Famous Women in Music: Polly Ferman

Polly Ferman is not your typical artist. Being one of the most famous women in music hasn’t made her focus even more in her art but instead has inspired her to support others.”

For the most part pianists are male. It has been like that for centuries. A recent study of four major international piano competitions revealed that over a period of 85 years (from 1927 to 2012) women had a 10% chance of becoming the first-prize winners. It’s an understatement to say that there aren’t too many women in music. We are honored to count Uruguayan Polly Ferman among one of the most famous women in music and one of the most famous Hispanic people. Her career spans many years and as many countries where she has performed as a soloist with the Symphonies of San Francisco, The Tokyo Philharmonic, The National Symphony of Argentina and many others.

Polly Ferman, one of the most famous women in music

Polly Ferman, one of the most famous women in music

The beginning of one of the most famous women in music

You’ve started playing piano at three. How did that happen? Did your parents have a piano at home and you started “playing” with it as with any other toy?

While I attended kindergarten at age 3, a small “orchestra” was created. Just by chance they invited me to try and play the only instrument that had individual sounds: the xylophone. All other instruments were percussive. My teacher realized I had a perfect ear and commented it to the schools’ Principal. She called my mother and told her she thought I should study music. My mother searched for the best piano teacher in Montevideo, who not only had to be good, but would also have to take on a child my age. Santiago Baranda Reyes was the creator and director of the Juan Sebastian Bach conservatory in Montevideo. I was the youngest in the Conservatory. We did not have a piano at that time, so my mother would take me to a friend’s house to practice. Many times I would arrive to her friend’s house and did not want to play it. This is the beginning of my pianistic career, which is full of wonderful anecdotes.

How much of a family mandate is it to follow a musical career from such young age and how much is the child’s true passion?

Although I started performing in big theatres at age 7 and won several international competitions when I was 9, my family never considered music should be my career.

In my case, it proved to be my real passion. It was a long road with many interruptions due to a divorce when I was 22 and I already had three children. At that time, my parents did not support the fact that I wanted to continue as a pianist. It was not a “job”.  8 years went by before l I started playing again.

“I believe in sharing. It makes me richer and wiser as it gives me the opportunity to learn from others,” Polly Ferman 

Women in music— Playing in the big leagues    

You’ve played in world- renowned theaters from Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires to Carnegie Hall in New York City and many, many others in between. What does it take to become not only one of the most famous women in music but also one of the most successful women in the industry?

You have to be flexible and believe in your intuition.

It has been a long road. Although my background is in the European classical repertory, after moving to NY I realized the music of my region of the world was not very well known here. It was for that reason that I decided to dedicate my performing career to the musical language of Latin America. Despite being advised not to do so, as Latin American composers were considered second grade, I trusted my intuition. My musical repertory helped audiences perceive a sort of visual language. It helped them imagine the landscapes, rhythms and passions of my region.

My third move was into the New Tango repertory or the old tango with a new look. There I learned (and still do) the elements to create what is today my musical “gem” GlamourTango.

Why do you think there aren’t more women in music? Is it something in the industry that discourages women? Or something to do with the upbringing of girls?

I would say it is both. Before, women in music were cases like me. It was part of a child’s education. Mainly girls studied piano. Piano was not thought as an instrument for boys. Later on, the ones who followed the professional road were men as they could be “free to travel”. As one of the few women in music I would say that being a successful musician does not lend itself well to sharing a life with someone who isn’t also an artist. (And at least as successful as you are.) You need to share the same passion in order to achieve enough balance to be on the road and keep a family. It cost me three husbands!!!!!.

"You have to be flexible and believe in your intuition," Polly Ferman

“You have to be flexible and believe in your intuition,” Polly Ferman

Do you think the competitiveness in the industry discourages the inclusion of more women in music?

I do not even think about that. Competitiveness is everywhere. You just need to keep trying to do your best and help others. Then the synergy is with you. The truth is that there are not too many famous women in music. Most of the time this happens because presenters still believe that if they have children they may get sick and this may cause an engagement cancellation. Why just with music?

Others may still see women’s place at home. Or consider they will not stand the stress of a busy traveling agenda.

