Guest Column: How will you wield your wand?
by State Senator Jessica Castleberry
I have a magic wand. Anyone who has visited my office can find out a lot about me- places I’ve visited, friends and family closest to me, phrases I find inspirational, fairly typical office embellishments. However, one item that may seem unusual is a sparkly, delicately ribboned, pink magic wand.
Fifteen years ago, I was freshly divorced, with three children under the age of four and $3 in my checking account. At 24, I was alone, my first business was closed, my credit score was toast, and I was working five twelve-hour shifts a week as a patient care tech, living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet.
I visited an office in Rapid City that offered credit counseling and other helpful services- debt consolidation, budgeting, a plan to help people in my situation to get on track.
I sat down in the dark, paneled office to visit with a credit counselor. I told her of my recent divorce, the big-on-dream-short-on-cashflow business closure, the damage done to my credit score, how I was working overtime and walking the three miles roundtrip to work every day trying to better my situation. I told her I was determined to work hard for a better life for myself and my kids. I told her I wanted to obtain a business degree to become a business manager and one day own a business of my own again.
She sat and stared at me for a long time in silence. What she said next, I will never forget.
“You will never accomplish any of that. No one will ever allow someone like you to manage their business.” Then she pointed to a wand she had hanging above her desk. “Do you see that?” she asked. I nodded, fighting back angry tears. She continued, “That is in my office so I can remind people to be realistic.”
Anyone who knows me well knows that telling me I’m incapable of doing something is the best way to ensure I do it. So, I worked for the next four years to advance my education and experience. In March of this year, I celebrated the 11th anniversary of my own small business in Rapid City, which grew from a small in-home operation to three commercial locations. Along the way, I was awarded the SD CEO Young Enterprising Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2016, the Small Business Administration’s South Dakota Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year Award in 2018, and have become a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses alumni. Heck, with the sincerest gratitude to my friends in neighbors in District 35, I even became a South Dakota State Senator along the way.
I am passionate about trying to help everyone, whether it’s the generational ag producer or the single parent trying to obtain a technical college degree. This is why I work to help small businesses, why I’m dedicated to addressing taxation, why I support workforce development, why I support alternative education pathways. This is why I will always do my best to help the struggling dreamers in South Dakota. I see you because I am you.
Sitting in that dark-paneled cube in 2006, I vowed that one day when I had my own office, I too would have a magic wand on my wall. Not to point out to others how they were insufficient, incapable, or “less than.” But to use my wand to encourage others that through diligence, grit, and hard work, we can all pursue a better life. That’s how I wield my wand; how will you wield yours?
Senator Jessica Castleberry is a member of the South Dakota Senate Transportation Committee and a small business owner from Rapid City.