Cheri Garcia is a trailblazer, which those invested in the lives and value of human connection need to know. Over the last 5 years, Cheri has overcome stacked odds to become one of the highly successful entrepreneurs out of Dallas, Texas. From playing a vital role in Mark Cuban's Public Relations machine (heard of Cyber Dust? You probably have because of Cheri's tireless pursuit of brand recognition), to the creation of her own line of tanning beds, Cheri is the definition of the American Success story. Most recently, she secured a $500,000 private investment for her app, RentEval, which streamlines and digitizes the move-out inspection for property management companies and landlords. The best part though? She does it all while living in recovery, and giving back to her community.
I had a chance to meet Cheri for the first time, two years ago at a mental health professional's networking event hosted by Brian Cuban at a Dallas Mavericks game. Since that time, she has continued to provide pro bono PR for various behavioral health non-profits, won over private investors in her own products, and been on the Steve Harvey Show twice! Now, she finds herself moving on to giving back to the community in even bigger ways, with plans to open up a second-chance entrepreneur incubator hub in Dallas - recently, I had an opportunity to catch up and talk about her successes.
RDA: You have overcome quite a few challenges in your life - a methamphetamine use disorder, criminal justice involvement, etc. How have you found the courage to really embrace life on life's terms and find success?
CG: To put it simply, Entrepreneurship saved my life. I never did the 12 step or went to treatment. I found something that gave me a more fulfilling high - realizing my own potential and pushing myself to new limits.
RDA: Speaking on entrepreneurship - you have had a multitude of achievements in that arena. Two successful brands, private investors in a smartphone application, and a public relations career including clients like Mark Cuban - what has been the key to those accomplishments?
CG: Networking and persistence. I never stepped a foot on college campus. I consider my patent my degree and my manufacturing costs my tuition. Everything from inventing a product, to securing private investments, to working with Shark Tank inventors, all stems from a form of networking and persistence.
RDA: You also give back heavily in your life - you were recently featured on the Steve Harvey Show for the second time. What organizations are you committed to and why?
CG: I am committed to people first and foremost, not just organizations; Anybody that wants change in their life and is willing to work for it. There are several organizations in the Dallas area that are near and dear to my heart such as: Bonton Farms, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), Dallas 24-hour Club, and Forgiven Felons. I've spent a lot of time meeting with and supporting people from all of these organizations.
RDA: You spoke about the PEP on the Steve Harvey Show, and have mentored many men who are now striving to be successful with a second chance. Tell us what inspires that work and why it is so important?
CG: I've been arrested several times and was on a path of self-destruction. I got a second chance, so for me it is only fair that I help others get their own second chance. Sometimes showing someone you believe in them is the one thing that will change their life forever. And how could I refuse that?
RDA: In your recovery, and in others' recovery as well, barriers to employment and education are some of the most common for relapse and recidivism. How does your work provide individuals with the life skills they need to be successful?
CG: This is why entrepreneurship is so important. My passion is to teach people how to find new and unique ways to make money by using skills they already have. For instance, I will sit down with someone and figure out what their passion is, in addition to what skills they have. We come up with a plan on combining those two in a way that will be appealing to potential customers. A lot of people coming out of prison have extraordinary skills but lack defined direction. A little push goes a long way, and they are off to the races.
RDA: Experiencing so much success at a young age, overcoming a substance use disorder, being in the public spotlight - all of these I would imagine are hard to process. How do you keep yourself grounded and moving forward?
CG: It is easy to stay grounded because I'm far from where I really want to be from a "success" standpoint; but I know life is made up of decisions and you have to remain humble in order to stay focused to make the right decisions. In order to make a real difference, It's important to always remain grounded and transparent about your journey. I start most of my mornings off at a local transitional living house for breakfast. I don't go in there as a mentor, but as person in recovery (because at the end of the day, this is what I am). This way I can always remember how important every day decisions are, as well as be grateful for what I have today. There is no Wi-Fi at the house, so it's where I spend time writing my book and having real conversations with real people. Some would think it's a negative environment to be in, but to me, nothing is more beautiful than seeing positive transformation unfold right in front of you.
RDA: You've spoken about some of the things you want to accomplish in the future - including a center that is dedicated to be an incubator of sorts for the passionate men and women you work with so closely.
CG: My ultimate dream has always been to open up an entrepreneur center for people in recovery, convicted felons, or just anybody who needed motivation and guidance to start a new life. I love transformation and self-improvement. If I could start an incubator for 2nd chances, that would be a dream come true. (Investors- hint, hint.). This would be like a modern-day library with recourses, mentors, networking events and all the things that are needed to get on the right path to start a new career or start the business you want. We will generate revenue through events, job placement services and co-working space rental. I came up with the idea in 2011, but feel like it is finally time in my life and the community to make it a reality.
RDA: What advice would you have for someone coming out of prison, or new in recovery, to reach for their dreams?
CG: Goal lists and rewards! Just like you're in kindergarten again. Celebrate the small victories just as much as you celebrate the big one's. Every day you accomplish something that gets you closer to your goal is a day to celebrate. I know it sounds cliché, but believe in yourself because not many others will at first. You have to be your biggest cheerleader, but trust me you'll have new cheerleaders join your team along the way as you prove yourself and stay consistent with what you're doing.
Finding role models in our communities, ones that truly give back and embody positive values, isn't always easy. When you do find one, like Cheri, you keep them in your lives as long as you can.
If you want to know more about the work Cheri does, you can visit CheriGarcia.com or add her on Cyber Dust to chat: +Luminous_cheri