Looking back now I cannot believe what a blessing it is to be a Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Olive & Annie. Some days it's hard to believe how far I've come from a single parent home in a tough neighbourhood in Norfolk, Virginia! I lived in a single parent home with my father and my little sister in a small neighbourhood based on what my father could afford. It wasn’t much, but it was everything we needed. My mother separated from the family without a word due to her struggle with mental illness on the day I turned six. She would periodically contact us and would sometimes visit and say she was staying, but because of her condition (bi-polar disorder) she would be gone the next morning, leaving my father confused and a lot of times depressed. He would say “your mother loves you but she’s sick", and I would say I have medicine here so she can stay next time. At that age, you never really comprehend what’s going on, you just understand that people call it “grown up business” and you forget about it and go play with your friends. My father worked almost every single day of my childhood for countless hours at the local Goodwill and side jobs doing yardwork for people in rich neighbourhoods. Due to my father’s criminal charges from his past it was difficult for him to obtain a lucrative job, no matter how hard he worked. My dad working at the Goodwill gave us advantages with “purchasing” clothes. Even though they were old we still fortunate to have clothes on our backs. On the weekdays, I would be in the childcare program along with my sister in the local YMCA/recreation center until my father finished working and arrived to pick us up. On the weekends it would just be her and I, and when you’re a big brother that needs to step up you grow up quick and you attain skills just as fast, especially when it comes to protecting someone. All the knowledge my father gained from past mistakes he stressed to me not to make every day in his own way. He taught me how to protect myself, how to stay on top my finances, and most importantly how to value women. I grew up realizing how special, beautiful and miraculous women are. There were days women around our area would be raped or taken advantage of, and because I had a younger sister I was always on guard for her. After growing a older I became interested in psychology and dreamed of helping people, especially my city or those who had similar childhoods, with their struggles. I grew up telling my father I wanted to be this huge businessman that was in charge of Downtown Norfolk, so he wouldn’t have to work every day and he would just laugh and give me that fake smile a lot of parents do to encourage their children (which still brings a smile to my face to this day!)
In my high school years, I was scouted by a U.S. Marine recruiter who I shut down many times, until my last year of high school. He promised me I could escape my area, travel, learn new things about myself, and what was most important to me, making a lot of money. I eventually said yes and was on my way to become a U.S. Marine.
After completing all of my training and schooling for my job as a Combat Engineer and arriving to my first unit, I was told I was going to Iraq the very next day. After Iraq, a few months later I had begun training to deploy to Afghanistan. Shortly after I began to like the Marine Corps and reenlisted again instead of getting out like I planned to, to see what else it had to offer besides free schooling for college. I found the Marine Security Guard Program and went through the rigorous training to become a Marine who could travel the world protecting embassies. My first post was London, England and that was a complete eye opener for how the world worked. After a year of fish and chips and hot beer, and I was off to Nairobi, Kenya where my life definitely changed in ways I never could have imagined!
In Nairobi I met tons of people involved in different types of business, and then one day I was introduced to a certain sassy Canadian by the name of Jacqueline Villeneuve or “Jacquie” as she was introduced to me. Jacquie was a true go getter who displayed tons of confidence and courage in her line of work. She was involved in something so selfless, and so amazing, that I could not stop noticing her or being in her vicinity trying to learn what she knew. She was fearless! A couple of the Marines and I began volunteering in her children’s home just to help around the house and spend time with the kids. Dancing brought me so much joy in my childhood and our dance offs with the kids were definitely the highlight for us all! Months later Jacquie came to me with her business proposal that would in turn make some money, as well as have a positive impact on her children's lives and the lives of fellow single mothers (yes - on top of running a children's home Jacquie was also raising a spunky little one year old on her own!) Through my deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and working on the Marine Security Guard program, I had so much money saved up and was looking for something to invest in. After seeing Jacquie's passion to create a social enterprise, and getting to know the children of Zawadi la Tumaini Children's Home, I couldn't help but say yes to her business proposal. Jacqueline's dreams and her past have influenced me to assist her in this crazy dream of making the world a better place through the positive charitable efforts of Olive & Annie. So nearly one year later here we are…