District Woman of the Year: Judge Laura Walton
Hon. Laura Walton resides in Cerritos with her son, Rashaan, and daughter, Aleaya. She was Wittmann Elementary PTA President, Wittmann Elementary Foundation President, Carmenita Middle School Site Council member, and Cerritos High Marching Band Booster. She previously co-chaired the ABC Unified School Board Facilities Committee, which was instrumental in getting the school bond passed to improve the ABC district schools and facilities. Currently, Hon. Walton is a member of the ABC Unified School Board Foundation and the ABC Unified School Board Diversity and Equity Committee.
Hon. Walton was a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney (1995-2010), where she was selected for the VIP Unit that prosecutes domestic violence and sexual assault crimes and the Hardcore Gang Unit. Hon. Walton received numerous commendations from the L.A. Police Homicide Bureau, Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, Sheriff’s VIP Bureau, and the L.A. District Attorney’s Office. In 2008, she became a supervisor in the District Attorney’s Office.
Hon. Walton was appointed as a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2010. She presides over a long-cause complex felony criminal court in the South-Central District. Hon. Walton is a founding member and Immediate Past President of the Association of African American California Judicial Officers, Inc., a statewide organization of over 100 hundred judicial officers. She is co-chair of the Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Mentor Program, mentoring lawyers interested in a judicial appointment. She is a member of; the California Judges Association (CJA), past co-chair of the CJA Criminal Law and Procedure Committee, the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), and the California Association of Black Lawyers, Judicial Section (CABL JC). In 2020, Hon. Walton was appointed to the CJA Task Force on the Elimination of Bias and Injustice Committee. Hon. Walton graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1992 and the University of California, Berkeley Law in 1995.
Artesia: Sasha Leonardo
Sasha Leonardo is a first-generation woman who proudly serves the city of Artesia. She was the first in her family to attend and graduate from college, receiving her Bachelors in Communication Studies and Masters in Counseling with a PPS Credential from California State University, Long Beach. She had a brief career in fashion and entertainment but soon realized that her true love was working within the school system.
For over 16 years, Sasha has poured her heart into education through public and private universities and K-12 public education. She began her education career at ABC Unified School District as a Counselor at Whitney High School. In 2017, Sasha stepped into her role as the Career Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator and School and Community Partnerships. Currently, Sasha coordinates career pathway programs for both middle and high schools where students have the opportunity to integrate academic and career curriculum.
Outside of work, Sasha volunteers on the board for the Cerritos Area Chamber of Commerce and Executive Director of the ABC Education Foundation. With that being said, Sasha's favorite title of all is "Mom," and she can be found almost every weekend on the soccer fields supporting her children and as the club soccer team manager. Go Beach!
Bellflower: Rosa Carrero LVN
Rosa Carrero is a Medical Practice Manager for PIH Health and a proud resident of Bellflower. She is an exemplary nurse leader providing high-quality care and a deep dedication to her community for more than 25 years.
Rosa was a Nursing Supervisor in the Artesia clinic through Pioneer Medical Group from 2006 to 2019. Since 2019, Rosa has overseen the PIH Health Downey Promenade and South Gate medical office buildings and daily operations, providing excellent care for their patients. She has been instrumental throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by helping enhance safety procedures and infection-control standards and helping the communities navigate through the challenges of the pandemic, doing so with tremendous leadership and commitment. Rosa volunteers with the Norwalk Lions Club and participates in many community service initiatives providing mobile eye screening and other fundraising community events.
Rosa is diligent, versatile, resourceful, and committed to building positive connections and relationships within her community.
Bell Gardens: Jocelyn Del Real
Jocelyn is a proud Bell Gardens High School alumni and a member of Youth in Action for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ). Jocelyn participated in campaigns against pollution industries, the proposed 710 expansion while advocating against displacement, target hire, and zero emissions for better air quality. She engaged in activities including door-knocking and other actions to ensure responsibility to the community.
