Woman of the Year 2017
Michele Diaz, City of Artesia
Michele Diaz has been a resident in the City of Artesia for over 34 years and has been an active member in her community since then. Michele has served on the City of Artesia’s Planning Commission for the past 18 years; she has also served as the Commission’s Chairperson multiple times. In addition to her vast experience in city planning, Michele is entering her thirteenth term as President of the Friends of the Artesia Library. The Friends of the Artesia Library is a self-supporting program that aims to increase awareness of the library and its importance in their communities. Outside of her contributions to the city, Michele spent a week in New Orleans in March of 2006, where she participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Michele helped restore a damaged store and helps transform it into a home for the Neighborhood Story Project.
Chrissy Padilla-Birkey, City of Bellflower
Chrissy is currently the Executive Director of “Kingdom Causes”, a community based organization that focuses on bringing together local churches and city residents to build a strong thriving community. Chrissy spearheads the organization’s efforts to combat homelessness by directly engaging with the community, advocating for local and affordable housing, as well as access to better employment opportunities. Chrissy has furthered her education and professional skills by attaining her Master’s Degree in Urban Affairs. She is also an active member of several other local service groups such as the Bellflower Kiwanis Club and Caring Connections. As an Executive Boardmember of Caring Connections, a non-profit based in Bellflower, Chrissy helps further their mission that seeks to meet the needs of children enrolled in Bellflower unified School District. Chrissy provides much-needed services both within the scope of Kingdom Causes and outside of it. In fact her motto is to “not only provide direct services, but to mobilize stakeholders in the community to get involved in these issues.”
Reyna Reyes, City of Bell Gardens
After leaving her county of Honduras in 1995 Reyna started a new chapter of her life here in California. She settled in the City of Bell Gardens, where she is currently raising her three young boys. Reyna’s ambition to help create a safe community lead her to get involved with the Bell Gardens Neighborhood Watch Programs. For the past fifteen years, Reyna has not only connected her immediate neighborhoods to the program but has extended and recruited several other families in surrounding neighborhoods to also become active members. Through her dedicated efforts, the program continued to grow, turning out 60 to 70 community members per meeting. Reyna’s efforts has also lead the City of Bell Gardens to formal develop active Neighborhood Watch Programs throughout the city that keeps families aware of recent crimes, provides education on how to prevent crime and encourage the community to report several types of suspicious behavior. Thanks to Reyna our community of Bell Gardens has become a safer place to live and raise a family.
Mary Jane Fujimura, City of Cerritos
Originally born in Hawaii, Mary Jane was raised in a family that instilled a sense of community and giving back. Mary Jane has volunteered all throughout her youth and college career. She became involved with the “Friends for the Performing Arts”, an organization based in the City of Cerritos that supports the performing arts and provides scholarships to students excelling in their field. She has served on the Teacher’s Board and later chaired the Guild for the Friend, Hawaiian Senior Club, where she engages youth and exposes them to the Hawaiian culture, Soroptimist International Artesia-Cerritos Club and the Cerritos Optimist Club. Outside of her efforts to engage disadvantaged communities Mary Jane’s self-declared great passion is volunteering for the “Go for Broke Organization.” Go for Broke strives to honor the virtue and valor of World War II Japanese-American veterans. Mary Jane continues to live her life according to her parent’s wisdom that it is “not about money but the giving from the heart.”
Vanessa Perez, City of Commerce
Vanessa is a long time resident of the City of Commerce, spent her teenage years frequenting the city’s Teen Center. She has since made her career there and is currently the Teen Center Senior Recreation Leader. She began working for the center as a Teen Leader, where she helped expand various programs such as the center’s annual camping trip into what is known today as Adventure Club. This specific program exposes the city’s youth to different places outside their communities, expanding their horizons to places they may not be able to visit otherwise, such as Los Angeles Skid Row and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Vanessa undertakes the responsibility of fundraising for the various trips to ensure it is at no cost to the youth to attend these exciting trips. Most recently, Vanessa took students to see Hidden figures, a film based on the untold story of African American Women working at NASA. Vanessa is not only a role model in her community but a true asset that inspires young individuals to become invested and engage in their community.
Lilliana Hernández, City of Downey
Liliana Hernandez is currently an 8th in the City of Downey. She is a leading member of the Girls in STEM club at the Columbia Memorial Space Center. The club aims to provide young girls new opportunities and experience in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). She has been a member of the club since its inception and has encouraged fellow members to take part in STEM explorations, field trips and service projects. Outside of her initiative with the club, she is also a Girl Scout and serves as her class president. In her spare time, Liliana enjoys building robots and regularly competes in the Team America Rocketry Challenge, the world’s largest student rocket building contest. The challenge is integral in the aerospace and defense industry’s strategy to build a strong U.S. workforce in STEM. Liliana aspires to become a doctor. In the meantime, she continues to inspire her female peers by encouraging them to pursue their interests in STEM, which is underrepresented by young women like herself.
Sona Fundukian, City of Montebello
Sona Fundukian is the proud mother of 3 children and 2 grandchildren. She has been happily married for the past 55 years. Currently, she serves as the Chair of the Nairy Chapter of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), established in the City of Montebello in 1968. The Nairy Chapter of the Armenian Relief Society is one of ARS’ 26 chapters and is dedicated to offering humanitarian aid, education and various social services to those in need. The ARS aims to promote and preserve the rich traditions of the Armenian culture by educating Armenian youth about their heritage. In 1982, Sona helped establish a Saturday school in the City of Montebello, which continues to provide young Armenians the resources to learn the Armenian language, history and culture. She has been instrumental in the creation of the “Nairy Scholarship” that awards Montebello High School students of Armenian descent, financial support to obtain their educational aspirations. Sona has also served as an educator for over 33 years. She has proudly taught at Sacred Heart of Mary High School for 5 years and Bell High School for 28 years. Kind and gentle spirit continues to inspire the Armenian community to stay connected and promote the culture.
Mercedez Quintanilla, City of Norwalk
Mercedez Quintanilla is the Executive Director and Founder of Door of Hope. Door of Hope is an organization that is committed to providing supportive mentors to the youth. Mercedez is an action-oriented leader; she saw a need for after-school programing for at-risk adolescences and took initiative to develop one. For the past seven years she has served as an administrator for the Norwalk Sheriff Station’s Personal Responsibility in Developing Ethics (PRIDE) program. This program was established to help at-risk youth through the faith-based program in which clergy leaders and active members of their churches serve as mentors and instructors to teens between the ages of 12 and 16. During the 13-week program these teens are exposed to both harsh and positive realities during mentoring sessions and recreational outings each week. During the sessions each teen is given the opportunity to reflect on the direction of their own life and consequences of their choices. In 2013 Mercedez received the Los Angeles County’s Volunteer of the Year Award for her service as the programs administrator. Mercedez’ work with the Norwalk/La Mirada School District as a member of the School Attendance Review Panel (SARB) and School Attendance Review Team (SART) inspired her to help the students struggling in the community to develop a positive attitude toward school and improve their academic success.