Six Degrees of Austin Woman

By Megan Russell, By Rachel Merriman , Illustration by Sarah Quatrano, Photo by Dustin Meyer

Born to Connect With the Women of Austin

Why do we do what we do? That is a question I get asked a lot, and admittedly, one I have asked myself more than a few exhausted evenings. The answer that always comes is simple: Since the inception of Austin Woman in 2002, it has been our mission to engage, celebrate, support and connect the women of Austin.

There is always the temptation to swerve out of our lane to broaden our reach, attract more advertisers and more out-of-towners, but in the end, we know that beyond all the hype of being all things to all people, there are these amazing women creating companies, generating life-changing ideas and products, giving of themselves for the greater good of the community and traveling the world to bring that special connectivity that Austin has— and Austin women create—to women throughout the world. Now, that’s something to celebrate.

Our readers and the women we feature on the pages of the magazine are the most engaged change-makers in the city. I know, for my money, that’s who I want to do business with, that’s who I want talking about me and my business and that’s who I want to serve. Austin women show up. It’s as simple as that at its core. And when they show up, Austin Woman magazine is there to facilitate connections on a deeper level and record this amazing his- tory of powerful and passionate women transforming lives and the city we all love so much.

So that’s why we do what we do. And to showcase that, we’ve brought together women whose stories of connectivity and the relationships they have fostered through our network embody our core mission.

— Melinda Garvey, Austin Woman founder and publisher

Hand to Hold

A preterm birth is defined as a birth before 37 weeks of gestation. In the United States, one in eight babies is born preterm. Premature birth is the leading cause of death among newborns and can lead to lifelong disabilities. And prematurity doesn’t just cause stress for the baby, but for the parents as well. They can suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For Austin’s Kelli Kelley, not only did she have to suffer this heartbreaking experience, but she had to go through it twice, once with each of her children. On her website,, Kelley writes, “Although my husband and I were surrounded by friends and family that showered us with cards, prayers, gifts and meals after the birth of our children, I truly never felt so alone. I searched for support groups and participated in online discussions, but still there was a void. I struggled to identify doctors and therapists. I searched for information about preemie health and development. I longed for someone to hold my hand and light my way. Thus came the inspiration for Hand to Hold, a peer-to-peer support network for seasoned parents of preemies (Helping Hands) and parents in need of support.”

Kelley was introduced to Melinda Garvey, Austin Woman founder and publisher, at an AW luncheon.

“I knew Melinda had a great reputation for helping nonprofits in Austin grow strategically, and wanted to seek her input and advice on the growth plan for Hand to Hold,” Kelley says. “She graciously agreed to meet me for coffee and then agreed to co-chair a For the Love of Babies campaign for Hand to Hold with Meredith Bagan. Together, we raised more than $100,000 in support of the mission of Hand to Hold.”

Meredith Bagan

For the Love of Babies Event Co-Chair

“Kelli Kelley and I met about seven to eight years ago through our work with the March of Dimes via both of our children being born premature. Melinda reached out to me after meeting Kelli, wanting to help her create additional revenue avenues for Hand to Hold. My husband and I became involved on a smaller scale with Hand to Hold in its conception, but Melinda and I joined together to start an actual fundraising starting place for Kelli, hosting a Snow Ball party to get the ball rolling, and hosting the first annual dinner at Mercury Hall last year. I have tried mainly to be a supportive friend, sponsor and ear through Kelli’s perseverance and dedication to Hand to Hold.”

Carla McDonald

Former AW Cover Woman, Honorary Co-Chair, Hand to Hold Baby Shower

“Kelli reached out to me several years ago after reading about me in Austin Woman. We met for coffee and have been friends ever since, meeting regularly to talk about ways to raise awareness and funds for her wonderful organization, Hand to Hold. I was delighted when she took the leap last year and held her first major fundraiser, and honored to serve as its hon- orary chair. Kelli is an amazing woman who is changing the lives of countless families in the Austin area. I’m so grateful to Austin Woman for bringing us together.”

Kristin Armstrong

Former AW Cover Woman, Keynote Speaker, Hand to Hold Baby Shower

“Thirteen years ago, when I was pregnant with twins, everyone braced me for the fact that my babies would probably spend time in the NICU. Although my girls ended up being born full term for twins and had no NICU stay, my best friend, Paige, had a baby girl born early and weighing only 3 pounds. Precious Layne spent time in the NICU. In fact, that is where I first met her. I reached into the plastic crib and she gripped my finger with her teeny, tiny hand. I will never forget that or the way the kindness and wisdom of the people there blessed my friend and her family. So when I had an opportunity to help Hand to Hold, my heart was already there—all in.”

