Author Archives: Katie McNeil
“Woman of the Week”
E L I Z A B E T H B A R O N
A Resplendent Talent Returns to Her Roots
“The thing about performance, even if it’s only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities.”—Daniel Day Lewis
Elizabeth Baron is passionate about all things pertaining to the field of performing arts and the human experience, believing that there belies in everyone a creative genius, and she finds great inspiration, in large part, by encouraging others to find theirs in the most uniquely creative of ways. She also happens to be an immensely talented award-winning artist who has garnered national and international critical acclaim for her versatile work both on and off stage as an actor, teacher, musician, producer, and director collaborating on a myriad of projects with her contemporaries, mentors, aspiring thespians, performers and those who simply want to explore their imaginative side as well. And, after living and working in Florence, Italy for the past five years, Elizabeth and her husband (a native of Italy) have taken a momentous leap, moving not only back to the states, but more excitingly have chosen to settle down right here in our vibrant town, where she was born and raised. What better way to welcome this exceptionally gifted Santa Cruz gem of a talent home—where her love of the performing arts all began as a young girl—than by featuring her in this week’s spotlight. It is both an honor and a delight to formally introduce Elizabeth to the Santa Cruz Socialites community. I have no doubt that you will find her as fascinating and inspiring as I do. Therefore, without further ado, meet our latest “Woman of the Week.”
From one of Elizabeth’s latest endeavors, her current series of Red Nose Theater Clown workshops cleverly titled Sublime Stupidity, to running through some last minute details via Skype with the brilliant award-winning actor Gemma Wilcox, the lead in the critically heralded one-woman show, Magical Mystery Detour—they co-wrote and produced together—barely exemplifies the multidimensional range and commitment that Elizabeth brings to her work. It came as no surprise, then, that she was chin-deep juggling an array of creative projects when I reached out to set up an interview. I must confess, I was slightly wracked by stage fright when placing the initial call, but any raw nerves completely dissolved within moments of talking with her. Elizabeth was down-to-earth and thoughtful as we made the usual introductions, tossing formalities aside for humor, as she relayed the logistical and technical hiccups she was encountering with the move and her work. We settled on conversing (technically of course) through texts to firm up a date.
Finally, on an overcast morning in July, as the marine layer began to play with the idea of rolling back out towards the open sea, daring the sun to peek through the light grey canvassed sky above the coastline of Santa Cruz, I sat with my ear pressed to the phone oblivious to the theatrics unfolding outside, captivated instead by the luminous and dynamic Elizabeth, on the other end, as she shared with me the world of theater, how she was inspired from a young age to perform, and what led her to embrace her true calling for the arts. She painted with her words an honest reflection of her life and I was moved by Elizabeth’s ability to speak with candor—adding quite a few splashes of wit—when it came to the opportunities and obstacles she faced while honing her craft. Elizabeth also discussed, with heartfelt acknowledgement, those who played a pivotal role in her success as an artist along the way, “my teachers have acted like people on shore, where they push me in my little boat into the water and I have no idea where I’m going, but the direction was due to them, to specifically them….” I sense, though, Elizabeth has always been the phenomenal commander, not of a little boat, but of a resplendent vessel, with bright beacons of light (i.e., family, teachers, friends, peers, mentors, etc.) shining upon the many shores she’s chosen to set anchor upon throughout her life.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, Elizabeth was immersed in the arts from an early age. Her earliest recollection of when she possibly first caught the acting bug was during her preschool years, where she had a part in a play requiring her to carry firewood; inadvertently, she walked on stage sans the bundle of wood, and innately mimed holding the invisible prop, to a glowingly responsive audience. Young Elizabeth was hooked. She continued to pursue theater and mixed in ballet, music, singing, choreography, and sports (soccer) for good measure during her school-aged years. Cast in the lead as Katya in Peace Child, a musical put on by Santa Cruz’s own Theatre of All Possibilities (a nonprofit Arts-In-Education program for children), around the age of twelve, granted her the opportunity to travel as part of a professional troupe performing for audiences across the United States and Europe; an experience that made an indelible impact on her. Her years in high school under the creative direction of Santa Cruz High School’s drama teacher, Susan Stuart (now of Cabrillo College), provided a wealth of freedom for Elizabeth and her classmates to explore the different aspects of putting on full productions. Talk of her formative years had us both marveling at the myriad of enriching opportunities our town has to offer our youth and how fortunate she felt at being able to take part in such offerings.
