Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.15.55 PMAt Rutgers Media Relations, I have been helping tell and share the remarkable stories happening every day at Rutgers, from groundbreaking medical research to how Rutgers’ standout students are making a difference.




As director of Entertainment Weekly‘s contributor network, The Community, I led a lean, dedicated team to research, plan and launch the site, the first of its kind at Time Inc. We grew from 25 to 50+ contributors, and added 1 million monthly unique visitors to in the first few months post-launch.


When StepheScreen Shot 2015-02-01 at 9.53.36 AMn Colbert ended his impressive Colbert Report run, I was psyched to contribute to EW’s coverage with this look at Colbert’s most awkward interviews. 

Yahoo Shine log



I joined the launch team of Yahoo! Shine in 2008 as the Work + Money editor, and created a new channel called Manage Your Life to curate work, home, and get-organized advice for women running point on several fronts. I managed relationships with Shine’s key content partners, including Conde Nast, Hearst, Time Inc., start-up websites and individual bloggers.

As managing editor, I worked with Yahoo!’s front page team to pitch, assign and edit newsy and highly engaging posts, supported editorial staff under quick turn-around deadlines, and helped brainstorm and execute successful sponsored programs. I also worked with product teams to create new sites and relaunch Shine’s CMS. Shine’s audience doubled to more than 35 million monthly unique visitors during my four years on the team.

 I blogged for’s first blog network, SimplyStated, about family and technology, and also wrote some personal tech pieces for Real Simple magazine. I also contributed tech-related pieces to Family Circle and

How to Manage Your Online Image

Choosing the Right Cell Phone

I was on the  launch team of the original Yahoo! Tech, where I blogged daily about family and tech issues.

 As a reporter for the state’s largest paper and one of the top 15 in the country, I covered local news, wrote long-form features and profiles, and earned a spot as columnist on the business homepage, covering work/life balance, workplace, and small business issues.

Playing the Market: Business is up for businesses that focus on kids

The Star-Ledger 7/11/2003

It’s 6:15 a.m. on a Friday in June and sales are unusually brisk at the Copper Kettle deli in Basking Ridge. Moms fill their coffee cups and wait in line to pay. Then they head back down the street to their reserved spots in a much longer line. This one formed hours before sunrise, long before the deli opened, and it continues to grow.

It’s registration day at the Gotta Dance studio for fall classes, and many of the parents who hit the end of the serpentine line of folding chairs at the late hour of 6:30 a.m. are out of luck. These early birds were not early enough to score first-choice classes for their fledgling ballerinas.

The economy has battered many businesses in the past few years, but for some well-positioned companies and entrepreneurs who focus on children, business is strong. It’s a good time to be a kid, and in some markets, a good time to own a business for kids.

“If businesses are looking for a silver lining in all these gray economic clouds, all they have to do is look down—about three feet down,” said James McNeal, a Texas A&M University professor emeritus who studies the children’s market.

Kids age 14 and under influenced more than $600 billion of household spending in the United States last year, said McNeal, author of several books, including “The Kids Market: Myths and Realities” and “Kids as Customers.” That includes what kids spent on their own ($30 billion), what they directly requested from parents ($300 billion), and what parents spent on what they thought their children wanted ($300 billion).

It’s common, of course, for students to drop activities as they reach their teen years. The good news for owners of children-focused businesses is that new customers are born every year.

In New Jersey, the number of children under age 5 increased by 31,148, or 6 percent, between 1990 and 2000, according to U.S. Census figures. In the same decade, the 5-to-9 age group swelled by more than 111,000, a 23 percent increase. The number of kids between ages 10 and 14 increased 23 percent, or more than 109,000.

“Babies are the bread and butter of dance school,” said Eileen Lucek, owner of Showcase Studios in Far Hills, which she opened in 1994. Fifty percent of her students are toddlers or in elementary school, 25 percent are middle school students, 20 percent attend high school and 5 percent are adults. She charges $62.50 a month for hourlong weekly classes. CHILDREN FIRSTEven in an economic downturn when jobs are in doubt or even lost, parents often will cut out every other extra in the family budget before stopping the lessons, classes, sports activities and camps that have become a staple of childhood in middle- and upper-income families.

