DOWNEY – Seven women were honored Thursday morning for their significant contributions to the Downey community.
The recognitions were made by Soroptimist International of Downey at a breakfast event at the Rio Hondo Event Center.
Soroptimist President Linda Haines opened the event, followed by an invocation by Ellie Eck and the Pledge of Allegiance by Beverly Mathis. Judy McDonnell led the introductions.
Giggy Saab, chairperson of the Women of Distinction committee, presented the awards.
Those honored include Maria Villegas, a sergeant with the Downey Police Department; Christina Ciatti, an instructor at Downey Adult School; Claudia Marroquin-Frometa, an emergency management worker with Kaiser Permanente; Wendy McKinsey, a retired DUSD administrator; Maria Dolores Torres, a non-profit executive director; Mikayla Bisson, a Downey High student; and Jasmine Mijangos, also a Downey High student.
Below are brief bios of each of the honorees:
Ruby Award: For Women Helping Women
Maria Villegas has been a police officer with the Downey Police Department for 18 years. She has been a Sergeant for seven years. She is married to Angel Villegas, who is also a police officer for the city of Downey. They have six children and one granddaughter.
Villegas is currently assigned as a Field Supervisor working patrol. During her time here, she has been able to work a variety of assignments. She was the first female Narcotics detective. She was also a juvenile, forgery, child abuse and Robbery Homicide detective prior to promoting to Sergeant in 2011.
Sgt. Villegas has been in charge of Downey’s Police Explorer program for over 10 years. It is a program that she holds near and dear to her heart. As she reflects back on her career, Maria is very grateful for the opportunities given to her by the Downey Police Department, however, her most fulfilling assignment has been mentoring the police explorers.
This program is for kids 14-18 years old. She has seen several become police officers, members of our military, police aides, park rangers, dispatchers, records clerks, jailers, attorneys and parents. She feels fortunate to be a mentor especially for the young women that come through the program. Villegas enjoys sharing with them how with some hard work and determination we can do anything we set our heart and minds to.
Women of Distinction
Christina Ciatti is a resident of Downey since 1986, when she married her husband Bob. They have three grown children, Melissa, Justin, and Carli, son-in-laws, Gary and Luke, and two granddaughters, Zoe, 18 months and Isabella, 10 months.
Christina works for Downey Adult School as an instructor for the Medical Biller and Coder program. Ciatti and her husband also own Medical Billing Solutions, Inc., where she does medical billing for physicians and other healthcare facilities. Prior to this, Ciatti worked as an office manager and medical biller for a podiatry office for 27 years.
Christina has been a member of SI Downey since 2009, and currently holds the office of Village Director. She enjoys volunteering and participating in all of the club’s activities.
In her free time, Ciatti enjoys traveling, biking, walking, cooking, going to the casino, as well as spending time with her family and pets.
Women of Distinction
Claudia Marroquin-Frometa is part of the National Emergency Management Team for Kaiser Permanente Foundation and Health Plan. She provides support and consult to all Southern California hospitals. Marroquin-Frometa has a combined 20 years of experience in disaster preparedness, education, communication, communications, and motivational public speaking. She is a former journalist and newspaper publisher.
Marroquin-Frometa has spent the last eleven years in emergency management, improving disaster response strategies with Los Angeles County hospitals and state initiatives. She is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) for the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). She is a member of the California Hospitals Association (CHA) Emergency Management Advisory Council (EMAC).
She is also an instructor for the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC) quarterly Hospital Disaster Management Training Series at LA County USC Medical Center. She is a Terrorism Liaison Officer. Locally, Claudia is a current Board member for Downey’s Foundation for Educational Opportunities (DFEO).
Recently, she was appointed to the City of Downey Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee on Measure S representing the 4th District. Previously, she has been involved as a Board member of the Living Help Center and is a past member of the Assistance League, Gypsy Johnson Auxiliary.
Marroquin-Frometa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. She is looking to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health. Marroquin-Frometa and her husband Nolveris Frometa have been married for 22 years and are longtime residents of Downey. Together, they raised four children in the Downey Unified School District.