Helping promote Latin American culture and increase the numbers of women in music

You’re a very unusual pianist. Not only are you a minority when it comes to women in music but you are also part of a very small group of artists who become entrepreneurs. Tell us what motivated you to create PAMAR (Pan American Musical Art Research Inc.) and the Latin American Cultural Week in New York.

There are few women in music. Polly Ferman has opened doors for many of them!

There are few women in music. Polly Ferman has opened doors for many of them!

What motivated me was my passion to help others. In PAMAR’s case, it was my deep understanding of how important it is for an artist to reach the USA, mainly NYC. I started by opening doors for my colleagues (competitors). It may sound strange, but it was like that and still is, my truth. I believe in sharing. It makes me richer and wiser as it gives me the opportunity to learn from others.

When I came to NY and realized how much audiences enjoyed my Latin American repertory, I had the chance to either “ keep it to myself” (short lived), or open doors for other artists from Latin America. It was challenging as I was just starting. And I was already helping pianists with whom I shared my almost unknown repertory.

I founded PAMAR in 1984. At that time, few people in New York knew how diverse and rich the Latin American culture is. With the help of other artists I introduced through PAMAR we planted the seeds, which now on our 30th anniversary have become a nice cultural park filled with Latin American tress and flowers. Later on, the Latin American Cultural Week, LACW, a City wide annual Festival integrated music and dance with visual arts, theater, film and literature.

One of your latest projects is Glamourtango, a multimedia show where the musicians and performers are all women. Here you are not only a performer but also the creator and director of the show. What is it like playing all these different roles?

GlamourTango, an all-women multi media show by Polly Ferman

GlamourTango, an all-women multi media show by Polly Ferman

GlamourTango is the crossroad of everything I have experienced and learned in life. It is about piano, women in music and in dance. Is a homage to women. It is creative and at the same time I proved myself as a musical producer. It is my betting on women. I am showing the world that there is nothing we cannot do. Tango was taught with a prominent man’s role. “Good women” were not taught to dance tango and much less to play it. Maybe sing it, but not too much. GlamourTango is feminine, elegant, strong and passionate.

I love the new musical family I have created. One in Buenos Aires and the other in NYC. We all share our talents and successes. Each one of the artists involved with the production is unique. They come from Cuba, Israel, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay and Korea. We are all together creating history and paying homage to those women who silently helped write tango’s history.

Why did you want to turn tango on its head, given that it’s traditionally such a macho dance?

Mainly to show that us, the women of the world, are capable and deserve to be everywhere. We have the talent and the strength. We can stretch wide our arms to hold children and professions. Tango is the ideal place for us to show it!!!!

The future of one of the most famous women in music

Where are you going from here? What are some of your dreams for the future?

My dreams are to keep on learning, creating, growing and most importantly, sharing.

What recommendations do you have to increase the number of women in music?

You can do it, you need to do it. We need you, we need to fulfill our passions and music is a perfect road to follow.

You can connect with Polly Ferman and GlamourTango:


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Polly Ferman




Successful Women in Business: MarieBelle New York

An in-depth and exclusive interview with Maribel Lieberman, one of the most successful women in business in NY, owner of MarieBelle tells us how she built her global chocolatier empire! A must read.

Maribel Lieberman one of the most successful women in business at her NY store

Maribel Lieberman one of the most successful women in business at her NY store

Your mouth waters immediately when you walk into this chocolate boutique that feels like an expensive jewelry store. The glass shelves exhibit a collection of delicate truffles decorated with artistic images, MarieBelle’s signature blue and brown tin cans of Aztec chocolate powder, and chocolate bars that you could send as postcards! But this Soho store, with an adorable coffee shop in the back where you can have the best hot chocolate you ever tasted, is only partly responsible for Maribel Lieberman being one of the most successful women in business we know.

She also sells her delicious MarieBelle brand at some of the finest U.S. department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and she has recently opened four stores in Japan. This native of Honduras, who at 17 came by herself to the U.S. to study fashion design, can often be found at the Broome Street store offering a taste of her latest creations to grateful visitors.

Successful women in the family

Are there other successful women in your family? What about women in business?

