By David Blanchette
Val Yazell has held a wide variety of positions throughout her career, from working as a telemarketer and kindergarten teacher to serving as the interim CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the director of the city of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. She’s also been a small business owner, and her company, Making Waves, has provided guidance to many other small, primarily female-owned businesses.
Yazell’s list of community involvement is extensive. She has held leadership roles with the Illinois Professional Women’s Council, Springfield Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, Illinois Women in Leadership, Women in Management and Memorial Medical Center’s Festival of Trees.
She is a recipient of the President’s Award from The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the Women of Achievement award from Women in Management and the Women of Influence award from Springfield Business Journal.
Where were you born and raised, and what was your first job?
I was born in Spokane, Washington; my dad was in the military. I was raised in Edwardsville and I went to SIU Edwardsville, where I got my teaching degree. My first job was a telemarketer. Maybe it prepared me for my career, because I’ve always liked engaging with people, and it helped me to make immediate connections with people.
Your first career was in education. What impact did that have on your life?
My degree was in education, so I got a job in Riverton and taught kindergarten for several years. I have always said that teaching was the best platform that you could ever have for building on your future career. Although I didn’t stay in education for very many years, I think that working with a variety of people and learning to communicate succinctly with others was a real bonus, and that’s what I learned from education.
It also gave me that drive to continually learn. I’m always interested in learning and pursuing something new.
In your work with the Chamber of Commerce, what have you noticed about what the city of Springfield does well, and what still needs work?
The one thing the city does very well, and has done for many years, is promote Lincoln and tourism.
I think Springfield really needs to work on marketing the community, how great our community and people are, and we need to sell our city to more industries. I don’t know that we’ve done a good job with that in the last 10 years. I think we need someone as a leader who is going to go out and sell our community for us.
I was a business owner, so I think the Chamber’s role in our community is vitally important, especially advocacy. We need someone to always be a watchdog for small businesses in the community.
You operate a consulting firm that helps small businesses. What is the most important piece of advice that you usually give to clients?
Trust themselves, trust their instincts. I’ve seen people whose dreams have been crushed by other individuals who don’t really know everything that’s going on. Do your research, do your homework, make sure you know what you are thinking about doing, but trust in yourself.
Do you see yourself as a role model for professional women?
I’ve done a lot of mentoring through the years. I especially love young women who are excited and want to pursue careers. They actually give me more than I can probably give them because they keep me on my toes, they keep me energized, they keep me questioning new things that are coming up.
You seem to constantly be involved in community service organizations and activities. Do you feel a compulsion to serve the community?
I wouldn’t call it a compulsion; I would call it a really strong desire. I have to have a real commitment to something, because I want to be able to give a piece of myself to that organization. If I see a need and think there’s something I can give to them, I am going to be there.
You have received a number of awards and recognitions for your career and your community service activities. What do those accolades mean to you?
I don’t do anything for an award or recognition. It’s more about joining in and collaborating with whomever has also received those awards. It means a lot to me to be in association with others who have received that similar award.
What advice would you give to young people today who are entering the workforce?
Follow your passion, follow your dreams. I always say I have never, ever, in all of my years had a job. I have always followed my dreams and passion. And when it was no longer a passion, I moved on to something else. Don’t settle for a job, do what you feel passionate about and what moves you.
What might people be surprised to learn about you?
I was an education consultant for Stedman Graham and worked with him for five or six years on some of his educational programs. I traveled with him and did some trainings for him. I also co-produced a CD with a local singer-songwriter. I booked the musicians in Nashville, and we produced a CD.
What can you share about your family?
The best accomplishment that I have, and my children always get irritated when I say this, are my three grandkids. I have three beautiful children, but man, those grandkids. I have three beautiful grandchildren who I get the opportunity to see as often as I can and they are the loves of my life.
What is your life philosophy?
Count your blessings every day. Every morning when I get up, I think of two or three things for which I’m grateful. Some mornings it’s only, ‘Oh gosh, this is a comfortable bed,’ but no matter what your circumstances – because I have experienced feast and famine – every day there is always something to be thankful for.
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