FOCUS: Our Environment Draws Full House to Hear Speakers on Ojai Environmental Issues


Neither rain nor chill deterred locals from attending the Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) presentation of FOCUS: Our Environment, at The Ojai Woman’s Club, Thursday, March 22nd  to hear a panel of experts explain Ojai’s post-Thomas Fire status and explore major environmental concerns of the Ojai Valley.

Panelists Connor Jones, Ojai Permaculture; Jeff Kuyper, Los Padres Forest Watch; Tania Parker, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy; and David Robert White, The Center for Regenerative Agriculture, all spoke to their areas of expertise when answering the following questions:

What is the biggest environmental myth in Ojai? 

White: That citrus spraying is necessary.

Parker: That non-native, drought-tolerant plants are as good as native ones.

Jones: That Ojai doesn’t have enough water. 

Kuyper: So many myths -- heed what science tells us.

What role did fire play in Ojai’s ecology? 

Kuyper: “Chaparral has evolved with fire … but the Thomas Fire was wind and weather driven, not fuel driven (via chaparral).”

Parker:  “Fires every 30-150 years is a natural occurrence … (but) less than 20 years apart can eliminate our chaparral landscape.”

How is the ash affecting our soil and water?

Jones: “It varies per fire intensity.  Even in areas completely destroyed, ash has left behind huge amounts of minerals … The soil pH has probably risen, but water quality is down.  Caustic water hurts fish.”

White: “There’s too much carbon in our air and water.”  Fire and ash produce high levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons.  Regenerative plants are key.  “Plants are natural ‘carb pumps’.”

What is the most effective way to protect homes from fire?

White: “We need to change our approach to building.”

Jones: “Landscaping makes a huge difference.  Homes usually burn after landscaping has been destroyed.”

Kuyper: “The guiding principal is to clear: start from your home and work outward … employ fire-wise landscaping.”

Parker: “Create defensible space … learn to adapt (to natural surroundings).”

Should debris flow concern us? What can we do?

Parker: “Yes! We must restore our stream flow.  Replace invasive bamboo with native plants to stabilize stream beds.  It will take five to seven years to naturally repair and stabilize hillsides.”

What are three things should we plant and three we should remove? 

White: “Arrugula, chard and calendula.  Also agave, aloe vera, sycamores and oaks. Encourage local plants, remove non-natives.”

Jones: “Carob, olive and nut trees. Reduce demand for monoculture; use tree crops and perennials. Be careful of site locations for homes and plants.”

What are your environmental priorities six months to three years from now?

Parker: “Weed management, infrastructure and trail repair.  Longer term goals are to manage invasive plants and expand trails.”

Jones: “Ojai’s water crisis!”  Work on water autonomy and proper management.  “We have a water management problem, not a scarcity problem.”

Kuyper: “We need to work as a community on our fire safety and fire response.  We need to take responsibility for our homes and hold our decision-makers responsible when looking at new building plans and sites.  We need to double-down on protecting our wild Ojai.”

White: “Native planting … and connecting the next generation to nature. “

The Ojai Women’s Fund hosted Focus: Our Environment as part of its ongoing series of talks that brings together community experts with Ojai residents to explore pressing needs in the Valley, especially within OWF’s target areas: arts, education, environment, healthcare and social services. OWF’s representatives Therese Hartmann opened the program, Carey Appel served as moderator, and Lisa Casoni provided concluding remarks. OWF extends special thanks to caterer Christine Denney, Rainbow Bridge; sound technician James Antunez, A-Z Musical Services; and photographer Stephen Adams, for contributing their talents to the evening’s success.

