Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara Grants $600,000 to Local Nonprofits

Women's Fund of Santa Barbara“Collaborative efforts are part of the future of philanthropy,” said Natalie Orfalea, addressing the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara’s annual luncheon on Jan. 28.

As chairwoman of the Orfalea Fund and co-founder of the Orfalea Family Foundation, Orfalea is an expert on collaborative giving, and was instrumental in developing her foundation’s partnership with the Women’s Fund. With Orfalea matching all of the money raised by the Women’s Fund, it was able to award $600,000 to support the work of eight local nonprofit organizations: Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara, Casa Pacifica, Family Service Agency, Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, Isla Vista Youth Projects, People’s Self-Help Housing, Storyteller Children’s Center and Transition House.

This brings the total amount given to the community by the Women’s Fund to $1,425,000, in just four short years of existence. The grassroots group was founded by a small group of women — chairwoman Carol Palladini and Perri Harcourt, Shirley Ann Hurley, Jean Kaplan, Dale Kern, Joanne Rapp, Elna Scheinfeld, Meredith Scott, Kay Stern, Anne Smith Towbes, Marsha Wayne and Fritzie Yamin — who were interested in contributing to the community without having to sell tickets, make decorations, solicit auction items or spend valuable resources to bring in funding for nonprofit organizations.

It’s a simple, yet powerful, idea that’s growing in the philanthropic community: Why not take the time, energy and money spent on producing and attending elaborate fund-raisers and write a single check once a year to put that money where it’s most needed.

The concept of giving circles — pooling resources with other donors to have a bigger impact — is catching on, too, not just with the Women’s Fund but within the Women’s Fund as well. To become a member of the Women’s Fund, a woman simply writes a tax-deductible check for $2,500 once a year and in return receives one vote to decide where the funds will be distributed. When the group started in 2004, it targeted women who could easily make the $2,500 donation required to participate.

In recent years, the circle of giving has widened to include group members — often younger women in the community who can’t afford the entire $2,500 donation — who pool their money and share one vote. SBParent.com has put together two of these groups, and there are 28 other sets of women who are neighbors, coworkers, friends and acquaintances who also contributed to the fund as group members, with anywhere from two to 12 members pooling their funds to come up with the required $2,500.

The idea of the money donated going directly to help people, rather than being spent on events or fund-raising expenses appealed to SBParent’s Julie Sorenson and Rachael Steidl. Other members said they joined the group to meet like-minded women or to learn more about the nonprofit organizations serving the community. Assisted by the Santa Barbara Foundation, the research committee does all the legwork to identify causes that align with the Women’s Fund goal of giving to meaningful projects affecting women, children and families.

The largest gift awarded by the Women’s Fund this year was a $150,000 leadership grant to Storyteller Children’s Center, for its $2.5 million expansion campaign that will be launched in 2008. Storyteller, which provides high-quality free preschool for homeless and at-risk children, will use the funds to help establish a second center on De la Vina Street. The organization will serve 1,000 homeless and at-risk children and their families in the next decade, said executive director Terri Allison.

“One in every five children in Santa Barbara County lives in poverty,” Allison said. And while these funds will greatly expand the availability of services, “for every child who joins Storyteller, we must place one on our waiting list.”

Family Service Agency’s 211 Human Services Helpline was awarded $95,000, an amount that will provide one-third of the funding needed to carry on the operation of the helpline when government funds expire in 2008.

Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara was awarded $85,000 to pay for a licensed social worker to recruit, screen, train and support 20 foster families, doubling the number of infants and toddlers that were placed in foster care in 2007.

“These parents risk their own broken hearts,” said executive director Meichelle Arntz, “and this money allows us to provide them with additional support.”

Isla Vista Youth Projects, which lost state funds in 2007, received $60,000 for a family advocate and counselor for one year. This gap funding will restore programs to keep low-income families healthy through regular medical and dental care.

Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara was awarded $55,000 for its Teen Mentoring Program. Thise program expansion will allow girls 13 to 18 years old to participate in Girls Inc. for the first time locally. In the past the agency only served girls up to age 12.

Casa Pacifica received $55,000 to purchase three cars to enable caseworkers and mental health professionals to deliver 24/7 mobile emergency services for youth in immediate psychiatric crisis and to provide assistance for families with youth who are at risk for being placed in foster care.

People’s Self-Help Housing was granted $50,000 to fund a third educator for its year-round specialized mentoring learning program that serves school-aged children in low-income families.

Transition House also received $50,000, which will provide gap funding for the salary of one case manager for a year. Transition House case managers meet one-on-one with at-risk families to craft solutions to help them restore self-sufficiency.

As if helping these worthy organizations weren’t reward enough, oversight committee chairwoman Jo Gifford told the crowd of approximately 150 women that she recently learned that givers are happier than nongivers, less depressed, and full of the hormones that reduce stress.

“So with that in mind, I stand before the happiest, least depressed and least stressed women in Santa Barbara,” she said.

For more information about the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara visit www.womensfundsb.org or contact Jo Gifford at 805.969.3320 or mjog@cox.net.

Originally published in Noozhawk and SBParent.com on January 30, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Joe Holland

Joseph E. Holland, courtesy photo

Joseph E. Holland, courtesy photo

With three elections scheduled in Santa Barbara County this year–including the presidential primary on February 5–one would think that the county’s election chief Joseph E. Holland has his hands full. The elections office staff of 12 will ramp up to about 1,200 by Election Day. Luckily, he’s used to multi-tasking. County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor since 2003, Holland manages a $13 million budget and four divisions: Assessor, Elections, Recorder and Information Services.

Leslie Dinaberg: This is a big year for you guys with the early presidential primary, the spring primary and then the presidential election. What does that mean for your office in terms of work?

Joe Holland: …Most people don’t understand how complicated elections really are, which is good, that’s what we strive for. People want to come in, vote their ballot and have their ballot counted…that’s all that they need to worry about or need to think about. But behind the scenes, it starts with voter registration. When you register to vote, you, of course, register by your address and that determines what type of ballot you will have. What jurisdiction you are in. Are you in the city of Santa Barbara, the Goleta Water District, what congressional district are you in? It’s a lot of work just making sure that every one of the 183,000 registered voters gets the proper ballot on election day…that’s where the first level of complexity starts.

