DOWNEY – Soroptimist International of Downey honored a half dozen women and young ladies Thursday morning during a breakfast ceremony at the Rio Hondo Event Center.
Rita Assoian, Georganne Bruce, Rita Rodarte-Myers and Mia Vasquez were honored as “Women of Distinction,” while teacher Carrie Redfox received Soroptimist’s Ruby Award and Mikayla Minnig the Violet Richardson Award.
Below are brief biographies on each of the award recipients:
Carrie Redfox: Carrie Redfox started her career with the Downey Unified School District as a substitute teacher and was an elementary school teacher at Williams Elementary for seven years. In the interim, she stayed home to raise her two boys (who are now 14 and 17 years old) and obtained her master’s degree in counseling. She has been a sixth grade counselor at Doty Middle School for the past 10 years.
Her husband, George, is also in education and teaches at Warren High School. They are both very involved with the Downey Rose Float Association, Downey Historical Society and Downey Conservancy. Carrie currently sits on the boards of the Exchange Club (a non-profit organization that supports the prevention of child abuse) and Gypsy Johnsons (an extension of the Downey Assistance League).
Carrie’s newest venture is to implement a “Drama Free Zone” on the Doty Middle School campus, where students can escape from negative talk and behavior. Staff will be available near the marked zones to offer support and words of encouragement.
Rita Rodarte-Myers: Rita Rodarte-Myers is one of the Financial Aid Directors at Downey Adult School Career and Education Center. Working with millions in federal funds for just little over a year now, Rita helps to make adult school education a reality for students. Spearheading program and policy changes to facilitate a more accessible and efficient financial aid program, the campus has seen a direct positive impact on enrollment and completion as a result of her involvement.
Working with diverse groups of students, Rita also provides outreach to DUSD high schools through community college orientations, application workshops, financial aid assistance, and personality-career assessment preparation. Her outreach continues at the adult and community level through Community Based English Tutoring (CBET), a program for elementary school parents that provides them with information on post-secondary options, financial aid, and empowerment that focuses on making college a DUSD family priority.
Prior to coming to DAS, Rita transformed Warren High School’s College & Career office into a student center filled with resources and limitless assistance, where students felt welcome to bring their questions and plan for their futures.
Volunteering for the city of Downey’s Relay for Life is a cause close to her heart, as she is a cancer survivor herself, and has lost her mother to cancer. After being a participant and team lead for a decade, she chaired last year’s Relay event, and which raised over $90,000 for the American Cancer Society and their Race for The Cure, making it the top 20th most successful Relay event in California. She is back this year with an important goal of raising over $87,000 to reach the City of Downey’s 15th year total contribution to American Cancer Society of one million dollars.
Selected to represent Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s 58th District in Sacramento, Rita lobbied state legislatures on behalf of bills supported by the American Cancer Society. All endeavors in Rita is involved with benefit greatly from her activism, dedication and empathy.
Georganne Bruce: On April 1, Georganne Bruce celebrated her 25th anniversary as executive director of Exchange Club Family Support Center, a child abuse prevention and parenting education agency. That same day also marks the agency’s 25th anniversary.
Georganne is proud of the services and level of impact the agency has made to many families in Downey and the surrounding communities. As a social worker, Georganne has been working in the field of child abuse prevention for almost 30 years. Additionally she has worked in the areas of emergency relief services and hospice counseling.
She is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach and was born, raised and still lives in Orange County. Georganne has been married to her husband, Jim, for over 28 years; they have a son serving in the United States Air Force and a daughter attending Northern Arizona University.
Mia Vasquez: Mia Vasquez was raised in Downey, attended Rio Hondo Elementary, Griffiths Middle School and is a graduate from Warren High School. Mia received her AA in Hospitality Management from Cypress Junior College while she was the event coordinator for eight years at Rio Hondo Country Club.
Mia then went on to be an executive secretary at Robinsons-May department store, and helped open the Irvine Spectrum location which is now a Macys. A year later, after two tragic family losses, it was time to come back to Downey and help manage the family business, Saywell Florist. Mia managed Saywell Florist for 14 years, until the retail store closed in 2014.
Mia changed the business model to be a full service event planning company now called Miss Saywell Event Planning, as well as keeping her feet in the flower brokerage business.
Mia is a two-term president of Soroptimist International of Downey. She has also served as fundraising chairwoman and in her six years as chairwoman has helped raise over $115,000 to give back to our community.
Mikayla Minnig: Mikayla is a senior at Downey High School, where has been a 4-year cheerleader and board member of the Downey Parent Teacher Student Association.
She is owner of Mikayla’s Royal Affair, where she works as a party planner and character entertainer. She also founded her own non-profit, Change for Arthritis, five years ago and has been an Arthritis Foundation ambassador for many years.
After being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of 3, Mikayla began to volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation along with her parents. Almost 14 years later she is still very involved in raising awareness about juvenile arthritis.
She has raised thousands of dollars for research and to help send kids with chronic and life-threatening illnesses to camp by holding yard sales and lemonade stands, and coordinating school-wide fundraisers at Trinity Christian School and Downey High. She also places change boxes throughout the community, collecting spare change that is used for juvenile arthritis research.
Mikayla also mentors newly diagnosed patients, speaks at schools and to service clubs, and testified in front of Congress on what it’s like to live with a painful childhood disease that is expected to follow her into adulthood.
Mikayla will attend Long Beach State this fall.
Rita Assoian: As Rita Assoian drove home after closing the restaurant where she worked on the morning of Sept. 12, 2009, all she could think about was getting some sleep. It was well past midnight, and she was almost home, just a few minutes away from the comfort of her bed.
Everything was right with her life. She was a first-year college student and track star at Glendale Community College with an apparently limitless future. Then in an instant, everything changed.
A car speeding at more than 90 miles an hour plowed into her car, which then hit Rita and tossed her high into the air. She flew through the night like a rag doll. When she landed more than 15 feet away, her body was devastated. The accident left Rita with 14 separate broken bones, a lacerated lung and liver, internal bleeding, the threat of paralysis from the breaks in her neck and spine, and possible brain damage from bruising and blood on the brain.
As she lay lifeless, the odds that Rita could survive were not in her favor. Paramedics arrived at the accident scene within five minutes and immediately summoned a helicopter to airlift her to Los Angeles County USC Medical Center.
The accident left her in a coma for 22 days. Doctors can’t say for sure what saved her, although they agree that she got the best possible medical care.
Rita rehabbed at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, and against all odds, returned to the world of competitive track and field with Glendale Community College. Today she is a full-time student at Concordia University and graduates May 7.