Austin Woman Gives Back

Three local organizations share how the connection with Austin Woman supports their mission and benefits the community.

Julia Cuba Lewis, Executive Director, GENaustin

On GENaustin’s mission: “Our mission is to help girls navigate the unique pressures of girlhood. A lot of our efforts focus on girl-specific programs where girls can get in a circle and tell each other practical ways to address issues they face every day, and giving them permission to talk about those issues in a safe space.”

On the visibility AW provides: “I can’t tell you how many women say that they wish they had GENaustin when they were growing up when they hear about us. I think the audience that Austin Woman reaches is the same audience that really identifies with our mission and the challenges the girls we’re serving are dealing with. It’s been a great avenue to reach that group of women and get our message across to them.”

On her experience as an AW cover woman: “It was really rewarding to go through the interview process and answer questions about how I live my life and how it relates back to GENaustin’s mission. I got tons of mail, emails and phone calls from people who read the article and wanted to let me know they were excited about GENaustin and thought that it was a re- ally great contribution to the community and wanted to support us. It was great visibility for the organization.”

On AW’s philanthropic focus: “The partnership between Austin Woman and the nonprofits in our community resulted in aware- ness that Austin Woman is a philanthropic entity. When those nonprofits get highlighted in the magazine, it means that those organizations have somehow touched the hearts of those behind the scenes at Austin Woman, and that’s meaningful for readers.”

On the connection between AW and GENaustin: “One year, a writer from Austin Woman came out and interviewed a girl we were featuring in our spread for the We Are Girls Conference. The girl talked about some bullying she’d experienced and also some challenges she’d faced with her family. I watched that connection between the writer and the girl, and it was a precious moment for me because I learned something about the girl we were serving because of that interview. Years later, the girl was adopted, and when I went to the adoption at the courthouse, I saw the writer there. That day the writer came to interview her really mattered. Austin Woman writers have told GENaustin’s story and the powerful stories of the girls we serve through the magazine. There’s a lot of gratitude on our end for that.”

Lisa Alfaro, Communications Director, American Heart Association Capital Area Division

On the mission of Go Red for Women: “Go Red for Women is a national movement that empowers women to take their health into their own hands. The first Friday in February is National Wear Red Day. We encourage women to wear red to spread awareness, and share with their loved ones and friends the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke.”

On Austin Woman’s partnership with the American Heart Association: “Austin Woman has been such a great advocate in helping us spread our message and spread awareness. We have reached so many women though the magazine and we wouldn’t be where we are right now without that partnership.”

On AW as a platform for survivors: “I used a photo of one of our survivors in an advertisement in Austin Woman last year. When I met with her earlier this year, she told me it was the proudest moment of her life knowing that she got to come out as a survivor in Austin Woman.”

On AW’s support for Circle of Red: “Circle of Red is a subcommittee of Go Red for Women that leads fundraising efforts for us. Every year, Korey Howell Photography does a photo spread in Austin Woman that showcases all of the Circle of Red members.”

On Publisher Melinda Garvey’s support: “Her support just goes above and beyond what anybody does for us, and I know it’s because of her passion for the organization. When I talk to her, I can see her genuine interest for the cause. She says, ‘Tell me what you want to do this year, and let’s talk about what we can do together to make it happen,’ because she cares.”

Lolis Garcia-BAAB director of marketing and Communications, Girl Scouts of Central Texas

On the mission of Girl Scouts of Central Texas: “The mission of GSTX is to build girls of courage, confidence and character and to make the world a better place.”

On AW’s support for GSCTX: “We are primarily a volunteer-run organization, so we look to the community for support in order to further our mission. Austin Woman has been a tremendous supporter of the Girl Scouts. They help us publicize our fundraising events and do a campaign for us covering the women we recognize as Women of Distinction every year. The magazine supported our STEM panel we held last May, and [Publisher] Melinda [Garvey] is one of the founders of Juliet’s Circle, a sustainable giving circle for our council. Austin Woman has never said no to us. We’re so grateful for their amazing support.”

