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Rep. Chu Recognizes 2021 Congressional Women of the Year Hometown Hero Edition

May 24, 2021
Press Release

Washington, DC — On Saturday, May 22, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) hosted the Congressional Women of the Year Awards Ceremony to honor local women in the San Gabriel Valley who have contributed to the community through service, organizing, or leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The award is given to women nominated by people in their own cities and communities. Rep. Chu released the following statement:


“Amid all the struggle of this past year, each one of our honorees has risen to the occasion and made incredible impacts in the San Gabriel Valley. At a time when we needed heroes most, they stepped up and gave all of us hope. Today’s honorees have done remarkable things during this pandemic, whether it was feeding our youth, providing groceries to our families, or saving the lives of patients, they fought through the challenges and found ways to make a difference. I’m so proud of these role models and am honored to be recognizing them.”


The 2021 honorees are:


Vivien Watts (Executive Director, Food + Nutrition Services – Alhambra USD) 

When schools across the nation closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students had to quickly adjust to virtual learning. But what about the many students who depended on schools to provide them with meals during the day? Well, for the Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD), Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services Vivien Watts had a plan to ensure no student went hungry. Over the past year, Vivien Watts and her team have delivered an astounding 4 million meals to students in the Alhambra and San Gabriel Valley region. In fact, this is double the number of meals provided in a typical year prior to COVID-19. Within a period of days, Vivien had to change her entire operation to adapt to the pandemic and virtual learning. But with a passion for helping others and an affinity for planning, Vivien was the perfect person for the job. And guess what? Vivien and her team have never missed a meal. Vivien and her devotion to strengthening food security have unquestionably made a profound and positive difference for Alhambra Unified School District students, families and the community at large. Her unwavering dedication and commitment to service is inspiring to us all.


Dr. Phyllis Cremer (Principal – Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Parish School)

As an elementary- and middle-school school principal, Dr. Phyllis Cremer has witnessed the first-hand impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on education since its outset. But, taking the challenges she faced in stride and often taking on many roles at once, Dr. Cremer never faltered in responding effectively and compassionately to the needs of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish School’s students, families and staff. Dr. Cremer had just a few days to transform her entire school system into a virtual format for over 200 students. And she did so very successfully. While students’ last day of in-person instruction was on a Thursday, Dr. Cremer and her team were fully prepared to begin virtual instruction by the following Tuesday, never missing a beat! All of this goes to show Dr. Cremer’s willingness to go well beyond the expectations of her role to be a true leader during an unprecedented crisis. Unceasingly dedicated to the well-being of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish School, Dr. Cremer has shown her commitment to the holistic success of her community.


Anne Ireland (Executive Director – Nursing Department, City of Hope)

Anne Ireland is the Executive Director of City of Hope’s Clinical Network & Outreach Nursing Department and as an oncology nurse, she understood that the City of Hope was faced with a unique situation because it wasn’t a regular hospital. They only took care of cancer patients, who could have devastating consequences if they caught COVID because of their weakened immune systems. So it was critical that City of Hope had an effective way of protecting their vulnerable community and those that took care for them. To achieve this, Anne quickly developed and implemented City of Hope’s entire drive-thru COVID testing and vaccination operations.  Without a doubt, Anne has been an important leader during the pandemic and showed the resilience and heroism of our healthcare workers. 


Lorena Ruiz (Interim Project Director/Project Roomkey – Union Station Homeless Services)

During a public health crisis, there are few necessities more crucial than shelter. As Interim Director for Project Roomkey, Lorena Ruiz has helped to house almost 300 people in the Monterey Park region over the course of the past year, providing an essential service to those who need it most. Lorena Ruiz previously served as Manager at Union Station Homeless Services’ Rapid Rehousing Program. But, when the COVID-19 pandemic left an already vulnerable population more vulnerable than ever, Project Roomkey was launched to provide hotel and motel rooms for unhoused people who tested positive for COVID-19, had been exposed or are at high risk of complications due to the virus. Due to her expertise and excellent work ethic, Lorena was approached to serve as the Interim Project Director for such a crucial program. Lorena’s work has a real and tangible impact, making her an invaluable community leader. Her work with Project Roomkey and the Recovery Rehousing Program has undoubtedly improved the lives of hundreds.


