The mission of CMCA is to build relationships to empower people, strengthen resilience, and improve the quality of life for all members of the community.
When you hear the title Family Success Coach, what comes to mind? Do you envision an athletic coach helping a family meet their health and wellness goals? Do you picture something else? At Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA), our Family Success Coaches work directly with families to identify needs, set goals, and support them toward achieving those goals.
Tracy Pistel is a Family Success Coach who works with families in Osage county. Working collaboratively with families, Tracy provides both emotional and programmatic support to help them achieve success.
“When I first met Stefani,” Tracy says, “she was in tears. It was sad. Her life had fallen apart, and she had no place to go and no job. She had no way to meet her family’s basic needs.”
Stefani came to CMCA seeking help to find housing, employment, and childcare.
“My team stepped in to help alleviate her stress as quickly as possible,” says Tracy.
Because finding a safe place for Stefani and her kids to live was a priority, Tracy connected Stefani with the Osage Caring Projects (OCP). OCP is a community-based organization developed to assist Osage County families in need. With support from the OCP, Stefani paid the first month’s rent and deposit on a new place for her and her kids to live.
“Without this help, Stefanie and her kids might have ended up sleeping in their car,” says Tracy.
Connecting families with programs like the OCP is one of the many ways for Family Success Coaches like Tracy to support people as they move toward stability. Connecting them with CMCA programs is another way.
Once Stefani and her kids had a safe place to live, Tracy helped Stefani enroll in the SkillUP program. SkillUP is a program offered through CMCA that supports people with low-income by providing access to training and employer connections to help them find a job. Through the program, Stefani was able to find a good job.
To ensure that she could keep her job, Tracy also helped Stefani enroll her daughter in the Osage Head Start Program. Head Start is a CMCA program offering early childhood education for children from low-income homes. The program provides a nurturing environment where children ages birth to 5 years can grow academically, physically, socially, and emotionally. The program also supports parents like Stefani, who, without Head Start, wouldn’t be able to afford childcare.
“Not only did attending Head Start help Stefani get and keep her job,” says Tracy, “it has also given her daughter the skills she needs to be successful in school. She started Kindergarten this fall and is doing great!”
Throughout the time she has worked with Stefani, Tracy says that Stefani has remained resilient.
“Even when her car broke down, she didn’t let that keep her from moving forward toward her goals,” says Tracy.
Today, Stefani is in a very different place than she was when Tracy first met her. She and her children have a safe place to live, and because she now has a stable job, she is working toward buying a house by accessing the USDA 502 Direct Home Loan Program.
Tracy marvels at the success Stefani has experienced and credits Stefani’s resilience in the process.
She went from being homeless to becoming a soon-to-be homeowner,” says Tracy. “She has been very resilient and has worked through any barrier she has faced!”
The Columbia Farmer’s Market was buzzing with activity when I arrive on Saturday. Because of the rain, vendors were squeezed under the covered pavilion, making it hard to find the Pasta by LaFata booth. When I finally spotted the booth, I saw a group of customers surrounding it asking questions about the sauces, purchasing products, and keeping Michelle and her team hopping. I knew then that what Michelle had shared with me about the success of her business was all true!
I first met Michelle (Shelly) LaFata on Zoom. During the first few minutes of our online meeting, it was clear to me that she is someone who values relationships. Sitting against a serene blue wall, she was relaxed and at ease sharing her journey toward working with the Missouri Women’s Business Center.
“I have been in Columbia since 2004,” said LaFata. “I attended Mizzou pursuing a degree in International Peace Studies. I love social justice and learning about other cultures.”
During her early years in Columbia, Michelle managed the Peace Nook, a non-profit, volunteer-based community resource center operated by Peaceworks. While at the Peace Nook LaFata began meeting people in the community who were growing their food.
“Cooking has always been an important part of my family,” said LaFata, “so, when I learned about the restaurants in Columbia that serve locally sourced foods, I wanted to cook for them.”
In 2012, LaFata decided to take her skills to the next level by attending culinary school in Austin, Tx. The school focused on using nutrient-dense, plant-based foods in recipes, and encouraged chefs to work with local farmers to ensure fresh, healthy ingredients for their dishes. After graduating from the program, LaFata returned to Columbia with a mission to use her skills to serve the community.
Her first business endeavor involved creating and delivering personalized food plans and dishes to working professionals and people with chronic or terminal illnesses. While she enjoyed knowing that she was helping her customers, LaFata said the experience was “kind of lonely” and didn’t feed her desire to be out in the community interacting with others.
In an effort to get more involved with the community, LaFata reached out to her friend Brian Maness, owner of the Ozark Mountain Biscuit Company, and began working and cooking on his food truck. The truck traveled to events across the United States and served fresh, locally sourced foods. Working in this environment, LaFata gained valuable skills in running a business and creating good food on the go. She also used the time between trips to enhance her pasta-making skills.
“I’d stay up until 3 am to practice making pasta,” said LaFata.
As LaFata’s confidence grew, she began selling her pasta at special community events in Columbia. Encouraged by her success at these events, she secured a booth at the Columbia Farmer’s Market.