On the importance of highlighting women leaders in the community: “Austin Woman and the Girl Scouts recognize and value the same women: women who are visionaries, women who are out- spoken and stand for something, women who are trailblazers, women who are courageous in the face of insurmountable odds. We want our girls to grow up to be strong, powerful women, so we want to show them what a strong, powerful woman looks like. That mission is very symbiotic between our two organizations.”

On the importance of local magazines: “It’s important to have an outlet like Austin Woman supporting the community because the community needs a voice. Media sources tend to reflect their leadership, and AW certainly reflects its leadership. Melinda and [Editor-in-Chief] Deborah [Hamilton-Lynne] are advocates for women, our community and for causes that are affecting positive change. And because they are, so is their magazine.”

AW Gives Back

By the Numbers

900+ volunteer hours contributed small-business grants given since 2007 value of small-business grant package awarded each year $70,000+ 7by Austin Woman staff in 2014 raised for local nonprofits $10,000 through AW launch parties during the past 12 years $55,000 raised by the ATX Man Golf Classic in 2014 $15,000 average cash and in-kind donations given to charitable causes each month 12 launch parties thrown in 2014, with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits 125 nonprofit events sponsored in 2014.

The Business Connection Business owners share how the connection with Austin Woman benefits them personally and professionally

Cherie Mathews Founder and CEO of Healincomfort

“There are no words to describe how incredibly unique and powerful Austin Woman is. It is so much more than a magazine; it’s a community of entrepreneurs and businesswomen gathering to cheer each other on.

“Austin Woman was absolutely my launch pad of confidence. When you’re a new entrepreneur, you run on excitement and a little bit of fear. I was awarded the small- business grant [at the AW anniversary event] in 2010. When I went up onstage with my vision to make a change for all women, 500 attendees leapt to their feet and applauded. Shortly afterwards, I started getting requests for inter- views. I haven’t slowed down since I stood on that stage.

“It takes a village to raise an entrepreneur; you just can’t do it alone. You have to have your sisterhood, and that’s what Austin Woman provides for me. I have some of the most unbelievable, world-changing mentors because of Austin Woman and I can turn to my core posse—Melinda Garvey, Lisa Copeland, Korey Howell and Lisa Beth Thomas—at any time of the night to get help.”

Connect with Cherie | @healincomfort | Read more about Cherie.

Angie Brinkley Founder and CEO of Sober Monkeys

“When Sober Monkeys was featured in the magazine after I won the small-business grant, a ton of people learned about us. It added legitimacy to the business and people took us a lot more seriously. And we didn’t have a lot of money to advertise, so it was the one thing that really pushed us over into getting new clientele.

“I’ve met a lot of people who have helped me grow my business through Austin Woman, but [publishers] Melinda and Christopher were probably the strongest people I connected with. They’re very giving and they do a lot for you if they believe in what you do. They were very supportive after I won the award. They helped me a lot by being so encouraging, giving me ideas or suggesting different ways of doing things.”

Connect with Angie | @sobermonkeys | Read more about Angie.

Coutney Santana Sanchez Executive Director of Survive2Thrive Foundation and Successful Vocalist

“After I appeared on the cover, people often made that connection and recognized me. It’s opened several doors for me. I get a lot of support I didn’t even know I had. I get emails all the time saying, ‘I read your article in Austin Woman,’ or ‘I saw you on the cover.’ The magazine is one of the best connection points I’ve had in a very long time.

“Austin Woman has provided me several opportunities to be a mentor and also to be mentored. I’ve met women who are so inspiring and show me different ways to look at business. I’ve ended up becoming somewhat of a mentor to other women, which is mind-blowing because I feel like I don’t have enough experience under my belt to be anybody’s mentor, but I’ve developed some relationships where my knowledge has benefited other people.

“Austin Woman is probably the most powerful network of women in Austin. Everybody that comes to the table [at AW events] is some sort of entrepreneur or in a high position in a corporation; they’re very connected women who know the need for a women-centered community where everyone supports each other.”

Connect with Courtney | Connect with Courtney on Facebook  | Read more about Courtney.

Rochelle Rae, Founder of Rae Cosmetics

“The month the cover story about me was published was the busiest month at Rae Cosmetics we’ve had so far. I think it’s time to do it again!

“The Austin Woman anniversary event and the luncheons are great. I always leave inspired to be a better person. They really have some great panels of amazingly talented, successful and knowledgeable women who can inspire us all, whether you have a small business of your own or not.

