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30 Years of Raising Arizona Kids

The shelves of storage boxes take up nearly a full wall on the south side of our garage. I fight off the dust and spiders that attempt to infiltrate these precious plastic bins, which hold the evidence of much of my life’s work.

My goal was to save five magazines from each issue of Raising Arizona Kids, though I’m not sure how I settled on that number, and I didn’t always succeed. I have two sons and strongly doubt that either of them will want to inherit this legacy and what it represents — their mom’s devotion to a magazine she “birthed” 30 years ago this month, then nurtured and protected almost as fiercely as she did their own needs and aspirations.

Five magazines per month. Twelve months per year. Thirty years. The numbers are mind-boggling. And if anyone had told my starry-eyed, entrepreneurial-leaning 33-year-old self that Raising Arizona Kids would still be here 30 years later, I’m sure I would never have believed them.

In fact, one of my most distinct memories of that first publication cycle was returning home from the printer, collapsing on the couch and crying inconsolably to my mom that “I have to do this all over again next month!” She had flown in from Pennsylvania to take care of my two sons, then 2 and 4, while I worked several consecutive allnighters to meet that first deadline. How would I do it without her?

I know the answer now: By taking it one day at a time. By trusting, and leaning on, so many others. By remembering the story of “The Little Engine That Could”: I think I can, I think I can… chug, chug, chug.

It hasn’t been easy.

We’ve weathered plenty of near-insurmountable challenges — from two nationwide recessions and the fast-paced changes in technology that took down so many other small publishers, to three exasperating and exhausting years when we had to evacuate our staff and all of our files, supplies and equipment — four times!! — because of plumbing-related floods that left us without office space for months at a time.

Instead of defeating us, each hurdle became a challenge to hunker down, leverage our limited resources, build resilience, practice tenacity and keep our focus on the reason we do this: to help parents and the other important adults involved in raising Arizona’s next generation find the resources they need to inform, inspire, enhance — and enjoy — the journey.

When we published that first magazine, it carried a statement of our intention: “to be a place for sharing ideas” about raising children. It seems nearly impossible by today’s standards of connectivity, but it was extremely difficult back then to find a supportive community as a new parent, especially if you had no extended family in town, you were new to the Valley or you were among the first of your peers to have a baby. I found that support — and guidance from early childhood professionals — at the North Central Parenting Group, which used to meet at a church I now pass every day on my way to work.

I wanted to make that kind of information and encouragement available to more than the 40 or so women who were then members of the parenting group. I was also itching to return to work, though reluctant to leave my boys in someone else’s care for 40 hours a week. Starting a magazine seemed like the perfect way to combine my journalism background, my MBA and my passion for being a mom in a way that would allow me to control my own schedule. I dreamed of creating a business that allowed the same flexibility for other parents, too.

I put together a business plan and began tapping the talents and skills of parenting group members and other moms and dads I met at my sons’ preschool. Little did I know, as we moved fluidly throughout our days — juggling school field trips and client meetings, swim practice and writing, magazine deliveries and “quality time” conversations with our kids — we were pioneers for the current model of working remotely.

We just did it before the technology was there to support it. In 1990, none of us had mobile phones. We couldn’t send text messages or make calls while we were on the road. We didn’t have access to the internet! Google hadn’t yet been founded. How could we have imagined video chats, websites, digital publishing or social media?

Our first issues were carefully constructed on layout sheets with paper galleys we printed from the IBM 286 personal computer my in-laws had purchased as a gift to our family — making us one of very few families who had home computing capacity. It came with 128 KB of RAM memory and a 20 MB hard disk. I remember many evenings of staring desperately at the grayish-black screen with its green, pixelated type, willing it to complete a task more quickly than it was capable of doing. I was always tired — having worked my first job, as a stay-at-home mom, for many long hours each day before I’d put the boys to bed and commute down the hall to my second.

I like to credit the close relationship my sons share to the fact that I kicked David out of his train-motif nursery and made him bunk with Andy so I could have a home office. And to this day, Andy claims he learned to read while browsing comic books in the back seat of our minivan as the three of us traversed the Valley delivering magazines.

In 30 years of running a business, you encounter hundreds of people whose affirmation and encouragement reach out to pull you along as you swim upstream against a risky current. A thank-you note or email from a subscriber. A local business owner who consistently renews an advertising contract. Staff members who keep taking on more and more without complaint. Operations Manager Tina Gerami-Bynum has been with me for 23 consecutive years; Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams for 15. These two well-oiled machines of efficiency remain calm and graceful in any storm, a bedrock of institutional memory and fierce protectors of our brand’s integrity.

Newer staff members — whose children range in age from 1 to the early 20s — exhibit that same loyalty and the willingness to do “whatever it takes.” And then there are two returning staff members, Debra Citron and Lisa Sorg-Friedman. I am grateful for the serendipitous turn of events that brought both of these talented women — who were there with me at the very beginning — back to the RAK family. The melding of ages and experiences we all represent makes for fascinating conversations and offers deeper, wider perspective for Editor Kara Morrison’s editorial direction and decisions.

More and more, I find myself leaning on Associate Publisher Lisa Morrell, who joined our team last fall. The considerable business background and acumen she brings to the mix have been catalysts for significant efficiencies and effective new routines. And thanks to her willingness to shoulder the leadership when I am away, I have newfound freedom to travel and enjoy time off.

Back row: Shannon Cornall, Karen Barr, Lisa Morrell, Hilary Adams, Tina Gerami-Bynum, Michèlle-Renée Adams. Front row: Carrie Wheeler, Kate Reed, Grayson (13 months), Kara Morrison and Debra Citron. Dec. 2019.

Within my closest circle of family and friends, I am thankful for the patience and understanding they always have extended, even when I stubbornly allowed my business to run me, instead of the other way around. Of course no one deserves more credit for holding me together this past 30 years than my husband, Dan. All he’s ever wanted was for me to be able to pursue my dream, and he’s been there every step of the way — as a trusted advisor and “big picture” thinker who can always talk me down if I begin to panic, as a successful professional whose legal career kept a roof over our heads and allowed me to take financial risks, as the magazine’s biggest fan and PR representative.

A milestone this big deserves more than a perfunctory acknowledgement. We plan to have lots of fun with this one, beginning with some of the “then and now”-themed coverage you see in this March issue. Perhaps most ambitious, we’re on a quest to get a current photo of every child or family that has ever graced our cover! We’ll also be revisiting some of our most popular stories over the years to write updates and share progress reports. To follow along, watch for the #RAK@30 hashtag.

In a true “coming full circle” story, this month brings cause for another kind of celebration: Dan and I will welcome our first grandchild, a little girl our son Andy and his wife, Brandi, are expecting mid-month. Dan and I can’t wait to meet her. And we’re looking forward to being cheerleaders and teammates for her parents as they undertake the demanding, disarming and delightful job of raising a California kid.

Clockwise: Former news anchor Debra Brewer and her son on the first cover of Raising Arizona Kids; Karen after an all-nighter completing the first issue of Raising Arizona Kids on Feb. 9, 1990; Staff meeting at Karen’s home during the time of an office flood in 2010; Karen and Brewer in 2014.
Clockwise: Karen with Solomon DeGuzman in 2010; RAK staff with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009; Art work created by Karen’s son; RAK staff working from Karen’s home in 2010 after an office flood.



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