Esther Portillo-Gonzales is a lifelong champion for social change fighting to improve the quality of life for families and communities. She believes this can be done by community organizing, coalition building, and advocacy. At her current position as organizing director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), she fights tirelessly to ensure cleaner air quality. Esther resides in Riverside and feels blessed to have her children and husband by her side as she continues her commitment for social change.
2018 Women of Distinction Honorees
Adriana Katanic-Curiel is a 14 year resident of Riverside, a public education advocate and community leader. After spending seven years working at Riverside City College, Adriana started her own private tutoring service, which has served over a hundred students from Riverside City College, Riverside Unified, and Alvord Unified School Districts since 2013. She is currently the president of the Riverside Council of PTAs, which provides leadership training and support to the 36 school site PTAs in the Riverside Unified School District, and their collective 6,000+ members.
Blanca Lopez serves as the Inland Region Campaign Director of Golden State Opportunity Foundation and CalEITC4Me. As the National Campaign Coordinator for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Lopez implemented several Latino civic engagement campaigns across seven states during the 2016 Presidential Election. She is highly committed to addressing poverty issues specific to the Inland region and brings over 10 years of organizing and leadership experience.
Carla J. Thornton serves as the Veteran’s Coordinator/Counselor at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA. Ms. Thornton believes in servant leadership and is committed to community service and veteran advocacy issues that directly impact our local community. She served in the United States Air Force for twenty years and retired at the rank of Master Sergeant. During her military service she served as a sexual assault victim advocate and deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Social Work from the University of Southern California and has focused her research on women veterans and economic development challenges that are impacting the Inland Empire region.
Collette Lee currently is involved with the Riverside Arts Academy an organization whose mission is to promote growth and development of our youth through the arts and music while fostering a sense of community and understanding amongst our city’s diverse cultures and backgrounds. In 2016 RAA received 2 state awards while in 2017, RAA was recognized by the Riverside County Medical Association for the outstanding contributions toward the youth. Additionally, Lee has serves on various city boards and commissions, such as the Latino Network Executive Board and the Advisory Board for the Assistance league.
Connie Confer is a lifelong civil rights activist and community leader dedicated to improving the lives of others. She has lived in Riverside since the 1960's. In 2000 she retired from the City of Riverside where she was an Assistant City Attorney. Before that she was a social worker with the County of Riverside and it was while working with abused children in the Juvenile Court that she decided to go to law school. Her activism in the lesbian and gay communities began when she became a founding member of a political action committee. Connie was involved with the Inland AIDS Project as board member and volunteer for 30 years.
Dena DeLucia is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve in the Active/Guard Program and is currently is serving as the Executive Officer to the Executive Director of Riverside National Cemetery until she receives orders to her next duty station. An avid supporter of the Veteran community, Dena started the Inland Empire Chapter of Team Red, White and Blue where she served as the Chapter Captain from September 2015-January 2018. She is an Advisory Board Member for US Vets Initiative, the local Veteran homeless shelter in the IE and a Director at Large for the Riverside National Cemetery Support Committee where she is the Chair of the American Women Warriors Memorial. She hopes to continue her education and pursue her PhD after her time in the military is up.
Denise Davis is the Director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of California, Riverside. Denise has spent her career working in Student Affairs in higher education. She is passionate about issues pertaining to student engagement, intersectionality, gender equality, the LGBTQ community, women’s political participation and social justice advocacy. In 2017, she launched the inaugural Persist Women’s Political Engagement Conference at UC Riverside, the first conference of its kind in the region. . Denise is active in her community as an elected assembly district delegate, and is currently running for City Council in Redlands District 1.
Diana Medina serves as a Legislative Field Representative for Council Member Jim Perry elected to the Sixth Ward in the City of Riverside. . Diana is committed to providing opportunities to underserved communities. During her last five years at the City of Riverside and under the leadership of Council Member Jim Perry, she has co-founded essential community events, such as Book Con Amigos, Las Posadas de Riverside and the Riverside Citywide 9/11 Day of Service.
