Debbi and Rick Sands’ lives are busy and fulfilling with a dose of fun thrown in to keep things interesting. Their jobs suit their interests and abilities.
Married for 37 years, the affable couple raised and launched two kids.
The Sandses are a good example of people who have the confidence — and faith — to make mid-life career shifts. They’ve parlayed past jobs, current goals and an ongoing optimism into lives that work not only for themselves but for others, too.
BREAD AND MORE
Rick Sands is the kind of guy who doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. He gives off a mellow vibe that’s both unexpected and appealing — a vintage Volkswagen bus-owning sort of guy. In fact, he did have one, but sold it awhile back.
Rick and his wife, Debbi, own Great Harvest Bread Company in Stow in Summit County. Both worked hard to grow the popular franchise bakery into a must-visit stop for local bread lovers. These days, Rick is likely to be the one floating between the front counter and the ovens, offering up conversation and bread to customers. Baking bread and being a small business owner seems like a long way from his years working in warehouses and running forklifts.
Debbi, with an accounting and bookkeeping background, manages the bakery’s finances. More than a decade ago she transitioned away from daily bakery operations to focus on her own midlife career change: working as a Christian counselor.
Anyone who needs a nudge to make a mid-life job or career change would do well to take a lesson from the Sandses. They’ve been open to opportunities, willing to take risks and determined to make their work reach beyond the borders of Summit County.
Debbi grew up in Mentor and graduated from Lakeland Community College with an associate degree in business the same year she married Rick. Seven years later, she earned an accounting degree from Kent State University. She stayed home with their children and worked part time, managing the tricky work-family balance.
A Mansfield native, Rick worked in retail for eight years, eventually moving to Cleveland where he met Debbi. Throughout the early ’80s, he had jobs at a warehousing and distribution company, eventually landing a position with Lincoln Electric, known for its generous profit-sharing employee bonuses.
“From a really young age, I always wanted to own my own business, and I knew if I managed my money and bonuses it could happen,” Rick says.
Around the time he was celebrating his 10th anniversary with Lincoln, Rick and Debbi heard about Great Harvest Bread Company. They liked its philosophy encouraging owners to create bakeries that reflect their personalities, serve their communities and produce healthy, tasty bread. Fun is important, too. It was a business custom-made for the Sandses.
In 1998, Rick left Lincoln Electric. A year later, the Sandses were in the bread business.
Debbi worked side by side with Rick at the bakery for several years. Then she, too, shifted direction. “I had a calling from God to be a Christian counselor,” Debbi explains. “I thought, ‘What do you really like to do?’ For years I loved teaching and leading through our church and volunteering through outreach programs to care for others. I felt like there was something else for me do.”
With their children raised, the timing was right. Debbi enrolled at Ashland Theological Seminary, a graduate division of Ashland University. She earned a master’s degree in clinical pastoral counseling and is a state-licensed counselor who does both faith-based and non-denominational counseling. She works fulltime for DaySpring Counseling.
A MISSION IN HAITI
While Debbi was switching careers, Rick made changes, too. Great Harvest is a hands-off franchise that works much like a co-op. The Sandses have not only created a business that reflects their personalities but also one that echoes their values. Rick has worked with local culinary students, given untold bakery tours and mentored bakery owners throughout the country just getting into the business.
Through their church, Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, the Sandses heard about a group that wanted to build a business of some sort in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, to support a school and adjoining clinic. A bakery could serve multiple purposes in the impoverished community by providing badly needed jobs and vocational training, and by making and selling an in-demand food staple. The goal was to have enough profit to eventually support a 2,400-child lunch program, a round-the-clock clinic and a school.
The Sandses went to Haiti in 2010 and discovered their job experiences — in warehousing, accounting and running a bakery, to name a few — could be put to good use. They placed a collection jar in the bakery, got publicity from a local newspaper and talked about the project to anyone who would listen. Money started trickling in with the support of loyal customers and community members. Within two years, they raised $150,000 to equip the bakery. It opened just over three years ago.
The Sandses are helping establish five other bakeries in Haiti through Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Canton.
They discovered a need, fulfilled a calling and were reminded again and again that no job is ever wasted. They encourage others to be open to whatever work presents itself. Like the seasons of life, job changes — whether planned or not — can bring unexpected opportunities.
“Find something that you’re passionate about and that you like to do,” Rick says. “Everybody has something they can offer someone else to make this world a better place.”
Adds Debbi, “God uses everything in your life. Nothing gets wasted. Don’t be afraid to dream, to brainstorm and to be open to the next step.”