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Introducing the winners of Intuit QuickBooks + Mailchimp Small Business Hero Day 2024

From offering essential services to their towns and cities to employing more than 13 million workers around the country, small businesses are crucial to the U.S. economy. And yet, these vital operations—and the hardworking people behind them—don't always get the credit they're due. 

In honor of Small Business Success Month, we're marking our third annual Small Business Hero Day on May 21 by awarding $20,000 each to three small business owners who go above and beyond for the customers, employees, and people they serve. Read on to learn more about these exemplary entrepreneurs and the positive impact they have on their communities.

Elite Formation Studio of Dance makes dance inclusive to all

Chequena Morris-Hall may be a master of business administration with classified government work on her resume, but her contributions as "the dance lady" are what she'll be remembered for one day, she said. "That's what people call me out here," said Morris-Hall, who heads Elite Formation School of Dance in Northern Virginia. 

It's a moniker the small business owner seems to embrace—and a fitting encapsulation of the role she has played in her community for the better part of a decade. Morris-Hall founded her dance company in 2017, after her then-9-year-old daughter—who was enrolled in another dance school at the time—began feeling like an outsider among her classmates. "She did not see a lot of representation, and it caused a little bit of low self-esteem," Morris-Hall explained. "I wanted her to be confident in her ability to dance and just simply be who she is without any insecurities."

Inspired by her daughter's experience—and armed with just $40 in funding—the former government employee decided to launch a school of her own. Her aim was to create a diverse space where budding jazz, tap, ballet, and hip-hop dancers from all backgrounds would feel included. "Representation is important to children because they are visual people. They go off of, and internalize, what they see. So if they don't see anyone who looks like them, they begin to feel inferior," Morris-Hall said. "It was important for us to have instructors and other children that look like our children, so that they can begin to have a sense of belonging."

A group of people standing in front of a TV.

Now, seven years after Elite Formation Studio's debut, it's clear the small business has made an impact. What started with roughly 10 students has since blossomed into a school of 175, complete with opportunities for kids to perform in recitals, competitions, and summer camp programs. Morris-Hall's emphasis on inclusivity has no doubt proved key to the studio's success. In addition to welcoming dancers of all "shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds," she said, the company also accommodates students who lack the financial resources typically required for dance education. "Nobody is left behind," she said, even if that means footing the bill for a student's classes and costumes herself. 

"Chequena is already a hero to her students every day that she keeps the studio doors open," said Morris-Hall's nominator. "The studio has taught the students that they matter."

The Elevation Project offers crucial resources to the formerly incarcerated

LaTrista Webb was volunteering for a feeding program in Philadelphia when she noticed something surprising: Many of the homeless young men who utilized the program's services had recently been released from jail. For Webb, then a local college student, the pattern was striking. At the time, two people in her life—a friend named James Smith, and her cousin—were incarcerated. "I learned that in county prisons, they just let you go [instead of providing support for reentering society]," Webb said. "And so I wondered what would happen to James and what would happen to my cousin."

Webb's concerns for her loved ones motivated her to study the prison system, ultimately inspiring her to figure out a way to help those affected by it. People reentering communities after spending time in jail face numerous obstacles, she said. "Challenges can be anything from finding employment, finding stable housing, reunifying with family members, and then adjusting to a world that has changed," Webb explained.

So in 2015, after completing a master's degree in social work, she launched The Elevation Project—an organization dedicated to supporting those who have been released from prison through a variety of programs, all offered free of charge. "In simple terms, the mission of The Elevation Project is to elevate people and help elevate their lives," said Webb, who now helms the company alongside her formerly incarcerated friend, James. "But our goal is to reduce recidivism in the greater Philadelphia area."

A person in a yellow shirt and black pants standing on a brick wall.

The organization—powered by grants, donations, and the work of volunteers—provides a number of services. There's the Reentry Support Hub, through which the team offers job application and resume help, clothing, and training for practical skills like CPR and OSHA certification. The Elevation Project's Transformative Business Center, meanwhile, aids those looking to start their own companies with access to meeting space and computers, as well as assistance with tasks like website creation. Plus, Webb's team hosts a variety of free events throughout the year, from grocery giveaways to record-clearing clinics where lawyers share expungement and pardon information.

"LaTrista works tirelessly to extend her reach in the community," said Webb's nominator. "As barriers come up, LaTrista knocks them down and keeps pushing forward, all because she knows it's not about her. It is about her call to be a servant to people who look forward to the services that she provides through her organization."

Dig It! Coffee Co. creates job opportunities for adults of all abilities

When she talks about Dig It! Coffee Co., her downtown Las Vegas cafe, Taylor Gardner Chaney's eyes well up. But it's not the small business that moves her to tears; it's the employees who work there. "We hire people of all abilities who are capable, incredible people who want to be compensated equally," said Chaney, describing Dig It as a "social enterprise coffee shop." "[They] want the chance to have value and purpose in a career alongside everyone else in our community."

For Chaney, inclusive hiring is a deeply personal issue. Her younger sister, Lindsay, was born with Down syndrome—a condition that left her with few to no options after she finished school. "When you graduate as an adult with a disability, you tend to navigate on your own; there is no laid-out path for you," Chaney said. "I found family after family, including my own, saying, 'What is out there? What can this person do that they're going to thrive?'"

Dismayed by the lack of opportunities and resources for adults with disabilities, Chaney first founded The Garden Foundation—a nonprofit offering continuing education and recreational classes for people like her sister. In an effort to build students' work skills, the group established a training program in which participants would serve coffee throughout the organization's office building. That's when the idea for a full-scale cafe began to percolate. "I got to see … people who maybe had never had an experience with people with disabilities get a cup of coffee and [think], 'Wow, I really enjoyed that,'" Chaney said. "And on the other side, I had our [trainees] like, 'When can we serve coffee again? I love serving people.' And I knew then that we had something there."

A group of people sitting around each other.

After running the training program for several years, Chaney decided to officially open Dig It! Coffee Co. in 2022. Staffed by adults of all abilities, the shop offers a supportive environment for employees to hone their skills and independence. Chaney hopes the cafe provides a learning opportunity for customers, too. "I think we're giving people the opportunity to see people with disabilities differently," she said. "We're really trying to break down those barriers and preconceived notions."

And for that, Chaney's efforts have garnered praise from the community at large. "Dig It! Coffee sits in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, not 1 mile from our iconic casinos. But rather than taking a chance on dice or a deck of cards, Taylor took a chance on something more impactful," said Chaney's nominator. "We are fortunate to have this strong, woman-owned business empowering our own special, but often marginalized, group."

You could win $10,000, plus three months of free business coaching!

We're awarding 20 businesses with a QuickBooks grant.

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