Entrepreneur Laurie Moulton.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUNE KIM
Leadership asserts itself in many forms. At its core, the act of leading involves enabling and inspiring others to realize their potential. It’s not about being first; it’s about giving back. On a local level, particularly over the tumultuous course of this past year, we have seen many individuals rise up to sustain their neighbors and support small businesses. That merits recognition.
Each year, Palm Springs Life readers nominate women who have made an impact in the Coachella Valley as role models in business and in life. From this pool of candidates, our staff selects three honorees for their outstanding achievements, innovations, and contributions to the community. These trailblazers excel in their fields. Beyond that, they’re creating inroads for future generations who will follow in their footsteps.
Though their stories and experiences are varied, this year’s honorees share an unwavering sense of determination and purpose. Whether supporting cancer survivors, making strides in healthcare, or creating opportunities in business, each of these women followed her own internal compass in pursuit of her passion, and our desert is better for it.
The magazine recognizes Shay Moraga (Nonprofit Leader), Shubha Kerkar (Business Leader), and Laurie Moulton (Rising Star) as the 2021 Women Who Lead.
For information about the 2021 Women Who Lead luncheon, presented by SBEMP Attorneys and sponsored by SkinCeuticals SkinLab by CSI, visit palmspringslife.com/women-who-lead.
Owner of House of Lolo
and Lux Box Agency
“People are not built for collaboration,” Laurie Moulton says. “It takes work, and it takes a clear understanding of your own motives and your own fears and your own insecurities. If everybody understood the importance of teamwork and collaboration, I think we would be in a much more successful, better place in everything that we do.”
That’s why this multihyphenate emphasizes team-building at each of her businesses: House of Lolo, a fashion boutique with outposts in Palm Desert and Portland; Lux Box Agency, a real estate firm servicing Greater Palm Springs; and Lolo Interiors, a foray into home design. “We build a lot of teams,” Moulton says. “If we can help to fuel other people’s creativity and drive, we will always be evolving our businesses and creating even more extraordinary ideas and innovative ways of doing things.”
“We put everything back in the business to build people.”
The former tech executive left her 23-year corporate career behind in the early 2010s to flex entrepreneurially and establish a family business with her husband, Chris Fischer; their four adult children are also involved. “I had built so many businesses with other people and for other people, and this was our opportunity to do this for ourselves.”
House of Lolo came first, with a flagship location in the Pacific Northwest, where Moulton was born and raised. After moving to the Coachella Valley in 2015 and opening a second storefront on El Paseo, the couple pursued their joint interest in architecture. (Fischer has a property management and real estate background.) The goal, whether through fashion or residential spaces, is to inspire — and deliver — a well-curated lifestyle.
The duo doesn’t pull a profit. “My husband and I have capped what we want to make,” Moulton shares. “We put everything back in the business to build people. I really want people to feel inspired and to have an opportunity.”
Physician and infectious disease consultant
Shubha Kerkar pursued infectious disease as a specialty because she emerged from medical school amid a major health crisis. “It was 1985,” she says, the year Ronald Reagan addressed AIDS publicly for the first time, and when the United Nations confirmed findings that the virus had spread to every region of the world. “Basically, tons of people who were the same age as me were dying.” Kerkar felt compelled to help.
The physician and infectious disease consultant has worked with Desert AIDS Project (now DAP Health) and Desert Regional Medical Center since the early 1990s. In addition to patient care, Kerkar advises the hospital administration on public health issues and provides much-needed support to employees dealing with COVID-19. She recently became a fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, denoting her significant contributions to the field.
“Touch is the most important healer.”
During her residency in the ’80s, Kerkar learned a valuable lesson that she strives to pass on to those she supervises today. “We didn’t have the same challenges [as we do with COVID-19], but the issues were the same: There was misinformation, there was activism, there was political numbness,” she recalls. “We were totally wide-eyed, not knowing anything, wearing full gear before entering into the rooms of patients who had AIDS. They were in isolation.”
Kerkar’s superior demonstrated the power of touch and human connection by lowering himself to patients’ eye level, holding their hands, and asking, genuinely, how they were doing.
“Touch is the most important healer,” Kerkar says. “We [as physicians] don’t learn this unless we see it, and we cannot read it in books.”
Though COVID-19 limits the possibility of patient contact, Kerkar still makes it a priority. “Even with gloved hands, I like to touch a patient’s forehead and wiggle my finger and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Immediately, they connect.”
Founder of Shay’s Warriors
“When I was sitting in the doctor’s office, I finally asked, ‘Do I have breast cancer?’, and she said, ‘Yes.’ The first thing I did was hold my breath,” Shay Moraga shares. The yoga instructor was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer in February 2016. She’d found yoga years before that.
“The whole thing about yoga is learning how to breathe, and that saved my life. When I got in my car, I was able to release and breathe again and tell myself, ‘Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. It’s going to be OK.’ I learned to breathe all over again, going through the stages of cancer.” It took nine months of rigorous treatment. That November, doctors declared Moraga disease-free.
Early on, a friend encouraged Moraga to write about her experiences on a private Facebook page as a way to keep close friends and family updated while also dispelling emotional trauma. Despite some initial hesitancy, Moraga took to writing, and her support circle grew. That encouragement was crucial to her healing.
So today, she endeavors to provide the same fortification to other women cancer survivors as well as their families and the medical teams who care for them. Ultimately, Moraga parlayed the Facebook page into a nonprofit: Shay’s Warriors educates and inspires through podcasts and other media, and also delivers gift baskets to patients and staff at local cancer centers.
“I remember being in that chemo chair and seeing so many women come through with nobody, no community, and no one to be there when they walked out of the chemo room. I had a great group of girlfriends who would check on me,” Moraga says. “A lot of people aren’t fortunate enough, so why not create something like that?”