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Assemblyman honors 2020 Women of Distinction

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, will honor 19 women during his annual 70th District Women of Distinction event. Originally scheduled for March 13, the event was postponed due to the coronavirus until a later date, which has not yet been determined. The ceremony will recognize women who live, work and volunteer in the Greater Los Angeles area district who have “gone above and beyond in service to the community.”

“As a father to two young women and a teacher for 22 years, it is an honor to recognize and celebrate the amazing women making a difference in the 70th District and in the State of California,” O’Donnell told the Business Journal. “Thank you for your leadership and determination in making our communities better every day.”

Elise Swanson, president and CEO of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, was named 2020 Woman of the Year. Nine community leaders from Long Beach were among the honorees, including former city councilwoman Jan Hall Zolin. The women were nominated by the public and selected by O’Donnell.

Woman of the Year:

Elise Swanson is president and CEO of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and represents more than 400 member businesses and organizations. Under her leadership, the chamber has developed a strong state, local and federal legislative advocacy program that supports businesses, and contributed to the creation of the San Pedro 2020 plan. Swanson is also working with San Pedro stakeholders, including the Port of Los Angeles, to implement a certified Tourism Ambassador Program to position the area and the Los Angeles waterfront as a unique destination. She is currently a commissioner on the City of Los Angeles’ Small Business Commission, vice-chairperson of the South Bay Association of Chambers of Commerce and co-chair of BizFed’s Small Business, Labor & Employment Committee. She has served on Councilman Joe Buscaino’s San Pedro Task Force on Homelessness, was formerly on the Gang Alternative Program’s Board of Directors and was a member of the Port of Los Angeles Charter High School Board of Trustees. Prior to joining the chamber, Swanson served as district director for then-Congresswoman Janice Hahn.

2020 Women of Distinction:

Barbara Betts is the CEO of, as well as a broker and Realtor, at the Betts Realty Group, Inc. She specializes in the sale and purchase of real estate within the Long Beach, Orange County and South Bay areas. Betts has had her client’s best interest at hand since she entered the real estate business since 2003. She has a passion for giving back to the real estate industry and serves on the boards of the Pacific West Association of Realtors, East Long Beach Pony Baseball and the Women’s Leadership Council of Realtors. 

Yvonne Bogdanovich is a volunteer for the Beacon House, a non-profit in San Pedro. She has encouraged, mentored and inspired many men to pursue better professional and educational opportunities. Bogdanovich’s volunteer work and philanthropic efforts have gone beyond the call of duty and have helped to increase fundraising revenue of the organization. She also serves on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro. 

Severina Britto is a U.S. Women’s Army Corps veteran. For the past four years, she has served as a Long Beach Police Department senior police partner. Britto is passionate about making sure all handicapped parking spots are used only by those who truly need them. She is also a lead senior police partner for Special Olympics of Southern California, National Night Out, Parades, Shop-With-A-Cop and Toy Patrol. Her senior police partner team efforts have resulted in a unit citation, the 2018 Peace Officers Association of Los Angeles County Award and recognition for donating more than 500 volunteer hours in 2018 and 2019.

Pam Dutch-Hughes is passionate and active in the Signal Hill community and is always willing to step up to volunteer for a cause. She currently serves as a parks and recreation commissioner and a member of the sustainability commission. She is a trendsetter when it comes to ideas focused on improving the community. She also serves at her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a Sunday school teacher, team mom and board member. Dutch-Hughes has been married to Dr. Joseph Hughes for 47 years, and has been his partner in crime in starting their podiatry practice together. She has a pure heart for helping others and gives timeless hours back to her community.

Sandra Hege exemplifies leadership, dedication and service. She helped establish the El Dorado Park Estates Neighborhood Association through connecting neighbors and continued outreach and advocacy. She has a special talent of bringing neighbors together and building a sense of belonging and community. Hege is also heavily involved at Newcomb Academy in East Long Beach and remains a very active member on the PTA. Every Friday, Sandra volunteers her time to help teachers in their classrooms.

Maria Hernández has accomplished more as a volunteer than many do in their careers. She first came to Lutheran Social Services when she and her husband were down on their luck and in need of their services. The love and appreciation she received from the organization was so deeply appreciated that she has been dedicating her time as a volunteer for over 28 years now. Her story has inspired and given hope to thousands of clients and employees to follow in her footsteps and treat people with dignity and respect. Hernández is truly unstoppable.

Kimia Khatami is extremely hard working and on track to accomplish many achievements for the rail industry. She is the director of customer service at Pacific Harbor Line and strives to create cohesion between external customers and the internal organization. While at Brigham Young University, Kimia participated in a fellowship in Uganda, where she worked on projects to help locals obtain access to savings accounts with the goal of decreasing wealth disparity – this is where she gained an increased appreciation for the role that infrastructure plays in successful economies. Khatami has executive board leadership positions on the Harbor Association of Industry and Commerce, the California Short Line Railroad Association and the Long Beach Chamber International Business Association. Kimia Khatami is truly the engine that enables the rail industry to run.