I come from a family of eight children – six girls and two boys. All of us graduated college and one of my sisters and I are entrepreneurs. My mother and grandmother were very entrepreneurial. They were seamstresses and worked for the local men’s fashion tailor. My grandmother, who died in 1996 at 108 years old, started working as a single woman when she was 20 and continued after she got married and had children. That was back in 1908 when women didn’t work.  My mom worked for the same tailor to help put all of us through college. As a young girl I always saw these two women in business for themselves and I was inspired to have my own little businesses selling candy.

Where did the idea to open a chocolate boutique come from?

MarieBelle, a chocolate boutique in Soho - Successful women in business

MarieBelle, a chocolate boutique in Soho

I was at a point in my life when I didn’t know what I wanted. I was cooking a lot because I had just gotten married to an artist and was entertaining quite a bit in my house. I enjoyed visiting different neighborhoods, being exposed to various cultures, picking up different food ingredients and experimenting.  I fell in love with food and I eventually opened a catering business from my house. I catered for the U.S. Mission to the UN when President Clinton was in office and even catered for the President. I think I got those types of gigs because I always loved beautiful things. Presentation for me was always key, so it wasn’t only about the food but the presentation of it and everything that surrounded it.

Five years later, when I was already working out of a rented kitchen, I wanted to move the business to the next level and open a gourmet store like Dean and Deluca where I could feature food from various countries. But I needed a lot of money to do that, and I couldn’t get it. So I started sharing space at an eyeglass boutique store with a friend of mine, which we called Lunettes et Chocolat (Eyeglasses and Chocolate). That’s when I plunged into research about chocolate, and I fell in love with it. I realized that chocolate came from the Americas and I wanted to bring the credit back to the region because most people think chocolate comes from Belgium, France and Switzerland. 

The power of your brand

It’s evident to anyone who walks into your store that you are all about branding. The colors, the style, the look and feel… MarieBelle is absolutely unique. How did you come up with the brand? And I don’t just mean the name, which is a play on your own name, right?

Successful Women in Business: MarieBelle New York - Her store front in Soho

Successful Women in Business: MarieBelle New York

I’ve always been a visionary. I never wrote a business plan, but I had vision. Blue was always my favorite color and when I decided to go into chocolate I had to add brown. I just imagined people would come into the store and see blue everywhere. I loved the vintage look of the blue and brown. Then when I started designing the packaging I would do different versions of the same blue and, without realizing it, I was creating a brand.

In terms of the product, I did a lot of research in Belgium, Switzerland and France; and I saw very similar things everywhere. In France they were mostly the same flavors: praline, cinnamon – nothing interesting, really. In Belgium chocolates are a lot sweeter, filled with liquor and milk. In Switzerland the milk chocolate is one of the best in the world.

I wanted to start with tropical flavors like passion fruit, pineapple, cardamom, chipotle, saffron… things I enjoyed eating when growing up. Back then nobody was doing those kinds of flavors. And most of the French chocolates looked the same with a little fleur de lis on top. The Swiss put lines across the top of theirs. I decided to put some of my husband’s paintings on my chocolates. Then I added more fashion images. Now the images on the chocolates include scenes from my daily life in New York.

Leadership style of women in business

Many women in business find that they have to adapt their leadership style to a more masculine style to get the respect they deserve. What kind of leadership style do you have?

I don’t need to do any adjustments of style in my company, because I don’t need to compare myself to any guy. I think everyone should respect their own way to lead. I’m a firm leader, but I’m also kind; I understand people. I’m not ruthless. I treat my employees like family.

Successful women in business and their brands

Successful women in business and their brands

Do you look at other successful women as inspiration to run your company? Who?

I admire people who lead big companies like Yahoo or Google. I read Coco Channel’s story, and I admire her a lot. She came from nothing and built something huge. She followed her instincts, and, although she was criticized because she was one of the few hard-working women at the time, she didn’t care about what others said. Nowadays is very much the same: If you have a good vision you should follow your instincts. Of course you should hear other people’s opinions, but always follow your vision.

Biggest challenges faced by successful women entrepreneurs

Your business is doing really well. Your product is unique and every time we visit your store there’s a mob lining up to buy your chocolates. What are some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome to become one of the most successful women in New York?

There are always challenges. There are ups and downs and competition. When you create something good people copy you so you can’t sit down and relax and go on vacations. You have to stay ahead of the game. One of the challenges has always been to keep up with the trends of eating habits, ingredients, and packaging. (Think about it, ten years ago people weren’t eating chocolate with salt or hot pepper.)

