Born in Georgetown, Guyana in South America, Norma Clark (Maloney) was destined for something big – though she didn’t know it. She never knew that one day she would be a thriving entrepreneur with a popular energy bar and with a dream for creating a "Dream Center."
Her father Eustace was a rent collector for a housing project and her mother Mildred was a seamstress. Norma grew up poor watching her mother work hard and come up with ideas to make ends meet. This would be part of the foundation in which Norma’s dream was fashioned. Having a hardworking, resourceful mother who became a business woman was certainly ingrained in Norma.
Mildred Clark had worked at a shirt factory but soon began her own business at home as a seamstress.
“She knew how to take one yard of material and make two dresses. She was a good businessperson. We were very poor and she had to find ways of providing,” Norma says.
“Our school was around the corner and my sister and I would have to come home at lunch time and our mother would have two thermos’ waiting for us. One had custard ice cubes and the other one we called ‘Fruities’ which were Kool-Aid ice cubes. My sister and I would come home, grab the thermos’ take it to the school yard, sell it off, take the money back home and go back to school - that was our routine.”
Norma never thought of business herself - she hated sewing. She liked when her mother made her clothes but she never wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a seamstress “She dressed us alike and we also had uniforms – we didn’t look poor, my mother made sure of that. She worked hard. My dad was there, but I don’t have good memories of my dad as a father that was there for us - he was strangely serious. I didn’t grow up in that loving home with a father hugging, playing with his kids - I have no memory of that. I was determined with my own children not to bring them up with how I was brought up. Even though I knew they loved us, they made sure we had everything we needed. My mom worked hard. She was awesome how she did everything for us and made sure we had everything.”
“The center piece of my life is being a Christian. We grew up in a home that had a “God awareness” but I just had a religion - no personal relationship with God. My dad went to a Jewish Orthodox church and mom went to the Anglican Church. That’s where we went, but sometimes went with my dad. We went every Sunday – that’s how I grew up,” Norma recalls.
She left Guyana in her mid-twenties. By this time, Norma was already married to her husband Ralston and had her two children with her. Ralston pursued his education in Manchester, England. After a year, they had moved to Canada. Norma’s mother in-law lived there, working as a maid and had sponsored her children one by one. “While we were in Manchester our visas came through to go to Canada. If we didn’t use it within a certain time we would have lost it and had to have gone through the whole process again,” Norma said. Her family lived there for 23 years.
Norma had worked in the Income Tax Department in Guyana and also worked as a bank teller. When she lived in Canada, she worked at the Bank of Nova Scotia. She had gone back to school and later worked for Parks Canada in their IT Department.
Norma and Ralston had never had plans to come to the United States, but the company that Ralston worked for was being bought out by another company in Houston. They had to make a decision for him to look for another job or go to Houston. They decided to move to Houston and would later obtain dual citizenship. “Our kids were grown so we just did it. We never had a desire to go back to Guyana, we had no family there. Dad died and mom was in Canada. We were happy in Canada and we were established there with friends and family,” Norma said.
After living in Houston for six years, Ralston’s company then got bought out by Olin, here in Chattanooga. Norma and Ralston have lived in Chattanooga for the last four years. With their son now in Canada with his family and their daughter in Japan with her family, Norma recalls a funny story when her children were small – a story that changed her views on religion.
“Once I left home in Guyana and went to England, I didn’t look for a church. We didn’t really go until we came back to Canada and our neighbors across the street had asked to pick up our kids to take them to Sunday School at Grace Chapel. The bus would come around and pick up the kids. One Sunday we had a snowstorm and the bus didn’t run so my husband got up and just put his jeans on over his pajamas thinking he would drop them off and come back home. I didn’t see him come back for a while – with the snowstorm, I got worried and I called the police to ask about any accidents. They said there was no record of accidents… I knew something was wrong because he didn’t clean himself up. He knew he was not getting out of the car – he wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. I called the church and they said he was “in church”! This made no sense. I couldn’t wait until he came home to find out what happened. They had coerced him to coming in the church when he had dropped the kids off. He told them he was not dressed for church – they said ‘here, you render your heart, not your garment.’ So he went in,” Norma laughs.