Julie Perlin Lee is a true leader in the arts. She is the executive director of the Catalina Island Museum and continues to bring creative and impactful exhibitions and programming to the island. She recently led the development of the museum’s Catalina Ambassador Program with Avalon School and a partnership with Chapman University. Prior to Catalina, Lee was the vice president of collections and exhibition development at the Bowers Museum. She has worked with institutions around the world on a broad range of exhibitions, including Terra Cotta Warriors. As a professor at Cal State Fullerton and Irvine Valley College, Lee instructed museum studies courses for anthropology and art majors.

Kathleen Martin is the chair of the homelessness committee for the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council and advocates for those whose voices are rarely heard. On the third Wednesday of every month, she can be found volunteering at the San Pedro Mobile Shower Event at San Pedro United Methodist Church. When San Pedro experienced a rash of hate crimes late last year, Martin reached out to elected officials, gathered statements denouncing hate and created a social media platform as a way to empower the community to stand up in the face of these heinous acts. She is an incredible community leader.

Cathy Martinez is an active resident who volunteers in the office of Vice Mayor Dee Andrews and is dedicated to making our community a great place to live and work. She is a graduate of the Neighborhood Leadership Program and strives to improve the community through civic engagement. Cathy brings resources to the community through community clean-ups, art projects and school events. Her ability to communicate in Spanish and English allows her to engage with diverse residents and encourage them to participate in a full range of community events. As a small business owner of a screen printing shop, Martinez is constantly donating her services back to the community. Every city and state needs a Cathy Martinez—a community advocate who empowers others to make a difference in their neighborhood.

Suzanne Morales is a dedicated community leader and advocate for all of California’s children. She served on the boards of Minnie Gant School PTA and the Long Beach Junior League. As a food service director, Morales ensures that schools provide nutritious meals and quality nutrition education guidance so that students can make healthy lifestyle choices and are ready to learn and ultimately “earn.” Morales has served a combined 25 years in local, state and national capacities for the School Nutrition Association, including three years as the California legislative chair. She is paving the way in school nutrition services.

Hemlata Momaya is the founder of Bal Jagat (Jaa got) – Children’s World Inc., an inter-country non-profit adoption agency in Long Beach. She has worked tirelessly to unite over 5,000 orphaned children with loving adoptive parents here in the U.S. for over 30 years. With a background in social work, Momaya has also opened a home for children with disabilities to receive physical and occupational therapies. “Auntie Hemlata” is a true hero in every sense of the word.

Suzanne Plezia is a hard-working leader committed to the growth of the Port of Long Beach. Suzanne is the first woman to be chief harbor engineer at the port, and her division is responsible for $4 billion worth of capital improvement projects, including the new Middle Harbor Container Terminal and the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge. She joined the port as an intern fresh out of college and worked her way up. She is a person of integrity and has a straightforward and collaborative management style. 

Dede Rossi served as the executive director of the Belmont Shore Business Association in Long Beach for 10 years. Whether it is at 10 a.m. or 10 p.m., she has been seen out on Second Street making sure that people are safe, and living and working in a clean environment. Rossi also was the assistant athletic director of development at Long Beach State University for over 20 years.

Alexandra Torres is the executive director of WINTER, Women In Non-Traditional Employment Roles. She strives to increase and improve the social and economic strength of women in Los Angeles County. She advocates for economic equity in the workplace and equal access to good paying jobs in the construction and building trades industry for women. She also makes recommendations to advisory boards and committees at the county, state and national level to ensure all women have a seat at the table. Her work around improving training for women in low-income communities and creating project labor agreements that are more inclusive of women makes our community stronger.

Pastor Lisa Williams is a tenacious and passionate activist for our unhoused community. Under William’s leadership, the San Pedro United Methodist Church is working to create a mixed-use affordable housing project on church property. She has also brought to the neighborhood  vaccination clinics, mobile showers and the Children’s Christmas Shopping Spree, where more than 450 youth choose gifts for the adult(s) in their lives. Pastor Williams is a trustee at Toberman Neighborhood Center, a member of Rotary San Pedro and serves on the quality of life committee for the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce.

Juanita Wilson, fondly known as Mama J, is a genuine community servant, who has made volunteerism a lifestyle. Every year, Juanita brings community members together to collect gently used and new jackets for underserved children in Long Beach. This year, Mama J’s Jacket Drive gave out nearly 300 jackets. She is also very active in the community through the Linden Roosevelt Historic District and the Long Beach in Your City News.

Jan Hall Zolin has been a tireless leader for the Long Beach community, Southern California and the State of California. She served as a strong leader and Long Beach councilwoman for 12 years. She also was the first woman to be elected as president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District. Continuing in the transportation field, Zolin went on to serve as a board member with Californians for Transportation and then became director of the Southern California Department of Commerce. She was inducted into the Long Beach Community College Hall of Fame in 1984. Zolin continues to be involved in local community issues.

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