Mother's Day spotlights
Marine Corps Spouse of the Year
Lakesha Cole of Camp Kinser was named Marine Corps Spouse of the Year and nominated for National Military Spouse of the Year. Military Spouse magazine’s annual Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year award recognizes important contributions and unwavering commitment to country and the military community such as volunteer efforts, personal sacrifice and professional pursuits. The national results will be announced at an event in Washington D.C. on May 9.
Well into her second year on Okinawa, Cole is the wife of Gunnery Sgt. Deonte D. Cole and mother of Kailey Mariah, 8, and another child due in August. The founder of She Swank, a popular boutique in Camp Foster’s Concession Mall, she is recognized for her deep passion for entrepreneurship, which translates into efforts to inspire, assist and educate other military spouses as well as military kids in successfully developing small businesses.
Q: Can you tell us about She Swank and what made you start it?
A: She Swank is a specialty boutique for girl’s that stylishly promotes confidence, inspiration and independence. A majority of the styles we carry are handmade by military spouses in Okinawa. She Swank began as a way for me to share my creativity and inspire women and girls at the same time.
Business resources and career opportunities are very limited in Okinawa, and in some cases non-existent. My commitment to the base community is to provide spouses the resources and platform to do what they love and to empower today’s military kids to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. I currently fulfill this commitment by giving other talented military spouses the opportunity to grow their business by selling their crafts in my store. She Swank is now home to 13 exclusive apparel, accessory and home décor collections all handmade by local military spouses.
Q: How do you use this business to promote “confidence, inspiration and independence?”
A: A positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. It’s becoming harder for parents of young girls, especially teenagers, to dress them in what was considered age-appropriate clothing.
I recently had a customer thank me for not selling clothes that encourages her daughter to dress like a Kardashian. I’m very mindful of the styles I select for my customers to ensure we are supporting brands that promote a positive self-image for girls but still fashionable and age-appropriate.
But it’s not just about the clothes for me. It’s also about creating memories and being a part of our customer’s important life moments such as promotions, homecomings, graduations, military balls, first day of school, family photos, baby’s first photo, job interviews, first birthdays, holidays and more.
Q: What are some of the mentoring projects you’ve been involved with?
A: My commitment to authenticity is at the core of how I live my life and run my business. One of the mentoring programs that I’m really excited about is my MilSpouse Vendor Market program that assists military spouse artisans with bringing their products to retail. …
In addition to providing these spouses with retail space, I also provide daily mentoring and mini workshops to help address their growing business needs. This program gives spouses a platform to do what they love at a pace that they are comfortable with, while contributing to the financial well-being of their family. And due to the success of the program, there is currently a waiting list of participants.
Q: How will you put the Spouse of the Year platform to use?
A: Professional growth and entrepreneurial resources for military spouses are very limited depending on location. For overseas spouses such opportunities just don’t exist. In an effort to assist spouses who have amazing ideas, talents and passions but don’t know what to do with it, I plan to use this platform to: Bring more business resources via a two-day “I Serve Too” business workshop that will focus on starting, surviving and succeeding in small business, despite the challenges of our military lifestyle.
Introducing kids to entrepreneurship is another passion of mine. A program that is near and dear to my heart is Lemonade Day. Lemonade Day is a fun, free experiential learning program that teaches youth how to start, own and operate their own business through a lemonade stand. Each year, National Lemonade Day is observed on the first Sunday in May, when youth around the country take to the streets of their communities to open their lemonade stands, and put the business skills they have learned into practice. Bringing this initiative to military installations is just the beginning of empowering today’s military kids to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.
Volunteer teaches US language, culture
Liesl Beaton a San Antonio, Texas, native at Camp Foster who has been dedicating her time to volunteering while stationed on Okinawa. Married to Capt. Jose Beaton, 1st MAW Adjutant on Camp Foster, she is a mother of three with another on the way. Her love of teaching is applied not only her own children but local children as well.
Q: How long have you been on Okinawa, and what kind of volunteer work have doing?
A: We have lived in Okinawa for just over 3 years and are getting ready to PCS back to the states. I have loved serving at our church, Okinawa Lutheran, as a Sunday school teacher, and it was because of some former members with a heart for serving that the Big Bear English Club was established. I have been blessed to be able to fill the role of English teacher for the past two plus years.
Big Bear English Club is a group that supports Amerasian children who go to Japanese local schools. The club gives the children a chance to practice their English and learn American culture. It is made up of American volunteers, Japanese mothers and their children.
Q: What do you like the best being a volunteer?
A: The best part of volunteering for me is being given the chance to interact with people whom you might never cross paths with otherwise. The generosity of time on the part of the kids and their moms has been humbling, too. They could choose to do so many other things on a Saturday morning, and yet have been committed to this class for years.
Q: What is your motto when you teach children?
A: I strive to make things applicable and engaging for the children. I know that children in Japan are in school and classes more than American children, so I really don’t want to make the class feel like more school. I have tried to make our Saturday morning classes less traditional, with fun and songs and lots of movement, so that they are more motivated to learn. I want them to enjoy coming to class as much as I do.
Q: What kind of challenges does this work present?
A: Even with a degree in elementary education, the field of ESL is a totally different ball game. It has definitely challenged me as a teacher and broadened my knowledge base, as I am continually discovering the unique aspects of trying to teach someone a different language.
It has been easy to put myself in the kids’ shoes, because over the past few years I’ve experienced the challenge of learning even some basic Japanese. It’s hard and takes dedication! That’s probably why most of us don’t get very far into the language of our host country, which is unfortunate.
Q: What is the best part about volunteering for the club?
A: The best part about our English class has been the friendships I have made with the kids and their moms. My experience in Japan would not have been nearly as deep and meaningful without this opportunity. It has allowed my family and I to really feel like we have connections in the country now, apart from the normal military family connections.
Q: Is there anything about your volunteer experience you’d like to share with the military community here?
A: I was lucky to have this opportunity almost dropped in my lap. You may have to search harder to find ways to be involved in the local community, but there are countless organizations, military and otherwise, who are always looking for volunteers.
Even if you only volunteer once or twice in your time here, make an effort and do it. You will come away with a deeper appreciation of the culture on your end and will have provided a valuable help to someone on their end. Serving others is what life is all about. Try it out!
For more information on Big Bear English Club, visit: bbcokinawa.web.fc2.com
Compiled by Takahiro Takiguchi, Stripes Okinawa
Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!
Follow us on social media!