Congratulations to Our 2019 Orange County Women of Influence Award Winners!


Champion of Women Award Winner

LaLa Castro and Tanya Salcido were brought together by a common passion — the love of technology and all things digital. With backgrounds in marketing, E-commerce and social media, these early adopters of tech discovered a lack of tech-related resources for Latina-focused communities online. It was at that pivotal moment LatinaGeeks was born, a 501(c)(3) with the mission of empowering and inspiring Latinas by sharing technical knowledge and business skills through hands-on workshops and community events.

In recent years, women have accounted for 57% of all professional occupations, yet they held only 25% of all computing occupations. The numbers are even lower when considering women of color. Latinas hold a mere 1% of these jobs.

Additionally, there are fewer women found in software development, technology leadership, or the other key roles that have a significant influence on future innovation. With these statistics in mind, #LatinaGeeks designed the “Latinas Learn to Code” program to help bridge the gender gap in the tech programming industry and introduced a scholarship program for college students, so that they may attend coding or marketing workshops free of charge.

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jacque davis

Gamechanger Award Winner

Jacque Davis, CPA is the COO & CFO of the rapidly growing 24Hr HomeCare, a 4,000-employee provider of non-medical homecare to clients in California, Texas, and Arizona.

She oversees all aspects of operations, business intelligence, finance & accounting, real estate and insurance. Prior to coming to 24 Hr Home Care, Jacque left her impact at Mattel, Toyota, Rotten Tomatoes, SnapChat, KPMG and MySpace.

Process Improvement is a term near and dear to Jacque’s heart and she has implemented numerous systems and programs to improve service delivery, profitability and customer service in addition to making strategic hires to improve the strength of her team.

A past employee noted: Through Jacque, I learned that caring for others at a human level can bring the best out of them. Her love for people and having the back of her team brings out the best and fosters a trusted and focus-driven environment.

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Catalyst for Change Award Winner

Kevin Walton is a Systems Engineer for the Boeing Company and serves on their Women in Leadership team where he advocates, mentors and recruits women for leadership roles throughout Boeing.

Kevin is also a United States Air Force  Veteran, husband to his wife, Romy (also a veteran), and father to their two daughters. Aside from Kevin’s commendable work with Boeing’s Women In Leadership team, Kevin has been a Foundation for Women Warriors Ambassador for over a year.

As an ambassador, Kevin attended the highly regarded Bush Institute Stand To Leadership program. In this 6-month leadership program Kevin advocated for the unique needs of women veterans in their transition and in corporate America. He traveled from El Segundo to various locations across the US one week a month for six months, sacrificing personal and family time to advocate for the mission of Foundation for Women Warriors, women veterans, and serve as a role model to other men.

Kevin’s passion and advocacy was published in article by the Bush Institute and he was invited to sit on the Bush Institute’s women’s initiative panel to discuss how men could better support women in their communities and work place.

Kevin says he can think of no better way to thank women veterans for their service, than to contribute to their success in the civilian sector. Kevin has shown by deed, actions and accomplishment the advancement of other businesswomen through his mentoring and support at Boeing, but also as an esteemed advocate for women veterans through his volunteer work with Foundation for Women Warriors.

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Woman to Watch Award Winner

Gina Heitkamp, an active member of the UCI Applied Innovation ecosystem, is paving a path to help young girls get excited about science, technology, engineering and math.

Along with her sister, Jenae Heitkamp, Gina created GenGirl Media, Inc., a toy and media company that focuses on encouraging young girls to take an early interest in entrepreneurship. Through GenGirl she created Middle School Moguls, a multimedia brand that motivates young girls and inspires them to become moguls themselves.

Nickelodeon recently approved the Middle School Moguls brand to premiere as an animated series on the network. Based off GenGirl Media’s Middle School Mogul dolls, the show chronicles the ambitions of four new friends striving to create their own companies while attending Mogul Academy, an entrepreneurial school where kid-business dreams come true.

