Squaw Valley business owners receive Sargent Shriver award

Christy and Al KroellChristy and Al Kroell
Al and Christy Kroell are a story of bravery and commitment to community and the American dream.

The Squaw Valley couple suffered serious injuries in separate accidents that required years of rehabilitation. But they found the courage and ambition to start a business and succeed.

They jump-started a business called ChristyAl Plaques & Engraving with the help of the local Small Business Administration SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) chapter.

The result was a nomination in June by the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission to the Community Action Partnership for a Sargent Shriver Veterans Serving America Achievement Award. Not long afterword Al and Christy Kroell were selected as achievement award recipients.

The couple received a plaque, but more importantly, their efforts were acknowledged with the inaugural award presented at the National Community Action Partnership convention. “We didn’t know they (Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission) was doing anything at all,” said Al Kroell.

When Kroell learned of the nomination, he asked, “what are our chances?”

The response was that the Kroells had been selected.

“It’s a pretty big award,” Kroell said. “Because only one is named per year, it’s huge.”

On the nomination form, the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission pointed out that Al and Christy Kroell had served in the military for 20 years when Al Kroell experienced the unthinkable. Leaping from a plane during a mission, his parachute failed.

He survived the accident, but it ended his military career and began a series of more than 52 surgeries followed by rehabilitation.

Several years after the parachuting accident, Christy Kroell was seriously injured in a car crash the left her permanently disabled as well. She had no choice but to leave her job at a credit union.

In 2004, the couple, no longer associated with the military, decided to move to Squaw Valley in the foothills east of Fresno. They endured years of distress as Al Kroell continued his rehabilitation with additional corrective surgeries.

Still they hoped that they could eventually start a business together.

Over the years, Al Kroell enjoyed making wood engravings as keepsakes for his friends. Following his lifelong passion, he decided to start a business. The first step was to seek help from the Small Business Administration.

The local SCORE chapter guided and helped him as he completed his business plan. The plan called for a laser engraver -- an expensive, sophisticated piece of machinery. He discovered that banks were reluctant to lend him money for the engraver because he did not have the business experience or track record to indicate the business would be successful.

Their options exhausted and prospects bleak, the Kroells turned to Fresno CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), a subsidiary of Fresno EOC. They met Jeremy Hofer who embraced them and their business idea.

Hofer advised the Kroells and helped them prepare a loan application. The loan was later approved and the business was born.

Hofer also helped set of a website for ChristyAl Plaques & Engraving, which is now a one-year-old business. The website is at www.caplaques.com.

Kroell said the ability to obtain the laser engraver was huge for his business prospects. But starting a new business remains a scary venture, Kroell said.

The Kroells are now taking an entrepreneur class at Reedley College to boost their marketing skills.

Kroell said Christy has helped keep his business dream alive. “She is my boss, my secretary and she handles financing,” he said.

The couple has been active in the Squaw Valley community with Al Kroell becoming president of the local Host Lions Club and Christy Kroell named vice president.

The couple volunteers annually at a nearby diabetes youth camp, helping diabetic youth learn to cope with a chronic illness and the burdens it entails.