymore, and where illness and disease is just something we accept. This inspired me to seek out a holistic approach to nutrition; learning how to heal and manage a lifestyle with only natural means. And, given what I know now, it makes me both angry and ecstatic. Angry because this information is something I believe we should all know and shouldn’t be covered up because big corporations want to promote their unhealthy products. And, ecstatic because I feel like I have learned, in some ways, the key to life which includes a lifestyle that truly can keep one’s body healthy and in a position to prevent unnecessary diseases and illnesses from creeping in. This is what I wanted to (and still do ) share with the world.

Additionally,  I was offered a higher position to manage our department. It was an incredible offer, but it was more hours behind a desk doing something that didn’t ultimately make me happy. If I took it, I knew I would feel stuck. So, that is what pushed me to make a change. I declined the offer and also put in my two weeks. I thought to myself ‘if there was a time to make a change it was now.’ Soon after, I enrolled in a nutrition program and began my first big step towards a new passion.


Did you have any challenges or struggles?

Yes, it was not easy! I am not going to pretend that it is easier now. I gave up a consistent income, and was living off savings while also working part time at a wine bar, and other random jobs. I still work part time in addition to working with clients. I gave up a secure lifestyle and the comforts that came along with that. It was terrifying but also eye opening. I learned what was valuable in my life and more about managing my money and how to spend my money only on things I truly valued. I sold a lot of my stuff, and simplified my life. But, now looking back, there was so much that I didn’t need and I am thankful for pushing myself into the uncomfortable. You learn a lot about yourself too! I was determined to stay strong and keep pushing forward. Now I am able to sustain a lifestyle by doing what I love. It is hard every single day, but I know that it is making me stronger as a person and as a nutritionist, and I will look back one day and be proud of all the hard work. The funny thing is that even through the struggle, I am happier and healthier both mentally and physically. It’s an incredible thing.

What advice do you have for others wishing to “jump the curb?”

Evaluate what makes you happy, and don’t let comforts in your lifestyle prevent you from making a change. If you believe enough in yourself, you will be okay. You will! And one day, regardless if your dream pans out or not, taking the leap itself is what truly changes you. It teaches you how often our own limitations and fears prevent us from doing what we love. But once you jump, you realize how small those fears actually were and learn about your inner strength, and that settling for something “safe” or “easy” or “comfortable” no longer seems like an option.

I’d suggest writing down all the limitations and all the possible things that could go wrong if you make a change. Then evaluate what’s really propelling you forward. How do you envision your life or career change? What’s holding you back? Maybe you have to get a new skill. Maybe you just need to try a different organization.  Maybe you can only do what you love on the side for while. The point is that the barriers that you list for yourself are most likely ones that can be overcome. It just might take a little planning and a little work, but you can do it.

To learn more about Sommer and her business check out

The world is waiting! Go make a difference!

ProfilesLynne Cage
Coaching_Offthecurb_Lynn Bittner von Schneidau yoga.jpg


Then Story: Business coordinator
Now Story: Naturopathic doctor, Founder, Pure Renewal Retreats
Curb Moments: A tumor and a dreary Seattle Winter

Maui? Napa? Sayulita, Mexico? Who wouldn’t envy a profession that included work in these destination vacation spots. Credit two Off the Curb moments; a tumor when she was 23 and one exceptionally dreary Seattle winter for flashlighting the way to Dr. Lynn Von Schneidau’s career which includes not only running a naturopathic medical practice, but also leading transformational healing retreats in some of the world’s most beautiful places.

You started your career in the business department of a technology company, how did you make the transition to what you are doing now?

When I was in my early twenties, I felt like I was on the right track. I was fresh out of school and excited about starting my career in the corporate world. However, soon after I started, I began to have physical symptoms. At times I experienced pain so debilitating I could barely walk from my front door to my car. Later on, I learned the pain was caused by endometrial tumors. The only two treatment options offered by conventional medicine were pharmaceutical drugs: (narcotics for the pain as well as male hormones to suppress the symptoms) and surgery to cut the nerves in my back and remove the tumors.