“Parents will put out for their kids and do without something they need,” said Laura Quickstad, owner of Laura’s Dance studio in Berkeley Heights. “Kids are going to be the last to be affected. We don’t want our kids to suffer.”

McNeal’s research shows parents sometimes spend more rather than less on their kids during tough times. “It is their way of sheltering the kids, protecting them from the uncertain, the meanness of the outside world,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that all of this makes sense to the analytical, but it does to the parents.”

During the recession in the early 1990s, when households reduced overall spending, McNeal found that spending on kids actually increased.

“The last thing to go is the kids’ activities,” said Jana Belot, co-owner of Gotta Dance with her husband, Joe. “I’m a mom, I know. It’s the one thing we want to maintain. We want to keep our kids involved and out of trouble.”

In 1989, Belot started teaching dance in preschools and church basements. Three years later, she opened her first studio in Martinsville. Studios in Basking Ridge and Branchburg followed. In the fall, two studios, in Warren and Branchburg, will open. Five years ago, her husband, Joe, took a buyout package from AT&T and is now her business partner.

This year, at Gotta Dance’s Basking Ridge studio, more than 400 students between the ages of 2 1/2 and 18 have taken classes, which start at $48 per month.

Kerry Preston, a corporate trainer specializing in etiquette, did not consider a business for children until several adults who attended her workshops asked if she offered classes for kids. She started Manners Matter with her sister, Amee Smolinsky, in December. Since then, they have enrolled more than 2,000 children in seminars, at between $25 and $35 each.

“Our goal is to reach 5,000 by the end of the year, and I think we’ll easily do that,” said Smolinsky, who lives in Clinton Township. “It was amazing to see how quickly people booked. We had to hire instructors and add classes.” NOT ALL PROFITNot every kid business has grown so steadily in the last few years. Enrollment dropped after Sept. 11, 2001, at the Edison Martial Arts Academy and has not returned to a high of 250 students. About 180 kids are taking classes this year, two to three times a week for between $80 and $100 a month.

The owner, William Scott, teaches the classes with the help of some advanced students. But he wouldn’t be able to stay afloat and pay the $3,400 monthly rent without his second job as security manager of the Oak Tree shopping center, where the school is located.

“A lot of schools are struggling,” Scott said. “If it’s a rainy summer, karate schools do well. If it’s nice, we don’t.” Scott offers a summer camp, and last fall began a $300-a-month after-school program to widen his market.

Toni-Ann Lueddecke, owner of Gymboree Play and Music of North Central Jersey, said she has cut her pay in half over the past few years. But she is not complaining. She would do it again to keep her mostly full-time staff of 30 at Gymborees in West Orange, Summit, Pine Brook, Rockaway, Wayne, Montclair and Basking Ridge.

“I choose to have a lot of employees and keep my employees happy,” said Lueddecke, who pays long-time workers as much as $20 an hour, in addition to benefits. “People think it is a cash cow, but it’s not. To say you’re even in this business is to say you’re down because your expenses keep going up.”

Rents are the biggest expense, by far. They have increased while square footage has decreased with each of the seven children’s play and music centers she has opened in the past 20 years. Classes cost about $15 each, or $174 for a three-month session.

For Larry Stout, it’s well worth the money to stop for a moment and be with his children. He and his wife, Colleen, have been bringing their children to the Gymboree in Pine Brook for the past 18 years. A computer programmer with flexible hours, Larry Stout attends a weekly class with his 2-year-old daughter, Summer.

“It’s quality time with my child, a time each week set aside with no distractions,” Stout said. “At home, I’d be thinking about something else I might be doing in the house. At Gymboree, I’m just there with my child.”

