Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a long-lasting disease that can affect your brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in your eyes. If you have MS, your immune system attacks a fatty material called myelin, which wraps around your nerve fibers to protect them. As of now, there is no known cause and no cure. To have this disease and try to go about your life is an extremely difficult task, and a task that business owner Gina Mullis is no stranger to. When Gina received the MS diagnosis at the end of 2014, though devastated, she did not let this news defeat her.
The following year, Gina started her very own business, Amerie, right here in Evansville. This store and everything that Gina does is truly inspirational.
Before Gina received the MS diagnosis, she was a middle school and high school English teacher. She chose this line of work because of her love of people and her desire to help others. However, with MS, two factors that worsen the disease are heat and stress. Gina knew she would have to leave teaching to help lessen her stress. She quit teaching and began to brainstorm how she could continue to help others, but also work a job where she could create her own hours and cater to her needs depending on how she felt each day.
Gina decided she would start her own business – that would answer the issue of flexibility. But, she still had the desire to do something that would help others. She started to reflect on her journey with MS. “So many people donated money to help with my medical bills. 80 percent of donations came from people I didn't even know. That played a big part in me realizing that people are good. There’s a lot of bad happening in the world, but people are good,” says Gina.
That’s when she knew she wanted to have the same impact with her business. She decided that everything sold at her store should be able to give back in some way – whether through donations or through selling ethical brands that are eco friendly, fair trade, or proceeds go to specific organizations. In three years, Amerie has raised more than $40,000 for the different organizations it supports.
Running Amerie has been no simple task for Gina. On top of managing her diagnosis, Gina runs the store primarily on her own. And while some months the sales are great, some months sales aren’t so great. However, Gina’s determination overcomes the hardships. “It’s been hard but I just keep looking at the big picture. Amerie is truly making an impact, and I know that it will grow and succeed. I just have to be patient,” says Gina.
The impact is substantial. Several of the brands sold at Amerie employ those who wouldn’t otherwise have opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families. For Gina, one of the biggest highlights of running her business is getting to meet and work with the people whose lives are being impacted by the purchases made in the store. She also loves educating the customers who come to Amerie and have no idea about the purpose behind the store or what it means to shop from ethical brands.
If you think Gina can’t get anymore inspiring, think again. In addition to running Amerie, Gina has recently opened a non-profit – Tri-State Soroptimist. Soroptimist is an international organization that works to provide empowerment and leadership opportunities for at risk women and girls. “Soroptimist invited me to be a keynote speaker at their awards gala in Indiana. I hadn’t heard of them prior to the invitation, but once I found out what they were doing I got so excited. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do through Amerie. So I partnered with them to start this local chapter here in Evansville,” says Gina.
While Gina’s efforts help people all over the world, it’s clear she carries Evansville in her heart. As a member of the chamber of commerce, she’s had the opportunity to connect with and support hundreds of other small and local business owners. “It’s motivational, it’s inspiring, and I love to have that support from others who know what it’s like to own a business and can really get behind me. It’s made me more passionate about helping within the community and trying to provide a positive experience for people in the community,” says Gina.
Seriously, Gina Mullis is a wonder woman. The way she has turned a devastating diagnosis into a lifestyle of giving is something not to be taken lightly. As unique as she is, Gina insists that this is something anyone in her situation could do.
“When you’re first diagnosed with a disorder like MS, all you can think of is the negative. You’ll think, I’m never going to be able to do this or that again. What am I going to do? You go into panic mode. “If I could share my story with other people going through what I go through, it would be that you learn how to live with the disease and it really isn't as hard to adapt to a new situation as it seems at first,” says Gina. “Now, is it hard every day? Yes. But I don’t even remember what life was like before. I am a stronger person from it. So yes, you learn how to adapt and do those things you wanted to do and you CAN overcome. You just might have to do it in a different way.”
The best part about stories like Gina’s is how they inspire us to be better and do better. When you shop at a local business, you're strengthening your local economy. And in this case, you’re also making a difference in the life of someone like Gina and the people Amerie benefits. Download Towny to keep in touch with how to muscle up Evansville (in-app perks await you!). Be the change, one purchase at a time.