Woman’s touch

Now in its fourth year, Celebration of Women is all about togetherness

MASTER PLANNER <br>Willow Dejesus has built a dream into reality in the form of Celebration of Women.

Willow Dejesus has built a dream into reality in the form of Celebration of Women.

Photo By Brittni Zacher

Willow Dejesus, a friendly, can-do woman with shoulder-length gray hair, had just joined the Chico Women’s Club when she came up with the idea for the Celebration of Women event.

“The club was going in new places. I just stood up at a meeting and said I had an idea,” she said matter-of-factly. “I had a dream team of helpers just like that.”

Dejesus is the founder and coordinator of the increasingly popular two-day event, which features performance showcases and an artisans’ fair spotlighting the works of talented local women and girls. The event is now in its fourth year.

The 53-year-old Dejesus became animated when she talked about helping bring out people’s inner artist—it’s no doubt related to her job as a pediatric occupational therapist, helping children with developmental disabilities function at the highest possible level.

“Everyone has a form of self-expression,” noted Dejesus enthusiastically. “It’s a vitality of force that you have to let out. For some, it’s their work. For the women performing, it’s their art. Some are polished performers. Some are performing for the first time.”

Last year’s event raised more than $6,500. The money goes into the Chico Women’s Club Scholarship Fund (which gives $1,000 in scholarship money each year to two local high school girls), as well as the Community Partnership Fund, which funds local organizations, people and projects including The Esplanade House and community radio station KZFR’s 2008 Mime Troupe project.

Performers for this year’s event were selected in March by an audition committee made up of Dejesus and fellow Women’s Club members, who looked for both talent and diversity of genre. It’s a mixed group—from the primary-age Hooker Oak Pennywhistle Players, to recent Russian immigrant opera singer Alla Baranovskaya and her piano accompanist mother, to internationally known Paradise poet, playwright and journalist Claire Braz-Valentine.

Some performers are back by popular demand, like pianist Loree Clary, and innovative singer/musician Karisha Longaker, who has taken part four years in a row and is bringing her new group The Saplings with her this time around.

Marilyn Cannon, a teacher at Hooker Oak Elementary School, is responsible for teaching her open-structured first- and second-grade class how to play the pennywhistle. Contrary to what one might guess, The Hooker Oak Pennywhistle Players are not first-time performers—the group has a school play and a Chico Heat season-opening performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” under its belt.

“It’s just nice to see the confidence that they have, and see them moving into the musical community,” Cannon said.

At their upcoming Celebration of Women performance, the Players will be accompanied on guitar by local singer/musician Lise Welsh, whose 8-year-old daughter, Ilani Welsh-Johnson, is one of the Pennywhistle Players. Welsh will also present her own piano-and-voice act that night.

The collaboration is a perfect example of what Dejesus is trying to accomplish with Celebration of Women. Dejesus, who used to be an organizer for Concow’s annual Wild Mountain Faire music festival, and also organized fundraisers for Butte Environmental Council, likes the idea of bringing people together, especially when there’s a theme involved.

She says Celebration of Women is her form of self-expression.

“It’s like cooking,” said Dejesus. “You have the right ingredients, you put people together, and you leave satisfied and emotionally full.”