For as long as she can remember, Leslie Rosella has loved animals. Pursuing a bright career in the restaurant industry, it never occurred to her that she could turn her childhood love into a profession. That was the case, at least, until she got Brixx: a purebred Rottweiler that Leslie and her boyfriend, Chris Cooley, got soon after the couple arrived in Portland, Oregon in 2001. While Brixx proved to be the perfect companion, she struggled with “insane health problems,” as Leslie put it, from chronic ear infections to gastrointestinal issues to an array of orthopedic conditions. Leslie began to have to take Brixx to see the veterinarian on a weekly basis, and because of the rottweiler’s health issues, Leslie had a difficult time finding a doggy daycare center that was equipped to provide the level of care and attention that Brixx required.
Hoping to learn more about rescues and in an effort to educate pet owners, Leslie became a volunteer with the Oregon Humane Society’s behavior unit. She learned that the reasons most families surrender their pets are due to simple behavior-related problems that could have been solved with simple training. Leslie became passionate about educating prospective pet owners about adoption awareness; as well as keeping pets in their homes. She soon received her certification in dog training.
Around the same time, Leslie and Chris began talking about moving back to Jackson, Mississippi to be closer to family. Leslie felt confident enough in her training to take a leap of faith and step away from the restaurant industry to actually pursue working with dogs as a career. Leslie knew a doggie daycare was a service Jackson desperately needed.
After 11 years in Portland, the couple moved back to Mississippi, and Leslie poured everything she had into creating a business plan. She received mentoring from a local Small Business Administration community college professor, who tweaked her business plan and helped her with her financial modeling. Meanwhile, she built her client base through in-home pet sitting, dog training, and volunteering with local, non-profit rescues. Pippa Jackson, the director for one of these nonprofits, who happened to be a realtor, took a particular interest in Leslie’s dream and set out on a mission to help Leslie find the perfect property where she could open Dog Day Afternoon Canine Social Club, an off-leash dog facility focused on group enrichment.
Six No’s, One Yes
First, however, Leslie had to secure capital in order to purchase the building. She started to visit banks in the area to share her business plan and to apply for a loan. Although each bank showed interest, she got turned down each time because she didn’t have enough collateral to qualify for a loan. Eventually, in 2017, after being shot down by five different banks, the sixth (while also turning her down) suggested she contact Renaissance Community Loan Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that offers tailored lending services for mortgages, home improvement, and commercial loans across Mississippi.
“They weren’t just looking at facts and figures,” Leslie said. “Renaissance actually took the time to get to know me. They were just incredible to work with: very personable and encouraging. Everybody else said ‘No,’ but they said ‘Yes.’ They took the time to realize my vision, and I owe them everything.”
In November 2017, Leslie’s loan — to purchase the building, do renovations, and have the working capital to get her business off the ground — was approved, and despite some rezoning challenges, Leslie was able to move into her new facility on September 1, 2018. A little over one month later, she did her first trial day with clients that she had long-standing relationships with from pet sitting and dog training. By the beginning of 2019, Dog Day Afternoon Canine Social Club was officially up and running.
At the beginning of 2020, she saw a significant increase in new clients, and Leslie and her team were confident that it was going to be their year. That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Spring Break was Leslie’s most profitable week to date. The next week, her facility was practically empty. As her business is considered essential, Dog Day Afternoon remained open during the pandemic lockdown. It was a tough couple of months, but Leslie considers herself very fortunate to have received grants to supplement the loss in income. Although the pandemic put a strain on her business, Leslie says that since Memorial Day 2021, Dog Day Afternoon is hitting new records every weekend — and that’s through word-of-mouth advertising alone. “The pandemic hit us hard,” Leslie said, “but business is picking up, and this is the best that we’ve ever done. I feel very lucky.”
Leslie credits her Mom, Pam Rosella, for always being there for her. “Every step of the way, she’s held my hand. Every successful moment, every heartache, every impossible hurdle, she’s been my rock. I truly could not have done this without her encouragement.”
A Fur-ever Home
Looking toward the future of Dog Day Afternoon Canine Social Club, Leslie would be interested in opening more facilities but is more focused on making her current location flourish. Currently, she and her team offer doggie daycare and overnight stays (also known as doggie slumber parties) and dog grooming services. In phase two of renovations on the building, she intends to have a full-service grooming salon, overnight suites equipped with TVs and interactive cameras, and a small retail store.
Despite the uncertainties of the next few years, one thing that Leslie is certain about is her commitment to deepening her relationships with local nonprofit animal shelters and her community. Part of her mission is to educate dog owners and promote adoption awareness. Currently, Dog Day Afternoon welcomes some rescue dogs into its doggie daycare to receive enrichment and lots of one on one attention that they wouldn’t get at the shelter. Leslie says this increases their chances of getting adopted as well as success transitioning into their forever homes.
Those efforts don’t just include nonprofits in Jackson — Leslie has partnered with Animal Rescue Fund of MS (ARF) and their animal rescue partners in Maine, 3 Dogs Rescue and Lairbear Transport, which helps to find shelter dogs in Mississippi wonderful homes in the Northeast. Additionally, Leslie and her team have office dogs, which is essentially a hospice/ foster program for shelter dogs nearing the end of their lives. According to Leslie, the dogs get to live at Dog Day Afternoon. They roam freely around the facility and “are spoiled rotten in their final days.”