Then…you’re designing the ballots…we handle candidate filing. You’re making sure that all the candidates are properly signed up for their office …we have to hire poll workers, we have to calibrate voting machines, we have to deliver polling supplies, and we have to train poll workers…We have 215 precincts at the polling places and so…there’s nine hundred to 1,000 poll workers you have to hire across the county.

LD: Do you try to get the same people for each of the three elections?

JH: Yes we try to and a lot of them will work for all three elections. You know that’s quite a challenge … with these three major elections in 2008 it means we have to do all this work three times and that’s the first time we’ve ever had to do that…. Three major, statewide elections in one calendar year, I think this is the first time in history that’s ever happened…

LD: That’s a big job.

JH: …Most people don’t understand, but we send out ballots 60 days before the election to overseas voters in the military, so really although everybody knows the election is February 5th, it really started for us December 5th.

LD: Speaking of absentee ballots, how many permanent absentee voters are there?

JH: There are 90,000. …

LD: Are there any cost savings when people vote by mail?

JH: No, because we’re running two elections. We’re actually running a poll-based election and a mail ballot election. As long as we’re doing both, it really isn’t saving us any money because I still have 215 precincts and I still have to hire poll workers for all of those precincts. So it really doesn’t save money, it actually costs more money, but it does lead to a higher voter turnout because it makes voting easier.

LD: What is the rate of return of people that register to vote by mail versus the other registered voters?

JH: …If you look on average over the last 13 countywide elections…75 percent of people who receive a ballot in the mail return their ballot. For those people that vote at the polls, on average, 50 percent return. …The more people I can get to vote by mail the higher turnout I’m going to have…the turnout in Santa Barbara County has been going up.

LD: That’s good. I would assume that the presidential election years are typically a much better turnout than the off years.

JH: Yeah. In November 2004 we had an 80.5 percent turnout in Santa Barbara County. That was the highest turnout since 1976. … For this primary election, here we are as of January 11th, we’ve had the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary and it looks like both the Democratic and Republican contests are still very much undecided, wide open.

In March 2004 we had a 55 percent turnout for the presidential primary, but it was pretty much decided by March 2004 who was going to be the nominee for both major parties.

LD: It will be interesting to see how long it takes to come to a consensus.

JH: This ballot doesn’t have senate, congress, state legislature, all that March 2004 did have. So what going to happen on February 5th? My guess is it’s going to be a very big turnout….I’m going to guess it’s definitely going to be higher than 55 percent. It probably won’t be as high as 80 percent but it might approach 70 percent.

LD: When you’re in your crunch time, do you have deputies in the other areas you’re responsible for, that you can delegate more stuff when there’s an election going on?

JH: Yes. I have excellent staff…they do a great job so I spend my time doing this kind of stuff (interviews). And I sit in meetings and have them report to me and make decisions.

You know what’s fun? On Election Day, I actually drive around to all the various precincts, check on all the poll workers, and that’s a lot of fun.

LD: I would imagine you probably have some poll workers that have been doing it for years.

JH: Oh yeah. It’s great to go see them every Election Day. What I like about elections is they are so positive. People are there because they want to be there. Because they want to vote because they want to make a difference. And even the poll workers, they are there because they want to be part of this making a difference, and it’s pretty exciting.

LD: It’s fun. We always like to take our son, who is 8. He loves to go and get the little sticker.

JH: You know that’s the one thing about vote by mail, you don’t get the sticker. I love those stickers.

LD: I love the efficiency of it and the convenience of voting by mail, but there’s something kind of nice about going in there and casting your vote.

JH: I’m not vote by mail, so I vote at the polls. …That way, I get all the candidates materials mailed to me all the way up to Election Day. If you just vote by mail and you turn in your ballot they stop sending you stuff.

LD: That’s efficient data management. You must have really powerful technology to manage all the data.

JH: It starts with the vote registration database, 180,000 registered voters. We anticipate that we’ll probably get a good amount of people registering to vote before January 22nd, which is the last day to register to vote.

If you look back to 2004, we got 25,000 new registrations right before the November 2004 election. So how do you process 25,000 voter registration applications? It’s quite an undertaking. We had a whole bunch of people working late at night trying to get that done by the deadline. Now we’ve got what’s called ICR, intelligent character recognition, so when you fill out your voter registration card, you’ve hand written all of your data in there. We actually can scan that in and this machine will read your handwriting. … We don’t have to do that data entry. So what we’re hoping is that this presidential year if we get a whole bunch of those in, it’s going to go much quicker because all they’re doing is just verifying what’s right.

LD: Sounds pretty high tech.

JH: When you return your absentee ballot you sign the outside of the envelope, and there’s a bar code on there that tells us who you are. So when we receive that envelope back, we send it through a machine that’s called an ASR, automatic signature recognition machine. It goes through, it tells us that we’ve received Leslie’s ballot on this date at this time, and that it compares your signature with the signature that we have on file for you with your voter registration card, and if it matches, then it accepts it.

…(Before June we’ll have a new technology so that) when your ballot is received you’ll be able to go on the Internet and type in your name and it’ll tell you whether or not your ballot was received and on what day. So if you’re voting by mail you can verify that indeed our ballot made it to our office.

…Another machine that we have for the first time this year is we have an automatic envelope opener. … We get all these ballots that are accepted, ready to go. Now we need to open them. We used to hire a whole bunch of extra people to sit around a big table and just open the envelopes.

LD: Sounds like a lot of carpal tunnel.

JH: Yeah. This year we have a machine that actually can do 5,000 envelopes an hour and will open them on three sides, lay out the envelope, and plop the ballot into a bin. And by opening up three sides of the envelope, … the reason why you need to do that is to make sure that you didn’t leave any ballots inside of an envelope.

… The average voter should not be thinking about these things. They don’t need to, we’re thinking about them, because if there was a close race and two or three ballots were stuck in those envelopes, then that’s not good.

LD: When do they start tabulating the vote by mail ballots?

JH: We can start opening and processing them and tabulating them ten days before the election. We have a secure room that’s behind glass walls, with video cameras in there, with security cameras, and the public is welcome to come watch this process. We’ll actually start running ballots through vote tabulation machines and then in another room we have the computer that has place where those results will go. Now no one can look at the results but then on election night we will…. every ballot that we have in our hands prior to Election Day is tabulated and the results go up on the Internet at 8:05 on election night.

