Amid uncertainty and turmoil, Grace's Table is a resting place, anchor and firm foundation for teen mothers and their children, from mothers-to-be to newborns and toddlers. Lisa Anderson, founder and director, talks about Grace's Table and the importance of advocating for and knowing yourself.
What prompted your decision to become an entrepreneur?
My initial desire to provide a support system to teen mothers was birthed out of my own story as a teen mother. Pregnant at 17, I struggled while trying to raise my son, attend college and work to support us both. I lacked a support system, and ended up dropping out of school so I could work full time to avoid government aid. I dealt with intense feelings of isolation and loneliness, anxiety and depression. It took many years for me to figure out how to advocate for myself and come to a place where we were stable as a family. Even while struggling through all of that, I knew that someday I would find a way to bring support to other young women in similar situations.
What have you done to create and grow a successful business?
Because Grace's Table springs from a very personal place in my life, I look at it less as my business and more as my life mission. I see myself as a mentor and supporter, rather than a boss.
Our priority is to walk alongside teen mothers and their children during a sometimes-uncertain time in their lives. Our holistic approach to each mother allows us to provide support and consistency that best benefits each individual mom as she works to achieve her personal goals. This relational approach allows us the opportunity to connect with the person—not just a problem—and allows us to love and serve our community well. Growing Grace's Table from this place of love and commitment has made it easier to handle the bumps, bruises and roadblocks that often come with building a business or organization.
What is the greatest or most interesting lesson you've learned so far?
That I cannot do this on my own. Being a single mother, I learned to push through and figure things out, often on my own. Building a business cannot be sustained alone. Inviting others to take part in the journey provides some of the most incredible growth opportunities and perspectives that really serve the end goal. Things don't move according to your initial plans: You must be flexible and let your ideas breathe as they take flight. They are always growing and changing, and we have to listen to the needs of our families so we are serving them well. Their input is, at times, the most valuable to our success.
What are a few of your favorite things about being an entrepreneur?
Self-exploration and realizing the possibilities are endless. As I move forward, I learn a little more about myself with each step. A lot of times there is uncertainty involved with how it will all come together—but when I say "yes" and move forward in the direction I know we are supposed to be headed, things begin to move and gain really great momentum.
Initially, I thought I would meet a lot of great creators here in Grand Rapids. Since getting started, I've been able to make incredible connections throughout the entire United States. I have found a lot of life and energy by spending time with other entrepreneurs and artists, who really help me think outside of the box and explore ideas I wouldn't have previously.
What sets you and your business apart from others?
Many people do a wonderful job of cheering on these young women when they choose life. But the young women we serve are often children themselves, and we need to also support them through their transition to motherhood. Grace's Table allows them to learn and grow in a supportive environment. There are so few organizations serving the same population that we draw moms from as far away as Martin, Shelbyville, Belmont and Muskegon.
What advice would you offer those who ponder following their dreams?
It truly is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Start by writing out your idea, and find a trusted group of friends to share it with. As you begin to talk about it and share it, it becomes more real—and those trusted friends can encourage you and become a support every day, especially on the days when doubt creeps in. In the early stages of dreaming I sought out counsel from a life coach, attended various conferences and began expanding my circle of influence to help breathe life into my dream.
Also, expanding on a dream takes time; occasionally, you have to let it breathe as your ideas grow and take shape. I often talk to people who want to identify their dream and start doing it tomorrow, but it really does take time. Twenty years ago, I knew I wanted to do something about the lack of support for teen mothers; 10 years ago, I realized how unfulfilled I was in my status quo, corporate job; five years ago, I began taking steps toward figuring out what needed to change in my life and how exactly I would do it. Today, I am still in transition to exit corporate America and work full time for Grace's Table. I share all that to say, "Hold your dream with open hands and listen to what you need—and what your dream needs—as both change and develop over time."
Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. They don't stop at "no"—and they persevere through risks and rewards. When West Michigan Woman sought nominations of local woman entrepreneurs to feature as our cover story, the response was outstanding—as are the women our readers selected. All are in the earlier stages of their endeavors. All have a story to tell. To read the published article introducing these women, click here.