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Overcoming Adversity

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If you had to sum up my life in two words you'd choose "overcoming adversity."

I'm the founder and CEO of Jessie's CleanSweep, Inc., a minority (Hispanic), woman-owned full service janitorial company located in Baldwin (Long Island, NY). We are proudly a "green" company.

Adversity began early in my life when at the age of four my father was murdered, and my mother was left to support three children. It was financially difficult and a stressful life for my family growing up in the East New York "Pink Houses."

I gave birth to my son at the age of 16 and did not return to school. I worked odd jobs to support my child.

My first business venture was making Easter baskets and dressing up like a bunny taking pictures with the community children - at only 17 years old. I made money by taking Polaroid pictures for $5. Many people living in our community did not have the resources to get professional photographs of their children. Selling baskets was seasonal and taking pictures was not enough, I wanted more.

Since I was really good at cleaning, I started Jessie's CleanSweep Inc., in 1998. I started cleaning the homes of friends and family. A few months later, work was pouring in and I recruited friends and family to handle the additional work.

From those humble and trying beginnings, I've overcome many of the obstacles that tried to hold me back. I've blocked out the voices of those who told me I wasn't capable of owning a business because I was an uneducated Latino woman (that was from someone at the SBA). I came across a business outreach center in Jackson Heights, (Queens, NY) where I was told to develop a business plan and was awarded a grant for $800. With this grant I was able to incorporate in 2000.

Within a couple of months, I applied for (and received) as many certifications as I could find, including one of the hardest certifications to get: 8A (Small Minority Woman Owned Business), which took two years to get approved. Soon after I was awarded a federal contract.

Recently I received a $2.2 million contract with which I was able to hire four new employees who are U.S. Veterans through the "Hire Our Heroes" initiative. Today, I take pride in the 14-employee, seven-figure company that I've built and the direction we are heading. I am an active member the local community as a member of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, a Chair Member on the Baldwin Civic Association, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I have also been a volunteer fire fighter for the Baldwin Fire Department for the past 6 years.

It wasn't easy, but if you follow your passion and allow yourself to dream, you too can overcome adversity. Don't ever doubt what you can do in your life.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.