Successful women in business MarieBelle | I wanted to start with tropical flavors like passion fruit, pineapple, cardamom, chipotle, saffron… things I enjoyed eating when growing up.

I wanted to start with tropical flavors like passion fruit, pineapple, cardamom, chipotle, saffron… things I enjoyed eating when growing up.

And what are some of the great advantages of being a woman in your industry?

I feel that in America it’s the perfect time to be a woman in business. Everything is changing so fast. Even companies that buy my product tend to prefer women-owned businesses. In a few years there will be a much greater number of women running companies in all industries. I’m biased but I think women are much smarter than men when it comes to running a business, because they have a sixth sense; they have more knowledge of psychology.

A large percentage of your clientele comes from Japan, and you recently opened four stores in that country. Why do you think there’s such a passion for MarieBelle’s product over there?

Since day one the Japanese were attracted to my brand. I remember there was an article in a Japanese newspaper saying that my chocolate reminded them of sushi. The good thing is that the Japanese are the toughest customers to please. So if you can make it in Japan, you can make it anywhere.

Women in business | The MarieBelle store in Soho | If you have a good vision you should follow your instincts.

If you have a good vision you should follow your instincts.

What suggestions do you have for successful women entrepreneurs looking to expand to other markets?

Everyone wants to come to the U.S. to sell their products, because this is a huge market with a very sophisticated consumer. Master your product here first, and then you can try expanding to other countries. I was first approached in 2009 to go to Japan. but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have enough variety of flavors and I needed to research that market before I entered it. It took me until 2012 to be prepared, and that’s when we opened our first store with a local partner.

Where are you going from here?

The plan is to open several more stores under the brand Cacao Market by MarieBelle in Japan. It’s a more casual brand for impulse buying. It has an old pharmacy feeling, old-fashioned packaging. We also serve ten types of different hot chocolates and coffees to go. After that we want to expand to Singapore and Hong Kong.

FB: MarieBelle
Twitter: @MarieBelle
Instagram: MarieBelle
Website: www.MarieBelle.com

Successful women in business | MarieBelle brand is sold at some of the finest U.S. department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

MarieBelle brand is sold at some of the finest U.S. department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Successful women in business | Maribel Lieberman can often be found at the Broome Street store offering a taste of her latest creations to grateful visitors.

Maribel Lieberman can often be found at the Broome Street store offering a taste of her latest creations to grateful visitors.

Inspiring People: Promoting Women Advancement in the Workplace

Katherine Salazar, Associate Director, Consumer Healthcare Products at Valeant Pharmaceuticals

Katherine Salazar, Associate Director, Consumer Healthcare Products at Valeant Pharmaceuticals

We often look for inspiring people among the world’s celebrities. The truth is that we are surrounded by stories of inspiring people, many of which are not public figures. Katherine Salazar is the perfect example. Having moved to the U.S. at 8 years old from her native Mexico City, she has lived in six states before settling in Phoenix, AZ where she’s raising her son. Not only is she a fighter and a role model for women advancement in the workplace but she’s also one of the most inspiring people you’ll meet in her industry. With an MBA from Point Park University and a Doctorate in Business Administration from Walden that she just recently completed, Katherine is the Associate Director, Consumer Healthcare Products at Valeant Pharmaceuticals. She focuses on Hispanic Marketing and is making a big difference by approaching her job with a deep interest in the community she serves.

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the last twenty years around women advancement in the workplace?

I started my career exactly 20 years ago in retail, when decisions were made in the golf course and women were not welcomed at dinner meetings (it happened to me!).  I have seen some change in women advancement in the workplace but it is twofold.  I am much more secure now about myself and what I can accomplish and that gives me the strength to approach my CEO with ideas and get approval to start new projects.  That sense of empowerment and accomplishment has helped me open doors to new opportunities I could not have dreamed of 20 years ago.  The industry is also changing and adapting to women leading at the highest levels.  More needs to be done to have a balance of men and women leading organizations, but at least I feel we are getting closer to parity.

As a professional woman, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job and how do you manage to overcome them?