Doms Olivas (Clerk – Ralphs Pasadena)

Grocery store employees already provide a crucial service in a typical year. But, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, their role has been more vital than ever. As a clerk for Ralphs grocery store, Doms Olivas’ work is truly essential. And while this work can be challenging, scary and physically exhausting, especially in such unprecedented times, Doms still makes it her goal to not only accommodate customer needs, but to spread positivity to everyone she meets. I can say with certainty that she succeeds. In fact, Doms makes such a positive impact on the people around her that one of her own customers nominated her for this recognition! I think that is really a testament to her incredible work ethic and attitude. Doms is tasked with fulfilling orders on customers’ behalf as a contactless option if they don’t want to physically shop in the store. On a given day, Doms and only one other employee in her department are responsible for completing up to 150 orders daily. Some of these orders range from ten to even 200 items! Many of us have opted for contactless grocery shopping over the past year, and it’s because of the hard work of those like Doms that we are even able to do so. What’s clear is that in her personal and professional capacities, Doms’ commitment to helping others and spread joy, have positively impacted the people around her, from strangers shopping for groceries to her own family members. Doms never lets the uncertainty and fear of this time get in the way of her work ethic or her ability to bring happiness to others.


Dr. Nga W. Wong (Physician – Chinatown Service Center)            

Dr. Nga Wong is a physician at Chinatown Service Center and when the pandemic hit, she began seeing her patients over the phone. However, several of her patients were elderly and having a hard time adjusting to this new landscape. So in order to best help the families she cared for, she would meet with some of her patients in person to address their needs and answer their questions. Not surprisingly, she was consistently busy, and despite the risk she was taking, continued meeting with patients for several months. Then in August she treated a patient who suffered from underlying health conditions and was deeply concerned about the cough he had. Dr. Wong never hesitated to help, but as a result she ended up developing COVID. The following weeks were extremely difficult and for a time the situation looked bleak as she was increasingly getting worse. However, with the help of her husband and son, both of whom are also physicians, she was eventually able to recover and today is as strong as ever.   After defeating COVID, Dr. Wong chose to retire, but after just a few months of rest she has expressed her desire to come out of retirement to continue helping those in need. She keeps insisting that she’s just a regular person living a simple life, but her extraordinary, selfless service has made an enormous, positive impact for so many people in our community.


Dr. Terese Hammond (Director – Critical Care/ICU, St. John’s Hospital)

Dr. Terese Hammond arrived at Saint John’s in 2018 and was charged with setting up their entire ICU. Under her leadership, the ICU was now overseen by board certified critical care doctors with round the clock supervision and care. These changes were important at the time, but the new policies Dr. Hammond put in place became lifesavers when COVID hit. During the height of the pandemic, many of our hospitals were overwhelmed with patients. Ambulances were consistently transporting people in dire need of help to emergency rooms, and at some locations were being turned away because they had no more space for patients. During this difficult surge, Dr. Hammond expanded the ICU to other parts of the hospital in an effort to find ways to create beds in any space they could find. And although the hospital was over capacity, her work helped ensure that no patient was ever turned away at Saint Johns. These experiences have had profound impacts on Dr. Hammond, all of which help drive her passion to support and care for others. And because of the devastation wrought by COVID, she is more determined than ever to make access to healthcare more equitable and to continue service her community.


Felisa N. Day (President/Owner – Angel Care Community Services)           

Lisa Day is the president and owner of Angel Care Community Services, a residential care facility for the elderly in the Cities of Upland and Fontana. When the coronavirus hit California, Lisa immediately began consulting with experts in the field before immediately implementing widespread protocols that would keep both her elderly residents and essential staff safe. Lisa’s regulations included temperature checks, social distancing, sanitization, face masks, limiting access to one entrance and one exist, as well as initiating the most painful decision of all: to lockdown her facility so no family members or guests may enter.  Although some families were initially against these protocols, eventually everyone came to understand the importance of keeping these tight restrictions in place. Lisa’s quick and thorough actions are credited for having a zero rate of positive COVID cases at both of her facilities. During a time when assisted living facilities and nursing homes were recording devastating COVID outbreaks, Lisa’s record is a remarkable achievement!  Although she announced her retirement last year, she insists she hasn’t retired from the industry and is only a phone call away if anyone has any questions or needs advice. In fact, because of her achievements in high quality senior care, and her remarkable success during the pandemic, her advice is highly sought after by other people in the industry. Given her success, as well as low turnover in residents and staff, it is not surprising that her hard work was recently recognized as the Best Senior Services of the Inland Empire in February 2021.


