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Newsflash

The Beauty of Transitions: Bringing business smarts and savvy to world of pageants

Running a beauty pageant is very intense. Just ask Cheryl Thompson-Draper, director of the Texas Cinderella Victoria County Pageant. 

Ticking off a list of responsibilities, she said, “The location. The décor. Sometimes you need to have a fundraiser before the pageant to make sure you have money to host it. If it’s part of a national system of pageants, you need to know what the rules are,” she said. 
 
When it comes to rules, Thompson-Draper says that no matter how well you play by them, life has a tendency to throw you curves. 
 
Like so much in life, her involvement just sort of happened, and true to her personality and style — which blends a can-do attitude with Steel-Magnolia-esque grit — she rolled with the punches.
 
As a teenager and after college, she worked with her father at his company, Warren Electric. Then, in serial entrepreneur fashion, she did other things.
 
“Oh, I opened and ran a hobby shop,” she recalled. “Then I sold it, and I went back to work with my dad. Then, I  got a divorce. And, later, when my dad had a stroke, I went back to Warren Electric and stayed there from 1992 until 2002 when we sold the business,” said Thompson-Draper. 
 
In 1998, she was asked to judge the Miss Rodeo Texas Pageant, and while it wasn’t anything she sought out, she thought it sounded like fun. She liked the idea that pageants inspired poise and confidence-building in the contestants, and she looked at it as a way to give back to her community. From that moment on, her ascension into the world of “glitter and tiaras” was swift. She went on to be part of the Miss Rodeo America National Advisory Council, and she was asked to take over the Miss Harris County Fair Pageant. As its director, she built it back up into a major event. Now, she’s doing the same thing with the Cinderella Victoria Pageant. 
 
She readily admits that if you’d asked her years ago if this is what she’d be doing in what she calls “semi-retirement,” she would have laughed. 
 
Turns out, though, she not only likes doing the detail-  driven work of pageants, she also believes they can help empower girls.
“Pageants teach you a lot,” she said, countering the opinion that a beauty pageant is just gowns and vapid smiles. “Our girls have to learn how to present themselves in an interview. Pageants teach them how to lose, and win, with grace. In schools and on teams today, lots of times, everyone gets a trophy. That doesn’t happen in a pageant, and you need to learn how to deal with that, because that happens in life, too.”
 
She should know. When she took over Warren Electric, even though she’d grown up around the company and worked with several of the employees in the past, some people felt she didn’t know what she was doing. So, she had to take the executors of her father’s estate to court to gain both ownership and control of the entity.
 
“I know some folks thought I didn’t have the backbone to run that company, and it took fighting for it every day for months to prove them wrong.”
 
Once in command,  she “did what all the guys did,” joining boards and taking part in civic activities. She was the first woman vice president of the National Association of Electrical Distributors and first woman ever to be named president of the Houston Electric League. Additionally, she was named a Port of Houston Authority Commissioner. And, with that visibility in the community came responsibility, something she tries to instill in what she calls, “her  queens.”
 
“You know, you just keep on keeping on,” she mused. “And you say to yourself, if this is my story, I have to believe in it.
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you do with it,” she said with conviction. “For me, I do what I do with God’s help.
 
“Working on the beauty pageants has been fun, and it’s been an education,” she said. “I call all my girls queens, because they are. I’ve watched them grow and develop…and oh, my goodness, the weddings I’ve been invited to and the babies of my queens I've been blessed to see. That’s a great reward.”
 
Holly Beretto is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Center for Irish Studies brings heritage of Emerald Isle to Houston's UST campus

In one of the most culturally diverse cities in America, home to a strong Irish presence, something was missing. At least that is what Dr. Joseph McFadden, former president of the University of St. Thomas, believed. 

In 2002, when McFadden returned from a sabbatical in Ireland, Houston had an Irish Society, but it was really just an organization for socializing. There were no programs focused on studying and promoting the history, heritage and culture of Ireland and Northern Ireland. McFadden wanted to change that fact.
 
He conceived of an Irish Studies Program that bridged the Atlantic Ocean, serving as a focal point for the study of Irish history, literature, politics, law, language, music, art, drama, culture and society — not just for the university, but for the community, as well.
Irish Studies courses were already being taught in the history, political science, theology and English departments. The new Irish Studies Center, he envisioned, would enhance the university’s academic mission by concentrating on a broad and coherent study of Ireland and Northern Ireland within an integrating framework of many academic departments and community organizations.
 
