By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe
Each year in March, the Oak Park Arts District celebrates Women’s History Month with WOW! Women Owned Works. Gail Coughlin of Elevate Creative (321 Harrison Street) was inspired to start the event in 2017 after President Trump’s inauguration and the subsequent Women’s March.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to celebrate all the women-owned businesses in the arts district—the most of any business district in Oak Park,” said Gail. “It was not a happy time and I wanted to bring something positive to the neighborhood.” Yellow was chosen as the signature color for the event. “It’s happy and cheerful. It’s bright and attention-grabbing,” said Gail.
This year’s WOW! Women Owned Works event will be held on Saturday, March 18, from 11am-4pm and will feature a variety of sales and promotions. Yellow decorations will indicate which businesses are participating.
The Oak Park Arts District is proud to be the home of many women-owned businesses. Here are some of their stories:
Maryann Woods, Niravadhi Services/Problem Solvers, 17 Harrison Street
Maryann was always a curious kid who liked to take things apart and then put them back together again. Growing up in a missionary household, she spent a lot of her summers in India where she always spent time with the children. “I had a huge passion for kids and for a long time I wanted to be a pediatrician,” said Maryann, “But in the end, I decided to become a teacher.”
After leaving her teaching job during the pandemic, Maryann started tutoring and doing custom design work. She incorporated her business as Niravadhi Services. “My parents are from India and Niravadhi means ‘several’ in Sanskrit. So my business name literally means ‘several services’ which is perfect because I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades.”
More recently, Maryann combined her passion for STEM and her love of teaching into Problem Solvers (the education services arm of her business) where she offers STEM programming to elementary and middle school students. For more information on Maryann and her businesses, visit www.niravadhi.com and www.problemsolversstem.com.
Dima Ali, Dima Jewelry Atelier + Boutique, 41 Harrison Street
Dima was born and raised in Baghdad and came to the United States in December 2002 just three months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although she has a master’s degree in Family Law, Dima could not practice after immigrating. She worked on and off doing English to Arabic and Arabic to English translation, but after having her children, Dima focused on being a mom.
It was the 2016 election and the subsequent Muslim Ban which ignited her passion for activism. “I am culturally Muslim and the former president’s attacks on immigrants and on Muslims made me feel that I needed to do something.” Dima had always enjoyed making jewelry, but she lacked the self-confidence to think that her pieces were good enough to sell. She wanted to make a difference and so she started donating her jewelry to causes she cared about.
“People loved my work and I started getting orders. I wanted to support a cause so I chose to donate a percentage of my sales to RefugeeOne,” said Dima. Bit by bit, her sales increased until she realized she needed a separate studio space which she opened last year.
For WOW! Women Owned Works, Dima is planning a sample sale and deep discounts on soon-to-be retired styles. She’s also working on a fresh spring line full of bees and butterflies. For more information on Dima and her business, visit www.dima-jewelry.com.
Kim Humphrey, Bead in Hand, 145 Harrison Street
As a child, Kim was taught to do things with her hands, but it wasn’t until she was a mother with young children that she started beading. “I had little kids and I needed something that didn’t talk back and didn’t move and it really fit the bill,” Kim said with a laugh.
Although she can’t pinpoint the date, Kim thinks she started patronizing Bead in Hand within a few years of their 1993 opening. She took a few classes and was soon working at the store on weekends. As her kids got older, she was able to add more hours. When the then-owner announced that she was planning to retire and wanted to sell the store, Kim worried what it might mean for her future. “I loved the shop, the customers, the beads, my job, all of it. I didn’t want that to change.” And so ten years ago, Kim took a leap of faith and purchased the store.
For WOW! Women Owned Works, Bead in Hand will host a staff jewelry show on March 17 and 18. On Saturday, yellow glass bead strands will be 15% off and customers will receive a grab bag when making a purchase of $25 or more. Visit www.beadinhand.com for more information.
Noelle Allen, Slowfire Ceramics, 907 S. Lombard Avenue
Noelle is a tenured professor at Dominican University where she runs the sculpture and ceramics department. And for years, she also exhibited her work in galleries and museums. Then, during the pandemic, Noelle started offering private lessons out of her home studio. “I put a call out on Facebook and advertised that I would accept children who were neurodivergent. Some of my students had mental health concerns and really needed to get out of the house. My studio was a safe space that was cozy and intimate.”
Before long, she couldn’t accommodate everyone with private lessons and so she formed small group classes and hired another teacher, Alice Arreola-Perez. Alice trained at Dominican and had worked with Noelle as an artist assistant for several years. Within eighteen months, Noelle was employing several teachers and the business had expanded into all kinds of art in addition to the wheel throwing and handbuilding that started it all.
Last year, she was looking to expand and added a second location on Lombard. Although the business is called Slowfire Ceramics, Noelle wants people to understand that they have a lot of different offerings. The new location has classes and camps for children, tweens, teens, and adults in disciplines including ceramics, painting and drawing, and fiber arts. For more information including class schedules, visit www.slowfireceramics.com.
Carley Carlock, Mosaic Counseling & Wellness, 215 Harrison Street
Carey believes she was born to be a therapist. “I believe in recovery and healing and I’ve always been a good listener,” she said. In 2008, she started working at Riveredge Hospital, the largest psychiatric hospital in Illinois. She resigned as CEO in 2021 to focus on establishing a clinic that would focus on quality integrated therapy in her own community.
“The calling kept pulling me—psychiatry and therapy within one team; creative arts therapy and traditional talk therapy within one team.” That call led her to be the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Mosaic Counseling & Wellness which opened a flagship office on Harrison last year. For Carey, a key to integrated therapy is psychiatry and therapy under the same roof with providers that will “actually talk with each other.”
To help make mental health care accessible and affordable, Mosaic is in-network with several insurance companies. “If we are not in network, then I try to refer people to places that will take their insurance. And I always say, ‘If you don’t get a call back, then call me back and we will troubleshoot together.’” For more information, visit www.mosaiccare.com.