Garamendi Honors 53 Women at Annual Women of the Year Awards

BENICIA, CA – At his 10th annual Women of the Year event, Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) honored 53 women from the 8th Congressional District of California who are leaders and visionaries in their communities. These honorees have all made significant contributions to society through public service, business, education, and local economy.

“Every year I have the honor of recognizing the achievements and service of distinguished women in my district,” Garamendi said. “These leaders come from a variety of backgrounds, but every one of them has made a real difference to their communities and the people around them. It’s a privilege to be able to honor them.”

“The service and dedication each honoree has shown their community is deserving of recognition, and by receiving this award, their work will be commemorated and chronicled at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC,” Garamendi said.

The list of 2023 Women of the Year Honorees is included below:

Contra Costa County:

  • Alissa Stolz (El Cerrito) – Alissa is the Head of School at East Bay Montessori where she has demonstrated outstanding school leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The pandemic impacted schools in previously unimaginable ways, and school leaders were called upon to hold their communities together. Alissa was instrumental in keeping East Bay Montessori intact throughout the pandemic, avoiding any COVID-19 outbreaks and never had to lay off any staff or faculty. Alissa was committed to in-person learning, and East Bay Montessori quickly reopened with an outdoor classroom set-up that let students and teachers come together and learn in innovative ways. This decision allowed children to continue to learn through peer collaboration and face-to-face interactions. Alissa provided a strong vision for East Bay Montessori during times of uncertainty and change. Her work led her to be featured in the American Montessori Society’s magazine, and she was selected to present at the International Montessori Congress in Bangkok. The impact of Alissa’s work goes beyond East Bay Montessori – she is the model of a capable leader who acts in the interest of her community, inspiring educators across the globe.
  • Anjali Rimi (Antioch) – Anjali is a dedicated leader, activist, and community member. As a transgender immigrant from South Asia, Anjali has overcome many challenges while continuing to give back to her communities. As one of the co-founders of Parivar Bay Area, Anjali has transformed the services for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex immigrants from the Global South. Parivar Bay Area emerged from earlier grassroots organizing, including a project that redistributed almost one million dollars’ worth of food, housing funds, and livelihood grants for transgender South Asians to open their own businesses. In addition to her work globally, Anjali is deeply involved in LGBTQ+ activism in the Bay Area, through fundraisers, arts and cultural showcases, and social support group meetings. She was the first South Asian transgender person to be recognized for her LGBTQ+ activism in the California Legislature and has also received recognition from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Anjali has accomplished all of this while remaining a kind and patient person and serving as an inspiration to others for her dedication to serving her community and improving the status of marginalized groups.
  • Audrey Cormier (Richmond) – Audrey is a community volunteer who is dedicated to advocating for youth and women of color. She is passionate about STEM education, diversity, climate advocacy, and golf, and has organized many events for underrepresented groups based on those interests. As a member of Easter Hill United Methodist Church, she organized a trip for church youth to attend STEM days at Lawrence Livermore Labs, a federal research facility. She also coordinated the attendance of five African American sixth grade girls at a STEM conference at St. Mary’s College. Audrey’s love of golf has led her to serve on several boards and organizations, including those that expose youth and African American women to the sport. She founded a weekly Zoom session for women to discuss their golf journeys and provide support for each other, showing the impact of her love of golf on her community. Audrey is also passionate about the positive impact diversity has on an organization and the importance of creating inclusive spaces. During her 30-year career at Chevron, Audrey served as the Manager of Diversity and Inclusion, where she was responsible for developing workplace inclusion strategies and mentorship programs. As an active alumna of Auburn University, she is also a member of the college’s Advisory Board for the Office of Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity. Audrey’s dedication to her community and work to advocate for youth and women of color cannot be overstated
  • Betty Reid Soskin (Richmond) – Betty is widely known for being the National Park Service’s oldest park ranger who retired at the age of 100. She has lived in the East Bay since 1927, when her family moved from New Orleans. As a young woman during World War II, Betty worked as a shipyard clerk for an all-Black auxiliary lodge of the segregated Boilermaker’s union. In 1945 she and her husband founded one of the first Black-owned music stores, which remained open until 2019. Over the years she has worked as staff to a Berkeley city council member, a state Assemblywoman, and a California State Senator. In the early 2000’s, Betty became involved in the plans to open the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. This led to her career as a ranger which began in 2007, at the age of 85. Betty led talks explaining the importance of of the park in memorializing the contributions of women and African Americans working in war industries supporting the US World War II efforts on the home front. She has used her own experiences and observations as a Black woman to bring light to untold stories of African Americans during WWII and underscore the racism and misogyny experienced by her and countless other women of color throughout her lifetime. Through hard work and storytelling, she has touched the lives of the thousands of park visitors and millions of Americans who can not only empathize with her story but celebrate and learn from it.
