2021 Distinguished Woman of the Year Awardees

Isabel Garcia

Whittier Hills Healthcare Center-Skilled Nursing Facility | Whittier

Ms. Isabel Garcia has served the healthcare industry for over 17 years and currently serves as the Activities Director at Whittier Hills Healthcare Center-Skilled Nursing Facility for over 11 years. As an Activities Director, she has hosted several community outreach events, such as sharing letters and gifts to families with newborns at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and hosts Rock for Project of Kindness where residents paint rocks and type uplifting messages for the surrounding community to find.

During the pandemic, her dedication to her patient’s quality of life and passion to continue inspiring her community persisted. Ms. Garcia worked long hours to ensure families continued communicating with their loved ones and made a difference by providing comfort and companionship to residents during these unprecedented times. She has been a true inspiration throughout the 57th Assembly District and State of California.

Ms. Isabel Garcia shares her success with her three daughters, fiancé Frank, and loving parents, Maria and John Garcia.

Afaf El Annan

Education Advocate | Norwalk

Ms. Afaf El Annan is a longtime resident of Norwalk and has volunteered in her community for over 20 years. As a mother of five she was motivated to pursue higher education so she enrolled herself in night school at Norwalk Adult School and went on to earn her Associated Degree at Cerritos College. She became a substitute teacher at Norwalk La Mirada Unified School District (District) and worked in the afterschool program, Think Together out of love for her children and her devotion for education.

As a lifetime advocate for education, she joined the Parent Teacher Association where she ultimately became the President and spearheaded campaigns to build bridges between schools and parents while balancing a second part-time job at a retail store.

Throughout her volunteerism, she devoted countless hours of time and served in many different roles at the Soroptimist International Village, from Treasurer to Director. She was a member of the Cerritos Child Development Club, helped the City of Norwalk plan several community events, assisted the District in fundraising for their district libraries, and fundraised for scholarships for disadvantaged women, amongst other projects.

Ms. Afaf El Annan takes pride in her accomplishment and the success of her five children who, through her example, went on to become engineers, doctors and working professionals. Afaf maintains her love and devotion to volunteering, education and her community. She is defined by her optimism and her lifelong belief is that you can defeat any obstacle by believing in yourself.

Dr. Irella Perez

IQ Air – Environmental Justice | Whittier

Dr. Irella Perez is a long-time resident of Whittier and serves as the Community Outreach Specialist of IQ Air empowering communities through grant writing and research to ensure equitable access to clean air and environmental justice for a more sustainable world.

As an educator of over 25 years, she has been instrumental in shaping education advocacy serving the Los Angeles County as a teacher, principal, counselor, administrator, Superintendent, and School Board Member. Her goal as an educator and administrator has been to foster partnerships with colleges and universities and her alliance with the Volunteer Center of South Bay Harbor and Long Beach resulted in a donation of $1 million in donated school uniforms for students and more than $10,000 in food for families.

She served on the Board of Directors of the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators and the Association of California School Administrators Region as well as Chaired the Woman Leadership Network and is a member of the USC Alumni Association and the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. Dr. Perez has received many distinctions throughout her career such as Administrator of the Year by the California Association for Bilingual Educators, 2011 CABE Administrator of the Year, 2011 California Forward Thinker, among others. Dr. Perez is a proud Rotarian and a Board member of HOT, Hispanic Outreach Taskforce dedicated to raise money for scholarships for students.

As a proud single mother raising seven children, she proudly instills in them to “Believe in the Power of Education.”

Anna Apoian

Norwalk La Mirada Unified School District | Norwalk/La Mirada

Ms. Anna Apoian has served as a Nutrition Services Director for over 16 years. She has worked at the Norwalk- La Mirada Unified School District for 4 years. As a Director, she saw a need for continuity of meal service as students and administration braced for the pandemic. Her vision and the Nutrition Services team efforts provided 1.5 million meals to children in their community. They never left. They fed the children in the community. Ms. Apoian implemented the Supper Program to serve additional meals for children in households who were financially struggling through this pandemic. Ultimately, her program implementation has allowed the District to mitigate an anticipated $5 million dollar loss, from the school closures.

Throughout her career, Ms. Apoian has founded other programs such as the Breakfast-in-the-Class Program, Second Chance Breakfast, Seamless Summer Food Program, and the CACFP Supper Program. In her previous district, to address the technological divide, Ms. Apoian worked with families to provide greater access to the meal application through an on-line portal. Her and her staff trained parents on completing electronic meal applications at parent computer labs at each school site. More than 95% of meal applications were submitted online, saving months of filing, and providing faster review and approval, ensuring access to needed meal programs for the children.

Ms. Apoian currently serves as the President-elect of the Southern California School Nutrition Association. She holds virtual meetings throughout the year to keep 300+ members connected and informed. She works to educate legislators on issues that impact child nutrition in the school arena. Her hard work has earned her the distinction from her peers and was named the California School Nutrition Association Director of the Year for 2019-2020.

