The Power of Connection

By Anna Stracey

Latrice Freeman has mastered the art of keeping herself busy yet balanced, and she does it by honoring the connections she makes in all aspects of her life.

A native of the small town of Amory, Miss., Latrice has two young children with husband Brian, and they live happily as a blended family of five. Latrice has dedicated her career and life choices to helping others. She received her bachelor’s degree in education psychology from Mississippi State University and began her career as a case manager, linking low-income youth and families to community resources that provide a support system and help youth stay on track to achieve their goals.

Latrice has researched and used different strategies for decreasing negative behaviors in at-risk youth, helping them strengthen their family structure. She also earned a master’s degree in psychology, became a therapist and started working at Community Counseling Services as a transitional adviser, counseling youth to help them live more productive lives.

She is now the agency’s System of Care project director, managing administrative responsibilities while helping staff work with the youth and families they serve, giving them techniques and strategies best suited for each situation as it arises.

Connection is the key to her success. The most challenging part of her job at Community Counseling Services, she explained, is not only connecting with youth and families, but reaching coworkers and staff members as well: “We have different people from different races and different ethnic groups, different personalities and experiences, so I think it’s really just being able to connect with them on different levels.”

Finding common ground and those invaluable connections–and keeping them strong–allow her to lead her team and create a happy, productive workplace. The same is true for the youth and families her work benefits. “In regard to youth and family, I think it’s really just meeting them where they are and helping them achieve their goals–being able to put myself in their shoes,” she said.

“It’s very rewarding when I meet kids later on in life and see that they’ve accomplished their goal. So, to me, seeing a child five years later and they say, ‘Hey Ms. Latrice! I’m doing good. I’m working. I’m attending college.’ – that’s very rewarding.”

Dedicating your career to helping others can be mentally draining, but the rewards outweigh all else. “I think what keeps me in this field is the gift of helping others,” Latrice said of her work at Community Counseling Services. “When it comes to empowering others, I enjoy being that person someone can go to. I think of it like this: Giving help to others doesn’t diminish your own light, it makes it shine brighter. We are all in this thing called life, and at times, we can face many challenges and just having that person you can go and talk to, or that person you can lean on, makes a difference. Having a strong support system is important.”

Latrice has created a personal support system, drawing from all parts of her life. At work she finds inspiration in the youth she and her fellow System of Care staff members serve, but at home she finds peace, connection and support in her family, her friends and her faith in God: “I’m a very religious person, and so I love attending church and praying because I do believe in a higher being, God, and just having that faith and keeping that faith allow me to keep doing what I feel is my purpose, which is helping others.”

Helping others truly is her calling. Surrounding herself with those who share her values, she has developed invaluable friendships with other women in her community. “I have a lot of good friends, so I created this social organization called Southern Jewels,” Latrice said. Southern Jewels meets a need in these friends’ lives to travel and have fun together.

Soon though, she was guided to address the needs in her community of Amory: “At first we started out as a group of friends, and we would go out traveling and going to different areas—I think one of the first places we went to was New Orleans. Then after that I said, ‘Hey, since we’re from small-town Amory without many resources, why don’t we come together and create something that’s going to give back to our community?’ So we became a social organization where we pledged to give back. We started out having a back-to-school drive, then donating food for Thanksgiving and sponsoring families for Christmas.”

Since she already had a base of people with similar interests, why not push further and organize those friends into a socially impactful club? In the few years this band of friends has worked together, Southern Jewelshas positively impacted the lives of many people in her community. Latrice uses her amazing power of connection to help build new partnerships, working side-by-side with other organizations from the Junior Auxiliary to bikers clubs; together they provide the greatest good they can in Amory.

One would think being a mom and full-time project manager, heading a social club, and being active at her church was enough for her–not even close. Latrice recently took on a new challenge. This summer she opened Free’s 662 Boutique, a clothing and accessory boutique dedicated to helping women express themselves through fashion.

