It's March, which is Women's History Month, and the time to shine an even brighter light on women making an impact across L.A. County.
These women, all United Way of Greater Los Angeles partners, spoke with us about how their work is changing our communities towards a more just and inclusive Los Angeles County.
Margarita Alvarez Gomez, Executive Director, Central City Neighborhood Partners
Margarita Alvarez Gomez, Executive Director of Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP), connects families in the City of Los Angeles with key public services like SNAP food benefits to meet urgent needs such as food insecurity. A long time United Way partner, CCNP also counsels families to meet longer term goals like budget planning, such as the Free Tax Prep LA program. Over the last decade, they’ve helped low-income working families recover hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money in tax credits. They’ve made strong inroads with youth programs such as tutoring and academic support through the Westlake/Pico-Union FamilySource Center, and they also run annual college tours for rising seniors who are seeking higher education.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Margarita’s work with CCNP has been the platform she has given to women for professional development. “Four years ago, I decided that we needed to have a women’s conference,” Margarita mentioned. The conference focuses on female empowerment, education, and leadership development across neighborhoods and generations. More than 200 women across L.A. County plan to participate in this year’s conference.
We are proud to work with Margarita and the CCNP team as they strengthen our communities with the tools and strategies for healthy, successful lives.
Kristina Dixon - CFO and Managing Director, Nonprofit Finance Fund
The multi-talented Kristina Dixon has worn many hats—from spearheading Women United EmpowerHER events to her previous role of Director of Finance at LAHSA—but in every one, she represents the UWGLA mission of equity, opportunity, and education.
Through her work as Chief Financial Officer at the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), she leads efforts to better fund other advocacy groups led by and serving communities of color. Kristina considers herself an activist CFO, as she says, “I came in with a unique perspective as a Black woman in finance to challenge them and help them move forward.”
As she became increasingly aware of the added challenges of the pandemic for women—in particular, mothers—on her team, Kristina ensured that NFF prioritized adjusting staff hours, pay scales, and cutting down on meetings to ensure that the organization modeled the behavior it aimed to promote in the world.
Kristina credits her achievements to “women who empowered me to be my authentic self and lifted me up, encouraged me to lean in and go for opportunities that I didn’t think I was qualified for, and supported me along the way.”
We applaud Kristina’s efforts to uplift women and foster environments that promote achievement and success. “I like to do that for others, and to be able to instill that sentiment in women in particular is such an impactful way to use your power, your position, and your privilege to keep that momentum going,” Kristina said.
Azucena “Susy” Hernandez, Co-Director, Community Transformation, Promesa Boyle Heights
Azucena Hernandez, best known as Susy, focuses on the intersectional issues of education justice, immigration advocacy, and health and wellness as the Co-Director of Community Transformation with Promesa Boyle Heights. The organization is a key partner in our education work and the CLASS coalition, comprising a collective of families, students, schools, and organizations who work together to ensure a strong, vibrant, and well resourced community.
Susy’s own experience as an undocumented student trying to navigate a complex school system without the proper resources informs her work in education reform. “Acknowledging that knowledge doesn’t always come from a textbook or a degree, really honoring that and valuing that has been really important to me. It’s really guided me to feel comfortable in spaces where it might’ve looked really different a few years ago, and it’s allowed me to own my story,” she said.
Susy led critical efforts to implement social and emotional learning opportunities for students in partnership with LAUSD officials, elected leaders, and community-based organizations. These include mental health programs, planned wellness days, and other spaces for students to explore unconventional education outside of the rigors of traditional academia. In Susy’s words, “we cannot expect young people to thrive, if they are unable to feel safe, heard, supported, and empowered.”
Susy’s leadership demonstrates that local change can have huge ripple effects beyond a neighborhood.
Hazel Lopez - Director of CES and Community Engagement, The People Concern
Hazel Lopez spearheads The People Concern’s work with the Coordinated Entry System for the county's Service Planning Area 4, responsible for connecting more than 15,000 people experiencing homelessness in the region with housing and services. A critical partner in United Way’s work on housing and homelessness, The People Concern provides support such as housing, medical services, and counseling for people throughout Downtown L.A., on the West Side, and in South L.A.
Hazel and her team recognize that authentic street-level care is the first step to connecting our neighbors living outside to long-term supportive services that folks may receive through The People Concern, such as its financial management program, which is aimed at increasing economic independence and pairs clients with a case manager. This program was launched in Skid Row over a decade ago and continues across Los Angeles today.
“We matched 80 people in Skid Row to new housing and three months later I went to do a site visit,” Hazel said. “It was amazing to see the difference from when I first met them. They looked so much healthier and stronger. That left such an impression on me about the connection between housing and health.”
Los Angeles is lucky to have leaders like Hazel, and her work is essential as we strive to bring Everyone In.
These amazing women are four examples of the thousands of remarkable women who show up and do the work to improve our communities everyday. We celebrate their accomplishments and will continue to do so beyond the month of March.
If you’d like to share who has made a difference in your life please reach out to us at [email protected]org