During National Black Business Month, Regions Bank is highlighting Black entrepreneurs and organizations like PeopleFund that are helping entrepreneurs build long-term success. Here, we spotlight a Texas small-business owner helping mothers and daughters strengthen their relationships and mental wellness. Learn more about Lacey Tezino’s unexpected path to entrepreneurship and how the Regions Foundation, a nonprofit funded primarily by Regions Bank, is elevating small-business owners like her.
“Why did it take a terminal illness for us to get there? Why weren’t we doing that already?”
These are the questions Lacey Tezino repeatedly asked herself during her mother’s end-of-life journey. The same questions that served as a catalyst behind her launching Passport Journeys, a small business helping others avoid a similar experience.
But before we get to the end of Tezino’s journey with her mom, we need to start at its beginning.
“My childhood was unique in that I was the only Black child in my school, my church,” Tezino said of her small-town upbringing in Southeast Texas. “I was adopted by a gay white man and raised by his parents.”
The man who adopted her passed away when she was just six. At 18, Tezino decided to search for her birth mother.
“I met my mom on Mother’s Day,” Tezino said.
Both women had experienced different aspects of anguish.
“I had resentment on my side for her giving me up; she had guilt on her side,” explained Tezino. “It was frustrating.”
They worked toward understanding the other’s perspectives – two steps forward, one step back during the nine years following their reconnection. Then came devastating news.
“She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer,” said Tezino. “It really woke us up that time was running out.”
The Road to Reconciliation
Tezino moved back to Texas from Qatar, where she’d been climbing the corporate ladder, to take care of her mom. Those initial days weren’t easy.
“There was resentment from her because of the chemotherapy’s harsh effects that led to arguments and underlying feelings,” Tezino recalled. “My mom told me, ‘I’m only doing the treatment for you.’ I also had moments of thinking, ‘How do I take care of someone who wouldn’t have taken care of me?’”
But the two began making the most of their remaining time through deep conversations.
“She wanted to be sure she had a legacy she could leave,” said Tezino. “She was very intentional about sharing stories with me. During her treatments, we leaned into our relationship needing work. When she lost her hair, I shaved my hair. It was us writing the story the way we wanted it to go.”
Those conversations planted a seed that didn’t bloom until after Tezino’s mom died in 2014. The next year, Tezino started conducting mother-daughter workshops and then creating a mother-daughter activity book she sold online.
Her experience as the I.T. director at a psychiatric hospital helped pave the way for her to launch Passport Journeys in 2022. It’s the first teletherapy app promoting intentional bonding, healing and growth between mothers and daughters.
Each mother-daughter duo works with a therapist assigned to their journey.
“I want therapists who have their own story with their mom or their daughter,” said Tezino.
The Path to PeopleFund
When Tezino began exploring ways to grow Passport Journeys, she turned to Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) PeopleFund for support. The organization empowers under-resourced Texas entrepreneurs through education and training programs, coaching and loans. The Regions Foundation has worked alongside PeopleFund for several years to help small businesses succeed.
Through PeopleFund’s coaching, Tezino met Anthony Lopez, a small-business specialist with the CDFI. Lopez immediately saw something special in Tezino and her business model.
“Lacey’s positivity and ‘never say quit’ attitude are strong attributes for a business owner,” said Lopez. “The services Passport Journey provides can shed some light for those who are going through the same dark journey Lacey did, maybe meaning the road won’t be so difficult for them. By sharing her experience and knowledge, Lacey is shining a light to inspire others.”
Tezino will tell you Lopez has certainly inspired her.
“Anthony is motivational; he’s reliable,” she said. “He listens; he really cares about me; he always sends great notes after our calls to share what we covered. And he gets me pumped up before I pitch my business to others.”
The services Passport Journey provides can shed some light for those who are going through the same dark journey Lacey did, maybe meaning the road won’t be so difficult for them.
Anthony Lopez, CDFI small-business specialist at PeopleFund
Tezino also received a $50,000 loan from PeopleFund to help with expanding Passport Journeys, which now has nine therapists serving mother-daughter duos.
In addition to growing her company, Tezino recently wrote a memoir called “Therapy After Mom Died.”
“I don’t think I properly grieved my mom until 2020 when I began my own teletherapy journey,” she said. “Our last year together was an interesting year, a beautiful year, a painful year. I want to build a business that urges other mother-daughter pairs to build a relationship that doesn’t require a terminal illness.”
It’s a journey Tezino never anticipated. The memories are still painful at times. But the seeds that were sown are still blooming – making relationships brighter for other daughters and mothers whose journeys are far from over.
Capital: Launching A Springboard for Small Business Success
Similar to the mother-daughter relationships served by Passport Journeys, PeopleFund loan officer Cindy Urrutia will tell you each client she assists navigates their own small-business path as well. Urrutia, who worked with Lacey Tezino, shares more here.
“Starting a business is a sensitive time for any entrepreneur in understanding how much capital they need and how to best use it to succeed,” said Urrutia. “The most rewarding part of being a loan officer is having the opportunity to help my client’s idea become a reality! PeopleFund does that by helping small businesses bridge expenses like payroll or buying equipment and furniture to complete their new space.
“We’re here to help business owners start stress free. That matters because small businesses are essential to our communities in creating new jobs and contributing to economic growth.”
About the Regions Foundation
The Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact the communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.