WOMEN IN BUSINESS PROFILES 2016

debraDebra Neely

From secretary to business leader

My first adult working experience began in my mid-to-late 20s, working as a secretary for a law firm. We were preparing for trial. My boss approached me saying, “We need this or that, and I need you to put it together.” I started asking him, “Why that? What will this do for our clients?” He looked at me and said, “Obviously you care about the start, not just the finish. You should be a part of my team, go to law school or be my paralegal.”

Law school was enticing, but not realistic as a single mom, so I obtained my paralegal certification. Thereafter, I transitioned to a freelance paralegal, having the privilege of working with Phoenix law firms, APS and the Attorney General’s office.

In 1986 I met my husband, Chuck. We married in 1988, relocated our family to Pinal County and I took a paralegal position in Casa Grande. With a third daughter added to our family, the time challenge for motherhood and full-time work grew, as it does for many women. I was offered a position as an insurance agent for a company in Casa Grande. That company is what we call a “captive company.” You could only offer that company’s products. While that affiliation gave me a stronghold in the insurance industry, it also had limitations. One product didn’t always fit my client’s needs and I was working on building a business owned by that company, not by me.

I left that company to start my own agency. I wanted a Southwestern name for my agency. In certain cultures, a “kiva” is a safe house or community service gathering place. That’s the vision I had for my agency, so I began Kiva Insurance – an independent agency writing with multiple companies.

Women in business – I’m just one of millions. Women are intuitively caregivers, nurturing and circle their wagons for what they love and care about most. With insurance products, we help people protect what they spend a lifetime putting together – their homes, businesses and families, and I get to meet great new people all the time. We have a fabulous staff – all women – who share that concept, and I have partnered with my daughter, Melissa, for the future service of the agency to this community.


paulaPaula Leslie

A lady in a man’s world

I’m 51 years old. You’d think all of life’s mysteries would be answered by now. But every week, I learn something new. One thing that hasn’t changed are the looks and comments received when people learn that I am an active female boss in a predominately male industry. There should be a balance between being “one of the guys,” so you fit in and your male peers feel comfortable talking shop with you, while still maintaining the “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy” femininity that I believe is an important character trait in business. You can get lost on either side of that spectrum – too much of being one of the boys and you lose respect, but too much of being a girl and you never gain the respect. I think it helps that I’ve only had brothers and sons, so my female influence was limited to a very independent woman I call “Mom,” and another very independent woman I called, “Grandma.” Grandma was widowed at age 56. Mom was widowed at 51. I divorced at 47. I don’t state those facts to make it seem like a woman doesn’t need a man. I state them to let you know that I come from strong woman stock – women who valued the man in their lives, but wasn’t defined by him, and women who overcame obstacles in life to forge their own paths. Most days, I feel like I fall short, in comparison to the two generations before me. And now I am the leader of two more generations – my two sons (along with their dad), who help me run the business, and my very smart, full-of-spunk 7-year-old granddaughter. Days that she spends in the office, you can find her shredding papers, banging on the ten key or engineering some masterpiece building model from leftover scrap material at the yard. Most of my balance in life, I draw from those three people. People have different definitions of success. But when I look at those three, I need no other interpretation.


tinaTina G. Cates

Follow your dreams

Editors Note: Tina has shot many events and covers for Golden Corridor LIVING Magazine. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for all your hard work and efforts. We greatly appreciate your talents!

Tina Cates opened Elegance N Images Photography Studio in early October, 2014 after many years of working from her humble CG home. Her passion for photography is eclipsed only by her love for God and her children. Her unique work can be seen in numerous websites and publications across Arizona.

But her story did not start out as colorful as many of her vivid photographs. A checkered past can be a challenge to overcome, especially when you are raising five children as a single parent. Many years of paying her dues and paying for her mistakes has made Tina a strong, independent and successful woman.

Tina’s photography career started out with a bit of twist. Although Tina has always had an enthusiasm for photography, her first professional camera was purchased with the soul intent of capturing her daughter’s tackle football games. She never missed a game…or a shot, for that matter and by the end of the season, Tina and her camera were inseparable. Many players’ parents wanted to purchase some of the action shots and she was asked to be the team’s photographer for the next season. It was this moment that she first thought of turning her passion into her career.

Struggling to make ends meet but determined to make a better life for her children, she took a huge gamble and started her first photo-based business called Full of Grace Fogtography. It was in this early endeavor that she honed her craft and learned everything NOT to do when it comes to running a home-based photography studio.

On Oct. 4th 2014 Tina opened a designer portrait studio with new found exhilaration for her art. Elegance N Images has been an amazing chapter in her career and has opened up a world of possibilities. When asked what her inspiration is, she always replies, “ I want to make women feel as beautiful as I see them.” And that is what she does! Having a portrait taken is definitely not like department store photo sessions. It is an experience that is to be remembered, and the photos will be passed down from generation to generation.

And really, isn’t that the point? To capture a fleeting moment in time in hopes to live on in the memories of our loved ones.


cindyCindy Garcia

I am a native Arizonan who takes a great deal of pride in providing my clients with the customer service they deserve at the best possible pricing. I have over 25 years of insurance experience and look forward to working with business owners and individuals to find insurance solutions for their everyday needs. No matter what your insurance necessities are, I can help you find a solution. Please give me a call to discuss a comprehensive review of your insurance.


ireneIrene Rayrao

I was born in Casa Grande and grew up in Eloy. I am a veteran who served in the United States Marine Corps for four years. Semper Fi! I have been in the insurance industry for about 13 years.

Casa Grande has changed and grown over the years but has maintained that hometown atmosphere. I’d like to think I have contributed in a small way by assisting new and existing customers with their insurance needs. Though many of my clients are local, I also offer coverage anywhere in the state of Arizona. I look forward to meeting and assisting you.


pattyPatty Messer

Patty Messer moved to Casa Grande in summer 2014 with a grand vision of re-chartering a local school as the Grande Innovation Academy. As the executive director, she is devoted to growing their program and tailoring it to the needs of their Casa Grande scholars. This growth includes the addition of another building so the school can expand its primary education to offer a complete K – 8th grade experience. Likewise, Mrs. Messer has adapted the program to include the Path-to-Potential, a program for gifted scholars. Mrs. Messer has 27 years of experience in the field of education as a teacher, academic coach, gifted education coordinator, curriculum coordinator and principal. As a two-year resident of Casa Grande, she has built many community partnerships and serves on the Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee. She regularly attends service organization meetings as a guest speaker and creates many opportunities for the community to access the school through the Fab Lab, Community Garden, yoga classes and volunteerism.