Tenant in Entrepreneurship Center is recognized

Everything Mary Ann Stallings learned about life started on her family’s farm near Venango, Nebraska. It was on the farm where she grew into a strong woman with a passion for nurturing and caring for others.

“I became independent pretty fast having to fend for myself with three older brothers,” Stallings said. “I also grew up around my grandparents and would help my parents take care of them. When we visited them in the nursing home, I always noticed people who did not have visitors, and I felt sorry for them.”

When she was a junior in high school, Stallings’ world changed when her father died. Suddenly, her mom, Amy Watkins, had to manage the farm and was at a crossroads in her own life.

After graduation, Stallings attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to earn a teaching degree while her mom, at age 49, enrolled at Kearney State College (now the University of Nebraska at Kearney) to finish her teaching degree.

“Mom wanted to give me space at college,” she said. “Education was important to my parents, and I was expected to go to college. Mom could only afford one year of college after high school, and this was her chance to finish.”

After a teaching career that spanned 28 years and 18 months as the first director of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Stallings and her husband Bob started researching retirement communities for his parents when the lightbulb turned on.

“I spent my last year as a teacher writing the business plan for Bridge to Better Living,” she said. “I took the SCORE course to help me write and research it. I wanted to offer a free service for our clients to save them the pain we went through finding communities for our parents and other family members.”

Her experience getting the Children’s Museum off the ground was invaluable to her as she sought partnerships with living communities to offer her services for free. From her research, no other business in this field was using this model.

“I had been told no so many times when I was looking for the first location for the Children’s Museum that I was not afraid to ask these communities to partner with us,” Stallings said. “To my surprise, we were told yes more than no, and Bridge to Better Living started in the loft at my house.”

Eventually, Bridge to Better Living outgrew her loft and moved into the Focus Suites at the Southeast Community College Entrepreneurship Center.

“It was a huge leap for us when we moved into the Focus Suites,” she said. “It made Bridge to Better Living a real business. What I liked about being at SCC was spending time with other entrepreneurs and business leaders I could bounce ideas off.”

Fast forward 10 years and Bridge to Better Living has six locations in Nebraska, Colorado, Kentucky, and North and South Carolina. Stallings was recently recognized as one of Franchise Directory Magazine’s 50 Women of Wonder.

“The best part of my job is getting to know our clients by listening to their stories and finding them the best community to match their personality and needs,” Stallings said. “When I see the weight lifted off their shoulders and a smile put on their face, that is the frosting on the cake for my career.”

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Jennifer Snyder
Social Media Marketing/Writing