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Family Ties

Family Ties

Nelly Roach grew up on a tiny island in the western Pacific before moving to the Midwest during her teenage years. Navigating two widely different cultures created many challenges, but by embracing the best of both worlds — and abandoning some traditions — Nelly has found unbelievable success as an entrepreneur and mother.

Nelly Roach had never seen a cow before. Nor had she eaten pizza. Up until she moved to Columbia at age 13, the longest car ride of her life had been 20 minutes.

On the two-hour drive from the Kansas City airport to her new CoMo home, the teenager grew understandably antsy and agitated. Peering out of the car window at the foreign surroundings, she could sense an approaching tidal wave of culture shock. Although the Midwest is often considered fairly quaint and rural, Nelly had spent her childhood in Peleliu, Palau, a tiny island in the Pacific — home to only one pickup truck at that time.

Today, it’s hard to imagine that Nelly ever felt out of place in mid-Missouri. The mother of three runs two successful Columbia-based businesses: Caledon Virtual, an award-winning marketing agency, and KimberMedia, an agency specializing in social media, website maintenance and search engine optimization. She’s entrenched in the community, having been named the 2009 Rotarian of the Year and winning JobPoint’s 2012 Celebrity Apprentice competition. In Columbia, Nelly’s name has become synonymous with hardworking female entrepreneur.

“My family raised me to be feisty, my spirit to be strong,” says the effervescent Nelly. “In my family, I never felt like I couldn’t do something because of who I was. I never doubted I could do the things I’ve done.”

For Nelly, growing up in a culture where women held all of the power along with all of the responsibility played to her advantage. From a young age, her family placed her on a pedestal but not in a spoiled way. Her grandparents, mother and seven uncles empowered her to be independent and gutsy. They had high hopes for her. They expected her to give back to her hometown community and uphold their family traditions — including the tradition of women allowing their parents to raise their firstborn child as their own.
Tracing Nelly’s journey from Palau to Columbia reveals that this successful entrepreneur’s strength, resolve and compassionate spirit came not only from her cultural upbringing but also from her decisions to break away from it.

Growing up multiculturally

Stretching only eight miles long and three miles wide, the island of Peleliu, Palau, is an isolated tropical oasis, reachable only by boat or plane and home to merely 700 people. From a young age, Nelly was acutely aware of her hometown’s historical significance. One of the bloodiest battles in World War II took place on the island’s beaches and in its caves. Many artifacts from the attacks remain in place and attract tourists and curious locals like Nelly. Because of its isolation, the island had kept its history and strong culture alive for many decades.
As a firstborn child herself, Nelly didn’t know as a young child that her mother had followed in her ancestors’ footsteps and given up Nelly. The woman Nelly called “mommy” was actually her grandmother; the woman she thought of as her aunt was really her biological mother.

At age 5, Nelly and her family were riding in a boat to Koror, the capital of Palau, when someone asked Nelly where her mom was. It seemed like a silly question; her “mommy” was right there with them. An uncle later told Nelly about their family tradition whereby grandparents raised their firstborn grandchild as their own. Her biological mother was living in Guam, but Nelly knew her well as she visited frequently.
“I didn’t understand, and I didn’t have the maturity to be disappointed,” Nelly says. “I was shocked when my mother started disciplining me; that was awkward, but I was never traumatized by it. I knew I was loved.”
When Nelly reached her preteen years, her mother took back the parental reins. On the island, elementary school only went up to the fifth grade. After that, many parents sent their children off to school elsewhere, but Nelly’s grandmother did not want her to leave. A fifth-grade education would suffice, she strongly believed. But Nelly’s mother disagreed and sent for Nelly to join her in Guam and continue her schooling.

The culture and traditions were similar in Guam, but the area where they lived was still fairly primitive. When her mother married an American from Rocheport, Nelly and her family — including her grandmother — relocated to Columbia, home to cows, pizza and long stretches of highway.
Columbia was sensory overload for Nelly. She barely spoke English, and even though she could read the language, it didn’t always make sense. Nursery rhymes about cows jumping over moons and a dish running away with the spoon baffled her. School presented a much larger challenge.
“My stepfather spoke English, so I understood exactly what the other students were saying about me, even though they didn’t realize it,” says Nelly, who grew up speaking Palauan. “I just didn’t know how to respond. There were some days when I didn’t want to go to school. I was lonely and frustrated.”
Because of her poor language skills, she was placed in remedial classes that didn’t challenge her. Her stepfather declared that the entire family would only speak English at home for an entire year to help smooth out Nelly’s transition; he insisted that the school test her writing, rather than speaking, skills and place her in regular classes.
“The next year, eighth grade, I was fine and spoke fluent English,” she says. “By ninth grade, I was taking honors English classes.

“My mother missed the island weather and was going to move us to Florida but said she didn’t want me to go through this again,” Nelly continues. “She had such strength. Yes, she gave me up as a child, but she also did all she could to give me opportunities.”
But Nelly’s mother continued to feel homesick. At 16, Nelly graduated from high school and moved back to Guam with her family. She enrolled in the University of Guam and graduated with an accounting degree. Feeling drawn back to Columbia, Nelly returned to Columbia along with her mother and grandmother.
“They loved Columbia for me,” she says. “My grandmother embraced what I embraced.”
After moving back to Missouri and getting married, Nelly became pregnant and immediately faced a monumentally difficult decision: Would she follow family tradition and give her child to her mother to raise? Or would she break away from the culture and risk offending her mother and family?

