Women Helping Women

Ocala Women’s Network members are dedicated to serving as models and mentors for other women in business and leadership.

Back row: Diana Williams, Kristina Donohue, Diane Gullett, Dawn Westgate, Judi Zanetti, Traci Mason, Jeanne Henningsen, Lauren Deiorio, and Jennifer Martinez; Front row: Judy Johnson, Karla Greenway and Barbara Fitos, by Bruce Ackerman

You won’t find the Ocala Women’s Network (OWN) on Facebook or on a webpage, but you will see their widespread effect in the Ocala community. 

OWN has been cultivating relationships and equipping women to be leaders in business since 1982. It all began with 21 members, who started the organization with a shared goal of advancing women in the local community. 

“They wanted people who had broken that glass ceiling to be able to help pull other women up to that glass ceiling,” says Karla Greenway, OWN President and CEO of Interfaith Emergency Services, “or to use their influence to pave the way for other women to have more opportunities.”

Attorney Judy Johnson was a board member of the Florida Credit Union when she joined OWN 30 years ago. At the time, there had only been one female county commissioner before her in Marion County’s history.

“I was the second one, and we’ve now had five,” says Johnson, who was on the Marion County Board of County Commissioners from 1992-2000. “The School Board has changed its membership dramatically, from all male to mostly female right now. I think there are four females on the board now. City council has changed from a male venue to one representing women. And when you have women on public policy boards, it makes a difference in perspective.”

OWN, which has 35 members, is composed of highly successful women who are devoted to growing their businesses and supporting the community.

“You have to have a sphere of influence in the community,” Greenway offers. “And you have to have some kind of experience working with a charitable organization. Most of our women have had been on boards of charities here in the community at some point in time. Some still are.”

The group meets monthly. Each member pays an annual fee of $250, which covers the cost of the monthly luncheon and educational speakers. OWN hosts speakers on topics such as legislative issues and women’s health; anything that will benefit local businesswomen and further their ability to influence and serve the community. Any monies that are left over each year go to the Ocala Women’s Network Endowed Scholarship through the College of Central Florida, which was established in 2000.  

Mary Cay Landt, Allison Campbell and Rebecca Rogers, courtesy of Ocala Women’s Network

“They’ve had a scholarship with us for a very long time,” notes Traci Mason, with the College of Central Florida Foundation. “The criteria is a female student from Marion County and they’re wanting to help somebody who is going back to school. So, the minimum age on that is 22.”

The scholarship award for 2023 is $1,200. 

“Sometimes they do split that to more than one student, so it could be two students get $600,” Mason adds. 

The group’s most direct means of service is the scholarship, but OWN’s goal is to give back to the community through equipping its local businesswomen with a network of support as they are individually mentoring and modeling to younger or less experienced women in the workforce. 

“I know for me, it’s about the camaraderie and the learning opportunity that I still have with women who have the same pressure that I do, have the same challenges that I do, who have the same demands on our schedule and time,” Greenway says. “And I find a lot of benefit in talking with women who understand my stress, being a CEO and having so much responsibility and competing in the business world.”

Greenway says the network is also a forum for sharing about their personal lives and especially the intersection of their families and businesses. 

“We usually do a roundtable and it’s not uncommon for someone to share, ‘Oh, my daughter just had a baby,’ or ‘My daughter just graduated college,’ or ‘My son and his wife are moving across the country,’” she explains. “We really do share our information about our families and successes and highlights in our families as well.”

OWN’s current and longtime members take great pride in the strides the group has taken in helping women achieve leadership roles in private industry and public policy, Johnson says.  

“As we look at what’s happened in leadership roles when we have women who are willing to talk to each other and support each other and help each other along the way,” Johnson shares, “it’s amazing what you can influence simply by behaving in an ethical and respectful professional manner toward each other.” OS

To learn more about the Ocala Women’s Network, email Greenway at karla@iesmarion.org.

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