Karen Babineau (April 6, 1947 – February 21, 2021)

Karen Abigail Northrop-Babineau made it a priority to keep her community updated on important local news. As editor and publisher of the Glendora Community News, she highlighted stories of everyday people in the city. Born in 1947, Karen was raised in Yakama, Washington, until the family moved to Walnut, California. She worked in the automobile dealership advertising industry and eventually moved to Glendora, where she met her future husband, Joe Babineau, in 1990. While in Glendora, she started producing a coupon booklet for local businesses and eventually started the Glendora Community News in 1994. Karen’s focus was centered around community and sharing stories that residents could connect with, as well as stay updated on the events taking place at home. In 2011, the paper ended publication and Karen retired shortly after. However, she stayed linked to the community by regularly attending City Council meetings and serving as President of the Glendora Chamber of Commerce. She also served with various local organizations including the Glendora Woman’s Club, the Kiwanis Club, and the Rotary Club. Karen Babineau was truly a local hero who loved her city and was always eager to share its stories.


Rose Ochi (December 15, 1938 – December 13, 2020)      

Rose Ochi was a powerful and widely respected legal mind who spent her entire career advocating for civil rights. At a young age, Rose and her family were imprisoned at the Rohwer internment camp during World War II. This experience fueled Rose’s passion for justice, and she ultimately led the way to secure a federal apology for Japanese American detention camp survivors and to secure the former internment site Manzanar as a National Historic Site. Rose went on to be the first Asian American woman to serve as a Los Angeles Police Commission member and as an assistant U.S. attorney general during her tenure at the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, paving the way for future generations. She was selected to serve on President Carter’s Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, where she advocated for immigration reform and helped to secure a pathway to citizenship for thousands of undocumented immigrants. And she worked with President Clinton’s administration on drug policy and race relations. Rose also did incredible work in her local Los Angeles communities where she helped to reduce gang violence, supported programs for at-risk youth, designed successful community policing methods, and even increased the number of women and officers of color in the Los Angeles Police Department. Rose’s impact on our lives will be felt for decades to come.


Dora Padilla (October 4, 1934 – January 8, 2021)   

Dora Padilla was truly committed to the success of the Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) and its students. Born in East Los Angeles to two Mexican immigrants, Dora graduated from Bishop Conaty High School and began working as a secretary for a local architectural firm. After marrying her husband Al and having children, Dora wanted to get more involved in her children’s education, so she joined the local Parent-Teacher Association and began taking notes at AUSD school board meetings. Frustrated with the slow progress and wanting to positively impact her community, Dora ran for the school board in 1978 where she went on to serve for five terms. In her last term on the board, Dora oversaw the renovation efforts at Alhambra High School, where the library was named in her honor. Dora was a passionate advocate for arts education and fought against proposals to cut arts funding in schools. Dora’s campaign slogan was “To love a child is to educate a child,” and that truly embodies her devotion to improving education in her local community.


Margaret Sedenquist (January 17, 1927 – February 9, 2021)

Margaret H. Sedenquist was a trailblazer, entrepreneur, business owner, community leader, philanthropist, and deeply cherished human being. In 1964 she left her home state of Wyoming and moved to Southern California where she entered the real estate business and had a successful career, first as a residential realtor, and later expanding into commercial real estate. But aside from her successful business enterprises, Margaret's legacy is deeply rooted in volunteerism. Described by her friends and colleagues as a visionary and leader who liked to get things done, Margaret served on a wide variety of foundation and community boards. Her accomplishments included: University of La Verne Board of Trustees where she was instrumental in managing the real estate and financial assets of the university; Board Chair of Five Acres, a child and family services agency in Altadena; Board President of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Board President of the YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley; board member of the Arcadia Methodist Hospital Foundation; and Board President of the Pasadena Playhouse where she successfully reopened this cultural icon after 17 years of closure. In addition to her charitable endeavors, Margaret also served the City of Pasadena in a variety of roles, including Chair of the Finance Committee, the Endowment Advisory Committee, and as chair of the Pasadena City Hall Restoration Finance Committee. Not surprisingly, these are just a few examples of the community organizations that Margaret was a part of.