It’s similar for Jim Resetar and his 10-year-old son, Dan, who has been taking classes at the Edison Martial Arts Academy for six years. Dan Resetar earned his black belt even as he added basketball and baseball to his after-school schedule, and his dad, a U.S. Airways employee, was transferred to Philadelphia. Jim Resetar’s alarm rings at 2:30 a.m. so he can make it from his Colonia home to work by 5 a.m., then back home in time for Dan’s afternoon activities.

“When I was growing up, my father had the same type of drive but he got home at 7 o’clock. He couldn’t do anything with me,” Resetar said. “This is my time to see what he’s doing.”

* * *

Time Heals Separation Anxiety

The Star-Ledger 7/13/98

I’m half a block away, but I can still hear her crying.

I’m crying, too, as I walk the block from our caregiver’s house to ours, where I’ve got a few short hours to get a lot of work done.

This doesn’t get easier, leaving a crying child.

My work schedule is more flexible than ever since our oldest was born five years ago. Our children are in someone else’s care between 12 and 15 hours a week while I work at home. The rest of the work gets done at night and on weekends.

I have more time with our three little ones than when I worked full time after our first was born and part time three days in the office after our second arrived.

Still, here I am, crying on a Tuesday morning as I head to work. It doesn’t matter that my office is in my basement, or that I can look down our street and see the backyard where my children are playing while I’m working. If timing is everything, ours is off right now. It seems we’re making the transition to a new caregiver just as my youngest is heading, right on schedule, into her 18-month-old separation anxiety period.

Back home, I seek some comfort in the words of that fatherly pediatrician to the world, T. Berry Brazelton: “In the second year, leaving a child can be at its most painful,” he writes.

Oh good.

“She is able to protest violently.”

Yes she is.

A short while later, our caregiver calls to tell me she’s fine. She calmed down within minutes and was taking a short morning snooze on the couch.

The next morning, she cries again as I leave. When I stop by to bring her older sister, who has been at a school camp, she shakes her head no when I tell her I’m leaving but I’ll be back. But she doesn’t cry as her sister takes her hand to walk outside to play.

Day three, I stop by to see our 3-year-old son, who was crying because suntan lotion was stinging his eyes. I can’t help thinking some of the tears come because he, too, is getting used to a new place to play. A place without his old buddy, without the familiar toys and familiar ways of another woman who opened home and heart to him.

I walk by our youngest, sitting in the shade at a pint-sized table with the other children, eating her snack. She gives me a wide, bright smile. But she doesn’t get up to come see me. Her grapes taste too good, and the company is fine. She is content.

The separations come at some point. If you’re working, they come when the babies are little. They come again when they hit those separation anxiety stages, right when the books say they will. It can happen when Grandma comes over to play as you dare to go to a doctor’s appointment alone. Even if you’re able to spend just about every baby and toddler day together, the goodbyes can be wrenching when preschool starts.

The tearful days don’t get easier. But five years into this, I’ve learned there are many more days when I see the good things these separations give our children: The independence to explore a world outside our home. New friendships, and the confidence they bring. The flexibility to go with whatever a new day offers.

What it gives me is the chance to earn needed income and to do something else I like doing. Which, I hope, helps make me a better parent.

At the end of one of these emotional days, I pack everyone in the car, head to the food store for a quick shop and then to the playground. As we make our way back from the slides to the car, the littlest refuses to take my hand.

I requested her independence in the morning. She demands it in the afternoon.

All at once, I am both proud and sad.

* * *

Food distributor flavors the sweet taste of success with nostalgia

The Star-Ledger 5/16/04

Stacked cases of Manzana and Tropical soda bottles line the center of the Family Food Distributors Kearny warehouse, ready to be delivered to bodegas and groceries throughout the Northeast as temperatures climb.

The two-liter bottles will sell for $1.50 to $1.99 each, well above sale prices for Coke or Pepsi. But they will sell, says Patricia Castaneda-Mendez, because each cold, sugary swallow brings a taste of Ecuador, the home country of most people who buy it.