LD: That’s definitely a change with the technology. I can remember when they would be counting absentee ballots for days after an election.

JH: It’s a huge change. …

LD: What is the approximate cost to the county for each of the three elections?

JH: Each one will cost roughly a million and half dollars. The primary election, the special primary election that the state legislature added statewide, that’s probably costing $100 million. The estimates have been up to $100 million.

… The governor did say …that the state intends to reimburse the counties for it…however we’ve been looking through the budget and we can’t find where he put the money in.

But remember the statewide special election in 2005; they did not fund that ahead of time. They waited until all the costs came in and then they funded it. So we’re hoping that this will be reimbursed similarly.

LD: But just the February election?

JH: Right.

LD: Do you still like this job?

JH: Oh yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a little scary because we’re only human and you know people are going to make mistakes and there’s not a whole lot of room for mistakes when you’re running elections. We just knock on wood. We have made mistakes but nothing serious and we’re doing everything we can to see that it doesn’t happen, but you know, we’re human.

LD: Can you tell me a little about the other things you do, besides elections?

JH: As recorder we record all official records, grant deeds, trust deeds, when you buy a house. … Birth and death certificates. … I’m the civil marriage commissioner…we issue passports and we do that in three offices, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc, which is very unique. I don’t know that there are any other counties that do that.

…Then as assessor, which is my other hat, I describe and assess all taxable property in the county of Santa Barbara.

LD: What are the property taxes looking like?

JH: We have a $57 billion assessment right now for the county and with the current foreclosure situation; the increase in the assessment is not as high as it’s been in the last few years. It’ll still be an increase. We may go to three or four percent increase this year. Last year it was seven percent. Two and three years ago it was ten, eleven percent. It you multiply that by $55 billion that’s a lot of money.

The county right now is facing layoffs because the property tax assessment is not going up as high as it was in the previous years. That plus the fact that they had to make some adjustments in retirement that is causing layoffs.

…I lowered the assessment on 7,000 houses last year because of the economy. These are people that bought at the height of the market and their house is no longer worth what it’s assessed at. So I went out and all my staff went out under my direction, and we identified those 7,000 homes and we lowered their assessment to the fair market value as of January 2007. We’re going to do the same thing this year as of January 1, 2008 and my guess is the number of homes we’re going to lower the assessment on may go up to as much as 15,000. It’s mostly in the north county. Places in the south county such as Hope Ranch and Montecito have not gone down in value, at all, they continue to go up.

LD: That’s another tough job. What do you do when you’re not working?

JH: I’m involved with the Courthouse Legacy Foundation … there are some areas of the courthouse where there really has been some severe degradation of the actual structure where it has fallen into disrepair. It’s too beautiful to ignore and have it fall apart. …This courthouse legacy foundation is hopefully a vehicle that can take private and public and mix the two together and try to come up with solutions.

LD: When you do get the time to relax, what do you like to do for fun?

JH: My daughter Michelle plays water polo for Dos Pueblos. …I like to go watch her play sports. That’s a blast.

Vital Stats: Joe Holland

Born: April 24, 1957 in Los Angeles

Family: Wife Kathy and children Scott (21), Bridget (20) and Michelle (14)

Civic Involvement: Courthouse Legacy Foundation, United Way Board of Directors

Professional Accomplishments: Elected to the Office of the Clerk, Recorder, and Assessor in 2002; former Audit Section Supervisor and Real Property Appraiser for Santa Barbara County

Little-Known Fact: Joe met his wife Kathy when he was a student at UCSB and they were both working at Vons on Turnpike Avenue.

Originally published in Noozhawk on January 28, 2008. Read the original story here.

The Likeability Factor

courtesy http://www.theworldofhillaryclinton.com/p/memes_10.html#.UeXrPeB3fEM

courtesy http://www.theworldofhillaryclinton.com/p/memes_10.html#.UeXrPeB3fEM

I’m not running for president, so why do I care if you like me?

I’ve spent an inordinate part of my adult life–not to mention my childhood and teenage years–worrying about whether people like me. And I’m not talking about my family and my friends, I know they like me, otherwise they’d never put up with my shameless mining of our relationships for column material.

I worry more about complete strangers liking me than the people who really matter. Did I cut that guy off when I pulled out of the driveway, or was he going way too fast in a 25 mile per hour zone? Either way, he honked at me, with an irritated honk, which means he–gasp, sputter, take a deep consoling breath–doesn’t like me. This kind of thing drives me crazy: both the fact that some stranger doesn’t like me and the fact that I actually care.

And yet I do care, I can’t help myself.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. I’ll be incredibly annoyed at the woman in front of me at the grocery store who insists on subtotaling her order, then paying for half with cash and half with a credit card that takes forever to authorize. I’m always in a hurry and for those five minutes when I stand in that line that takes an extra five minutes more than I thought it would, l loathe that woman in front of me in line with a level of hatred that I usually reserve for Nazi war criminals and people who made my child cry. But still, I give her a friendly smile when she glances over at me to make sure I’m not mad at her.

I get it, I totally get it.

If you’re a guy, you probably don’t get it. “Why on earth would you care if some stranger in the grocery store likes you?” asks my husband. And I have to admit, when you put it that way, it does sound kinda nuts.

And it’s not just strangers whose opinions I care about. I have a few acquaintances that I really can’t stand, you couldn’t pay me enough money to voluntarily spend an evening with them–but I still care if they like me. (No, I’m not talking about you, silly reader. I really do like you.)

I know, it’s completely crazy, I just can’t help myself.

But here’s the thing, I’m not the only one who does this. As women, we are conditioned to want people to like us. I queried a bunch of my best girlfriends about this (the ones I really do like) and all of us agreed, we don’t like it when people don’t like us, regardless of whether or not we like them.

I refuse to believe this is just a Groucho Marxism: “I sent the club a wire stating, ‘Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.'” Or Woody Allenish: “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member.”

I don’t think it’s just ego at work here either. Likeability, at least in women, is connected to success. Even when it has nothing to do with their ability to do the job.

It’s a double standard that women in high places have been dealing with for, well, pretty much forever. If you don’t stand tough, it undercuts all the respect that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. At the same time, if you seem too tough, people don’t like you, which again, undercuts your ability to be effective in your job. No wonder I’m so flummoxed by that woman in the grocery line.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton.