The orthodox medical treatment (narcotics for the pain and two surgeries) only made my symptoms worse. Scheduled for a third surgery at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, I was told this next surgery would cauterize the tumors, take out my appendix “because I didn’t need it”; cut the nerves in my back; and potentially result in a hysterectomy (with or without my consent) should they find something “they” didn’t like. With the potential outcome of not being able to have children and a 50/50 chance of reducing my pain, I asked my mother about an alternative clinic in Mexico where she had once been a patient. She connected me with Charlotte Gerson. In an hour and a half conversation with Charlotte Gerson, the daughter of the founder of the Gerson Clinic, I received more information about my condition, as well as the drugs I had previously been given and their effect on my liver than I had in years of information from numerous previous doctors. I went to Mexico where I underwent a rigorous detoxification and nutritional treatment approach under the direction of Charlotte Gerson. Charlotte believed that the body can truly heal itself if given the right conditions which included removing toxins and impediments to health, establishing the right mindset, and adding optimum nutrients and enzymes. The Treatment at her clinic was hard; I was there for 3 weeks and continued the therapy for another year on my own with the help of my mom, but it ended up being miraculous in two ways. First, while in Mexico, I felt my tumors dissolve and, in time, the crippling pain melt away. Secondly, I saw the power of the body to heal itself and knew the illness and my choice to go to Mexico for alternative medicine were precursors to my life and career path. I needed to become a doctor to share this information with people who were ill and not being helped in the conventional medicine system in the states.

How so?

Because of the Gerson Therapy, I completely healed and went on to have three amazing kids. Thank goodness for my mom! The Gerson Therapy allowed me to see the power of the body to heal itself if you take away the impediments to health and give it the nutrition it needs to heal and thrive.

After I healed, I went to a therapeutic massage school to learn more about how the body works and how to reduce stress. I got married, started a family and worked in a health resort giving massages there when my kids were little. I knew all along after going to the Gerson Clinic I wanted to be a Naturopath, but it was not until I discovered Bastyr, the only accredited Naturopathic school in the country, that I knew it was the right place to get my Doctorate. I applied and got accepted to Bastyr in Seattle. With my husband and 3 kids ages 1, 3 and 4 we moved from Vail to Seattle . After graduating from Bastyr, (deleted sentence) – I opened my own practice within other integrated clinics and eventually opened a practice in Seattle with a lake view as a sole practitioner

Which you have now…

Right. Today I teach people about taking responsibility for their own health and educate them about all the ways to do it. Everyone’s life story is different. Emotions, thoughts, traumas, nutrition, exposure to toxins…there are so many things that can affect someone’s life and well being. People come to me with everything from serious diseases to minor ailments. (Omit Obviously)It can be tough but it’s also a great joy to spend time with my patients, build strong relationships with them, and of course see their health improve.


Forbes’ Traveler calls the Haramara Retreat in Sayulita Mexico “one of the 10 best retreats” and you get to go there fairly regularly for work, how did you pull that off?

Well I guess a big curb moment can be blamed on the terrible weather we have in Seattle! One year it was really harsh. It was one of the rainiest winters ever and I’d just really had it with the dark dreary weather. It was weighing me down and all I wanted to do was escape to somewhere sunny. I think change often happens from a place of pain and that was certainly the case. I needed a break. I started thinking about how I could get out of Seattle for a vacation and where I would go and who would be fun to bring with me and it was kind of fun to brainstorm about it. I imagined being able to do what I loved as a Naturopath – helping patients heal themselves but in a better climate. I pictured teaching participants and patients how to be healthy in sunny beautiful places in the world. I wanted to utilize the current treatments I was using daily with my patients based on the the personal healing I learned years ago at the Gerson Clinic in beautiful sunny places far removed from the stress and poor nutritional and lifestyle habits. This initial idea evolved into the reality of actually running my Pure Renewal Retreats which is how I get to work in Sayulita. We spend a week sharing tools and resources for transforming physical, emotional, and spiritual well- being. Every time I walk into the yoga palapa there overlooking the ocean I stop and say ‘wow, this is my job!’

It took me some starts and stops but the more I refined my direction and vision and the more I told people about it, the more it all started to fall into place; the right things happened. For example, I was talking to someone about wanting to do a retreat in Mexico and she said the owner of Haramara was a good friend of hers. I went to a retreat at Haramara and by the end of that retreat I had met the owner Sajeela and booked my first retreat. I returned in 3 months and led my first retreat at Haramara in where I am doing most of my retreats and it couldn’t be a more magical place and ideal location.


We have a section on our blog called Feeding the Meter intended to offer insights to keep moving forward even when you can’t yet jump the curb. I’m curious if you have any advice for this?

Well I have conversations all the time with my patients about this. Taking time out from everyday experiences to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t is important. For me, obviously I do this through the retreats, but on a daily basis when I’m feeling stuck, I hop on an Elliptical trainer and spend a few moments consciously visualizing what I want to be different. And, more than that, I think about whether my time is currently spent supporting that vision. Sometimes a patient will be stressed and will want to quit his or her job on the spot and try something new, but I tell them to make some small steps first. I might suggest they pick out some photos or look at some pictures that represent exactly how they want their life to be and look at them every morning and when they do, they often will see their energy shift in the right direction.

For more about Dr. Lynn and her retreats visit

ProfilesLynne Cage