MIXING IT UP! with Sara Sherry

Written by Sara Sherry                                                                                 Edited by Mel Williams

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Each year thousands of new college graduates face fear and uncertainty about what the future holds for them, and I was no different. After graduating from Grand Valley State University in 2011 I was unsure of my career path, but I knew I wanted to help others. It didn’t take long for me to witness the clear discrimination women and minorities faced even with a professional college degree so soon after I landed a job I felt personally compelled to change that. The idea for Mixed Staffing formed in 2011 while I was living in Chicago, IL. My former business partner (a black male) and I decided to take a new approach to the staffing industry. Deep devotion from experiencing the issue first hand, my entrepreneurial spirit, and determination for success resulted in the start of Mixed Staffing in 2012. But two weeks before we were set to launch my business partner got cold feet. He wasn’t ready to take on the risk of starting a company.

When Mixed Staffing began in 2012, the only thing that stood out about the company was that I was a young woman and an inexperienced business owner who wanted to help people. After four years I have learned A LOT through research, trial and error, and client interaction. About one year in, I realized that without any credibility behind my idea there could be no realization of my business model or plan. I began researching industry trends and finding other avenues that would allow me to differentiate myself. In the summer of 2013, I launched our new specialty divisions, the basic “Staffing & Recruiting,” our “Inclusive Workforce Staffing” where we help educate and train people who face barriers gain sustainable employment, and lastly our “Diversity Staffing & Recruiting” division where we evaluate the needs of a company looking to diversify their team.

In just four short years, I took a company with $0 in revenue to over $1 million dollars today. We started with one employee and one client (2012) and steadily grew to 33 employees and three clients within one year. I became a Certified Woman Owned Business and a Certified Small Woman Owned Business the fall of 2013. By 2014 we’d hired more than 140 employees and in the state of Michigan we hired 265 employees (in 2015). Of those hired in 2015, 65% were a combination of returning citizens (ex-offenders) and military veterans. I was ready to continue to grow and expand . . . I felt that there was no stopping us. I didn’t realize that God had something else in mind.

Since the age of 17, I was forced to grow up, mature and get a job. There was no other option. I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in my personal life and as a young female business owner. There are too many to count. By the age of 20, the lives of so many of my friends and loved ones were lost (including all of my grandparents, two close high school friends, and my father). These individuals will always hold a special place in my heart and have helped mold me into who I am today.

In the spring of 2014, I hit a brick wall. More than once. I was diagnosed with pneumonia in both of my lungs, twice, and hospitalized five times for an unknown viral infection. I thought I was going to die. For much of that year, I was battling my ailing health. The doctors discovered I was allergic to the antibiotic and finally found something that worked. God helped me overcome during that difficult time.

By the end of that year, I felt ready to take on the world again when I was attacked by a Great Dane, my fiancé’s dog. The attack left me with 47 stitches on my face and punctured my dominant hand. To make matters worse, doctors discovered that the wound in my hand was infected. After six more hospital visits, I was informed I would need surgery that would put me out of work for two months. I put everything in God’s hands. I vowed to stay out of the hospital, maintain my health and find balance between my personal life and work.

Mixed Staffing is your modern day, certified woman-owned professional staffing and recruiting agency and we have the opportunity to change lives every day. We work with people who are often discriminated against before their skills are considered or evaluated. Late in 2015, we had one young man come to us with no experience and six extremely serious charges on his record. He’d served 20 years in prison. Today he is happily and actively employed. At Mixed Staffing, we believe in second chances. Our mission is to change the world one person at a time. We see ourselves as difference-makers, life-changers, and dream-achievers. What sets us apart is that we work with companies seeking specific people, not just warm bodies. Unlike a traditional staffing agency, we offer a special blend of recruiting when hiring candidates and working with our clients. We strive to change the workforce for the better, as well as the lives of our candidates by providing career opportunities.

I’ve never done public speaking before. I actually hate it! (laughs) Every time I speak in front of people intimidation doesn’t begin to explain how I feel. I have terrible anxiety with public speaking. However, when I’m giving a seminar with inmates at a jail, it comes naturally. It’s a humbling experience, and I feel honored. I pray before I speak and ask God to guide my voice. I try to make sure they know I’m human too and I want to help. I really enjoy people, helping them, getting to know them. If I know that is what I’m doing it’s easier, however, if I’m talking to people that I don’t think I can help it’s hard to relate and connect.

I’ve gone through many challenges, and I’ve dealt with really terrible people. However, I approach situations that seem to be the worst with what I like to call “The Power of Positivity.” I always know that it could be worse; with prayer and positivity anything is possible. The best advice I’ve ever received is to treat others the way you hope to be treated if the roles were reversed and to be ethical. Have integrity. And don’t forget where you come from and those who were there to support you at your lowest moments in life. My husband, family, and friends are the solid foundation of who I am and where I came from.

  Photo credit: Kendra Achenbach

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