If she were running for Homecoming Queen, or nominated for an academy award, then this focus on her “likeability” might make sense. But the last thing we need is for our president to be likeable. Our current president is likeable, and look where that got us. We don’t need likeable for president. We need tough and determined and courageous and principled. Why are we letting this most important election become a popularity contest? It’s a test of leadership.

More than ever, we need a leader for our leader. Whether we like her or not.

Leslie only really knows for sure that you like her if you send emails to email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 25, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Laura Inks

Laura Inks (courtesy photo)

Laura Inks (courtesy photo)

New years are all about reflecting on the past, the present and the future, and Laura Inks was in a particularly reflective mode when we caught up with her this week. With the ink barely dry on her divorce papers, Inks had also just ended another era as she completed the sale of her “baby,” ARTS ALIVE! Creativity Center, to its new owners Anthony Parisi and Laura Eliseo.

Leslie Dinaberg: So are the new owners planning to keep ARTS ALIVE relatively intact?

Laura Inks: Yes. They are both artists. … They’re building an art center in Kaui and so their plan is to have some synergy between Kaui and Santa Barbara and kind of live in both places and even have artists maybe go back and forth as like an artist exchange program or something, which would be really cool.

LD: What a great gig that would be.

LI: I know…she’s a dancer and … he is a glass artist … they’ve hired Jeanine Richards, her son was J.R. Richards of Santa Barbara High, he passed away a couple years ago. And she had Camp Lorr in Montecito for like 25 years. … She’s going to be running the ARTS ALIVE camps. Her husband just died, like last week, and so she’s thrilled to have a project to sink her teeth into.

LD: Wow, so you’re not going to be part of the new team?

LI: No. You know it’s so hard to create something and then raise it. It’s like a child, and then to turn it over to somebody. But I feel really good about this couple. They believe in my whole dream. The mission is to have a space where people can come and create and express themselves and especially for children and adults too. So they are going to continue to that. And Jeanine I’m just thrilled that she’s going to continue that.

LD: Well congratulations for you. I know you were concerned about the future of ARTS ALIVE!

LI: Well I didn’t know what was going to happen; I just knew that financially I couldn’t do it anymore. I was married for 17 years and that kind of helped cushion my starting a new business while I still had food and shelter and then with the separation that changed.

LD: Do you know what you’re going to do now?

LI: I don’t know. I’m really excited. I’ve had some really good job interviews and nothing’s panned out quite yet.

LD: Are you trying to stay in the arts field?

LI: Well I don’t know. I consider myself to be an art educator/social activist. One of my strongest skills is networking and getting the word out and meeting people and connecting people, so it could be with a nonprofit, helping them get the word out about programs and projects. I’m still the president of the Arts Mentorship Program, which is a nonprofit that’s under the umbrella of Community School Inc. … The project I’ve been working on is the Graffiti Project.

LD: What is that?

LI: It’s taking teens and young adults who do graffiti and giving them a controlled environment to create in … then to find venues for exhibiting their work. We’ll have a show in the gallery at ARTS ALIVE! of the kids graffiti artwork (through January 31st).

The idea is that first of all, the people that come here and paint on the boards and canvases that we give them are not painting on the street. We’ve had four events so far where we have music and a barbecue and a big event where they can come and spray paint. We provide them with paints and boards and everything … kids from about 14 to about 26 and some amazing artists.

Kids have already gotten jobs from them being here and doing their work and people coming up and saying, “Wow I’d like something like this on the inside of my dojo,” or, “I’d really like this on the side of my building.”

LD: That’s exciting.

LI: Yeah, it is. Also I want to expose them to other types of street art where they can move into some type of field where they can make a living…We just got a $5,000 grant from the fund for Santa Barbara to cover the cost of what we’re calling the junior organizers. I’m kind of like the head organizer but I can’t do it alone.

…Every time we have an event we have between 100-150 people show up to paint or support the kids who are painting. And we also, this is really cool, the last time we had an event, the kids from the teen center who have been making music, who have been singing over at Chapala, like they are rappers and what they call DJs … they came and performed.

…I’m trying to just give them a space to be creative and an outlet for their art form, which I think is very valid. A lot of people don’t think that graffiti art is art but that’s because it’s vandalism and they are out there on the streets doing it. So I’m trying to direct their energy into something that’s more positive and is more community-based.

We have had kids here from all different gangs…but it’s been so peaceful. It’s like the kids that are the artists, they really get what I’m doing and they’re respectful of it, which is amazing and it’s really cool.

LD: And I’m sure it’s in part because you are showing them respect for what they’re doing.

LI: Exactly. It’s a two-way street.

LD: Does it seem like the kids think of themselves as artists?

LI: Oh yes. They absolutely do. They are very serious. They have color palettes, they have sketchbooks, they’re not just coming here tagging, these are artists that need a big venue to work in and unfortunately they take to the streets because they don’t have opportunities like what it is I’m trying to create, I am creating. It’s pretty cool. And I especially like being around all the young people because it keeps me young, it keeps me hip. Even though my teenage kids don’t think I’m hip (laughs).

LD: There’d be something wrong if they did.

LI: Absolutely that would be abnormal. But their friends think I’m cool. It takes a village. Like I’m taking somebody else’s kids and getting them in some positive direction and hopefully someone will do that with my kids.

LD: That’s a really cool project. How do people contact you now if they want to contribute or get involved?

LI: Just email LauraInks@cox.net.

LD: You talked about applying for jobs now. Have you lost the urge to run your own business?

LI: Yeah. I kind of just want a paycheck. I don’t want to have sleepless nights anymore. When you have your own business there’s really no down time. … I’m at the age now, I’m going to be 50 this coming year, where I feel like I really don’t want to do something I’m not passionate about. I don’t want to just go punch a clock somewhere…I’m just going to not stress it and be open to receive the direction of the universe. Not to sound airy-fairy but I think everything happens for a reason and there’s good energy out there and the right thing is going to come along.

Vital Stats: Laura Inks

Born: : Pittsburgh, PA, November 20, 1958

Family: : Children Camdon (14), Olivia (16), Amanda (25), and Shawn (31) and two granddaughters, Alonnah and Ashlee.

