Ojai Women's Fund Awards $60K in Community Grants At Inaugural Year

From left to right: Celine Chapman, Jessica Sanchez,  Carol Palladini and Jan Campbell at the presentation of funds for Ojai Women's Fund.

From left to right: Celine Chapman, Jessica Sanchez, 
Carol Palladini and Jan Campbell at the presentation of funds for Ojai Women's Fund.

The Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) celebrated the culmination of a year of collective philanthropy with the distribution of $60,000 in grants to six nonprofit organizations in the Ojai Valley.

Over 100 members of the fund, together with friends and supporters, attended the program at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ojai in early December. The OWF awarded a $10,000 grant to organizations in each of five categories: Arts, Education, Environment, Healthcare and Social Services. A surprise tie in OWF member balloting produced a sixth winner in the Social Services category. Awardees included: Arts: Ojai Youth Opera; Education: Girls Empowerment Workshop; Environment: Once upon a Watershed; Healthcare: Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurses Association; and Social Services: Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center, and Reins of H.O.P.E.

The Ojai Women’s Fund was established in January 2016 under the leadership of co-founders Karen Evenden and Peggy Russell. The group’s philosophy is to Empower Change Through Giving -- to encourage Ojai women to stand together, pool resources and support the needs of the Ojai Valley. Responding to the challenge, the group grew the membership to over 300 participants in just one year – clearly demonstrating that Ojai women have compassion and concern for their own community and are ready to take action.

Members love that their donations are invested right back into the community. “What’s truly amazing is the local emphasis and impact,” said Sandi White, OWF’s Membership Committee Chair. “Women love the collaborative nature (of OWF) and its transformational results.”

When asked how she felt following the momentous, first-year grants presentation, Karen Evenden, co-founder of OWF, said, “The event, like this entire year, exceeded my expectations – we’ve set the bar for next year and I’m confident that working together we will continue our success. Together, we’re truly making a difference in our Ojai Valley community!”

Russell added that “We’ve only just begun. The fact that we had 33 grant applications our first year shows us there’s so much more work to be done. We’re looking forward to doing even more in 2017.”

Among the many guests at the 2016 Ojai Women’s Fund Grant Awards Celebration were Carol Palladini, founder of the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara and Jan Campbell, Chief Philanthropic Officer of the Santa Barbara Foundation, both whose guidance this year was integral to OWF becoming a reality and achieving success. Campbell offered her view of OWF’s first year of philanthropy: “The Santa Barbara Foundation is proud to be the fiscal sponsor of the OWF and I am impressed by the rapid success of this group. Building philanthropy in the Ojai Valley just got a huge boost by these dedicated volunteers!”

Within the grant acceptance remarks made by awardees, the following are representative of the touching comments:

Rebecca Comerford, Ojai Youth Opera: “Opera can educate us, bring us closer, and preserve our souls. Without you, our opera dream would be just that – a dream.”

Shannon Skillern, Girls Empowerment Workshop: “We all want to see women succeed… we’re working to prepare young women for the real world in a strong and confident way.”

Dr. David White, Once Upon A Watershed: “We’re connecting (students) to their eco address. The support you provide enables us to build our program.”

Ellen Johnson, Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurses Association: “With your funding we can safeguard (Ojai) residents and ensure they get the care they need. Your gift shows this is a kinder, more caring community that we live in.”

Carol Castanon, Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center: “Families are where our hearts are first touched. It’s our first experience of more than one -- a microcosm of community, which is a microcosm of the world.”

Lynn Leis, Reins of H.O.P.E.: “We have a lot to learn from horses. They model strong relationships (and) help us to connect. It’s hard to go out and grab life without a connection.”

The Ojai Women’s Fund is currently accepting new members for 2017, 2016 member renewals, and end-of-year contributions. Donations made to the Ojai Women’s Fund are tax-deductible. For more information on joining, please call (805) 746-3096 or email info@ojaiwomensfund.org.