An educator, a businesswoman and a longtime nurse were recently highlighted at an awards ceremony as the three Latinas of the Year by the nonprofit Latina Leaders of Kern County. The annual award is based on nominations, which are then reviewed by the organization's board that narrows the recognition to three and is meant to highlight the achievements and leadership of local Hispanic women in Kern County, said Norma Rojas-Mora, president of Latina Leaders of Kern County and a program director with the Kern County Housing Authority.

The awardees were Aida Molina, Norma Diaz and Lucy Zarate. Molina serves on the State Board of Education, the governing body of the California Department of Education, and is executive director of Academic Improvement and Accountability for the Bakersfield City School District. Many may know Norma Diaz for her athletic prowess as she is a local active runner, swimmer, golfer and cyclist but this time, she was recognized for running La Rosa Fruit Bars & Ice Cream, which was passed down to her from her parents who also attended the sold-out 11th annual awards ceremony. Zarate has worked as a nurse at Kern Medical Center and the Delano Regional Medical Center. She is now a day nurse educator at Delano regional and will soon start work as a diabetes nurse educator. At the event, Dolores Huerta, who was in attendance, was also honored for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in May.

In addition, special recognition went to Leticia Perez, a staffer for Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, for being the first Latina elected to the Kern County Board of Supervisors and Connie Perez, a partner with Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corporation, for being appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Lottery Commission. Perez is also the treasurer of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

SCHOLARSHIP AWARD

As a former undergrad who survived college in large part through scholarships, I know firsthand the honor and humbleness a student feels when he or she is given such an award. I saw those feelings recently when more than a dozen local students received a scholarship from the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Education Foundation last week at the Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center. The students spoke of gratitude, college plans and dreams.

Kern County Superior Court Judge Robert Tafoya, the keynote speaker, advised students to never stop learning, as it will translate into greater wisdom leading to academic, career and personal success. Jay Tamsi, CEO/President of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the students who are from various parts of the county, including Arvin, Bakersfield, Delano, Lamont, Shafter, and Wasco, were evaluated academic achievement and community involvement, among other things.

The honorees were: Nicole Nalupa, Cal State Bakersfield; Blanca Perez, Montana State University; Teresa Torres, UC Davis; Arturo Guzman and Onyx Mora, both who will attend Taft College; Karina Fundez, Denise Guerra, and Margarito Guzman, Irvine; and Maria Ayala, Yesenia Ayala, Emilio Garcia, Destiny Jimenez, and Yesenia Sedano, Bakersfield College.

PEOPLE TO WATCH

Keep an eye out for Larry Velasquez, who was promoted this year to senior vice president for Rabobank in Bakersfield. He has been quite busy with his role, overseeing 12 branches in the region that includes Bakersfield, Visalia, Tulare and Fresno. The Central Valley native moved to the Bakersfield a year and a half ago. Rabobank officials say Velasquez played an important role in the establishing the five Bakersfield branches. "I find Bakersfield very similar to many Central Valley cities," said Velasquez. "But, as I heard early on and have now seen for myself, it's that people who make it special."

He notes that Rabobank enjoys working with clients interested in investing in a new business.

However, he has some advice: Build a solid business plan; have the right amount of capital to start your business; and seek financial advice.

"Too many times, good businesses fail because they were undercapitalized. They could not sustain themselves through the start-up phase and make it to when the business could stand on its own," Velasquez said. "Being undercapitalized usually leads to taking shortcuts with your service or product and will ultimately drive you to fail."

His Rabobank goals are to developing more community partnerships and build the brand in the Central Valley. He is currently involved with the CSUB Small Business Development Center as an advisory board member, Leadership Bakersfield and the CSUB Council of 100.

These are the opinions of Olivia Garcia, not necessarily those of The Bakersfield Californian. Reach her at ogarcia@bakersfield.com

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