On January 23, 2003, the Center for Irish Studies opened on the University of St. Thomas campus. A center of excellence, it is still the only Irish Studies academic and cultural program in the Southwest, and it is listed as one of the top 10 Irish Studies Programs in the country by IrishCentral.com.
 
“It was an area of interest that was not covered. There was a need, and it was filled beautifully,” said Michele Malloy, current chair of the university’s board of directors. Malloy was a new board member when McFadden came to the board with the idea for the center, and she became a founding director of the center’s advisory board. 
 
The center, since renamed the William J. Flynn Center for Irish Studies in honor of a man who played a significant role in the Northern Ireland peace process, represents students enrolled in the interdisciplinary Irish Studies minor, the graduate concentration in the Master’s of Liberal Arts’ programs, and others interested in Irish topics. The center also serves the community through its cultural outreach series of lectures and events.
 
Tapping into its roots
Many of the priests and  bishops with The Congregation of St. Basil, which founded the university in 1947, were Irish or of Irish  descent. So were many of the university’s early presidents, making the center, with a mission to preserve and promote Irish heritage and culture, a natural fit at the university, said Lori Gallagher, the center’s director. 
 
“Learning about Irish culture – including Northern Ireland’s struggles for peace – enriches students’ lives. Whether you go into business or law or communications — whatever you do — everything you learn is going to help you be a better-educated person.
 
“When you experience a range of cultures, history and literature, you learn to read more thoughtfully, analyze better, write and communicate well and be a more well-rounded person. The whole point is to help you learn how to think, to make you a better student and a better person,” Gallagher said.
 
That is why the university’s interdisciplinary track for the Irish Studies minor and graduate concentration is special, she said. Students take courses from different areas of study, so they gain a broad understanding of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
 
Walking through history
Part of the center’s mission is to promote peace and reconciliation. Northern Ireland is a model for conflict resolution.
 
Since 2007, the university has offered a study abroad course every other year, with students traveling to Ireland and Northern Ireland for three to four weeks. They meet with government officials at all levels, grass-root workers striving to keep the peace and religious leaders of all faiths in Northern Ireland, visit museums and Trinity College, (where Gallagher received her postgraduate degree in Irish literature), view the Book of Kells, visit  archeology sites and more. The center provides qualified students with generous scholarships to facilitate their study abroad experience.  
 
The Irish government also helps fund the language program and, each year, a  third-year student is invited from Northern Ireland to study  business at the University of St. Thomas on a full-tuition scholarship. 
 
“Those exchange students take what they learn from living in this country, where                 people from different backgrounds work together, and go back to Northern Ireland and try to spread what they have learned to improve the peace, life and economy there,”         Gallagher said.
 
Resource for the community
Many people are naturally attracted to Ireland, its history, its literature and its culture, Gallagher pointed out. Each year, 75 to 100 students take the courses in the Irish Studies program. A visiting professor from Ireland teaches four Irish language courses and other Irish literature and mythology courses that he develops. 
 
But the center is not just about enrolled students. Each year, the center hosts nine to 12 events and lectures, open to the public. Events in 2014 iinclude a lecture on charitable acts of strangers during the Irish famine that began in 1845, a performance of traditional Irish music, and Legends of the Celtic Harp.
 
“Those events give people in the community a chance to reconnect with the heritage of the area and with Northern Ireland and Ireland,” Gallagher said. “Members of the community can also audit classes.” 
 
Gallagher left a career as a trial and appellate lawyer to build the center. 
 
“I really enjoyed practicing law, but I had reached the point where I had accomplished everything I wanted to do in that career,” she said. 
 
When she left law, she was chair of the civil appellate  section and a partner at Andrews Kurth LLP. 
 
Before going into law, she had been interested in teaching, so she reached out to the University of St. Thomas to see if it needed help teaching Irish Studies. At the time, the university was conceiving the center. When they looked for a director, she fit the bill and came in with an open mind for a center that she could build from scratch. 
 
“The most wonderful human assets the center has are Lori and Dr. McFadden,”  Malloy said. “Lori is just unbelievable. She’s indefatigable — a huge reason it’s so successful.”
 
Gallagher hopes to make the William J. Flynn Center for Irish Studies stronger and add a few permanent positions in the coming years. She would like to raise the money to fund the positions of a fully endowed chair of Irish Studies, director of Irish Studies, Irish language professor and administrative assistant. 
 
The center is in the midst of a campaign now, with hopes of raising $5 million by 2016.
 
Malloy helped with that fund-raising effort, giving a  $750,000 gift to the center in 2011 in tribute to her father, Gene Malloy, who had been a strong supporter of the University of St. Thomas. 
 
Dave Schafer is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.
 
