Though she’s originally from the East Coast, Northbrook’s Leslie Ferrell is just a wholesome Midwestern girl at heart. And her good values drive a career and volunteer work that she loves.
Ferrell is general manager of Big Idea Entertainment, a children’s media company that produces “Veggie Tales,” a cartoon that teaches values to kids and has grown into numerous lines of products. And when she’s not educating through her work, you can find her teaching English in African refugee camps and helping to build schools.
“We’re known for hilarious stories songs that teach values—timeless values like sharing and kindness and telling the truth,” she says lovingly, as if speaking about one of her children. “And they’re told by vegetables—Bob being the tomato and Larry being the cucumber.”
Having gone back to work after staying home with her two children for 10 years, Ferrell advises moms reentering the workforce to reach for their goals and not doubt themselves.
“The role of being mom and volunteer is often very transferable into the business environment,” she says. “Going back to work, you may take a hit, but you can typically move up very quickly.”
In fact, she started out as an administrative assistant at Big Idea, and proved her worth to the company within the first two months by landing a Veggie Tales float in parade surrounding a major sports event. That project launched her into the role of promotions manager—then director of sales, vice president, senior vice president, and finally, general manager.
Each year, Ferrell leads the company in promoting a charitable organization that helps children at risk—one example is Samaritan’s Purse, which has sent more than 8 million shoeboxes to children in need around the world.
And Ferrell’s passion for education extends into her time off as well. For the past decade, she and her family have been supporters of RISE International, a Northfield-based nonprofit working to build schools in Angola. They have made three trips to Zambia, where they lived in thatch lean-tos for two and a half weeks, and taught English in a refugee camp.
“It’s wanting to leave an imprint that matters, and seeing life through a different lens, in a bigger way,” she says.
And her work in Africa not far off from that of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. Her day job, too, “enhances a child’s life,” she says. “It’s been a privilege.”