Jocelyn graduated from UCLA in 2018. During her time at UCLA, she continued participating in the Bell Gardens community, always willing to help her community. As a team member with EYCEJ, Jocelyn has connected her community members in energy efficiency programs, advocating for policy improvements for the programs at the local and CPUC level- including pushing for utility debt forgiveness and building the capacity of youth and adults on local issues. When the COVID-19 heavily impacted the Southeast community, Jocelyn spent countless days, evenings, weekends, and holidays talking to community members, listening to their anguish, connecting them to resources they may need, and distributing resources and PPE.
Jocelyn enjoys supporting local businesses and vendors, skating around the Southeast, and building community in her spare time. She plans to continue growing and learning and supporting movements that lift our communities up.
Cerritos: Payal Sawhney
Payal is currently the founder, President, and Executive Director of the Southern California-based nonprofit organization SAAHAS (Courage) for Cause, dedicated to educating, empowering, and enabling South Asian immigrants, expanding across the United States. Payal’s background is as a Mental Health practitioner, community organizer, and social worker. She has master’s degrees in social work and health administration and holds the highest social work clinical licensure level in Ohio and California. She has over 20 years of experience working in India and across various cities in the U.S., including New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, and most recently, Los Angeles.
Her current responsibility in leading SAAHAS has enabled a collective group of volunteers to engage in grassroots action and embedded efforts that are critical to the day-to-day well-being of the South Asian immigrant community. This organization has worked on issues related to older adults and their mental health, women’s issues, and building bridges to our new generation of youth through the SAAHAS Youth Program. During the COVID19 pandemic, SAAHAS has been mainly focused on spreading education around preventive medicine, vaccination drives, work against vaccine hesitancy in the community, and distribution of PPE to front-line workers in the community.
Payal has always been focused on research and building new knowledge. Her research interest includes predictors and outcomes of bariatric surgery in adolescents, error prevention in healthcare by involving patients and their family members, understanding of acculturation of South Asian immigrants to the United States, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of high school students.
Commerce: Makayla Rice
Makayla is a 15-year-old honors student at Bell Gardens High School. She was not always able to give back to the community, but once she was in a position to do so, she has not stopped giving. She has grown up learning about giving back and being kind to all types of people with diverse backgrounds.
She began giving back to her community in the 4th grade, where she was able to collect money to help build a school in Africa. Her passion for helping did not stop here. She has gathered backpacks with school supplies for underprivileged children in Mexico, raised money for food boxes to give to families in need during Thanksgiving, and gathered blankets for the homeless to help beat the cold weather.
Makayla is currently enrolled in the iCare Pathways and has a 3.8 GPA. She is a role model for her younger siblings. Makayla hopes to continue giving back to her community as she prepares for college. She loves to babysit in her spare time, connecting with children to help them learn and flourish. Although she is indecisive about her career path, she envisions herself being an advocate for children and those less fortunate.
Downey: Cecilia Neuman
As an immigrant and the eldest child, Cecilia came to the United States at the age of 17 with a ‘luggage full of dreams.’ She was not able to attend school due to having to provide for herself. She thanks her cousin, Rosy, for helping her assimilate. A few years later, she welcomed her firstborn, who motivated her to enroll in adult school. She earned her GED and later her cosmetology certificate, all while working full time. Cecilia faced many adversities, like homelessness and having to work two jobs. Yet, she became a cosmetology teacher, the proud owner of The Academy by Studio 18 Beauty Salon, and a happy mother of three.
Cecilia believes in giving back and being a positive influence in her community, just as they helped her. Through Ready to Succeed, she has been able to provide scholarships to Downey High School. She hopes to expand this scholarship opportunity to surrounding areas in the future.
Giving back and being a positive influence in the community is one of her commitments, and she hopes to inspire others to do the same. Cecilia thanks God for her family, health, and community for the opportunities she has had.
Downey: Paula Mejia
Paula Mejia Ortega-Gastelum is a pillar in the Downey community for over three decades. Paula emigrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of 18. She started taking ESL classes at the Lynwood Community Adult School. Later, she transferred to Norwalk’s Adult School where she met her husband. Together, they attended Cerritos College. They successfully owned and operated a used car dealership for almost 20 years. In addition, they opened another small business in the city of Maywood.
