The Comeback Kirkhart
by Marcia Meier
In the early 1990s, Beverly Kirkhart faced a fearful and uncertain future. Once a successful small inn owner, Kirkhart had by turns lost her husband through sudden divorce, her home and business through bankruptcy, and her health to a cancer diagnosis.
After each blow, Kirkhart reeled. When she finally completed treatment for her breast cancer, she didn’t have a clue what she was going to do. She was broke and alone. But, she knew she was good at marketing, and thought she could turn her skills into a business serving hotels and inns.
She turned to Santa Barbara’s nonprofit Women’s Economic Ventures and found both succor and support.
“I didn’t know how to get started. The WEV program was kind of the kick-start I needed. It not only gave me the tools, but the confidence to do this,” Kirkhart says.
Women’s Economic Ventures has served Santa Barbara and Ventura county women who want to start their own businesses with training and support services since 1987. Funded through grants and fees, WEV offers an entrepreneur training program, business counseling, personal development and economic literacy training, and mentoring. The organization also offers business start-up loans of up to $25,000 to microenterprises, and larger loans to expanding businesses. And while WEV’s focus is on helping women become financially self-sufficient, they do offer business counseling and loans to men, especially minority and low-income men who have not had access to traditional opportunities, training and support.
"WEV's goal is to help transform women business owners to business leaders by helping them 'think big,'" says Marsha Bailey, WEV's president and CEO. "Today, WEV is expanding the scope of its services to assist women entrepreneurs throughout the business lifecycle continuum - start - launch - grow - sustain - and to create opportunities for women in the global economy."
When Kirkhart decided to go through the program, “I was taking any old job. I knew that I was good at marketing because I had owned the Villa Rosa Inn. But I didn’t know how to get started.”
Over the 14-week program, Kirkhart learned how to create a budget and a business plan, and was encouraged by the mentors and teachers who worked with her. “What I loved about WEV was they brought in people from the community to share their expertise. One guy came in and said, ‘Now that you’ve done all this work, is this really what you want to do?’ I remember my face felt like all the blood drained out. He looked at me and asked what was wrong. I said, ‘I do not want to do marketing. I want to tell my story.”
Kirkhart revised her business plan, and with WEV’s support, pursued her dream of becoming an inspirational speaker.
Today, she speaks all over the country to health organizations, nurses, doctors, cancer survivor groups and others, commanding up to $5,000 per talk. Her journal for those newly diagnosed with cancer, “My Healing Companion,” has sold nearly 200,000 copies. And she and two co-authors have recently completed a second book, “My Healing Companion: A Journal for the Health Care Provider.”
Tall and graceful, the soft-spoken Kirkhart knows how to inspire. Audiences respond when she talks about her experiences and how one can indeed “turn setbacks into comebacks,” her signature theme. When she had completed all of her cancer treatments, and was feeling weak and defeated, she decided to set a goal, a milestone by which she could measure her progress toward healing and her own “comeback.”
With a friend who had also just gone through cancer treatment, she signed up for The Century Ride – a 100-mile bike ride up the California coast. Months of daily training culminated in a race day that would test her physically and mentally. Yet at the end, she crossed the finish line having conquered both her fears and what she thought were her physical limitations.
It was shortly thereafter she discovered WEV. “I learned so many wonderful things at WEV,” she says. “It was like that grandmother or grandfather you always wanted to, you know, support you and encourage you. It was really instrumental for me.”
Now she mentors others whenever possible. “I owe it to women to give back. There’s not enough in our world to help us get into position financially.”
Fortunately for Kirkhart – and many other women – WEV can provide a start.