Rays of Light: Alexa Prejna

Hometown: St. Charles, IL

Current Location: Kaka’ ako (Honolulu), HI

Current Role: Executive Team Leader of General Merchandise at Target

Nominated By: Ben Bruster

Reason for Nomination: When I think of people who bring joy to others’ lives, I think of Alexa Prejna! Alexa exudes compassion, humor, joy, and positivity around, well, everyone. Throughout college, Alexa was so often the person I needed to be around regardless of how I might have been feeling: someone to laugh with, someone to enjoy deep conversations with, someone to feel supported by, you name it. Although Alexa and I came to inhabit different social circles later in college, I always felt comforted by her presence and earnest care for her friends and peers.

Prior to writing this piece, I lost touch with Alexa, as many people do with their college friends who move far away and lead busy lives. Nonetheless, as we caught up last week, I quickly recognized that, in most ways, she is the same person I knew in college—someone who lives to share love and joy with others. In addition, time has given Alexa strength and made her more comfortable in her own skin.

Alexa is a good friend and a joy to spend time around. People like her—smiles and all—keep our world spinning around 🙂

A Short Bio.

Alexa Prejna was born and raised in St. Charles, IL, a middle-sized western suburb of Chicago. The third youngest of large, blended family, Alexa learned how to adapt, practice resilience, and interact with unique personalities early on. There was never a dull moment, she reflects. “I don’t think that anything I did surprised my parents at all.” After all, they’d seen it all before, she remarked.

As a child, Alexa aspired to be a gemologist. She remembers, “When I was little… I went to get her mom’s wedding ring cleaned,” and this moment left a lasting influence on me. I asked the lady who cleaned my mom’s ring about her job, and she said that she was a gemologist. For a while, Alexa wanted to become a gemologist. However, her upbringing gave way to, among other things, vocational uncertainty. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do…when I got to college,” Alexa notes, “but I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded people.”

After graduating high school, Alexa departed her suburban Chicago hometown and began to make her new home downstate, in Rock Island, IL. There, Alexa studied Environmental Studies and Graphic Design at Augustana College—a 2,500 student, tight-knit liberal arts college only a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. When not in class, Alexa enjoyed having meaningful conversations with classmates, making new friends, and coordinating Relay for Life, Augustana College’s effort to fundraise for cancer research. After all, since cancer had intimately shaped Alexa’s family, leading her school’s large fundraiser for cancer research became a logical next step. During college, Alexa also studied to abroad in East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, to be specific!

Nearly a year ago, Alexa made the biggest move of her lifetime. Trading “hello” for “aloha,” she waved goodbye to the mainland and welcomed the next chapter of her life. On a whim, months before, Alexa accepted a management position for Target in Honolulu, HI. After making this decision, Alexa feared that she had made wrong choice. At one point after finishing training, she even believed herself to not be fit for her Executive Team Leader role, a role where she manages many people, some 2-3x her age. Yet, with the encouragement of her family, friends, and team members, Alexa stayed in her role, and today she is so glad for it. Almost one year after moving, now, Alexa feels happy to say that her island [Oahu] is becoming home!

Aside from surfing and soaking up the sun, Alexa has enjoyed hiking and making new friends in Hawaii. And now that Alexa has come to call this place, she aims to do part socially, to volunteer with ministries that serve the homeless and unhoused populations live around her.  

Q & A: The [Not So] Serious

BB: Would you rather land on the moon or explore the bottom of the ocean?

AP: The ocean, but I would be terrified. It’s an unknown world down there.

Alexa snorkels alongside a sea turtle. PC: AP

BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

AP: A big ol’ fricken hug. I wouldn’t change a moment of my life, but I wish I met myself with some more compassion when I was younger.

***

BB: What is your favorite movie? Why?

AP: I love the movie Maleficent 🙂

***

BB: Since moving to Hawaii, what have you come to most appreciate about island life?

AP: I love the people. It’s so cheesy but, the Aloha spirit is true. Everyone takes such good care of one another. I used to think that the pace would be slower, but it’s not. I work for Target, so life is still pretty busy. I love the ocean life and live in a little town by the beach called Kaka’ako—it’s a nice wholesome place to be in this big city.

1935 Tourist Map of Oahu. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection

BB: If you could be a backup singer and dancer for any musical artist or band, historical or present, who would you choose? Why?

AP: I just love Jack Johnson. He actually lives on Oahu, but on the North Shore, which is an hour from me.

***

BB: Your Christian faith seems to an integral aspect of your life. How have you recently seen God acting in your life, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

AP: I have been looking for a church since being out here. I have attended a few that I like and a few that I didn’t like so much. Hawaii is actually a really spiritual place so I have found a lot of people that share similar values to myself and staying in a community like that has strengthened what I feel for God’s love. Right now, since church is online and congregants cannot gather for bible studies, we are called to practice our religion in other ways. I think that my faith has, and will always be, based on the actions I take and the ways I choose to treat others.

Hawaii has a huge homeless population. In fact, the mainland actually books homeless people in their cities a one-way ticket to Honolulu to live here. So, you can imagine, homeless people are a prevalent population. They live on the sidewalks, on the beach, on the side of mountains. Thankfully, it’s never cold here, so they have an easier time existing. Unfortunately, there is also a large drug issue with these homeless communities. For many of them, drugs brought them to the streets; others have gotten hooked since joining the street community. I go on this long tangent only because, since moving here, this has been one of my biggest heartaches. Every day, on my run, I pass them, they come into my store to steal tent equipment, food, electronics to resell, or alcohol. I constantly pass homeless people downtown, sleeping on benches. One homeless man lives outside my building, while others work for me at my store.

