Author Archives: Carrie Kingsley

Mariah Roberts

Written by Carrie Kingsley

“Decide why before what. If you know why something drives you and is important to you, you will find your way to do it.” – Woman of the Week Mariah Roberts

One look at designer Mariah’s body of work makes it clear that her “why” is deeply rooted in making the world a better place, and in bringing others into that effort. Her desire to contribute and create, to involve her community and evolve as an artist, and to turn a neglected space into a thing of beauty has motivated her to tackle increasingly complex community projects, but she considers her smaller, more personal projects some of her most satisfying.

Born in Seattle, Washington, she left to attend Pomona College in Southern California, then moved to San Francisco for graduate school and finally settled in Santa Cruz. Both she and her husband were drawn to the ocean, the human-scale pace and the open hearted community, and they’ve loved raising children in such a place.

In her years as an artist and designer, Mariah has created an enormous body of work, but her approach to each project remains consistent: Consider the participant and how the piece will be used, and design toward a shared visual learning. It’s hard enough to create with a (easy situation) in mind, but Mariah gravitates to the harder projects, to the ones with an underloved space or a complex concept. This is what has likely drawn her to her current roles as Director of Chanticleer Park Neighbors and as Parks Commissioner for District 1. Because apparently Mariah has found those extra 35 hours in a day to do more amazing work, she is working to open LEO’s Haven, Santa Cruz County’s first inclusive playground for children of all abilities, at Chanticleer Park in Live Oak. This much-needed playground will be an incredible addition to our community, and is only the latest of Mariah’s projects to shape our world.

She has built furniture, done extensive metalworking, earned a Master’s in Education from SFSU, worked with pediatric therapy teams to design spaces for children with complex medical needs, and worked with children and adults in a wide range of projects in our community. She’s done some large, eye-catching projects, but here’s what’s telling about Mariah’s approach to the role of design in helping humanity: She considers her most successful project to be a very special kind of book. In her own words:

“I am most proud of a book I designed and produced for children with a specific low vision issue called Cortical Visual Impairment. “Then I Met You” was inspired by a boy named Angel and his family, who were living in one room of a larger home in San Jose. I worked with his mom, his therapeutic team and a Pediatric Ophthalmologist to identify visual images that would be both meaningful and accessible. While it was not one of my larger projects, it holds a special place in my heart as a perfect combination of my intellectual design-brain and my artistic design-heart. It was successful artistically, therapeutically and personally.”

There, in a nutshell, you have the intellectual, driven, creative force that is Mariah Roberts. LEO’s Haven will be a true gift to our community, brought about by another treasure, our Woman of the Week, Mariah Roberts. Congratulations, Mariah, and thank you for all your contributions to Santa Cruz. Our county would not be the same without you, and we are so grateful for your immense talent, unending effort, and indomitable spirit.

For information about LEO’s Haven, please visit www.santacruzplaygroundproject.org

Lea de Wit

Written by Carrie Kingsley

With “one life, make it count” as her personal mantra, Lea de Wit has become an example of making the most of her time and energy. An artist whose creative talents seem endless, she’s been able to build the life she wants by using her background in business and technology to create a thriving career doing what she loves. It’s rare to find a successful, full-time artist who willingly, happily dives into spreadsheets and the nuts and bolts of running a small business, but that is only one reason Lea stands out. For her unbelievable work in glassblowing, her no-nonsense approach to owning her own business, and all she does for our community, Lea De Wit is our Woman of the Week!

Growing up on the Peninsula, this Bay Area native loved the fog and the trees and the expanse of Santa Cruz Mountains from an early age, and was thrilled to move here four years ago. She has always loved art and valued creativity, and having a bone tumor on her spine as a teenager taught her that life is short — too short to spend her limited time doing something she didn’t enjoy, or to do it half-heartedly. She studied both art and business in college, then spent time in the technology sector, but it was when she started glassblowing 14 years ago that she decided to rearrange her life to pursue her passion as a career.

Taking the leap to work for herself, to pursue glassblowing as a standalone career rather than a hobby, took guts. As any self-employed person knows, she works harder and longer hours now than she ever did for another employer, and it is infinitely more rewarding. Any vacation or time off is hard earned, and the struggle for work/life balance is unending. The fluctuations in work load, the inconsistent paychecks and planning out when and how to reinvest wisely in her business are issues that weigh heavy on her mind. She is constantly pushing herself to innovate, to improve, and to excel, and when she thinks that it might all be too much, she remembers that she has always made her own path, and that she wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. One life, make it count.

While her varied background helped point her toward success, her career could only be successful if her art was amazing. And, oh my, it is. Her installations are perfect fits for the places they reside: At The Imbert Cancer Center on Long Island in New York is a composition of 41 wall-mounted bird sculptures in a migratory flock formation. The migrating birds symbolize the journey that patients and their caregivers travel in the transition from sickness into health or to the next stage in life. Cancer has touched all of our lives, and Lea considers it an honor to design and create artwork that can bring some joy and peace to patients and caregivers. Locally, in the main lobby at the West Side Palo Medical Foundation is a series of hand-blown glass disks mounted on to stainless steel panels, reminiscent of the hues and undulation of the Pacific Ocean. Her work on display at Sierra Azul was recently purchased for the permanent collection in the demonstration garden, she has pieces at other places throughout the county and country — including an upcoming show at Artexpo in New York City — and she’s busy creating more.