She continues, “All the children who brought a visitor would receive a special gift and during the service they asked that question ‘who brought a visitor?’ Our children were little and they wanted their gift so they excitedly raised their hands and now the visitor had to come forward and stand with the children as they welcomed the visitors,” Norma sings, “You are welcome here, you are welcome here…” as she claps demonstrating the Sunday ritual. “So he is standing up in front of the church with his pajamas hanging out of his jeans!” she chuckles. “This was our first encounter with going to church in Canada and I thought – this is not right how they have to lure us to get us into church…it was embarrassing to think that was what they had to do to get us to go to church,” Norma admits.
“Our kids were going and so we decided to start going. It was a Brethren Assembly Church. I started listening to what they were saying in church and they were talking like they know this God - personally. I have never heard a message in Guyana like this… the whole message of the gospel.
After 10 years of living in the States, Norma explains the differences, “Guyana is laid back with the tropical climate, sun so hot, foods are different… I ate a lot of fish growing up. Fish was a poor man’s food. It was the cheapest you could buy. You’d think I would be tired of fish but I could eat it every day. We lived right along the Atlantic Ocean and you could go down to the waterfront and get fresh fish coming in - fresh shrimp for 25 cents. If you wanted beef, you would go to the butcher and buy it – but that was for special occasions… and you would get chicken and whatever. And you could always get fresh fruit. I didn’t grow up with deserts- always fresh fruit. My mother baked bread and we made our own ice cream but everything was made from fresh fruit. We had our own garden and so we had fresh vegetables - everything was just fresh and you didn’t have all this processed food. You would just go out in the back yard and pick things off of the trees. And coming here- there is a lot of processed stuff…and fresh fish is expensive,” Norma moaned.
“Good food is not plentiful like we were used to – that is one thing I miss in Guyana is being able to get all the fresh fish and coconut water—and to see all the greenery and the water - it was just beautiful. You didn’t hear about a lot of people getting cancer – because we ate a lot of fresh foods and people would tend to live long. In Canada, I still chose to cook healthy… didn’t buy a lot of process stuff – I bought fresh whenever I could,” Norma insists.
How did LoAdebar come into the picture?
“Back in 1995, in Ontario where we were living, a neighbor encouraged us to get into cycling and she gave me a recipe to make my own energy bars to pack to take with us. It was nothing like what I use now – it was loaded with corn syrup. Almonds were the only nuts in it but I started messing with it and putting in what I liked and take out what I didn’t like. Everyone loved them. I loved making them and eating them. The recipe called for light corn syrup so I thought that meant it was healthier. I thought I was making it healthy, but all the things we know about corn syrup now we didn’t know back then. So I continued making it. I wasn’t interested in a business – the only business I got into was selling Avon for a few years. I think there was a business wanting to come out of me but I had enough of Avon (I was the one buying all the stuff from me!) but in 2006 – I went to Canada to visit my children. My daughter and her husband came back from an aerobic conference and she said, ‘Mom you need to make up your energy bars and sell them. This guy at that conference made some bars and was selling them… everyone was buying them. His bars don’t even compare to yours.’ When she said that – something inside me said ‘yes!’ I didn’t even stop to think about it,” Norma confirms.
She tells her story of how her business came about but also the purpose that was revealed to her. “Just three weeks after my daughter had talked to me about that, I was watching a program where a preacher was saying, ‘God has given somebody a business idea and God wants me to tell you that it is going to be so big that if He showed it to you now you wouldn’t be able to take it and I’m telling you take this word…’ - it was like she was speaking just to me. I received that. I was contemplating this and all of a sudden I had this encounter with the Lord… all of a sudden this voice I heard, audibly - as if you and I were talking – but it came from inside me. It just said ‘Lo-debar’… I said, ‘Lo-debar?’ and heard the voice say ‘yes’. I didn’t fully understand what just happened, it took me a few days to process it all but God spoke and was confirming this business…and giving me the name. I hadn’t even thought of a name,” Norma said.
