Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
Whether you’re a natural-born entrepreneur, a fearless dreamer in an all-out pursuit of your next adventure or someone who’s just now uncovering their true passion, there’s no doubt natural curiosity plays a big role in your life.
Paying attention to what piques your curiosity is one of the most powerful ways to discover your passions. Just ask American Family Insurance agency owner Melissa Allen, whose childhood curiosity led her to an early entrepreneurial endeavor of selling fun-size candy to raise money for Mother’s Day gifts for her mother and grandmother, and whose continued curiosity has helped her fulfill many dreams.
“An entrepreneurial spirit has always been a part of who I am,” Melissa says. “I began working when I was about 10 years old. I worked in retail, sold newspapers on the streets, delivered newspapers door-to-door, babysat, made smoothies, did office work — the list goes on.”
Keep reading to learn how Melissa turns her natural curiosity into entrepreneurial opportunities — and how she balances pursuing her dreams with parenting three children and giving back to her community.
“One thing that is important to me is following my passions,” Melissa shares. “When life presents itself and when something sparks an interest, I go with it. I follow what I call ‘spiritual nudges.’”
That philosophy is especially evident in her career path. “Some would call my career path interesting; others would call it crazy,” Melissa laughs. Her resume includes Wisconsin state corrections officer; entertainment assistant with the Milwaukee Brewers™; real estate developer; licensed therapist; adjunct professor for Marquette University and Alverno College; and most recently, American Family agency owner (Opens in a new tab).
Melissa realized early that sometimes when you’re pursuing one dream, another one presents itself. “When I was getting my college degree in broadcasting, I often took the bus to and from my classes,” Melissa explains. “On my regular bus route, there was a corrections sergeant for Milwaukee County. Through our conversations and some research, I was encouraged to become a corrections officer with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections when I was 18.”
The job inspired Melissa to double major in Broadcasting and Criminology & Law Studies at Marquette University. While finishing her broadcasting degree, she worked as a corrections officer and interned at WTMJ 620, a Milwaukee radio station, where she often worked at festivals and sporting events, including ones involving the Brewers.™
“Through the internship, I met the Brewers’ head of entertainment, who offered me a job as an entertainment assistant,” Melissa says. “Life presented itself, and I went with it.”
Melissa’s experience is a powerful reminder that being open to people and experiences can help you discover your passion and inspire your inner dreamer.
Melissa served in both positions for several years, until her curiosity about a program offered by her college alma mater, Marquette University, led her down a new path — real estate. “Marquette offered a 25-week program that was developed to help diversify the field of commercial real estate through networking, training and placement,” Melissa says. “That program exposed me to the world of real estate.” From that experience, a new entrepreneurial dream took root — Melissa decided to create her own real estate development company.
That dream became Maures Development Group, LLC, one of the first for-profit, minority and woman-owned real estate development firms in Wisconsin. “We build quality, affordable housing in urban communities and create spaces and places that generate beauty and pride,” Melissa shares. “Our guiding philosophy is ‘Leveraging bricks and mortar to bring pride and hope to people.’”
Achieving that dream took a lot of hard work, and Melissa encountered plenty of challenges. But in true entrepreneurial fashion, she didn’t let those challenges phase her or derail her dream. Instead, they made her dig a little deeper.
“I felt that because I was a young, female, Black entrepreneur entering an industry that predominately consists of older white males, I needed to differentiate myself and add credibility, so I went back to school for my MBA at Marquette,” Melissa said.
After earning her master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) in 2011, Melissa decided to fulfill her personal dream of helping young people in the Milwaukee community who had experienced trauma, including survivors of childhood and adult sexual assault. She returned to school yet again and earned a master’s degree in community psychology and licensed professional counseling with trauma certification in 2019. “With this degree, I wasn’t trying to impress anyone or build credibility,” Melissa says. “It’s something I’m passionate about.”
Melissa’s path reveals an important lesson — there’s no limit to how many dreams you pursue and when. You never know when the opportunity to fulfill a dream will present itself, and that’s why being open to possibilities can be so rewarding.
Melissa’s professional counseling degree is naturally compatible with her passion for community involvement, which led her to create two organizations: Cultivating Urban Plan and Economic Development (CUPED) and Evelyn’s Circle, which partners with Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin.
CUPED is a nonprofit organization that promotes and protects traditional urban neighborhoods through physical, economic and social transformation. It supports young people by providing them with a path for change and leverages support to stabilize neighborhoods through the built environment. “It’s an opportunity to support the Milwaukee community,” she shares. “Having a philanthropic organization where organizations can donate helps stabilize the city.”
Evelyn’s Circle is more personal. When her daughter Evelyn was two months old, she was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. She received her first blood transfusion when she was 7 months old. She needed 22 blood transfusions during the first two years of her life.
“At the time, I had no appreciation of what it meant to get a blood transfusion,” Melissa shares. “But my curiosity led me to ask questions and educate myself on what it meant to be a blood donor and how to host blood drives. Evelyn’s Circle supports annual blood drives and occasional bone marrow donor registrations through the national donor network Be the Match. It’s a way of paying it forward in the community because my daughter probably wouldn’t be alive without blood donations.”
Melissa balances achieving her dreams with raising Evelyn, now 7, and her brothers, D’Angell, 19; and Gabriel, 17; which brings its own set of challenges, as anyone who pursues dreams while raising a family knows.
As her sons entered their teen years, Melissa dreamed of having a business in which her family could be involved. Through her research, Melissa realized agency ownership with American Family Insurance matched her skillset and desire to serve others. “Insurance is very personal,” Melissa says. “You meet people where they’re at in life and try to help them decipher their needs.”