Her birth mother abandoned her when she was just six months old. For Rhonda Sciortino, her only companions during childhood were poverty, despair and abuse. Declared a ward of the state, she was left in the foster care of her grandparents. It only gets worse though, because her grandfather suffered from severe mental illness and her grandmother was a hopeless alcoholic. Yet, despite such horrors, she has gone on to found two successful companies, become a noted author and an influential inspirational speaker.
Staying positive and making her escape
Rhoda lived in a rundown and dilapidated house that was little more than a shack. Her grandparents were continually abusive and rarely was there any money in the house. When Rhonda was eight, the shack caught fire and burned to the ground. She was now homeless as well. She remembers how painfully embarrassing her young life was, arriving in school broke and unwashed with her hair in a tangled mess.
The young girl’s wardrobe consisted of one stained, wrinkled sundress and dollar store flip flops which she wore for months on end.
Year after year life dragged on with little hope of ever getting better. However, it was also during these tragic years of initial despair that she began to formulate an attitude that would help her escape and eventually achieve happiness. Her uncompromising attitude was to stay positive, continue forward, and make things happen.
The future had to be better.
She began making her future at the age of 15, when she read that legal emancipation would allow even a minor to achieve freedom from dreadful foster care. Frightened and alone, Rhonda managed to make her way to the county courthouse in the hopes of speaking to a judge. She did not realize that that the catch 22 law required the minor to appear with a responsible adult or a social worker.
She took a seat on a bench and waited. And waited… And waited…
Finally, after many hours, someone agreed to see her. The sympatric officer of the court took the time to write out a list of requirements she needed to become legally emancipated. The major hurdle was having a job. She was fifteen and thought “Who would hire me?” She remained undaunted, not allowing rejections to stop her. Finally, the owner of an insurance company decided to take a chance on her. It was the only job offer she had ever received and she took it.
Rhonda knew nothing about insurance but was hungry to soak up everything that her new boss taught her about the industry. One of the first things she learned deeply shocked her. It was that a common homeowners policy would have provided her with money to buy food and clothing and even assisted in rebuilding her grandparents’ house.
This discovery was a career eye opener for her.
She was a good student and worked hard, soon becoming indispensable in the agency. Rhonda earned respect by being upbeat and cheerful despite being short for rent or even food. Her circumstances were not easy, but the prospect of a better future was a constant incentive.
The scrappy entrepreneur begins to emerge and thrive
Soon Rhonda decided to take the state insurance exams. At 17, however, she was still one year short of the minimum legal age requirement. Undeterred, she pressed her case until the insurance commissioner finally agreed. Passing the exam at the tender age of seventeen, she became the youngest licensed insurance professional in California.
Her future had begun.
After ten years of hands on, practical experience, Rhoda ventured out on her own, starting her own retail company, Human Services Insurance. Combining her knowledge of insurance with her passion for abandoned and unwanted children, she broke new ground in the industry. From her own experiences, she knew the horrors of being hungry and homeless but had learned that insurance can provide a safety net from many perils. Human Services was dedicated to providing insurance only for organizations and individuals that care for abandoned and abused children.
Rhoda had found her niche market.
After seven years, she sold Human Services and founded Child Welfare Insurance Services, focusing on the wholesale side of the industry. Child Welfare empowered local insurance agents to assist child welfare organizations and advocates in their own hometowns. Eventually, Rhonda sold out to Markel Insurance where today she is the Child Welfare Specialist helping people and organizations coast to coast manage the challenges of children with backgrounds similar to hers.
Her book From Welfare to Millionaire: Succeed Because Of What You’ve Been Through and her nationwide heart-warming speaking tours have inspired many child welfare organizations. Her uplifting focus is of course on staying positive, becoming indispensable, and imparting practical guidelines for success to those who are most in need of knowledge, hope, and encouragement.
And she has become a millionaire in the process.
A recent blog entry pretty much sums up her outlook:
“We can change the world by helping people measure intangible wealth rather than material things that deteriorate, that depreciate, or that can be stolen from us. But before we can change anyone, we have to change ourselves. It starts with the way we value the material things in our life. The way to take our focus off the things in our lives is to share them with others…”