  • Buffy Wicks (Oakland) – A tireless public servant, Buffy has served as an Assemblymember for California’s 14th Assembly district since she was elected in 2017. During her time in the California State Assembly, one of Buffy’s major missions has been tackling California’s housing crisis. In her first year as Housing Chair, she championed AB 2011 as well as legislation such as her Yes in God’s Backyard (YIGBY) Bill which allows churches to build affordable housing in empty lots near their church buildings. Buffy Wicks’ career in politics began when she organized anti-Iraq War protests and worked for Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. She also worked on both of Barack Obama’s successful campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and went on to work in the White House where she was the Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Buffy is a relentless public servant and advocate for families and let her own lived experiences as a working mother inspire her fight for others. She highlighted and platformed important issues such as family leave and gained the support and sympathy of parents nationwide. Buffy’s commitment to her constituents and the well-being of Californians knows no bounds.
  • Cheryl Sudduth (Richmond) – Cheryl is involved with numerous organizations that aim to improve the status of marginalized people in her community. As a Senior Director for Goodwill’s AbilityOne program, she oversaw the building of thousands of fair housing units in Alameda County. Through this program, Cheryl also created programs that employ and train thousands of people who are traditionally excluded from the job market. Veterans, disabled individuals, formerly incarcerated people, and people returning to the workforce have benefitted from Cheryl’s work. She has also been involved with Alliance 4 Girls, a local program providing mentorship to young girls to give them a space to grow and thrive. Through this program and others, Cheryl has personally mentored hundreds of girls in her community. In addition, she has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the West County Wastewater District, Contra Costa Racial Oversight Body, ACLU, and NAACP. She also gives her time to a variety of organizations, ranging from racial justice, education, the environment, public safety, and much more. She has received numerous awards and recognitions for her considerable contributions to the community at-large.
  • Claudia Jimenez (Richmond) – Claudia has dedicated her life to serving the community of Richmond and is a current member of the Richmond City Council, serving the 6th District. As such, she is not only a proponent for positive social change but also a leader in her community. She has worked throughout her city to bring about transformative programs in areas such as affordable housing and homelessness. Claudia is known for forging alliances between key stakeholders across diverse communities. Her background as an immigrant from Colombia has helped shape her motivations as a community organizer. Trained as an architect in Colombia, she moved to Richmond in 2009, took English language classes, did volunteer work to practice her skills, and earned a Master of Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. Claudia accomplished all this while caring for two children and still found time to lead campaigns and volunteer with other mothers in her neighborhood. Now as a Richmond City Councilmember, she is even more committed to improving the lives of those in her community and making Richmond one of the more affordable places to live in the Bay Area.
  • Debra Mason (Bay Point) – Debra is the current Executive Director of the Bay Point Community Foundation and the Bay Point Municipal Advisory Council, where she has served for many years. Over the years, she has worked for after-school programs and served on the Mt. Diablo School Board, and continues to be a fierce advocate for students, parents, schools, and her community. She has pushed for public safety, nutrition assistance, after school education, and community engagement in schools. Continuing her work with education, she is also a California School Age Consortium Board Member. Her dedication, service, and work ethic has been an invaluable benefit to the local community. One example of a lasting impact that she has made on the community is establishing the Bay Point Branch of the Contra Costa County Public Library. Debra has been committed to addressing issues that she cares about and is always willing to take action and help others. Debra has been involved with countless community offices and committees where her leadership has improved our local schools and broader community.
  • Diana Becton (Martinez) – Diana Becton has been Contra Costa County’s District Attorney since 2017. Diana is the first woman, African American, and woman of color to serve in the role since its creation in 1850. For 22 years Diana, served as a judge in Contra Costa County where she was elected and became president of the National Association of Women Judges. She is known not only for upholding the law and holding people accountable, but also for striving to improve Contra Costa County’s judicial system by focusing on disrupting the school to prison pipeline, creating safe alternatives for low-level non-violent offenders, and addressing the mental health needs of our community. She created the Reimagine Youth Justice Task Force to create alternatives to juvenile hall for young offenders and has made efforts to curb racial bias in her department by partnering with the non-profit Vera Institute of Justice to evaluate her office’s decision making. Diana’s accomplishments in the judiciary are too enumerable and impressive to list briefly as she is truly a pillar of her community and a true exemplary of the excellence found in our district. Diana, far from doing business as usual, has aimed to fundamentally change many aspects of our often[1]harsh criminal justice system to decrease bias and fulfill its duty to serve justice
