PalmSprings.com Spotlight: An Interview with Joan Busick, Founder/CEO of The GirlFriend Factor

Joan BusickJoan is a Certified Public Accountant with her own firm in Palm Desert, specializing in working with women. She is the author of “Surviving Beyond Happily Ever After,” a guide for women who are not prepared to handle life on their own, and a public speaker on the relationship between women, finances and power. In 2005 Joan realized what she truly wanted to do was give back to women in her own community by creating a non-profit that would assist women in returning to school to get an education, enabling them to become self-sufficient. 

As Founder of the Girlfriend Factor Joan has received numerous awards including the 2008 Soroptimist Making a Difference for Women Award, the 2008 Riverside County Commission for Women Woman of the Year Award and the 2009 City of Palm Desert Athena Award. In addition to her work with the Girlfriend Factor Joan is a Board Member of the College of the Desert Foundation.

Kate Buckley: For the uninitiated, can you describe how you came to found The GirlFriend Factor?

Joan Busick: GFF is personal to me. Years ago I was a young mother of two little boys, minimal resources and married to the wrong guy. I finally realized I could take control of my own life by going back to school. Throughout my experience of regaining control I became aware of the number of common threads that ran through all women’s lives. I was not the only one who had been there. This experience stayed with me and when the time came for me to give back to my own community I knew who I had to help—adult women who needed a combination of education, financial support and emotional encouragement in order to become self-sufficient.

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A GFF mentee and grant receipient celebrating her graduation from CSUSB with a BS in Teaching

Whom does The GirlFriend Factor serve? Approximately how many women does The GFF serve each year and is there a specific geographic area or boundary?

GFF provides renewable educational grants (we call them GoGirl! Grants) to motivated women who are 25 years of age or older, have a financial need and have chosen a specific educational path that will lead to a specific employment opportunity. Since giving out our first Grants in 2007, the number of women we support each year has ranged from 20 to 38. Currently our recipients must live and go to school in the Coachella Valley (Greater Palm Springs area).

In addition to grants and funding to enable the women you serve to return to school, do you provide mentoring or life-skills classes?

Definitely. Financial support by itself is not enough. Emotional encouragement is critical for women who are returning to school at a later age. They need to be reminded that other women have “been there” and that they, too, can and will succeed in reaching their goals and dreams. We are their cheerleaders. Each recipient is assigned a GFF volunteer who stays in touch with them, takes them to lunch, and offers them encouragement. In addition we connect the recipients at annual family picnics and high teas so that a sense of community and mutual support develops between them.

Any other current programs and initiatives?

We are expanding our public awareness campaign called “Get an Education, Change Your Life.” While our primary mission is to assist women who have already figured out that education can change their lives, there are so many additional individuals in our community who are unaware of the power of education. The intent of this campaign is to reach those individuals and help them realize that they have the ability to take control of their own lives and improve their financial situation by returning to school to get an education.

How can our readers support The GirlFriend Factor? Can you tell us about current volunteering opportunities—both financially and service-oriented?

We encourage all women to support GFF because it is such a direct route to changing other women’s lives. We welcome a broad range of donations: For your first $100 donation you become a Girlfriend of GFF, a $500 donation raises you to the LBD (Little Black Dress) Circle level…while a $2,000 donation gives the donor naming rights for a Personalized Giving Grant which will be given to a specific recipient, allowing the donor to experience a true sense of how their donation is changing the life of another woman. We also have a broad range of volunteer opportunities ranging from assisting at our events to contributing in areas of professional expertise, getting involved in committees that oversee our recipients or just assisting in the simple administrative tasks that keep a nonprofit running. It feels good to give back and it’s a great way to meet like-minded women.

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Joan with a few of the GFF “Cabana Boys.”

And it’s not just women helping women. Tell me about the “Cabana Boys.” That sounds like a hoot! In fact, everything associated with your nonprofit sounds like, well, fun. Was this a conscious decision—to imbue some fun and humor into a serious topic?

Definitely a conscious decision to have some fun while making a difference in our community! I’m a firm believer that we have the ability to change the world around us by just being ourselves, by not taking life too seriously, and by each of us giving a little so that together we can give a lot.  We acknowledged early-on that even though we are basically a women’s organization, we needed to engage business men in our mission since they control a significant amount of revenue in our community and hopefully understand the impact women have on the society around us. So we decided to “allow” men to donate once a year; for a $1,000 donation we affectionately call them GFF Cabana Boys and host an annual event, Club Cabana Unleashed and Uncorked!, where we celebrate their support and auction off fabulous packages created by them. It’s become our most popular fundraiser and we have built a significant roster of local men who enjoy their association with GFF and other Cabana Boys.

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Joan with friends and GFF supporters at the 2014 GoGirl! Luncheon

On that note, any exciting upcoming events you’d like to tell us about?

The event that is truly dearest to our Girlfriend hearts is our annual GoGirl! Luncheon where we celebrate the successes of our recipients and each year honor two local women who have influenced inspired and impacted both GFF and our local community. It’s basically a celebration of the empowering influence women have on each other’s lives. This year it is being held at Ironwood Country Club on November 4th and all women are encouraged to join us at this joyous event. Club Cabana is just now being scheduled for the first part of February 2016 and we always host a pre-runway LBD (Little Black Dress) Reception during Fashion Week El Paseo on the night of the El Paseo Runway in the show’s big white tent. I understand Fashion Week is being moved to April so we don’t have the actual date locked in on that one yet either. Stay tuned via our website or Facebook page for event dates as they are added.

When you’re not hard at work on either your CPA firm or The GirlFriend Factor, what activities do you enjoy in and around Palm Springs?

For me, it’s all about being outdoors in our fabulous weather once it starts cooling off in October. Walking, hiking, gardening, hosting dinner parties and drinking wine on the patio…. We are so fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather while the rest of the country is dealing with a much colder climate. Other than that it’s taking advantage of the amazing restaurants and shops in addition to attending just a fraction of the overflowing calendar of community and charitable activities that dominate the season here in the Palm Springs area.

What is it that you love most about the community of Palm Springs?

Even though we have seen enormous growth in recent years, we are still a tight-knit, small community at heart. Professionals know other professionals, charitable leaders know other charitable leaders. We’re all passionate about living here and celebrating the beauty that surrounds us. When you live in the Greater Palm Springs area you feel that you can be anything you want to be and accomplish anything you set your mind to. I truly feel that I was able to reach my own potential and succeed in creating the Girlfriend Factor because of the community I live in.

To learn more about The GirlFriend Factor, or to get involved, please visit their website or their Facebook Page.

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