Moms of Reinvention




Before she became a mother, Alison Singer was quickly racing up the corporate ladder. After carving a successful path in the television industry, Alison was at the top of her game as a vice president of business news programming in NBC's cable and business development division. But when her daughter Jodie was born, her life took a dramatic turn.

After giving birth to what seemed like a healthy baby, Alison soon learned that Jodie suffered from autism, a disorder that impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others.

Without any instructions on how she and her family would be able to combat or cure this disorder, Alison and her husband were sent home to care for their daughter without knowing where to turn or what to do. "You don't know fear until they tell you your child is autistic and then they say goodbye and good luck," Alison recalls.

After investigating their options, Alison discovered that Jodie's treatment would take at least 40 hours a week and so she decided to ask her employer if there were any way for her to take on a reduced work schedule. Unfortunately, at the time, she was told that the job of a vice president is not a part time position. And so, she had to quit.

Alison took some time off to care for Jodie and also gave birth to her second child, Lauren, a healthy baby girl. When Lauren was four, Alison began freelancing as a producer for CNBC. As she continued to hone her knowledge and expertise with issues relating to autism, Alison produced a series on the disorder which opened the door to a new opportunity.

Following the CNBC broadcast of the award-winning series, "Autism: Paying the Price", Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, tapped Alison to become Acting CEO of Autism Speaks, a foundation that he was creating along with his wife Suzanne, after being touched by the disorder on a personal level. The Wright's grandson was diagnosed with autism at an early age and as a result, he and his family have become determined to raise awareness, funds and find a cure for this disorder that affects nearly 1 in 166 individuals, making autism more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

Autism Speaks opened its doors in February 2005 and in less than two years, has made unbelievable strides in the fight to raise awareness while helping families battling the disorder. Alison says one of the biggest awareness breakthroughs for their organization took place when NBC's "The Apprentice" selected Autism Speaks to be part of Season Four's final episode where Alison made her primetime television debut on "The Apprentice" on behalf of Autism Speaks.

Since its founding, the foundation has raised more than 50 million dollars in support of the cause. These donations, Alison says, have even come in as quarters and dollar bills - from individuals across the country who are committed to finding a cure for autism. Autism Speaks now spearheads over 50 walks nationwide, including a walk in Westchester that Alison was proud to be chair for the last two years. "I felt so strengthened to be in a crowd of 7500 people whose lives have been touched by autism and who were there to stand up and make a difference," she says. The Westchester Fairfield Walk for Autism Research was also attended by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who addressed the crowd and promised to do all she could to support families struggling with autism.

Autism Speaks is also poised to receive major exposure after being selected this year by the Ad Council for a three year multi-million dollar ad campaign designed to build awareness of the fact that autism is more common than most people think. In the coming months, Autism Speaks will also be hosting several fundraisers including a star-studded event in Las Vegas on October 20, with performances by Jay Leno and Natalie Cole.

While Alison was initially brought on board temporarily to launch Autism Speaks, she decided to remain at the foundation after a full-time CEO was hired. She continues to be a driving force at the foundation as Senior Vice President, where she oversees communication strategy and legislative initiatives. On the homefront, daughter Jodie is a 9-year-old fourth grader who continues to make tremendous strides in her battle against autism. Alison's younger daughter Lauren, is a bright seven-year-old who is an energetic second grader and an avid dancer and gymnast. Alison continues to work a flexible schedule in order to accommodate the needs of both of her children and when asked if she'd ever consider eventually moving back into the corporate world, she says her answer is simple. "I am planning to stay at Autism Speaks until the day we find a cure."

For more information about Autism Speaks, Click Here.



Meet Melanie Lynne Hauser, a Chicago mom of two teenage boys who has transformed her stay at home life into the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Melanie never expected that she'd become a writer by trade since she spent most of her days shuttling her boys two and from soccer practice, school, playdates and appointments with the family orthodontist. Melanie dutifully played the part of doting mom, volunteering for dozens of committees and even had a stint as PTA President until the stress of the job landed her in a hospital emergency room.

While the PTA fiasco may have been Melanie's first sign that she may want to devote her time to something less taxing, the true writing on the wall came straight out of the mouth of her young son. When asked what his mommy did for a living, Melanie's wise cracking little boy replied, "My mom cleans houses." Melanie says, that with that fateful comment, "Perhaps it was time to look around for something else to do." And so, with her family as her comedic inspiration, Melanie embarked on a career as an author.