  • Eleanor Thompson (Richmond) – Eleanor has been an active member of her community for over fifty years and continues her work volunteering with her church and youth throughout Richmond. She founded Social Progress Inc. and ran a Youth Resource Center that served 30 young people in the community. While serving as the CEO of Social Progress Inc, she ensured that young men living in the Iron Triangle were able to safely get to school by driving them herself. Over the years, Eleanor has distributed hundreds of backpacks, toys, and scholarships to youth in need. She also founded the yearly Fourth of July Parade and Festival in Richmond that serves to bring the community together. She is passionate about pushing for change regarding homelessness and public safety and has been awarded for her community leadership with the Richmond Police Commission, the Anti-Drug Task Force, Parks and Recreation Commission, the Crime Prevention Team, and the 7th Street Crime Watch Team, among others. Eleanor is a shining example of a compassionate and dedicated community leader.
  • Janet Scoll Johnson (Richmond) – Janet is an active and determined community advocate for environmental justice. She has served in many roles as part of her advocacy and community service. She has served for nine years as the co[1]coordinator of the Sunflower Alliance, which works to protect the health and safety of all Bay Area communities affected by toxic pollution and climate change. Janet also served for four years as the co-chair of the Richmond Shoreline Alliance. She has advocated for a full cleanup of toxic sites, for the preservation of Point Molate, and for public awareness of the dangers of sea level rise. Janet was a member of the Richmond-San Pablo AB-617 Community Air Monitoring Steering Committee and a lead organizer for No Coal in Richmond, a grassroots organization that works to prevent coal and petroleum coke from being shipped through the Levin-Richmond Terminal in an effort prevent toxic dust from contaminating local air, water, and soil in nearby neighborhoods. Thanks to Janet’s successful advocacy, a land-use ordinance to phase out coal and petroleum coke handling and storage at a private terminal in the Port of Richmond was passed.
  • Kimberly Rogers (San Pablo) – Kimberly is a passionate public servant who has demonstrated tireless dedication in higher education as an administrator and teacher over the past 20 years. Since June 2022, Kimberly has served as President of Contra Costa College in San Pablo, having previously served as Vice President of Instruction. Contra Costa College currently serves over 5,600 students in our community. As President, Kimberly has spearheaded efforts to greatly expand student services such as launching the Free Lunch program, increasing mental health services, extending housing assistance, expanding access to professional attire, and increasing staffing. Under President Rogers’ leadership, Contra Costa College has reversed yearslong enrollment declines and bolstered academic and career opportunities with the creation of the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program, the college’s admission to the Achieving the Dream program and the Rising Scholars Network, and more. Kimberly is known for her unwavering commitment to improving higher education and dedication to bringing about positive change for Contra Costa College and its students.
  • Marinda Elaine Keith (Richmond) – Marinda has been a community leader and owner of Marinda’s Family Daycare for decades. After operating her daycare center for 35 years, she has served roughly 400 children and families. She is passionate about educating every child in her care and works to ensure that every child receives food, education, and the support they need. Her love and commitment to the children she cares for is evident in the educational and career pursuits her students have accomplished. She is also an active member of her church, where she volunteers and gives back to those in need. Through her church she has organized the annual backpack drive for underprivileged children and numerous food giveaways. During the COVID-19 Pandemic she donated, prepared, and delivered baskets of food and supplies to seniors. In addition, she volunteers to cook and serve meals for the unhoused in the parks throughout Richmond. Marinda’s compassion, selflessness, and dedication serve as an inspiration to all who meet her.
  • Nancy Skinner (Oakland) – Nancy’s public service began as a student when she was elected to the Berkeley City Council. She was a co-founder of the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives—Local Governments for Sustainability and remains a clean energy and climate change trailblazer. She was the U.S. director of The Climate Group, and international non-profit organization that works with both private and public sector leaders to address climate change. She also served on the board for the East Bay Regional Park District and was involved with the East Bay Women’s Political Caucus supporting women running for elected office. In 2008, Nancy was elected to the California State Assembly where she represented the 15th Assembly District for three terms. Elected in 2016, Nancy now represents the people of California’s 9th State Senatorial District. She is chair of the Senate’s Budget and Fiscal Review Committee and the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. Throughout her years in public office, Nancy has authored and supported bills addressing social justice, climate change, education, gun violence, and countless other critical issues
