2022 Success Stories: Christine Williams
May 9, 2022
Christine Williams always had the vision and desire to become an entrepreneur. Life just kept getting in the way.
Finally, after working long hours as the general manager at a local Taco Bell while pregnant with her second child, life suddenly gave her an opportunity.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March of 2020, forcing her store to close, she took the opportunity to reset mentally and refocus on her education. The 31-year-old Providence, RI, resident always dreamt of owning her own business, and enrolling at the Community College of Rhode Island allowed her to pursue that dream on her own terms.
Two years later, Williams is graduating with her associate degree in Business, completing a journey that included her own brush with COVID, a head-first dive into entrepreneurship, and inspiration from a professor who never stopped believing she could achieve greatness. She will continue her studies next fall through CCRI’s Affordable Business & Leadership Education (ABLE) Initiative, a transfer agreement with Nichols College.
“I knew that if I stayed where I was, I’d never be able to move forward or build a comfortable life for myself or my children,” said Williams, who graduates next week with High Honors as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and CCRI’s Collegiate DECA president.
“I wanted more. I wanted financial security. In order to do that, I knew I needed a degree, and CCRI was the perfect choice. I could not have asked for a better school.”
Born in Massachusetts, Williams grew up in South Carolina, where she struggled in high school amidst distractions at home. At 19, she earned her GED and moved back north to attend Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, but life outside of school continued to pull her in different directions; she left after only a few months to enter the workforce.
With her dreams of entrepreneurship temporarily on hold, Williams worked her way up the ladder in retail, earning management experience at popular retail chains such as Claire’s and Rainbow Shops, lifestyle brands that target teens and young women.
Over the next decade, she absorbed useful business expertise from co-workers, supervisors, and entrepreneurs, which gave her the confidence to begin the framework for her own business, Chrisspy Clean LLC, a full-service cleaning company. With a degree still in her crosshairs, Williams took the next step by enrolling at CCRI in January of 2020, a few months shy of the pandemic, and officially launched her business shortly thereafter.
“Getting a degree was always the goal for me,” she said. “I wanted to be the first in my family to do that.”
Working full time, running her own business, attending college, and taking care of her then 7-year-old daughter while pregnant with her son was a lot to balance, but Williams got an unexpected reprieve when the pandemic brought most industries to a screeching halt.
With more time to focus on her studies, Williams thrived at CCRI. She formed an immediate bond with Accounting and Management professor Joanne Orabone, who encouraged Williams to put her business savvy to use through Collegiate DECA.
“She has a way of captivating and motivating you,” Williams said of Orabone. “She pushes you. At first, I didn’t believe in myself coming back to college at my age, but she did – and that gave me the validation I needed.”
Everything was falling into place for Williams until May of 2020 when she contracted COVID-19 more than halfway through her pregnancy. With prior health concerns, most notably asthma, Williams spent two weeks in the hospital toward the end of the Spring 2020 semester.
Orabone urged Williams to focus on her health, not her studies, but Williams pressed on, completing as much course work as she could during her recovery despite days where she struggled to get out of bed.
“I just said to myself, ‘Keep pushing,’” Williams said. “It was challenging, but I had come this far and I really wanted to keep the momentum I had built. I didn’t want to give up. I thought if I did, I might not come back to the same environment or have the same opportunity to succeed.
“I had points in my life when I wasn’t as motivated. I didn’t always have that drive,” she continued. “When you have a purpose and you have goals and everything is finally lining up, it pushes you to continue despite whatever’s standing in your way. I wasn’t going to disrupt that momentum.”
Reenergized following her bout with COVID, Williams continued to soar. She participated in the virtual 2021 Northeast Regional DECA Competition and finished first overall in both the exam and case study in the Restaurant and Food Service Management competition. This past April, she earned an Executive Level Individual Leadership Passport Award and placed third in the country in her Restaurant & Food Service Management case study presentation at the 2022 International Career Development Conference (ICDC). As a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society for two-year colleges, she maintained a 3.70 GPA at CCRI.
But nothing made her prouder than setting the right example for her daughter, who she hopes will one day grow to realize the only limitations in life are the ones set in your own mind.
“She sees what I’m accomplishing and she knows she can do it, too,” Williams said. “CCRI went above and beyond in helping me build that confidence, from the engagement of the professors to the flexibility of my schedule.”