“They are very nostalgic products,” Castaneda-Mendez says. “It’s the flavor we remember. In sodas, there’s a big difference. Here, they use corn syrup. Over there, it’s sugar, and that makes a big difference.”

Fifteen years after immigrating to the United States, Castaneda-Mendez is an entrepreneur, selling food and nostalgia – a powerful combination. She and her husband, John Rivas, and her daughter, Andrea Castaneda, started Family Food Distributors during February 2002.

Castaneda-Mendez worked as a purchasing manager at two Hispanic food distributors, which, she took note, didn’t sell Ecuadorian products. Rivas’family owns a restaurant in Ecuador, and Andrea Castaneda, a junior business management major at Rutgers University, interned with her mother’s previous employer. Together, they have grown the company to 500 customers, one store, one order at a time.

“We’re Ecuadorians and we saw a potential there,” Castaneda-Mendez says of the decision to take the leap into selling Ecuadorian favorites such as Van Camp’s tuna, Real sardines and Guitig mineral water, as well as some Costa Rican products.

There were other reasons, too. The desire to run a successful business on their own terms after years of working long days and weekends, sometimes two or three jobs at once. Castaneda-Mendez also hopes her daughters, Andrea and Daniela, 11, won’t have to work as hard as she has.

“I always put 100 percent to my job working for other people. And then it gets to a point where you say you want to do your own thing,” Castaneda-Mendez says. “I had a good job. I was making sixty-something thousand dollars a year, but I didn’t see anywhere else I could go.

“My boss was the owner, so I was never going to be the owner. I got a nice raise every year. But we wanted to do something on our own. It’s the American Dream. You can do your own thing and you can have a better economic future for your family, for your kids.”

The family is following a trend. Census data have shown immigrants are more active entrepreneurs than native-born Americans. And the U.S. Small Business Administration reports between 1988 and 1998, the number of “primary self-employed” Hispanics increased 30.1 percent, Asian business owners increased 56.5 percent and “whites” 1.1 percent.

Castaneda-Mendez, Rivas and Castaneda knew the Ecuadorian market was fairly well-served near their home, so they searched the Internet for Hispanic grocery stores in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Then they hit the highway.

Rivas and Castaneda drove a van packed with a few favorite Ecuadorian and Mexican products to Stamford, Conn., on Feb. 18, 2002.

“As soon as you get off the exit, there are two stores, corner bodegas,” Castaneda says. “We sold to one of them. The other, it took us several tries to get in there.”

They made their first sale, then drove to the next town.

They reinvested the company’s early profits into the business while Castaneda-Mendez and Rivas kept working in jobs outside the company and Castaneda ran the office while attending college full time. Now, they all work there full time and have three part-time workers.

“They are a textbook example for others on how to start a business,” says Denis Rasugu, a counselor with the Rutgers-Newark Small Business Development Center. “They bootstrapped and sacrificed by using their own financing.”

This year, they got a pivotal break when they were named the exclusive Northeast distributor of Van Camp’s tuna, a favorite among Ecuadorians. They are working their way into the New York market in the Bronx with the tuna line.

Chicken of the Sea, Van Camp’s parent company, usually awards exclusive distributing rights for small areas, says Anthony Montoya, senior vice president of sales for the San Diego-based company.

“We gave them four states,” he says – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. “They just have this passion to get out there and sell the products they are selling. We were so taken by that.”

Family Food Distributors has made it this far with no loans. But Castaneda-Mendez attended the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Entrepreneurial Training Institute, and they will be applying for an EDA loan. The family business is signing up accounts every week, and the larger stores are requesting credit accounts, which cash flow can’t handle.

Along the way, they have discovered an unexpected bonus.

“Even working as many hours as we do . . . we’re much closer now than we were working for American corporate companies,” Castaneda-Mendez says.

* * *

Sharing a home office is not so easy

The Star-Ledger 11/9/98

The poor guy.

When we spent lots of money to put in this home office, all 9-by-9 feet of it, half of it was supposed to be his.