But the road to stardom is definitely not paved with gold nuggets or dollar bills for that matter. Melanie took a stab at writing her first novel and says it "stunk so bad that no agent wanted to represent me." So, she says, she buried it in the backyard and worked on her next book. That novel, actually got some interest from agents and she even secured one who attempted to sell it. While the book almost made it past the discerning noses of the marketing executives at a few publishing houses, it unfortunately never made it into print.

At this point in time, while she was no longer considered the family's "cleaning lady," Melanie says her son decided to wax poetic about her current career trajectory:

My mom's name is Melanie,
She writes lots of books
But can't sell any!

Humiliated and devastated, Melanie realized that her son's latest commentary was a step up from her previous line of work. Determined to finally break into the world of publishing, Melanie perservered and realized that maybe she needed to shake things up a bit. While writing her third novel about the life of a stay at home mom, Melanie devised an interesting plot twist. When the mom gets engrossed in trying to solve a major stain problem in the house, she inhales some noxious fumes that wind up giving her miraculous super powers! Bingo! A book that would set her apart from the rest and give hope to those moms toiling away with Swiffers and Magic Erasers!

With the help of her two sons, who are both superhero and comic book afficionados, Melanie got to work and hit a home run. After switching agents a few more times, Melanie pitched her book to Laura Langlie, an ambitious, determined and supportive agent who not only took her on as a client but became one of her biggest cheerleaders. Melanie's third novel, CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM and a sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD were bought by Penguin books. CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM, has just become available in soft cover and SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD will be released in hard cover in March 2007.

In the meantime, Melanie has also become a popular force on the worldwide web. Her blog, The Refrigerator Door, shares her musings on life as a mom and author and has enabled her to reach out to many women across the country who can relate and laugh out loud from her daily postings. Melanie has also begun contributing to Role Mommy with a brand new column called Confessions of (a not so) Supermom. To take a peek at her first essay, Click Here.

Even if you have to bury a few bad books in the backyard until you get it right, Melanie says the key to reinvention is to never give up. As she gets ready to embark on her latest book tour, this inspiring author and writer concludes, "The happiest moms I know are the ones who are doing what they love."
To watch Melanie in action, reading an excerpt from Confessions of Supermom, CLICK HERE



Hollywood Film Producer Gives Up the Fast Track and Embraces Change

Ricki Booker was living the dream life - or so it seemed. A successful film producer who worked for powerhouse studios like MGM and United Artists, Ricki was involved in a host of blockbuster films and yet, somthing was missing. When she joined Nickelodeon as an executive in charge of film development, Ricki thought she was on the right path. She'd dive in and start developing projects that she believed in, and the rest would be history. But that's not the way things work in Hollywood. "Sometimes the best scripts don't even make it because the writer is unknown and people aren't willing to take a chance," she says. And so, Ricki decided it was time to take a chance of her own.

Following the birth of her daughter, Ricki was still at Nickelodeon and found herself travelling all the time, which unfortunately for her, upset her child a great deal. "Everytime I went away on a business trip, she was sad and then when I came back she really gave me a hard time," she says. After a friend suggested she buy her child a book about what happens when a parent goes away on a business trip, Ricki visited the book store, but says she didn't see anything she liked. "All the moms were frumpy. Why can't a mom look attractive when you're trying to teach your kid a life lesson?" Ricki asked. As a result, she took matters into her own hands and created a colorfully illustrated book that told the stories the way she thought her daughter would want to hear them. From there, the Change is Strange book series was born.

Ricki wrote a book called Mommy and Daddy Are Going on a Trip, but then realized there were endless books to be written. From welcoming a new sibling into your life to the first day of school to moving away with your family, Ricki decided to build on her concept and create a personalized series of books that could include the names of the child facing a particular tough moment in their life. After releasing her books, their popularity spread like wildfire with customers ordering them online, contacting Ricki through word of mouth and retailers even had her produce special books without the personalizing option so they could offer the Change is Strange book series at their stores too.

When Ricki was pregnant with her second daughter, she decided it was time to take another chance. After she gave birth, she gave up that corner office and said goodbye to Hollywood so she could build the Change is Strange brand. Since that time, Ricki has secured a book distributor, has a sales representative on her team and will be working with a publisher in France who plans to distribute the book series as well. Each book also offers advice from an accredited child psychologist who gives tips on what you can do with your child to help them deal with change in their young lives.