 

Foodie turns love of creating nutritious snacks into thriving regional business

Four years ago, Lisa Pounds sat down at her kitchen table and created healthy recipes that quickly grew into a thriving regional business. And, by the end of 2014, her nutritious and tasty food products will be distributed nationally.

In the beginning, Pounds was trying to create all-natural and delicious food for her young daughter. Chloe’s pre-school served processed chicken nuggets and other fast food shot full of chemicals. Pounds knew that the artificial ingredients in mainstream food maim the body, causing obesity, cancer, diabetes and more.
 
Pounds, a foodie who worked as a commercial insurance broker, began experimenting with all-natural ingredients, forgoing refined sugars and preservatives and using gluten-free or whole grains in her recipes. Her first dish was macaroni and cheese with pureed butternut squash, and she made chicken nuggets from hormone-free ground chicken combined with chickpeas and brown rice crispies. She hired a dietitian and chef to help prepare the meals, and a business idea was born – one that married her business background with her love of food.
 
That idea would eventually become Green Plate Foods, which provides healthy, clean, affordable and convenient foods with ingredients that people can actually pronounce. Oh, yeah, and that are actually tasty.
 
“Most people have a very bad perception of healthy food. They think it tastes like cardboard,” Pounds said. “It doesn’t have to be. And, I love challenging and changing people’s perceptions.”
 
Americans eat more than two  billion cookies a year. Green Plate Foods also serves up zucchini chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and applesauce, and almond butter cookies, sweet potato and flaxseed cookies, not to mention a line of gluten-free muffins and raw fruit snacks. 
 
“We’re not trying to take over every cookie in America,” she said. “We’re trying to give people a healthy option.”
 
Feeding the little ones
Green Plate Foods began as Green Plate Kids LLC in January 2010, with Pounds selling healthy, nutrient-rich lunches to local private schools that didn’t have a kitchen. The lunches offered a variety of options from from all natural “Lunch Kits” complete with hormone-free meats and whole-grain bread, fresh-cut fruit and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies to veggies, hormone-free rice bowels and mac and cheese blended with pureed squash. 
 
She quit her job and within a year, the business was delivering more than 1,000 lunches a week to 13 private schools. By then, Pounds and her staff of three were operating out of a 3,000-square-foot kitchen near the U.S. 59 and Interstate 610 interchange, sharing an office complex with a bridal shop.
 
“We had satisfied schools, parents and children and new referrals right and left,” Pounds said. 
 
But the task of making everything from scratch and delivering turned out to be too much.
 
“We realized we were horrible at distribution, so we decided we needed to make it a scalable business,” said Pounds.
 
So, in early 2013, Green Plate Kids let its clients go and redirected its energy to becoming a food manufacturer with unlimited scalability. Pounds rechristened the company Green Plate Kitchen and focused on commercializing its most popular products.
 
Into the big leagues
Pounds regrew her business, keeping many of its direct accounts, like Texas Children’s Hospital, and continued its home-delivery service. She already had the recipes of popular snacks like the two-bite Nubblers.
 
She sought advice from advisors and business experts and listened to clients. She knew people are more aware now of what they’re putting into their body, and she believed there was a market – a need, really – for Green Plate Kitchen, which in October 2013 started operating under the name Green Plate Foods.
 
And, she made a plan. She focused on sales, product development and marketing and aligned the company with best-in-class manufacturers, distributors and brokers. 
 
“Having a map to where you want to go is essential,” she said. “You can’t drive to New York without a map. It’s the same in business.”
 
Following the map, she admits, hasn’t always been easy. She’s had to learn to say no to local events, sponsorships and catering opportunities that would have gotten the Green Plate name out there, instead forcing herself to focus on her core market. 
 
Quickly, its products, which also include gluten-free almond butter and jelly muffins, were in H-E-B, Memorial  Hermann Hospital, Freshii, My Fit Foods and Whole Foods.
 
The company grew to 12 employees. Chloe, a picky eater, is the unpaid Chief Tasting Officer.
 
Checking her ego was essential, she said. She brought in smart people who complement her strengths and weaknesses. A side effect was that she didn’t feel alone anymore, didn’t feel like the whole business was on her shoulders.
 
And, she listened to those people. “The most important thing is the ability to change,” she said. 
 
That map included plans to expand statewide in early 2014 and expand into more healthcare, academic and hospitality venues throughout the southeast region by the end of 2014. 
 
In January, Whole Foods began offering Green Plate Foods Nubblers dried fruit snacks in 29 of its stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.
 
