The Santa Barbara County Commission for Women honored six women from across the region this Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting, noting their commitment to service and dedication to the community’s needs.
The supervisors additionally passed a resolution proclaiming March as Women’s History Month in Santa Barbara County.
The six women, coming from each county district, represent efforts to address a wide variety of issues, including youth outreach, racial inequity, and healing after sexual violence.
The Commission for Women has presented the awards since 1998, and in light of the pandemic, created a video ceremony in lieu of an in-person presentation. In addition to the six women honored, State Senator Monique Limón commended her predecessor, former state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, for her career-long work in promoting the well-being of women everywhere.
“We have an amazing group of women in this community to do the work that is needed to heal us, to make us strong, and to make us financially and emotionally independent, and hopefully at some point in the history of our country, to have total equality,” Commissioner Judy Weisbart told the supervisors.
Here are the award recipients from each district:
Meghann Torres, 1st District
Torres is a social worker and cofounder of Freedom 4 Youth, a local nonprofit which helps empower at-risk youth in the justice system through advocacy and mentorship. Torres also works with Casa Pacifica, which serves over 100 families daily facing homelessness or other behavioral and mental-health issues to keep children in their homes and communities.
Supervisor Das Williams commended Torres for working to help kids in the county who are most at risk, calling for a renewed focus in addressing youth discontentment during the pandemic.
“Our youth are not all right right now; they’re having real challenges,” Williams said. “To me, it is reassuring to have people like Meghann Torres … working to address those issues.”
Simone Akila Ruskamp and Krystle Farmer Sieghart, 2nd District
Ruskamp and Sieghart co-founded Healing Justice Santa Barbara, a Black-centered organizing collective that aims to uplift all Black people. Both Ruskamp and Sieghart are grassroots advocates, and Ruskamp is also the cofounder of the annual Juneteenth SB event.
Ruskamp shared that she first heard about the award the day after the white supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, and was overwhelmed because of her own experiences with police violence in Santa Barbrara.
“I know and believe that even though we have much to celebrate, there is much left to be done,” Ruskamp said.
Alejandra Mahoney, 3rd District
Mahoney is the director of education for People’s Self-Help Housing, an organization providing affordable housing, rental assistance, and other services to communities across Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura. As director of education, Mahoney works with students ranging from kindergarten to college age to support low-income students’ educational achievement.
Mahoney developed an after-school program through People’s Self-Housing, which Supervisor Joan Hartmann called a model for the rest of the country to follow in supporting students’ success in graduating high school and attending college.
“There is so much that has been done but so much left to do,” Mahoney said. “So here’s to the workers, immigrant women, my sisters, the students, and their mothers who are resilient and strong and work together to form amazing communities all through Santa Barbara County.”
Lisa Brown, 4th District
Brown’s daughter, Lexi, passed away from cancer in 2016, and Brown and her husband have made it their mission to carry on Lexi’s legacy through the Project Lexi Brown Foundation, which offers support for other families going through childhood cancer just as the Browns did.
“It’s not something I would like to be awarded for or honored for; it’s something that’s been given to me for her,” Brown said about carrying on the work Lexi started in raising awareness for childhood cancer.
Supervisor Bob Nelson called Brown a beloved member of the 4th District and an “untold comfort and hope” for families experiencing situations similar to what she experienced with Lexi.
“Her work with the families of children who are fighting childhood cancer is not an easy pursuit, but one that she does with a smile and with unending determination,” Nelson said.
Rev. Mary Moreno-Richardson, 5th District
Moreno-Richardson helps women recover from trauma through art in her work as the founder and director for the Guadalupe Art Project. She’s been recognized by the United Nations for her work to end trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border as director of the Resilience Program for migrant families of Tijuana.
“Through the Guadalupe Art Project, survivors of human trafficking paint themselves into the image of the divine,” she said. “To see a soul reclaim their inner strength through the healing power of art is truly rewarding.”
She also serves as a commissioner for Behavioral Wellness and board president for the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center.
Moreno-Richardson, along with several other award recipients and speakers from the Commission for Women, noted that the achievements recognized at the meeting are a stepping stone for the greater work to improve the lives of women across the county.