“I needed someone to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Imagine having a secret that made you believe you were worth nothing. That you didn’t deserve to have anything go well in your life and that you didn’t deserve a second chance. Then, after years of holding onto that secret, you let go of it and found a community of love and support and realized you are worth more than you ever knew. Your life would drastically change!
Kerry Humphrey had a vision for her life. However, shortly after graduating from college, her life took a turn for the worse, and she found herself in jail. That time was awful, dark, and something Kerry would never wish on anyone, but looking back it transformed her life and helped her become who she is today: a successful businesswoman whose goal is to give back to the community through her business by supporting other returning citizens or formerly incarcerated individuals.
After completing her jail sentence, Kerry was assigned 2,000 hours of community service, which she completed at a Denver shelter for women experiencing homelessness. The shelter hired her as a night shift resident adviser. The job was fulfilling, but she needed something else. She needed her own thing. Once a week, Kerry would collect recycled bottles from local bars, carry the recycling up three flights of stairs to her apartment, scrub their labels off, and take them to a studio where she would cut the bases off and create lanterns. Looking back, Kerry can see why she gravitated towards empty bottles: they were something people threw out and were not worth anything, which is how she felt about her own self.
In 2014, Kerry’s friend asked her if she could cut the top off a beer bottle and make a candle instead of a lantern. Through that experiment, Pearl Street Lights was born. She laughs when thinking about it, describing her experimentation with flame polishing hundreds of bottles with lots of explosions!
The symbolism of taking something that was going to be thrown out and making it into something beautiful is not lost on Kerry. She remembers joining Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI) for Business Launch Boot Camp classes but keeping the secret of her incarceration close to her chest. Towards the end of the boot camp, she shared her story – expecting to be cut out and looked down upon. Instead, the RMMFI community, entrepreneurs, and staff received her with love and support.
In 2014, Kerry’s revenue was $97. In 2015, her revenue was $1,000, and in 2018, she grew her revenue to over $100,000. While her revenue is impressive, Kerry insists that Pearl Street Lights belongs to more people than just her. In 2017, Kerry started collaborating with Mile High Workshop, an organization that provides support, job training, and ongoing development for those with the highest barriers to employment in the Denver area.
When asked to reflect on her personal and business stories, Kerry says her favorite thing is feeling free and worthy of positive things. She would like to tell other entrepreneurs that they are worth every ounce of work they put into their business, that people really do want to help (especially the staff and volunteers of RMMFI), and that even though it’s difficult sometimes, they should let themselves receive help.
Kerry communicates monthly with an RMMFI mentor as she builds her new business plan to leverage the 2019 holiday season. She is on a journey to how she now sees Pearl Street Lights: a national million-dollar company.