The company maintains a strong presence in the Houston market, and that won’t change.
 
Pounds said. “It’s important to maintain a strong connection to the local community.”
 
All in a day’s work
Pounds doesn’t do the serving at her kitchen table anymore, but that table is still at the center of the action; it’s in the conference room at the office. 
 
In fact, Pounds spends little time in the kitchen these days. Most of the production is done by co-manufactures Pounds has personally selected to maintain the quality she demands.
 
She focuses on building the business and research and development. She comes up with concepts and then works with the on-staff chef to create the new product, which is then taste tested by staff and in a customer location. She meets with clients and speaks at health fairs, women’s groups, mom’s clubs, on television, women’s health symposium and, wherever she can, advocates the virtues of healthy eating. She also maintains a healthy-eating blog.
 
“You can’t be afraid, can’t be shy about marketing your business, she said. “You don’t accomplish anything by sitting  behind a desk. The key is getting our name out there. Otherwise, no one is buying.”
 
“When we’re able to sample and demo, our products sell like crazy,” she said. “I knew we’d be successful. The question was, how successful.”
 
Dave Schafer is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Hit comedy creates lots of laughs and impacts city's economy

 

If you’re one of the 14,000 Houston women who have howled in laughter at the long-running blockbuster comedy Girls Only - The Secret Comedy of Women, you’ve unknowingly given a nice boost to the Houston economy – and to a lot of other Houston women.
 
Hilary Clinton famously said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes what seems like a good-sized hamlet to mount a theatrical production like this popular comedy.
 
“People who don’t know theater are flabbergasted when they learn how much economic impact a show like this can have,” the play’s producer Sydney Greenblatt told Houston Woman.  “And with Girls Only, it’s women who benefit most,” she said.
 
“Those 14,000 fans who’ve seen the show,” Greenblatt said, “are providing  income to three Houston actresses, our three-woman producer’s staff and our 13-person theater crew (nine of whom are women) – and  those direct salaries are just the start.”  
 
“Now add in a host of other women – our promotional partners at IW Marks Jewelers and the American Heart Association, the sales reps at magazines and radio stations where we buy advertising, plus printers, sign makers, our box office vendor – the list goes on,” she said, “and I estimate that 90 percent of those people we buy from are women.” 
 
Featuring Houston actresses Tracy Ahern and Shondra Marie (both understudied by Lendsey Kersey), Girls Only mixes sketch comedy, improvisation, audience participation and songs in a unique examination of all things girly.  
 
The show is being staged at Main Street Theater-Chelsea Market in the Museum District.
 
Longevity is the key  
The hit comedy’s staying power is exceptional.  Last year, Girls Only played for five months and 99 performances, Houston’s longest-running show in that time period. 
 
“Houston women just can’t seem to get enough of Girls Only,” said Greenblatt. 
 
Brought back because of this strong demand, the show this year will run another four months and 66 performances.  The play must close its doors June 1st to make way for the theater’s long-established summer youth program.  By then, this comedy will have been presented here more than 160 times — up to nine months of work for a lot of people. 
 
According to Rebecca Udden, Main Street Theater’s founder and executive artistic and director, Girls Only has played longer than any production in the theater’s 39-year history. 
 
“It's good income for the theater, but our biggest reason for doing the show is good jobs for theater artists,” she said.
 
“This is the longest-running show I've ever been a part of,” said co-star Ahern. “Finding steady work is what we actors dream about.  I'm so grateful to be earning a living while doing my dream job!”
 
“Girls Only is extremely unique,” Ahern added.  “Women see the show and want to come back again and again with different groups of friends and family, which gives it an incredible staying power – that’s where its economic impact comes from.”
 
For almost two decades, Houston audiences have been enjoying the work of Shondra Marie, Ahern’s co-star in the current run.  
 
“I’ve appeared in many shows in Houston,” said Marie, “but never in one that has run this long. It is such a wonderful        experience to create and share in the memories and laughter of so many women. Women come out with tears in their eyes from laughing so much.” 
 
Behind the Scenes
The actresses, however, are only the start of the economic story, according to Greenblatt.
 
“Have you ever stayed to watch all the credits at the end of a movie?” she asked.  “The list of names seems to go on forever.  Well, a theatrical production is a lot like that.”
 
She ticks off the necessary crew – scenic designer, lighting designer, props designer, costume designer, production stage manager, assistant stage manager, sound engineer, house manager and staff.  
 
“It’s a long list,” she said. For this show, the theater crew is 13 people, in addition there is a box office manager, group sales manager and producer – all women. That’s  a lot of good work for a lot of Houstonians.”
 