There’s an L-shaped desk to prove this intended 50/50 split: one side for me, one side for you. His name is even on the voice-mail message for the separate office phone line.

But as I spent one recent night sifting through my scattered papers and growing piles, it occurred to me it hasn’t quite worked out so evenly.

It occurred to him awhile ago. His half of the L has the kids’ computer, which sits next to a few to-go-through piles of his own, leaving little room for his laptop. Most nights, the dining room table beckons with its wide-open surface.

He came down the other night to sort through some of those piles and sat right next to me as I logged on. Cozy, you’d think. But the lock I gave must have said what I was thinking: “And you’ll be here for how long?”

“I think I’ll go to the gym” he said soon after.

With so many of us carving home offices out of unused or already well–used space, the odds that we need to share it with someone else in the family are pretty good. Making it work isn’t always easy.

Gil Gordon, a telecommuting consultant from Monmouth Junction, likes to say a good predictor of how well a husband and wife will share office space is how well they do at the same bathroom sink.

“You need to ask what kind of physical proximity can you , tolerate,” I says Gordon. “Everybody has their own workstyle. When you share a tight space with a co-worker, you grin and bear it. When it’s your spouse, that’s harder to do.”

The key, it seems, is to talk about your expectations and needs before buying two ergonomic chairs for a home office. Come to a general agreement on who will need the office and when. And determine if you’ll be able to use it at the same time so resentments don’t build, suggests Paul Edwards, who has co-authored several books on working from home with his wife, Sarah. (Among them: “Working from Home,” $15.95, and “Tearning Up,” $13.95, both Putnam books.)

When it comes time for some serious solo work and other family members are home, it’s a good idea to have a system in place for letting them know you are to be left alone, unless there’s an emergency. A really big emergency.

Sometimes just a closed door sends the message, says Edwards. A sign outside the door works, too.

But the biggest consideration when sharing a home office is clutter.

‘‘It may not be an issue for you whether the desk is neat or messy, or whether things get put away, but it may be for the other person,” says Edwards.

So if you should find your spouse poring feverishly through the Hold Everything catalog one day, it may be a clue that it’s time to get the home office organized.

‘‘Mompreneurs” authors Ellen Parlapiano and Patricia Cobe ($13, Perigee Books) recommend clearing the desktop of everything but the essential — only the things you use daily or weekly, besides the monitor, keyboard and phone.

Some more advice: If the office is small, make use of the walls. Install shelving, boards for notes and cal­endars. To reduce the inevitable piles of magazines, store the ones you ab­solutely want to keep in those multi-colored cardboard magazine holders. Clip the articles you want to keep from the rest, and then file them im­mediately.

The Edwards promote a 45-minute, “handle it one time” ap­proach to mail and other paper:

Throw it away: Toss junk mail and other unimportant papers, fast.

Act on it: Whenever possible, take immediate action on mail or school forms, etc.

Refer it to others: Sort mail or papers for other family members and put them in the same place for them to find every day.

File it: Any piece of mail you have not thrown out should be placed in its proper location by the end of the 45-minute period,” the couple writes in “Working from Home.”

I’ll work on it. Until then, there’s always the dining room table.

* * *

Noisier, But Better, Way of Working

The Star-Ledger 10/12/98

At some point, when those of us among the growing legion of home-based workers visualized the career move home, we idealized a few things.

The flexibility to weave work around family. The chance, perhaps, to stay on top of the laundry. And the quiet: No ringing telephones other than our own. No loud co-worker voices to drown our own conversations and thoughts.

We got the flexibility, although it still seems there aren’t enough hours to get it all done. As for the laundry, I can’t speak for everyone, so let’s just say there are more dirty clothes piles around here than I care to admit.

But when we imagined the peace and quiet, just what were we thinking?

Birds chirping. Leavings rustling. Maybe some raindrops tapping at the windows. On nature tapes, maybe, but not in my little corner of suburbia.