Joyce Lam

Kaimore - Director of Programs | City of Industry/Hacienda Heights

Ms. Joyce Lam is a lifelong resident of Hacienda Heights, and has dedicated her time to following her convictions to love and care for others in her lifetime. Currently, she is the Director and founder of Kaimore, a nonprofit that provides essential workforce development training for disadvantaged groups such as formerly incarcerated, domestic violence survivors, unhoused individuals, immigrants, veterans, among others throughout the City of Los Angeles and LA County.

During the pandemic, her organization raised over $35,000 to provide food and PPE to over 400 individuals in these communities. Since their founding in 2018, they have helped over 1,800 individuals increase their financial literacy and advance in their career.

Ms. Lam is a partner with the Small Business Administration’s Women Business Center and Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program where she consults small business owner’s free-of-charge and has assisted 432 minority businesses owners and entrepreneurs during the pandemic to pivot and adjust during this time.

Ms. Lam is also a social entrepreneur who advocates for sustainability in agriculture and the fashion industry with her own matcha e-commerce company, a fashion brand based in Hong Kong, and as a freelance fashion model.

Maria Elena Chavez

YWCA of Greater Los Angeles | Whittier

Mrs. Maria Elena Chavez is currently the Director of YWCA GLA Supervisor Gloria Molina Community Empowerment Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women.

Her work and values are shaped from having been born and raised within the farmworker’s movement. She has previously worked with inner-city youth on multi-media community art projects and hosted a community cable talk show on current events featuring local artists, activists, and leaders. After graduating from USC film school, she worked on feature length documentaries to bring social injustices to light. She later felt she could have a greater impact working in public sector.

Over the past decade, during her work with YWCA, she has overseen multiple health and wellness initiatives aimed at reducing health disparities from addressing food insecurity to creating walkable communities. She has successfully developed strong community partnerships with non-profits, businesses and county departments resulting in the allocation of much needed resources to low-income families. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Public Administration Program at Cal State University, Los Angeles.

Dr. Maria Martinez-Poulin

Whittier City School District | Whittier/Unincorporated Whittier

Dr. Maria Martinez-Poulin currently serves as the Superintendent of Whittier City School District and during the pandemic has served her community by hosting food and clothing drives, advocated for Drive-in Wi-Fi centers and most recently partnered with PIH to assist in inoculating COVID vaccines to eligible educators.

As Superintendent, she has used her spare time to integrate into the surrounding communities by serving on several service organizations such as Soroptimist, Rotary Club of Whittier, Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce, and Opportunities for Youth Coalition, Boys and Girls Club, and many more.

Dr. Martinez-Poulin has earned the distinction from her peers and was named Administrator of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators.

Marlene Olsen

Vistas (Older Adult Community) | La Mirada

Mrs. Marlene Olsen is a longtime resident of La Mirada, and currently serves as On-Call Manager at La Mirada Vistas, an older adult community in La Mirada, where she also teaches a class in English as a Second Language, as well as leading Chair Tai Chi classes.

As a community leader, she has served on the La Mirada Senior Council, as a representative of the Lake Park Mobile Home Park, and the La Mirada Vistas, and has assisted with judging the La Mirada Tree Poster Contest, judging for Spring Beautification, flu vaccination clinics, and other programs.

She is a member, and past chairman of the La Mirada Historical Preservation Advisory Council, and participated in the Council's Classroom Presentation Program to educate students about the City's history, as well as assisting in tours of the City's historic Neff Estate. Mrs. Olsen is also a life member of Beta Sigma Phi sorority, participating in many state-wide service projects.. She is a member of the City's Neighborhood Watch Program, the Community Emergency Response Team, and was an Inspector for several years during the City's, and County's, General Municipal Elections.

Her accomplishments have earned her distinctions from the City as the 2013 Older American of the Year, the Myllie Taylor Community Service Award, and 2019 Volunteer for the Year of the Retirement Housing Foundation, parent company of La Mirada Vistas.

Ruby Rose Yepez

Southern California Edison | South El Monte

Mrs. Ruby Rose Yepez is a longtime resident of South El Monte and a Senior Advisor for Southern California Edison (SCE) specializing in affordable housing projects. For over 15 years as an energy consultant, she has helped teams to secure funding and implement sustainability features required for Third Party Certifications and Utility incentive programs and was successful in certifying over 30 projects as LEED or GreenPoint Rated. In her role with SCE, Mrs. Yepez, assists developers and builders by promoting decarbonization programs and resources.

She currently serves as a Planning Commissioner for the City of South El Monte and is a former Board Member for the US Green Building Council Los Angeles Chapter and the California Association of Building Energy Consultants. Additionally, she is a committee lead for the Professional Women in Building and a board member for the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association.

Mrs. Ruby Rose Yepez has been integral in teaching and educating our next leaders as former President of the Latino Professional Alumni Chapter at Cal Poly Pomona and as the Membership Director for the Latino Business Resource Group at Southern California Edison. In her leisure time, Mrs. Yepez offers free yoga classes to her local community.