My biggest challenge in the last year and a half has been work-life-balance.  As a mom, it is a constant challenge to ensure I give over 100% to my job and to my son every day.  I can honestly say that it is impossible at times and more so when I have to travel.  My hope is that my son can learn through my actions the importance of loving what you do and always giving it your best.  As for work, I hope they understand that while my mind is at the office, my heart is always with my son.

We find you to be one of the most inspiring people in the industry. What inspires you, what do you find the most satisfying part of your work?

The most satisfying part of my job is when my marketing efforts make a difference in my consumers’ lives.  I am very passionate about building cause-related marketing efforts that give back to the Hispanic community.  This, by the way, is the topic of my doctoral study.  At Valeant, through one of my brands, we have been giving a percentage of sales to a non-profit organization that helps Hispanic students enter college and graduate.  We also give away scholarships, and when I learn the stories of the recipients, I feel proud of the work I do.

What advice do you have for women advancement in the workplace? Any particular suggestions for those who have unusual or challenging career goals?

Don’t take no for an answer!  I started my marketing career when someone told me I couldn’t do it.  A boss I had 12 years ago gave me a challenge looking forward to seeing me fail, as he had.  To his surprise, I succeeded and was promoted out of his department and into marketing.  Know what you want and fight for it with knowledge and hard work.  And remember, ask for what you want.  Don’t ever assume others above you know your goals.  Be vocal and be visible.

Give us an example of how you’re currently pushing for women advancement in the workplace.  What are you doing to help women fulfill their career goals?

I am a chapter leader of the Women’s Initiative Network at Valeant.  Our goal is to help women at Valeant reach their career goals through mentoring, training, and development.

Could you mention one or more women who have helped you get to where you are now?

I have to thank my mom for teaching me how to be a strong woman and to not be afraid to fight for my dreams.  She has been the strongest female influence and example I have had in my life.

Women advancement in the workplace: Don't be afraid to fight for your dreams

Don’t be afraid to fight for your dreams

You can contact Katherine directly at: Katherine.salazar@valeant.com


One of Our Favorite Famous Entrepreneurs: Randi Zuckerberg

Famous Entrepreneurs: Randi Zuckerberg wearing the RSM charms!

Famous Entrepreneurs: Randi Zuckerberg wearing the RSM charms!

It’s always thrilling to meet famous entrepreneurs, those who disrupt industries and create new products and services that suddenly none of us can live without. They are usually young, vibrant, passionate men and women who didn’t set out to be famous entrepreneurs but whose indomitable spirit drove them to fulfill their dreams bringing along millions of followers. At only 31-years old Randi Zuckerberg is one of our favorite famous entrepreneurs not because she was there to support her brother Mark to launch Facebook but because she made a name for herself within that company and most importantly, because she has decided to walk away from it and start her own business.  I had the good fortune of meeting Randi during the presentation of her first pair of books —Dot, for children and Dot Complicated for adults, both published by HarperCollins— at the iconic Books and Books bookstore in Coral Gables.

Working with Famous Entrepreneurs

When you were working with one of the most famous entrepreneurs in modern history who happened to be your brother, it must have been awfully difficult to ponder the decision to walk away; to consider all that you would lose and decide to let it go. What internal process did you go through to arrive at the decision of leaving Facebook?

I loved working at Facebook and I could easily see my self being there for 10 more years and being very happy. But for me it was important to make a mark in the world and for that to happen it was inevitable for me to leave and do my own thing. It seemed that hosting the President during an event I helped organize at Facebook was a great moment to exit when I was on a high note, and start a new chapter in my life. I was also about to have my first child so it felt like the right time to take leave.

What other famous entrepreneurs do you admire and why? Any women come to mind?

There are so many women, especially in the media who I really admire, Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucas Film, was a real mentor to me. She’s such an awesome badass woman. She was behind the merger with Disney and it’s especially interesting when you think that Star Wars is mostly men and yet behind it there is a woman.

Leslie Blodgett founder of Bare Essentials, she created her company from nothing and made it into a billion dollar company.

There a lot of famous entrepreneurs who are women and that maybe are not as loud as men but they are doing some amazing things.

Executive Presence

You’ve been very visible and have interacted with very powerful people from a very young age. How did you project the executive presence needed to be taken seriously?