“Women like [entrepreneur and founder of EBW2020] Ingrid Vanderveldt and [general manager of FIAT of Austin] Lisa Copeland, what they say and do pushes me to try and learn something new or take a different direction I may not have thought of before.

“I feel that in the Austin Woman community, we’re all mentors to each other. We all come from different backgrounds, made different mistakes and had different successes. We can all learn from each other.

“Austin Woman has been so helpful in featuring our new products. They really try to keep us in the public eye by involving us in the magazine as much as possible in little ways, in addition to our advertisements.” 

Connect with Rochelle | Connect with Rochelle on Facebook | @raecosmetics | @rochellerae |Read more about Rochelle. 

The Austin Woman Angels

Four women form a lasting friendship at an Austin Woman anniversary event.

When Marcia Smith, Stephanie Samuels, Sonia Molad-Einstein and Jan Kosmal arrived at the 2013 Austin Woman anniversary event, none of them knew exactly what the day would bring. Smith, Molad- Einstein and Kosmal had all recently moved to Austin and hoped the anniversary event would be a good way to meet new friends.

“I was new here, so I wanted to go just to meet other women,” Smith says. “I saw [an advertisement for the event] in the magazine while sitting at my car dealership and thought it would be a fun thing to do. I really didn’t know any- body to go with, but that’s how you meet people,” says Molad-Einstein, who is originally from Bulgaria and previously lived in Houston before moving to Austin.

“I never really looked for that ethnic connection. I was trying to reach out to American friends so I could learn and understand the culture.”

Samuels, who works for Lowe’s Home Improvement, was drawn to the anniversary event for business-networking purposes.

“I saw it as an opportunity for me to go and make connections for business, but it turned out to be something different,” Samuels remarks. Seated next to each other at the same table, Kosmal and Smith quickly discovered they were both from St. Louis, Mo., but had never crossed paths. The two soon became fast friends with Samuels, who was sitting nearby. Later in the day, Molad-Einstein approached the three of them at a makeup counter, thinking the women were a close-knit group, even though the three had just met hours before.

“I complimented them on their style and told them they looked like best friends forever,” Molad-Einstein remembers. Before the event came to an end, the four women exchanged contact information and met for lunch just a week later.

“To meet three new friends at the same time, I never have that happen,” Kosmal remarks. “It was important for me to immediately connect and share contact information because, otherwise, you can easily lose that connection.”

“It was just meant to be for us to meet,” Smith adds. “We’ve gotten to be such good friends.” During the past year, the group has organically evolved into an active social group of women called the Austin Woman Angels. The group has a wide span of lifestyles and ages; the youngest group member is 26.

“We had some women come up at events and say, ‘Can I join your group? You look like a lot of fun!’ ” Kosmal says.

Though they first formed their group in the spirit of friendship, each of the four original Austin Woman Angels is involved with a variety of local charities and nonprofits, and the group has become a way to share the causes that are important to each of them with the larger group. The group uses the Rallyhood platform developed by former Austin Woman cover woman Patti Rogers (featured on Page 84) to communicate with members and organize meetups, events and small groups to attend charity events together.

“Any time you go to a charity event, you don’t want to go by yourself,” Samuels says. “And even though we’re all very different, they came out and supported the things I was involved in.”

In addition to banding together to give to charitable causes, the group also enjoys going out together to have fun and enjoy Austin’s unique culture and nightlife. Most recently, the four gathered with significant others and close friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve together.

“I have a tendency to work too much, so with them around, it kind of made it a priority for me to show up to events. Believe it or not, I wasn’t always this social!” Samuels says with a laugh.

“It’s so refreshing to be with a wonderful group of women. We always have a great time. We’re all very busy, so it’s nice to have that balance and be able to go out to socialize and de-stress,” Kosmal says.

“It’s all about being able to call somebody up and meet somewhere. That kind of connection is good for us mentally and emotionally; it’s comforting and it feels good. We all need that,” Smith says.

Molad-Einstein, however, gets the final word on the power of female friendship. “I recently read somewhere,” she says, “that to be successful, a man needs a woman, and a woman needs a girlfriend.”

 Shot on location at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, 401 W. Second St., 512.494.1500.  

Kelley photo courtesy of Hand to Hold. McDonald photo by Tania Quintanilla. Armstrong photo by Kristi Dunlap. Cuba photo by Annie Ray. Garcia-Babb photo by Korey Howell.