Homelessness is a sad fact about Hawaii, and I think I too many people just turn their head the other way. I think right now, faith is expressed and strengthened by considering and serving those around you, leading with compassion and care. We don’t worship in a church anymore, but I think that is also a point God might be trying to make right now: gathering amongst other Christians has never mattered as much as it matters to treat everyone around you like they are your brother or your sister—to love and take care of them, especially in a time like this. Faith will always prevail no matter where you are or what is going on in the world. You just have to look at it that way, the way the Bible tells us to.

***

BB: Complete the following sentence. The world would be greater if everyone knew __________ [this artist’s] music.

AP: Jack Johnson! He is an amazing source of light for the environmental community, and his music is wholesome and down to earth.

Jack Johnson. PC: Amazon

BB: In what important ways do you see that you have grown since graduating college?

AP: I realize how little appearance and status matter. I used to be embarrassed about working for a retail company. I thought that my job would just be looked at as an elevated version of “stocking the shelves.” But, as time goes on, I care so much less about what anyone might think about that.

I care less about money and clothes and having the latest and best whatever it is. I moved here with one large suitcase and my car. Since, I haven’t added to the wardrobe much, because I just don’t really need a lot. Plus, I live in a tiny studio with limited space. [Haha!] I appreciate wholehearted people who lift each other up. I appreciate honesty and constructive criticism more as I learn who I want to be. I’m learning how complex people are: rarely are we all we appear to be.

I also see a lot of struggle in the world that I feel blessed not to be burdened with. Still, it breaks my heart. Post-graduation, I just feel compelled to expand my point of view and pump out goodness into the world, by whatever means necessary.

Alexa feels blessed to have made good friends since moving to Hawaii. PC: AP

BB: What three foods could you not live without?

AP: Acai bowls! So good. Lau Lau is amazing. And this one will carry me throughout my whole life…chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips… (No, it is not the same as a sugar cookie.)

***

BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?

AP: When I started my job, I thought I was AWFUL. I was basically ready to be like: “Oops, I’m in over my head, and I need to move back home and look for something easier.” Every person I told, friends and family, they were so amazing, encouraging me that I am capable of everything the job entails and that if it were easy, I would quickly get bored and that I should be happy that my job provides daily challenges to grow as a person.

I think that being 22 and navigating the world—trying to act as a professional and fit in with people who have been at this for a long time—and managing people twice my age used to feel uncomfortable. I wanted to just slither back to school and hide for a couple more years, so I could join the world when I was a little more “grown up.” I had to admit to people who I managed that, although I was their boss, I might know way less. HOW EMBARRASSING! But the people in my circle at work always reminded me I was capable, ready to be in this role, and that I couldn’t fake it. If I wasn’t ready, then people could smell it from a mile away. But they didn’t. Dignity aside, I learned from my team, and they make me a better boss because of it.

***

AP: Beach or mountains?

BEACH! COVID has shut down the Hawaii beaches, and I cannot wait to swim and have a beach day with my girls!!

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is one of the world’s most sought-after beaches. PC: Business Insider

BB: What does a typical day in your job look like?

AP: I usually come in before store opens, with the other leaders on my team, and then check my email for any company communications I need to know. I gather all my work equipment and walk the floor with the overnight team leader to get a proper hand off.

Once the store opens, I open the store doors (there are 5 of them, I work in a multi-level store attached to a large mall) and then wait for my team to arrive, so I can delegate workload for them. I check the store metrics and assess where there are business opportunities for the day. I look over schedules and teach and train my team, setting transitions and navigating the logistics of backrooms and freight flow discrepancies. I work closely with my team leaders, allowing them to run their departments. In other words, I primarily advise my team members and plan for any hiccups in our daily tasks. Put another way, I work on following up with my team and holding them accountable for any shortcomings that may occur throughout the day.

I have amazing coworkers and leaders that help advise me in every aspect of my job, even in my personal life!

***

BB: Whether through your vocation, your relationships, or your passion projects, how would you like to change the world in the foreseeable future?

AP: I really want to give more out to the community. With what we are facing with COVID, I especially want to find ways to make this pandemic a little easier for people that struggle—whether these struggles center around loss, fear and anxiety of what is going on, or financial difficulties. I don’t know how to put it lightly, but a lot of people suffer with making it day to day in my community. The world shutting down and a lot of families out of an income only make this time that much more difficult. Little by little, I want to put myself aside and give more of my luxuries to people around me, who don’t experience these blessings as often.

Hawaii has the second highest per capita unhoused population of any U.S. state. This photo was taken in the Kaka’ako, Alexa’s neighborhood. PC: Hawaii Public Radio

BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?

AP: Hmm…I have struggled with anxiety since I was in middle school. Sometimes, it can be debilitating and embarrassing. I don’t talk about it often because, logically, I think that I shouldn’t be having anxiety about the things that I do. You could tell me “Ooo, you put on more makeup today,” and I will have an anxiety attack.

If someone else were to look at my anxiety, it would probably seem absolutely ridiculous. After all, my anxiety doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, I cannot control my anxiety, and so it sets in more than I would like. Before I started to experience anxiety, I always thought that it was people making excuses or acting too sensitive. But, now that I struggle with it, I totally understand. It’s out of your control. It may stem from something in your life that has happened, but its’ worth noticing and continuing to try and work through.

Alexa enjoys time with her housemates during her senior year of college. PC: AP

Author’s Note: All responses are found as they were written, except when subtle re-writing improved narrative flow. Alexa has approved this blog’s content.


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