Professional Accomplishments: : Founded ARTS ALIVE! Creativity Center; Award winning art teacher; Real Estate salesperson and Rookie of the Year; Women’s Economic Ventures Entrepreneur of the Year

Civic Involvement: : Community School Inc, Arts Mentorship Program; Santa Barbara Education Foundation, Keep the Beat

Little-Known Fact: : “Probably that I have so many kids and that I adopted my two older kids.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on January 21. 2008. Click here to read the article on Noozhawk’s site.

Moms Gone Wild

Courtesy David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Teenage girls can be manipulative, mean, crafty, and just plain psycho. I say this with authority, as I was once a teenage girl.

As the mom of a boy, I sometimes miss the mani-pedi play dates, pink tutus, and playing with dolls that my son shows no interest in. But I comfort myself with the fact that I’ll never again have to share a house with the frothy adolescent bitchery of a teenage girl.

Granted, there’s a lot to deal with being a girl, like the ubiquitous fashion dos and don’ts, gossip, cliques, Queen Bees, Alpha Girls, and the R.M.G.’s (Really Mean Girls). But now there’s something else for girls to worry about: the R.M.M.’s (Really Mean Moms).

Teenage girls can be brutally mean, but that’s child’s play compared with their mothers.

I’m not talking about the strict moms who won’t let their daughters date until they’re 16 or the ones who won’t let them leave the house on school nights. I’m talking about the seriously mean, total whack job, bordering on sociopathic moms, like Lori Drew.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the infamous MySpace Mom case. Lori Drew, a then-47-year-old Missouri mother, masqueraded on MySpace as a 16-year-old boy, alternately wooing and verbally abusing 13-year-old Megan Meier online. Drew did this to get revenge on young Megan for hurting her own daughter.

Megan hung herself after being rejected online by her fake boyfriend.

The case set off a national fracas when police found that the “boyfriend” was really the mother of one of the girl’s former best friends.

What could she possibly have been thinking? Lori Drew makes Wanda Holloway–who was immortalized so perfectly by Holly Hunter in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom–look like the junior varsity.

But despite the clear craziness of this crime, no charges were ever filed against Drew, because they were unable to find a statute to pursue a criminal case.

Finally there may be some justice. This month a federal grand jury in Los Angeles started issuing subpoenas in the case, according to the “Los Angeles Times.” The U.S. Attorney’s office is exploring the possibility of charging Drew with defrauding the MySpace website (headquartered in Beverly Hills) by allegedly creating a false account. They are also looking at federal wire fraud and cyber fraud statutes.

While this is surely an isolated incident of a really twisted woman going way beyond any imaginable boundaries under the guise of keeping an eye on the social life of her child, it’s also a scary reminder that there are no standards for entrance into parenthood.

Teenage girls can at least point to hormones to explain their bad behavior. As moms, we need to be able to explain ourselves.

“There used to be this kind of parent-child gradient, where the parent was expected to–and did–function at a different level than the child,” says clinical psychologist Madeline Levine, author of the book, The Price of Privilege, who is considered an authority on childhood and adolescent issues.

Now, Levine says, “that whole notion of parents being in an entirely different space than their children is disappearing.”

Let’s not let that space disappear entirely, and certainly not on MySpace.

Tell us what you think about moms gone mental at email . For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 18, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Dr. Alois Zauner

Dr. Alois Zauner (courtesy photo)

Dr. Alois Zauner (courtesy photo)

Strokes can be paralyzing and debilitating: There are 4.5 million strokes every year in the United States, making them the third leading cause of death and the number one cause of disability. But thanks to the addition of a new Neurovascular Center at Cottage Hospital, under the leadership of Dr. Alois Zauner, swift and less invasive treatment for strokes and other brain illnesses is now available right here in Santa Barbara.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about the new Neurovascular Center at Cottage Hospital?

Alois Zauner: The idea is really to build up a Neuroscience Center. The first aspect was really the most difficult, to build the neurovascular service. It is like trauma service, your head injury needs to be treated right away and the same for stroke. …

The problem for this region is that centers are in Los Angeles (UCLA or USC or Cedars) and then the next places are in San Francisco (UCSF or Stanford) and basically for 500 miles there is nothing. … So frequently in the past a patient, let’s say in Ventura or Oxnard, has a bleeding aneurism or a stroke, and does not get on time to UCLA or some other place.

The idea is really to build, in partnership with other hospitals, a Neurovascular Center for this region, not just for Santa Barbara. …And also help some other hospitals to provide service, because not everybody has to come here. Some stroke patients can be treated in smaller hospitals.

LD: Is it more about having the doctors with the skills to perform those surgeries or is it also about having the equipment?

AZ: It’s kind of both. The key issue is that it’s the upfront investment in what is called a Neuro-angiography suite and also … the material we use is very expensive. So you need to have a certain infrastructure and tools to really do it and then you need the ICU critical care units. It takes quite a lot of infrastructure…Building the new hospital some of the focus is on the neurosciences and the neurovascular unit is the first major step towards that direction. We already do spine surgery, there is neurology here, but some other programs will be new. There will be treatment for Parkinson’s and we’ll do brain tumors and also child development and things like that.

LD: That’s interesting.

AZ: …One reason for me to come here me is also a closer collaboration with USCB, especially the neuroscience research institute.

LD: So they have a research institute even though they don’t have a medical school?

AZ: Yes, UCSB has a neuroscience research institute and they do have very fine engineering and a lot of what they’re working on is related to pre-clinical science. …We’re doing the fundraising right now. …

LD: Did the hospital have this vision and then go out and find you to run the center or did you come in with a vision and they’re now creating the center?

AZ: Very good questions. I think when I was a fellow at UCLA there was always the talk that Santa Barbara was unserved … that a lot of the patients don’t make it on time to the right place when they had a stroke… Then I think Cottage had a consulting company, … (they were making) a major investment and had to be sure that they were targeting what’s needed for this region. So they were told neurosciences and then somehow I got involved.

I think the initial vision of Cottage was more to have a stroke center, but you know I think it merges more with what neurosurgeons do; you cannot just have a stroke center because you have strokes but also the aneurisms … and a full spectrum of vascular diseases.

LD: It makes sense with our aging population.

AZ: Yes, in town but also everywhere, it’s not just for Santa Barbara, it’s for this region…One of things we’re doing is using a Robot in the ER and they can communicate with the people here. The Robots are made by a company here in SB called InTouch Health (www.intouchhealth.com), we have them here in the ICU … right now we have this at home, but the idea is that we’re partnering with other hospitals so they will have this in emergency rooms and assist the physicians who is not expert in say neuro, and discuss the films and can ask the patient questions and we can then decide how to treat them. … Critical care is also very important and I’ve spent a lot of time the last six months to work with the nurses and technicians because we do so much more to monitor the brain so that’s very important.