  • Rose Akoro (Bay Point) – Rose is a proud mother of 8 children, an active member of her church, and a dedicated caregiver who provides for the needs of elderly clients. She has been a caregiver with 24 Hour Home Care for many years where her experience and compassion help her provide care to individuals unable to perform the tasks of daily living without assistance. Beyond her work, she is an active member of River Town Community Church in Antioch, where she has volunteered her time to provide groceries and school supplies to local children and families in need. She is passionate about educating and providing for the next generations, taking the time to counsel and advise the youth of her community. Rose is a hardworking and dedicated community servant who makes our district mor e compassionate and inclusive for the most vulnerable members of our society.
  • Ruthie Dineen (Richmond) – Ruthie is a compassionate and dedicated leader who works to improve her community through her work, talent, and volunteerism. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as an accomplished pianist and composer. Ruthie is the current executive director of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts where she has led the organization with strategic vision since 2021. Colleagues describe her as a dedicated and passionate leader who has touched the lives of countless students and staff. Since taking the position, Ruthie has helped increase the funding for the East Bay Center from $3.2M to $4.2M and in doing so has helped raise wages for the Center’s staff. Ruthie is also leading the Center’s Strategic Plan, requiring organizational and cultural changes to the operation, doing so while maintaining high faculty and staff morale. Her work makes the school a more vibrant place for every student and helps many discover new talents and interests which may otherwise go unnoticed. Ruthie embodies the mission of the East Bay Center of the Performing Arts to engage with students in the community through the world of performance traditions. She is also an active member of her community who has been involved in a number of initiatives including Healthy Richmond, the Invest in Youth Coalition, and the planning group for the Blueprint to Prevent Interpersonal Violence in Contra Costa County. In everything she does, Ruthie finds ways to bring positive change to her community.
  • Sylvia Serrano (Hercules) – Sylvia is a dedicated and passionate leader who has touched the lives of countless members of her community. Sylvia proudly represents her home of Hercules as the President of the Bay Front Chamber of Commerce where she works to help promote local small businesses. Since joining the Chamber of Commerce, Sylvia has demonstrated outstanding leadership and played an instrumental role in fostering economic growth and development in Hercules. She has demonstrated her commitment to growing the economy of Contra Costa County by helping local businesses navigate a way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also serves as Director of the Hercules Education Foundation where her work has helped enhance the educational opportunities for youth in Hercules. She has helped raise contributions from individuals, organizations, businesses, and institutions to enhance the quality of the classroom experience in Hercules’s public schools. Sylvia is known to go above and beyond to engage with her community and approach everyone with a warm and compassionate nature.
  • Tamisha Walker (Antioch) – Tamisha is a dedicated and passionate leader who has touched the lives of countless members in her community. Tamisha proudly represents her home as Mayor Pro Tempore of Antioch while simultaneously working as Executive Director of the Safe Return Project. Since joining the Antioch City Council in 2020, Tamisha has played an instrumental role in creating city programs to reduce gun violence, reduce oil and gas projects in her city, and implement a rent stabilization program to benefit those who are currently unhoused. Tamisha has also demonstrated a commitment to protecting formerly incarcerated individuals by helping found the Safe Return Project. Throughout her time with the organization, Tamisha has helped thousands of residents of Contra Costa County effectively transition out of the prison system and into meaningful and successful lives. Tamisha’s unwavering devotion to her community is clearly shown through her outstanding leadership on the Antioch City Council and her unyielding dedication to protecting those impacted by the criminal justice system.
  • Velma Wilson (Antioch) – Velma is a dedicated parent and passionate community member who finds every opportunity to help others. Velma currently serves as Executive Vice President of the District Parent Teacher Association for Contra Costa, engaging with parents, teachers, and community members to promote the wellbeing of schoolchildren. For her efforts, Velma was awarded the prestigious National President Award. Velma also serves as Parent Liaison for Antioch Unified School District, ensuring parents are informed and involved in their children’s education. Velma is also Director of the Delta Veterans Group and holds executive positions at the Celebrate Antioch Foundation and Antioch School Education Foundation. Her variety of volunteer pursuits demonstrate her dedication to providing resources to all parts of our community. Velma gives generously of her knowledge, expertise, and time to helping others
  • Katrinka Ruk (Richmond) – Katrinka is a dedicated and passionate leader who has touched the lives of countless members of her community. Katrinka is described as a Bay Area native who has made a career out of improving the lives of working people. Professionally, she spent years working in the field of human resources as an HR Director for Geyser Peak and a global pharmaceutical company, and Regional HR Director for TriNet where she supported the growth of startups into thriving organizations. Katrinka has also helped grow the economy of Contra Costa County by serving for 20 years as director for the West Contra Costa Council of Business and Industries. Katrinka has also given extensively of her time as a board member for Canine Guardian Assistance Dogs, an organization connecting fully trained service dogs with veterans who suffer from PTSD. She also served on the East Bay Board of the YMCA where she supported social programs and reviewed potential grants for the organization. Katrinka’s years of work and volunteerism will be felt throughout Contra Costa County for years to come.