View photos from the event by clicking here >>

A Chat With Your 2018 Co-Chairs

2018 Co-Chairs Anna Wagner (left) and Karen Evenden (right)

2018 Co-Chairs Anna Wagner (left) and Karen Evenden (right)


The 2018 year begins with a few exciting changes for the Ojai Women’s Fund leadership. Co-chair and co-founder Peggy Russell stepped down from her position at the end of December and will continue to serve as Finance Chair. Anna Wagner has stepped up to co-chair the organization with Karen Evenden. Anna has been involved with the OWF steering committee as Volunteer Coordinator for one year. She is currently Director of Development at the Ojai Music Festival and lives in Ojai with her husband, Bill (Music Director at Nordhoff High School), their daughter Charlotte, and dog Charley. She will assume the role formerly held by Co-Chair and co-founder Peggy Russell, who will continue to serve as Finance Chair and Treasurer.
Karen and Anna recently met to share a little bit about why they were involved in OWF, the growth they’ve seen in the organization, and their hopes for the upcoming year.
Tell us a little bit about this past [2017] year:
KE: We’re starting 2018 coming off of another very successful year. Last year, we increased our membership and were able to grow both in numbers of women involved and in dollars raised, which in turn led to another incredible grant cycle.
I think we all came together to join the OWF wanting to donate back into the community and I think that the dream of really understanding how much of an impact we can have is becoming real. I’m personally always so surprised to be reminded, having worked in larger cities, how $10,000 is able to make such a difference for our local agencies. You look at Santa Barbara, or Seattle (where I came from), their scale is more like $25,000 or $50,000. The needs are definitely here in our community, but the numbers needed to make an impact are smaller.

Anna, what motivated you to agree to be co-chair?
AW: Well, it’s hard to say no to Karen! (laughs) I feel like often when a new nonprofit comes up, there can be a feeling of competition rather than collaboration. There’s something about this organization and its underlying values of equity and fairness that really speak to me. I see it in memberships, in the way also that we do the grants – we really want to make sure that everyone has a chance in an equal manner to participate.
What’s incredible about OWF is that for as little as $100 as a group member, or $1,000 for an individual membership, you have an opportunity to vote and make a difference in this valley. The idea that my $125 as a group member equates to $64,000 in giving is really meaningful and something to be proud of. I didn’t give that much, and yet I did because all of us decided we were going to collectively give.
The education component of this organization also really appeals to me. I feel that to educate women on being philanthropic in general is an important concept that will help this organization, the valley, and other organizations as well. I really appreciate how some of our members may find that they voted for an organization that didn’t get money and decide they’re going to make a gift to support that program on their own because of what they’ve learned of the need in our community.
KE: Let me say why I thought Anna was the perfect choice. It’s important to all of us that we have a broad and diverse membership base. To appeal to the next generation of women in this community, we need to be able to communicate to them, while at the same time balance the needs of our younger members with those of our older members. I can’t think of a better person than you…you bring the youth, the experience, the knowledge, and fun.
AW: I really do admire the skill sets of the women that have come before me – you have the luxury of being retired and being able to volunteer the time, which is so important. While we [the younger generation and working women] may not have as much time to offer, we bring our own skill set that is equally important. I have made it a mission in this past year to be more present in the community in the way of volunteering the time I have. To be honest, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew! But that’s because if we don’t start it, who will continue this chain of giving back? I feel it’s important to lead by example and let people know that your time is needed. Even if it’s not a lot of hours, it’s something. Maybe if we can get more people in our generation to do one or two hours of their time a week it will lead to something greater down the road.
What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
KE: We’re looking to continue to increase the number of members and dollars we raise…we want to be able to increase the size of the grants we give out. Also, I think it will be important to focus more on recruiting and retaining our group members. I’m really looking forward to giving more recognition and training to the group leaders and to incorporate them more into the fabric of the organization. They really are the ambassadors for what it is we do.
I also think it’s time to focus more on the program side of things rather than the agencies. Here in this valley we have a small number of agencies, but a large number of programs. We really need to look at what the core issues are in our community and how we can respond. And that’s why we’re going into this series of “FOCUS” events that will delve more significantly into understanding, at this point in time, what the issues are.
AW: We’re small enough that we can be really flexible in the way we listen to the community and respond to that in addressing what the valley needs. In planning the FOCUS events, the Grants Committee really thought about how best to understand the greater needs of this community. It’s going to be really interesting to find out what comes out of each of those discussions because while what we may hear may not affect us in the current grant cycle, it will greatly influence how we work in the future.
I’m also looking forward to sharing more the success of what the different organizations have been able to accomplish with the grants that they have received, to report back to our members what their dollars have done for our community. We’re small enough that we can have an impact and we can see that impact. And to know that we’re making a difference in our valley – to see it every day – is special. And that’s why we’re all here.
KE: In just a few years, the OWF has just grown beyond my earliest expectations. It’s not just the dollars raised, it’s the enthusiasm of everyone and the buy-in to “Yes, we as women can make a difference”. We can all come together to make that difference – “the joy of local giving” is really exciting.
The Ojai Women’s Fund extends its deep gratitude to outgoing members of the Steering Committee Barbara Hirsch, Aryna Swope, and Sandi White for their dedication and many hours of work in running OWF. We welcome incoming Steering Committee members Caryn Bosson and Caitlin Praetorius, who join our continuing Steering Committee members Victoria Bortolussi, Kyle Crowner, Marquita Flemming, Donna Freiermuth, Margo Haas, Judy Norris, Peggy Russell, and Tiarzha Taylor.