“I expected throughout my pregnancy that I’d let my mother raise my child; I mourned it,” she remembers. “But once cheap viagra tablets I held that baby boy in my arms, there was no way I could go through with it.”

Keeping her son Robbie created much internal turmoil for Nelly. Raising her own child seemed to make sense, but her whole life she had been taught differently. Going against her family was frightening and led to awkward interactions.
“In retrospect, I know I did the right thing, but I broke a lot of cultural rules,” Nelly says. “It was heartbreaking for my mother and hard for me. I was viewed as selfish, as not being a good mother.”
When Nelly’s marriage fell apart, leading to a divorce, her mother again pleaded with her to adopt Robbie. Being a single parent would be difficult; her mother was offering her an easier path. But Nelly refused.

“My mother wanted the best for me, and she felt that the culture was what was best for me,” Nelly says. “After going through that, I have more forgiveness in my heart for those who did give up their child. My perspective of my mother giving me up went from ‘How could you?’ to ‘You are so strong.’ I know my mother loved me. She followed the culture, and I didn’t. But I have no judgment in my heart for my mother or resentment. It was tough for her to go with the culture, and it was equally tough for me to go against it.”
Despite Nelly’s rebelliousness, her grandmother and mother helped care for Robbie and worked past their hurt feelings. Nelly later married J. Michael Roach, who adopted Robbie (now a pre-med student at Azusa Pacific University), and together they have two more children, Mikala, 16, and Garrett, 10.

In keeping with her culture, Nelly and Michael took care of her elderly grandmother for seven years until she was diagnosed with dementia. An uncle convinced Nelly that putting her grandmother in a local nursing home would be the best option and allow her to receive around-the-clock care. Today, Nelly and her family maintain a strong relationship with her grandmother and her mother, who now lives in Kansas City.

Finding her entrepreneurial spirit

Columbia presented Nelly with the challenges of a lifetime. But on the other side of those struggles, Columbia had the opportunities of a lifetime, waiting for her to grab them.

In 1994, “just as the Internet was rearing its awesome head,” Nelly got her career start in the communications software sector through a job with DataStorm Technologies. There, she met her now-husband Michael, who was ahead of his time in his thinking that the Internet was going to be a powerful marketing tool. In 1999, Nelly and Michael opened their first Columbia advertising agency, IDP Group. The business originally was created to offer website marketing tools but soon grew to include branding, direct mail marketing and more.

During the early years of IDP Group, Nelly stayed home to raise Robbie, Mikala and Garrett but returned to the working world full time in 2005. Helping businesses creatively communicate with their clients came naturally to them both, but with the real estate crash of 2007, their business took a dive.

“It became obvious that we had made a lot of mistakes,” Nelly says. “I love to say that every journey has interruptions, but if you have tenacity and perseverance, you can weather your way through it.”

While finishing up projects for their six remaining clients, the Roaches joined Rotary as a way to give back to the community. Through their Rotary involvement, business began asking for their marketing help. In 2008, they rebooted and opened a new marketing agency called Caledon Virtual with Nelly as executive director and Michael as the creative director. Their previous business failure fueled them to do things differently without dampening their entrepreneurial spirit.

“Being an entrepreneur allows you the freedom and flexibility to do the things in your mind, to be deliberate and intentional in your actions,” Nelly says. “To put me in a cubicle or box somewhere would not be good for anyone.”
To meet the growing demand for social media management and search engine optimization, the Roaches along with partners Tom and Kim Trabue formed a sister company called KimberMedia. Nelly says what sets Caledon Virtual and KimberMedia apart from their competitors is their proactive customer service.
“We are crazy about our clients being successful,” she says, admitting that her competitors probably say the same thing. “On a weekly basis, we pick a client and look at how we can help solve whatever problem they’re encountering. We have a lot of startup companies, individuals who come up with incredible concepts and ideas but need help. We sit in a room with them, talk about their audience and the relationship they want to have with their audience, and then we implement our plan. When you walk a journey like that with someone, what happens is incredible. Rooting for them keeps me motivating. I’m always wondering, ‘What is it today that I can do to accelerate your success?’”

Although her workload at Caledon Virtual and KimberMedia can get overwhelming and distracting, family remains of utmost importance to Nelly. Awake between 4 and 5 a.m., she gets to work by 6:30 a.m. and often doesn’t leave until 6:30 p.m. After that, she returns home to have dinner with her family and resumes her work once her kids are asleep. But if Monday through Friday is a sweaty marathon for Nelly, the weekend is a nice, cool water break. She won’t meet with clients on Saturdays or give up her family time on Sundays. The weekend is her time to re-energize and focus on her children.

“For me, it’s not a balancing act,” she says. “For those who say they have found a life balance, I want them to bottle that up in a jar, and I’d pay a lot of money for it. I don’t try to achieve an unrealistic balance; I try to set priorities. I have a very strong faith, which is the platform from which my priorities come.”
So aside from her family, what are Nelly’s future priorities? Recently, Sean Spence became a new partner at Caledon Virtual, which will allow the agency to offer new products and services and hopefully catapult it to the next level. They’re also expanding their office space on Corona Road. Like all entrepreneurs, Nelly and Michael hope to see continued growth and profitability in their businesses and perhaps open another company.

“We also want to make a difference in the world, to change it and insert ourselves in the community,” Nelly says. “America and Columbia have given me opportunities beyond my beliefs and beyond the beliefs of my grandmother and mother. My grandmother always stressed to me how important it is to give back.”

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