Just five short years ago, I was the COO of a Ministry serving people struggling in poverty and the CEO of The Garden of Glass. It’s been such a whirlwind that it feels like a lifetime since those days.
You might be curious about how a girl from New York, went from social enterprise executive to The Well Armed Woman. From someone who was afraid of guns, to a national voice for women gun owners and a Second Amendment advocate.
On the surface, it doesn’t appear like a logical transition from one to the other. But when I look back on it and connect the dots, it makes total sense.
Entrepreneurial Moxie Way Back When
I started in “retail” when I was young, I mean really young. As a child, I’d gather things I didn’t need from my room, march out of the house, down the steps and set up a roadside store. I quickly learned the front of my house wasn’t the best location for my little retail business, so I found the table on wheels my grandfather made, hauled it and my goods all the way down to the end of the road and set up shop where there was more traffic. I even wore a Pippi Longstocking wig to market to my clientele!
I was about eight years old when I “produced” my first fundraiser. The Rainbow Fair. There were all these different activities for the fair-goers to do like face painting and a haunted house. I even had a marketing and promotion campaign too, which consisted of flyers printed on a ditto machine and stapled to telephone poles throughout the neighborhood.
It was a great success though. I remember my Mom taking me to the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s office to present them with a check for $1,000. It felt so good to know my hard work would help people. I accomplished something.My work always had a purpose. Work hard and do good works. That’s my mantra.
A Purpose-Driven Path
Making sure my children received a good education was important to me, but there weren’t many options in our small town. The private school they attended was expensive so to help with tuition costs, I’d come in at five o’clock in the morning and clean the bathrooms. Like most mothers, I would do anything to help my children be their best. Even if it meant scrubbing toilets before the sun came up.
An opportunity for any child to have access to quality education regardless of income, presented itself when the Arizona Legislature authorized Charter schools in 1994. I was fortunate and humbled to be part of and lead the team of incredibly gifted people who designed and started the state’s first charter school in 1995.
This was groundbreaking work and was extremely satisfying to create educational choice in our community. It was an honor to serve as the Sedona Charter School’s president.
The Gallery & The Storm
I was working in an art gallery in Sedona when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The aftermath was catastrophic. I felt helpless watching from afar and wanted my community in Sedona to do something. Most of the media coverage focused on what was happening in New Orleans and other more populated cities. Mississippi also took a direct hit from Katrina, suffering immense destruction and the loss of 238 Mississippians.
I started Beyond The Storm – Hurricane Katrina Relief through my church. The small seaside community of Long Beach Mississippi was devastated. Buildings were lifted from their foundation, family homes and treasures reduced to piles of rubble. FEMA disaster relief services were slowly making their way to Long Beach.
We sent construction teams, equipment and supplies to help the residents recover. I spent quite a bit of time in Long Beach. I think I made eight to ten separate trips leading relief teams, delivering supplies and working closely with the amazing people and leadership of this devastated community. We raised more than $1.25 million in dollars, goods and materials, plus we donated an ambulance for their almost obliterated fire department.
The people of Long Beach led the effort. I believed they knew best how we could help them. They told us what they as a community needed and our team worked to meet those needs. It was humbling and inspiring. Beyond The Storm was an incredible experience and a real turning point in my life.
My time with Beyond The Storm impacted me deeply, both personally and professionally. After each trip to Long Beach, I found it more and more difficult to return to work in the art business. Clients would spend $20K on a single painting and all I could think about was what I could do with that money and how the money would change the lives of the people devastated by Katrina.
I left the art business and went back to school through Moody Bible Institute’s online program, with the plan to go into disaster relief full-time and work for organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse. I never read the classifieds in our small local paper, but one random day I did and there I saw an ad for a position with a Ministry serving the poor. This small ad captivated me and I was drawn to apply.
I knew I wanted to make a difference.
The Mission provided food, clothing, programs and services for those in the community struggling in poverty. Our purpose was caring for those unable to provide for themselves and create a pathway to self-sufficiency for those physically able. We believed the way out of poverty is a good job. We started social enterprise businesses to create jobs and generate revenue for investment back into the community.
Before I started at the Mission and while I was working for the art gallery, I created an e-commerce business called The Garden of Glass. I sold crushed recycled glass used in landscape design, interior design, terrazzo and in fireplaces. The products were featured on numerous HGTV and DIY home improvement shows.
I was going to school, working at the Mission and running The Garden of Glass all at once. I was overwhelmed and something had to give. I sold The Garden of Glass to the Mission at cost, making it part of the Mission’s social enterprise effort.I believe we are all gifted by God with the skills and experience that continually refine us to be used to do good work.
