Where did you grow up? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in southeastern Virginia, on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. It was incredible to have the beach as my backyard and I miss it tremendously even though I love living in Wisconsin.
I honestly didn't have a vision of what I wanted to be when I was young. Even as a child, I was a very live-in-the-moment kind of kid. My brothers and I were raised by a single mom who worked long hours at a factory and we were all focused on day-to- day life, making ends meet and taking care of each other.
What was your very first job?
When I was 16, I got two jobs - a cashier at a local grocery store and a hostess at a restaurant - and worked 40 hours a week through high school and college. I actually loved having a packed schedule with work and school. My mom instilled a pretty solid work ethic in us!
You majored in biology in college, what were you career goals?
Majoring in science was a huge surprise for me as it was not my area of interest in high school. In college (then graduate school), I excelled in both biology and chemistry. After graduate school, I planned to obtain my Ph.D. and pursue a career in academic research science.
After college, what prompted take a position in fundraising at the Virginia Zoo?
I knew that my academic path for a career in science would be at least an eight-year commitment, so I decided to take a 'fun' job for a year before starting my Ph.D. program. That fun job at the Virginia Zoo set me on an entirely different path of non-profit fundraising, public relations and conservation science.
Neena will celebrate its fifth anniversary in January. What are you most proud of? What was your initial vision for the store and how has it evolved?
I'm so proud that we've become part of the community, that people know and love our store, our staff and our merchandise. I originally opened the store after selling my ballroom dance studio and I wanted a store that featured fitness and performance apparel that could be worn for workout, running, dance, yoga or just out and about. It didn't take long to realize that we can't compete with big stores by being so specific with our merchandise. Also, our customers wanted more everyday clothing - jeans, tops, dresses - not just workout wear. So now we are a boutique carrying just about everything and we still have a small selection of specialty fitness/yoga wear.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love it when someone comes in and it's clear that she leaves happier than when she came in. I don't think a lot of women expect to have a good experience shopping or browsing. We genuinely want people to enjoy their time in the store.
Tell me about your work as a volunteer firefighter.
I'm so lucky to be able to do it and do it in Middleton. I never thought I would be a firefighter; it's not something I ever even thought about until a few years ago. I worked out with a fitness training group at the fire station and when calls would come in, I found myself curious about the whole process. I was accepted into the recruit class in 2012 and absolutely loved it. Every part of the job. We have an outstanding fire department and with the store being just a few blocks away from Station 1, I'm able to respond quickly on foot during the day. It's such a rewarding experience - the leadership, the camaraderie, the facilities - and I'm grateful every day to have a locker with my name on it. I had to take a year off because I had a baby and honestly, the hardest part of my pregnancy and recovery was not being able to respond to fire calls!
Tell me about your family. What do you like to do for fun?
We are a busy family of four! We have an eight-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son and try to stay as active as possible, especially outdoors. There is such a wealth of activities that the greater Madison area offers; I feel like we are always discovering new things to do. Although I'm not a UW-Madison alumnus, I love Badger athletics and living in such a vibrant college town, so we spend a lot of time downtown and cheering on the Badgers.