By Stephanie Hoops
Ventura County Star, Calif.
Estela Flores grew tired of having to cover her bruises with long-sleeved shirts.
So 25 years ago, she packed up her three children and some old clothes and left her physically abusive husband behind in Mexico, knowing it would be difficult to continue her career as a social worker in the United States.
“I left anyway and slowly started my new life as a housekeeper,” she said.
Flores began working with her sister and now has her own business, Stel Housecleaning of Newbury Park. It wasn’t easy to build her own company, which is now incorporated.
“In the beginning I had no idea where the path would lead me,” she said. “For many years, I was stuck at the same level. My business wasn’t growing and my income was limited, which in turn caused frustration and anxiety because I couldn’t support my family the way I wanted to.”
Flores turned to Women’s Economic Ventures, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs launch and sustain their businesses.
Stel Housecleaning now employs eight people. On Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, it was awarded 2014 WEV Business of the Year.
Flores’ touching speech about the struggles that preceded her success prompted a standing ovation from the men and women in the audience.
Taking center stage after Flores, WEV founder and CEO Marsha Bailey drew laughter when she asked: “Does anybody have a Kleenex? I’m serious, I really need a Kleenex. I always get teary at these events.”
WEV’s annual fundraising event, which alternates between Santa Barbara and Ventura, drew about 265 people this year. In addition to Flores, 2014 honorees included FOOD Share CEO Bonnie Weigel; Thousand Oaks City Council member Jacqui Irwin; Maura Raffensperger, owner of Your Chief Simplicity Officer; Kathy Hartley, co-owner of Watermark on Main and founder of The Lavender Inn; and business consultant Mike Kauffman.
“WEV has helped start and grow literally thousands of business in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties,” said Emily Barany, owner of Emily Barany Consulting. “Every single one of those thousands of businesses was encouraged and empowered by a generous, incredible WEV volunteer.”
Barany quit her job three years ago to set up her Ventura-based consulting firm, which specializes in project management, business development, and corporate event planning. WEV helped her get going.
“I couldn’t keep letting my ability to earn be determined by someone else’s ability to pay,” she said.