I was 24 when I started at FB. It was interesting because people would book a meeting with “Randi” and they probably thought they were going to meet a guy so they seemed disappointed when they saw it was a young woman they were meeting with. It was hard for me because people assume if you’re young you’re inexperienced. The good thing is that in Silicon Valley people don’t take age as seriously as other places. It’s cool to be young in Silicon Valley and be creating something new.

It’s important for women to surround themselves with a network that promotes them rather than doing it themselves

It’s important for women to surround themselves with a network that promotes them rather than doing it themselves

I encourage women to be patient, work hard, and keep their head down because as you accomplish small achievements they shout louder than self-promotion.

But isn’t that what women do? Keep their head down waiting to be recognized while men self promote and get the recognition?

Yes, you are right. But unfortunately there is a double standard, so it’s important for women to surround themselves with a network that promotes them rather than doing it themselves. Because when men self promote they are cool, they are great, but when women self promote they are seen as self centered. So it’s best when you let others promote you.

Any suggestions for women who wonder whether you’re born with executive presence or you can develop it along the way?

You can 100% develop executive presence along the way. If you had told me when I was 22 years old that I would do a lot of public speaking I would’ve never believed you because it was one of my biggest fears. Nobody is born with the ability to speak concisely in front of a large audience, or to convey confidence. You’re not born with any of these skills. They are all skills you can learn. Take a Toastmaster’s speaking class, take an online course, practice with friends. As Malcolm Gladwell says “10,000 hours will make you an expert on anything.”

A Woman in Technology

Let’s make sure everyone reading this knows YOU did graduate from Harvard with a marketing degree. But you’ve always been very involved in technology and part of your focus now is to help people achieve life-technology balance. Give us a few ideas of when it’s good to use technology and when we should turn it off.


One of Our Favorite Famous Entrepreneurs, Randi Zuckerberg, at her book signing

One of Our Favorite Famous Entrepreneurs, Randi Zuckerberg, at her book signing

This is a great topic to discuss over the holidays because in some ways tech can bring the family together. There are some fun games like a fun Charade game where everyone puts a phone over their forehead with the picture of who they are, everyone knows except for the person holding the picture. On the other we need to understand that if you’re hosting a party you can set the tone by telling people you expect them to be in the moment and not on the phone. There’s another fun game we play, called Phone Stacking, Everyone puts their phone in the center of the table and the person who reaches for it first does the dishes.

And when it comes to teens, you should give them a digital allowance over holidays. For example you tell them you have 4 hours of digital allowance for the week. If you want to expand your allowance you need to play outside or do chores, or anything else you think is important for them to do.

What can each of us do to motivate more girls to get involved in the technology field?

We can talk to young girls about how much impact they can have. There is no other industry out there where with few lines of code you can reach millions of people.

It’s good to encourage them to go into design, a growing area in the tech industry which is a skill that women have innately. We don’t need to encourage girls to just be technical coders.

Dot Complicated

Tell us about your new projects, Zuckerberg Media and Dot Complicated.

Zuckerberg media is doing media production, shows online, TV, radio, consulting with brands around the world to make the most of their companies.

Dot Complicated is an online community aimed at “untangling” our wired, wonderful lives. We are reaching our one-year anniversary and we will continue to grow the community with great content.


You can follow Randi on Twitter @DotComplicated

Best Way to Overcome Adversity: Give Back!

Best Way to Overcome Diversity: Give Back! Says Kaitlin Roig Debellis

Best Way to Overcome Diversity: Give Back!

Lessons from Sandy Hook Teacher Hero

If the way in which you overcome adversity signals your level of motivation in the workplace Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis must be one of the most motivated teachers on earth.

On December 14th, the tragic day of the Newtown, CT, school shootings, Kaitlin’s fast thinking saved the lives of fifteen first graders. She packed them all into a three-by four-foot bathroom and kept them calm and quiet while the shooter killed 26 people including 20 children. One month later, when most of us would’ve still been experiencing shock, this young woman, now 30, created Classes 4 Classes Inc., a nonprofit organization that lets elementary school classes sponsor educational gifts for other classrooms. She believes that positive social change needs to start with the youngest members of society so her organization teaches K-8 students compassion, caring, kindness, empathy and other lifelong lessons.

