Erin-Jo Luellen, Photographer

Erin-Jo Luellen’s fate as a military spouse was sealed at an early age, but she wouldn’t know it for many years to come. She and her husband met in Maine, when both of them were in the 5th grade! They didn’t begin dating until 2002, and then married in 2007. She and her husband moved to a town about an hour away from where they’d grown up. He got a job doing security at a hospital. She got a job at her friend’s home day-care while she took courses at the local college. It seemed, for a moment, that they were settling into their life there. 

Then came a night in 2010, while preparing for a date night, when her husband surprised Erin-Jo with the announcement he wanted to join the Coast Guard. The seed was planted by someone he knew in the Reserves, and then he enlisted! Erin-Jo stayed in Maine while he was in Boot Camp; the last bit of time she’d spend there before joining her husband on multiple moves around the country. 

Their first move was to Virginia Beach, where she initially worked as a hostess at a local restaurant. Then, the adjustments of military life started coming at her rapidly. She left her hostess job and, using her day-care experience, became a personal nanny for a family for whom she developed great faithfulness and affection. It was while she nannied for them that she became pregnant with their first child. The family had to move away, leaving her without work. Then, just 22 months after having her first son, a second son came along. Meanwhile, her husband went on multiple deployments, leaving Erin-Jo to embrace her role as a stay-at-home mother, military spouse, and of course, manager of the household.

So many things had changed in a short period of time, and Erin-Jo found herself needing something for herself. She turned toward her passion for photography. She’d been interested in photography since high school, and it continued to be an activity she enjoyed doing. Taking pictures was something she was often called upon to do by friends and family for various events, and she just kept trading in her camera to get the next best thing. She thought about her future career, and how that she now had to balance that with having time with her children, requiring more flexible work. It occurred to her that she could turn her photography into a profession. So she set a goal for herself to open up her own business; and she did!

Unfortunately, after one year of running her own business, illness struck. A perplexing auto-immune disorder felt like an impasse. It was clear she needed the time to get healthy. She sought out holistic medical treatment and focused on taking care of herself.

During this, they received the news that her husband was accepted to the Direct Commission Intelligence Officer program in San Antonio, and they were on the move again! Though their time in Texas was brief— only 18 months, it proved to be the perfect opportunity for her to think about her health, her family, and rebuilding.

This year, Erin-Jo and her husband moved to Northern Virginia, where she had prepared to open up her photography business again. However, she had not anticipated having to do that during a global pandemic! However, she’s been able demonstrate, yet again, her ability to overcome unexpected hurdles.

People are always looking for good photographers, and it was especially useful to have this talent in the military community, where she’s been able to meet new people and grow her business, meeting primarily through word-of-mouth referrals. Her photo shoots are geared toward children, family, back-to-school shots, high school seniors, and headshots. And she loves working with natural light. 

The frequent changes in also location also led her to another decision— to home-school. It’s proven to be the right thing for her family and her children’s continuity in education (who knew it would become the thing to do in 2020?!), but also still allows her to balance the time with her photography business. With all that has been going on this year with the pandemic, she was hesitant to start the business up again. She credits a good friend (also a photographer) and fellow military spouse for the inspiration and encouragement. Erin-Jo is grateful for the push!

We are so happy to have her join the LineCrew!

Bonnie Thurmond, The Embroidery Shoppe

Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficult situations. It’s a characteristic that serves military spouses well, including Bonnie of the Embroidery Shoppe. 

Bonnie was introduced to her husband, a U.S. Airman, nearly 20 years ago while he was still at the United States Air Force Academy. Now they have 4 children between the ages of 4 and 13, which could be tough with just one income.

When Bonnie first moved, from Jacksonville, FL to Colorado, she worked as a surgical dental assistant. She enjoyed the job, but the pay was significantly less than what she was used to when they moved to Panama City, FL. Bonnie decided to look for something new, and was offered a sales job at a local radio company. Through that position she met two sisters who owned their own embroidery store. She really liked the two women, and began working with them on weekends, learning the tricks of their trade.

This proved to be timely, as something very unexpected happened. A corporate takeover at her radio station led to all the employees being laid off. Bonnie was only 25 years old, had already made major pivots in her career, and was left without a well-paying job. It was time to summon that resiliency. The sisters hired her, and Bonnie dove right in. She fell in love with the work, continued training with them, and did her own embroidery projects on weekends. Bonnie had a baby, and kept working. Her husband deployed, but she kept working. When the sisters approached Bonnie to tell her they were going to sell the shop, Bonnie wrote them a check from her credit card and bought the business– and kept working.

She took over all the leases on the equipment, and kept a storefront with her baby. When the building lease ended she moved the business home. While she missed dentistry, she found a satisfaction in the precision and perfectionism that’s also required with embroidery. 

Now called The Embroidery Shoppe, Bonnie has added a vinyl machine, a heat press, and also does printing. She’s wrangled her family into the business as well, sending her husband off to train on the equipment and getting her kids involved by sorting and cutting fabric, organizing, alphabetizing, matching thread colors, and packing. They love it!

Bonnie enjoys working with schools. She embroiders spirit wear, buttons, and athletic gear. She’s always making a gift extra-special, whether it’s an apron for a teacher, or personalized items for a birthday party. Being from the south, monogramming is one of her favorite things. 

It helps that the business moves with her (Florida, Colorado, Ohio, and now Virginia). She can work with people anywhere, working out details via email and text. She still has clients from Florida, who she met in 2005, including a number of sororities. It still requires the work of growing a new customer base with each move, but she is grateful for the choices it affords her family, with providing extra-curricular activities, educational choices, and family vacations.

