“Keep your paying job as long as you can because that steady income can fund your dream.”
Melissa Heisey, founder of Angel’s Retreat
As long as I have known Melissa Heisey, she has been passionate about animals. Melissa and I worked together at Chase Card Services where she served as the finance lead for my card programs. She then joined Synchrony Financial where she took on increasing levels of responsibility.
But even while she was excelling in her career and earning a good income, Melissa was immersing herself in the business of caring for homeless dogs. “I always felt the need to do something meaningful in the world,” says Melissa. “I didn’t want people to remember me as just someone who was good at numbers.”
It wasn’t long before Melissa began preparing to realize her dream of opening her own animal shelter. That dream came true last year, and today Melissa is the founder and Executive Director of Angel’s Retreat, a shelter focusing on older, hard to adopt dogs based in West Chester, Pa.
How did Melissa get from finance to her dream job? “I basically worked two jobs,” says Melissa. “While I was earning an income at Chase and Synchrony, I was spending my free hours as a volunteer with a local animal shelter.”
During this time as a volunteer, she learned every aspect of running a shelter, volunteering for every type of role from shelter management to fundraising and media outreach. Melissa’s years of volunteering also gave her the critical relationships she needed with partner shelters, veterinarians and volunteers to ensure her own shelter’s success.
“Working at Animal Haven was a wonderful learning experience for me. The Executive Director of Animal Haven became a real mentor, patiently answering all my questions as I learned the business. And she continues to be an important advisor to me today as I establish my own shelter.”
Melissa also took advantage of having a steady paycheck to cover the upfront expenses of setting up the shelter. “It’s a lot easier to pay for all the startup expenses like legal fees to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit, purchasing the necessary real estate and other costs when you have the income to pay the bills,” notes Melissa. By investing in her future business while continuing to work at her finance job, Melissa was able to hit the ground running when she finally took the leap and opened Angel’s Retreat. “Doing all the upfront work while I was still employed not only made paying the bills easier, it also meant that I didn’t lose time setting up my business once my income stopped.”
It doesn’t matter whether you are launching a for-profit or non-profit business, it takes knowledge, money and planning to make your vision a reality. “Going out on my own was tough, but I took the time to prepare,” says Melissa. “It’s hard to work on your long-term goal while holding a challenging job, but it’s worth it because you can hit the ground running once you decide to leave your job to launch your business. I have no regrets.” To learn more about Angel’s Retreat, go to https://www.angelsretreat.org.
Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong