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Welcome to Community Corner, a library of some of the projects undertaken by local organizations using grants received from the Ojai Women’s Fund. Check back often as the list of projects will continue to grow!

Special thanks to OWF member Gillian McManus (Caring for Ojai) for her work on grantee writeups.

 
 
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Mira Monte Garden of Knowledge (2017 Grantee)

Mira Monte Elementary School opened its new Garden of Knowledge on May 15. Parents and staff worked hard to help bring to life this drought-tolerant garden, which is open to students and the community to read and access the internet.

 
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Little Free Libraries (2017 Grantee)

The grant from the Ojai Women’s Fund has enabled the Ojai Valley Library Friends & Foundation (OVLFF) to install nine additional Little Free Libraries throughout the Ojai Valley. There are now Little Free Libraries at all OUSD campuses and these additional libraries bring the total number in the Ojai Valley to 25.

 
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Mariachi Ojai (2017 Grantee)

This grant from the OWF made Ojai’s first Mariachi Camp possible. Held during the summer of 2018, 22 10-17 year-old Ojai students came together for a free, two-week camp to traditional instruments and a selection of songs. The camp culminated in a community performance for friends and family.

 
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OjaiCARES (2017 Grantee)

Supporting cancer patients in the Ojai Valley through personal patient support and tailored resources, OWF’s grant enabled OjaiCARES to provide 200 extra hours of patient navigation.

 
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Food For Thought (2017 Grantee)

A longtime presence in Ojai’s public schools, Food For Thought improves food awareness in local elementary schools, teaching gardening and agriculture and tying these hands-on experiences with students’ academic skills.

Mira Monte Garden of Knowledge

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On a warm afternoon in May Karen Evenden and I park across the street from the Mira Monte Elementary School to attend the opening of the Garden of Knowledge. The garden was created through the generous help of many organizations, the Ojai Women's Fund being one of them. The OWF's grant was used to make pathways of decomposed granite, benches that are spread throughout the garden and to purchase the drought tolerant plants. Our $7,389.00 contribution made up the lion's share of the $12,380.00 budget and it was worth every penny!

Walking towards the front of the school we can see a group of parents, teachers and children has gathered under the shade in the garden, where they are milling about, sitting on benches, using their phones and chatting with one another. It's a lovely sight and, sadly, a rare one in this part of the Ojai Valley where there are no local parks.

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After a sparkling apple cider toast, we join a small group led by two students, Addison Belcher and Nadine Litonjua, who lead us on a tour of the garden, explaining different aspects. The benches are made of rocks harvested from the ground and enclosed in cage like containers. They are unique constructions that remind us of the earth from which they came - wood planks serve as the sitting surface. In one corner there are benches with placards movingly commemorating students who have died while attending the school.

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Addison and Nadine tell us about the drought tolerant plants - Palos Verdes and Jacaranda trees, rosemary, Mexican sage, Matilija poppies are included in the garden. They let us know about the wireless signal available to all in the garden and also available to the apartments across the street where families who likely can't afford wifi live. They further explain that the parents of Mira Monte students are the ones who care for the garden, coming in twice a week to water, rake and pull weeds. And up on a fence post, we spy a Little Free Library! Another organization that received an OWF grant!

The girls are giggly and fun and appear proud of their school's garden and their role in guiding us around it. Karen and I are proud, too. Proud of the OWF's contribution to this wonderful, educational and accessible outdoor area.

 

 
 

Little Free Libraries

 
 

Kris Humphries has books and the public good in her blood. Her mother was a librarian, her sisters are teachers, she's been an avid reader since her early childhood and has spent many of her working years in the public sector. These combined passions of hers, books and the public good, have led to her involvement with libraries throughout her life. And that is Ojai's good fortune.

Kris sits on the board of the Ojai Library Friends and Foundation. She is the person behind the Ojai Women's Fund grant application requesting funds for the construction, placement and maintenance of Little Free Libraries around the Ojai Valley. She first realized a need for more Little Free Libraries when she noticed that some residents in the greater valley didn't have easy access to our libraries because of location or hours.

What are Little Free Libraries (LFLs)? They are the small, enchanting structures that are colorfully painted and full of books that you can see scattered throughout our valley from Casitas Springs to the Summit School in the Upper Valley. They operate 24/7 and offer completely free books to anyone who wants to pick one up and drop one off.

With only half of the grant money, twelve LFL have already been constructed, painted, placed and stocked and will be maintained.  Local residents largely volunteered their skills which allowed for costs to be kept to a minimum. So it's not just our citizens who use the little libraries who are involved - volunteers constructed them, local artists offered their time and skills to paint them and others helped place them. It's become a community project for the benefit of our community!

The remaining monies will be used to keep the structures full of books, both in English and Spanish, to maintain them and to hopefully build more. Click the button below to view a map of the Little Free Libraries in our area. Note that some are privately owned and maintained, although the OVLFF does help keep them stocked with books.

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The project extends beyond our community as well. LFLs are an international movement with over 60,000 located throughout the world.  Plus communities close to Ojai have helped stock out little libraries. In the recent wake of the Thomas Fire the Hollow Hills School in Simi Valley gave over 1,000 childrens' books to our community and these will go to stock the LFLs.

Seems like these small libraries generate good will. And why not? Kids can ride their bikes on a summer evening to discover their local outpost, select a new book and deposit an old one. Seniors can get to one at any time of day and not necessarily need a car. The LFLs are placed at schools, community centers and churches throughout the valley and people can explore these places that they might not previously have known.

The Ojai Women's Fund's grant has gone a long way to bring books to our residents and involved both our community and other communities in our endeavor. Kudos go to the OVLFF and their vision for a better Ojai and to our members for providing the funds to help implement this little libraries dream.

 
 

Mariachi Ojai

 

In June of this year, twenty-two young people, ages 10-17, gathered to participate in the first Ojai Mariachi Camp. The camp was the brainchild of Ojai Women's Fund member, Annika Forester, who emailed Matilija Junior High music teacher, Thomas Fredrickson, with the idea of starting a music program that would reach out to Spanish speaking students.

Thomas thought it was a fantastic idea, but wasn't sure what it would look like. What would he teach? Mariachi music became the top contender as he realized that many kids already had exposure to it and universally found it appealing. Next, when would these classes be held? He could see that the school year was too busy for students with afterschool activities and too difficult for some who had no transportation, so he began to consider the summer. Quickly the idea of a summer camp, lasting two weeks and at no cost to the students formed in his mind.

Lastly, the question of how to pay for this camp that would be free to its participants. Thus began Thomas's grant proposal to the OWF, requesting $8,550.00 to set up the Mariachi Camp at Matilija Junior High. The program would last for two weeks, be offered every weekday morning and last three hours each day. In addition expert Mariachi instructors would be hired and some instruments would be purchased.

OWF members agreed that Thomas had a great program in mind and voted to fund his proposal in full. Then the work began in earnest.

First he started by publicizing it well in advance of the summer. Sign-ups were slow initially and by the time the sign-up date had come and gone, he had some fleeting doubts, but he got on the phone to students and parents and by the first day of the camp, twenty two participants were in class!

Each student was required to have a certain level of musical proficiency. Some were skilled on the guitar, others in voice and others in violin, trumpet, vihuela, guitarrón and double bass. At the start, Thomas had hoped to hire instrument- specific coaches, but since the initial response was weak, he hesitated. By the time the enrollment was a hearty twenty two, there was no time to hire the additional teachers.

However, he found the perfect Artistic Director in Dominic Rivera of Mariachi Camarillo. Dominic was an enthusiastic instructor and leader. He and his Mariachi Camarillo group not only provided a Mariachi concert for the kids on their first day of school, but he also provided essential guidance in the purchase of a guitarrón and a vihuela.

Thomas feels everyone got excellent instruction and by not hiring the extra staff, he saved enough money to hold the camp again in 2019. In this coming year, Thomas is expecting some of the students from this year to provide peer-to-peer teaching! So not only continuing to learn their instrument and the music, but passing it on to others. An unexpected bonus.

A final concert and lunch was held at Matilija Auditorium in late June. Two of the attendees from the OWF were Judy Norris with two of her grandaughters, as well as Janet Owens. Everyone agreed that the program was a rousing success! The students seemed to have fun, played and sang well and their parents were proud. Judy's oldest granddaughter, Maya, said " My friend did the camp and she enjoyed playing the violin in the band. I appreciated the joyful enthusiasm of the band and how they learned to play in such short amount of time. Thank you Ojai Women's Fund for choosing to donate to this great program."

 
 

OjaiCARES

 

In February of 2009 Susan Kapadia received the news that most of us hope we’ll never hear: she had cancer. The news did what one might expect, it shocked, frightened, and overwhelmed both her and her family. Out of the blue they faced navigating a bewildering maze of medical information and services in addition to grappling with the idea that she had a serious and life-threatening disease. Her story ended happily and she has been cancer free for nine years now, but it was her own experience that led her to become a passionate advocate for cancer patients in our valley.

Her illness was followed by three years working at the Breast Cancer Resource Center in Santa Barbara, plus obtaining a Certificate in Patient Advocacy. By 2012, friends and friends of friends in Ojai were regularly sending people diagnosed with cancer to Susan to get advice, support, and information. At a dinner party one night she sat next to a guest who heard her talk about her own experience and how she was helping people in the valley as they faced their daunting diagnoses. The guest was so struck by how large the need for cancer support was that she offered Susan a space in a building she owned in town free of charge!

Thus began OjaiCARES. Susan began a support group for cancer patients and when the space grew too small, she moved to Little House where she could hold a larger groups. It soon became clear that the need in Ojai was larger than Little House could handle. So, in 2014, she rented a space on the east end of town on Ojai Ave and set up spaces for all the services that OjaiCARES provides. The organization supplies services such as patient navigation, advocacy, weekly support groups, a caregiver support program, oncology massage and skincare, Reiki, guided imagery, therapeutic yoga, a lending library, and a boutique for hats, wigs, etc. All of these services are free.

The Ojai Women’s Fund’s grant of $10,000 allowed OjaiCARES to provide 200 additional hours of patient navigation to their clients. These extra hours make a world of difference to the people who receive them. We’re all familiar with the daunting task of remembering what a doctor tells us in an annual physical – imagine entering the world of a cancer diagnosis and hearing an entire new vocabulary, learning about treatment options, and managing the stress of your loved ones and your own fear and anxiety. A good navigator provides support and communication between family, medical teams, community, and the patient. This guidance makes a formidably difficult experience more manageable.

At its most recent fund raiser, held at Topa Topa Winery, Susan spoke of the increased need for funding for the important services provided. All services are free and donations and grants are the only source of income. But, in spite of the perpetual struggle to finance this worthwhile endeavor, Susan and her team forge on. The keynote speaker at the fundraiser was a woman who spoke of her own cancer diagnosis and her struggle to come to terms with it. Her remarks reflected just what a huge difference OjaiCARES had made for her and her family.

Let’s hope that OjaiCARES continues to thrive as they provide these wonderful and necessary services to the people of the Ojai Valley. If you are interested in finding out more about what the organization is up to or if you wish to make a donation, check out their website: ojaicares.org.

 
 

Food For Thought

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On an already warm morning I met with Lori Hamor, Executive Director of Food for Thought (FFT). Befittingly we met at The Farmer and the Cook, Ojai’s locally grown organic market and restaurant where we settled down to talk about the grant awarded to FFT by the Ojai Women’s Fund.

Lori is the mother of two glorious daughters, smart, thinking, fun and active people who went through the OUSD system. Her oldest daughter was in kindergarten when Lori first volunteered at FFT in 2004. Over the years Lori’s involvement grew, and when a co-founder’s untimely death occurred in 2010, she took on the role of Executive Director. A role she’s taken on with vim and vigor!

FFT has been in existence for 15 years and, full disclosure, I was a board member in its earlier days. So, it was a nice surprise for me to find out how much the organization has grown, in part due to the OWF’s generous grant. Our grant specifically helped expand their Planting, Eating, Saving and Sharing program at the four elementary schools in Ojai.

The gardens that FFT has built at OUSD elementary schools are a wonderful sight to behold and provide delight to the small gardeners who till the earth, plant the seeds, harvest the crops, and then sell the produce at school farmer’s markets. About 5 years ago, FFT decided to help the students further understand the journey of food from farm to table by having them harvest seeds, propagate them, nurture them in a greenhouse, and then plant them in their school gardens. Extra seeds are carefully counted, packaged and swapped for seeds from other schools.

In addition to learning to become keen gardeners, kids learn math through the weighing and pricing of produce at markets, taking money and making change, as well as from counting the seeds for each package to swap. They sharpen their artistic skills by decorating the packets of seeds. They learn to appreciate climate and the change of seasons and how these affect plants. They discover a sense of community by working with others, setting up markets, and swapping their seeds. Lastly, and likely happily for parents, they try the food they grow and discover that broccoli and spinach are really very tasty!!

With our grant money FFT was able to pay more educators and buy materials such as screens to separate seeds and art supplies so the children could decorate the seed packets and envelopes to hold the seeds. Our grant also allowed for the publication of a small booklet “Save a Seed”.

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As with other organizations to which OWF has given grants, FFT reaches out to touch our community beyond its stated purpose. Lori says that the program, which was specifically designed for elementary schools, has led to a significant interest in environmental classes at both Matilija and Nordhoff. As students leave elementary school they carry their interest in botany, environmental studies, and gardening with them. At Meiners Oaks, Topa Topa, and Mira Monte the school librarians have started a seed library – and one is in the making at San Antonio now. A teacher’s husband did gorgeous botanical drawings for the booklet that FFT published, “Save a Seed”. I guess you could say that the OWF grant helped plant seeds in more than one way!

If you want to know more about the FFT organization, check out their website at foodforthoughtojai.org.