Opening a fashion boutique has been a lifelong dream, but it only became a reality in the last few months after a brainstorming session with her husband, Brian. “We were just sitting there talking,” she recalled, “and I said ‘What can I do? Is there something extra outside of me working that I’m supposed to do?’”

The conversation brought up her love for fashion and retail and the dream of owning a boutique. Instead of opening a storefront, she decided on an online store. “Brian said, ‘Why not an online boutique?’ And that was perfect. I liked that idea because a woman can shop from the privacy of her own home; you don’t have to go into a store and try to pick and choose what you like.”Free’s 662 Boutique is for busy women who may not have the time to go into a store but still want fashion-forward items that reflect their true style, she explained.

The store’s name is a reflection of her spirit and love for her community. “Free” is taken from her nickname, she said. “Free… that’s my personality; I like being authentic and genuine and not following the norms. I wear different things that maybe some other people wouldn’t wear. So in the past, I’ve had a lot of people calling me ‘Free.’ And 662 is the area code for my part of Mississippi.”

The boutique’s logo is also symbolic. “We came up with the logo–a butterfly–to symbolize all the different phases we go through in life, like the butterfly changes. It’s like someone changing into the person they want to be.”

This is her first time owning her own business. “I’m really going for it,” she said with excitement.

Like the metamorphosis symbolized by Free’s 662 Boutique’s butterfly logo, Latrice has had to make some changes to enter this new phase. Scheduling now takes on a new importance. “I’ve never been a planner,” she explained, “but now I find I have to plan things and schedule things. I get up early every morning to get things ready and look at the site, maybe post something on Facebook. Then from 8 to 5, I’m at Community Counseling and I concentrate on that. Then after 5, I have time to focus on the boutique again for an hour or so, then spend the rest of my time doing family things–spending time with my children, helping with homework–all those regular things you do as a mom.”

Free’s 662 gives the customer a personal experience where she can find unique articles of clothing and accessories that speak to her personality: “” It’s not just a clothing shop, it’s a place to go to find clothing that reflects your personality and how you feel on the inside.

Looking at the site, you see and feel Latrice’s spirit and individuality. “Everyone should feel free when buying their clothes and accessories” is written in a flowing script beneath the bright-orange Monarch butterfly logo. Colorful dresses, flowery jumpsuits, and breezy, wide-leg pants abound. A luxurious burgundy velvet mini-dress is listed next to a long, button-down rainbow striped “dress of many colors” and a muted, mustard-colored pinafore style dress.

Latrice credits her strong support system for inspiring her to take on her dream to own a clothing boutique and making it real. Her faith, the Southern Jewelsand especially her husband gave her the boost to make her dream a reality.

Latrice emphasizes the power of connection when you are working with others, whether face-to-face or online. She draws a parallel between her two jobs: “[Owning the boutique] is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I loveretail! I love helping people find things that are for them and providing customer service and everything that goes with that.”

The experience has left her feeling empowered. “I’ve not always been someone to follow through with things,” she said, “and with this I’ve followed through. I’ve stayed with it, and I’ve put in a lot of hard work creating the logo and looking for the items for the boutique, so it’s empowering to know that this is my own and this is something that I started and created myself.”

Offering advice to other women who want to follow their passion but might not know if they can, Latrice emphasizes the importance of making connections and growing your support system: “Most of all, I would say it can be done and the positive vibes you put out there in the universe , you’ll get that same reaction back to you. It can be done with a little hard work and dedication, but if it’s your purpose, you just need to put your time in it and go from there.”

But “remember,” she said, “we are really all in it together. There’s something that I heard before: ‘We have two hands, one for ourselves and the other to help someone else.’”

Whether through her life-changing work at Community Counseling Service or as a mom, a friend, community leader and boutique owner, helping others is truly Latrice Freeman’s calling. Finding joy and meaning in her work has allowed her to spread her philosophy of uplifting those around her into all corners of her life.

Latrice is a radiant example of how living life with passion, balance and connection can allow amazing things to happen.

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