Here is a link to my first column for TWN: Man about Willits
source: The Willits News, January 6, 2017
It must have come as a surprise to some of their members when I walked into the North County Women in Business Network’s latest meeting at the Willits Center for the Arts upstairs gallery Wednesday morning.
As I clutched my trusty battered briefcase and Canon digital camera and signed the attendance sheet, I overheard one of the ladies say in a concurrently bemused and astonished tone, “It’s a man.”
As a reporter and city editor working in the community of Willits, I have gotten to know a few of those in attendance, like former Mayor and City Council Member Holly Madrigal and Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Epstein, but the bulk were still new faces. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to accomplish other than networking and listening in to the group’s plans for the new year. It was perhaps just a good opportunity to attach faces to some of the names making their way into my inbox on a periodic basis.
On the agenda was a discussion of best practices and goals for businesses in 2017. The network’s Co-Chairwoman Jenny Senter, owner of Celtic Heritage Destinations travel agency, and Patricia Baumann, former network chairwoman, acted as facilitators. Senter asked the members what they were looking to leave behind from the previous year in 2017 by way of an introductory ice breaker, and each took turns around a circle providing various responses.
One member told me in jest that I should come back to a subsequent meeting wearing a dress. Others half-jokingly pointed out they were wearing pants or business attire. If my camera and notepad had not given away my profession, if not my intentions, a brief introduction took care of any uncertainty or potential awkwardness. There was little I could do about my gender.
Denise Rose, Brooktrails Township general manager, said she hoped to leave behind a playground, a project she has been working on for some time. Baumann, design principal at Design Cafe, said she was looking forward to having more time for herself in the new year and volunteering less.
Introductions were followed by break out sessions consisting of three or more members sharing ideas about best practices and how to improve themselves personally and professionally. These women in business forced me to think about what I wanted to leave behind in 2017, and after a brief period of reflection, I came up with this: I want people to shed their misconceptions, prejudices or preconceived notions about those in our community.
In addition to being more visible by stepping away from my desk and from behind the computer, whenever deadlines allow, it is one of my goals to shed any ignorance of the various groups operating in our coverage area, to better inform and serve the members of the community, while walking the line between informing and ferreting out corruption or waste.
Others in the group said 2016 taught them huge lessons, such as not worrying about disappointing people in business or as a volunteers. Saprina Rodriguez, newly-elected city council member and president of Willits Youth Soccer, said she underwent major surgery for a spinal injury recently, which slowed her down a bit. Rodriguez said she used her recovery time to gain perspective, and she feels excited about the tasks she is taking on in 2017.
Some of the best practices shared by members include taking time to plan, doing things one enjoys, networking, learning to be better listeners, learning more about online marketing, continuing with education, and not being afraid to ask for help.
These are challenging times for the local business community and property owners. In addition to the untimely death of former Chamber of Commerce Director Lynn Kennelly, city officials are in the midst of making the transition to new city council members, while coping with the reality of the post-bypass era. Most of the members embraced the notion that, as a collective, they were up to the task of dealing with their individual concerns.
A number of members have ambitious goals for the new year. Madrigal for example, has expressed desire in taking over the post recently vacated by former Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, in order to advocate for Willits and Mendocino County. Others set more modest personal goals such as swimming and getting fit or meditating regularly.
I was invited to come to another meeting to visit with the group in the near future, with one caveat: I don’t anticipate wearing a dress.