BLUE ASH, Ohio – This is a story about opportunities – giving them and making the most of them – and about a woman who used hers to make a better life for her children.
The woman is Amanda Carter, vice president of Premier Mail & Fulfillment in Blue Ash.
But long before she was Amanda Carter, vice president, she was Amanda, the foster kid. She was Amanda, the high school drop out who got pregnant with her first daughter at age 14 and her second daughter four years later.
She was a young mom who started living on her own at age 15, worked in low-paying jobs as a waitress or convenience store clerk and relied on public assistance to support her girls. She was arrested and learned she never wanted to spend time in jail ever again.
“It’s always been a struggle,” said Carter, who is now 34. “My whole goal in life is just to make sure my daughters are successful women.”
To do that, Carter decided she needed to move out of Over-the-Rhine, the neighborhood where she had grown up and lived off and on during some tough times in her life.
That’s where Pete McConney comes into the story.
‘My Guardian Angel’
First he was Carter’s landlord, renting her a Section 8 apartment in a building he owns in Norwood.
McConney saw how hard Carter worked. He admired that she was trying to make a better life for her daughters by moving away from a place that she had decided wasn’t good for her or her kids.
“One thing about Amanda is just that drive,” said McConney, who grew up in a rough part of Brooklyn and was the first person in his family to go to college. “She told me, ‘I want to give my girls the opportunities I never had.’”
Carter had gotten her GED and was studying to get an associate’s degree in computer applications. After she graduated in 2008, McConney offered her a job at Premier, a company he had bought the year before after retiring from his previous career as a special agent with the U.S. Treasury Department.
It was just the opportunity Carter needed.
“He came in as my guardian angel,” she said.
McConney figured that with her computer applications degree, Carter could eventually learn to take over the computer aspects of the business that one of the previous owners still was handling on a contract basis.
She started off working on the production floor in one of the lowest-paying jobs in the company.
Eventually she was running the production floor and then started splitting her time between the production floor and working in the office, McConney said.
Ron Labrozzi met Carter there in 2010.
Labrozzi owns a mail order software company called Mailsoft Inc. and a direct mail business, both based in Rochester, N.Y.
He was in Blue Ash installing software for McConney when he met Carter on the production floor.
Labrozzi was impressed, he said. Carter was a good listener who wanted to learn. She took notes and asked smart questions.
‘Diamond In The Rough’
After two days at Premier, Labrozzi told McConney, “Your diamond in the rough in this business right now is Amanda. She’s the one who’s going to end up sticking it out and doing the best for you.”
As the former owner’s contract with Premier neared its end, McConney asked Labrozzi’s advice on how to replace him.
Labrozzi didn’t hesitate before advising him to promote Carter. McConney did just that in January 2013.
It wasn’t because McConney was being a nice guy, he said, although Carter clearly thinks that’s what he is.
Carter worked hard and proved herself to get that promotion, he said.
“She was never handed anything,” Labrozzi said. “She had to earn it.”
McConney said Carter has done exactly that, and he and his customers couldn’t be happier.
“She’s just amazing to work with, and she’s very, very knowledgeable,” said Sheryl McClung Garner, founder and president of Envision Children, a nonprofit client of Premier’s.
The man who had Carter’s job previously was good, Garner said, but he got into far more detail than she wanted when it came to producing invitations, programs and other materials.
“With Amanda, it’s, ‘Hey, Ms. Sheryl, I know exactly what you’re talking about. We’re going to send you a couple of cards, and you let me know,’” Garner said
Garner works with low-income, underprivileged children at her nonprofit, kids who don’t see a way out of that cycle of poverty. She said she’s glad Carter is willing to tell her story so young people know there is a way out and there are people who make it.
“There need to be those Amanda stories that are out there as opposed to every time I turn on the TV, someone’s being arrested,” she said.
Breaking The Cycle
For her part, Carter said she’s trying to do what’s right for herself and her daughters.
“I personally did not want to be another statistic,” she said. “This cycle is what I broke.”
Carter’s older daughter is 19 now.
She was the first person in Carter’s family to graduate from high school and is now studying early childhood education at Scarlet Oaks, she said. Her younger daughter is a sophomore at Princeton High School in Sharonville, where Carter now lives, and already is thinking about how to continue her education after she graduates.
Carter looks at her girls and thinks about how different their lives are as teenagers compared to her own.
She recently allowed her older daughter to start working. (Before Carter had insisted that she focus on school instead.) She’s amazed by her daughter’s lack of financial discipline.
“I was telling her, ‘Stop spending your money on gummy worms!’ She goes to Speedway, and she will spend $20 on candy,” Carter said. “She’s so different from how I was.”
Despite the gummy worms, Carter wants to keep it that way. She doesn’t want her daughters to have babies when they’re teenagers. She doesn’t want them to have to rely on public assistance ever again.
“My whole goal for moving up in the company was I didn’t want to be on any government assistance,” Carter said. “I received welfare for a long time.”
But today Carter can say that she doesn’t receive any kind of public assistance at all.
“I provide for my children on my own. It’s a struggle. But I can say I can pay my rent without somebody helping me,” she said. “I’m determined.”
The story of Carter and McConney shows just how far that kind of determination can take a person when it’s combined with the right opportunities.
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.