LD: How far away is the center from completion?

AZ: The neurovascular is in place, basically, but I think that the neuroscience center, that will take a while. …

LD: Can you explain the new minimally invasive techniques you are using?

AZ: A traditional way to treat an aneurism is do open surgery. So you do a craniotomy (where you surgically open the skull) and we go into your brain… we still do about 15-20% like that because the minimally invasive technology with the things we have right now we cannot do 100%, maybe 85%. In the case of neuroendovascular surgery a tiny little catheter goes into the brain…and we pull out the clot.

LD: In addition to being less invasive is there less chance of other complications?

AZ: … Less invasive does not mean that there’s less risk. Yes there’s less pain involved, they get to go home much quicker, the ICU care is much easier, like the aneurism we had today can go home in a few days. So yes, patients have less pain but it’s not always less risks.

LD: Is there a specific person that you’re working with at UCSB to make all this happen?

AZ: Matthew Tirrell is the Dean of Engineering. I think he’s the person who is really the key.

LD: Why did you choose to come to Santa Barbara to build this center?

AZ: What I wish is that we really can build this up, that we make a difference in the community. …It’s also I think very important for us to really be connected to UCSB to develop a center, because really what we do is so new that I think you cannot completely separate it from research or new ideas and I do hope that in a smaller hospital we can also work with researchers. It’s easier than in a big medical facility.

Vital Stats: Dr. Alois Zauner

Born: Austria

Family: Wife Teresa, son Alexander, age 10 (“they’ve only been here six weeks)

Professional Accomplishments: Medical degree from the University of Vienna; surgical internship and neurosurgical residency training at the Medical College of Virginia; combined fellowship in neuroendovascular surgery and diagnostic and interventional Radiology at UCLA; one of only 50 Neurosurgeons in the U.S. with training in neurointerventional radiology and endovascular techniques; director of Neuroendovascular Services at the University of Miami in Florida, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery and Radiology; working to establish a new Neurovascular Center at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Little-Known Fact: “My family would like to have me back in Austria.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on January 14, 2008. Click here to read it on that site.

Goleta Native Has a New Story to Tell in Remote China

Sipping green tea while schmoozing in Mandarin with Chinese Communist Party officials is a long way from shooting the breeze with buddies after surfing the waves at UCSB’s Campus Point, but it’s all in a day’s work for John Wood.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Wood and his wife Lousia recently started the Tree House Scholarship for university students in rural, northwestern China. In addition to assisting students with their education costs, these scholarships will also help fund post-graduate travel for students who would not otherwise have the resources to explore their own country. These students, who are studying to become teachers, will be lucky to earn about $25 a month if they secure jobs when they graduate.

Writing about their experiences is another component of the program. The students come from incredible poverty. One tells the story of the deep bloody cracks in his father’s hands from collecting trash, while another writes of being raised in a cave house by a grandmother with bound feet. “They have phenomenal stories to tell,” says Wood, now 30

The stories of rural China in the 20th and 21st centuries remain largely unknown, both inside China and abroad, but Wood is aiming to change that by improving his students’ abilities to communicate and helping to get their stories out to the world.

“Because of the way that the government is structured and with the way people relate with each other, a lot of those stories haven’t been told,” he says. Even within families. For example, Wood tells the story of a student saying she felt uncomfortable asking her parents to talk about their backgrounds. “She went so far as to tell me that she didn’t even know her mother’s given name, she only knew her as mother.”

Using their “crazy foreign teacher” as a scapegoat, students came back with fascinating accounts of their lives. “These are really remarkable stories that we’ll publish and distribute to donors,” Wood says. “The idea is that people who are interested in China or just people that are philanthropic in general will be interested to read these first-hand accounts of what it’s like in rural China.” (http://www.thetreehousescholarship.org/students.html)

It’s no surprise that these stories struck a strong chord in him. Growing up in Goleta, Wood had passions for both writing and social justice from a very young age. “When I was going to La Patera Elementary School I remember I wrote an editorial (on gun control) for the ‘Goleta Sun,’ says Wood, who went on to graduate from Dos Pueblos High School and UC Santa Cruz.

He began his professional life teaching high school in South Central Los Angeles, and worked as a journalist in London, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica before joining the Peace Corps, where he was assigned to teach at Long Dong University in the eastern portion of Gansu Province. “Despite the sophisticated timbre of its name, Long Dong University actually has nothing to do with the entertainment industry,” says Wood. Gansu is one of the poorest provinces in China, and it is regarded among Chinese people as a dusty and barren frontier land, a “backwards” place best to be avoided.

The newlyweds arrived in China in June 2005 with assignments to teach English to Chinese students studying to be teachers. “There are more people studying English in China right now than there are native English speakers in the rest of the world combined,” Wood says. “It’s incredible; everybody in China, every single student is studying English. It’s just wild.”

Considered development work, Wood explains that he was primarily “in a classroom with future teachers and working with them to improve their English and improve their teaching skills. Most of our students had extremely basic grasp of English…we found ourselves spending a lot of time on basic pronunciation, on classroom presence, on building vocabulary, just really basic, basic stuff. When people think, ‘Oh John was a University Professor in China,’ what they have in their mind is probably not exactly how it was.”

And what’s it like being a 6′ 4,” Santa Barbara surfer dude in China? “There is absolutely no blending in,” laughs Wood. When visitors ask what kind of clothes to pack, he says, “you could bring a pink tuxedo and wear that down the street and you would not be anymore out of place than you are already going to be.”

Even though he’s stared at everywhere he goes, Wood says, “One of the things I love about China and Chinese people, there’s so little apathy and so much interesting curiosity and enthusiasm because here is a country that’s been closed to the outside world for so long…people know very little about Western China, and Western Chinese people know very little about the rest of the world and so it’s really a fascinating place to be.”

While China is booming, it’s the China of the eastern seaboard, of Shanghai and Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou that most westerners read about. Wood says, “The reality is that the vast majority of Chinese people do not live in these eastern hubs. Some two-thirds of the population (estimated at 1.3 to 1.5 billion) still works the land. Most of the rest live in cities scattered across the vast provinces, earning very little and enjoying few freedoms.”