Though Elizabeth has been in theater, as she cheerfully puts it “my whole life,” there was a time, after high school and prior to graduating from Ohio’s prestigious Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music, when she had thought she would become a doctor instead. This career possibility was inspired by her decision to defer college for a length of time and embark on a humanitarian relief trip to war torn Angola (prior to the ceasefire of 2002), where she worked with orphans and assisted with successfully raising funds (a large sum coming from three Santa Cruz business owners) to build a medical clinic in the region. She even traveled to Bangladesh to work with children in need, through the Grameen Bank (an important micro-funding giant. Its founder went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize). According to Elizabeth, when reflecting on her time in these countries and why she had every intention of studying medicine at Oberlin, “after the work I’d done there, that seemed basically the only thing a person could do to be helpful.” Her caring nature, determination, and brilliant mind leaves no doubt that she would have made for a phenomenal physician; just as these very qualities shine through in her work as an artist and her passion for teaching (including voice pedagogy) and sharing her love of theater with others.
It was upon learning there was a call for auditions for a play, The Resurrection of Lady Lester, directed by a professor at Oberlin, which inspired Elizabeth to renew her interest in theater. According to Elizabeth, “…in order to audition for it, I learned a monologue by Ntozake Shange and that blew my mind, that theater could be that true and powerful and current…though I didn’t major in theater…being cast in that play turned my life back in that direction….” Although her declared major didn’t entail a performing arts concentration, Elizabeth kept with it throughout college; she also studied Bel Canto opera technique while at Oberlin (even taking courses, such as the UCSC Chamber Singers, with the brilliant Nicole Paiment, while in her senior year at Santa Cruz High, and her undergrad years as well).
With the spark for theater renewed, Elizabeth headed for New York upon graduation, where she pursued acting and performed in both Regional Theater and Off Broadway plays. One of her most exciting roles was in an Off Broadway show called Maybe Baby It’s You. Her biggest break came when she left the city for a role in a play in Tennessee, and met Amy Russell, of Naropa/London International School of the Performing Arts (LISPA), who awarded Elizabeth with a scholarship to study Lecoq with Amy and Thomas Prattki (founder and director of LISPA), through a series of workshops held in Boulder, Colorado. It was this pivotal moment, which led Elizabeth to leave New York and focus on learning the Lecoq method while living in Boulder. “Eventually, I left professional acting…and my Equity work to study and pursue this other way of making art,” she recalled.
Elizabeth went on to earn an MFA in Lecoq Based Actor-Created Physical Theater from LISPA, and remained in Boulder where she co-founded, with Bobby Lee Dartt, LaLa Theater Company. Together she and Bobby collaborated on and produced numerous award-winning projects—many were selected as Pick of Fringe, Boulder International Fringe Festival (BIFF) over the past decade—even performing in several of these productions themselves. She managed to launch LaLa Theater Company, while in the midst of studying red nose clown under the internationally renowned direction of Giovanni Fusetti, whom she described as not only her mentor and boss (she landed a job initially as his pedagogic assistant), but also a friend. “I owe my career as a teacher to him,” said Elizabeth. She went on to complete her HÈLIKOS pedagogic training under Fusetti, while residing in Boulder. When Fusetti returned to Italy and opened HÈLIKOS International School of Theatre Creation in 2010, Elizabeth in turn made the move and began teaching voice and movement theater technique at the school’s headquarters in Florence, Italy. Elizabeth continued collaborating on projects through LaLa, working freelance as a director in Europe, and she continued teaching red nose clown and voice, offering workshops nationally and internationally, when she wasn’t teaching at the school.
