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From the Mayor's Desk

Mayor Gloria Honors Liz Ramírez and Other Influential ‘Women of Distinction’


women of distinction 2024

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Mayor Todd Gloria today honored Liz Ramírez, president and CEO of the Chicano Federation of San Diego County, as this year’s citywide “Woman of Distinction.” Ramírez and nine other women, nominated by their City Councilmembers, were honored during Tuesday’s City Council meeting for their leadership, accomplishments and service to San Diego 

Led by Ramírez, the Chicano Federation is a 55-year-old organization that sits at the forefront of equity and access for historically disadvantaged communities, touching the lives of more than 50,000 individuals and families annually.    

“Liz Ramírez has been a leader in our community for years, fully committed to serving and improving the lives of children, youth and families,” said Mayor Todd Gloria. “And after the severe storm and flash flooding that devastated some of our communities, she exemplified the best of our city when she and the Chicano Federation stepped up to help affected residents, serving as a conduit for information from my office and the City and County to make sure residents knew what help was available and how to access it.” 

This “Women of Distinction” ceremony was initiated by Mayor Gloria three years ago to recognize exceptional women in San Diego and to thank them for what they do to make the City a better place for all of us.  


The 2024 Women of Distinction 

Liz Ramírez: With more than a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector, Liz Ramírez is committed to serving and improving the lives of children, youth, and families in San Diego County and beyond. Raised on both sides of the border in the Imperial Valley, Liz comes from a low-income, immigrant, and first-generation household. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC San Diego and pursued a master’s degree in educational counseling to address equity gaps in education, particularly those affecting historically underserved youth. 

Ramírez currently serves as the President and CEO of Chicano Federation, a 55-year-old organization that sits at the forefront of equity and access for these same communities, touching the lives of more than 50,000 individuals and families annually. 

The Chicano Federation has an array of programs to make a positive impact on the day-to-day lives of San Diego families, including their child nutrition program, housing program, workforce and business development program, and community resource center. Though its programming, the Federation supports more than 12,000 families with child centered services, provides more than 4 million meals for children, and reaches more than 22,000 people annually through their advocacy and community efforts. The Federation helps house more than 600 tenants through their housing programs. In addition, they have graduated more than 300 people from their workforce development programs. 

As a member of Mayor Gloria’s Latinx Advisory Board, Ramírez provided feedback and helped shape and champion the Mayor’s housing policies, such as his recently passed Housing Action Package 2.0. 

Margaret Leinen (Council District 1 Honoree): Margaret Leinen, appointed director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in 2013, is a renowned oceanographer and leader in global climate and environmental issues. Her research focuses on paleo-oceanography and paleo-climatology, contributing to understanding Earth's history and climate. Leinen's extensive career includes roles at the National Science Foundation and as vice provost at the University of Rhode Island. She has founded nonprofit organizations and served as a U.S. science envoy. Leinen holds multiple prestigious fellowships and is a member of various scientific organizations. She earned her doctorate in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island in 1980. 

Kim Becker (Council District 2 Honoree): Kim Becker assumed the role of president and CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority in 2017, where she directs operations and manages both annual and capital budgets. Notably, she has overseen significant projects such as the $3 billion Terminal 1 development, positioning the airport as a leader in sustainable practices. With a career spanning more than three decades in aviation, Becker's leadership has garnered recognition, including prestigious awards like “Woman of the Year” and “CEO of the Year, Government.” Her deep expertise in aviation operations and policy, coupled with her commitment to innovation, continues to benefit the San Diego region, solidifying her reputation as a visionary leader in the industry. 

Teresa Smith (Council District 3 Honoree): Teresa Smith founded Dreams for Change in 2009 to address first-time homelessness, particularly stemming from the Great Recession. She pioneered the Safe Parking model for individuals and families living in their vehicles, now replicated nationwide. Smith's work extends to social enterprise employment training and implementing the City of San Diego's Safe Sleeping Program. Her accolades include the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award and TEDx speaker recognition. Smith holds degrees in psychology, nonprofit leadership and human sciences, with military service coordinating mental health services in the U.S. Army Reserves. 

