BIZ - 2021-09-01



Biz Women


YUMA COUNTY IS full of women who have chosen to work in public service or in the nonprofit world. They could be working in the private sector, but many of these women have chosen to serve their communities by working in government or holding elected offices. Some head nonprofit organizations, small and large, whose sole mission is to make the lives of those who live in the community better. They lead employees and members. Many of them have raised a family while doing it, and others still juggle family and work. In this edition, we profile some of these amazing women. We invite you to get to know them better. AMANDA AGUIRRE Amanda Aguirre is president and CEO of Regional Center for Border Health and a former Arizona state senator. She has been working for the not-for-profit RCBH for more than 35 years. She worked for the Yuma County Health Department for five years, 4½ years at Arizona Western College and five years with a public health foundation in Los Angeles prior to coming to Arizona. Aguirre served eight years as a state legislator, in both the House of Representatives and the State Senate. She has been president and CEO for RCBH since 1991. The organization has offices and rural health clinics not only in Yuma County but also La Paz County, with another clinic to open in Lake Havasu next month. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I started by advocating for medically underserved and disadvantaged rural communities through my work in public health and program management throughout western Arizona. I became familiar with the legislative body and funding appropriations to the different local/state and federal programs and I saw the disparities and inequalities in healthcare, public safety and education, and lack of employment. In 2001, I had the honor of being selected as one of three candidates by the Democratic Party and appointed by the Yuma County Board of Supervisors to represent back then Legislative District 24 (Yuma and La Paz counties). When a seat became vacant in the House of Representatives, I had the privilege to represent Yuma and La Paz counties D-24. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? It is a non-stop job, you have to be committed 100%-and-plus to represent your constituents 24/7 if you want to have a true impact locally and statewide. The learning curve is stiff but achievable. Having introduced legislation that successfully became laws that have had a long life impact in our counties and state is very rewarding. When representing rural communities, your work never ends as you always face the challenges from legislators focusing only in Maricopa or Pima counties with different priorities than those legislators from rural communities. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? Do not underestimate your ability to make a difference as a public servant. Our personal life, family, work and community involvement brings a unique perspective to issues and a “reality check” brings you down to real issues that families, business and communities are experiencing. HOW DO YOU JUGGLE FAMILY AND WORK? This is the most difficult part, since you have to be away from your family during the legislative sessions and travel to meet with constituents on a regular basis. This is also very rewarding, but your family support is the most important to have. This is the personal sacrifice we all make when you decide to be in public service. TIFFANY ANDERSON Yuma County Elections Director Tiffany Anderson has worked in local government for about 15 years. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? My mom worked for the city in San Diego for over 38 years. I grew up admiring the work she did and decided that I also wanted to pursue a career in local government. I started working as a temporary, and then part-time, employee for a city government while I received my bachelor’s degree from UC San Diego and master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University. After I graduated, I worked in the purchasing department of the San Diego Community College District for several years before being hired by the County of San Diego, where I spent nearly eight years. When my family relocated to Yuma in 2019, I was fortunate enough to find a position with Yuma County. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? Working in local government is so rewarding because it is the most direct form of government; you can see the impact your job has on the community and your neighbors every day. There is a lot of opportunity for growth and continual learning. There will always be challenges in local government, whether it be budget-related, a global pandemic, changing public expectations or community growth, but that is what keeps things interesting! And with each challenge comes an important lesson to learn or better way to provide services. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? Seriously explore the variety of jobs available in public service. There is something for everyone! Being a public servant is so impactful. You have purpose every day when you go to work. And, never tell yourself no. If you find a position you are interested in, go for it! TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY. I have been married to my husband, Chris, for 10 years and we have two children, a 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. LYNDA BUSHONG Yuma City Clerk Lynda Bushong has been employed with the City of Yuma since 2008. Prior to serving the citizens of Yuma, she worked for the County of Riverside for 13 years, working for the Palo Verde Unified School District, just up the river in Blythe, California. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? When I moved to Yuma, I thought about what direction I wanted to go with my career. I had been involved with local politics for 13 years at that time and wasn’t sure if that was my true calling. When I saw that the City of Yuma had a position open in the Clerk’s Office, I decided to submit my application and see what happened. I received a call for an interview. After that interview, I was corresponding via email with my soon-to-be boss, and I just knew in my gut that it just felt right. It is incredible when a person can make such an impact on you that you just know you are where you are meant to be. I have been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career; they demonstrated many great qualities that I have worked to make my own, such as going to the source to gather knowledge, spend the extra time to get the job done right, kindness matters, and to put your best into each and every day. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? People and people. Not everyone shares the same views and opinions. And although I can honestly say that I have learned a lot from the views/opinions of those I serve, as well as my co-workers, it can also be very challenging, especially when those expressing the views/opinions will not try to see the picture differently. Many times a requirement or policy does not warrant what people are requesting. However, I find it very rewarding when we can work together to find a common ground, even if we disagree, and move forward. I enjoy going the extra mile to make someone smile and let them know their views/ opinions have been heard, and that we truly want to work with them. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? These are statements that I truly believe in; some of them are borrowed from people who have inspired and mentored me, but all of them are good steps in the right direction: – If you have the desire to work with people and want to make a difference in your community, you should seek a position within the public service realm. – Always continue to grow and learn in whatever field excites you – just stay involved and continue to move forward. – Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom – there is a lot of knowledge gained when you advance through the ranks. – Exploring what others have to say can lead you to great successes; they can also be a challenge. However, if you don’t explore what you don’t know … you will never be part of those successes. – Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions – the only dumb question is the one that is never asked. TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY. I am married to my best friend; we have so much fun and yet can sit silently in a room and still enjoy each other’s company. We have two sons; both who proudly served in the U.S. Army. In our spare time, my husband and I enjoy camping in the beautiful Arizona mountains, Jeeping in the desert, traveling the great outdoors and just hanging out with friends. We recently became grandparents for the first time and are very excited to explore this new adventure. EMILIA CORTEZ Emilia Cortez is director of Yuma County Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona. She has spent most of her career in public service. For the last 17 years, she has worked in positions that allowed her to make a difference in the Yuma community, with the last five years managing the Yuma County Girl Scouts. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? As a child in Yuma, I joined Girl Scouts in primary school. Volunteering is a thread of the Girl Scout organization and throughout the years. I watched girls make a difference in their community through the highest award projects, earning badges and volunteering throughout the community. It humbles me to see the difference one person can make regardless of their age. Just the other day, I found a drawing that I created about how I wanted to contribute to my community. So you could say that I have come full circle from where I started as a Girl Scout to now working with Girl Scouts throughout the Yuma community. Additionally, since I was a little girl, my great-grandmas were great influencers; they taught me about the importance of giving back to your community. Honoring these women, I think I make them proud with not only the work I do in the community but passing along their commitment to the young girls and women I have the privilege to serve. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? As with any business, we face challenges, and in Yuma, being a military town, our biggest challenge is the turnover of staff and girls due to moving. This challenge, though, also becomes a reward in that those families moving on take with them the commitment of volunteering and service to their new community. We effectively become the drop in the pond that creates ripples and waves continually from the initial drop. We have seen these women and girls create unique and effective changes in their new communities just as they did in Yuma. At the end of the day, the rewards of service to the community and to these Girl Scouts have created lasting friendships, wonderful projects, and I feel we make a difference in the Yuma community and beyond. It makes me proud to serve this wonderful community that is so giving and accepting of new projects. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? My advice is to create a career you love regardless. If you love your job, it is not work. And if public service is your passion, your wealth is more to your heart than dollars in your account, but shouldn’t we do what we love to fill us? Public service is a career that, for me, gives me more than I can ever give back, but I try to keep the scale balanced. LISA CULP Yuma Deputy Police Chief Lisa Culp has worked in public safety for 30 years, since 1991. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I was looking for a career change and applied for 911 dispatcher. Once successful in the dispatcher position, I applied and was selected for the position of dispatch supervisor. While working in the Communications Center, I decided to apply for the police officer position and the rest is history. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? I have been in public safety for more than half my life. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It is extremely rewarding to help our citizens within our community. As a DARE officer, I really enjoyed working with our community schools and all the children. I still see some of them. It’s truly awesome to see these now grown adults with their children. They happily introduce me as their DARE officer! There are challenges. There are calls for service an officer will never forget. Families that have suffered. Sadness. Tragedy. However, as an officer and dispatcher, your job is to help quiet the chaos, help victims get out of a bad situation, to help people move out of crisis. That is why I have spent all of these years in public safety. To help those in our community. That is what is truly rewarding. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? I would say: “You can do it!” Be a guardian of our community. Be part of the public safety family. It is an outstanding career that is both challenging and rewarding. Law enforcement, in general, needs you. The Yuma Police Department needs officers, dispatchers and other positions within the department. Give it a chance. You’ll absolutely love it! TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY. I have a wonderful husband who has put up with years of late hours, odd shifts and emotional days! I have three beautiful daughters and two terrific stepsons. JULIE ENGEL Julie Engel, president and CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp., a notfor-profit corporation, has been serving for more than 18 years. She is the current chair of Yuma 50, a military support notfor-profit; a board member for the Yuma Regional Medical Center, a notfor-profit community hospital; a board 928-783-1717 member of the Arizona Mexico Commission, appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey; a board member of the Yuma Education Advisory Council, a not-for-profit educational advocacy group; a former president of the not-for-profit Arizona Association of Economic Development; and a former board member of the not-for-profit Yuma National Heritage Area. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I was recruited to the Greater Yuma EDC in 2003. Prior to that I worked for the federal government, a municipal government and a tribal government. My entire adult life has been some form of public service. I didn’t purposely choose public service; I was attracted to the challenges and issues that I could try and take on. I’m truly happiest when I can help through service or giving back to my community. I’ve been driven by the need to raise others up while championing issues that continue to prevent that organic progression from happening. The additional not-for-profits that I serve are by design. These organizations represent the issues I’m incredibly passionate about and want to see improved throughout our community and region. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? The most obvious challenges have been the recession and more recently COVID-19 pandemic. Resources are always scarce, and these two monumental events put a critical strain on resources. This region is resilient, and we continue to fight for recovery. The rewards are happening daily, every time a new job is created, it is a win. Every time we help an exiting military person find civilian work, it’s a win. We continue to fight to move the needle for educational funding and we have made tremendous strides in our health care offerings for the Yuma region. We have sustainable relationships with our neighbors to the south and west. We withstand political changes occurring in both countries and continue to do what’s best for our communities. Challenges can and usually become our rewards. Some take longer than others, but we eventually prevail. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? If you have a passion for something, pursue it. You will never dread work a day in your life if you are doing what really matters to you. By our very nature (women in particular), we want to help others. Helping brings us joy and fulfillment. HOW DO YOU JUGGLE FAMILY AND WORK? I have been very blessed to have a family that supports everything each of us chooses to do. We are engaged and supportive. When there are fundraisers, everyone is there to help. When a project needs volunteers, everyone is there to help. It is a family affair. KARINA JONES Karina Jones is CEO of United Way of Yuma County. She has been a part of the United Way family for nine years. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? After graduating from Arizona State University, my husband and I moved back home to Yuma. I honestly had no idea what the next chapter held for us. Growing up both my parents were in public education and spent much of their time giving back to our community. Although the nonprofit world wasn’t at the top of my list, the importance of giving back and serving others has always been instilled in our family. My mother was a part of the first Heart of Yuma committee and one random day while planning the event, she and Judy Gresser, who led ACF at the time, recommended I apply for the resource development opening at UW. Nine years later I’ve transitioned to executive director of the organization, and I’m very honored that I get to be a part of the community in this capacity. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? As an organization, we have evolved so much. We have gone from being a fundraising-only-type organization, to an entity that now provides direct and vital services for our community. Our mission, our makeup and how we do things have also drastically changed. A challenge has been ensuring our team understands and still gets excited about our mission and vision. Vision is so vital to me and without it, I don’t think one can properly lead or grow. Although it’s a challenge, it excites me to be on this journey with my team and board. One of the greatest rewards is when I see the light-bulb click. When I see a student that goes through our JA Biztown program and realizes their own potential. It’s when I see a board member get excited about breaking the cycle of poverty...or when a team member gets an idea of how we can do things better – those are all big wins that keep me motivated! WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? The piece of advice I would give to young people would be to love on others! There’s a quote by John Maxwell that says, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” If you are leading a staff or a team, there will be more longevity and health if you can show people that you aren’t around to just lead them, but you are around to empower them and help them grow as individuals. For women interested in going into public service, I would encourage them to find a strong female who is ahead of you in the industry, someone that you can walk alongside with and someone that you can invest in and bring up behind you. I’m so blessed that I can call on strong and local leaders like Gladys Brown and Terre Catanzaro who can lead and counsel me through tough situations. HOW DO YOU JUGGLE FAMILY AND WORK? “Juggle” is probably the best description when it comes to work and family! There is no one-solution-fits-all answer. Both my husband and I work full-time and we have two children: Aria, 7, and Mila, 5. Something that has worked for us is that we’ve thrown out words like “balance” and replaced it with “rhythms.” I don’t believe in balance because when you balance something, nine times out of 10 there is always something else that comes and throws it all off. There are some weeks where the rhythm of our family is really fast-paced and driven by the needs of our jobs. Then there are other times where we intentionally slow down and there is space created for more family time. Being intentional with our time and communication is huge for us. Public service isn’t the easiest profession to go into because you’ve literally signed up to serve others. But I personally believe that God has called my family and I to serve our community and there is so much joy and life that comes out of walking in your calling. ANNETTE LAGUNAS Annette Lagunas is executive director of the Humane Society of Yuma. She has been in public service for 17 years now. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I worked in the veterinary field for many years, and though I loved every minute of the experiences I had, I simply knew that I could make a bigger impact on the animals in our community by working at the shelter. I started as a volunteer and was hired a few months later as the shelter manager overseeing the kennels and the animals that came through. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? The challenges and rewards go hand in hand. When I started, we took in upwards of 15,000 animals and that was challenging in that we didn’t have the proper accommodations for that many animals at the time, and we had not put enough importance on spay/neuter. We now take in around half that amount of animals, have a robust spay/neuter clinic that serves the community and our shelter animals, while also being no-kill for the dogs in our shelter for several years now. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? Do it!!! I was lucky to have mentors early in my life that helped me stay on the right path, keep me grounded and show me that giving back was a way of life. You know the saying “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”? Well, that is true most days. There are always days that you wonder, what if? But there are many, many, many other days where your heart will be full from saving an animal or helping a person from having to give up their beloved pet. LESLIE McCLENDON Yuma Deputy Mayor Leslie McClendon has been on the City Council for more than 12 years. She started in 2008 when Larry Nelson was the city mayor. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I have always been in some type of an organization where I had to be in a leading role starting when my kids were little and just stayed involved, so when a good friend came to me and said he thought I should run for council I was like why not. I never thought I would win a position like that but was so amazed at the community support I received and all the help from everyone. So many people kept telling me that we needed women leadership and thought I would be a reasonable voice on the council. I went for it, and here I am today still plugging away. The plan has always been to make Yuma a great place to live and raise our families. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? I think the rewards have outweighed the challenges in so many ways. I won’t say that every day has been peaches and cream, but for the most part, I think we have a great community that wants to see the best things happen for all of us. Being on council to help make that happen is the best reward. I love driving around our neighborhoods and seeing all the development that has been happening and with all the family parks that we have and especially the one we have planned in the East Valley. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? My advice is definitely go for it. Running for a public office is the best way to get involved in your city or even the state. Our community needs people who believe in growth and change and want to make a difference for our future. TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY. I have been married to my husband Bobby McClendon for 36 years. We have four children and 12 wonderful grandkids. And truly this is why I do what I do, it is for them, my family. I want my children and grandchildren to be proud of their community and me. CECILIA McCOLLOUGH Wellton Mayor Cecilia McCollough started in public service on the Town Council of her hometown, the Town of Wellton. She was elected to office in 2009 and has served on the council since, having won reelection twice. She is in her third term on the council and will complete her seventh year as mayor this December. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? It began with a good friend saying to me that it would be good for me to run for council. I had no idea what it meant then. I just knew that I loved my community and I wanted to serve. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? The challenges are many and seem constant at times. For our community, it is budget and funding. We have a sales tax. We have no property tax. It requires making difficult decisions to ensure public safety and fire are funded as well as other town services. With those needs being met, things we would want to fund have suffered by lack of funding available. The rewards are many. It is an honor to serve the town community where I grew up and still love. I have met so many wonderful people over the years in my position. I appreciate having a voice in the region and the state level to help our community be positively impacted by the relationships established. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? I would encourage them to absolutely get involved. It is important for everyone to be engaged in support of their community’s success. I would encourage them to seek out mentors and people they can follow and emulate. LYNNE PANCRAZI Yuma County Supervisor Lynne Pancrazi has had the “honor” to spend her entire career representing the people of Yuma County in various positions, 30 years as a Yuma County public school teacher for Yuma School District One, six years as District 24 Arizona state representative which included Yuma County, and four years as District 4 Arizona state senator which included Yuma County. She is currently serving as the Yuma County District 5 supervisor. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I was very active in the Arizona Education Association during my teaching career and worked on overrides and local campaigns. I was asked by a group of local Democratic leaders, including Lucy Shipp, Lenore Stuart, Ray Drysdale and Gail Beeler, if I would consider running for the open state representative seat. I decided this would be a great way to continue my advocacy for children, education and the Yuma community. I love serving this community and will continue to do so as long as the people of Yuma elect me. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? I was born and raised in Yuma, and I appreciate the privilege of representing the people of Yuma County and helping our community grow and prosper. The hardest part of being a rural elected legislator was working in Phoenix four days a week for 4-6 months of the year. The challenges of the legislative position are too numerous to list, but it provided me the opportunity to gain so much knowledge and experience. This knowledge and experience allows me to better perform my responsibilities as a Yuma County supervisor. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? An education is a very important thing to achieve. Pursue your education and/or certifications after high school. It can be done right here in Yuma at Arizona Western College, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Get involved in our community. Apply for and serve on boards and commissions in your community. Join and get involved in community organizations. Volunteer to work on local, state and federal campaigns. Serving our community has been a very rewarding experience. TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY. Mike Pancrazi and I have been married 44 years. He has supported me in all my endeavors. Thank you, Mike, for always believing in me. I have a stepdaughter, Angela Moreno, and her husband, Moses, and two beautiful grandkids, Madison and Michael. I have three siblings and a large extended family in Yuma and Phoenix. ROBYN STALLWORTH POUQUETTE Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth Pouquette has worked in public service for more than 25 years. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? Following high school graduation, at 18 years of age, beginning classes at the local AWC campus, my dad encouraged me to test for a position at the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office in dispatch. I ended up getting the position and began working as a dispatcher and 911 operator. That beginning shaped years-long work that has provided so much fulfillment for me in working within the community and serving the residents of Yuma County. The influences from my parents played a significant role in my work ethic, which served me well in my first demanding position at the Sheriff’s Office at that young age, and I felt like I understood public service in a way I never thought possible. My dad had a long law enforcement career before his passing and my mother still works in public service. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? Early on, the challenges in the communications division at the Sheriff’s Office were likely more related to the pressure of communicating effectively and being responsive in life-threatening situations. The rewards at that time were certainly the sense of accomplishment knowing I was able to not only help citizens in dangerous situations but also the men and women in uniform who were depending on precise communication and responsive assistance from the other end of their radios. I remember very difficult and emotional calls for service that at times involved fatalities. Some of those days ended in tears on my drive home and some of those tears were relief that we did a great job and things worked out safely. I often see people I worked with during that time and I can’t help but feel such positive memories of the daily work done with a commitment to public safety. My fondest memories were my father, who would often listen to the police radio at odd hours, calling the Sheriff’s Office when I was working midnight shifts alone and correcting me on a number of things, including the tone of my voice, the phonetic alphabet, police codes, and my fingernails clicking on the keyboard as I dispatched. One very vivid memory was a 911 call when I was 19 years old working alone in dispatch when calls came in around 3 a.m. one morning of a pedestrian accident ultimately resulting in a fatality. The late Sheriff Ralph Ogden came in to dispatch at that late hour during this situation, sat next to me, and assisted in answering telephone calls while I handled the necessary service to assist first responders, family of those involved and concerned citizens. Those experiences truly shaped me as an individual and I knew there was a lot I could offer in challenging areas of public service. Years later, I went on to work in the Superior Court Clerk’s Office and worked in courtroom settings preparing proceeding minutes and documents applicable to cases heard before the Court. The challenges and rewards were much the same. The general public doesn’t often get to have a view of the hard work done behind the scenes in offices such as the Clerk’s Office and with the staff of Superior Court. There are challenging demands on the staff to be accurate with these important records, provide a high level of service to the public as they navigate through matters before the court and meet the demands of the volume of proceedings, records and files involved. My father passed away in 2006 after retiring from the Yuma Police Department and served several years as the elected Yuma County Constable, JP1. In 2008, a few of his friends and colleagues encouraged me to run for public office as the current county recorder was retiring. As a young mother, I actually had grand plans to leave local government and learn more about the private sector in real estate, yet I saw a potential run as a challenge and felt very connected to the communications I was having with my late father’s friends and acquaintances who assisted me in that election. I would have never imagined I would run for an elected office but felt strongly that my work ethic and interest in learning new things in this field would serve me well. I won that election and began my first term as county recorder on Jan. 1, 2009. It would be difficult to adequately articulate the challenges I have faced in learning new things in my position and managing an office responsible for public records, property documents, voter registration and early voting. This being my fourth term in this position, my biggest challenge thus far is navigating the complex world of elections and ever-changing politics that somewhat shift the public’s view of elections. I would say my biggest rewards are the individual accomplishments of assisting the citizens of Yuma County in the two most important rights an individual has – the right to own property and record their ownership in our office and the right to vote and cast a ballot with the election systems we have in place here in our community. I am so extremely proud of the staff and the work done in the Yuma County Recorder’s Office. I am very proud of each and every time I can give a citizen of our community confidence in our local government. It is often not easy work and comes with difficulties knowing there are hundreds of thousands of people you are accountable to but with that comes a satisfaction knowing that you have the capability to do it well. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? I would tell young people, especially women, that careers in public service offer the ability to make positive change in your community regardless of what area of service you choose to work. On a local level, every local government department provides important services to citizens and the feeling of accomplishment in doing that is unmatched. I would also share that it is important to have tremendous pride in what you do and always have respect for those you encounter in your work regardless of any difficulties. Another important piece of advice I hope to share with other women is to never stop learning! HOW DO YOU JUGGLE FAMILY AND WORK? I am married to Clay Pouquette, who is retired from local law enforcement and now works as an investigator for Arizona Public Service in corporate security. I have three children, Nikki and Noah, twins who are 21, and Coleton, who is 13. I also have two awesome stepchildren, Bobbi, 30, and C.J. Pouquette, 26. It would be irresponsible for me not to mention that one of the biggest challenges since I began working in county government has been being a working mother. This is true of women working in both the public and private sector. When I became a mother, juggling full-time employment and raising children was complicated and hard at times. At the same time, there is a feeling of gratitude for me working in public service as a mother because I feel strongly that the work ethic I exhibit for my children will be a positive influence on them as they navigate adulthood. JENNIFER REICHELT Yuma Deputy City Administrator Jennifer Reichelt landed her first full-time job in local government in 2000, after she earned her master’s degree in public administration at Northern Arizona University. However, she says hee lifelong love of public service predates her first job. In high school and college, she was actively involved in student government, and those experiences really sparked her interest in public service. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I started my career in local government with the City of Glendale, Arizona, as a management intern in the city manager’s office. I then worked my way up to the deputy marketing and communications director there, which enabled me to continue to grow in the career field. I’ve always had a passion to make a difference in the world around me and pursuing a career in local government ended up making the most sense for me, as it’s the government closest to the people. What we do and the decisions we make impact residents and our community on a daily basis. When I think back to the “why” of public service, I credit my involvement in Yuma Youth Leadership, a program I participated in during high school. I learned about all the factors that are essential to a well-run community – government, infrastructure, education, economic development and the media. Through the program, I had the opportunity to meet local leaders, who shared their passion for public service. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? One of the best things about working in local government is that our work is meaningful. We have the opportunity to help build and improve the communities we serve. We are able to see the results of our work on a daily basis, and it’s one of the few professions where you receive almost immediate feedback. I enjoy the variety of our work, being able to make a difference, and the opportunity to be creative and innovative. Just like in any job, it’s important to find a healthy work life balance. In public service, work doesn’t stop when you leave the office. We are always on call, and that call can happen at any time. In public service, limited funding is a reality. While that alone can be frustrating, it can also create an environment that moves us to be innovative and open to new ideas. While immediate and widespread feedback can be a positive, you also realize no matter what decisions you make, it is impossible to make everyone happy all of the time. Knowing what you value and why you serve helps keep you well-grounded in that environment. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? A career in public service is so rewarding! It’s a path with so many options, and one that allows you to make a meaningful difference in the world around you. For those contemplating a career in public service, I’d encourage them to explore all the different opportunities available to them and reach out to someone they admire and ask questions. While I was in school, I reached out to several city managers and local leaders, and asked every question I could think of. I learned about their work, their education and background, as well as what they liked and disliked about their job. There are more women in local government today than a few decades ago, but we still have work to do. Research shows that organizations with a more equitable gender balance experience greater organizational success. And when women are involved in local government and in making decisions, women’s political and socio-economic status improves. I’d encourage any young woman to seriously consider a career in local government, it’s an amazing profession which provides you the opportunity to directly influence change in your community. TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY. This past year I was excited to return to Yuma, my hometown. I’m so happy to be closer to my parents, Russ and Elaine, and my sister, Julie, who lives here too. My brother, Jeff, is in the Phoenix area and I get to see him more often now too. I don’t have any pets right now, but I’ve been seriously considering adopting. MELISSA RUSHIN IRR Melissa Rushin Irr, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Yuma County, has served in public service most of her adult life. She began as a public school teacher in Phoenix and Yuma, and even when she joined the private sector, she continued serving on boards. She has been in her current nonprofit executive director position for four years. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? My family has a long history of public service. My parents and numerous aunts and uncles are retired public educators. My in-laws served as educators, in fire safety and in the Coast Guard. My husband’s career has been working as a civilian at Yuma Proving Ground. We have long-standing commitments and beliefs to serve others. In choosing my own career in the education field, I knew I could share my unending thirst for learning with students of all ages. In many ways, I continue to do that in my current position. When I had the opportunity to serve our community as executive director of our developing children’s museum, I knew that I had a new audience of learners to share my passion about learning and to give back to the community I call home. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? Many careers in public service tend to have lower pay than similar positions in the private sector. I think one of the challenges going forward relates to how we adequately compensate employees for the time, skills and expertise they bring to their positions. Often, people equate those in public service to being less-worthy of respect or less capable than their peers in the private sector. In my experience, most credible experience and advice comes from experts in the public sector. We’re the ones who have the experience of observing various issues, speaking and listening to people who are experiencing challenges and formulating solutions to improve lives and decrease problems for others. The rewards far outweigh the challenges. Seeing people develop, change, and learn across many different ages and stages is rewarding in and of itself. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? Public service can be a very fulfilling career path. Even if a person doesn’t choose professional public service, there are always volunteer opportunities in public service through boards, commissions and general volunteer work with many organizations. If your passion is interacting with and helping others, a career in public service might be a good fit. HOW DO YOU JUGGLE FAMILY AND WORK? I’d like to say that I have this one figured out, but honestly, I don’t. Juggling is a unique skill that takes years of practice and balancing work and family commitments while working in public service is no different. I’m fortunate now that my children are adults so they’re not at home requiring extra attention. Since the pandemic began and all of our professional lives have been changed, I’ve worked more on putting my work away at the end of the day rather than continuing to work into the evenings and on weekends. It will probably continue being a struggle for me to juggle family and work, but I look forward to the challenge. VERONICA SHORR Veronica Shorr, regional director of Arizona Community Foundation of Yuma, graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and hasn’t looked back since. A few years later she earned a master’s in social work with an emphasis in community development. Her first public service job was at a domestic violence shelter in Tucson. She soon moved into prevention programs at Child and Family Resources. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? Working in public service means that you work with your heart on your sleeve. The challenges lie in seeing so much need, yet very limited services. Let me tell you this, Yuma County is full of passionate people who wake up every day and decide to make Yuma a better place for all. Seeing their work and their passion for their cause makes me want to work harder to continue to support them. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? Always make time for yourself. Public service can be overwhelming. It’s one of those jobs that you don’t just forget about at 5 p.m. when the work day ends. It’s something that you carry with you at all times. Self care is so important. HOW DO YOU JUGGLE FAMILY AND WORK? Delegate, delegate, delegate! It’s a work in progress for me, but I’m slowly finding that accepting help from others is A-Okay! I want to do it all on my own, I can do it all on my own, but I am so lucky I don’t have to. I have a great co-worker who helps lighten my load at work, I have a great partner who helps me with our children and a great family who is always there to support me with dinner, school pickups, girl nights and lovely lunches. JENNY TORRES Jenny Torres, community development director for the City of San Luis, has worked for nonprofits and local government in Arizona and California for 15 years. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I started my career in the nonprofit sector 23 years ago, focused on enhancing the lives of low-income residents by providing housing opportunities. As part of my professional growth, I worked for the private sector for eight years in financing and development of affordable housing for low-income communities. This experience triggered my interest to work for the public sector and address a wider range of community needs. I finally understood that my heart and passion was in the public sector. After 13 years of working in local government, I have been able to obtain financing for infrastructure projects, recruit businesses and engage in civic organizations representing our community. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? One of the biggest challenges in working for the public sector is public perception. Citizens expect the public sector to provide and maintain a good quality of life for its residents. When there is lack of funding, projects experience delays or there is misinformation, citizens lose confidence in the public sector employees. Overcoming the perception with constant communication with its residents and ensuring that professional staff are working in the best interest of the community is key to maintaining trust from citizens. One of the biggest rewards in working in the public sector is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our residents. The impact can be through revitalizing downtown, building infrastructure improvements, providing affordable housing and a safe community or enhancing their quality of life. Public employees play a small role in advancing projects and programs that achieve the community vision and affect the lives of every resident in the community. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? Education is the foundation for professional growth and key to be competitive in any profession. Set goals and stick to them no matter how much time it takes. When challenges arise, view them as opportunities for professional growth. Participate in civic organizations and above all, hold the public interest first. JUDGE JEANETTE UMPHRESS Yuma Municipal Court Judge Jeanette Umphress has been in public service in some capacity for more than 35 years. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I started working at the Yuma County Jail in the 1980s. My father was an Arizona highway patrol officer and I needed a good paying job as I had two small children. My next position was with the Colorado Springs County Attorney’s Office as a legal secretary, followed by working at the Yuma County Attorney’s Office. I then went to work for the Yuma Police Department in 1991 as a court liaison officer and ultimately became an employee of the Yuma Municipal Court. I was the head of security for the court for 18 years and then was blessed with being elected as the associate judge for the Yuma Municipal Court in 2011. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? The challenges and rewards – I could go on for hours. The greatest challenge for women in public service is the inherent and ingrained belief in the roles of men and women that are present from birth. Old beliefs and prejudices abound to this day. You have to prove yourself at every step and not let your emotions get in your way. People will say and do very hurtful things, sometimes without even knowing or realizing that they are doing so. One of the biggest challenges is balancing your work life with your home life. I see this dynamic changing slowly in our society today and it makes me very happy and hopeful that this trend will continue. The rewards have been greater than I ever could have imagined. I have had a very good life, have raised wonderful productive and confident children, I have had the security of having a steady paycheck and wonderful benefits that come with being a government employee. I love my position as a judge and I feel that my life has truly been enhanced by the opportunity to serve the community in this position. I have the opportunity to try to steer people in the correct direction, guide them through their challenges and offer advice and encouragement every step of the way. Being a judge is not only about punishment. It is an integral part of the system, but only a part. There are so many other working cogs that make the system the best in the world. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? My advice for young women considering going into public service is GO FOR IT!! Believe in yourself, because you have wisdom and experiences that will enhance people’s lives, and even if you never know that you changed someone’s life, it is true. Put yourself out there, you will be surprised at all of the love and encouragement you will receive by just trying and having the courage to risk being unsuccessful and to risk being hurt. It will be worth it in the end. KAREN WATTS Karen Watts was elected November 2017 to the Yuma City Council by five votes. “This is a personal example of how every vote counts,” she noted. She continues to serve on the council and also on the executive boards of the Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Yuma Crossing Heritage National Area. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? I got a sense of community with the volunteer hours spent at my children’s grade school. The hours spent with the other families, kids and teachers was a rewarding experience, and I believe it was the start of the trajectory of my life choices. In 1998, Amberly’s Place, a family advocacy center for victims of physical or sexual assault, was unable to find a physician willing to help them with forensic medical exams. At that time I was working in pediatrics and understood the need. I was not shy about volunteer work. I was able to step up and complete the training on my own. I have been working with Amberly’s ever since. This work has led me to be more aware of my community and sense of duty. I continued to work in private practice and added on substance abuse work that eventually led me to providing medical services to the Crossroads Mission detox unit. This type of work made me more aware of what our community’s advantages and disadvantages are. I have always been aware of what is going on locally and nationally. I always felt women’s voices were lacking in all areas of leadership and government. So finally I caved to requests to run and put forth my convictions to run for office and not wait for someone else to do it anymore. I believe in a diverse representation and encourage women to step out of their comfort zone like I did and get more involved in community programs, commissions, boards and politics. Our voices need to be heard more. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? I believe being a positive role model for other girls and women is the best way to encourage others to become interested in public service. I believe my own children have shown an interest in civic pride from learning and, most importantly, enjoying volunteering at an early age. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? My biggest advice to young girls/women is to persevere in the goals that matter to you. That has always been my saving grace. No matter what I do in the future, I am very proud and humbled to serve my community. I hope to continue my public service to the community I love. SHARA WHITEHEAD Shara Whitehead, director of the Yuma Community Food Bank, first entered public service in the 1970s and recently since 2007. WHY AND HOW DID YOU START? In 1973 Mary Cordery, then manager of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, hired me to be a receptionist and tour guide. As an impressionable young divorced woman with a small daughter to raise, I saw Mary’s ability to create and manage relationships, which is a building block to all things, as a skill that you cannot learn in school. At this time, the chamber functioned as the hub for all things business, with a robust economic development department along with the Caballeros de Yuma as ambassadors to connect with businesses interested in bringing their industry to Yuma. Tourism was booming with the Caballeros hosting the San Diego Padres spring training and building the Civic Center for baseball, and the tourist dollars flowed into the local economy. I had several years working with Frank Deason and Jo Thompson with the Yuma County Fair before moving into for-profit business. Years later, Mary and the Caballeros later separated to a standalone 501c6 nonprofit entity and continued to draw tourists but also began the philanthropic side by taking proceeds from events to award to other nonprofits, as well as a scholarship program for local awards. In 2007, Mary was talking about retirement and asked if I would be interested in working with her until she retired. As the executive director for the Caballeros, she managed every aspect of the organization from event planning to fiscal responsibility for 40-plus years and to this day continues to be an inspiration. In 2012, the late Mike Ivers, then CEO for the food bank, made me an offer to work with him, and here I am, grateful to all that inspired me to be the best possible servant. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS? Revenue vs. donations was a definite challenge, and seeing the positive impact of service into our community continues to motivate me as a reward. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN INTERESTED IN PUBLIC SERVICE? The impact of Arizona nonprofits has grown dramatically with over 20,000 organizations, so it is a growing field and worthwhile in so many ways that are not tangible. Remember that you do this in service of others; the byproduct is how you meet the mission of the organization.


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