When Leslie Surel’s first daughter, Josie, was approaching toddler status, Surel began to look for more activities they could enjoy together. With a background in graphic design and computers, she decided to create the ultimate resource for what she wanted — an online listing with information about the library, art fair, Chelsea Center for the Arts, dates of upcoming events, classes,camps, and more.
“That’s the way my brain works, to put information on a website. That’s where my skill set lies and I find it most easy to access,” says Surel, who then sent the pages to fellow neighbors and parents. Within a few months, she was getting thousands of hits and thingstodoinchelsea.com was born soon after her second child, Henry.
“I recognized it was a need. What surprised me was that it was a need for so many people,” says Surel, who eventually contacted a friend, fellow mom and software developer, Valerie Mates. Together they streamlined the site to be run on submissions. A faster process, the submission-method also increases community involvement. “We always want to keep the charm of it by keeping it hands on,” says Surel, who calls Chelsea an “amazing community where everyone wants to make it a good place to live.”
Starting a new chapter
Thingstodoinchelsea.com may have started quite simply, but that’s in large part due to a set of skills Surel has been honing since high school. Beginning with the high school newspaper in Troy, Michigan, she went on to Eastern University to study psychology. While she was a student, she worked part-time with CFI Group, in the graphics department. They offered her a full-time position before she graduated and Surel stayed there for eight years after college as lead graphic designer and department manager. Towards the end of her time there, Surel found herself wanting to “focus on a new phase in my life.” She was married and moved to Chelsea with her husband, Mike, where she decided to “do the mom thing for a couple
“When I left CFI I felt like I was closing a chapter in my life. But I’m not the kind of person who can’t have my hands on a project.” Within a few years of having her children, the website was born and from there came a landslide of opportunities for Surel. Surelutions is her website design company, and many of her clients are businesses and municipal organizations in Chelsea whom she initially contacted when starting thingstodoinchelsea.com. The company now spans far beyond Chelsea, with clients in Maryland, California, and Colorado. With more than sixty clients nationwide, all but two were referred to Surel by word-of-mouth.
Part of the community
Surel is now, after less than ten years in the town, an integral cog in the wheel of Chelsea. “It was just mindboggling to me how much there was in this tiny town.” She and her husband, Mike, live just a block from downtown Chelsea, and as Surel says of herself, “I just know people.” When they fi rst moved in the summer of 2001, they were surprised to hear a parade marching right in front of there house as baby Josie slept. That was the last time an event in Chelsea went on without Surel not only knowing about it, but likely helping to organize and promote it.
In addition to running her own web design business, Surel is the Board President of Chelsea Center for the Arts. She’s on the steering committee of SRSLY, a community organization dedicated to providing positive opportunities for kids to keep them out of trouble. A mom biz owner, she’s not alone in a town full of entrepreneurial moms. She’s on handfuls of committees and likes to touch base with people all over town. Who could blame an organization for recruiting her? Perhaps “staying at home with the kids” is a lot more than Surel bargained for!