Tracey Ballas

 Forget safe and easy. This entrepreneur is all about rising to the challenge.

TraceyBallas_smallWe’re talking about Tracey Ballas, CEO and president of School-Age NOTES in New Albany, Ohio. Tracey got her start in after-school education when she received a call from her former superintendent, asking her to launch an after-school program. “Once I got involved with providing a safe, nurturing environment for school-age children where they could have social and recreational outlets while receiving academic support and creative, skill-building opportunities, I was hooked,” she says.

Tracey’s career has been far-reaching, taking on roles that ranged from president of the National After-School Association to advisor to former Vice President Al Gore on the Welfare to Work Committee.

But life took an unexpected turn when Rich Scofield, Tracey’s dear friend and colleague and founder of School-Age NOTES, passed away unexpectedly. She did not hesitate to rise to the challenge. In June of 2005, Tracey purchased the company and moved it from Nashville, Tenn. to its current location in New Albany, Ohio. Since then, the company, which re-sells and publishes resources for after-school professionals, has doubled in size.

Multiple Mentors

Tracey has had several female mentors throughout her life, beginning with a dance instructor who placed the bar of accomplishment quite high. “She expected me to not just meet it—but surpass it,” says Tracey. Still, it was Tracey’s fourth-grade teacher who taught her about being passionate and shared her enthusiasm for life. “She modeled that teaching is less about telling you something and more about giving you a chance to do it,” she adds.

Then there was her Great-Aunt Sara, a teacher for 43 years. During the summer months, she traveled the world, only to return with treasures from her travels. “She taught me—in her actions—to follow your passion and live life to the fullest.”

Professionally, Tracey learned from Ellen Gannett, executive director for the National Institute of Out-of-School Time. “She saw skills and talents in me before I could even see them myself,” says Tracey.  Fortunately, these mentors respected what Tracey had to say, while encouraging her to speak up and be creative.

Think back. Who are the people who have helped you along the way? Read more about finding the real people in your life in Life Lesson 4 of Real You Incorporated.

Kaira’s Realism: Fill your life with real people—friends, mentors and such—who make you feel good because they think like you, share your passions and empower you.