Women of the District
California’s 39th Senate District is home to many outstanding women who serve our communities, organizations and nonprofits. Every year, my legislative colleagues and I each select one woman from our districts to honor as part of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus “Woman of the Year.”
This year, I wanted to do even more. I turned to you for your help to identify other outstanding “Women of the District,” by inviting the community to nominate female leaders in the 39th Senate District. . Thank you for lending your voice to support the many women leaders that make our community so great.
Here is the 2022 list of outstanding “Women of the District.”
Woman of the Year
Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson, CEO and President, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest and Planned Parenthood Action Fund of the Pacific Southwest
Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson has served as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest since 2006. She leads one of the largest Planned Parenthood affiliates with 19 health centers in San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial counties, providing more than 240,000 patient visits throughout 19 health centers and via telehealth each year.
During her tenure at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Darrah has led the organization through some of its most challenging times and has built a strong foundation of excellence in health care, innovation, and dedication to staff engagement that will secure the fulfillment of Planned Parenthood’s mission for generations to come. Throughout her career, she has been a passionate advocate for dismantling the stigma and silence surrounding abortion and expanding access to abortion care no matter where you live. Darrah is a strong proponent of comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sex education, and believes it is essential in creating a world where every person has the opportunity to choose their own path to a healthy and meaningful life.
Darrah is committed to honoring PPPSW’s values of equity and justice and has consistently prioritized training on a variety of issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. PPPSW board members, executives, and staff continue to engage in opportunities for learning and self-growth, gain a deeper understanding of racism, and work to acknowledge the many biases in our country that impact access to health care and make racism a public health crisis.
In the face of unprecedented challenges and an ongoing pandemic, Darrah has led the charge to ensure PPPSW meets its goal of providing care, no matter what. She quickly launched a brand-new telehealth program, transitioned our educational system to online platforms, and made the necessary changes to ensure Planned Parenthood’s doors remain open to all who need access to high-quality and compassionate health care.
Darrah continues to dedicate her career to ensuring broad public access to sexual and reproductive health care through direct service, education, and advocacy.
Women of the District
Jamie Arangure is an immigrant, Founder and Executive Director of Proyecto Trans Latina San Diego, and VP of the San Diego chapter of Latino Outreach & Understanding Division (LOUD). She also serves as a humanitarian coordinator for the Border Butterflies Project (an LGBTQ+ border advocacy collaboration between Transgender Law Center and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement). Jamie is also a volunteer health service provider for Christie’s Place.
Laila Halima Aziz is a proven and trusted economic, social, and racial justice warrior. She currently serves as the Director of Operations for Pillars of the Community San Diego where her passion drives her to dismantle systemic racism, address the root causes of poverty, advocate for law enforcement accountability, violence prevention programs, criminal justice reform and much more.
Eve has been an enthusiastic community leader in Pacific Beach since 1974. She created PB’s first Block Party, served as PB Town Council president, then published a monthly PB-area newsmagazine for 8 years. She’s currently coordinator of the Garnet Block Captain Program (like Neighborhood Watch for businesses, co-sponsored by PBTC and PB Planning Group), helping to keep Garnet clean and green.
Kim Becker lives and breathes SAN’s brand promise to bring “Good Feelings, Nonstop.” This includes the $3 billion New T1 program that will replace Terminal 1 with a more efficient facility and enhance the passenger experience. During her tenure as President and CEO, SAN has been recognized for its fiscal stewardship and sustainability efforts, including being named the second-ever carbon neutral airport in North America.
Elida Chavez is a community advocate for economic and environmental justice, health equity and the arts. She is a sincere and genuine community organizer that promotes the unity of all cultures for solidarity to empower communities of concern. Presently, she continues to work with local groups interested in protecting Kumeyaay sacred land in our urban communities.
Cara Dessert is an attorney and the CEO of The San Diego LGBT Community Center with nearly 20 years in non-profit and social justice leadership. Dessert led The Center in expanding its housing services to a full range housing continuum. She is also a commissioner on the Healthy California for All Commission and the Leon L. Williams San Diego County Human Relations Commission.
JoAnn Fields is a strong advocate for communities of color. COVID-19 has magnified the lack of programs and services to serve the Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander community that motivated her to raise the visibility and needs of the API community. She has launched a professionals Filipino Networking Luncheon the Lumpia Club, Filipino COVID-19 Taskforce, and a series of online Community Townhalls to address API issues.
Prof. Olivia A. Graeve has spearheaded many programs to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minority students in science and engineering nationally and internationally, especially in the CaliBaja region in her role as Director of the CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems at UC San Diego. For her efforts, she was honored with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) in 2020.
Kathy was nominated for her many years in educating and providing cultural knowledge to the residents of San Diego for over 50 years. As a Kumu Hula (teacher) she as touched many people’s lives with her sharing of the Hawaiian culture. She has been instrumental in the perpetuation of a marginalized community in spaces where there have been none.
Ginger Hitzke is the President of Hitzke Development Corporation and is a first generation apartment builder and owner who is committed to providing high quality homes for lower income families and fixed income seniors. She is a tireless champion for renter protections and believes everyone deserves a stable home that they can afford.
