One woman’s passion created an opportunity to infuse a new energy into the Beech Grove business scene
By Jeremy Dunn
Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” If this holds true, the Beech Grove Chamber of Commerce is set to do some amazing things under the leadership of its new executive director, Renee Harlor, whose passion for helping others has made some major impacts in central Indiana.
A taste of Hoosier Hospitality, Harlor, a native of Upstate New York, was working in the hospitality industry in Vermont when she had the opportunity to relocate to Indianapolis in 2006 to work with a local hotel. “I immediately fell in love with the Indianapolis culture,” she said. “The cost of living was incredibly reasonable and the people were so nice. It was a place I definitely wanted to be.” However, Harlor’s passion for helping others extended beyond people as she began to seek opportunities to volunteer with animal shelters in the area.
A friendship that made a difference
The inspired hotel hospitality worker began giving much of her spare time to volunteering with local animal shelters and rescues. Through her work with these organizations, Harlor realized a need for an animal center in Hendricks County and a new dream was born. However, it was not until she found a friendship while volunteering that her dream began to take shape.
“I met Cherie Fox, who was also volunteering at an animal rescue. A few years later, both of us happened to be at a park and ran into each other,” Harlor said. “For a long time, I had been drafting plans to start something like this. Cherie has extensive knowledge of the animal part of things. I had the business knowledge. We basically said, ‘let’s fill the void in this county’ and we did it.” By 2011, Harlor and Fox founded Misty Eyes, a Brownsburg animal center focused on providing pet ownership education, medical needs, and adoption opportunities for domesticated pets.
Misty Eyes operates as a 501c3 charitable organization, which means that it is non-government funded and all funds are derived from personal and corporate contributions, fundraisers and grants. As her passion project continued to grow, Harlor remained in the hotel industry, volunteering all her own time in the evenings and on the weekends to Misty Eyes. In 2016, she stepped away from her hospitality position and spent the next six months volunteering with her organization full time.
Growing a shared vision
Currently, this Hendricks County animal center runs primarily as an administrative building, outsourcing many services through local vets and volunteers. Harlor and Fox share a vision to complete a five-building site to continue rehabilitating and re-homing dogs and cats in need and to provide pet ownership education classes. Misty Eyes recently completed phase one of this building plan and credits much of its success to the passion and support of its volunteers.
“It is successful because we have a tremendous team of volunteers,” Harlor said. “We are currently at a 100 percent volunteer rate and stick to the plan, run it like a business and do not incur debt. We developed a plan, began holding volunteer meetings, began attending every community event we could and we have never looked back.”
In 2017, the Misty Eyes’ founder decided to take her business background and what she had learned from starting a charitable organization and open Maddie’s Sandwich Shop. However, after a year, Harlor closed the shop and was feeling pulled by her passion for helping others once again. “I had wanted to find something that was doing good for people and that I would enjoy,” she said. A search on a Charitable Advisors website led her to an opportunity with the Beech Grove Chamber of Commerce. Before she knew it, Harlor was interviewing to be the group’s next executive director. “I am a member of several chambers and I have often said I thought that position would be something I would love to do. I love being involved in the community and love anything related to business,” she said.
Only a few weeks into the job and the Misty Eyes visionary is already impressed. “Beech Grove is a fantastic community. I would love to see businesses succeed and come to the area. I have met several business owners and I will say every one of them is remarkable. There is a lot of support between businesses and I really like that. I think there is always room for growth and I would like to be a part of that,” Harlor said.
Harlor has already began meeting with chamber members and is excited about the possibilities in this historic community. “To me, it is about how the businesses, community leaders, not for profit groups and residents work together. When you have a community that supports one another everyone benefits. The chamber has the ability to help with this and to me that is the best part of my job. I love going to work,” she said.
If there is one thing that Harlor has demonstrated, it is that following your passion can inspire others and create positive change. As Misty Eyes continues to grow and make an impact in Hendricks County and beyond, its founder is already brainstorming ways to make an impact in Beech Grove. Fueled by her passion for helping others and building community, there is little doubt that she is the perfect person for the job.
Getting to know Renee Harlor
I am the oldest of four and I am married. My dogs are like my kids.
What can you tell us about your dogs?
Misty is my Golden Retriever mix. She will turn 16 this year. Macy is my lab mix, and she is 10.
What is your favorite book?
What is your favorite television show?
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
I listen to almost everything. My favorite is probably anything from the 60s.
I enjoy “live” anything: comedy, plays, music, sporting events, etc. Also, volunteering, home improvement projects and spending time with friends.
What do you love most about Beech Grove community?
I love the Main Street area, where you can walk along cute shops and eateries and people are friendly and welcoming. I love the pride that I see people have in this community.