Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette is a husband, a father, a native New Englander, and an entrepreneur. After creating and building several successful businesses, employing hundreds of people, Jeff today owns a child care center in Worcester County. He and his husband Julian are raising two beautiful children, Ashley and Rylan.
We weren’t wealthy, and we learned the value of hard work and commitment to family. We grew and canned food. Chores were part of our daily routine. We worked hard, but we had fun. I loved to ride my horse, Hotrod, across the field to my Memére’s house. We would play cards and talk for hours. I carry her wisdom with me every day.
When I was 15, our lives changed. Like far too many families, ours was shattered by the evil of sexual abuse. My mother was left to pick up the pieces, and despite unbelievable challenges, helped us to hold our heads high and always reach for our dreams. Thanks to that amazing woman, my brothers, sisters and I didn’t just survive; we grew to be strong and independent adults, raising our own families. Today, there is no greater joy than watching my mother’s face as she sees her five children and eighteen grandchildren thriving as loving members of a great family. It’s a legacy we are all honored to carry on.
At 16, I left school to begin working two jobs to support myself and help my mother and my siblings. With great mentors, by age 21, I was a general manager.
With $100 in the bank and a $5000 credit card, I started a pet grooming shop and pet store. In the first year, I made $48,000 in revenue. In five years, the company grew to $6,000,000 in revenue, seven locations, and 112 employees. At 29, I sold the company.
Throughout my life, I have witnessed and experienced the fundamental strength of the American people.
Before going back to work, I decided it was time to finish my high school education, and obtained my GED and began college at Becker University. I then went on to be a successful branch manager and loan officer in the banking industry.
I received a voicemail that a young lady in New Hampshire would be having a child within a few days, and if I was interested in adopting, please return the call. One week later, my daughter was born, but the law was just beginning to wrestle with the notion of gay adoption. My partner and I fought the governments of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts for 4 ½ years before successfully completing Ashley’s adoption.
That fight taught me I wanted to help deserving others to more easily adopt -- and show my daughter that she not only stole my heart, but that I would fight for every family struggling like we did.
My partner at the time and I both held demanding jobs, and were each working every other day because we could not find childcare. We later learned the agency we were using was not passing our application to childcare centers or private day cares. They believed no one would be comfortable watching a child with two fathers. Finally, after eight long months, the operator of one of the agency’s centers asked at a meeting if there were any families waiting for childcare. She had vacancies in her home day care. The representative of the agency proceeded to tell her, and the group, that she did have one family, but hadn’t passed it on for eight months, believing no one would be interested. Kim – the woman with the opening -- was outraged. She watched Ashley for the next 2 ½ years, and Ashley lovingly called her Nana Kim.
About that same time, my entrepreneurial instincts kicked in, and I went back into business for myself. First, I bought a pizza restaurant, but soon realized the hundred-hour work weeks didn’t allow the time I wanted to be a father to a young child. We sold the restaurant, and I turned my attention to the childcare business.
Getting into professional childcare was not out of desire, but came from a call to action. Despite there being no compliance issues, government bureaucrats -- during an election year of course -- decided to make an example of a 44-year-old family-owned child care business. I stepped in, and after five years, was successful in restoring the reputation of the family, and their ownership of the childcare center.
Ashley finished preschool and kindergarten and went off to first grade. I soon took over two more childcare centers. Shortly after, a sagging economy began hitting childcare centers – just as it was hitting everyone else. Parents needed ways to cut costs, and holding centers together became more difficult.
My partner Julian and I decided no teacher would face a layoff. We ran the business from 7 a.m. to 2:00 pm every day… and then left to work at Chipotle for $10 an hour, allowing us to bring in enough income to keep our household running, while securing our teachers’ jobs. Our employees responded with not just gratitude, but a lot of hard work. Together, we brought enrollment up and secured the business without ever laying off a teacher.
But the challenges of making a business successful were nothing compared to those I faced as a father.