Her accomplishments and willingness to take risks, putting herself out there, welcoming opportunities to be creative, and her ability to develop a plethora of opportunities, in turn, for others to be creatively expressive as well is quite impressive. When asked what makes her passionate about performing, Elizabeth reflected, “when I collaborate and perform, it feels all absorbing and like the truest use of my skills and awareness, I feel challenged and on the edge and at home, all at the same time. I love being with the audience…I love when humans have developed their craft so much that you cry at the impossible they are doing.”
Elizabeth’s love for theater is apparent in the astounding body of work she’s put forth, and the joy she feels when watching others successfully hone their artistry, exemplifies her supportive nature. Her life has not been without stormy weather; one of the biggest storms she encountered occurred while she was studying voice at the Conservatory of Music, when she literally lost her voice due to a vocal injury that caused extensive damage requiring surgery (thankfully with a successful outcome). Although it took Elizabeth over ten years to regain her singing voice, she chose to turn the experience into a positive one. It propelled her on a journey of self-discovery, learning to honor her truth and to expand the range and use of her voice. Elizabeth went on to explore voice techniques, learning Fado, a traditional Portuguese music genre, and studied under the direction of some of the great voice teachers of our time (e.g., Catherine Fitzmaurice and Ethie Friend to name two), all of which has guided and inspired her to continue cultivating her voice pedagogy and to share it with others through her work.
After over a decade working with Fusetti, Elizabeth and her husband, Piero Lorenzo, who she met while in Florence and married in the summer of 2014, decided to start their new life, as a married couple, back here in the states this past spring. And, while they could have chose to reside in Boulder, where she had made her home prior to Italy for nearly 12 years, the beauty that is Santa Cruz won out. Elizabeth and Piero are excited about making our eclectic town their home base, where she will continue to collaborate on different projects (via Skype or via travel) and teach her highly acclaimed workshops both near and far, while he builds his international real estate business. Fortunately for us, she has offered her highly sought after and hilariously funny series of red nose theater clown workshops (lallatheater.blogspot.com) right here at The Tannery this past spring and a second round this past June and July, where people traveled from all over to attend the sold out classes. She is thrilled to be able to share her work with her hometown, and hopes to offer more of these workshops here in the near future.
When I last spoke with Elizabeth, she was about to welcome an artist, Giulio, to Santa Cruz from Italy, for a stay while they worked on his newest play. She was also in talks with the brilliant actresses Sarah Kauffman and Karen Light on a possible collaboration, and is heading to Europe in September for a workshop. Despite her intensely busy schedule, Elizabeth does find time to take in the ocean along West Cliff, or Worldanz classes with Gina Garcia, and enjoys a great novel—she’s currently reading Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love—when she’s not working on a play, and is looking forward to riding the waves on a surfboard as she once did during her youth. “I can’t wait to get back to surfing. It will be a while,” she admits. With her ability to successfully multitask, I bet she will be back in the water much sooner than she thinks.
Regardless of what Elizabeth is working on or taking part in, she does it with mindfulness and is committed to practicing kindness in all areas of her life and it shows. Her innate aptitude to connect with others on a deeper level is no more apparent than when she’s on stage, “I love being with the audience trying to figure something out, making connections, taking us somewhere, going beyond what we are capable of, or what we’re limited to.” With Elizabeth, there are no limits to creativity, she’s sees an abundance of opportunities for which to share her knowledge and to inspire others to “…find their voice, their creative flow and to become present and make contact both with themselves and their audience (whoever that may be, an actual audience or their loved ones, or their classroom, or people to whom they’re making a presentation or a client…).” Elizabeth has had one incredibly captivating voyage thus far, and I, for one, am elated that she has decided to dock once again upon her childhood shores, bringing with her a treasure trove of talent to share with our community. The great Charlie Chaplin once said, “a day without laughter is a day wasted.” It is without a doubt that the creative genius that is Elizabeth Baron and her life’s work, will most certainly inspire us all to embrace our truth and to live our lives more freely in the moment, seeing the humor in the everyday experience, and quite possibly finding the inner clown that resides, as Elizabeth would have us imagine, inside all of us if only we believe.
