• What’s in a name?: “The shop was supposed to be called Moonlight Flower, but once you work at probation that sounds like a strip club so I couldn’t do it.”
Ngoc Lam-Mathis’ parents wanted to give her something nobody could take away — an education and a chance to live her life however she wanted.
So when their family of eight got the chance to immigrate to Philadelphia from Vietnam in 1995, they took it.
“My parents didn’t want us to stay in a country where we can’t do or be what we want to be,” Lam-Mathis said. “So they sacrificed their lives to be here for a better future.”
Today, after a 13-year career as a Philly probation officer working with high-risk clients, Lam-Mathis, 36, is finally where she wants to be, doing what she wants to do, as the co-owner with her brother of Floraltology in Southwest Philly.
Lam-Mathis was 11 when her family moved from Vietnam to Philadelphia, where one of her uncles already lived. For six months both families — totaling 12 people — shared a Southwest Philly rowhouse with one bathroom.
Devout Catholics, the Lam family began attending a Vietnamese community church that held services in the basement of St. Francis De Sales in West Philly.
Lam-Mathis’ father volunteered her to create floral arrangements for Sunday services. The priest would buy a bouquet of flowers and let Lam-Mathis decorate the altar.
Over time though, she grew gifted at the craft and found peace in it, but a single event in her teens led her to pursue another career first.
“The police officer said we ran a red light and gave us a ticket,” she said. “So I said at that point ‘I want to be a lawyer someday.’”
After graduating from Bartram Motivation High School in 2002, Lam-Mathis attended Temple University where she majored in criminology, minored in religion, and received her certificate in floral design, all while working at a neighborhood flower shop.
She decided being an attorney was not the path for her, so when a friend suggested she take the test to become a probation officer, she did, and she passed.
Lam-Mathis worked in adult probation with high-risk clients, mostly men who had been convicted of sexual assault and domestic violence crimes. The 13 years she served as a probation officer shaped her world view, but it didn’t sour it.
While working in probation, Lam-Mathis obtained her graduate degree in criminology at St. Joseph’s University. On the side, she created floral arrangements for friends and colleagues, always dreaming of opening her own shop someday.
He agreed to sell to her instead of the buyer who wanted to turn his shop into apartments. Lam-Mathis got a few friends to lend her the money and went in as co-owners with her brother, Thi Lam, who manages the business side.
“I am fortunate enough to find contentment. I am very at ease at the flower shop,” she said. “I like the fact I’m in control of what I do and what I create, and I get encouragement from seeing people appreciate the joy of flowers.”