Donna Woods serves as the Community Manager and Education Advocate for California Cyberhub, a collaboration of higher education, K-12, government, and business working to ensure equitable access to STEM education and careers while developing a future ethical workforce of cybersecurity experts. Her passion is found in serving underrepresented and at-risk student populations as a STEM Interdisciplinary Educator teaching ICT and Cyber Security within the Moreno Valley Unified School District for eighteen years.
Fonda McGensy serves as the Chair of the County of Riverside Commission for Women, among various other community responsibilities. McGensy is very interested in issues concerning young people and the homeless. She takes a very creative approach when working with the local community to create collaborative partnerships to provide awareness about programs for youth and support for families.
Katie Keyes serves as the President of the Perris Valley Historical and Museum Association and has been involved within the community for over 30 years. With her passion for history she was instrumental in bringing the Perris Valley Historical Museum from a small town museum to one that has excelled in serving the community as an exceptional teaching and entertainment venue for the City of Perris.
Dr. Keri A. Then served on active duty for 20 years in the United States Air Force as a communications expert and is the recipient of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and NATO Medal as well as many other commendations. At home, she continues to serve veterans in her community. She is the Junior Vice Commander, Veterans of Foreign War Post 8547, where she led the volunteer effort to bring recognition to the important issue of Veteran suicides by hosting a 2-mile Veteran’s Suicide Awareness Walk. Dr. Then is the past 5th District appointee to the County of Riverside Commission for Women where she advocated for women regarding health, the workplace, family, education, violence, law, and society.
Khanh Nguyen is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Karen Allen Salon and Spa. Allen Salon has flourished through its commitment to structure and excellence, and today has over 50 team members with 2 locations in Riverside and Temecula. Nguyen is truly passionate about growing the young people around her. She has a commitment to mentoring her team to become successful, goal-oriented individuals by tapping into their passion for creativity through hair, makeup, skincare and continuous trainings to hone their skills of communication enriching their guest’s experience at every visit.
Lea Peterson has served as a Public Affairs Manager for Southern California Gas Company since 2005. Lea has established a scholarship program assisting homeless and financially challenged high school students to take the next step toward reaching their education goals. She has organized SoCalGas volunteers to serve our military and their families at the March Air Base Military Appreciation Day picnic, helped to revitalize underserved communities and raised resources for families who have lost their homes in recent wildfires.
Marisol Negrete is Lead Teacher at the Nati Fuentes Centro de Niños, an early childhood development center in the Eastside neighborhood of Riverside, California that serves low-income families. She has been with the Centro for over 18 years and holds a bachelor's degree in Child Development. She started her teaching career in her native state of Jalisco, Mexico and continued teaching after immigrating to Riverside in 1991.
Micaela "Mikki” Cichocki serves on the Platform Committee for the CA Democratic Party, the Board of Trustees for the First Congregational Church of Riverside, on the board of a pet rescue Paws for a Cause, and on the National Education Association Audit Committee. Mikki is well known in the community as passionate advocate for students, educators and labor.
Dr. Shirley Johnson is a 20 year veteran and firm advocate for women’s rights. Johnson is a life time member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She formerly served as the President of the North San Diego County Branch, and the Committee Chair for the Women in the NAACP (WIN) program. She currently serves on the Executive Board of the Lake Elsinore-Southwest Branch as the Education Chair.
Toi Thibodeaux has served as Assistant Director for the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside since 2008, and is the current co-chair for the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on LGBT Student, Faculty & Staff. Previously, Toi was appointed to serve as a committee member for the University of California Office of the President Task Force & Implementation Team on LGBT Climate & Inclusion from 2012-2014.
Tracey C. Holcomb is the Founder/CEO of Life Lifters International. As a single mother for many years, she developed a compassion for single women and the challenging issues they face in raising their children. Tracey served 10 years in the U.S. Army and deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990 in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As a veteran, she has a deep interest in helping women veterans become fully re-established into civilian society.