“Woman of the Week”
S O N J A A R N D T
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
It is not often that you come across someone who is truly living to their fullest potential in the most benevolent way; someone who not only is making the best of what this country has to offer, but is also delving deep into the issues facing our modern world and finding ways to utilize what’s been gained through opportunity to give back, so that others, too, can have the same advantages. It’s almost become folklore or an elusive ideal, with exceptions, to believe in the possibility of the American Dream, and prove that it still exists by the way one leads their life. I had the rare opportunity to meet such a person, who has overcome great adversity, believing that the dream is still within reach, while encouraging others to do the same, and is a living example of all that is possible if you trust in yourself. It’s an absolute honor to be able to introduce this treasure of a young woman to the Santa Cruz Socialites community in this week’s spotlight.
Meet the dynamic Sonja Arndt, a globally minded twenty-something, who is changing lives domestically and abroad with her innovative ideas and ability to implement her vision with focused dedication, fortitudinous, and a diplomacy reminiscent of a more idealistic time in America’s not so distant past. If there was ever a “One to Watch” or an “It Girl” to hail from the Bay Area deserving of such recognition, it would be this brilliant young woman. She’s astonishingly accomplished, and extremely fascinating, having traveled nationally and internationally for both educational pursuits and to bring her expertise to aide those less fortunate in developing countries. Sonja embodies so many positive qualities and a curriculum vitae to match, that it took a breadth of time to contemplate fully on how to best capture her in this edition of “Woman of the Week.” This was no easy feat as she is that unique, someone who is going places, transcending personal hardships to help others, exuding wisdom far beyond her years, and, hence, the perfect role model for the young women of our community and our greater society.
I first caught up with Sonja, as she was preparing for a month long sojourn to Tanzania, where she had plans to work alongside others who are providing educational assistance to children in need. I had left her a voicemail expecting to hear back from her at some point, but she returned my call immediately, despite the fact that she was simultaneously traversing some unknown terrain by car, completely focused on making it to her destination, while cheerfully setting up a more appropriate time to chat with me over the phone. She was professional, unpretentious, energetic, warmhearted, and personable and I felt an instant connection with her when we finally blocked off some uninterrupted time for conversation later that evening. As we talked, she told me of her humble beginnings, and I was struck by how poised and candid she was about her life experiences and how certain events not only shaped (rather than break) who she has become, but she made sure to give credit to those who helped her along the way.
Born in Wiesbaden, Germany to an expatriate American mother and a War Correspondent German father, who covered a decade of the Vietnam War, she spent the first eight years of her life in Germany. However, after the unforeseen tragic death of her father, her mother returned to the United States with Sonja and her older sister, which understandably impacted her family unit. Now a single mother of two young girls, trying to raise a family and earn a teaching credential while readjusting to her homeland, her mom struggled to make ends meet, but never let her circumstances deter her from pursuing her degree. Sonja’s mother, a high school English teacher, has understandably been the most influential person in her life, a pillar of unwavering strength, someone who put her own needs aside to make a life for her daughters. Sonja is quick to point out that her successes were also due in large part to outside assistance–many stepped in to help when needed, including teachers who would provide lunch when things were difficult financially or drive her to and from school if her mother had to work unusual hours. Even parents of her teammates (she was an avid soccer player throughout her academic career) helped out when necessary. According to Sonja, “it was a constant community effort and it’s something I’m eternally grateful for…I want to give back. I want to create systems which assist kids that have less than optimal living situations, whether facing economic, social or various other hardships.” She is most certainly doing just that.
A UCSC alumna, Sonja managed to graduate within three years with a double concentration in business management economics and politics, while playing for the UCSC women’s soccer team and tutoring incoming ESL students who needed extra assistance to pass their English entrance examinations. A short stint teaching English in Trang, Thailand at the young age of 16, is a testament to Sonja’s yearning to give back and she continued on with this passion to help others by founding the microfinance chapter of Global Brigades at UCSC. Sonja traveled to Honduras as part of the Global Brigades team, where she assisted rural communities in securing micro business loans acquired through fundraising efforts. She found her passion for politics upon the encouragement of an undergraduate professor, who saw in her a keen desire to help people and make an impact, suggested she spend a quarter in Washington D.C. via the UC system’s UCDC program. Working for Senator Diane Feinstein’s office while in DC, sealed the deal to pursue politics. “Feinstein’s office was filled with incredibly hard working people who were driven to bring forth positive change via legislation…I quickly realized I could have a larger impact on my community and country via politics due to the amount of resources the federal government has,” reflected Sonja on her time spent in our nation’s capital.
