Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tonya Kelly, M.Ed, CEO and Founder of Empower our Youth Foundation, located in Columbus, OH, USA.

What's your organization, and who are your members?

Empower our Youth Foundation was founded on October 30, 2017, when our middle daughter experienced cyberbullying during her Senior year in High School. The incident left us disheartening and dismayed by how law enforcement and her school dealt with the severe bullying incidents. She had thought of suicide to escape the pain she was enduring daily. The experience opened my eyes to how many parents/youth in our city were dealing with bullying incidents with no resolution. We started Empower our Youth Foundation LLC to begin the focus on enhancing the lives of families and youth/teens ages 5-17 years old in the Columbus Metropolitan area, sharing our story of triumph and providing resources/ awareness through health awareness, suicide prevention, bullying resources, assisting in reporting bullying incidents to the appropriate authorities, mentorship, and educational resources. Our Executive Board comprises six (6) experienced members, community-driven decision-makers who serve diligently in making positive impacts in the lives of youth, teens, and the community. The Executive Board members represent a published author, military veteran, entrepreneurs, city officials, teachers, and volunteers who work towards collaborating with community leaders, agencies, and individuals to establish community partnerships to expand the missions and vision of Empower our Youth Foundation.

In 2019, Empower our Youth Foundation became a 501c3 non-profit organization. As a non-profit, we saw great growth in our community and were able to expand our community services to the community of Erie, PA, in 2021. Even during COVID-19, EOYF was able to stay active and consistent with the "causes" of our organization and develop a strong community, organization, and partnerships along with public support.

Tell us about yourself

I am the CEO/Founder of the 501c3 non-profit organization called Empower our Youth Foundation. By career, I am a fourth-grade teacher at Horizon Science Academy Elementary in Columbus, Ohio. The organization began in 2017 when my second daughter experienced being bullied till she had thoughts of suicide. With both of my daughters being bullied, I witnessed firsthand the negative impacts, family emotions, and experiences that damage a child's self-esteem and quality of life. Over the past three years, I have shared my testimony and served as an Anti-Bullying advocate assisting families in reporting any forms of bullying to the appropriate authorities and mentoring students. I used my education and prevention awareness programs to become a voice and stand up for families by offering literacy education, mentorship, social-emotional learning, and empowerment to the communities in Columbus, OH, and throughout the United States. As community advocates, families and youth learn how to respect, believe, and inspire themselves and others while celebrating life.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

In 2021:

  • Delivered 400 Food Care Packages to local elementary schools with the community partnership of Sahara-Columbus
  • Donated over 350 books to youth/ teens at community events during COVID-19
  • At every Empower Up event, families were given Safety kits filled with hand sanitizer, trash bags, hand soap, gloves, and masks.
  • Developed a Partnership with the Columbus Police Department - and collaborated with the Books & STEM/Literacy community events with over 100 attendees at events in June and July 2021
  • Hosted 1st Dare to be Different Antibullying Fashion Show in June 2021 Erie, PA
  • Empower our Youth Foundation has received various awards and accolades for being a community activist organization for bullying 2022 January Hometown Hero, Tonya Kelly, was the 2022 National Charter School Public Alliance Changemaker award, Reynoldsburg Office of the Mayor Proclamation, and Congressional Recognition by Congresswoman Joyce Beatty.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

The hardest thing is managing work-life balance. It's often said that becoming your own boss means having flexibility in your work schedule, but I haven't found that to be entirely true. Being an entrepreneur is what I love, but there have been times when balancing work and family has seemed impossible. How do you explain to a customer that you're late because you had to take your child to the doctor? How do you tell your child you can't attend a school event because you have a business meeting that can't be rescheduled? Being entrepreneurial has enabled me to find solutions for the balancing act, but it hasn't been easy.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Starting a business requires analytical thinking, determined organization, and detailed record-keeping.
  2. It's important to be aware of your competition and either appropriate or improve upon their successful tactics.
  3. You'll almost certainly end up working harder for yourself than you would for someone else, so prepare to make sacrifices in your personal life when establishing your business.
  4. Providing good service to your customers is crucial to gaining their loyalty and retaining their business.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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