Women of Distinction
Wendy McKinsey attended Rio Hondo Elementary School (where she later was the principal for six years), North Junior High School (now Griffiths Middle School) and Warren High School. She is a graduate of California State University at Long Beach and California State University at Los Angeles.
McKinsey retired with 38 years of service in the Downey Unified School District as a teacher and administrator in 2004. Her volunteer activities began in 2005 when she was encouraged (by her dear friend Linda Kennedy) to join the Gypsy Johnson Auxiliary of the Assistance League of Downey. Wendy has served as vice chairman and secretary as well as being chairman or co-chairman of the resource development, membership, thrift shop and hospitality committees.
Most recently she has been instrumental in getting philanthropic agreements in order and securing signatures from the organizations that Assistance League provides funds and/or services to. Additionally, McKinsey volunteers at the Downey First Christian Church and at the PTA HELPS Room.
Wendy is a 30-year breast cancer survivor. She was a Reach to Recovery Volunteer with the American Cancer Society. In 2001, she walked in the 3-day, 60-mile walk from Santa Barbara to Malibu. She raised over $6,800 for breast cancer research prior to the walk. McKinsey resides in Downey with her husband John.
Maria Dolores Torres
Women of Distinction
Maria Dolores Torres, or “Marilola,” was born in Zacatecas Mexico and migrated to Los Angeles as a child with her parents and five sisters. Maria’s parents always taught her to always be responsible, take dignity in her work and lend a hand to others. Torres began attending college while still a junior in high school.
Since then, Torres has earned a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology on top of her Bachelor’s degree in the same field where she was invited to attend the Honors Convocation as a Cum Laude graduating student. For nearly 12 years, Torres has worked in the non-profit sector. Feeling that a need existed in the community for more consistent access to free legal resources, Torres and a small group of attorneys, community leaders, and mental health experts established a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization known as Ferias Legales (Spanish for “Legal Fairs”).
Through Ferias Legales, Torres has ensured the delivery of services to women. She launched the first Ferias Legales “Break the Cycle: A Free Domestic Violence Clinic” where battered women obtained free assistance with legal, mental health, and victims services. They have provided free legal services to underserved communities. Overwhelmingly, the recipients of these services have been women.
In her capacity as Executive Director, Torres was instrumental in establishing a Mentorship Program for Rio Hondo College Students. The mentorship program paired attorneys and judges with students who are enrolled in the Rio Hondo College Pathway to Law School program, which is designed for college students with an interest in law with the goal of increasing diversity in the legal field.
She also oversees multiple interns that are young women and stresses to them the importance of “paying it forward” to other young girls and women in the community through legal clinics and volunteer opportunities. Torres believes that with unity and collaboration among women, the world and our communities will be a better place for our families.
Violet Richardson Award
Mikayla Bisson’s passion for community service began at Doty Middle School, when she became vice president of Builders Club. After matriculating to Downey High, she began as service project chair for the school’s KIWIN’s club, a service organization for teens in California, Nevada, and Hawaii.
Bisson went on to become the club’s treasurer and president before becoming KIWIN’s ambassador. On April 23 of this year, she was voted to lead KIWIN’s as its governor, an important position that puts her in charge of all 53 KIWIN’s clubs and its 2,600 members. She also presides over district conventions and meetings of the 18-member Board of Trustees.
Boasting a 4.32 GPA, Bisson is on track to graduate early at age 17. She plans on attending Ohio State University or Central Michigan University.
Violet Richardson Award
Jasmine Mijangos was born in Los Angeles and did not move to Downey until the fourth grade, However, she immediately felt the strong community spirit present and has been volunteering in some capacity ever since.
As a freshman at Downey High, she joined a burgeoning club focused on human trafficking. As a founding member, her passion was ever present, with her own experiences with the foster care system fueling her determination. This insight into one of the most vulnerable demographics of our society has led her to not only head the club at Downey, but attend larger events on the issue and decide to dedicate her life to helping women.
Mijangos maintained a demanding schedule, because she valued the rigor that honors and AP classes offer, and knew that she could adept in comprehension. Her passion for social sciences has led to her decision to go into women’s studies.
As a prospective Women’s Studies major, she hopes to go to law school and continue her work as a human rights activist.