Message from the Steering Committee on the Thomas Fire

Ojai Strong.png

Life as we know it can change in a blink of an eye.  

We have all heard this, yet the residents of Santa Paula, Ventura and Ojai had no idea it could happen to such a magnitude and forever change our lives.

Whether we lost something valuable to us or we are touched by others who have lost their homes, we are all feeling a sense of gratitude and thankfulness to our firefighters and first responders for saving our town of Ojai.  We want to extend ourselves to be of assistance to those who are in need and for many of us, we do not have adequate information for the best resources.

In this extraordinary time, the Ojai Women’s Fund is reaching out to its members to share information that we feel is helpful to you. 

Here are ways you can help:

1.   Join the Ojai Community Thomas Fire Network on Facebook to get connected with the latest news being shared and ways residents are helping one another.

2.   Make a donation to Ojai residents affected directly by the fire by visiting

3.   Visit, a grassroots effort helping Ojai residents find resources and ways to help those in need.

4.   Visit the Ojai Valley Community Hospital and pick up free masks to protect yourself and others from the smoke.

5.   Shop and Eat Locally! Support our local businesses during this critical time.

6.  Attend the following events to support Ojai residents affected by the fire:

  • Friday Dec. 15, 10-11am: Purchase Ojai Strong Merchandise at Ojai Baby (203 N. Signal St). Proceeds to benefit Help of Ojai.
  • Saturday Dec. 16, 10am-2pm: OUSD PTO's A United Gift Drive at Nordhoff High School (1401 Maricopa Hwy). Click here for more information
  • Saturday Dec. 16, 2:30pm: Upper Ojai Relief Potluck at Stagecoach Station General Store (12679 Ojai Santa Paula Rd). Click here for more information
  • Saturday Dec. 16, 12-7pm: Help of Ojai Fundraiser at Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room (109 S. Montgomery St). Click here for more information
  • Saturday, Dec. 16, 12-5pm: Help of Ojai Fundraiser at The Nest (401 E. Ojai Ave)
  • Saturday, Dec. 23. 4-7pm: Night at the Bookstore Fundraiser for Thomas Fire Victims at Bart's Books (302 W. Matilija St). Click here for more information.

OWF Announces 2017 Grant Recipients

The Ojai Women’s Fund is pleased to announce $64,000 in grants to eleven organizations in the Ojai Valley. These grants, awarded in five program areas, reflect the Ojai Women’s Fund commitment to making grants on an annual basis to organizations that target critical needs in the Ojai Valley.  