With Ricki's amazing connections in the film world, Change is Strange has found it's way into the hands of celebrity and Hollywood heavyweights. Courtney Cox Arquette and David Arquette have the Change is Strange book series and baby Coco just loves them. Plus, Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor received them as gifts from MTV. And, actresses Brooke Shields and Gwyneth Paltrow received "We're Having a Baby" as part of their gift baskets from Nickelodeon.

At the suggestion of her incredibly supportive husband, Ricki decided to finally leave Hollywood behind and move with her family to a place that would truly enhance their quality of life. Colorado was the destination - partly because that's where Ricki and her husband first met and secondly, because they both love the outdoors and wanted their kids to experience living in one of the most beautiful states in the country.

Ricki and her family moved to Colorado two weeks ago and as I caught up with her while she was picking crab apples with her daughter, it's clear that she definitely made the right choice. Change is Strange - even for an adult, but sometimes in the end, change can be really good for the soul.

To order the Change is Strange book series click here.



Inspiring Stay at Home Moms Turn Playtime into Profit

Meet Leslie Head and Lori Brumbach, founders of Tee Pee for Me - an enterprising Georgia based company that offers high quality tee pees for little tykes. These two moms, who met at a neighborhood cookie party and decided they were the only normal ones there, became fast friends - sharing playdates and pow wows with their kids on a regular basis.

While constantly envisioning ways they could venture into business together, the duo began taking photography classes until the instructor at the school told them to find their niche and they'd be successful. And that's exactly what they did.

While they're kids loved to camp out in their respective living rooms, Leslie says she was tired of having to fold up blankets and put away pillows when tee pee time was over. And so, she says, she and Lori began thinking of ways they could design a great looking and durable tee pee for their tots.

From there, the floodgates opened. Leslie and Lori visited the Waverly/Schumacher showroom in Atlanta and were directed to Joseph Plata, a high end clothing designer and manufacturer who, along with his team, created an amazing array of fabrics for the tee pees.

The next step was to incorporate, which Leslie and Lori accomplished by packing all the kids into their minivan and taking turns at the county clerks'office to provide their signatures - one mom stayed with the kids while the other went inside to take care of business and then vice versa. These ambitious moms did the same routine with their trademark and logo and in a matter of months, managed to launch their own brand.

Next stop for Leslie and Lori...retailers. At the suggestion of the amazing contact they made at the Waverly showroom, the pair purchased a booth at the America's Mart in Atlanta and while they knew nothing about sales, orders or the intricacies of retail, they took their chances and came out on top, with several buyers instantly attracted to their tee pees.

As with any new business, there were many learning curves along the way. They vividly recall the time they bought a booth at the 1st Annual Braselton Christmas Fair and wound up somewhere near the popcorn and cotton candy machines. While their booth was adorned with gorgeous tee pees and festive decorations, patrons kept stopping by and asking for directions. "They thought we were the information booth," laughs Lori. While the sales that day were a bit slow, they learned that they had to target the outlets where they believed their product would take off.

Their perserverance, ambition and creativity has enabled them to sell their product to approximately 500 retailers nationwide. While they made a number of sales at trade shows, they say they've even cold called certain stores where they believe the tee pees could find the perfect home. Leslie says she was on a mission to get the tee pees into Saks Fifth Avenue before Lori's father retired since he worked as an engineer at New York's Grand Central Station. With determination and moxie, she called the children's buyer at Saks, overnighted a tee pee and received a call the very next day from the enthusiastic buyer who was eager to place a major order.

While they are thrilled that the tee pees have become a hit with retailers, Leslie and Lori say they are even more ecstatic that they're product has really hit a home run with buyers. What they truly treasure is the reaction they get from customers who order their tee pees online and then are completely bowled over when they arrive. "I still get goose bumps when I hear someone has received our tee pees and they absolutely love them," says Leslie.

In fact, Tee Pee for Me has even become a hit with celebrity moms and dads. From Gwenyth Paltrow, to Dylan McDermott to Angelina Jolie to Britney Spears to Jennifer Garner, there have been tons of tee pee deliveries in Hollywood and the orders keep coming in! In addition, the company is actively involved in numerous charities for children and has donated their products and services to several fundraisers across the country. They currently offer 12 tee pee designs and change many of them each year to keep their brand fresh, new and enticing to the little Indians who will camping out in them the moment they arrive on their doorstep.

