By Casey Murphy Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas.
Marseline Soto credits the Literacy Council of Tyler with changing her life.
A high school dropout, she started attending classes at the Literacy Council to earn her GED. She soon started teaching classes, volunteering to give back to the organization that showed her so much support.
Now, Mrs. Soto, 44, runs her own insurance business, Crystal Clear Insurance Agency, and recently received The Women-Owned Business of the Year Award from the Hispanic Business Alliance.
"It's amazing because somebody is looking at you," she said of receiving the award. "Not only are they looking at you because you're successful, I feel like I now owe the community to do things right ... to give the best service I can give."
Mrs. Soto's parents were from Monterrey, Mexico and moved as migrant workers to Indiana, where she was born. She was 10 when the family moved to Tyler. She dropped out of John Tyler High School because she was pregnant. She always had loved school and regretted not graduating, so 10 years later, she started taking classes at the Literacy Council to get her GED.
By then she had a second child and once her kids went off to school, she started working as a housekeeper and began volunteering at the Literacy Council to give back to the organization she said changed her life. At the time, Mrs. Soto was in an abusive relationship with her now ex-husband and would sneak out of the house to attend classes, then volunteer, at the Literacy Council, she said.
After volunteering there for a year -- making copies and coffee, answering phones and doing anything that needed to be done -- she was hired as an ESL instructor. After teaching for a year, she became coordinator of the program.
"I had new people around me that supported me, and it never stopped," she said. "My life changed completely, I'm sure because of them."
Mrs. Soto was recruited by Reliable Life Insurance Co., selling insurance door-to-door. She got her insurance license and took the job to make more money. As the only woman working with 32 men, she was named Agent of the Month for three consecutive months. "I was selling like crazy," she said.
After a year, she went to work for Allstate Insurance, where she worked for five years. She remarried and took college courses in photography and Spanish.
Mrs. Soto began to dream of venturing out to start her own insurance agency.
She opened Crystal Clear Insurance Agency in 2011 with no clients.
"I was my first policy," she said, adding that she put up an open sign and waited for someone to walk through the door. Her phone hasn't stopped ringing since, she added.
Mrs. Soto got help from Don Proudfoot, of the Small Business Development Center, who asked her what would make her insurance agency stand out from the rest.
"I want to sell insurance the way people understand it. ... I want to make it clear," she told him. That conversation sparked the idea for the name of her business -- Crystal Clear Insurance Agency.
She said people come to her all of the time, complaining of other agencies that sold them policies they didn't need because they didn't understand it. Mrs. Soto makes sure she explains everything to her clients -- it's just like teaching a language, she said.
"I think most of all, I'm an educator," she said.
Mrs. Soto caters to the Hispanic community, especially people who have moved to the United States from Mexico who need things like car insurance for the first time. She offers insurance to people who don't have a Texas license, she added.
Clients who move to the U.S. from Mexico have never owned a vehicle before and "now all of a sudden, they have all these requirements," she said, adding that they need to understand what the laws are and why they are required.
"You're not just selling insurance," she said. "You're selling something that is needed."
Her goal was to end up with 100 clients in her first year of business, but she ended up with nearly 400, she said, adding she now has more than 1,000 clients.
She said her husband of 10 years, Angel Soto, is one of the reasons she got the courage to open her own business.
Her daughter, Marlen Rincon, 26, also is an insurance agent at her firm. Her son, Damian Rincon, 20, is studying business management at Tyler Junior College and plans to get his insurance license to come work for her by the end of the year. Mrs. Soto is thinking about opening a second location, possibly in Shreveport, Louisiana.
She dreams of continuing to grow her business.
"All you have to do is dream it and you're 50 percent there," she said.