MIGHTY 25: From Top Chef to nonprofits, Lauren Hope’s calling is serving others
From a Chef, Real Estate Agent, business owner to Executive Director of the Second Service Foundation, Lauren Hope believes every role and challenge has led her to exactly where she’s supposed to be.
Serving military families, every single day.
“I firmly believe in giving a hand up and not a hand out to those who put their life on the line for the American Dream. As an active-duty military spouse, I have been supporting the military from a personal standpoint for over 17 years. I live this life, and I am intimately aware of the commitment and sacrifices that service members and their families make,” she explained. “At some point along the way, my personal passion for serving the military community became my professional pursuit. I know those serving in and alongside the military are uniquely qualified to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems because we have been taught to do hard things well.”
But before she was named the Executive Director of Second Service Foundation in 2022, her big dream was to become a chef.
“I had an Easy Bake oven at 5 years old and all I ever wanted to do was become a chef one day,” she laughed.
Hope did it, graduating at the top of her class at The Culinary Institute of America and was named Best Student Chef by Food and Wine Magazine.
“As a professional in the culinary world, I worked at the Ritz Carlton, organized the Certified Master Chef exam and commanded a 4-star, 5-diamond restaurant as the Sous Chef of the historic Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel,” she shared. “I also competed against over 20,000 applicants to land a spot as a contestant on Top Chef.”
While doing all that, she met her husband – a cadet at the United States Military Academy. After they married and the Army began moving them, Hope had to trade her chef coat for a Panera apron as a shift manager.
“You do what you have to and I wasn’t above anything,” she added.
As the moves kept adding up and her two boys joined the family, Hope was looking for a way to work in a way that was meaningful. Hope Design Ltd. was born from a need to build her own employment when there weren’t opportunities that fit the needs of military life. Then, she started employing military spouses, too.
“What started as a hobby became an Etsy store, and eventually a brand,” she said.
Hope was named the Armed Forces Insurance’s United States Military Academy Spouse of the Year in 2017 and Fort Leavenworth Spouse of the Year in 2019 for her advocacy efforts.
Despite being incredibly busy with her business, board positions, and commitment to mentoring career seekers with Hiring Our Heroes, she added real estate agent to her resume in 2021.
“ADHD is my superpower,” Hope laughed.
She was at the 2022 Military Influencer Conference when she had a chance encounter with Second Service Foundation Founder and Chairman, Mark Rockefeller. Their talk led to him offering her the position of Executive Director. She hit the ground running.
“At the beginning of my tenure at Second Service Foundation, I took command of a blank canvas. Rebranding from the StreetShares Foundation, the nonprofit was at a tipping point, poised for growth. I formulated blinders for our mission to ensure we stay focused exclusively on what we do well,” she explained. “We are cultivating the American dream for military businesses. As a private 501(c)3 foundation, we aim to inspire, educate and support veterans, military spouses and Gold Star Families as they grow their enterprise. We provide coaching, capital and resources, as well as an innovative mentorship program to support entrepreneurs in scaling from startup to the stars.”
Hope expressed excitement for the future, indicating that SSF is building a platform for entrepreneurs and business owners to access capital. The nonprofit is also launching a brand-new podcast in 2024, Military American Dream.
“I have learned that people get into entrepreneurship for one of two reasons. They want to or they have to. They may have arrived at entrepreneurship through a pain point. They hurt enough that they have to. No matter how people arrive at their role as an entrepreneur, our foundation is here to foster growth,” she shared. “At Second Service Foundation, our goal is to inspire entrepreneurs and show them what is possible. We educate them so that they want to do it, and we support them with resources so that they are able to do it.”
The future is bright for Hope but people would be surprised to learn of the challenges she faced over the years to get there.
“I was a terrible public speaker in high school. After crying in the corner at the beginning of the year over it, I became the "Most Improved student" by the end of the year. Now I speak all the time and relish the chance to talk to people about the things I’m passionate about. I also played hockey during high school and college, all because I didn’t get picked for the cheerleading team. I was the only girl on the hockey team,” she said. “The shift in mindset taught me to not fear imminent undesirable experiences but to dig in and embrace the suck as those very experiences are a necessary part of my journey.”
As for what she’d say to people looking for their purpose, it was direct.
“Thank you to military spouse Charlene Miseli for teaching me how to set healthy expectations of myself. In the military lifestyle, we lack balance and self-care is easy to disregard. ‘Pick your doughnuts’ means that there will always be opportunities and things to do. Like a dozen doughnuts, they will all be tempting and sound amazing,” Hope said. “Also like a dozen doughnuts, if you try to take on all of the opportunities, you will find yourself sick to your stomach. Pick only a couple of doughnuts that mean the most to you and own them.”You can learn more about Second Service Foundation and this MIGHTY milspouse here.