Leslie and Lori no longer live in the same cul de sac but no matter the distance, they still make a dynamic duo. After having three children, Lori moved to St. Simons Island, GA along with her husband who is a builder and Leslie still lives in Dacula, GA with her two kids and husband who is a military officer. While they can't meet at midnight in their driveways to brainstorm, they're still on the phone constantly - mapping out their next move and laughing about their lives every step of the way.

For more information about Tee Pee for Me, click here to visit their website.


Photo Credit: New York Times/Modern Love

Reinvention Has No Timeline

I met Terry Hekker one day in my living room. While perusing the Sunday New York Times, I flipped to the Style Section and found my favorite column - Modern Love - and there she was. Terry Hekker, a grandmother and former homemaker reflecting on a life that had been caught completely off-guard by an unexpected turn of events.

You see, back in the 1970's when Terry was happily married with five children, she was content to live what she calls the "Edith Bunker" lifestyle - putting her family's needs ahead of her own. While feminists were encouraging women to break into the workforce and move up the corporate ladder, Terry decided to write about the importance of staying at home to care for your children.
Terry's 1978 op-ed column which shot back at feminist leaders such as Gloria Steinheim and Betty Friedan, was published by the New York Times, and led to a book she penned called Ever Since Adam and Eve. Terry appeared on major talk shows from "Today" to "Dinah Shore" and even Oprah Winfrey's show in Baltimore, sharing her strong views about homemaking vs. working motherhood. At the time, Terry was happy with her life and never expected it to change.

As Terry approached her 40th anniversary, she was completely thrown for a loop when her husband served her with divorce papers. Left in her picture perfect Victorian home to pick up the pieces of her shattered marriage, Terry found herself alone for the very first time. What she didn't realize was that this low point in her life would eventually serve as a catalyst for her personal reinvention.

Terry says her best friend and neighbor, the Tony award-winning actress and singer Elaine Stritch, helped lift her out of her doldrums by offering advice, support and humor. When Terry told Elaine that after changing the locks in her house many of her former ailments had disappeared and she even shed a few pounds, Elaine quipped, "Four major illnesses cured by a locksmith!"

Determined to start over, Terry embarked on a new journey. In the past ten years, this inspiring woman has served as the first female Mayor of Nyack, NY; was involved with the Helen Hayes Theater by providing lodging to actors and actresses like Olympia Dukakis and Loretta Swit; and she became Elaine Stritch's personal assistant, where she monitored her friend's diabetes while traveling with her throughout the country. Terry says she had a marvelous time on the road with Elaine, as the pair stayed at some of America's ritziest hotels.

But Terry's story of reinvention doesn't end there. Following a second editorial that was published in the January 2006 edition of the New York Times, where she admitted that if she had to do it all over again, she would have pursued her education and even worked, Terry was flooded with hundreds of emails from women facing similar circumstances, as well as numerous interview requests from high profile media outlets.

Terry once again appeared on the "Today Show" but this time, she offered her personal story as a cautionary tale to women who completely toss aside their career aspirations or their education in order to raise a family.
Terry is currently in the process of writing her second book, which at the suggestion of Ms. Stritch is appropriately titled, Disregard First Book. She has also become an advocate for older women who find themselves divorced or widowed and don't have the financial resources to cope.

One very important role that's near and dear to Terry's heart is that of grandmother to twelve adoring grandchildren. Terry's children still live nearby and says her daughter, a mother of three and a successful television marketing executive, moved back to their hometown so that her mom could keep a close eye on her family while she continues to pursue her career. Whenever her children or grandchildren need her, Terry says she's always there to help lend a hand.

For Terry, a major bump along her personal roadmap led to the adventure of a lifetime. While she may have done things differently had she decided to work while raising a family, Terry says she led an idyllic life back then, raising five wonderful children. As she continues to pursue her latest passion, she looks back at her own miraculous transformation and concludes, "it's never too late to reinvent." To find out more about Terry Martin Hekker, click here


LISA STONE, Co-Founder, BlogHer

Award-winning journalist and blogger Lisa Stone can teach a master class on reinvention. Lisa began her career covering politics for the Oakland Tribune before being recruited by CNN as a strategic programmer. In 1997, after giving birth to a beautiful baby boy, Lisa knew that the harried life that accompanied covering the newsbeat would not be conducive to her new role as a mom. So, she quit her high powered job and was hired by Web TV, where she worked three days a week producing news and sports segments.

