Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is THREE TO BE Founder and Executive Director Dana Florence, whose organization advocates and raises funds to support and advance the development of innovative research, education and therapies for children with neurological disorders and their families…
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
My children – Taylor, Cole and Brody – are triplets who were born extremely premature and were each subsequently diagnosed with severe Cerebral Palsy, a class of brain injury from birth that has no known cure. Obviously I was overwhelmed and shocked by this foray into parenting and their diagnoses. But more than that, I was compelled to give my children the best possible chance at success in life because I knew they were fighters and had a desire to succeed despite the obstacles they would surely face. How could I not do the same? Considering 1 in every 6 children are affected by a neurological disorder, I was beyond shocked to find such a lack of focus on this class of disorders. My decision to turn this situation from devastating to hopeful was about creating change. That’s how THREE TO BE was born.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
Hands down, promoting hope. We do this through the cutting-edge research we support but also through the here and now supports we provide to hundreds of families just like mine. The tangible, real benefits of creating change, like providing parents with funding to take a trip to an amusement park or a romantic dinner out to refresh them and give them a brighter outlook, motivates me beyond words. The most challenging part is asking people for money. It is never easy, but when we are able to prove the impact as we do, the discomfort falls away.
What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
My life and work are naturally intertwined, which makes “keeping balance” a bit interesting. I don’t get caught up in counting the number of hours that I am with my family, but more about the quality of time that I have with them. Being a “present” mom is vitally important to me. This is how I would define balance, I suppose. So when I find that I am not mentally “there” with my family because my mind is otherwise occupied or physically “there” because events are keeping me away too often, I know I need to readjust.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
It’s hard to imagine five years from now when I think about the constant change in my life from one year to the next over the past five years! I do know I will be continuing my work with THREE TO BE – there is no doubt about that. I want to be a part of the inevitable growth of the organization and it is my dream to make an impact on thousands of lives across Canada, not just hundreds in Ontario. As my kids grow, they will develop a better understanding of THREE TO BE and will hopefully be part of telling a new story for us which is exciting.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Separating my personal family story from the job. I understand that THREE TO BE was founded based on my experience and my children, and as such people are always very interested in my family story. However, it is a very fine balance. My family was the inspiration for this incredible work, but at the same time it’s not fair or reasonable to have their lives exposed constantly. As a parent, you never want to put your family and kids in a position where they could ever be exploited. And as a normal human being, I face trials and tribulations in my personal life that I need to keep personal. However, there is a tendency for people to think it is all intertwined with THREE TO BE and it just isn’t. I work at it constantly and find that I have become much more aware and thus protective of our privacy. We are also focused on making sure that the equally important stories of other families facing similar issues are told so that it isn’t just about my children.
What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
On a personal note, success is not at all defined by money. You realize very quickly when going through life’s big obstacles that yours and your family’s health and happiness is the most important. My children and the people I love are the things I value most in my life.
When it comes to THREE TO BE, we are a charity, so of course we rely on funds to keep us doing the work that we do. Success is making positive change happen today and for the future. Over the past five years, THREE TO BE has made a significant mark in the world of cutting-edge research by investing in people and projects that truly make a difference. To think that our funding has translated from one post doctoral fellow grant in our first year to an actual pilot clinical trial in children is beyond words. We are no longer decades away from discovery – being able to repair a child’s injured brain is within our reach. We simply could not do this without the generous support of our donors.
Money = THREE TO BE being able to continue to ensure that children with neurological disorders and their families are thriving.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
When we started THREE TO BE, we were a “fund” – we raised money for Sick Kids and then Holland Bloorview. When we made the leap and became our own registered charity, that was monumental! I moved from being a volunteer to a professional with the organization. Definitely a huge milestone.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Never underestimate yourself. You have no idea of what you are truly capable of until you face your greatest obstacles.
Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
Tucking my children into bed and sitting around my dining room table with takeout, wine, and the people I love (other than my kids of course).
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
If and when I get a second alone – going for a jog around my neighbourhood listening to my favorite music.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
A friend’s cottage in the summer. I enjoy not having to go too far from home to relax with good company in a beautiful environment.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds; “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
What I was doing before the birth of my children – teaching elementary school! Children have always been a major part of my life.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
THREE TO BE, of course.
What to you is notable?
Resilient children who face immeasurable obstacles.
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#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)