Sonja returned inspired to merge her background in foreign aide with her newfound passion for politics and pursued a job with Congressman Sam Farr upon graduation. However, before joining his office, she spent some time at the Chinese University of Hong Kong conducting research on Sino-US relations, while working at Linklaters Law Firm’s Hong Kong branch. She even found time to work on President Obama’s reelection campaign. There is nothing this young woman is not capable of and she has a can-do attitude that is contagious. Just discussing all that she has been involved in during her young career made my heart swell with hope for our future for she does it with mindfulness, gratitude and compassion for others, which is key to living a truly fulfilling life.
With her mission to continue to be of service, especially to the veterans who have served our country, she joined Congressman Sam Farr’s office in the Fall of 2012 and dedicated herself to one of the Congressman’s biggest and most honorable projects, which would cement the long awaited deal to build a veteran’s cemetery at Fort Ord. Having a father who had served as a journalist in Vietnam during the war, made this especially significant for Sonja. She felt a special bond with those who have served, and dedicated a large portion of her time, while working for Farr, helping veterans; many who contemplated suicide. She even recounted a deeply profound moment working with one veteran who discussed his thoughts of suicide, “…and I said don’t do it. He said that I didn’t understand, and I said he was right, I didn’t, but my father had committed suicide, and from a child who grew up without a father, I asked the veteran not to. I asked him to think about his family. It stopped him…in his tracks, and we were able to get him proper, professional, long term assistance.” There’s not a more poignant testament illustrating Sonja’s ability to be emotionally available and vulnerable in the service of others than at that moment, when she reached out to another in his greatest time of need. As we discussed her deep appreciation for the veteran community and the huge undertaking that is the Fort Ord veterans cemetery project (which was roughly over two decades in the making, with a groundbreaking ceremony finally celebrated this past March), she recalled with fondness her time spent working for Farr, “I couldn’t have envisioned a better person to work for. Sam not only has the heart and vision to bring forth innovation to the Central Coast, but he actually is able to execute and get things done—from a DOD/VA joint medical clinic to the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord…it was an amazing experience to be a part of his team.”
After nearly three extraordinary years, working on Congressman Farr’s team, Sonja realized it was time to move forward with her passion to help children in need and those youth who are struggling to stay out of the juvenile justice system; she gained firsthand experience with juvenile gangs while working along the central coast, and saw how critical early intervention and education programs are key to deterrence rather than juvenile detention in most cases. Sonja, inspired by both Judge Phillip’s program in Monterey County and the Santa Cruz Police Department’s BASTA programs for early gang intervention, felt the best way for her to positively influence troubled youth was through the field of law, where she could have a direct impact as an attorney. She wants children to know that someone believes in them and just finished up “Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang,” by Julia Reynolds which gave her deeper insight into how important believing in children is to their development. With acceptance to UC Hastings College of Law, Sonja is set to start the next chapter of her life in San Francisco this Fall. It came as a bit of a surprise to learn that she was excited to move to a big city, as she had never lived in one before, and yet she felt it was a bit out of her comfort zone. After all, this is coming from someone who has traveled the world and has enjoyed immersing herself in other cultures; I have no doubt that she will fit in perfectly amongst the immense diversity that makes San Francisco gleam.
