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Melissa’s Story

“I never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur.  When my husband was injured in Iraq, I knew that I had to figure out a way to earn grocery money working from home to care and advocate for my husband’s health.  With no degree, and my business experience limited to running preschools for eighteen years, I set out to do the only thing I knew; craft. Embroidery seemed to be the best way to make money.  I had never sewn and had zero experience in embroidery. What I did have was determination and resiliency. With a $1,000 startup budget, I went to the local department store and purchased embroidery and sewing machines meant for home use.  To my surprise, it wasn’t as easy as I thought to make personalized items.  Through many tears and wasted money, my husband said “You are going to break the bank. You are going to make ONE THING; you will make koozies.”  I laughed at him. But I trusted him and knew that I had to make something work.  I turned to You Tube to learn to sew. Within six months I found my niche and was a top Etsy seller.  Nine months later, I quit my day job to begin the journey of entrepreneurship and become my husband’s full-time caregiver.
The first two years were a nightmare.  Like most military families, retirement meant a move. But ours included losing almost everything because his medical retirement came one short year before he would be awarded his full retirement benefits.  His health was deteriorating and doctors failed to see that the surgery they performed to repair his spine failed.  Business was great; the orders poured in yet I was producing all of my products with equipment manufactured for home use.  Completely overworked and burned out with no direction, we learned of an event for military active duty and veterans and their spouses wanting to become entrepreneurs at Ft. Bragg by an organization called American Dream U.
The event was a game changer.  Listening to stories of successful entrepreneurs I began to think of the business differently.  It was the moment that I changed from crafter to entrepreneur.  At the end of the event, the founder, Phil, asked what my goal was.  I said proudly, “To make enough money to pay off our debt and buy a camper and travel the country.” Phil’s response was “You would never be happy.”
Phil was right.  He was the mentor that would change my perspective; my life.  The business continued to flourish as I implemented the business plan created at that event.  We invested and quickly paid off commercial equipment and now are in the top 1% of Etsy worldwide. Starting the business saved my husband’s life; had I not been at home to advocate for him he would not be here today. Though his health permanently damaged, he found a new purpose partnering with me in the business.
In the years since, my husband and I founded a non-profit program, called Patriots Cove. We provide retreats for injured veterans, first responders and their spouses.  Our mission, similar to ADU’s, is to help those called to serve find a new purpose.  We are paying forward the help that was given to us and advocate for military spouses and help empower them to find their path to entrepreneurship.
My advice to any military spouse seeking entrepreneurship is find your WHY.  Make sure that the business you choose fits into your purpose and is sustainable. Your determination and resilience are in your why.  Military spouses naturally rely on ourselves but I encourage you to find your tribe. Seek out mentors and learn from those that do what you desire to do, but remember to stay true to your why, and you will be successful.
Melissa Swire
Owner, CanCuddler
Vice President, Caregiver Event Coordinator
Patriots Cove of Hunts For Healing, 501(c)3 Non-Profit