WomenView – Outstanding Women of Stanislaus County 2023

Stanislaus County Commission Outstanding Women Award Winners
By Ruhi Sheikh

The Stanislaus County Commission for Women is an organization seeks to support all women in attaining their goals. We advocate for more women in positions of leadership, whether in the area of philanthropy, business, non-profit, sports, science and technology, education, public office or other areas. Our goals include initiating and deepening collaborations with other organizations and groups that work to support women and children in Stanislaus County.Connecting, to
create fun and joyful opportunities for women to connect and socialize as a way to build community and provide emotional support and to communicate, utilizing our newsletter and social media presence to elevate the voices of women most affected by the myriad crises at hand.

About the Commission
Our Beliefs and Values:
– To promote an awareness of issues that concern women of all ages, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic background , and beliefs.
– To promote knowledge of individual women’s strengths and resources and to support women in the pursuit of their individual choices and goals.
– To validate and celebrate the achievements of women collectively and individually.
– To support legislation and programs that address the needs of all women and children.
As a Commission, we support:
– Pro-Choice and reproductive rights
– Gender pay equity
– Adequate funding for women and children’s health issues and research
– Ending violence against women
– Adequate, safe, and affordable child care and child care issues
– Anti-discrimination based on sexual orientation

Annually we celebrate women and young women through our Outstanding Women of Stanislaus County Award. These women have shown efforts to support women & children in our community. This year we honored 9 women and 4 young women. Our young women awardees will also be given a scholarship towards their educational goals.
This year’s class of award winners is exceptional, to say the least. Our community is truly well served by the work being done by all of our award recipients and we are proud to honor them with this year’s Outstanding Women of Stanislaus County Award.

Ana Andrade
Patterson resident Ana Andrade is a tireless advocate for women and children in the work she does with Project Sentinel, a non-profit organization that assists individuals with housing discrimination, evictions, and rental issues. She also has worked as an advocate for young women with Invest in Me, providing them with self-empowerment and leadership skills. She presents to community organizations about tenant rights and advocates for housing policies to benefit immigrant families in our community. Ms. Andrade is a member of the Stanislaus Latino Giving Circle, investing in local Latino led non-profit groups that increase civic engagement in underserved communities. Her professional career includes working as a Deputy Probation Officer.
Katie Barber
Katie Barber is the co-founder of the Modesto Children’s Museum, dedicating the last three
years to establishing this world-class and valuable institution, which will expand education
opportunities for children and families and plans to open in 2023. As president of the non-
profit’s board, Ms. Barber mobilized volunteers to raise funds and write grants to create a
museum so that every child has access to all its activities, regardless of income, language, or
ability. It will provide resources to educators as well as families, such as, parenting workshops
and early childhood education services. In addition, she raised funds to refurbish the Graceada
Park pool and splashpad in honor of her late son Ryan Barber, benefitting children throughout
the community. She is also a member of Soroptimist International.
Annie Benisch
Annie Benisch grew up in Modesto and works at Boyett Petroleum. She directs the company’s annual Make Dreams Real event, raising $250,000 for distribution to children’s causes in our community and chairing the grants committee to decide how to spend the money. Ms. Benisch participates in numerous community programs: DOMO Murals, Gallo Center for the Arts, and the Education Foundation of Stanislaus County. She was named the Most Outstanding New Member of Modesto Sunrise Rotary, where she chairs the social committee, helping with the Community Christmas Tree and Crab Feed. She supports Opera Modesto guest artists and Modesto Nuts season players by hosting them in her home. She was an active member of Omega Nu for several years and a member of the Almond Leadership program.
Dina Brambila
Turlock resident Dina Brambila believes every child should have the opportunity to live a healthy life and continually educates herself with the most recent information to better our community. She works for Modesto City Schools as Franklin Elementary’s Healthy Start Administrator, developing support services to create a safe and healthy community. She serves as a board member for the Hispanic Leadership Council and Central Valley Hispanic Foundation, is a Soroptimist volunteer, and formerly was a board member of Mujeres Latinas of Stanislaus. Since 2019, Ms. Brambila has traveled to Uganda as a missionary volunteer, assisting physicians with medical services, teaching yoga classes and making mental health presentations for refugees.

Maria Cortez

Maria Cortez from Turlock is the Central Valley Regional Director for Able Works, a non-profit working for economic justice in Northern California. She has over 18 years of experience working with non-profit and leadership development organizations and has dedicated her career to serving youth and underserved communities. Sheserves as a board member for City Ministry Network and believes in empowering others to reach their goals. She works closely with its Latino Leadership Initiative to develop the next generation of compassionate, collaborative leaders in our community. Ms. Cortez is also a member of Love Stanislaus County’s Community Advisory Committee and was named the 2021 Empowerment Woman of the year by Modesto Junior College.

