Women of Jewelia: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace

Lily Tomlin (wearing the Jewelia diamond necklace), Jonell McLain, Patti Channer and Jane Fonda sharing the love. Photograph provided by Patti Channer

by Maryssa Rillo

When living in a culture that defines a person by what they have and what they don’t, how do we spread and share our luxuries? Jonell McLain, Ventura resident, pondered this question often. To share her luxury, in 2004, she gathered 12 of her friends and together they purchased a 15 ½-karat diamond necklace. From there, the women set out on a journey to share their wealth and provide aid to others.

McLain was first challenged with this question when she was 30-years old and living in New York City. She heard Buckminster Fuller speak and he posed this idea.

“I heard him speak and he said ‘there’s enough to go around in the planet if everyone shares and some people don’t have to have so much more.”

This thought sat in McLain’s mind for years. When she returned to California, she saw a necklace at Van Gundy Jewelers in the Ventura mall. The diamond necklace had 118 diamonds, 15 ½-karats and was priced at $37,000. At the time, McLain was a single mom with two children and was raising money for coats to give to the kids on the Avenue.

“I thought really, someone paid $37,000 for a necklace that I could buy 1,000 Patagonia coats for these kids. Like really, this is what we do with our money. So, I gave it back to them,” McLain said.

A couple weeks passed, and she went back to Van Gundy with her mother. The necklace was still there but there was now a promotion going on where you could bid on jewelry. She rounded up 12 of her friends who each contributed $1,000 to purchase the diamond necklace that they could all share.

The group collaboratively came up with the name Women of Jewelia after Julia Child. In November of 2004, the ladies had their first meeting at Patti Channer’s house, who is one of the women of the group.

“The intent was to always do something for somebody. Make a difference. Nobody bought into this for the diamonds,” Channer said

The women have been sharing this necklace for 15 years and together they have made donations, provided aid to those in need and have helped many non-profits.

Their most profound accomplishment started in 2004, when the women were introduced to a homeless woman. Collaboratively, the women helped her find a place to stay, got her a cell phone, a bus pass and fixed her teeth. After a year and a half of helping her, the women were able to reunite her with her son who she gave up for adoption when she was a 13-years-old.

“I firmly believe that with every fiber in my body that if every faith-based communities, all the service organizations within Ventura County, everybody’s got an issue with homelessness. If they were to create an advocacy group around a homeless person who wants to get out of homelessness it could be done here in the city,” Channer said.

The Women of Jewelia have created such an inspirational story and have gained nationwide attention. They’ve done interviews with People Magazine, The TODAY Show, Good Morning America and many more. They even have a book written about their journey called, The Necklace, by Cheryl Jarvis.

The women are still active in their philanthropic work and are currently raising money for Kids and Families Together that provides assistance to families in foster care. You can learn more about it on their website, www.kidsandfamilies.org.

“It is possible to share luxury; it does demystify it. This is only a diamond necklace, it’s not anything else, but people attach so much meaning to wealth and all it is, is just diamonds but look what this has done,” said McLain.

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