After becoming a U.S. citizen in 1996, Paula began helping others obtain their citizenship. She has participated in marches in support of immigrant rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, she has volunteered during the elections of local, state, and national campaigns.
Her recent achievements include serving as Vice President for the Chico State University Parent Association, treasurer for the CA Democratic Council, president-elect and cofounder of Kiwanis International organization 605, treasurer of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professional- South Bay Chapter, board member of the Downey Chamber of Commerce serving as the co-chair the first virtual Downey Christmas parade in 2020, and Volunteer of the Year Awards for the Downey Chamber of Commerce (2016) and Sister Cities (2009).
Paula is a real estate agent and commercial lender. On her spare time she enjoys spending time with her husband, Eduardo, their two kids, Edward and Jacquelinne, and two dogs.
Montebello: Lorraine Richards
Lorraine is a lifelong resident of Montebello. She lifts up her community, her students, and her profession with the support of her family, her husband, Tony, and her children, Amy and Ben.
She has been an exceptional Social Studies teacher for more than 20 years at her Alma Mater, Montebello High School, and has always found different ways to connect with her students. Recently, she has taken on promoting students to register to vote with a club on campus called My School Votes. Lorraine has strong ties to the Montebello- Commerce YMCA, which has a delegation to provide services for teens in the area to promote civic engagement.
In addition to her work in the community, Lorraine has been active in the Montebello Teachers Association. She serves as the Service Center Chairperson for the CA Teachers Association (CTA), liaison of the California State Board of Education, and member of the CTA/ABC (Association for the Better Citizenship) Committee. Her work allows her to advocate for fellow educators and students.
Norwalk: Victoria Johnson
Victoria may seem like another face in the crowd in the city of Norwalk, but her background has truly shaped who she is as a person. Victoria was raised by her father and grandmother, who instilled in her the importance of philanthropy from a young age. She has a love for her community that she emulates daily while volunteering. When she is not serving her community, Victoria focuses on remaining on the dean’s list and honor society student at the University of Arizona Global campus pursuing her degree in Human Resource Management. She is a full-time employee who focuses on releasing her second novel in mid-2023.
Victoria has worked with many charities and non-profits, some of her favorite being: The American Cancer Society Relay for Life (18 years), Orange County Family Justice Center (4 years), and Be the Match (8 years). As a two-time spokesperson for The America Cancer Society Relay for Life, she enjoys using her talents to grow and support organizations that have made a difference in her life. From environmental and humanitarian work to ensuring that animals in rescues have the resources, Victoria is always up for helping any charity in need. As a former Miss California, she believes the purpose of life is to have a life of purpose, and the best source of happiness comes from serving others.
Pico Rivera: Maria A. Rios
Maria Aguilar Rios migrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of 7. She became a teen wife and mom by the age of 17. At the age of 30, she divorced and became a single mother of 3 children, yet continued to persevere, earning her degree in Business Administration. She remarried and welcomed her fourth child. Maria continued to show her resilient nature when she left her abusive marriage to protect her children. Today, three of her children have graduated in the medical field, and one is studying at Rio Hondo.
Maria’s work involved helping people navigate the Section 8 Housing application. Housing justice became personal for Maria in 2019 when she and many of her neighbors discovered they were being charged late fees for rent increases without being properly notified. Maria educated herself and her neighbors on their rights as mobile home residents. She contacted all six mobile home parks in Pico Rivera, earning their trust and empowering them with her motto, “la union hace la fuerza.” For the past two years, she has led a diverse group of residents in monthly bilingual meetings on topics of interest to mobile home residents. Together, they have successfully postponed rent increases, won full refunds of security deposits, and asserted their rights to properly maintained shared spaces. On January 11, 2022, Maria and her neighbors convinced the City of Pico Rivera to adopt a mobile home space rent stabilization ordinance capping most rent increases to a maximum of 3% per year.
Maria makes herself available to help neighbors in need and is an inspiration to Latina women in her community. Maria became involved with the statewide group Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League (GSMOL). Maria is a woman of faith with a strong conviction for doing what she believes is right.