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How to Reinvent Your Career

Robin Martinelli, 45, Private investigator
Husband Doug, 52 Children Kristi, 25; Coleman, 23; Kelly, 19 Hometown Grayson, Georgia

When Robin Martinelli became a single mom at age 20, she urgently needed one thing: health insurance. She visited a sheriff she knew for advice and left with a job as a deputy. Robin turned out to be a natural, but the 12-hour shifts didn't jibe with being the mom her son needed. Coleman was hyperactive, and full-time day care was tough for him. Understanding as her commanding officers were, they couldn't let Robin walk beats with a toddler in tow. Looking for a more family-friendly career, she found one when she hired a process server to obtain some of Coleman's medical records. Robin talked the company into taking her on as a trainee on her days off. After two years of working two gigs, she finished her on-the-job training, quit the sheriff's department and opened her own company, Coleman and Associates.

Coleman went to work with his mom almost every day. Process serving was an adventure for him. "We would track down people at the gas station, church, their girlfriend's house," says Robin. "It was perfect for a kid with attention problems." But some of the recipients of subpoenas, summonses and complaints were uncooperative. "Once a man came out with his Rottweiler," Robin recalls. "The dog was faster than he was, so I threw the papers, grabbed Coleman and ran for our car." Robin had kept the car running. "The dog was clawing at the door," she recalls.

Robin realized that in addition to a job that let her make her own schedule, she needed something less prone to confrontation -- and more lucrative. Also, her family was about to grow. Robin had been volunteering as a baseball coach, and several boys on her team insisted on introducing her to a widower from their church. On her 32nd birthday, Gwinnett County Police Department Corporal Doug Martinelli showed up for a game. The two were married six months later. She adopted his two daughters, and he adopted her son.

As Coleman had a decade earlier, all three kids now inspired Robin to make another change, to become a private investigator. Robin studied, trained and earned her individual license in 1999. "Sure enough, within weeks I secretly filmed while we were out 'shopping,' and snapped photos of a cheating husband while we were 'looking for our lost dog.' " Soon surveillance was the shared family pastime.

Growing a business together turned out to be a perfect way to build a new family, says Robin, since you have to share goals and be a team. When eldest daughter Kristi turned 18, she earned her PI license, most likely becoming the youngest PI in Georgia. The other two Martinelli kids followed suit, as did Robin's mother, Connie, now 70, making her among the oldest PIs in the state.

Coleman recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan with the marines and is working as a PI with Robin. Kristi, an aspiring police officer, is a process server for her mom, and Kelly is a supply specialist in the army. "It's not surprising they're all choosing work where you have to have your brother's back. That's a core value they were raised on," says Robin. "I hope they also learned that it doesn't take a lot of money, just determination, to turn a dream into a reality."

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.


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