One recent morning, after the kids were off to school and the caregiver’s house, I sat down to write. I heard the birds chirping. Then I heard the trucks. In minutes, there were six of them on our small street of eight houses.

The landscapers arrived in two vehicles when they came to cut down a few of our neighbor’s trees, and then fed the cuttings into an earsplitting wood chipper. The township’s sewerage authority and engineering office employees followed the others. They came to investigate why when everyone on the block flushed, the results were pouring into another neighbor’s basement. And to do this, of course, they needed to leave the engines running.

This doesn’t happen every day, certainly, but it illustrates this: After years of working in a noise barrier-free office, learning to tune out other voices, buzzing computers and incessantly ringing phones, we’ve come home to a whole new set of noises to filter into our workday.

Rosemary Watson didn’t think about her two Westies being anything but good company when she started her confectionery supplies mail order business in her Morris County home. She didn’t consider that they probably wouldn’t stop barking loudly, when the urge moved them, just because she was on the phone with a client.

“They alert me to the UPS guy, to neighbors walking down the street, to all kinds of unnecessary alerts,” Watson says. “They take away from the professionalism of it.”

Two years after getting her small business consulting venture up and running, Dorothy Schulze got a puppy and realized the same oversight. “You can’t muffle her once she starts,” she says. “I never thought of that.”

But the puppy is no competition for her 17-year-old son, who still bounds in from school most days and immediately calls loudly to his mother in her upstairs office. Sometimes he has some equally exuberant friends in tow.

“It doesn’t seem like he really gets it,” Schulze says. He thinks of his mom as home first, and working second. This she’s sure of when she has to remind him often to turn down the stereo in his room.

On the days when her elementary school-age kids are home sick, the home office noise levels can reach fever pitch for Melanie, a public relations writer. (She asked that her name or town not be used because of concerns about local zoning laws for home businesses.)

“When the kids are sick, the work still goes on,” she says. The same goes for the after-school, before-dinner time when her three kids are home and she’s still trying to get work done.

My sister, who worked at home in her townhouse surrounded by well-manicured grounds, soon learned why that lawn looked so good. The landscapers came by often with their blaring mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers.

If you’re worried about how professional all this clamor sounds on the other end of the phone line, there are all kinds of products out there to mute them. Telephone headsets that block out background noise, even cassette tapes that simulate real office din.

But as more people work out of the home, the sounds of dogs barking, kids screeching and leaf blowers blowing are becoming less unusual, and hopefully, less disdained. (Some 9.9 million people telecommute at least three days a month, up from 9.1 million in 1997, and an additional 22.2 million operate home businesses, up from 20.7 million in 1997, according to the International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.)

On both ends of the phone line, we’re getting used to the new sounds of doing business.

The Star-Ledger

* * *

The Other Mommy Track: Parenthood Offers Women Entrepreneurs Wealth of Ideas

The Star-Ledger 11/05/2003
Fourteen years ago, Rori Pipeling was an AT&T international sales manager, running 200 employees selling data systems. Now, she manages 65 professionals who work with 1,200 clients who deal in glue and glitter and play: children.

As a mother of two, Pipeling spent much of the 1980s dashing to child-care centers before they closed at 6 p.m., searching for good after-school programs that didn’t exist and building a working-parents support network at AT&T. Soon after her second child entered school, she decided it was time to make a change.

Pipeling negotiated a buyout package during 1989 from AT&T and went to work building a child- care database and resource-referral list for the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce. But she discovered there were no openings at existing programs. “Everything was booked,” she says.

So she started her own after-school program. The Work-Family Connection opened in Tewksbury during 1989 and is now in 15 schools, including the Chatham, Florham Park and Clinton Township districts. In response to parents’ wishes, Pipeling has added summer day camps, before-school programs, extended-day kindergarten, and enrichment programs, such as French and music lessons.

“When something comes out of a personal need, your drive to make it happen is tremendous,” Pipeling says. “It overshadows every obstacle.”