According to Gina, “We want to inspire young girls and help them understand that no career is off-limits. This show is a great platform to help girls ‘mogulize’ and learn entrepreneurship firsthand and at an early age.”

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Dawn S Reese Headshot 2016 - Photo by Edie Layland

Woman Breaking Barriers Award Winner

Dawn Reese, Chief Executive Officer of The Wooden Floor, is a social innovator who leverages her unique blend of experience in business, technology, education and the arts to propel young people forward.

The Wooden Floor transforms the lives of young people in low-income communities through the power of dance and access to higher education.  During Dawn’s ten-year tenure, the organization’s budget has grown from $2.1M to $3.45M and she has led efforts to take its model national by signing their first licensed partner in Washington, DC in November 2015.

In addition, a second location of The Wooden Floor opened April 2018 at the Depot at Santiago, a workforce housing community in Santa Ana, through an innovative partnership with C&C Development which increases the after school student body to nearly 500 year-round children.

The Wooden Floor is forced to turn away nearly 80 percent of the students who wish to enroll due to space constraints. Dawn has turned her focus now to helping the organization open and pre-fund a third location to serve a total of 600 students year-round, who desperately need a path to higher education to break their family’s cycle of poverty.

Since 2005, 100% of the seniors who graduate from The Wooden Floor immediately enroll in higher education.

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Cyndi_Karapogosian_Headshot High Res

Women’s Advocate of the Year Award Winner

With more than 20 years of experience in the staffing industry, Cyndi Karapogosian has a true passion for connecting talent with opportunities. She has been recognized at Robert Half’s annual event, Reach for the Stars, which honors high-level achievements, has received many company awards and personally managed the company’s largest project to date, generating over 60M in revenue between multiple divisions.

Cyndi consistently ranks in the top 20% of growth within the company, making her a standout among the company’s 16,000 employees. Cyndi lives by her business moto: “Win the Week”, which focuses on having a successful week by growing the business TODAY.

In an industry committed to connecting individuals with meaningful careers, Cyndi is especially dedicated to empowering women. She is a leader for the company-wide annual suit drive which partners with Dress for Success to benefit women who are entering or re-entering the workforce.

She is also a board member of Working Wardrobes, a nonprofit that strives to empower men, women, Veterans, and young adults overcoming difficult challenges to confidently enter the workforce.

As a mother of a visually impaired child, Cyndi is an advocate for her, and other children with similar disabilities within the Los Alamitos school district.

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President’s Award Winner

Shelly Rufin is an Author, Speaker, TV personality, and Expert College Planner and has seen the words college planner defined numerous ways over the years. With more than three decades of real-life in-the trenches college planning experience and knowledge, her view is radically different.

According to Shelly, college planning is for everybody, everyday, one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. She is known for her EDFIN Cash for College Programs and EDFIN TV/Radio Show and her expert knowledge of Federal and State regulations and local policies makes her the best in her field. Shelly’s straight forward approach and proven strategies have led to her client’s early admissions acceptance to top-notch Ivy League schools with financial awards ranging from a minimum of $19,500 to maximum $69,000 per academic year.

She holds several degrees and is pursuing her PhD in Psychology Industrial Organization. She’s an advocate and a service to her community by voluntarily educating families on the importance of early college planning at local schools, special events, and speaking engagements.

She received the LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from President Barack Obama for her lifelong commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service.

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Erin Williamson2

Author of Influence Award Winner

Erin Williamson has been a full time Realtor since 1993.

She is extremely proud of building her career one client at a time into a thriving repeat and referral business that continues to grow year after year.

She has been nominated in the top 4% of Realtors in Orange County and is in the top 2% Nationwide for her sales volume.

An Orange County native, Erin is the happily married mother of three young sons. She was inspired to enact change after losing a friend in the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting and then losing her Anaheim Hills home in the Canyon Fire 2.

In her book “It’s Just Stuff,” Erin recounts the heartbreaking events of her life in a way that puts everything in perspective.

Her positive outlook allows her to connect the challenges of life with the obstacles she faces in the real estate industry.