One of the freedoms not enjoyed in China is access to the news. “We call it the great firewall of China,” Wood says. “The Communist Party spends an inordinate amount of money on controlling Internet news sites…it’s not the news, it’s the good news.” Wood says he will sometimes be in the middle of reading a breaking news story online, only to find it censored (access removed) before his very eyes.

Despite the challenges of navigating such a different culture, the Woods are definitely making the most of their time in China. Last summer they volunteered with the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai. With their Peace Corps service now complete, Louisa works as the Communications Director for the Special Olympics East Asia, and John does translations and works export an extremely fast-growing, sustainable type of soft wood developed to reduce the demand on old-growth cedar and redwood.

Prior to founding the Tree House Scholarship, they also helped to establish “the Tree House,” at Long Dong University, an English library, study and discussion room, complete with all sorts of books, magazines and reference materials, as well as movies, music and board games to help students master the English language. A team of about 24 student volunteers keeps the Tree House running, and the materials–almost all which were donated by foreign teachers, their friends and families–in order. For information about how to donate books visit http://www.thetreehousescholarship.org/donors.html

He’s excited about the initial response to the Tree House Scholarship: “It was huge…a dozen or more people have already said they’re sending in checks and we’re already getting donations people who want to contribute pro bono services. It’s exciting.”

The new scholarship program isn’t the only exciting thing going on in Wood’s life. Louisa is expecting their first child, due to be born in a very modern Western style hospital in China, on Cinco de Mayo, which seems very fitting for this adventurous pair.

“We always joke about how nothing western seems foreign anymore. Europe used to seem so exotic, and interesting … now if I see an Italian news story and I see a police car and it says “polizia,” I just say to myself what could that possibly mean, as opposed to scribble scribble dot dot dash circle,” laughs Wood.

“Coming to China was a very intimidating thing to begin with, but we really just committed ourselves to it and it’s paid off hugely,” he says. “Martin Luther King Jr. once said that injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We feel something similar could be said of poverty. Poverty anywhere is a threat to wealth everywhere. There are no national borders. And while there are those in the United States who suffer very real hardships, all of them have some degree of mobility, some degree of access to support networks, however humbling or hard to obtain those may be. The same is not true in China. The Chinese poor live in a tightly controlled and politically charged environment, with shockingly little power to change their futures.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on January 8, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Nathan Rundlett

Nathan S. Rundlett, courtesy photo

Nathan S. Rundlett, courtesy photo

Sharing his passion for classical music is a labor of love for Nathan Rundlett. In 1994, he and his wife Marilyn Gilbert brought opera to town by founding the nonprofit Opera Santa Barbara. An accomplished baritone, now retired from his dual careers as a singer/high school chemistry teacher, Rundlett devotes much of his time these days to working with the nonprofit Santa Barbara Music Club, a group that presents free concerts and workshops to the community and provides musical education scholarships to young people.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you get involved with the Santa Barbara Music Club?

Nathan Rundlett: I got interested in the club because it fulfilled a need that I felt when I moved to Santa Barbara (in 1981). I had sort of lost touch with my musical connections, which were in Los Angeles. Here was a great opportunity to perform the music that I loved. I wasn’t working as a musician anymore formally, so this was a great chance just once in a while to get something nice together and present it to an audience. …This club has been in existence, I think, 38 years.

LD: Prior to moving here, where did you perform in Los Angeles?

NR: … I sang in operas and shows and I taught and I sang in a large Methodist church. I also sang for a large Jewish synagogue. I also sang for an Italian restaurant. … We decided to come up to Santa Barbara and I just sort of cut all those ties and started going in a different direction. And got involved in the music club and did a few other odd little things, a few little shows and plays…Then my wife and I decided to fund the opera company.

There was no opera, there was no opera audience– so we created it. We raised money and set up a board, set up a 501(c) 3, gave it a name. Opera Santa Barbara was our baby. And after six years of running it we left it.

LD: So your wife, Marilyn Gilbert, is a singer as well?

NR: Yes, she’s a very fine singer.

LD: Is that how you met?

NR: Yes. I met her singing at Temple Sinai on Wilshire Boulevard. We met over the high holidays. … She is also an attorney, semi-retired now. She has sung has sung in music club, often, and we have sung together in the music club, duet programs and so on. It’s been very enjoyable.

LD: What are your responsibilities for the music club?

NR: My responsibility so far has been trying to pick up loose ends … what I want to do, as Vice President is development. Go into new areas, involve young people more and form better connections with schools. And also focus a lot more on the scholarship program. I think it’s our strong suit.

LD: Tell me about that.

NR: Our scholarship program has been there since almost the beginning. And we had some…distinguished, elderly music lovers, benefactors, teachers and lovers of music. One of them died and left us money and the other one just gave a lot of money and so we built up this nice fund to do scholarships with and now I’m hoping–this is just a wild idea–to turn it into an endowment, so we can live off the principal and keep it for many, many years… But I think that the scholarship program is one of the strongest things that we do, because that brings music ahead, classical music particularly, we’re interested in classical music. It brings it forward into the future and involves young people.

LD: And the scholarships go specifically toward instruction?

NR: Yes, it’s only instruction and the teacher and the student have to be residents of Santa Barbara County, so it’s local local, it’s only local which I like.

LD: What is your musical training?

NR: I was trained in college…I became interested in opera singing, briefly considered a career in it, and so I took private lessons in LA from an Italian teacher and I got involved in singing small productions and so on. I went to several coaches… I didn’t take a formal musical training. I wasn’t a music major or music minor. I was actually a chemistry major and a math minor.

LD: Oh wow, that’s probably very unusual, right?

NR: Yeah. But I love performing and I’ve done a lot of singing and acting.

LD: So have you always made your living in the arts or did you do something else?

NR: I taught high school chemistry for 30 years and I did all this other music kind of on the side.

LD: Where did you teach?

NR: I taught in Los Angeles, Granada Hills, Mission Hills, and in Camarillo.

LD: And you were performing at the same time?

NR: Yes, it worked out to be ideal because my school day was finished early and there were lots of rehearsals that didn’t start until late afternoon or evening … then the summers were free and the holidays, a lot of free time to do my music. For a while there I was making about equal amount of money teaching school and singing.