Ojai Festivals, Ltd. -$10,000
Art Project Name:  BRAVO Program:  Education Through Music

Ojai Unified School District (Music Department) - $8,550
Education Project Name:  Ojai Valley Mariachi Camp

Food for Thought Ojai - $7,850
Environment Project Name:  Planting, Eating, Saving, and Sharing; Seeds and Students

Boys & Girls Club - $10,000
Social Services Project Name:  Oak View Club Site Serving Ojai Valley Residents

OjaiCARES - $10,000
Health Project Name:  Patient Navigation


Performances to Grow On
Art Project Name: The Ojai Storytelling Festival

Ojai Valley Library Friends & Foundation 
Education Project Name: Sponsored Little Free Libraries

Nordhoff Dance Alliance
Education Project Name: Broadway’s Best Moments, Spring Dance

Mira Monte Elementary
Environment Project Name: Mira Monte Garden of Knowledge

HELP of Ojai
Social Services Project Name: Student Mental Health Program

Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation
Health Project Name: The Gift of Healing Air


Ojai Women’s Fund Kicks Off 2017 with Insightful Talk By Seasoned Philanthropist

The saying “If you build it, they will come” certainly proved true in Ojai last week as the Ojai Women’s Fund 2017 Kickoff Event drew well over a hundred women to the Ojai Women’s Club on February 28th to hear celebrated Ojai resident Esther Wachtell talk about her passion for and longtime relationship with philanthropy. Wachtell is the founder and retired president of The Wachtell Group, a fundraising consulting company; and founding chair of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.

Esther Wachtell was delighted when the Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) launched last year and is highly supportive of its local philanthropic efforts. As a seasoned philanthropist and ground floor OWF member, she graciously agreed to share her wealth of experience, motivation, and insight into historical, cultural, economic and psychological traditions and benefits of philanthropy. According to Wachtell, “Philanthropy represents a fundamental tradition unique to American culture. Nowhere else in the world is the concept of philanthropy so deeply embedded in the national ethos. Our tradition harkens back to our pioneer roots … it was the means of survival, the path to success.”

From an economic standpoint, Wachtell explained how philanthropy brings an important marketplace test to charitable services: “It’s the way people can show how much they value services being performed … and provide the power of the marketplace to winnow out needed services.” She likened philanthropy as the “third leg of the tripod that supports America’s economy,” after government and business. “Together, these three methods of economic activity form the foundation of our system. Many billions (of dollars) are spent into our economy through philanthropy. Jobs are created. Problems are solved. Diseases are cured. Sculptures are created. Music is performed. Schools teach our children and research centers drive us into the future. All of these activities are fostered best by philanthropy and, as we analyze each of these areas, we realize that they can only really survive well through philanthropy. They rely upon individual creativity. They flourish when there is more freedom of expression. The structure of philanthropy unleashes human creativity in ways that government and corporations cannot do.”

The psychological benefit of giving is obvious: it makes us feel good. But beyond the bliss bubble is a very tangible uplifting of self and community that feeds empathy, fosters compassion and understanding, and nurtures dignity and respect. “We see that it makes a difference. Our spirits are enriched every time by the simple act of giving,” says Wachtell.

The next step in philanthropic evolution is already underway, according to Wachtell. Academic studies and experimental projects linking philanthropy with public policy and corporate participation are showing very promising results. In a public-private-philanthropic partnership, foundations provide the infrastructure and leadership to bring government and business together – creating a diverse collective to decide who can do what best to solve problems together. This sort of partnership will, as Esther Wachtell describes, “join all three legs of society’s tripod to solve community problems. “

Locally, the Ojai Women’s Fund has done extensive research in an effort to best understand its community and community needs. Last year, the OWF awarded $60K in grants to local nonprofits serving arts, education, environment, health and social services needs in Ojai. This year, the OWF aims to do even more. If the enthusiastic turnout for Esther Wachtell’s talk at OWF’s 2017 Kickoff Event last week is any indication of Ojai’s passion to care for its community – it shall be a successful and rewarding year ahead for Ojai, indeed.

The OWF is currently seeking applicants for 2017 grants in categories of Art, Education, Environment, Health and Social Services. Application period ends April 12. Grant applications and information are available by clicking here.