Stella Ogiale was 21 years old when she moved to the United States from Nigeria to attend college, and she had no intention of staying permanently. But after receiving a masters degree in public administration and finance from the University of the District of Columbia in 1987 and working for nonprofits in the nation's capital, she fell in love, got married, started a family, and moved to Seattle. The fairy tale didn't end happily ever after. In 1996 she separated from her husband, and suddenly it was time to go back to work. But Ogiale wasn't able to hold a normal 9-to-5 job because she needed to care for her five young children, especially her son Chester, who was born with autism. Never for a moment, she says, did she consider putting him in an institution.
"It kills the human spirit," she says of institutional life. It was her drive to keep Chester at home that gave her an idea--what if she could bring the amenities of the institution (medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and specialized physicians) to the patient at home? With a small loan from her sister, some birthday money, and the $100 a week she earned working nights at UPS, Ogiale founded Chesterfield Health Services in 1996 to give home care to mentally or physically disabled patients who would otherwise have to be institutionalized. She named the company, of course, after her daily inspiration: her son.
These days, the bubbly and passionate Ogiale has about 1,000 clients and has helped hundreds more stay out of institutions. It's work more commonly done (when it's done at all) by government agencies and nonprofits, but she claims she can help more people with a for-profit company because of her entrepreneurial efficiency. "Socio-capitalism" is what she calls it. "We can be humane and still make money," she says. Chesterfield is one of the fastest-growing minority-owned companies in Seattle (revenue last year came to $8 million), despite the fact that Ogiale keeps her margin below 5% so she can keep costs low for her customers, many of whom can't pay beyond what Medicaid will cover.
Chester is now 14 years old and is doing better than ever. "He goes to school, and he comes to church with me," Ogiale says. "Everyone loves him."--Bobbie Gossage
Bobbie Gossage is a staff writer.