Solano County:

  • Adjoa McDonald (Vallejo)
  • Alice Wilson-Fried (Vacaville)
  • Amber Duncan (Fairfield)
  • Amy Fabi (Vacaville)
  • Barbara Brewer (Vacaville)
  • Brenda Plechaty (Vallejo)
  • Callie Aberin (Lathrop)
  • Cat Moy (Fairfield)
  • Courtney Tindall (Fairfield)
  • Donna Ebert (Fairfield)
  • Ebony Antoine (Fairfield)
  • Elizabeth Aptekar (Travis Air Force Base)
  • Elizabeth Hoffman (Vallejo)
  • Erin Garcia-Robles (Fairfield)
  • Jameelah Hanif (Vallejo)
  • June Mejias (Benicia)
  • Karen Freeman (Fairfield)
  • Kayleigh Migaleddi (Vacaville)
  • Kris Corey (Fairfield)
  • La Toya Thomas (Vallejo)
  • Lisa Tinbrink-Howard (Fairfield)
  • Margaret Kolk (Benicia)
  • Maryanne Perlmutter (Vacaville)
  • Melvinia King (Vallejo)
  • Monica Brown (Fairfield)
  • Nancy Nelson (Green Valley)
  • Pippin Dew (Benicia)
  • Princess Washington (Suisun City)
  • Rhonda Rochon Smith (Vallejo)
  • Tamuri Richardson (Fairfield)
  • Tara Beasley-Stansberry (Vallejo)
  • Tiffanee Jones (Vallejo)
  • Virgie Roy (Fairfield)

For more information on women of the year,

  • You can view photos and biographies of this year’s women of the year honorees here.
  • A legislative update that was shared at the event is available here.
  • A video of the event can be found here.

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