LD: Other than your performances with the music club, do you perform anywhere else in town?

NR: Ever since we left the opera company what we’ve been doing is putting on fundraisers. We put on a couple of Spanish operas for the Legal Aid Foundation… My wife and I did a series of two-person plays last year … For the Anti Defamation League we did performance of “Trial by Jury” by Gilbert and Sullivan. We did also Gilbert and Sullivan for the Santa Barbara Legal Aid Foundation. That was amazing. We did a big performance in the courthouse … the play is about a courtroom trial, so we did the trial in the courtroom …

LD: What else do you like to do?

NR: Well my second passion besides music is woodworking. I like making fine furniture, and cabinet making is my main passion. I took up carving recently and attended several seminars in Williamsburg, VA related to period furniture. …

LD: Do you have a favorite song or a favorite piece of music?

NR: My favorite piece of music to sing, of all time, was the prologue from the opera “Pagliacci.”

LD: How would you describe yourself?

NR: I love music and I love music performance. I enjoy life

I enjoy my family, particularly my great relationship with my wife. We have a wonderful marriage. So those are the important things I guess to me, music, life and my family and my wife.

Vital Stats: Nathan Rundlett

Born: Somerville, Mass; February 23, 1938

Family: Wife Marilyn Gilbert, children Anne, Kirsten, Steven, and Elisabeth (all in their 40s), 14 grandchildren

Civic Involvement: Santa Barbara Music Club, Legal Aid, Anti-Defamation League

Professional Accomplishments: Taught chemistry for 30 years, and developed new programs in field of education. Third place winner in Metropolitan Opera auditions for the west coast of the United States. Founder of Opera Santa Barbara.

Little-Known Fact: “At one time my passion was running, maybe nobody would know that looking at me now but in high school and college, track and field was a passion.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on January 7, 2008.

Designing Woman

DeNai Jones, courtesy photo

DeNai Jones, courtesy photo

Some girls dream of being princesses, but DeNai Jones dreamed of being a bag lady.

Piercing aquamarine eyes peeking through a wild tumble of blonde curls are the first things that strike you about DeNai Jones. From the funky flare of her vintage dress to the toes of her Betty Boop shoes, she looks every inch the fashion designer that she is, known in chic circles for her combinations of bold, sophisticated color and unusual textures and textiles.

It’s no surprise that her bags grace the arms of A-list stars like Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Salma Hayek, Gwen Stefani and Heidi Klum–but they’re more likely to be found wearing them on the playground than the haute couture runways. DeNai has won over the shoulders of women all over the world with her stylish line of diaper bags.

When DeNai–who wasn’t yet a mom at the time–set out to find a gift for a pregnant friend and found shelves full of “pastel colors, teddy bears and cutesy stuff,” she recognized a market for high-end, fashionable diaper bags. She sewed the first prototypes in her parents’ garage in Ventura, and paid homage to her father’s childhood nickname for her by naming the venture Petunia Pickle Bottom.

DeNai started her career as a kindergarten teacher, but says, “I was always sketching and painting. The arts were always my passion.” Her parents encouraged her to choose a more stable career path, but part of her attraction to teaching kindergarten was getting to do so many fun art projects in class.

Her husband, Braden Jones, dreamed of starting his own companies. Driving up the coast to Ventura from San Luis Obispo, where he had recently graduated from Cal Poly, the young couple had a heart-to-heart talk, and DeNai confided that she had always wanted to be a designer.

“It was kind of one of those ideas that you just carry in your mind with you,” she says. “We decided to travel a bit. We just started having those kinds of conversations. If you could do anything what would you do? We didn’t have a mortgage, we didn’t have children, no commitments besides ourselves.”

Braden encouraged DeNai to go after her dreams. She quit teaching to focus on developing her first samples. Within six to eight months, her bags were on the shelves of local stores.

The business quickly grew and they turned to DeNai’s best friend from Ventura High School, Korie Conant, for help. I was completely stunned,” when DeNai invited me to her parent’s cabin in Mammoth and showed me the bags, says Conant. She came on as a partner, taking on responsibility for marketing and brand development. Since then, the company has grown exponentially, with moms all over the world carrying their diapers Petunia-style.

Jones says that it’s still exciting to walk down the street and see someone carrying one of her bags. “I still kind of panic, my breath gets taken away and I usually will hide a little bit and … and follow them a little bit,” she says. “It’s still just as exciting as it was the first time I saw a bag on the street.”

Little details like the filigree on a staircase or a carved wooden pattern from a church eave inspire DeNai’s designs. Travel is high on her list for both relaxation and design inspiration. “I love to travel so much and experience all the different cultures that are out there. The world can be very small if you let it be,” she says.

Costa Rica is a favorite place for family time with Braden and their son Sutton, age two. They’re expecting another baby (it’s a boy) in March, and DeNai now has the flexibility–and additional staff–to focus on her children and come into the office just two days a week to concentrate primarily on design.

Living in Ventura, where she can walk to her salvaged brick office on Kalorama Street from her home downtown, helps to keep things real for DeNai. “I do love when we go out to New York for trade show and we come back it’s like, ‘Oh a breath of fresh air.’ It’s good to go for inspiration and shopping and looking around. All of those things are definitely imperative to developing the product. But I do really appreciate that we are kind of in our own microclimate here. We’re protected from a lot of the vindictive nature you see in the fashion world.”

And what’s it like to be in business with your best friend and her husband? “It’s easy actually. We all have different talents that we bring to the table with a common thread of creativity,” says Conant, who became a mom to Beckett in October. “There are no egos in the room which helps us survive. Ultimately, we are friends first, business partners second. We make it a practice to spend time with each other outside of the office on a weekly basis, that’s one of the keys to our business relationship–we truly are the best of friends.”

Braden says he’s learned a lot being in business with his wife. “Because we have a relationship on many levels, she never ceases to surprise me. … Although she considers herself risk adverse compared to me, she really does take every risk needed to be successful in life and business. However, she would probably be modest and tell you otherwise. It’s really the best of both worlds to share success on every level with the love of your life.”

“I love being at work with my husband and being able to see him in the office. Korie’s been my best friend since high school. It’s always nice for the three of us, even when we have to go to trade shows or take trips for the company, that we actually enjoy being together. It’s really been a dream, ” says DeNai.

A very sweet dream indeed.

Originally published in Ventana Monthly. Read the article here.