Though she is deeply committed to her professional and humanitarian pursuits, Sonja does find time to pursue her hobbies as well. Her love of travel and learning about other cultures is a given, but she also enjoys anything having to do with nature and athleticism (e.g., running and competing in races, hiking, soccer, swimming, etc.) with the same passionate drive to succeed. Her other love is animals and she spends time volunteering at our local animal shelter, fostering abused and abandoned dogs. Along these lines, I asked her if there was something people believed they knew about her, but is actually the complete opposite, to which she replied, “I think a lot of people confuse strong women as being cold, and I don’t think that’s always true. Although I don’t flinch when making a hard decision, I’m quite the opposite of cold, I’m incredibly sensitive…willing to make the tough decision, however that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and there’s usually a large emotional toll.” She’s fostered nearly 100 dogs over the last five years, starting her volunteerism at the San Francisco animal shelter (with the last three years spent at the Santa Cruz SPCA), and had to make the heartbreaking choice to put down a dog who was in irreparable physical pain, and the thought of that sweet dog still gets to her. It’s apparent that Sonja has an endless abundance of compassion for all living creatures.
For now, though, Sonja is focused on her Tanzania journey where her biggest hope is to be able to educate children. “I want them to know that there is a person out there (with a completely different background) that wants them to succeed, a person who’s cheering for them,” Sonja states with heartfelt sincerity. Despite a law implemented in Tanzania back in 2002 phasing out school tuition, in turn making education free to all children, there is still the burden of paying for mandatory uniforms, exams, and all school supplies making it difficult for many families to provide an education. If there was ever the perfect person to inspire these children, all children regardless of country, it would be Sonja. Her empathetic nature and innate ability to listen to others, appreciating who they are and how their own life experiences have shaped their beliefs, will undoubtedly be felt by those lives she touches.
Sonja is someone we can all draw inspiration from, who is an exemplary example of the American Dream realized. She has a deep love for this country and for all people and genuinely wants everyone to have the best possibility of growing to their fullest potential. She sees the best in humanity and believes, “…that people want to be happy…I don’t think people are naturally malicious or hoping other people fail…it’s what inspires me. I want to fight the good fight and help people because I whole heartedly believe that’s what people want; that’s what we all want.” There is no doubt in my mind that Sonja will always take the lead in whatever pursuit she is passionate about. Her ultimate goal is to join the Department of Justice and eventually serve on the bench as a judge, and she most certainly will achieve these goals if she sets her mind to it. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Sonja is a testament to these ideals and I look forward to watching her change the world for the better one passionate step at a time.
* Since her mid-June arrival, Sonja has been assisting at The Best Hope Preparatory Centre (“Best Hope”) in Moshi, Tanzania, a non-government run school with an annual tuition of 120,000 shillings ($60USD)—lower compared to government run schools, whose cost to families in required materials, uniforms, and exam fees average 200,000 shillings/$100 USD annually—or free for families who can’t afford the cost. She is also collaborating with the director of the school on developing a three-month test prep course, which will help underprivileged students pass their secondary school entrance exams, with a strong emphasis on a pupil’s English skills, which is a government mandated requirement in order to move up from primary school. Sadly, with little access to education incorporating English for those living in lower-income and rural areas, (making it difficult to pass the mandatory exam) many students education ceases after primary school at the age of fourteen. Additionally, myriad schools are in dire need of the most basic essentials, including “Best Hope,” where many children only own one shirt, and many arrive to class without shoes. Currently, the school is in need of school supplies (e.g., pens, primary level English, math, and science books), clothing and shoes, and toys to play with (e.g., games, sporting equipment, etc.). Any outside support is deeply appreciated. If you would like to learn more about Sonja and her travels to Tanzania, you can follow her at: https://sonjaintanzania.wordpress.com
If you would like to help, all donations can be sent to:
The Best Hope Preparatory Centre
C/O Emmanuel Aikael Mkya
P.O. Box 3060
“Woman of the Week”
J U L I E C R O G H A N
There are those moments in life when you have the good fortune of meeting a person who you feel an instant connection with, who draws you in with an authentic warmth and genuine graciousness, who inspires you to look at the world with new perspective, and who leaves a positive indelible impression upon you. I experienced one of these moments, when I had the opportunity to interview Julie Croghan, Santa Cruz Socialites (SCS) latest “Woman of the Week,” and she most certainly embodies all of the aforementioned and so much more.