Leslie’s above-and-beyond approach to caring for the dogs in — and away — from her community is similar to the above-and-beyond approach that Renaissance Community Loan Fund takes to support Mississippians who’re deemed unbankable by traditional lenders. Not only did the CDFI pave the way for Leslie to get Dog Day Afternoon up and running, but Renaissance also loaned Leslie and Chris the money they needed to purchase a home. Because Chris was furloughed during the pandemic and Leslie only pays herself a small salary, the two couldn’t get a loan from a bank. Thanks to Renaissance, the two closed on a house in July. “I hate to be cheesy and say that they make dreams come true,” Leslie said, “but they really do. Renaissance made our dreams come true.”
Funding allows for continued mission supporting economic growth in Mississippi
Renaissance Community Loan Fund (RCLF) was awarded $1,826,265 from the U.S. Department of Treasury. The award is part of the Treasury Department’s Rapid Response Program (RRP), which provided $1.25 billion of COVID-19 relief funds to 863 community development financial institutions (CDFIs).
RCLF, a certified CDFI and 501(c)(3), will use the funds to provide additional capital to respond to economic challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in underserved communities.
“We are ready to put this much-needed funding towards our mission of creating economic opportunity in Mississippi and help address the impact the pandemic had on our state,” said Kimberly LaRosa, president and CEO of Renaissance Community Loan Fund.
For information on Renaissance Community Loan Fund and to learn about the programs and economic opportunities available to all Mississippians, visit http://www.rclfms.com.
Kimberly LaRosa, President & CEO of Renaissance Community Loan Fund, was named one of 2021’s Top CEOs by the Mississippi Business Journal.
The award recognizes leaders around the state who demonstrate excellence in their fields and have made profound impacts and major contributions in Mississippi.
LaRosa has led Renaissance Community Loan Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, for the past 14 years. Under her leadership, the company has grown from a small organization with the sole focus of housing recovery after Hurricane Katrina to a nationally certified community development financial institution with four locations dedicated to the economic growth of the residents and communities of the entire state of Mississippi.
“I am grateful to the Mississippi Business Journal for the recognition with this award,” LaRosa said. “It has been an honor to lead Renaissance through so much growth over the last 14 years and see the positive changes that we’ve been able to make in Mississippi”.
Kimberly LaRosa is a CPA and is licensed through the MS Real Estate Commission. She is a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Graduate and a governor-appointed member of the MS Lottery Corporation’s Board of Directors.
For more information on Renaissance Community Loan Fund and to learn about the programs and opportunities available to all Mississippians, visit www.rclfms.com.
Deanna Cooley didn’t know anything about quilting when she attended her first quilting class, but she found herself loving it. It was seeing the pure emotion and joy on her family’s faces in response to the first quilt she made them that had her hooked on quilting. “I realized that by putting a piece of my heart into my quilts, I could bring others immense happiness,” said Deanna.
Donna Bates always dreamed of owning her own home and when she heard about Renaissance while attending a seminar, she decided to apply. “After I submitted the application online, I was contacted a few days later advising me of what I was approved for. The day I received the call, I was at work and I closed my office door and did a praise dance!” said Donna.
Going through the homeownership process is stressful but Donna said working with Renaissance made it a better experience. “I was so lost and confused with all the different aspects of owning a home for the first time”, said Donna “but the Renaissance team was right there to help me along the way. The guidance I received was the thing I enjoyed most and I really enjoyed working with Ms. Tj! She eased my fears and made the process more bearable.”
Through the process, Donna was able to make her dream come true and closed on her home in November of 2020. “To see how excited and happy my children are in our new home is an amazing feeling. Renaissance made my dream of owning a home into a reality. It is a wonderful feeling pulling up in MY driveway and opening the door to MY home. The process was hard at times but it is definitely worth it! Owning a home is truly a blessing!”
After 8 months, her patience and persistence paid off and she closed on her home in February 2021. “My experience with Renaissance was absolutely spectacular. From the immediate response after putting in my application to the final closing, I truly felt I was never alone in the process. As a single mom, purchasing my first home, I had tons of questions and Margaret and Melinda answered every single one and explained everything to me. I enjoyed everything about the experience. Renaissance not only allowed me to achieve my dream of purchasing a home, but they were an integral part of me restarting my life.”
If you’re one of the many businesses struggling to stay afloat during this Pandemic, the updates to the Paycheck Protection Program comes as good news, especially if you’re a small business owner with less than 20 employees.
Now through March 10, the SBA is exclusively approving forgivable loans to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. The intent is to provide these businesses the opportunity to work with lenders and community partners without having to compete with their larger counterparts.
Solo proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals will be able to get more financial support thanks to a modification to the program’s funding formula.
To find out about the other changes that were made, please visit the SBA’s Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources page. If you’re interested in applying, please visit www.rclfms.com/ppp-20.
Renaissance, Mississippi’s Premier Nonprofit Lender, stands ready to assist you with your PPP 2.0 application.
Renaissance partners with Mississippi’s small businesses only, placing them at the front, not the back of the line.
By using Renaissance’s online portal, you may complete and submit your application quickly and easily.
If your business suffered financial losses during any quarter of 2020, please begin to complete your application today!