Get to Know...Novel Women, a new Women's Fund membership group

Novel Women

We wanted to get to know this group better, so we interviewed Group Captain, Karen Feeney.

Why and when did you join the Women’s Fund?
I decided I wanted to join the Women’s Fund after having had the opportunity to observe the organization as a sponsor. I work for Allen Construction, and Barbara Hauter Woodward, a former Allen client, asked the company if we would support the Women’s Fund by sponsoring the buses for the annual Site Visit, which we gladly did. I was immediately impressed by the mission and work of the Women’s Fund. Barbara invited me to a couple other Women’s Fund events and, knowing I wanted my book group to join with me, invited several of us to the Presentation of Grants last spring. She also offered to send a representative from the Women’s Fund to one of our book group meetings to share the Women’s Fund story. Nancy Harter—who conveniently knew some of the women in our book group—attended a meeting and answered everyone’s questions, making the decision to join an easy one. 

What inspired you to create your group?
I wanted to participate in the Women’s Fund with a group of friends, and I couldn’t think of a better group than my book club. They are smart, civic-minded, passionate women. We have a long track record of sharing ideas and discussing books—traits that would translate well to being a part of the Women’s Fund.

What is the significance of your group name, Novel Women?
Our group originally started as a book group over 30 years ago, but we had never named our group. When we were brainstorming possible names for our Women’s Fund group, we played with names that reflected our origins. When Novel Women was suggested, it was an immediate winner.

How many members do you have?
There are 11 of us.

How often do you meet?
As a book group, we meet about every six weeks. Since we just joined the Women’s Fund last December, we have only officially met twice to discuss Women’s Fund issues—once to decide to join, and the second time to vote on the 2017 ballot initiatives mid-March.

How does your annual voting process work?
We just experienced our first voting process in March. Everyone did their homework prior to the meeting, reviewing the list of potential projects and selecting their favorites. We hadn’t officially discussed a selection process before getting together, but it actually fell into place fairly easily. We took turns summarizing each project, discussing its merits, and then voted on each project by a show of hands. 

There were so many deserving projects, and we realized, with the vetting process the Women’s Fund has established to prescreen the projects, we couldn’t go wrong. At the end of the day, each group member had more than one important project on our final list, and we’ll be interested to see how our votes match up with the larger group when the grantees are announced on May 8.

What is the one thing you would like people to know about your group?
Our book group will celebrate its 36th anniversary this September and has evolved over the years, as old members left and new ones joined. With four original members still in the group, this current group of women has remained the same for the last seven or eight years.

What do you think are desired qualities of a group captain?
Being in a new group, this is a tough one to answer. I think group captains need to be organized, keep the group on task, furnish supplemental information from the captain’s meeting and provide a forum for everyone to share their opinions. And we always manage to have fun in the process! My goal is to rotate the role of captain within our group, in order for everyone to have the experience. 

Anything else you would like us to know about Novel Women?
We formed our group shortly after we graduated from college, and most members worked for either the County or City of Santa Barbara. We have played softball and/or soccer together, ski together annually and golf together. We have children around the same age, and we just generally enjoy being together. Over the years, we’ve left behind the status of young professionals to marry and have families, and some have moved on to grandparenting! Now, we have joined together to be a part of the Women’s Fund.

Addendum to the Interview
At the conclusion of our interview, we became curious about Novel Women’s very successful book club, so we asked Karen a few more questions.

What types of books do your members like to read?
We read all types—fiction, non-fiction, murder mysteries, historical fiction, and so on. The member whose turn it is to host the group picks the book we are to read and discuss.  

What are some of the books you have read recently?
Yes, the last three books we read were A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles; Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks; and the The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. I recommend them all. Let me add one more: Empty Mansions, which is about the daughter of the man who built the Clark estate near East Beach.