A graduate of UCONN with a Masters of Education from NEAG School of Education, Kaitlin is a member of several honors societies, and was named New England Scholar in 2005. She began teaching first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2007 and is now on leave to focus on her nonprofit.

Given last year’s tragic Newtown Shooting, how did you overcome adversity and promote motivation in the workplace?  

Motivation in the workplace begins at a young age

Motivation in the workplace begins at a young age

After experiencing this tragedy, immeasurable in its scope, I know there are no words of explanation and that there never will be. When I asked why, I heard silence in return. Sometimes we focus so long on what we can’t answer that we forget there are a lot of questions we can.  So for myself I had to look inward and ask: If there is no answer to ‘Why?’  then what does that mean? Where do I go from here? What is there to do? Those were two questions I could answer: I knew which direction to go, and I knew that there was something to be done. I needed to go forward, and I needed to create something positive for myself and my students, as to not let the destruction define us.

Time passed, days, weeks…(pause) Time is a funny thing, after enduring a tragedy, (do you know what I mean?) It just puts distance between you and it. It doesn’t diminish it, doesn’t change it, doesn’t erase it. It’s there. It’s constant. All one can do is to make the most of the good that is also abundantly around. Good and bad are both always present.

When I thought of my students, I knew we had to make a choice for ourselves, our nation, our world. If after such terror and destruction we were going to choose love, kindness, compassion, empathy, and hope, then I needed to find a way to teach this to my students. But at this point, I still had a large question to answer, and that was: How?

For myself, the answer to this was in founding Classes 4 Classes, Inc. This was how I gave control back to my students and myself. It was also how I came to find that this tragedy would not define my students or myself.

What advice would you give others to successfully overcome adversity ?

Things happen to us in our lives that impact us, influence us, change us.  We don’t have control over what happens to us, only in how we choose to react to it.  It is all in the power of positive thinking.

Perspective is amazingly powerful. Outlook determines how you react, or not to every situation in your life. You have the choice. You have the power.  You can choose to see the best in everything, to see the positive, to appreciate your many blessings. Having this perspective will make the challenges, hiccups, and upsets in your life so much more approachable. It will make the impossible, FEEL possible.

Tell us a little about Classes 4 Classes and what inspired it. Talk about a way of creating motivation in the workplace.

When we returned back to school in January the support from around the world was incredibly uplifting. So many gifts were coming into our school.

How you overcome adversity signals your level of motivation in the workplace.

How you overcome adversity signals your level of motivation in the workplace.

I stepped back and I realized that while my students were beyond deserving of all of these special gifts,  I needed to teach them a very important lesson. That in life when you get, you have to give. After all that is what makes our world a better place.

One afternoon I brought a large box a friend of mine had mailed to my class and I placed it in front of my class. I said to them, “This box is filled with things for us to use during recess,” and I started pulling out puzzles, games, balls, coloring books, markers…and their eyes grew wide.

I paused and then I asked them, “Do you know why someone sent this to us?” Their hands shot up and they started answering “Because they wanted us to be happy, “or “They wanted to be nice” or “They wanted us to have fun at recess.”

I told them, ” You’re all exactly right! Someone did this for us, for all of those reasons. In life when someone does something nice for you, you have to do something nice for someone else, and that is what we are going to do! We are going to find a class somewhere in the United States and we are going to make them feel the way we do right now…Happy”

Their eyes widened with excitement and their hands started to raise. They were so excited, ” Who are we going to help?” “How are we going to help them?” They asked. They were equally, if not more excited, at the thought of helping someone else, as they were for the gifts they had just personally received.

We then reached out to another class to see how we would help them, and make them feel happy. That is how the idea for Classes 4 Classes came to be!

What advice would you give others who are contemplating starting their own business and might be unsure about how to overcome adversity even when it’s different from the one you faced?  

It sounds very cliché, but you can do anything you put your mind to.

Persistence is key in meeting any goal. If you keep working hard, keep trying, always keep your goal in your forefront you will be met with success. You will always end up farther than where you started from. Always persevere.

“You must be the change you wish to see in our world.” Gandhi

We each have many gifts, and it is our job to share them.

You can connect with Kaitlin via Facebook

Twitter: @Classes4Classes

LinkedIn: Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

Website: www.classes4classes.org

Email: Kroig@classes4classes.org