By Stephanie Regagnon
Last week I had the unique opportunity to speak to a group of professional women from across the bi-state region at the St. Louis Business Journal’s 9th Annual Women’s Conference. It was my first year attending and it will not be my last. The day was action packed, full of energy and lots of great speakers.
I spoke to the largest group I have ever stood in front of and told a very personal story about a family tragedy that led to my mother spending four years in the federal prison system. As you can imagine, this is not an easy story to tell. It wasn’t nine years ago when it happened and it isn’t easy today, but four years ago I decided to take back my life and the future of my family. I did so by starting a non-profit that provides scholarships for higher education to children in Missouri who have an incarcerated parent. Ava’s Grace Scholarship Foundation, named after my daughter, has been my salvation and my way of overcoming what happened to my family. I am proud to say we are currently supporting four young women in colleges across the state with scholarships and a robust mentoring program.
While many in the crowd last Friday didn’t know me, the first two rows were jammed full of my friends, family and colleagues from Monsanto. That support meant so much as I told a story so near and dear to my heart, but one I was uncomfortable telling publicly for many years. I have always had the support of my family, my friends and my friends who are like family. But to have the additional support I have come to know here from my colleagues at Monsanto was a very special feeling.
When I launched Ava’s Grace Scholarship Foundation almost four years ago, I knew very little about starting a non-profit, scholarships or existing programs for children of incarceration. What I had was a vision and a desire to help other children who so easily could have been me had my situation been only slightly different. I have learned much over the course of the last four years in all of those areas, but an important thing I also learned was how critical it is to work for a company and for managers who support me in my personal life and the pursuit of my dreams. To give the best part of your day to a company that respects and encourages you to be the best you can be outside of the office is a real gift. I feel blessed to work at Monsanto for this reason and many others. While they support my foundation in numerous ways, the most important thing they do is support me so that I can keep the foundation going. They give me the freedom to operate in my personal life – to be a mom, to be involved in our community and to manage Ava’s Grace.
There is no price tag for that kind of support. It comes from company philosophy and great managers, and I am lucky to experience that feeling daily.