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Since the onset of the global pandemic, the host of Zero Excuses podcast, Nick Smarrelli, has had the chance to chat with over 15 business leaders in both St. Louis and Indianapolis. These remote conversations were enlightening, humbling, and often emotional. These small business leaders chose to take this uncertain time, this time of many unknowns, and forge ahead the best way they knew how. 

Here are three of our favorite perspectives. 

1. Marcia Barnes: “I choose not to participate”

Marica Barnes is the founder of Valve + Meter. Her career is rich with taking businesses, small or struggling, and helping them reach their full potential. She has been around the block. During the last recession, she was able to not only keep her business afloat but grow it.

Throughout the pandemic, she has worked closely with her clients to create timely marketing and content. Throughout the pandemic, she has been providing more than marketing to her clients and leading with care. 

With this global pandemic, her perspective is this: “I choose not to participate. “

Marcia said, “My core reaction to situations like this is I choose not to participate. I think we have a choice about our attitude and how we move forward and all meaningful change starts on the inside and works its way out. So if I choose not to participate in the recession or crisis and then do those types of things, I can adjust my mindset more quickly to, how do I move forward.”

Marcia Barnes, Founder, Valve + Meter

This perspective is very unique. Marica leans on her experiences from the last economic downturn of 2009 to guide her reaction now. She will not relent to this situation, but forges ahead knowing her mindset will have a huge impact on her organization’s ability to thrive.  And it has, they’ve grown even as budgets are tighter than ever.

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2. Norris Cunningham: “Effect change in a positive way, as much as I can”

Norris Cunningham is a partner at the law firm Katz Korin Cunningham. Norris is a strong believer that diversity in the workplace makes teams better and that for our country to evolve, we must be focused on diversity from the perspective of creating a more equitable and just society. He is the chair of the Diversity Committee for the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana. He sits on the association’s board of directors.   

Norris is also a COVID-19 survivor. 

He described his recovery as a difficult process. Norris said, “I realized in those moments of really just struggling to keep your breath and worrying about my health, about the things that we really important to me, my family, but also trying to effect change in a positive way as much as I can.” 

Norris Cunningham, Partner, Katz, Korin, Cunningham

As Norris recovered from his fight with COVID-19, the George Floyd situation was also unfolding. This sparked Norris, already passionate about equality in our society and diversity, to put his energy and efforts towards furthering this cause. 

“I really believe that this pandemic is many respects has contributed to a lot of positive momentum that we see with regard to social change coming, ”explained Norris. 

Norris Cunningham, Partner, Katz, Korin, Cunningham,

Norris’s experiences during the pandemic have been unique. With everything he went through, he came out the other side really looking to make this world a better place any way he can.  Norris looks to stretch himself to build up the community and our society. This is something we can all do. Whether you lead an organization or not, you can always find ways to do more to contribute positively to the world.

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3. Derrin Slack: “When COVID-19 hit, we didn’t slow down”

Derrin is the founder of ProAct Indy. This Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization has a mission to stand in the gap for vulnerable youth and understand underserved communities. Derrin was inspired to create this organization ten years ago when he realized how big of an impact an adult who believes in a child can have. When the pandemic made it impossible for him to serve the children in the ways he always had, he quickly changed tactics to deliver food to those who needed it on the community. 

“When COVID-19 hit, we didn’t slow down. We launched an initiative called the Stand in the Gap initiative. We saw that many families and communities weren’t getting the food and supplies they needed, and the organizations that we partnered with weren’t able to get those supplies to those people because they didn’t have transportation,” Derrin explained. 

Derrin Slack, Founder, ProAct Indy

When he saw these two gaps, he quickly converted the 20-passenger bus they had, typically used to transport kids to volunteer activities, into a mobile food pantry. They were careful to social distance, but through engagement with 17 nonprofit partners, they were able to reach 500 families in less than two months. 

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