“I was amazed when I started selling at the Farmer’s Market,” said LaFata,” because we’d sell out of everything in the first 45 minutes!” At the time, her main product was ravioli.
The great-granddaughter of four Sicilian immigrants, LaFata saw providing healthy, locally sourced food as a way to give back to her community.
“My grandmother left her cookie recipes to me when she passed away,” said Lafata, “so I began making and selling them at the Farmer’s Market along with my pasta dishes.”
Soon, LaFata’s business was booming, and things were looking up. But, in early 2020, everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic caused communities to close.
When everything shut down, LaFata wondered how her business would survive. Thankfully, she heard about the Missouri Women’s Business Center and scheduled an appointment to meet with a business coach.
Working with her business coach Sarah, LaFata said her first meeting with her coach was difficult. She felt uncomfortable admitting that she did not know how to move forward with her business.
“Sarah is wonderful! I call her Queen Sarah because she has helped me so much,” said LaFata.
As she began working with the Missouri Women’s Business Center, LaFata learned that she could expand her business by adding employees. She also learned how to create and work with e-commerce.
LaFata said, “Since 2020 my sales have gone up 30% thanks to the MoWBC!”
One of the most important skills LaFata has learned in her work with the Missouri Women’s Business Center is that it is ok to ask for help. Because of this, she has been able to expand her business.
Today, Pasta LaFata employs five entrepreneurial women, including owner Michelle LaFata; General manager Moki Hana; Lead Prep Cook Liza Rogers; Baker and Pastry Chef Elizabeth Keach; and Chef Breanna Gun.
Working together, the team creates more than 10 gallons of fresh pasta sauces each week. And, they make and sell a lot of delicious pasta and cookies too!
When asked why she believes her business not only survived the pandemic but is now thriving, Shelly LaFata said, “For someone with BIG dreams like me, it’s hard to ask for help.”
But LaFata acknowledges that asking for help was the best thing she has ever done. She credits her work with the Missouri Women’s Business Center for making her business a growing success.
Tyler Rieke’s first memory of attending Head Start was a trip to the dentist.
“I remember that we got to go across the street from our Head Start center and have our teeth checked and then choose a prize from the treasure chest,” says Tyler.
Growing up as an only child in a single-parent household, Tyler began attending Head Start after her mom and stepdad divorced. Her grandmother worked as a Head Start teacher for the Missouri Community Action of the Ozarks and helped her mom enroll Tyler in Head Start.
“Head Start improved my life,” says Tyler. “I attended the morning session of a half-day program in Cuba, MO. At Head Start, I learned about the concept of community. Our teachers would assign us to be lunch helpers or toy helpers and I took pride in fulfilling my responsibilities in these roles.”
While most of the children attending Head Start come from low-income homes, Tyler says she never felt like the Head Start program was for low-income kids. She recalls the experience as empowering and vital to her success in later life.
“Head Start is a high-quality program,” says Tyler. “In the program, we enjoyed field trips to local venues, healthy meals, opportunities to build good friendships, and a learning environment accessible to children of all abilities, cultural backgrounds, and economic statuses”.
Graduation from Head Start is a special memory for Tyler.
“The teachers made a big deal when we graduated from Head Start,” says Tyler. “Each child got to wear a graduation cap and gown, and families attended to celebrate the occasion. The experience was special.”
Head Start made attending preschool possible for Tyler. She credits the program for her future success in school.
After graduating high school, Tyler attended Stephens College, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Business.
While an undergraduate student, Tyler recalls visiting her hometown Head Start to help deliver a lesson on recycling to the children there. Seeing the children respond positively to the opportunity to learn invigorated Tyler’s appreciation of the program. When she returned to Stephens, she helped her sorority organize a stuffed animal drive. The toys were donated to local Head Starts in Columbia for a reading buddy program.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Tyler went on to earn two Master’s degrees. She earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Stephens College and a Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) from Lincoln University.
Today, Tyler is the executive director for the Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV) in Fulton, MO. She credits her days as a Head Start kid in helping her to choose a career serving people in her community.
“Everything I learned during my time in Head Start helped me as I grew up,” Tyler says. “I am and always will be a huge fan and supporter of the Head Start program.”
My name is Chelle and because of COVID I became unemployed for 303 days. Before COVID I managed two physician clinics. I have worked since I was 18-years-old, and because I had a professional career I felt protected from being laid off. But COVID changed my life and the lives of so many others. During my career I have always been dedicated to helping others and sharing resources. I never expected that one day I would need those same resources.
I learned about the SkillUP program from a Facebook post. I began thinking I may need to look at a different career path or receive specialized training. It felt like what I was doing wasn’t working and I needed a different perspective. I completed the online form and immediately received a phone call. Lacey introduced herself as my contact and I was greeted with compassion, understanding, and support. We looked at available jobs together frequently and Lacey made sure that I knew of available jobs when they became available. She also connected me to resources that made my life easier while unemployed. I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders because I felt supported. It took 303 days and over 75 resumes before I was offered a job but today I am working again! Lacey and the SkillUP program were a light of hope during a very dark time for me.