By Kylie Blanchard
Shortly after Kristi Voeller and her husband, John, adopted their daughter Emma in 2012, Kristi asked their social worker if she could connect her with other adoptive moms with new babies. The social worker set her up with Jen Winterberg. Kristi and Jen has crossed paths a year earlier when they attended an adoption class.
“Soon, we were meeting frequently for dinner and establishing a friendship that quickly grew,” Kristi says.
The budding friendship was valuable to both women as they navigated new motherhood and the adoption process. Jen and her husband, Bryan, had also just adopted their daughter, Sloane.
“Of course, there were several people we could reach out to that we could ask questions about child development, but adoption brings a lot of different things with it and it was great to have someone else to talk to about the process as we were going through it,” Kristi says.
FRIENDS & BUSINESS PARTNERS
As their friendship grew and their families became close, Jen began looking into a new business opportunity that would complement motherhood and family life.
“My aunt has lived in New Jersey for years and attended seasonal consignment sale events. I began researching and discovered North Dakota did not yet have this type of event,” she says. “As an entrepreneur at heart, I knew I had to give it a try, but I also knew I’d like to bring on a business partner as well. Because Kristi and I both have a love for saving money, I approached her about the business concept, and we grew the idea of Later Gator together.”
A seasonal consignment sale event held each spring and fall in Bismarck, Later Gator Kids Consignment Sales, provides a friendly and safe environment to sell and purchase gently used kids’ items. The women held the first sale in fall 2015 and seven more since then.
The business partners say their connection as mothers and friends contributed to the strength and success of their business.
“We both juggle so much as mothers that we just understand one another in a way that makes our business concept work,” Jen says. “We are flexible in ways that put our families first, our friendship second, and our business third. This kind of mutual respect makes us very strong business partners.
“Later Gator is a family business, from our husbands doing a lot of heavy lifting during sale week and a lot of bedtime routines as we are busy prepping for sale time to our kids having a blast playing together and having sleepovers. Having a strong friendship has made such a wonderful foundation for all of us.”
Last summer, the business expanded to a new entity called Stand Out Events. Kristi and Jen have organized a number of vendor-type events including fundraiser shows, raising funds for Ruth Meiers and Tracy’s Sanctuary House, a Kids Fair, and a “Junk Fest.” They have even become the vendor show coordinators for the Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck.
“The business just seemed to naturally evolve as we became more involved in our community. We both knew we wanted to make a community impact through charitable giving while also meeting the needs of local families and businesses,” Jen says.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONNECTION
Both families have grown since Kristi and Jen first met. Jen and Bryan now have Sloane, age 6, and Holden, their biological son, age 4. Kristi and John have Emma, age 6, and Ella, age 2, who share the same birth mom.
Thankful for the connection the families share, Kristi says she has advice for other mothers looking for connection.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to others,” she says. “If I had never asked our social worker to connect me with another mom, we might not have ever met!”
This connection has not only led to a meaningful friendship and business venture, but also an important realization.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Kristi says. “It is true! Our society has become connected on social media, but we often live very isolated lives. You can have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but that does not replace the value of a conversation, face-to-face, over coffee, even if it’s reheated six times because the kids distract you.”
Kylie Blanchard is a local writer and editor, who has worked in the communications industry for more than a decade. She is married and has three great kids who keep her busy as a mom, referee, head chef, and manager of the household laundry department.