Beyond the Theater
Direct salaries, however, are only the tip of the financial-effect iceberg, as Greenblatt sees it.    
 
“When you add in things like advertising, theater rental, printing, sign makers, restaurant deals, insurance and utilities, the economic impact begins to mount, ” she said.  
 
She estimates the show’s direct cash flow into the Houston economy to be well more than half a million dollars and the indirect economic impact as a more than double that.  As an example of indirect impact, she points to industry data indicating that more than half of theater attendees go to a restaurant before or after a show.  
 
“They call it ‘show business’ for a reason,” she pointed out, “because it really is a business. And, like any local business, its economic impact has a ripple effect in the local community.” 
 
“It makes all of us proud,” she said. “Proud to be part of a production that has created jobs for so many Houston women.” 
She hopes a lot more gals can’t get enough of Girls Only before its final curtain on June 1.  
 
W. Wanda White is a free-lance journalist living in Houston. 
 
Editor's Note: Houston Woman Magazine Night at Girls Only is Friday, April 25. Save $5 when you order your ticket for that night. Just visit www.etix.com or call 800-514-3849. Code word is HoustonWoman. 

Artist partners with hotel to support breast cancer causes

Fran Padgett knows a little something about the healing power of art –– and about survival. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, she underwent a radical bilateral mastectomy, meaning she lost both breasts at the same time. 

She attributes her condition to radioactive treatments she received as a child for “a cough that wouldn't get better,” but insists she doesn’t dwell on that. Instead, she focuses on creating art –– “portraits, landscapes or whatever comes to me” –– to benefit other breast cancer patients. 
 
Through the Weathervane Foundation she started, and with a lot of support from  Marcus Hotels and Resorts, Padgett’s work supports breast cancer research and causes.
 
“In particular, I like to help the support group at Houston Northwest Medical Center, which is where I received my care,” Padgett said.  
 
The non-profit foundation’s website  (www.weathervanefoundation.com) describes its mission of supporting breast cancer patients at the local level, especially with resource libraries within a clinic or hospital setting and research through a genomic studies laboratory to identify the cause which can lead to a cure. 
 
Padgett’s art was first installed in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn in 2002, shortly after it was built in northwest Houston. When Allan Hant became the manager in 2012, the exhibit had to come down during a renovation. Hant said he was determined to re-incorporate the artist’s work back into the hotel.
 
“I was truly scared that we might lose that relationship,” Hant said. 
 
“He had all my paintings in his office, and he wanted to talk to me about a project,” Padgett said with a lilt in her voice. 
 
The Hilton’s parent company, Marcus Hotels, has an Artist-in-Residency Program in other cities that features studios where artists can create onsite. Hant knew he wasn’t going to have room to replicate that concept in a smaller hotel, so he did the next best thing. With approval from his corporate office, he forged a philanthropic partnership with Padgett called the Charitable Art Program. 
 
In a “pre-function space” within the hotel,  Hant created a gallery to showcase Padgett’s work, renamed the board room in her honor and committed 10 percent of the room rental fees to benefit the Weathervane Foundation. The exhibit of about 15 to 20 paintings changes every six months.
 
About 125 guests attended an open house and silent auction in October 2013 where the hotel’s spa and restaurant partners donated gift certificates and baskets to benefit the cause.
 
“It’s nice to see space ––which may not be active when we don’t have a banquet –– with guests looking at her art,” Hant said. “Fran is very open, and she wants to do ‘Meet the Artist’ nights, and we definitely want to get her in here. I think it’s important to get into the community and bring new faces to the hotel when we do we these events.” 
 
Hant said he has had family members affected by breast cancer, including an aunt and some college classmates. Because of that, he found Padgett’s art and story particularly moving. 
 
“When I hear her talking about the moods she was in when she was painting them –– that moves me. I’m very honored to partner with her,” he said.
 
A prolific artist for more than 30 years, Padgett estimates that she has created several hundred paintings and has at least 300 in storage. She works primarily in pastels, oils and acrylics to create emotionally charged images that represent different phases of her personal journey from diagnosis to recovery. 
 
Padgett is also the author of two books on the subject: Breast Cancer: No One Chose This Journey, and Breast Cancer Recovery: No One Wrote a Manual, the latter of which has won six literary awards. 
 
Color is important to her, she said, and her art continues to evolve, as explained in the gallery on her personal website (www.franpadgett.com). 
 
“Since the breast cancer  diagnosis, I find the images have transitioned to more and more abstract, although the figures have remained quite  realistic in an impressionistic vein,” she said. 
 
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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