We moved the Mission from being dependent on donations to earning income through retail, food service and recycling startups. And we created jobs too. It took a small army of 350+ dedicated Mission volunteers to make the programs happen. Little did I know my time leading that small army would prepare me for what was to come.
The Wake-Up Call
For the first time in my adult life, I felt vulnerable. Truly vulnerable. Not only did my work at the Mission take me to a tough part of town, but my youngest son James was getting ready to go to college and it hit me. As a single mother, my children will all be gone and I will be alone.
There’s more to this story than just being alone and working in a neighborhood that wasn’t lined with white picket fences and high-dollar homes. Following my divorce a few years earlier, I found myself in what turned out to be a very abusive and violent relationship.
Desperation brought me to the place of escaping its grip, which by the grace of God I did, but it didn’t end the fear and stalking. He would periodically show up in my life. Again and again. One day I was making my way to my car and noticed something odd. He left photographs on the hood. His tactics started to escalate and it really frightened me. That’s when I found the catalyst to take action.
I was watching the local news and they were covering a story about a woman brutally murdered by her ex-husband. I sat there thinking that could be me. It could have been me they were talking about on the news that night. All of these things happening simultaneously in my world brought me to the place where I knew I had to do something and become my own self-protector.As an empowered, independent woman seeking to protect the life God granted me, I thoroughly researched my options for self-protection and determined that a firearm was my tool of choice.
Some of my colleagues at the Mission carried firearms and after carefully researching my options for personal defense, I asked a couple of them to take me shooting. That first shooting experience was life changing in ways I couldn’t possibly imagine.
I Live My Purpose Everyday
I was eager and excited to start my firearms education, but that positive energy soon gave way to frustration and disappointment. I found few resources providing straight forward, comprehensive information and products specifically for me, a woman gun owner.
What information I did find was often condescending and sometimes flat-out insulting. They weren’t talking to me, or meeting my needs as a woman interested in responsible gun ownership and self-protection.
There was no single, complete resource for the woman gun owner. I thought there have to be other women struggling with this just like me. I can’t be the only one. I knew right away something was needed.If no one is going to do it, I’m going to do it.
The industry lacked comprehensive, respectful and intelligent resources for women who want to learn how to protect themselves and live life with a firearm. I had to solve this problem for myself. As an entrepreneur, the idea of creating a business to fill this void was obvious.
The wheels were turning and I started thinking about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it and what it will look like. I thought someone needs to do this and I’m going to be that someone. In 2012 I created The Well Armed Woman LLC, the exhaustive resource for responsible women gun owners.
The decision to own a gun is a serious and complicated one. And every life-changing decision has to start somewhere. Women exactly like me were hungry for a process to guide them in making well-informed decisions about the role of firearms in their lives.Like tens of millions of other women who have taken on the responsibility of being their own protectors, I trained, studied and learned how to safely and effectively live my life with a firearm.
Women deserved an exclusive community to discuss a complex topic in a straightforward, intelligent manner and share real-life, inspirational stories of survival. Women craved a place where they can find products designed to fit their bodies and their lifestyle. I recognized women learn differently than men and the importance of training for women by women.
Empowering Women One Life At A Time
I ran thewellarmedwoman.com from my couch that first year. It took off like a shot (pun intended) and in no time, I was crazy busy with my new venture.
There was a ton of activity on the Facebook page and I noticed a lot of women weren’t comfortable with going to a range and shooting. Opportunities specifically for women to learn to shoot and train were limited. Women wanted more than stories and information online. They wanted an actual place to go.
I couldn’t address this issue alone and knew I had to do something to reach these women. I wasn’t about to let them give up out of frustration. A friend helped me put together a “boots on the ground” structure and I set out to find women willing to lead other women in their community through this journey.It is through educating, equipping and empowering women self-protectors that true equality is found. I’m on a mission to empower and create equality for women.
At the end of 2012, I tossed the idea out on Facebook. Sherry Howard called me and said she was super interested in starting a women’s shooting chapter program. We hit it off and at the start of 2013, we had our first TWAW Shooting Chapter in Wisconsin. New chapters kept forming. One right after another. The Well Armed Woman Certification Course got started around the same time.
By the end of 2013, thousands of women across the US found a respectful, comfortable and safe place to expand their world of firearms in a non-threatening way. For many of them, it’s a life-changing experience.
The Well Armed Woman and The Well Armed Woman Shooting Chapters organization works daily to ensure equality for women on the streets, in dark parking lots, in their workplaces and in their homes, where the ugly, uneven force of violence and terror can appear.I am blessed to witness daily the life-changing transformation of women as their confidence rises to levels they have never known before. Watching women be set free from the chains of fear is incredibly inspiring and I love witnessing the realization of her God-given potential to live a full life of liberty and happiness. – Carrie Lightfoot