Cynthia Schneider: A fresh start later in life thanks to Laurel Ridge

cynthia schneider

Seven years ago, Top of Virginia Regional Chamber CEO Cynthia Schneider found herself at a crossroads.

Her job had ended and she was 58, but she wasn’t ready for retirement.

Schneider graduated from high school in 1975, and went off to James Madison University, but then moved to Kansas, where she earned an associate degree in biblical studies and leadership. That program wound up not attaining accreditation, and she spent 15 years in ministry and volunteer work.

Schneider married and had children. Later, she took a part-time data entry position. In that role, she grew with the company, becoming director of operations and helping it become a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

When she found herself unemployed in 2014, Schneider assessed her future. Believing she had several more decades of living to go and free of the demands of child-rearing, Schneider knew she didn’t want to retire.

“Because I was really self-taught, I didn’t feel confident reentering the workforce,” she explained. “I couldn’t define my skillset well.”

Taking advantage of a grant, Schneider came to Laurel Ridge in 2015 and 2016, earning her associate degree in general studies with a concentration in business. It was a transformative experience.

“Being in the classroom with people of all ages just really inspired me,” she said. “And, the quality of the teachers at Laurel Ridge is so great. They have extensive, deep backgrounds. That just really validated the quality of the education you can receive at a community college. Laurel Ridge provides a nurturing environment to all people who come there. It was just such a warm and comfortable experience.”

With her newfound confidence, she applied for an entry-level position with a friend’s business. This led to her being hired as the director of finance and administration with the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber. After four years, Schneider was asked to be the chamber’s chief operating officer. She became the CEO nearly two years ago.

Two of her children have also come to Laurel Ridge. One entered the military, and the other transferred to James Madison University and now has a master’s degree.

Besides her degree, Schneider has come to Laurel Ridge for the Disney Institute’s customer service program and the Leadercast program, both hosted by Workforce Solutions.

“What I found was those kinds of offerings are particularly helpful because they help you see beyond your particular industry,” Schneider said. “You see how your industry is connected to the wider community and world, which always inspires me to have the energy to do more and give back more.”