BY: HANNAH BOUDREAU
Less than five months ago on March 13, Alisa Ogden decided she wanted to spread love, raise awareness, and encourage acceptance. Today, Alisa’s mission has touched people from all over the country. How did she achieve this? By starting her own company.
Alisa, a 37-year-old woman with Downs Syndrome and athlete for the Special Olympics, started From the Heart; a company that creates unique necklaces that symbolize individuality and love.
Each necklace features a heart-shaped pendant with the Special Olympics logo inside, but there is something unique about the shape of each pendant. Each heart is asymmetrical which represents and celebrates that everyone is different. “We had this place in Oregon that would make our charms for us, and he sent them back with a circle around [the Special Olympics logo.]” said Coree Ogden, Alisa’s mother. “[Alisa] looked at it and said, I don’t want a circle, I want a heart. So he sent back a heart, and she said ‘I don’t like that heart, it’s perfect.’” After some final adjustments, the charm designer came up with a pendant that was slightly different on each side. “It’s different because everyone is beautiful,” said Alisa.
Alisa has sold necklaces all over the country, and is getting a map to hang on her wall to track where in the world she has made sales. “I want to sell even to Hollywood stars!” Alisa says excitedly when talking about the future of From the Heart. When asked about her absolute dream sale, Alisa answered: “I think definitely [someone from the show] Glee!”
Coree says that Alisa is very service oriented, making From the Heart the perfect name for Alisa’s company. “She is the one who gives out tissues at church when she notices someone is shedding a tear. She is the one who writes a get well, sympathy, or cheer you up card when there is a need. She is the one who bakes cookies and takes them to her neighbors or someone she wants to cheer up.” These quality traits are the same ones that make Alisa so successful in her business endeavors.
In addition to being incredibly loving and caring, Alisa is responsible and organized, which has proven to be a huge advantage when managing her business. Coree typically supervises orders received and then relays them to Alisa who puts together the necklace and places it in a small red box with a handwritten note. Together, Alisa and Coree take the necklaces to the post office to be shipped.
Alisa makes it clear that her mom is an assistant and coworker. “Whenever I do stuff, I try and have her by my side because this is her company,” Coree explains. “She really understands what we’re doing and can really come up with ideas on her own.”
“At first I was hesitant, I just thought [the company was] another one of her ideas, but I’ve learned with Alisa that she’s always setting goals… I’ve learned she always finds a way to reach her goals,” says Coree, when speaking about the start of From the Heart.
Coree says that after each necklace Alisa made, she would open the box and inspect it to make sure the quality was up to par; however, Coree quickly learned that she didn’t need to inspect the jewelry because each time she did, everything was perfect.
One of Alisa’s biggest influences for the start of her company was her grandfather, who was a very special person to her. He passed away at the age of 90 after battling several heart bypass surgeries and severe arthritis. Although he lived in a lot of pain, he walked every day and never complained. Coree says she thinks this helped give Alisa and her grandfather a special connection, because he could relate to her disability. Alisa has also received extreme amounts of support from her other family members, especially her brother Ben. “He is a very special brother to her and she loves him very much,” Coree says.
Alisa is also motivated by her religion and faith. “I feel in my heart it is the right thing to do,” she explains. Alisa is Mormon and tells me that she prays every day. She says that her business has helped her to have more faith than ever.
Not only is Alisa’s jewelry beautiful, but for every necklace sold, she donates five dollars to the Special Olympics. Alisa competes in rhythmic gymnastics, golf, and bowling, but says bowling is her favorite. She even traveled to the national games in 2010 to compete in bowling, where Coree says she was impressed by the level of sportsmanship she saw there. Just like Alisa, the Special Olympics organization as a whole radiates unconditional love. This was demonstrated to Alisa and Coree in 2010 when one of the bowling games came down to the last few approaches. Even though the game was very intense, the players from opposing teams were cheering each other on as if they were teammates.
This touching moment is just one of many that shows what Special Olympics is all about. “Wherever we are, Special Olympics is a big, huge family,” says Alisa. Alisa even met her boyfriend of five years, Chris, through Special Olympics. Not only that, but she was provided the opportunity to become a Global Messenger where she was able to speak in front of many people at the Gallup building in Washington D.C., meet President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, and connect with Joe Flacco during the filming of a commercial for the annual Polar Bear Plunge.
For Alisa, making this jewelry not only gives money back to the Special Olympics which has provided her with so many opportunities, but also helps show people around the world what the organization is all about. Alisa’s necklaces show love, acceptance and individuality, but most importantly, they are a representation of Alisa and all other Special Olympic Athletes’ bravery.
The amount of courage it took for Alisa to pursue her dreams and overcome the challenges associated with running a business from home is pretty huge. Alisa has taught those around her that, in the words of Coree, “…no matter who you are, you can always have a goal and you can always reach that goal, it might just be in a different way.”
By having this article published, Alisa hopes to convey to the world what a special person she is. “I am friendly and uplifting. I am interesting and outgoing,” she says. Although Alisa has Downs Syndrome, this does not define her. Her dreams, passion, dedication, infectious smile and loving personality do. So if you decide to purchase a necklace from From the Heart, remember it is much more than just a necklace. It is a representation of the bravery possessed by anyone with a disability who had to overcome obstacles to achieve their dreams.
* If you are interested in purchasing a From the Heart necklace, visit Alisa’s website at http://www.specialolympicsheart.com/.
This article was written by Special Olympics Maryland