Julie is the dynamic stay-at-home super-mom of eleven children ranging in age from two to nineteen years old (an amazing group of siblings who include 7 girls and 4 boys), who manages to dabble in freelance writing (with ten books and various articles published under her name) and transcription work, start her own online boutique as a merchandiser for Chloe & Isabel, and most importantly is a staunch advocate for the Williams Syndrome Association (WSA), a cause that she is deeply passionate about. Oh and did I mention that Julie is also a part of the SCS W.O.W. team. This is a woman with a story to tell, that finds the silver lining even in the most challenging circumstances, and not only holds onto it, but fosters others to see it too. Her optimism is contagious and magnetic and as she opened up to me, I envisioned the women in our community appreciating her down-to-earth nature and being pulled in by her energetic spirit as well.
Living with gratitude…. Julie and her husband of twenty years, have not been immune to their share of hardships. They had to make the life-changing decision to decamp three years ago, moving back home after an eight-year stint in Idaho, where they had built a successful real estate business and were raising their growing family, when the economy hit a downturn and their precious son, Andrew, was born with what they initially thought was a congenital heart condition that required surgery, which ultimately caused them to create a new plan for their family. It took two years making the rounds with specialists to diagnose Andrew, now seven years old, with Williams Syndrome (a rare genetic condition that affects an estimated 20,000-30,000 individuals in the U.S. and upwards of 100,000 worldwide, hence the delayed diagnosis for many). When discussing that particularly difficult time and what it means to be a parent of a child with special needs and abilities, you can hear the pride in her voice when she speaks of Andrew, who she describes as a loving child and a complete joy to her family and all who know him, and his diagnosis has been the catalyst for her advocacy of the Williams Syndrome Association (www.williams-syndrome.org/) and a push for broader awareness. According to her, there’s relatively little information for both parents and physicians to turn to, and the association has been a great resource to gather what research there is and to find support. Many families with or without insurance are left with insurmountable medical expenses and this is where Julie has found her current calling—a way to utilize her Chloe & Isabel business as an additional stream of income for her family, while also using her business as a source for nonprofit fundraising efforts.
Chloe & Isabel, an online direct sales jewelry company, has been a self-described godsend for Julie who tells of the founder’s women-empowering business model that ascribes to a motto of “Be creative. Be confident. Be you,” and how selling the gorgeous array of jewelry and wearing it as a form of advertisement (which is huge considering that she never thought of putting on jewelry during her daily routine until taking on this endeavor) has taught her that she can still dress up, be stylish, beautiful, and still be a mom as can all women, regardless of whether they’re a mom, a professional, or both; even her children, especially the younger ones notice the jewelry and it puts a smile on their faces to see their mother sparkle. This business has not only built her personal confidence, but has allowed her to find a great way to financially help raise WS awareness and advocate for this cause she feels so passionately about, which is only just recently finding its voice in the plethora of other more well known, but equally important, causes.
If you love jewelry, especially jewelry that supports a cause, then take a peak at Julie’s website: www.chloeandisabel.com/boutique/juliecroghan. Julie has held two fundraising events thus far, one of which raised money for WSA, and secondly, for Lighthouse Group Home, a ground-breaking, first-of-its-kind (in the United States) place where adults living with Williams Syndrome will be able to live as a community in a supportive environment. Currently, in honor of her son and May being Williams Syndrome Awareness Month, Julie is pledging to donate her full commission (30%) on all sales, if socialites shop her site using the following link: https://www.chloeandisabel.com/boutique/juliecroghan/ea14da throughout the month of May. Additionally, this super-inspiring-mom will be walking on May 26th at Lake Mead in Oakland (www.walk4williams.org) in support of WS.
If ever there was a woman one could draw inspiration from, who could empower women (even the youngest amongst us including her own daughters, one of which is setting off for college in the fall) to find their strengths, and tell their stories with depth, clarity, and honesty it would be Julie Croghan. She firmly believes that “hard work and good intentions go a long way,” and she certainly exemplifies both. It’s an honor to be able to introduce this phenomenal woman to the Santa Cruz Socialites community and I am certain you will find her as bright and compassionate as I do.
Written by: Katie McNeil
Photo courtesy of: Aimee Pool Photography aimeepoolphoto.com