When she was working as a marketing coordinator in Grand Rapids, Carla Flanders' boss asked her what her ideal job would be. Carla said she wanted to meet great people, plan big events, and be the behind-the-scenes person responsible for putting all of the big-picture pieces into place. Several years and several job titles later, Carla has seen this hope turn into reality.
"The other day I had a realization: I feel like I am doing my dream job."
Carla is the mastermind behind CMF Marketing, a company in which she single-handedly helps to coordinate events including the UICA ArtPrize opening, Holland's Girlfriends Weekend and GrooveWalk, the Zeeland Community Labor Day Truck Parade, the Zeeland Pumpkinfest, and more.
"Everything has led to something else," she said.
Carla worked as the marketing guru for Tulip Time for eight years before she struck out on her own. In an effort to have a more flexible schedule and be more available to her growing children—now six and eight years old—Carla made her Norton Shores community home base for her business.
But even in making her own hours, Carla finds her schedule has peaks and valleys. She tries to work between thirty-five and forty hours a week, but in the summer, her time is a hot commodity.
"What I do is work during the day, get kids, then in peak times, I also work from nine to midnight. I'm a one-woman show right now, and I have to do what I have to do to get the work done.”
Thankfully, living on the lakeshore gives Carla easy access to her built-in babysitters—her parents. As an added bonus, the time her children spend with their grandparents fosters a bond Carla never had with her own.
"Growing up, my grandma and grandpa didn't speak English. My other grandparents were in New York. I felt like I didn't have that good Midwestern bond with my grandparents, so it is really important for me that my kids have a good relationship with their grandparents."
Family time is big for Italian/Sicilian Carla, whose uncle and cousins are restaurant aces in West Michigan. As the founders of Vitale's, on Leonard Street in Grand Rapids and in Comstock Park, Ada, Hudsonville, and Zeeland, and owners of Uccellos (Grand Rapids) and Florentines (Kalamazoo), they put food and family at the heart of things.
"Food is a big part of our lives," says Carla, whose father literally came over on the boat and met Carla's mother in New York while studying at the culinary institute.
Carla has other hobbies besides cooking and eating. She's a self-proclaimed "extreme power walker," and she and her husband like to travel and throw parties in their home.
"I just love to be social and planning events. It's a blessing and a curse."
The Muskegon area is lucky to have Carla, who is passionate about uniting her community—on the clock and off.
"I think that Muskegon and Norton Shores are highly underrated," Carla said. "I want for other people to see all the amazing things that Muskegon has … I want to be the best steward I can be, and be involved in a positive way to bring positive change."
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's editorial coordinator. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Erika was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. She enjoys yoga, gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses.