Carol Winner of ‘GIVE SPACE’: “Stay focused on your audience”

Stay focused on your audience. Within the first year of launching give space for medical recovery support, the interest grew from organizations that represented constituents with sensory sensitivities. The company was only me, so trying to be at my best with all of them was challenging. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations […]

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Stay focused on your audience. Within the first year of launching give space for medical recovery support, the interest grew from organizations that represented constituents with sensory sensitivities. The company was only me, so trying to be at my best with all of them was challenging.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Winner, the Founder of For the Love of Peach.

Carol has dedicated her life and career to improving the health of others; has trained and published alongside scholars in the medical field, and has taught the art of coalition-building and community health promotion. Carol started her career serving on local and state health coalitions, which subsequently resulted in her directing federally funded community health-based initiatives.

Carol is now a published author of the give space personal space book, “What Do I Do With My Hugs?” to start the conversation with our wee ones. She has also been awarded the Adaptable Garment Patent for the give space vest.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like many of us, my goals have been achieved from the convergence of family history, education, and professional experience. I had a very happy-go-lucky childhood until age 17 when my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and my father died suddenly. While working my way through college, I became skilled at navigating the healthcare system to support her care. Life was very challenging, but these experiences drove my interest in improving the health of others. While studying and practicing in the field of public health, I was fortunate to have the support of exceptional professors and colleagues, and unique experiences to encourage me along the way. One such experience occurred when I was an intern and having an intimate breakfast with C.Everett Koop, the former U.S. Surgeon General with us hanging on to his every word. I gravitated toward coalition building and policy change and spent much of my early career advocating for state-level tobacco control improvements for the CDC and NIH as a member of the largest tobacco control initiative in the country. My connection with Dr. Koop came back around, as he helped my team in meeting our project goals!

One year later, my mother had a second diagnosis of colon cancer, requiring multiple surgeries, leaving her immune system compromised. For the next 40 years, I witnessed a frightening cyclical pattern of recovery and relapse. She loved to be hugged at times, but some overly friendly folks would go in for the hug without asking, and even kiss her smack on the mouth! These well-intentioned hugs and kisses from family and friends would expose my mother to germs and viruses, putting her life at risk and landing her in the hospital. As she aged and became frail, I saw her wince from an innocent, but painful hug. I knew I had to do something. She needed protection, as so many do, from exposure to germs and unsolicited touch. My paths had converged, and the Peach was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

After manufacturing the give space products, I wanted to give back to a local hospital that supported my focus groups by gifting products to patients. This also allowed me to meet individually with patients and get direct feedback on the products. One afternoon, the nurses dressed me in full PPE to enter a patient’s room who had recently been diagnosed with leukemia, had just arrived as a transfer, and was terrified. They knew she needed the right kind of personal space. Married and the mother of three young children, she shared her pain, as she knew that she would not be allowed to physically engage with her family for months, and her fear that she might not survive the treatment. The give space blanket is made of natural fibered Tencel and is anti-microbial, so it was a safe product for her. She clutched the blanket and both of my hands, and we cried. My heart ached for her and her family. Unlike any other patient, I went back to see her two weeks later. I did not recognize her, as the treatment had left her so frail. She was grateful for my visit, but I was grateful that by sharing her experience, she moved me further along my path in ensuring that my give space products l reach all of those in recovery. It is so important that we continue to learn new ways to show we care.

The new moms of course were the most joyful visits, and they were excited to have the give space products to protect their family’s personal space. It was a thrill and privilege to get to hold the new babies ~ asking first of course!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on I was looking to identify a clothing manufacturer in LA. When my colleague and I arrived for the appointment with them, we were greeted by a scantily clad woman wearing a very transparent gold top and white tutu. She kindly asked us to wait for the owner, and showed us to an old beat-up couch, you know, the kind where the cushions sink nearly to the floor. The owner came in, she brought with her the unmistakable and lingering odor of marijuana. But I must say that the weed also impacted how she conducted the tour, as she went on and on about the intricacies of her personal life without offering any details about the facility. When we left we were baffled. Then we looked at each other and collapsed in hysterics. That experience taught me one very important lesson…to vet potential contractors carefully. I now know that it’s critically important to identify the right partnerships when starting a business. It requires a lot of time in research and screening, but also a great deal of trust in your decision- making and in their abilities. It is important to also have patience as even once you start to work together, it takes time to get into the groove where you can really maximize your outcomes. For example, when working on a design, it was important for me to listen and to recognize that while I was paying for their design expertise, they must stay true to my overall vision.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Interestingly, give space was originally designed Pre-COVID19, for medical needs, to help to communicate personal distance for those who are healing. Through a kind message and a beautiful Peach symbol it basically tells others, ‘Hey, I love ya, but I can’t be that close.’ Shortly after launching the business, professionals and community groups representing individuals with sensory sensitivities, such as those with autism or PTSD became interested. It really took this evolution from medical to social for me to recognize that we all need an extended space boundary at some time in our lives. It’s a symbol, not a label, so no one needs to know why you are wearing the Peach, and it may only be temporary, but the need is certainly widespread.

When the virus hit, people naturally became much more aware of personal space needs and much more aware of give space. Respecting personal space and showing empathy for others is the only good that has risen out of this pandemic. So many people are demonstrating the best of humanity, by taking food to those in isolation, shopping for the elderly, sharing books and stories online, and helping others stay connected creatively. I wrote a children’s book, “What Do I Do With My Hugs?” that addresses the importance of defining our own personal space and respecting the personal space of others, which is helping families connect with their children about personal space definition.

As a public health specialist, I have also engaged with the media in the national conversation about the importance of public health practices during this pandemic. My role is taking research and collective information and putting into language that is quickly and easily understood by those trying to keep themselves and their families safe. I write about issues such as the importance of turbulent indoor ventilation in the winter, holiday safety tips, and essential health practices when belonging COVID bubble or Pod.

Enhanced communication and shared information about the significance of personal space is a good thing. Together, we are changing the way we show how we care for others, and hopefully the practice will carry on long after the COVID19 crisis. Let’s hope that it does last and all of us, including me (I’m a big hugger) will take pause before going in for a hug or a kiss.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Linda Verstrate, a breast cancer survivor. I was gifting the give space recovery vest to patients in a local breast surgeon’s office when I met Linda Verstrate, who was there completing her pre-operative mastectomy appointment. She had a pensive look on her face, as she tried to take in all the surgeon was telling her as to what to expect. I gave her a vest, explained to her how she could use it to communicate her personal space needs, pointed out its features, left her with my contact information and scooted out. The now patented vest is designed with the support of a breast surgeon, with the Peach symbol and give space message both front and back (to prevent people from engaging from behind), and specially designed pockets for post-operative devices and protection.

A few weeks later, I happened to be in the ambulatory care unit when Linda was recovering from her mastectomy. She recognized me and invited me into her room. She had brought the vest with her to wear on the long drive home, as she was concerned about the seat belt cutting across her chest. We talked about her successful surgery and bright future and chit-chatted about family. She reached out months later to thank me and to tell me how valuable the vest was in her recovery. When she showed the very worn vest, holding it with such care, I clearly understood how much it meant to her. She shared how the Peach symbol helped at home, as it kindly messaged to her grandchildren, “No hugs when Grandma has the vest on.” We still remain in touch. Linda is a warm and loving person who needed help and the Peach, in it’s rightful form, was there to help.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes, absolutely.

Politicians can help to communicate and reinforce public health messages that promote personal responsibility in practicing healthy behaviors that impact the health of the masses. They should capitalize on the public’s now acute awareness of the need to social distance, wear a mask, and wash their hands, while stressing the importance on continuing these behaviors in moderation beyond the pandemic. COVID19, influenza, and other viruses, will be with us on some level, for a long time to come, as will other diseases and conditions, such as breast cancer and autism, all of which benefit from an extended personal space boundary to promote healing and being at their normal.

At the community level, healthcare providers can support their patient care needs by making the give space products available to their patients and families. The post-operative vest is extraordinarily effective for breast or chest surgeries and those in the mid-section, such as hernias or cesarean sections. The poncho blanket is wonderful draped over a patient’s bed to remind staff and visitors of the need to be sensitive to touch or exposure to infection, or for new mothers to breastfeed, having space they need to bond with their new infant. Both of these products are anti-microbial and safe for patient care.

Community groups also are becoming more engaged and can continue applying the give space message and Peach symbol in support of their constituents. For example, Special Olympics Kansas is collaborating with us to use the symbol on athletic wear to remind the coaches and volunteers to respect the personal space of the athletes.

At the societal level, individuals can build on their heightened awareness of social distancing as a result of the pandemic and continue to self-protect by clearly communicating their personal space needs to be healthy and remain empathetic towards others by respecting their personal space needs. We can do this, now, and beyond our current need to protect against COVID19.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is often defined by characteristics that should be required, not recognized as unique. These include the ability to communicate effectively, create a shared vision, motivate and create synergy among a talented and diverse team and build a learning environment. What singles out a great leader is their confidence, knowledge and abilities coupled with a fearlessness to affect the needed change. How a leader sets the pace of change needs to match the urgency, or not, of their goals, but the best success comes without a fear of failure in reaching those goals. Of course, we all fail, but losing along the way is humbling, which keeps a great leader grounded and able to reset their strategy. I would add that leading with kindness and empathy need never be forgotten.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1)You need to be a web tech, videographer, and graphic designer all in one, but, of course, I am not so I have to rely on the skill sets of others. To have an online store, you need some skill in using design and video software to manage an online commerce website as well as various social media accounts. It is important not only to keep your website up to date, but to keep up a social media presence, and to advertise if you are selling products online. Paying someone else to develop these is very expensive, and even minor changes can be costly. I used a company to build my e-commerce website, costing 25,000 dollars, but I could have developed it inexpensively by using Shopify or another type of ready-made platform. I also attended a couple of classes at a local community college early on to learn new skills, and still retain a small team to support these needs.

2) Start with a few products, then add to them as you go. There were tremendous upfront costs in designing and manufacturing products, such as the vest, scarf, and poncho/blanket. It would have been best to start with the vest, as it was important to have it finished for the patent applications, and quickly have added the smaller products such as the pin and stickers, then adding in the scarf and poncho/blanket as the company grew. The expense of development, inventory, and fulfillment quickly adds up.

3) Stay focused on your audience. Within the first year of launching give space for medical recovery support, the interest grew from organizations that represented constituents with sensory sensitivities. The company was only me, so trying to be at my best with all of them was challenging.

4) Hire a small effective PR team right out of the gate. I say “small” because most small companies like mine will be lost in the shuffle of a medium or large size PR firm, not to mention the high cost you pay to be associated with them. If you get references and do your homework, it is money well spent. We cannot affect change if no one is aware, and with so much noise in social media, it is impossible to do it on your own. A small PR team to start can work to get your name and mission out there while you concentrate on management and professional outreach. It is important to recognize that proper etiquette within the media industry is to work with business owners through their public relations firms. This is extremely important if online sales are part of your business model.

5) You always need more money than you think. This is true for just about every situation in life. You not only have to plan for legal and accounting expenses, but there are many unexpected fees. For example, you will need to pay for things like exhibitor fees and subscriptions for sending newsletters to customers or an add on to calculate tax on your website at checkout. Small fees add up quickly. Whatever business you are trying to establish, meet with others who have done it from A to Z to help you to be prepared. I met with people about the substantive content and product issues, but not the logistical issues, so I was not prepared for some of the expense.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Give space is a movement that is bringing a tremendous amount of good in improving the health of people, and can have a hugely far reach, as it can benefit anyone and everyone needing an extended space boundary. What better time than now?

Trademarked throughout the world, the give space message and Peach symbol are helping people living in the U.S., England, Sweden, Canada, Israel and other nations define their personal space needs. Give space and the Peach symbol quickly and kindly signal to others to respect the personal space of the wearer. It has never, in our lifetime, been more important for us to clearly define our personal space and respect the space of others. It can be a matter of life and death and the welcomed give space message and beautiful Peach symbol, which represents both our strength and vulnerability, is here to help.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Consider the source.” People will share their advice and opinions as you navigate through life, and who gave it should weigh — or not — into the equation of its value in meeting the goals of your personal life or business. A best friend in college told me this when someone said something cruel about me. He reminded me to consider that she was known as a very cruel person. In the same conversation, he also told me, “Not everyone is going to like you.” I was taken aback, as I had been fortunate in life to have many friends and was seemingly not aware that some people might not like me! Ridiculous yes, but true. He was a wise friend. We must go forward with what we think is the right path in life, while learning from the wise and good-intentioned, even when it is challenging to hear. Not everything has to be rosy, but naysayers are to be ignored.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Jane Fonda. She’s a Peach! She is the embodiment of the perfect woman, beautiful on the outside, yet resilient and vulnerable on the inside. She is a political and social advocate, a breast cancer survivor, a mother, a survivor of divorce, and an Oscar-winning actress. There seems to be a consistent theme reported of her empathy for others that runs throughout her life experience and career, which I truly admire and aspire to daily. I do tend to gravitate towards people who are empathetic and, as I age, have an increasingly grave intolerance for those that are not. Self-absorption is not only boring, but dangerous, and lends itself to the ills of society.

The success of so many women is attributable to other women — women like Jane Fonda who were a huge part of the early women’s movement and advocated for female empowerment and human rights, among so many other important issues needing a voice. She continues to advocate, for fair wages for restaurant workers, among others, and most recently for climate change. It would be quite a privilege to share time with her, hearing her stories — with her admired enthusiasm — and learning from her advice as to how give space can successfully continue to promote efforts in changing the way we show we care — around the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: givespace Facebook: givespacepeach Twitter: givespace

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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