silhouetteAn outsider might believe the Ottawa Valley would be a hard place for a woman to succeed.

It can be hard to succeed anywhere as a woman

We are far from progressive, urban cities

…we are soooo small…..

Notwithstanding all that – the outsider’s perception could not be further from the truth.

This past March 7, 2018, on the eve of International Women’s Day, over 100 women and men gathered to celebrate women’s achievements and to bring awareness to women’s issues.

The event raised thousands of dollars for a local women’s shelter (one of only 2 shelters in Canada to be accredited), was hosted by a woman, included five female speakers from different backgrounds and professions, was organized by a five-woman committee, and was sponsored by many local businesses – many of whom are owned or operated by women.

The best part? One maven put it all together.

Carolyn Arnold, chef and owner of Maven Catering, exemplifies Deep River and Laurentian Hills’ successful investment in women. Carolyn pulled from the community to find her gift. Once she harnessed and refined her culinary skills, she returned to the Valley where she created a small social empire. We could not be luckier.

Carolyn is different from many Deep River success stories. If you speak with an engineer at the Plant, a successful journalist or even a lawyer, many will begin by attributing their success to the strong scholastic program they endured and even thrived in at Mackenzie High School.

While our Renfrew County Board of Education is nothing to turn up one’s nose at, Carolyn’s story takes a different turn here. She recalls an esteemed science teacher advising her parents that “Carolyn needs to spend less time on her extra-curricular activities and more time on her studies”. Well-intentioned? Yes. Wrong? Absolutely.

While academics were not a comfortable fit, the community was. In hindsight, Carolyn attributes her success in business to the strong inter-personal relationships and community connections she developed while volunteering, working as editor for the school yearbook, and participating in our community events. As the chef and owner of a highly successful and unique homegrown catering company, the skills she honed right here in Deep River were the magic ingredient to make her business a massive success.

What makes Maven different from many home-based start-ups is its incessant support of the community and community events. Heck, she organizes half of them. Open mic nights, yacht club band nights, food and wine pairings, pub crawl and, of course International Women’s Day: Maven, Maven, Maven, Maven, Maven. It isn’t always financially advantageous on a micro-level for a business to be a town social convenor, but that does not seem to bother Carolyn.

Speaking with Carolyn, I asked why she does all of these events, if a strong profit is not guaranteed. Carolyn believes that it is important to make where you live a place that you want to live. While we are enjoying a catered concert, Carolyn typically spends the first half of the evening in the kitchen, before jumping out to crack a cold one with the rest of us.

This column is not to simply tell Carolyn she’s fantastic. I can probably just find a card for that. This column is to talk about the importance of investing in women.

During Maven’s Second Annual International Women’s Day Dinner, I heard four extremely talented and very unique speakers explain the kinetic power we unleash when we support women. We heard that the world still puts-up barriers that can block, specifically women’s, success. The barriers can be overcome, however, by recognizing the importance of small achievements, by gathering and fostering support, creating opportunities in traditionally male-dominated trades and teaching women to confidently stand, hands on hips, to face that adversity.

Intentionally or not, Deep River did that for Carolyn.

She was bolstered by her community in even the smaller leadership roles she took in the town as a young woman.

She relied on the strength and guidance of her friends and other women in the community as well as on the continued support and empowerment of the townspeople – male and female.

She sought out and found a career in a traditionally male-dominated field and makes it work as the sole breadwinner in her home.

She is tough as nails. Culinary work has got to be one of the most stressful careers there are (have you SEEN Gordon Ramsey?) – but Carolyn pushes through, dusting off her chef jacket, smiling and ready for the next challenge.

Looking around the Dinner at all of the mavens Carolyn brought together, it is clear Deep River and Laurentian Hills’ successful investments with women neither started nor ended with Carolyn.

In a Country where only 23% of mayors are female, two of our last three mayors have been women. We have a large and thriving group of Women in Business. And, if the rest of the upcoming generations are half as talented as the 16 year-old speaker and humanitarian, Morgan Campbell, the Ottawa Valley can continue to expect greatness.

Outsiders may be surprised by the success of the Ottawa Valley: both in its men and women. For us, however, we know the value of hard work and great investments. I’m proud that my hometown innately knew to invest in Carolyn the way it has invested in so many of my friends, family and colleagues.

The next time someone seems shocked at the great little town we have here, you can tell them it is no surprise. When you invest in strong women, you strengthen your community.

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