Cheryl Houk has served as the Executive Director of Stepping Stone of San Diego, Inc. for over 27 years, providing addiction services focused on the LGBTQ+ population. She has been an advocate for the LGBTQ+ and HIV population since 1989 and devotes her life to providing services that continue to meet their needs.
Margaret Iwanaga Penrose
Margaret Iwanaga Penrose is President & CEO of Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC). She has dedicated nearly five decades to improving the lives of others in un-served and underserved communities. Since 1991, Margaret has led UPAC with “Courage, Compassion and Love,” providing mental health services, substance abuse treatment, problem gambling treatment, homeless outreach, response to acts of community violence, mentorship for gang-involved youth, counseling for first time home buyers and more. UPAC also responded to emergent needs including conducting 2020 Census outreach, distributing food and information during the pandemic, and preparing youth to participate in the social justice movement.
Candace Katungi, Ph.D.
Dr. Candace Katungi is an Associate Professor of Black Studies at San Diego Mesa College and an expert in African American women's history. She works with K-12 teachers to develop anti-racist curriculum and is involved in state-wide collaborations to support the growth of ethnic studies at California Community Colleges.
Elizabeth “Liz” Maland
San Diego City Clerk Elizabeth Maland is a consummate public servant, selfless leader, and an advocate for her profession. She knows the important influence the clerk can have in every day governance and is the bridge between the government and the governed. Despite a global pandemic, City Clerk Maland ensured that City Hall was open, transparent, and accessible.
Caroline McKeown, Ph.D
Caroline McKeown is a neuroscientist at Scripps Research where she studies brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases, mentors students, and volunteers on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee. She is passionate about her community, having served on the Normal Heights Community Planning Group for 8 years, and is a fierce advocate for young women, volunteering as a Girl Scout leader and a girls softball coach.
Paloma Adriana Mohn
Paloma Adriana Mohn (She/Her/Hers), is a Community Health Advocate and Transgender Female Warrior. She began her career in healthcare as a Case Worker for the Minority Aids Initiative and is currently a Clinical Research Coordinator at a Federally Qualified Health Center. For over 15 years, she has been the impetus of advocacy for the health needs of diverse and underserved populations.
Gretchen Newsom is a mother, community leader, and a fierce advocate for women and working families. She is the Political Director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 569 and organizes efforts to invest in local, good-paying jobs, workforce development, civic engagement, and renewable energy. As an Ocean Beach resident and former Town Council president, Gretchen remains committed to preserving and improving community resources and a sustainable local economy.
A child to working-class Vietnamese refugees and granddaughter to a prisoner of war, Nancy Nguyen understands the multigenerational impact of war and violence and the strength of community-led institutional change. As PANA’s Civic Engagement Organizer, she works to build BIPOC youth-led political power and leads the organization's election/voting-related efforts that advance immigrant/refugee needs locally and across the state.
Lisa Nordquist-Johnson is dedicated to community wellbeing. As volunteer board member and cluster co-chair at SDUSD schools, D6 Small Business champion, Community Planning board member, smart growth advocate, and co-founder/chair of the Coastal Canyon Fire Safe Council, for 15 years Lisa has been an activist for the welfare of San Diego residents.
Pegah K. Parsi, JD, MBA
Pegah Parsi is the inaugural chief privacy officer for UC San Diego. She is passionate about data ethics and privacy as human rights and civil liberties issues. She serves as a volunteer and board member for the #AfghanEvac coalition and sits on the San Diego Military, Veterans, and Families Advisory Board. She also supports the arts and sits on the board of a local non-profit theater.
Carolina Alcoser Ramos
A native San Diegan working at the San Diego LGBT Community Center as the Client Crisis Responder & Community Advocate. Carolina started as a volunteer in 1990 and as staff in 2004. She works as an advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, and to address health disparities in LGBT and Latino communities. She currently serves on the sheriff’s advisory committee speaking up for inmates who are detained, making sure they are receiving their human rights are respected.
Hanan Scrapper is a mission-driven leader working to ensure that marginalized San Diegans have a safe space to call home. Currently PATH San Diego’s regional director, Hanan has spent the past 16 years helping people overcome adversities caused by institutional racism, homelessness, domestic violence, political torture, and human trafficking.
Laramie R. Smith, PhD
Dr. Laramie R. Smith (she/her) is a queer scientist at UC San Diego and faculty lead for the Center for AIDS Research Transgender/Nonbinary Community Advisory Board. In partnership with community leaders her research aims to combat stigma, empower community-driven innovation, and improve access to HIV and harm reduction services in San Diego County and beyond.
Lynn Susholtz is an artist, community activist, educator and founder of Art Produce, a non-profit community cultural center and Stone Paper Scissors, a public art studio. An advocate for increased access and equity in arts and education, Lynn works locally to develop economic, social and cultural resources for youth and families.
Cheryl Wilson served as the CEO at St. Paul’s Senior Services for over 30 years. Her passion & tenacity have transformed St. Paul’s from a small independent living community to a revolutionary San Diego landmark in senior care. Her dedication to senior healthcare has led her to be a past Chair of Leading Age California, Board member of the Global Aging Network, & cofounder of San Diego Senior Alliance.