Flexibility, autonomy and achievement are big reasons women start businesses, many surveys say. But women also are inspired by something else: parenthood. Labor statistics don’t reveal how many entrepreneurs tap their parenting experience for viable business ideas, but many, like Pipeling, find an unmet need and set out to fill it.

One in 11 women is a business owner, according to a Center for Women’s Business Research study based on U.S. Census data. A Census survey this fall seeks to find out more about women business owners. In addition to questions about gender, age, race, education and ethnic background, the survey asks them about their primary business functions, sources of capital, types of customers and employees.

There are also questions about home-based businesses, family-owned businesses and franchises. When released during 2005, it will shed more light on the types of businesses women are starting, including parent- and child-related businesses such as doula services, birthday-party planning and career coaching for women returning to the work force.

Of course, many startups fail, and businesses started by mothers with a good idea are no exception. A U.S. Small Business Administration study of 12,185 businesses released this year found about half of all ventures are successful after four years and one-third of businesses closed because they were unsuccessful.

“Moms need to remember even if an idea sounds fabulous, taking that idea and bringing it to market is the hardest part,” says Ellen Parlapiano, co-author of “Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Step by Step Guide to Work at Home Success” (Perigee Books; $14.95) and co-founder of Web site

The rise of the Internet and e-mail has clearly helped many women launch businesses. The Internet allows Audrey Bell-Kearney of West Orange to sell her full-sized fashion dolls online at, and provides a way for Jen Singer, a Kinnelon writer, to share her parenting humor with other moms and market her work at her Web site,

When Bell-Kearney’s daughter was 8, she realized there were no dolls that looked remotely like her daughter. “She was a little chubby and I’m chubby,” she says.

She wanted her daughter to have high self-esteem and not judge herself based on one cultural standard. So she talked to a doll-collector friend, did some research, found a doll designer and started making dolls with start-up funds from friends and family.

At $59.95 each, the dolls are sold online and at trade shows. Bell-Kearney left her customer-service job at Verizon to run Big Beautiful Dolls during 1999. The company’s revenue reached $62,000 this year, and Bell- Kearney and her partner, Georgette Taylor, are pursuing funding to mass market the dolls.

Carol Filocamo, who worked in human resources for Dun & Bradstreet for 13 years, bought a birthday-party business because she wanted more flexibility so she could spend more time with her 3-year-old son.

Filocamo purchased B.R.A.T.Z (Birthday Room And Theme Zone) in Metuchen during April after deciding against going into the day-care business. After a slow summer, business picked up during the fall. Seven parties are booked this weekend.

“It’s a scary step to take, but I wish I had done it sooner,” she says. “I was making good money (at D&B). I had great benefits. I was comfortable. But it wasn’t for me.”

For some women, becoming a parent leads them to pursue a passion in their work.

Jill Gerken Wodnick of Montclair was teaching public speaking, drama and debate at Seton Hall Preparatory School when she became pregnant and had a hard time finding a mind-body-spirit approach to childbirth classes. She started Wise Woman Birthways with Laura Amerman and Kelli DeFlora, and they offer holistic childbirth classes, doula services and birth supplies.

Tired of the consulting grind, Emily Anderson knew when she was five months’ pregnant she would leave her 4-year-old job at Arthur Andersen and pursue executive coaching. After her son was born, the Verona resident was working three days a week as a self-employed corporate information-technology consultant. She had the flexibility and control of her time she wanted, but “I realized I didn’t care about overpaid white guys anymore,” she says. “What I really cared about were people like me – working mothers.”

She changed the focus and name of her business to A Woman’s Work and found an unexpected coaching market: stay-at-home moms who want to get back into the work force.

The Work-Family Connection’s Pipeling had a similar epiphany before she left AT&T: “What I wanted to do was help working parents find quality child care,” she says. Her son attended the program she started, and her daughter, in middle school at the time, helped out after school.

Her daughter, now 24 and a college graduate, owns her own business – providing services such as party planning and gift wrapping for busy working parents.

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