From Television to Performing Arts: Ashley Kohl’s Story

February 29, 2024

March is Women’s History Month and as part of our mission we are highlighting stories of women-owned businesses past and present. Recently, we interviewed Ashley Kohl Founder and CEO of Ohana School of Performing Arts in Chicopee, MA.

In this article, Ashley shares her story of resilience, growth, and community impact. Read on to discover how collaboration with New Valley Bank played a crucial role in helping Ashley build her dream and how we can help you build your team too!

1.What inspired you to start your own business, and how did you get started?

My mom, Darlene Sattler, owned a dance studio (Technique Studio of Dance) for 19 years. I watched her do what she loved, impact lives in a positive way, and live her dream. Growing up, I didn’t necessarily want to own a dance studio. However, while working in television, I went to do a story on a dance class for students of all ages and abilities. I had always been a dancer, but to see this class that showed different body types, varying abilities, to see the joy that dance brought to the students’ lives was really impactful.

They danced for self expression and, because of that, knew no limits. I sat in my car, about to drive away and broke down. I thought, “The world needs more of this. More people need access to the joy and magic that dance brings.”

Eventually, my mom handed her studio down to me, I rebranded to fit the vision I had for the mission and decided to call it “Ohana.” “Ohana” means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

2. Can you share a bit about the early days of your entrepreneurial journey?

The early days were exciting and terrifying, all at once. Learning through many growing pains. I’ll never forget the first time I received a payment for dance classes. I thought, “I am getting paid to do what I love, and make a difference. This can’t be real!” I quickly learned the grind of being an entrepreneur, but it is all worth it when you know you are making a positive difference in the world and bringing joy to so many hearts, including your own!

3. What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur, and how did you navigate through them?

I’ve faced many challenges, and feel beyond grateful to still be in business after all of the hardship. I was going through a divorce during my first year as a business owner. In my third year of business, I had 1 month to find a new location because the building that I was currently in was sold and scheduled to be demolished. After finding a new location in 2019, the pandemic wreaked havoc on small businesses across the world, especially those in the service based industry.

After taking the last 2 years to rebuild, my landlord in my new space told me he was selling the building I was in. And, this is where my relationship with Becky Elias and Elizabeth Beaudry at New Valley Bank comes in. They helped me to become my own landlord and to secure the future of my business.

4. What are some key milestones and successes your business has achieved?

There are three  big milestones that stand out for Ohana:

  1. Ohana was able to relocate from South Hadley to 41 Sheridan Street in Chicopee in just six weeks, finding a new studio home, renovating the space, moving and making it all happen during the busiest time of the season; while preparing for the annual performance showcase. It’s amazing what a dance family can do!
  2. Ohana shut down for six  months during the pandemic. The fear of surviving such a hardship was real, but I knew we weren’t alone, as so many other local small businesses were struggling in the same way. The support and love from the studio family was so powerful—something I will never forget.
  3. Purchasing the property (41 Sheridan Street) and the building next door (43 Sheridan Street) with plans to expand and have another studio space to offer community events, celebrations and classes. I never, ever could have imagined this was possible. But looking back, just when things seemed impossible, miracles occurred. It all goes back to the power of community support and chasing dreams.

5. Are there any projects or initiatives you are particularly proud of?

I’m particularly proud of Ohana’s mission to spread peace and positivity through performance. The positive impact of our mission is tangible and evident in all of the work that our studio community does. Our annual Holiday Wishes performance has raised over $50,000 for local non-profits over the last eight  years. Our performance teams perform at various community events to spread joy and give back.

6. How does your business contribute to the local community, especially in supporting and empowering women?

Ohana contributes to women in our community in many ways:

  • Hosting charity performances to raise funds for several local non-profit organizations.
  • Donating money to local dancers of all ages to support dance education and arts enrichment.
  • Offering the opportunity for women to make a positive impact through dance instruction.
  • Volunteering with various non-profits to support enrichment and connection in our community.
  • Ohana offers several dance classes for adults to connect, decompress, laugh  and dance.
  • Ohana’s waiting room is a hub of friendship, support and love for so many people, especially Moms.

6. What advice do you have for other women considering entrepreneurship or aiming to grow their businesses?

Nine years ago, I attended an event for the Springfield YMCA where I had the opportunity to hear Kirk Nugent, a public speaker and author, deliver a powerful speech. One of the memorable lines was, “Because I know that the richest place on the planet is the cemetery. There you will find books that were never written, loved ones that were never forgiven. Paintings that were never drawn nor hung, songs that were neither composed nor sung, souls that never acted on what they really wanted to do. So don’t you dare die with your greatness buried within you!”

These words have had such a tremendous impact on my life. If you have a dream, pursue it. If you are passionate about something, share it with others. Life is too short to not act on our dreams. When there is love, good intention, and a desire to bring joy to others and to have a happy heart, amazing things happen.

7. How has working with New Valley Bank contributed to the growth and success of your business?

My experience with New Valley Bank has been nothing short of wonderful. My situation was a bit unique, as I had to make things happen quickly due to some crucial deadlines and New Valley Bank did everything they could to make this dream of property ownership possible for me.

I am now able to expand and offer more to our community—whether it’s family connection, arts enrichment, youth development or community celebration. New Valley Bank has helped me to dream bigger and do more good.

8. Which financial solutions or services played a crucial role in your business development?

My commercial loan and line of credit through New Valley Bank & Trust has enabled me to set myself up for success, working towards a goal that I never dreamed possible. My banking experience in West Springfield has been such a positive experience. Crystal, Shana, and Denise have welcomed me with such kindness, professionalism, and supportive energy. I am grateful for their patience with me as I work through all of my questions, payments and banking logistics. New Valley Bank has helped me to feel empowered as a female entrepreneur and I couldn’t be more grateful.

At New Valley Bank & Trust, we are committed to a personal, high-touch lending process, because that’s what community banks are meant to do. Contact us to explore your lending options today.

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From Television to Performing Arts: Ashley Kohl’s Story