October 2020 marks her 12th year in business! With events and large gatherings being limited due to Covid, she’s carrying on through a whole new set of challenges with the business. But thankfully… she’s resilient!

Meghann Wilson, Suburban ReStyle

Meghann Wilson has had an interest in home decor and restyling for as long as she can remember. Of course, like so many military spouses, the journey to opening Suburban Re-Style, or even joining the military life, had some other adventures along the way!

Originally from Ohio, Meghann moved to Missouri to attend Evangel University, and majored in Political Science. Following graduation, Meghann was offered a job in the state of Florida, working for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. From there she was hired to work on his inaugural committee and subsequently for his administration, bringing her to Washington, DC. 

It was while she was in DC that she met her husband, who was attending the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda. They married while still in DC, but moved to San Antonio following his graduation. He’s now been active duty in the Air Force for 14 years. 

Like so many military spouses who are faced with leaving a career, Meghann tried new things. She worked in real estate for a short time, and was also able to parlay her credentials from her work at the Pentagon into obtaining a job as a travel contractor for the Army.

Meghann met more changes when she and her husband welcomed 3 children into their lives– two while in Texas and another one after they moved to Virginia. It was a lot of adjustments over a short period of time, but she saw it as an opportunity to break away from the continuous job hunt, and spend more time focusing on her children. 

After a recent move to Maryland, and with her children getting older, Meghan found herself wanting something for herself. She loves being a stay-at-home mom, so wanted something that would fulfill her while still accommodating her focus on family. 

Slowly, Meghann began helping friends with different decorating projects. She received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement, and realized she had a marketable eye for color and design. Additionally, she had the added practice from styling and re-styling her own home so many times! 

Meghann recalls reading an article that resonated with her. The Secret Life of Military Spouses and Their Curtains, authored by another military spouse, is an homage to the many transformations made by military families in their efforts to create a “home” in every house they live in—from the perspective of their various window dressings. It speaks directly to the solution Meghann provides.

Creating, and frequently re-creating, a space that feels like you and your family can be difficult. Meghann’s design concept is about working with you. She wants to know your personality, how your family functions, and provide a quick “zhushing” that works within your budget. She’ll meet with you, look at a space, create a digital mood board, suggest items, and provide advice and instructions on what to do and how to do it.

Suburban ReStyle offers a variety of packages. One of the less expensive ones is meant to help you re-think where things are, while working with what you have—a service that every military family can use!

Meghann is a member of the International Association of Interior Professional Redesigners.  She holds a professional certification in Interior Redesign, and is continuing to expand her knowledge with ongoing learning opportunities.  She is always looking for new and creative ways to ReStyle your home.

Chelsey Gutierrez, Photographer & Illustrator

Constraints inspire creativity. 

At first, Chelsey’s path seemed clear. She always loved both drawing and photography. She’s been drawing since she was a kid and took black and white film photography classes in high school. She was able to land an internship with DreamWorks Animation, a childhood dream of hers, while earning her BA in Drawing and Painting from Cal State Northridge.

It was while in college that Chelsey met her husband Chris. He talked about joining the Coast Guard, and ended up proposing just before he left for boot-camp. As an engaged senior, with a desire for things to work for her relationship, Chelsey realized she would need to explore her professional options beyond the borders of Los Angeles. Luckily, she was fulfilling a biology credit at the time, and was given the challenge of linking the subject to her art major. Her research led to her discovery of Art Therapy!

After graduating, and moving twice, Chelsey completed her Masters in Art Therapy. Finally settled (for a few years) in Washington State, she traveled to Indiana 3 times a year for 5 years to complete residencies, while also completing internships, observations and practicums. They had their first son during year 2 of her program, and she graduated 5 months before they moved again_ all the way across the country to Florida. This time, however, she was pregnant with their second son.

Her Art Therapy career had to be put on hold while she focused on family after the move. Though, it wasn’t before gaining a lot of experience back in Washington doing trauma work with cancer patients and foster children, creating a therapeutic group for anxiety at a local church, and even publishing a chapter in a textbook. The work she had been doing was difficult and fulfilling, and she left hoping she’d find a place for those skills again.

In 2019, when the government was shut down, and not knowing how long the stall in pay would last, Chelsey decided it was time for a back-up plan (or two). She began creating illustrations and doing photography again.

Friends of hers invited Chelsey to be a second shooter for their wedding photography business, while also training her along the way. She took to it, and is now taking on clients of her own. One client, in particular, asked her to capture the announcement of their upcoming adoption. The celebration was also an acknowledgement of a tragic loss, and Chelsey was particularly grateful to help them through that experience. She’s now done several adoption announcements and says they’re her favorite type of family photo to do.

Chelsey’s portraits and drawings are custom made. The images often tell a story or imagine a person in a different way— like a superhero, a rockstar, or a helicopter pilot. She can produce an image of someone doing something they may have only dreamed about. One drawing, made for a young boy who’d lost his father, conceptualized a grown-up likeness of the boy; of him and his dad enjoying coffee together in front of the cabin his father had built.

“There’s something very beautiful about building something out of brokenness.” 

Her photos and drawings provide meaning to her clients. She can tune into a person’s identity, individuality, and be a part of that person’s story and how they tell it. Her artwork provides a way for her to channel the empathy that came naturally to her therapy, with a talent she’s had her entire life. 

Now expecting their third boy this coming March, Chelsey and Chris are up for transfer again this year. Whether they are able to extend at their current unit, or they move to the next adventure, Chelsey is excited to keep building her photography and illustration businesses wherever they go.