Lea has a firm grasp on what she wants out of life, and truly enjoys working hard to make it happen. Her advice to others pursuing a career as an artist is to understand that you will also own a small business, and to prepare for that, to embrace it. Up next for her are more and larger installations, more travel, more spreadsheets, more creative pursuits, more living life on her own terms. One life, making it count. We are thrilled to have this creative force, this successful businesswoman, this shining light in our community. Congratulations, Woman of the Week Lea De Wit!

Special thanks to our fabulous blogger: Carrie Kingsley.

Keri Waters

Written by Carrie Kingsley

Photo Credit: Karen X. Cheng

Keri Waters is a force of nature. An engineer, then a founder of three successful startups, she has made her mark on the Santa Cruz tech scene, and is changing the way people think about what is possible in Santa Cruz. Her latest venture, Calliope Waterworks, was born out of desire to solve water issues. She’s taken the dreams of Hwy 17 commuters — to live in Santa Cruz and do meaningful, exciting work in tech here — and made them a reality, starting with great ideas, a critical mind, and an unending capacity to work hard. She’s changing things in Santa Cruz and around the world, and she’s our Woman of the Week.

Keri grew up on military bases around the country, but spent her high school years near Boston, MA. She has always been interested in how things work, how to improve them, and taking the next step after that improvement. So it should surprise no one who knows her that she started at MIT when she was 16, earned a Mechanical Engineering degree, then headed west for what she calls “a brief stint in Silicon Valley.” Her stint is going on 20 years, includes a husband and two sons, and, thankfully, has given her some serious roots in Santa Cruz.

In her early years here, Keri drove Hwy 17 every day, starting out as an engineer, then moving into product marketing and strategic marketing roles in the consumer semiconductor industry. Somehow, she found the time and energy to earn an MBA from UC Berkeley, amid an escalating workload, commuting to Asia, and a newborn son. She’d been wanting to start something of her own, and took the leap when her second son was born and she wanted to spend more time with her family.

After selling her first two startups, she’s on her third, and one that brings her back to her hardware-building roots. Calliope Waterworks takes advantage of the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) market, a wide-open field exploring the ways physical sensors and big data can be married to provide new insights and services. She saw the ways she could use an IoT device to make an impact in a world with water issues, an area where she and her team feel a lot of passion. Her product, the Buoy, is a consumer-friendly device that attaches to a home’s water main and both tracks usage and identifies leaks throughout the property. She sees this work, developing tools in this area, as taking her focus for a decade or more. Her stint here grows longer.

When she isn’t working, she spends as much time as possible with what she calls “my favorite people: my husband and sons.” She loves living here, loves the natural beauty, and the collection of creative, smart, eccentric people who are building interesting businesses here. Keri is an active member of our community, supporting causes and individuals, and is a tireless advocate for Santa Cruz as a tech center. The Nextie Awards named her 2016’s Innovator of the Year, and the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce chose Calliope’s founding team as the 2016 Entrepreneurs of the Year. Keri has a rare gift to bring together the right group of people at the right time to do the job, and to keep thinking about what comes next. Her determination, work ethic, humor and optimism combine to make her a true leader, someone people trust and admire. Clearly, this woman’s got game, and Santa Cruz is lucky to have her. Congratulations, Keri Waters, our Woman of the Week!

Thank you to this weeks blogger: Carrie Kingsley

Rose Filicetti

Written by Carrie Kingsley

Varied and focused. Lofty ideals, but the grit and determination to get the job done. Passionate.

With a background that spans corporate banking, local school boards, political staffing, Digital NEST and much more, it seems that there’s nothing Rose Filicetti can’t do. In her latest role that she keeps saying is semi-retirement, she manages to do more in a week than most of us in a month. She’s passionate about social justice, good governance, and building a strong, vital community. We are so lucky to have her in Santa Cruz County, and she’s our Woman of the Week. Congratulations, Rose!

Born in Eastern Washington, Rose moved to California three decades ago and immediately starting making her mark in Mountain View. With an undergraduate business degree and an MBA, she worked in corporate banking for 15 years, then stepped out to raise her children and reset her career focus toward the nonprofit sector. And what a reset: She was elected to the Mountain View School Board for 10 years, and in those years got a parcel tax passed, merged two districts, and was the executive director of the Santa Clara County School Boards Association — a post she continued to hold for another 10 years after retiring from the school board.

Retire. That’s a word she tosses around a lot, but I don’t think she quite understands the concept. She claims to be in semi-retirement now, and has limited herself to merely being a founding board member for Digital NEST (which provides young people a high-tech training and collaboration space), helping form the “Breaking the Glass Ballot” group (getting more women in the pipeline for elected office), staffing two elected officials (Assembly Pro Tem Sally Lieber and Senator Joe Simitian), and motivating others to join her in community activism. Typical retirement stuff.

On its own, founding Digital NEST is a huge accomplishment, and brings together many of Rose’s deepest convictions. She is a fierce believer in advocating for social justice, education, economic vitality, good governance, and public service. Digital NEST operates in Watsonville (and soon Salinas as well), and provides youth ages 12-24 a safe, focused space to learn technology, collaborate with professionals, make business connections, and launch careers. Digital NEST filled a huge void in the community, and Rose helps make it happen.

When challenged with the “We can’t do it that way because we’ve always done it this way” roadblock to projects, Rose listens first, then starts a conversation about the issue. She asks people not just what they want now, but what they want to build for the future, what kind of community they want to leave our children, how to enable future generations to afford to live here. That approach takes time, patience, and a willingness to be flexible, but serves us all much better than the opposite. We’re so lucky that Rose Filicetti chose to not-at-all-retire here in Santa Cruz, and we couldn’t be prouder that she’s our Woman of the Week. Thank you and congratulations, Rose!

Special thanks to our fabulous blogger: Carrie Kingsley