MANDY SHOEMAKER & MICHALA GIBSON: Co-founders, Prairie Elder Care
Are some people just born to make a difference? Talking with Mandy Shoemaker and Michala Gibson will make you think so. They’ve been helping people for years. Mandy’s experience as an elementary school teacher and principal, and Michala’s career as a registered nurse, would’ve seemed to be enough to satisfy an altruistic drive. But as Mandy explains, it wasn’t.
“We were both feeling frustrated in our work and craving more flexibility to do more good.”
That’s why they started consulting together, specializing in placing patients in need of residential care.
“I’ll never forget when we visited our first group home together. We left the building, looked at each other, and agreed that we could do this ourselves – and do it better. That’s when the idea behind Prairie Elder Care was born, and we dedicated ourselves to creating better homes for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Mandy and Michala knew they were making a gigantic commitment. They had to buy a house, remodel it and find customers to fill it. They also had to find caregivers for the home, which they staffed pretty much by themselves for the first couple of years.
“We weren’t making enough money initially to cover payroll because it took time to fill our first house with customers. We each spent the night at the house at least 60 times in the first year. Michala was our only nurse, and she was there constantly.”
Creating enough revenue to hire help was tough at first. They were discouraged, but kept each other going.
“We were the ones doing all the work. It was great work because we are committed. But it got really hard, and we depended on each other to push through.”
Prairie Elder Care started with just one resident, but word got out that something special was happening at the home, and residents started streaming in.
“Typically, in a large facility setting, residents stay in their private rooms and tend to come out only for meals. We are different in that we work very hard to enrich the whole experience. We give back community, connection and control to people who have suffered loss from memory illness. What we’ve found is that if you can have a heart for patients for who they are and the state they’re in, they’re really so loving and so much fun. You just have to be open to the world they’re living in. That openness doesn’t define other facilities.”
So it’s no surprise that the business sells itself these days, and Mandy and Michala are feeling great about doing more good than they’ve ever done before.
“Customers just keep coming. We’re now filling up four locations and have people on a waiting list.”
Believe in yourself and your mission, and you will never feel regret.
Life lessons? Like many entrepreneurs, Mandy talks about passion.
“If you do what you truly feel is right, even if it doesn’t work out, you won’t second-guess whether you did the right thing. That’s how we make every decision. Believe in yourself and your mission, and you will never feel regret.”
Mandy’s advice for other entrepreneurs picking up momentum is to focus on the marathon, not the sprint.
“Things can feel pretty dismal at times, but the long view is what it’s all about. You’ll get there – even if today or tomorrow is a bad day, you’ll get to the next level.”
She also encourages a strong connection to the business resources that are widely available across Greater Kansas City. The Central Exchange, in particular, gave Prairie Elder Care quite a boost in the beginning.
“We didn’t know anything. Joining Central Exchange literally educated us about operating a business in our first year. I just don’t know where else I would have found that kind of help. I also give a lot of credit to the local elder care community. They’ve been extremely supportive of what we’re trying to do, and they work so hard to support ideas for meeting the needs of seniors in new and creative ways.”
Lead Bank also stands out in Mandy’s mind. She says the people there are like her and Michala – not afraid to get their hands dirty.
“They will do what it takes, and no one at the bank is above helping you. I mean, all the way to the top. I love the bank’s CEO. He agrees that business is about so much more than money. It’s about relationships, shared values and community. That kind of thinking is why we switched banks. Actually, it felt more like joining a family.”
The work of growing home couldn’t be more relevant to the big hearts behind Prairie Elder Care. Mandy says they’re doing it every day, and they take pride in knowing it matters to the community.
“Running a small or medium-size business amounts to a special kind of investment in your hometown. You’re rooted there in a different way than if you just have a job. And being rooted in Kansas City means supporting great schools, attractions, and a diverse population of activists, artists, philanthropists and all kinds of other people. We all grow our home here in the heartland, and I’m so happy to be a special part of that as a business owner.”