In my quiet time that morning, I had actually read a portion of scripture in 2nd Samuel 9 about the story of Mephibosheth in a place called Lo-Debar. I even got out my Bible dictionary to find out what Lo-Debar meant. It was a place of no watering – no feeding, a dry barren place. So I read the passage and saw that and never thought anything more about it. I didn’t remember it until God had spoken to me what was leading up to all this and what had happened. When He first gave me the name, I thought it was a play on words… ‘loaded bar’ … or ‘load-e-bar’ for loaded ENERGY bar…. But over the course of the five years, God kept bringing me back to that story in second Samuel. Why? I am making energy bars but it is more than a business. God was the one doing this… He is only using me… God who created heaven and earth… came into my kitchen and invited me to be His business partner. He said, ‘I am doing something, but I need a body to work through’. He is doing this and I was not to lose sight of that fact. He is establishing this business - to establish a covenant. It took me five years to understand the heart of God and what He had in mind. I was pursuing a business. I didn’t know what He had in mind. I was Mephibosheth being led out of this dry barren place… He was putting me into a relationship with Him. He has the blueprint – He knows what He wants accomplished. I am just the instrument and every day I have to come before Him and listen to Him instruct me. Once I said yes to this – if I had not heard his voice, I would not be doing this. I know my own inabilities much less what is out there as you try to establish a website and you find so much crookedness out there – who wants to do business? But am I going to argue with Him? I knew it was a God thing.”
Norma continues, “God has something bigger than I could even imagine. What this is to result in is to have a Dream Center in this city. It’s a place that started in California where they bought an old abandoned hospital and they made it into a shelter. All the people living on the streets – they bring them into that place and begin connecting them to God. But first making sure they were clean, had food, a safe place and to get them off the streets. Then they establish a relationship to God. The A came into the Lo-debar name to put God in it. The A stands for Almighty God himself. How He wants us to enjoy the abundant life He came to give us through Jesus Christ. That was my experience,” Norma conveys.
“Even in the provision, the finances - hooking up with the right people God is providing everything. I see the hand of God putting everything together. There is a place right here in Chattanooga they call Tent City. We went there and took a picture… can you believe it? Behind the bushes, there are people living in tents like these,” she says as she displays a photograph of people in tents. “So we are praying for a Dream Center downtown.”
“I started this business in my home and got my kitchen certified to become a commercial kitchen. I went to the necessary courses. I wasn’t organic when I started, but I saw how the food industry was going. People wanted more organic because of so much controversy not knowing what they were getting. Ingredients had fancy names and it was junk with a nice name. My thing is ‘keep it simple’. Norma relates.
Someone told me that I should have the USDA certification. It is more expensive and so are the materials you buy – everything goes up when you go organic. I was concerned about it, - but now more people are wanting organic. I think it was a good decision. It is a lot of work – very labor intensive but I enjoy what I am doing. I do it all by myself… I did not want to turn this over to a contract manufacturer. I didn’t want to lose the home-made-ness of it – or turn it over to someone who would not have the heart of it. It was too precious, and that isn’t the focus. I couldn’t throw it out. When it got hard, God said, ‘don’t limit me’.
My next step will be transitioning into an automated system. I am looking into a tabletop floor wrap machine that will take the bar and seal it with pre-printed labels. Hand-sealing, stamping it… I would just feed through a conveyer and it will save a lot of time and labor. Demand is picking up. I make five trays of 45 bars in a day but the next day I have to cut and package them before I can make more. That is where labor is. I have to cut and weigh it all,” Norma notes.
She sells to the Village Market in Collegedale, Nutrition World on Lee Highway, Abundant Living in Cleveland, Northshore Yoga, Abba’s House and at Fit One Gym in Ooltewah. She is submitting to Wholefoods. “They are processing my vendor application. Once I get in there, I can get into the other 23 stores in the region,” Norma says.
“I will work health and nutrition expos. I sold bars in Knoxville and Nashville at expos. In September, I will be going gluten-free. Right now, I am preparing as whole foods is about to happen. The Lord says to prepare and He’ll fulfill it! To establish a Dream Center – not just one, but many…around the world is the vision Norma sees ahead.
“I expect LoAdebar going to the world. We started here and we are expanding. It will go out to the north, the south, the east and the west,” Norma says.
“God doesn’t do anything small… He didn’t come to just interrupt my day - He has something big in mind… so I am dreaming big!”
Visit website at http://www.loadebar.com/www