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Emerging Woman Owned Business Award Winner

Joan Smith is a mother of 3 and CPA turned date farmer.  She founded her Company Rancho Meladuco Dates in 2015 at the urging of friends and family who had enjoyed her delicious dates for years.

When her youngest child turned 4, Joan decided it was time to give it a go.  As a mother she understands the need for more nutrient dense foods in the American diet.

She is committed to helping reduce food insecurity in her community and regularly donates produce to local food banks and fundraises for charities that fight childhood hunger.

Since launching her brand her dates have quickly developed a passionate following. They are carried in more than 25 stores and are featured in many major food and lifestyle magazines, as well as Oprah Magazine’s O List.

Joan says these past years have been a journey of small miracles not without its struggles, lessons and mistakes.

The part of the journey she has enjoyed the most is in challenging her own notions of her abilities. She has chosen to adopt an attitude of “why not?” and then, “why not me?”

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Lifetime Legacy Award Winner

When Annette Walker was tapped to become President, City of Hope Orange County in 2018, few people were surprised. She is the type of focused and visionary leader that our community needs to take on a challenge as big as fighting cancer.

One of Walker’s first moves was to do what she has always done in 30 years of health care leadership–bring people together. Her vision is for City of Hope and partnering health providers to come together and focus on solutions to what has become a nationwide epidemic.

Walker is building a $300 million best-in-class, comprehensive cancer network in Orange County, with the “hub” near the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Walker has long spoken of the lack of women health care CEOs and board chairs, and in the past year, she has taken this message across the U.S. She contends real health reform will be more women in health care leadership.

Despite her demanding schedule, Walker is a dedicated sponsor of young leaders, especially women. Walker also takes time to serve on multiple boards and has received many of health care and business leadership’s highest honors.

Practicing what she preaches regarding work-life balance, Walker always puts her large, fun-loving family first. They can often be seen helping out at events to improve the community and offering assistance to those less fortunate than themselves.

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Jane Killer

Veteran of Influence Award Winner

Jane Duong Killer is the Assistant Director of the Veteran Services Center at the University of California, Irvine and is a veteran of the United States Army Reserve where she served as a medic.

At UCI, she serves on the leadership team of the Faculty & Staff Veteran Affinity Group and the Asian American Pacific Islander Staff Association. Jane has turned her own personal struggle into her passion; to provide student veterans and their dependents with access to the proper resources to support their academic success.

Jane’s profound commitment to students who may be the first in their families to attend college has helped countless student veterans successfully complete their degree and gain a fulfilling career after their service.

As a Chinese/Vietnamese American woman, Jane is the first descendant in her family to attend college and hold a graduate degree. She was raised by a STRONG single mother, Nina Duong, who fled Vietnam at the age of 16 by sneaking into a small fishing boat at the end of the Vietnam War.

None of Jane’s achievements would have been possible without this courageous act taken by her mother to seek a better life in America.

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Connected Woman of Influence Award Winner

As an international coach, Deborah Thorne helps motivated women of a certain age transition from employee to entrepreneur, by demystifying business principles and systems, all while encouraging them to do business like a woman, not like a man – or as she says,  She E.O. …not C.E.O.™

In 2017, she escorted a group of women to the Caribbean to explore what it means to do international business. The trip was so successful, the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism invited them back later this year.

An international author, she has written more than eight books; including FEAR, The Real “F” Word and Bullying? We Don’t Tolerate Bullying.  Deborah’s SUE Talk, “I is Smart  I is Kind  I is Important” was featured at the Los Angeles SUE Talks.

Like many entrepreneurs, Deborah wears more than one hat.  She is a certified mediator, anti-bullying expert and Chief Conflict Resolution Specialist with Kids First Conflict Resolution and Training Services.

She also teaches children as young as five, what to do in case of an active shooter, a training she call a necessary evil. She volunteers as an Education Rights Holder for children in foster and other dependent care, who have learning challenges.

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Orange County Women of Influence Award Past Winners


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