Firefighter Paramedic Engineer
Kirkwood Fire Department
Who inspired you?
I started my fire safety career late in life. I was 30 years old, working as an EMT at St. Louis University Hospital when a nurse suggested that I become a firefighter. As the oldest of two girls, my dad always told me, "You can do anything you want." And I thought, "I could do that." There was a two-year waitlist to get into the fire academy, during which I received my paramedic license. My advice for all women of any age is if you want to make a change in your life - go for it. You can do anything you want.
How are you creating a legacy?
When I started with the Kirkwood Fire Department 27 years ago, I had no idea how many other women were serving. I was the only woman in my class of 24 at the fire academy. Today, as a volunteer at Camp Fury STL, I encourage young women to explore becoming firefighters or police officers. Camp Fury STL is a week-long immersive camp for high school girls sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. Camp Fury STL campers put on the gear, climb the ladder truck, repel, perform rescue operations, learn defensive tactics, and become versed in fire and police procedures.
There are so many stories about how Camp Fury STL creates life-changing experiences, but I love sharing one about a girl who didn't know she was going to this camp. Her mom just dropped her off. The girl spent the first couple of days upset and not wanting to talk to anyone. But by the end of the week, she was the spokesperson for her team at the camp graduation. We never tell the girls they have to participate in an activity. But we are really supportive, and all the camp girls encourage each other. It's incredible to watch their confidence change in only seven days.
Who do you admire?
The woman I most admired growing up was Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa. She was the first Afro-Latina to put Salsa Dancing on the map for women of color. Celia is making history nearly 20 years after her death; she will be the first Afro-Latina featured on the United States Quarter in 2024. When I think about the legacy I want to leave for the next generation of women, the words that come to mind are perseverance and persistence. I want young girls to know that when life is hard, pushing through builds endurance and character. Life literally knocked me to my knees in April of 2021. I had to accept who I am as a woman. I don't look like a typical fitness instructor, so I had to get people to accept that I have the mentality and dedication to do the work. Spenga saved my life. As a Spenga instructor, I encourage others to be confident in their workouts. You have to love yourself in the space that you are in and give yourself the grace to enjoy the journey of achieving your goal. I want to tell the little girls of tomorrow, "Don't give up. It only gets better."
Branch Manager, Enterprise Bank & Trust - Kirkwood
Where is home?
Home is where you feel comfortable. I was born in Albania; then, we moved to Greece, and I moved to St. Louis with my family in 2004. Greece is beautiful, but I love my life here.
What is your favorite way to spend a weekend?
Every Sunday, my mom and I explore a local coffee shop. My parents owned a coffee shop in Albania, and my dream is to open a coffee shop with my mom to continue that legacy.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
Of all the places I have traveled to, New Orleans is my home away from home. It's the one place I find peace and clarity. My best friend and I started taking annual road trips there after reading The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden. I love that book, and it turns out the author has family roots in Albania.
Do you prefer flying or driving?
I won't say I hate flying, but I'm an over-packer, so air travel becomes an issue. Luckily, my car gets great gas mileage because I take many road trips. I'm heading to Nashville, Chattanooga, Colorado, Kansas City, and Chicago this year to follow my favorite band, All Time Low, on their concert tour. I haven't missed a tour since seeing them perform at the Pageant in 2008.
How are you creating your legacy?
I want to help people grow into different roles and departments within the bank. The Enterprise team has been so supportive of me. I've been promoted three times since I joined Enterprise Bank in 2018. Even though we are a big bank, it feels small because we create great relationships where everyone's voice matters. I want to amplify that positive energy at our Kirkwood branch by supporting my team and the local businesses in the community. I want everyone that comes into our branch to feel at home.
Co-Founder and CEO, Spry Digital
What inspires you?
Early in my career, I was encouraged to think about how I wanted to make a difference in the world. I gravitated toward equity in the workplace, improving our community, and helping others continue their education. But I would not have had the confidence to identify what is important to me if I hadn't ventured out on the journey to discover my voice.
Describe your journey to find your voice.
As a young girl, my voice was quiet; I questioned myself. The risk of failing by making the wrong choice paralyzed me. I faced the challenge of wanting people to like me, hating conflict, and knowing there are many sides to any situation. I began the journey of finding my voice by clearly identifying the issues that were important to me. As I focused on my 'why,' I became more confident in taking steps to move forward. I discovered that self-awareness and self-management are my keys to happiness and fulfillment. I am happiest when family, friends, and work intersect and build on each other.
As I learned more about myself, my strengths, my drive, and my motivators, I grew to believe in myself and my abilities. My voice became stronger, eventually overflowing with energy, ideas, purpose, and ambition. As I have grown older, I am now the calming voice of reason, setting an example of how to go with the flow and live authentically.
My journey isn't over. Every day I am hopeful. Growing. Stretching myself. I want to use my voice to reach out to support others. Our commonalities come from being curious, asking meaningful questions to better relate to each other, and acknowledging that our experiences and perspectives are our own. Having conversations around equity in the workplace, improving our community, and helping others continue their education helps our society and help others find their voice.
Lorilee Realty - powered by KW St. Louis
Who inspired you?
My mother. Because of her strength, I never refuse any opportunity or challenge. After college, I worked the front desk for Marriott Hotels. I wanted to work in management, but the all-male management team would not allow a woman to move on. So, I wrote a letter to Bill Marriott saying I wanted to be in management. I got the job and became Employee of the Year in 1986.
What is your superpower?
I simply asked people, "How can I help your business?" I like being a resource for people. I worked for ten years at Maritz Travel, negotiating contracts for our large hotel clients. Now, if someone has a question or needs a second opinion, I'm happy to help with anything, whether it's related to real estate or not.
Best advice you've ever received?
Surround yourself with positive people. You are the average of the five people you hang out with. Positive people can help you feel supported, focused, and on track.
What was a game-changer for you?
When I started in real estate, I joined many networking groups and spread myself so thin that no one knew me. So I decided that since I live in Kirkwood, I would focus all my energy at the Kirkwood - Des Peres Chamber of Commerce. Now, almost all my business comes from the Chamber. On a personal level, I've met some of my best friends through the Chamber. It's a great group of people. Some people join the Chamber because there is a solid social component within the Chamber's groups and events. As the founder of the Chamber Women's Entrepreneurial Group, I've seen how transformative it is to dig deeper into getting to know each other, genuinely care about each other, and find ways to help each other. But my favorite part of the Chamber is how our members support the community. The members set this Chamber apart from other professional or social groups. It's worth every minute that I'm there.
"You can do anything you want." - Nancy Goss
"Don't give up. It only gets better." - ViVi Carranza
"Surround yourself with positive people. You are the average of the five people you hang out with." - Lorilee Cummings