After six months on the job, Lisa was recruited by an internet start-up, - where she was hired as executive producer with a four-day-a-week work schedule. Within four years, Lisa launched an 18 channel network that led to become the largest women's site on the internet. As she entered her fifth year at the company, the site was bought by ivillage and Lisa, who was now divorced, decided it was time to make a change. And so, she accepted a journalism fellowship at Harvard University and moved to Boston along with her son.

As a single mom attending Harvard, Lisa says she finally got to spend quality time with her child - picking him up in the middle of the day and attending those Mommy and Me classes her babysitter used to attend with him. "It was the first time in my life I got to calm down," Lisa says. But the calm wouldn't last long.

After completing her fellowship, Lisa took on a number of consulting jobs where she launched successful blog networks and interactive programming for many national brands including Hearst and Rodale magazines, E! Television/Online, HBO's Sex and the City, Knight Ridder Digital, American Lawyer and Glam Media. She also worked as freelance writer and was published by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly and was recruited by the Los Angeles Times to blog on the Democratic National Convention.

Following the Convention, Lisa also began blogging on her own site surfette, where she came in contact with many other women who much like herself, were sharing their opinions on everything from politics to playdates, in blogs they created on the internet. As the phenomenon of blogging continued to grow and thrive, Lisa envisioned a way to bring all of these virtual writers together under one umbrella.

In 2005, she met entrepreneur and marketing executive Elisa Camahort and instantly knew she would be the perfect partner to help spearhead a conference for women bloggers. Camahort then recruited media strategist and writer Des Jardins and the trio went on to found BlogHer, an organization and website which brings together women from all over the world into one blogging community.

Since its inception, BlogHer has caught on like wildfire. The BlogHer Conference 2005 sold out with 300+ attendees, national press coverage and sponsorships by Google, and Yahoo, among other companies and their recent BlogHer Conference 2006 was also a tremendous success. BlogHer is currently at work planning their 2007 business conferences in New York and Chicago.

This year, BlogHer has also introduced several innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives including BlogHer ads - a division of the website that enables writers to earn ad revenue on their blog sites. They've also launched a successful virtual book tour for authors - with Arianna Huffington kicking off a virtual tour on BlogHer to promote her latest book, Fearless.

BlogHer's vision to provide members with a virtual phonebook listing categories for dozens of subjects being blogged about on the internet, has now become a reality. And Lisa Stone, is front and center - bringing together some of the best female writers from around the globe and enabling them to start turning a profit from their daily postings.

On the home front, Lisa fell in love again, moved in with her partner and welcomed his two children into her life. Her philosophy on the work/life balance is simple. "Balance is baloney," she says. "The true challenge is growing your ambition." More importantly, this mom of reinvention concludes, "Being a parent has made me better at everything that I do." To visit BlogHer, click here.


Former Pastry Chef Parlays Flare for Food Fare as
Atlanta Journal Constitution's Dining Critic

Meridith Ford truly embodies the spirit of reinvention. Prior to becoming a mom, this multi-talented woman pursued her passion for theater as an actress. She then decided to follow her love of baking by studying as a pastry chef at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. While she thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating delectable desserts, she also realized that once she became a mother, the demands of the job could be taxing on her family life. As a result, she decided to teach at the culinary school where she trained.

Meridith taught for several years until she became pregnant and then took a break from her teaching schedule to spend time with her daughter and says she cherished every moment of it. While she taught part-time during her daughter's toddler years, Meridith also began to pursue a new passion...writing. Before long, Meridith became the official Dining Critic for the Providence Journal where she spent five years before relocating to Atlanta with her husband and daughter.

Since moving to Atlanta, Meridith is now a single mom and Dining Critic for the Atlanta Journal Constitution where she has carved out a flexible work schedule that enables her to spend time with her nine-year-old, hit the gym, review restaurants and clean the house from time to time.

Plus, Meridith still parlays her talents as a star pastry chef by volunteering at her daughter's school and has created some memorable cakes, cookies and of course, cupcakes that has left kids and parents clamoring for seconds!

Meridith admits that she used to be an "all or nothing person" but now says, "having a child really changes everything." She now realizes it's okay "not to clean the bathroom every single day - there's always tomorrow." Sometimes things will slip through the cracks, but as long as she's keeping up with her daughter and the latest restaurants to hit Atlanta, then she'll be just fine.

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