SAN ANTONIO — She's part-cleaning company CEO, part-cancer survivor and part-comedian.
"I'm multi-faceted,” Bernita Ward said. “I tell everyone I'm an entrepre-negro, that's one of my jokes.”
Her infectious laughter ripples down the hallway of a Converse dental office, where her employees have been at work all morning cleaning every office and exam room.
Life hasn't always been fun for Ward, though. She's a widow who retired from the military and moved to San Antonio so her two adult sons could be treated for lymphoma.
Soon, doctors diagnosed her with cancer, too. Now all three are in remission, and Ward has changed careers.
"I just found a greater purpose within myself,” she said. “I found out, when I had cancer, that I wasn't living; I was just existing."
So, she gave up her career at a dialysis technician and launched a business.
"And now today I can say that I'm living."
Ward is living her dream as the founder and sole owner of Kingdom Cleaners, a commercial and residential cleaning company. It’s just three years old, but it grossed more than $1 million in its first year.
On Wednesday, Ward’s employees were cleaning a dental office in Converse.
"I remember my grandmother said, 'Find something you love, that you can do for free,' and I did that. I love cleaning, I'm a neat freak,” she said.
Even more impressive: Almost all of her employees used to be homeless.
So was she.
"I used to be homeless. So I felt like it was my job, as now I'm in a position where I can help others,” she said, walking the hallway of the medical office. "And I felt the need to go back and get my people, because I used to be them."
Ward has 300 employees servicing 68 clients in San Antonio and 58 more in Houston, with plans to expand into 12 cities nationwide. All the while, she'll be hiring and equipping the homeless everywhere she does business.
“I go find them under Loop 410, The Bridge, Haven for Hope, Church Under the Bridge… I get them off the street. It’s true! I have a whole slew of witnesses," she said.
The few employees who have not been homeless had second thoughts, but have quickly come to appreciate the concept.
"At first, when she was bringing them in, I was like, 'What are we doing here?'” says Davaughnte Oliver, one of her non-homeless workers. “It took time, but once I adjusted to it, I realize they’re just normal people."
Her clients call Ward's service impeccable, her business model admirable.
"I didn't hesitate. I was excited,” said Connie Guillen, the administrator of the Converse dental office. “I feel like people should have a second chance in life. And she gave them that opportunity."
Ward said her business is a faith-based pursuit, although she doesn’t force her beliefs on any employees.
“I felt God had a greater purpose for me, and I knew in my heart that God was calling me to this. I knew it.”
She also says her sense of humor has helped her manage setbacks all her life, and now she’s turned that into a profitable pursuit as well, after friends talked her into trying stand-up at a comedy club.
"I went up there and did my five minutes, and killed it. I came off the stage and the manager says, ‘How long you been doing comedy?’ And I said, 'About five minutes.'"
So let's recap: Ward is a cleaning company entrepreneur who's launched a profitable business by re-launching lives, laughing at hardships and leading others to prosperity along the way.
If that doesn't describe the makeup of someone who makes San Antonio great, what does?