In the midst of all this, we received another wonderful phone call telling us of a child in need of a loving family. That phone call led to us gaining an amazing son. Born addicted to heroin, he spent the first 3 years of his life fighting just to live. Every breath was a challenge, but he fought hard. Today, Rylan is a wonderful little boy who loves to be outdoors, play baseball and swim with all the other kids – without a breathing machine or being pumped full of steroids. Our family seems to thrive on challenges, and our newest addition is no exception.
Like millions of other immigrants, gaining his legal status was a challenge – a challenge he met after great bureaucratic wrestling. And also like far too many immigrants, his status was a license for abuse by employers.
At the restaurant where he worked, he was required to punch out at 40 hours and then work the next 20 for tips only. It’s a story familiar to a great many immigrants.
Rather than sit by and watch this exploitation, I bought another restaurant, where Julian had the opportunity to be treated with respect, and the opportunity to treat his employees the way he wished he had been treated. We kept our head above water for three years, but when road and bridge construction blocked the entrance to our restaurant, our revenues dropped by half, leaving us no choice but to close.
Closing that restaurant was hard, but it’s wasn’t the first time I’ve been knocked down. Like millions of other small business owners, I just got back up and started again. I went to work for Toyota as a sales manager. For 3 ½ years I battled back, often working seventy hours per week, Julian and I built our childcare center into an amazing program with one hundred percent enrollment, and a two-year waitlist.
As my mother had taught me to hold my head high, and that drive and determination will bring you through the toughest of times.
I thank the Lord every night when I go to bed, and each morning upon waking, that I learned those lessons.
Never did I dream that sexual and child abuse would touch my life again, but it did. My daughter Ashley was sexually assaulted. No parents should ever have to watch the court system tear their child apart for years, continually having to relive videos, read interviews and police statements to prepare for court, only to have the court date postponed time after time. Five times, in fact, over 2 ½ years. Ashley had to be hospitalized on three different occasions. I felt like a failure as my daughter suffered from PTSD and depression --and attempted suicide. As any parent would, I tried to help, but I couldn’t take away what was done to her, and I couldn’t speed up the proceedings.
Finally, after years of watching her suffer, I watched in tears, full of pride, as she read her victim impact statement to the court. She told the perpetrator what he had done and how he altered her life forever. She made clear how the court system had failed her and how the system forced her on a daily basis to continue to relive her horror over and over again. She moved the judge in such a way that he called her back into the courtroom after it was over. He explained that he was proud of her, and he sincerely hoped she would honor her pledge to take back control of her life… and hopefully one day put the horror behind her.
My family, coworkers, employer, and community stood strong at our sides as we rebuilt our lives, and helped a young girl feel secure again. Through it all, there was no crying victim. Only the determination of a survivor and those who love her.
Every person we meet on the sidewalk or who serves us in a restaurant has a story, whether it be one of a single mother struggling to make ends meet, an immigrant trying to find his or her way in this land of opportunity – and challenge, or that family sitting in the next pew at Church.
Somehow, they have been forgotten in the insanity that our government in Washington, DC, has become. I have succeeded in my life – and I have fallen down on occasion. I’m not a professional politican. I am a father, a husband, a businessman.
But I’m also a fighter. I’ve had to be.
When I see a mother with her children and lines of worry on her face, I see MY mother. When I see an immigrant working in a restaurant, I see someone I know. And when I see a business owner working 20-hour days, I get it. I’ve been there.
None of those folks need a voice – they have bought and paid for their voices in Washington. I want to fight for those, as I have been, who simply want a fair shake and the opportunity to live their lives, take care of their families, and pursue their dreams
My life is about determination and hard work. Nothing magic. Nothing mysterious. Just one foot in front of the other. I will fight with everything I have to restore America’s faith in our government, secure the future for our children, and stop the politicians from stealing the American dream and breaking the back of the American taxpayer. I’m asking to go to Washington to fight to do what is right for the people of Massachusetts. Together we can rebuild the American dream, stop the politics of division, and restore freedom and opportunity as real American values.