Jeani Ferrari
Turlock resident Jeani Ferrari has a history of organizing and creating projects to better the entire community, including land use, the arts, Turlock library, and its downtown. In 1999, she started the non-profit Farmland Working Group to share information with the public about the loss of farmland, leading to the passage of Stanislaus County’s Measure E, which protects agricultural land from development. She served on the committee to redesign Turlock’s Main Street, and later assisted with the establishment of the non-profit Turlock Certified Farmers Market. Ms. Ferrari was instrumental in remodeling the Carnegie Arts Center by raising funds and revitalizing the work after a serious fire. She also worked to add an oncology unit at Emanuel Medical Center and helped raise funds to create cardiovascular surgery suites there.
Chelsea Foy
Modestan Chelsea Foy is a founding board member of Modesto Children’s Museum, serving as its chair of marketing and programming. Since 2019, the board has raised over $8 million that will go directly towards improving the lives of children and families as they visit the museum and participate in its programs. Ms. Foy has dedicated herself to creative arts, including home décor, music, and drama, providing inspiration via her website and publications. After a career as a choral director and traveling musical theater performer, she has been active with Yes Company and the Downtown Modesto Partnership. She is also a member of Soroptimist International. In 2018, she was named Soroptimist of the Year and one of Modesto Bee’s 20 Under 40 honorees.
Tahmirah Mecca
Tahmirah Mecca lives in Patterson and graduated from Invest in Me’s first cohort in 2013. She returned to the organization as a volunteer and works to help women collaborate for their personal and professional advancement. One activity she facilities is Love Notes, during which young women learn about establishing healthy relationships and developing the tools to navigate them. Ms. Mecca also helped to plan annual conferences, encouraging the participants to contribute to the program, providing them a voice and confidence in their leadership potential. As a first-generation college student, she serves as a model for girls and seeks a career in public policy to bring equitable resources to the Central Valley so that it is a community of choice and a place where residents can thrive.
Shabnam Mujaddidi
Shabnam Mujaddidi is a refugee from Afghanistan who helps others with similar experiences. She is a student leader in Hambastagizanan (Women United), a group at Modesto Junior College that helps Afghan women refugees recognize and overcome the challenges they experience as new residents and students. She translates for the group and is committed to helping them adjust to life here. She was also invited to speak to MJC’s chancellor and board of trustees as a representative of Hambastagizanan. Ms. Mujaddidi helps welcome newly arrived refugees at community gatherings in Modesto and Turlock, also providing local leaders with short expressions in Dari to assist them with communication. She takes responsibility as the oldest woman in her household for her four younger siblings, in addition to her community work, serving as a model of strength and persistence for them.

Outstanding Young Women Awardees

Dhara Patel
Dhara Patel is a Modesto High senior in the International Baccalaureate program who is involved with many student activities, including Academic Decathlon and California Girls State. She is the student representative to Modesto City Schools’ Board of Education, representing all 30,000 students in the district. She maintains a high GPA and participates in track and cross country.
She also created the Stanislaus County Volunteer Outreach Program club, which organizes and funds volunteer opportunities. Ms. Patel is known as a student with integrity who will follow through and succeed. She thinks beyond her own life and experiences, looking for ways to help others.
Ameena Pierstorff
Enochs High senior Ameena Pierstorff is an outstanding student involved in extracurricular and community volunteer opportunities. She is the school Photojournalism Editor and chief staff photographer for the yearbook, contributing to her school’s winning many journalism awards. She is on the varsity swim team. Ms. Pierstorff volunteers by serving on Stanislaus County’s Youth Empowerment Team and Modesto’s Youth Commission, concerned with youth mental health and programs that impact young people in our community. She has volunteered in political campaigns and coached special needs youth for the Miracle League. Her goal is to pursue a degree in psychology and advocate for students who face mental health challenges.
Hannah Sahota
Hannah Sahota is a senior at Turlock High who is concerned with helping young girls gain access to math and science education. Inspired to study STEM herself by Dr.Viji Sundar, she was determined that the programs Dr. Sundar established did not disappear after her death, and so she founded Hannah’s Project, securing partnerships and funding from AAUW and Dignity Health. The project sponsored a young student to attend math and science camp. In addition, she participates in Stanislaus County Office of Education’s Leadership Academy, supports Birthday Cakes for Babies at Mercy Medical Center, and is the host of a radio show titled, “Empowerment and Equality.” She is passionate about women’s health issues and plans a career as an OB-GYN.
Audrey Smallwood
Senior Audrey Smallwood is a two-sport athlete who maintains excellent grades at Turlock High. She co-founded Kitchens for Change, a club dedicated to tackling food insecurity in the Turlock community. She worked with chefs and used her family’s restaurant kitchen to make meals, plus raise over $18,000 to provide food for needy families. At a young age, Ms. Smallwood participated in a Jessica’s House grief support group and now serves as youth ambassador for its Healing Hearts Capital Campaign, which has raised almost $7 million to build a new grief support center. She also volunteers as a group facilitator for children experiencing loss of a loved one and is inspired by her work there to someday lead a grief support center herself.


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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.