Scholarship Finalist: Brandon Garnaat

From “American dream” to reality

Owning a small business isn’t for everyone. There is a reason it’s merely a distant “dream” for most people. Although owning a small business provides both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, it involves a large amount of risk and sacrifice. Often, a small business is grown out of one’s interests or specific skills, making the business not just a job but also a passion. One unique business that applies these aspects is Homeschool Performing Arts, which is a theater company that provides home-schooled students with an opportunity to participate in music and theater. My dad started Homeschool Performing Arts (HPA) in 1997 as a side business because homeschoolers were not provided with the same recreational, athletic, or academic opportunities as conventional students. What my dad started as a small drama class is now recognized in west Michigan for performing quality productions. Watching my dad build our small family business has shaped who I am today by strengthening my leadership abilities, teaching me various life skills, and showing me the importance of a good work ethic.

By being in the musicals and plays not only did I gain lifelong friendships, but I was also able to develop leadership skills. Often times I would speak to the whole cast and share a brief devotional or Bible verse. Being one of the older students, I was able to step up by encouraging and coaching my fellow cast members. It also taught me responsibility and how to set a good example. Being the son of the director, I was held to a higher standard. One thing I both love and hate about my father is that he never lets me settle. I love it because he’s always pushing me to be the best I can be and he never lets me be “normal” or average. He inspires me to always use wisdom and never compromise my beliefs. Over the years I have come to greatly respect my dad for this, and being able to work with him so often has helped me mature. This has had a big impact in my life as I have been able to use these leadership skills in other aspects, such as being varsity basketball captain and a leader with the youth band at church.

I remember being a young child and being coaxed onto the makeshift stage before running into the arms of the beautiful princess. At four years old, I wasn’t Prince Charming. Instead, I was the lovable Gumdrop Dragon. Yes, my theater debut was as the star of a 20-minute play called “The Gumdrop Dragon.” Not surprisingly, my public speaking skills have evolved as a result of my acting history, which is a trait that has proved itself valuable time after time. As an athlete by nature, music and theater have helped broaden my horizons. HPA has likewise been building upon its humble roots and now wows audiences by brilliantly performing stories like Peter Pan, It’s A Wonderful Life, Beauty and the Beast, and Titanic the Musical. By involving over 400 students every year, HPA has created robust communities in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing, and yet the three together feel like one big family. I’ve realized that this sense of family or community is what makes a small business thrive.

Faith in God coupled with hard work has been HPA’s recipe for success, and these qualities have been passed down through generations in my family. The perseverance of my great grandfather, for example, resulted in many businesses over the years, including a frozen food company, a real estate agency, and a car dealership. His entrepreneurial spirit has inspired his children and grandchildren to start their own business ventures. I am glad that through HPA, my family took the opportunity to instill these important character traits in me, as well make me a well-rounded individual. Unfortunately, rather than develop a good work ethic, some teenagers have a sense of entitlement. Work is always hard, but when you’re the owner, accountant, human resource department, and chief of public relations it adds further stress. Any small business owner will tell you that it takes tremendous commitment and hard work to overcome these obstacles.

Spending time with my dad is yet another positive outcome of HPA. My three siblings and I have all been involved with HPA, and being under the direction of dad is fun and challenging. We also get to spend a lot of time with him as he works from home. Because of all of this, we have been able to get a behind-the-scenes look at the business. We have seen the busy non-stop seasons as well as the slow seasons. We have seen the dedication and long hours it takes to run a small business, as well as the stressful meetings and 4 a.m. bedtimes. At the same time, though, we have seen that hard work pays off.  I am proud to say that my dad followed a God-given dream, invested his life into a business, and is now succeeding.

I am glad I was able to be a part of my family’s small business journey because it has taught me important lessons, including having high standards, cooperating with others, and being a hard worker. As a result of the hard work and dedication, a small business owner is often synonymous with their business because they are so intertwined. By saying HPA has shaped me, I’m really saying that my dad has shaped me. Brad Garnaat has been able to touch the lives of many through his business, and this is one reason I am proud to call him Dad. He has shaped me into who I am today by forcing me out of my comfort zone and coaching me through difficult choices, but at the same time allowing me to take risks and face consequences. I’ve come to learn that this is a process small businesses go through every day. He proved that I too can turn my dreams into reality.

This essay was written by Brandon Garnaat, one of 10 finalists for the Small Business Success Student Scholarship Program. Brandon and the other finalists were selected from more than 500 applications reviewed by the Scholarship Committee. Three of the finalists will win a $1,500 scholarship to be used toward furthering their education. To vote for Brandon or any of the other finalists, visit the Small Business Success Student Scholarship voting app on Facebook.

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