BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Like many young girls, Laurel Lovitt dreamed of one day becoming a princess. Now age 24, she’s not only a self-proclaimed professional princess, but also the owner of Laurel’s Princess Parties – a successful company that brings joy to thousands of children. Every weekend, Laurel and her troupe of fairytale princesses, superheroes and Star Wars characters sing, tell stories, answer questions and pose for photos with wide-eyed children at birthday parties, sleepovers and events such as Mermaid Academy, Superhero Meet and Greet, and library story times. Laurel was a 19-year-old college freshman majoring in marketing and management at The University of Toledo when she launched Laurel’s Princess Parties in April 2013, starting with a $450 prom dress and a passion for sparking children’s imaginations. “I went to a BNI Group in Perrysburg, and stood up in front of 57 adults and told them I was a professional princess. They all laughed, but from that one meeting, I booked parties and had referrals for more,” she said. By her sophomore year, Laurel had doubled her income and quit her regular job at the Disney Store. By 2017, Laurel’s Princess Parties had booked over 500 events, with an average of 20 to 30 parties per weekend. The 21 full-time and seasonal cast members work as independent consultants to portray 30 characters. “It’s not just dressing up. It’s getting down on the ground with the kids and telling them stories. You have to be the character to make a difference in a child’s life,” Laurel said. “And you can’t break character. Even if a parent asks a question, like where you’re going to college, you have to answer ‘princess school’ because you don’t know what little ears are listening. And that could break the child’s imagination.” Growing up, Laurel recalls her own fifth birthday party, when her mom’s friend came dressed as Pocahontas. “That cake and all that stuff is thrown away. But I remember Pocahontas at my party. She was my idol,” Laurel said. “That’s what we do. I am now able to take my passion to make memories for kids.” Heartland HealthCare Centers business development manager Molly Good first booked Laurel’s Princess Parties last year, as a way to bring joy to a young patient named Tiffany. While she’s an adult, Tiffany loves all things Disney. So Good and her team transformed Heartland of Waterville into a fairytale land and brought in three princesses who chatted with Tiffany about the princes, castles and their adventures. “Tiffany still talks about it nearly a year later,” Good said. “Belle, Cinderella and the Winter Sisters came back here at Christmas to sing carols and wheeled Tiffany around all night.” In December, the Waterville Historical Society brought Laurel’s Princess Parties back for photo sessions and a meet-and-greet opportunity for the Light Up Waterville festivities. “We did it to increase attendance and draw some of her 15,000 Facebook followers to Waterville,” Good said. “It worked. Most of the people I spoke to in line said they came because their daughters wanted to see the Winter Sisters, and to make a fun Christmas memory.” While there are similar businesses around the country, including a chain that operated briefly in the Toledo market, Laurel feels that her continued focus on her love of children rather than a way to earn money, is what makes her business successful. “People ask me how much I make. I say, ‘I make a lot of smiles.’” Bringing happiness to others is essential to the business, but it’s also helped Laurel cope with the grief from losing 17 loved ones over her young lifetime. “I needed to make good memories for myself,” she said. Throughout high school, Laurel sang and danced with America’s Pride, a Toledo-based organization with an anti-drug message. With 1,700 volunteer hours, Laurel earned a full-ride scholarship to UT, where her instructors ask her to speak to their marketing classes. “I always wanted to own my own business. I believe in myself. And if I believe in myself, others will believe,” she said. These days, Laurel doesn’t get into costume as much, but spends more time managing the business, making phone calls, updating social media, styling wigs and maintaining the costumes, which average about $500. She also started a side business, ClickPix Pro, in which she brings a photo booth to events and gathers e-mail addresses and phone numbers of parents to send out photos at no charge. She also teams up with groups like the Walleye, Mud Hens, Dave and Buster’s, Splash Universe, Toledo Zoo, Imagination Station and area libraries to host events. With such exponential growth, Laurel has hired an assistant to help her out – especially after the premature birth of her daughter Rey, who was born at 26 weeks in January 2017. Rey spent 125 days in the NICU, finally coming home on May 4. Cradling and bouncing her now-1-year-old, Laurel smiled and explained that Rey came home on May 4 – Star Wars Day. “She’s named after Princess Rey in Star Wars,” she said. “So it was appropriate that she was released on May 4 – like ‘May the Fourth be with you.’” For information, visit laurelsprincessparties.com or see Facebook.