Denise Matthis (Council District 4 Honoree): Denise Matthis is the owner / broker of DEM Financial Services & Real Estate, specializing in promoting community pride through homeownership and building generational wealth. With numerous certifications including SRES, CRS, ABR and more, Matthis is dedicated to assisting clients with various real estate needs, from first-time homebuyers to seniors and distressed property sales. She leads a team of more than 10 professionals, emphasizing "Democracy in Housing." Actively engaged in real estate associations, Matthis has received several accolades, including Volunteer REALTOR® of the Year by SDAR and the “Distinguished Woman of Color” award from the NAACP. She held leadership roles in various real estate organizations, including president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, San Diego Chapter, and California Association of Real Estate Brokers (CAREB). Matthis was appointed as a director for the California Association of Black Real Estate Professionals (CABREP). 

Cynthia Collins (Council District 5 Honoree): For 21 years, Cynthia Collins has dedicated herself to the Girl Scouts of America, initially as a volunteer and now as the leader of the Scripps Ranch Service Unit for the past 14 years. Her leadership has been pivotal in nurturing numerous troops and guiding young girls through community-service initiatives. Collins’ active involvement extends beyond Girl Scouts, as she and her husband Bill have supported various community events through their business, Collins Family Jewelers, for more than four decades. Recognized for her exceptional commitment, Collins received the Scripps Ranch Civic Association's Community Service Award in 2015 and was honored as a Distinguished Volunteer in 2016, serving as a role model not only for Scripps Ranch but also for District 5 and the entire city.   

Carol Kim (Council District 6 Honoree): After graduating from UCLA in 1998, Carol Kim began her career as a classroom teacher in an inner-city school in Los Angeles. She later transitioned to working in HIV prevention, serving high-risk groups including active and recovering substance users, adolescents in the foster care and judicial systems, LGBTQ communities and communities of color. Kim then moved into research and advocacy roles in education and public health, eventually becoming the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and CEO of the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation. She is also actively involved in various labor-affiliated nonprofits and community organizations, serving on multiple boards. Additionally, Kim is a mother of two children. 

Amy Zink (Council District 7 Honoree): Amy Zink, Bayside Environmental Learning Center program manager, has been deeply involved in the Linda Vista community since 2008 and with Bayside Community Center since 2013. With a background in business management and horticultural therapy, Zink has played a pivotal role in revitalizing the Linda Vista Community Garden, leveraging her expertise in program development, community engagement and urban farming practices. Her dedication has led to the establishment of the first community garden under the City of San Diego guidelines in Linda Vista Community Park, with a vision to expand such initiatives citywide to address food insecurity and foster community connection and empowerment.   

Dotty Giffen (Council District 8 Honoree): Dotty Giffen, born in Jersey City, N.J., spent her childhood between Hoboken and Andover, N.J., as the fifth child in a family of three brothers and one sister. With a diverse academic background from institutions like the University of New Mexico and Seton Hall University, she pursued majors in education and archaeology. For more than four decades, Giffen dedicated herself to teaching students of all ages, finding fulfillment in nurturing young minds. Now retired, she channels her energy into volunteering and community service, earning recognition such as the Golden Oak award from the PTA and the Silver Beaver award from the Boy Scouts. Currently serving as the president of the Otay Mesa Advisory Board, Giffen continues to make a meaningful impact through her commitment to education and community improvement. 

Nao Kabashima (Council District 9 Honoree): Nao Kabashima is the co-founder and executive director of Karen Organization of San Diego (KOSD). She is originally from Japan and first came to the U.S. as a graduate student. After she earned her master’s degree in political science at California State University, Chico, in 2008, she began volunteering for the Refugee Resettlement Program at Jewish Family Service of San Diego and started to meet with many Karen and Karenni refugee families from Burma. In 2009, she co-founded KOSD with Karen community leaders to meet the urgent needs of refugees from Burma in San Diego. She served as the secretary and chair of the San Diego Refugee Forum in 2012 and 2013 and is currently serving the Partnership for Advancement of New Americans (PANA) as a board chair.