Leah Ackerman

Meet Leah. She left a corporate marketing job to get lost, full-time, in a cause she really cares about.

Tell us about your childhood. I had the typical Ames, Iowa childhood: I was a part of the gang of neighborhood kids that bounced around from house to house on bikes, played sports, and spent days inside with my Barbies, learning boy band dance choreography and eventually, graduated to AOL Messenger right before cell phones became a thing. My mother struggled with mental illness, so there was always a village of people around me-- family members and others that acted as family-- to provide some sense of stability. Looking back, I attribute a lot of my success to the opportunities afforded to me by these folks, which included exposure to politics and service/volunteerism among many other things. Breaking a cycle of abuse and mental illness is possible with the right resources.

What was your first job? My first official gig was a sales associate position at T.Galaxy, a collegiate apparel and custom screenprint and embroidery shop. I learned customer service, sales and account management skills beginning at age 14; little did I know at the time that this would be the foundation for the career I have now. For five years, I had a blast merchandising, building a clientele of Cyclone fans and local celebrities, and helping folks come up with their custom apparel ideas. The shop is no longer open, but I have many fond memories and stay in contact with a handful of my coworkers even now.

"Des Moines was my backyard as a kid."

Why do you call Des Moines home? Des Moines was my backyard as a kid. It's where we went to shop, go to concerts and out to eat for special occasions. So, in a sense, it's always been home to me. Growing up, it was always the dream to move to a bigger city because "nothing happens in Iowa" (eyeroll). Once I started traveling as an adult, I began to evaluate each place I visited and I really couldn't see myself living there. (I mean, traffic... what's that?) Especially in light of the recent development boom here in town, I'm super proud to be here and get a kick out of visitors who are pleasantly surprised at how far our little city has come. If it's good enough for Drake (the rapper) to visit, it's good enough for me!

If you could write the Des Moines area a mission statement what would it be? I think Raygun said it best, "Des Moines: here to exceed your alreadylow expectations." This city is full of little surprises: city amenities with a hometown sense of community.

"That's right, I get paid to go to girls' nights!"

What’s currently keeping you busy? I recently left a corporate marketing gig to take my direct sales business full-time (with a little freelance marketing on the side) and I've never had more fun at work EVER. I hustle all day doing behind-the-scenes work like bookkeeping, marketing, and customer care. And, in the evenings, it's show time! This is where my gig differs from most: I spend my evenings and weekends going into my clients' homes to teach them and their girlfriends how to enhance their relationships, either with themselves or a partner , all the while giggling, gossiping and learning about sexual health . That's right, I get paid to go to girls' nights! Pinch me, is this real life ? :)  Additionally, I do my best to maintain my community involvement in such causes as Community Youth Concepts and more recently, Des Moines Girl Gang's Red Alert DSM project. 

Tell us more about the DSM Girl Gang. We love what they are doing and feel more people need to know. DSM Girl Gang is a community of local women in creative fields that network, share resources and support each other in our endeavors. I became involved when the call for help was made for organizing the Red Alert DSM project, and have been involved mostly in that capacity. (Although, I'm also active in the Facebook group which is the epicenter of activity.) I can really only speak to the philanthropic activities of the group. Red Alert DSM was an overwhelming success; we were goaled at 25k items collected and broke 50k. (We all cried counting tampons, it was really a sight to be seen!) We plan to make this an annual drive and continue to accept monetary donations here

Other activities include art shows and meet-ups around town, clothing swaps, and classes on various topics. Our Facebook group is a great sounding board for those spreading the word about their talents or business, or seeking advice or recommendations from others. It has always had a tone of "girl power" but even more so after the recent presidential election.

Walk us through your typical weekend? Daytime is spent with loved ones, and exploring Des Moines (farmers markets, restaurants, shops, scenic views... ya know, the cliche stuff.) and traveling when I can. I recently started to make a concerted effort to learn how to relax during down time, and I'm getting really good at these DVR and Netflix things. My health has become a top priority within the last couple of years after learning of some underlying issues, so I've overhauled my diet and spend a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting with my old favorites such as how to make mac n' cheese gluten- and dairy-free. (One of the great mysteries of my world.) 

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure? Bravo TV; I'm gunning to be a Real Housewife of Des Moines.  

"Just go for it."

From one maker to another what is your tip or advice? Just go for it. I spent years juggling multiple gigs because I didn't have the faith in myself to make it on my own. Crazy schedules, constant switching of gears and a primary job that doesn't make you happy take HUGE tolls on your psyche as well as your relationships. To those who have a passion elsewhere: get a plan to together, make sure your ducks are in a row and DO IT. Don't wait. It was single-handedly the best decision I have ever made for myself; I feel like a completely different person... and this person is a badass. 

Who is someone you admire that others may know in the Des Moines area and why do admire them? Jeremy Weiss is not only one of my dearest friends, he is my mentor, inspiration and voice of reason here in Des Moines. His passion for service is bar none, and it inspires me to serve others when I can because, it isn't just the right thing to do for the community, it's also good for your soul. There have been times where he has worked several gigs simultaneously all the while serving on several nonprofit boards and STILL had time to see loved ones. He's living proof that there's no reason why you can't give a little of your time to help others.

"Get lost in a cause you care about."

Convince us to visit one of your favorite places in the Des Moines area. This is the hardest question yet -- there are so many to choose from! A friend once showed me the Shattering Silence monument on the Capitol Grounds and it has become my go-to place to think, zen out and get some fresh air. It's high enough above the East Village that it's super peaceful; it doesn't feel like you're in the city at all except for the best view of the skyline in town. It's great for picnics, sledding or taking pictures. Beyond being beautiful, it is meaningful and makes for a quick history lesson as well. And, did I mention that it's free? Sold!

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? Another tough one! In light of recent events, I wish for Des Moines more kindness, selflessness, compassion, hope -- just over all more "kum ba yah". Now, more than ever, is the time to get lost in a cause you care about. Service is a game-changer. 

Derek Jensen