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Encouraging charity at the Women of Distinction Awards

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By Jennifer Belcher
Sports Editor

Women who have volunteered at and developed programs that deal with a variety of social issues — from homelessness to child abuse — were recently honored at the annual Women of Distinction ceremony.

The 39th annual awards event, hosted by Cuesta College and the Women’s Legacy Fund recognizes the contributions women have made in volunteering in their communities, their profession and in philanthropy.

“None of us are here because we made it on our own,” said Suzanne Parker, a member of the Women’s Legacy Fund. “We have all received help from an amazing woman in our life.”

The Women’s Legacy Fund mission aims to be a catalyst for philanthropy that improves the lives of women and girls in San Luis Obispo County. The event was held in March in honor of Women’s History Month at Cuesta. More than a hundred guests attend the event.

The honorees were nominated by their peers and chosen by a selection committee. These honorees were later introduced at the March ceremony by the person that had nominated them.

“Just take 15 seconds to think about an amazing woman in you life,” said Bob Watt, the man who nominated Lisa Fraser. “A mother, daughter, or wife.”

Fraser, the executive director of the Center for Family Strengthening since 2001, received the Community and Public Service Professional award for her 15 years creating and developing nine major programs throughout San Luis Obispo County. These programs were designed to strengthen families and stop the cycle of child abuse.

Cherie K. Michelson, president of Paso Cares, received the Community and Public Service Volunteer award. Michaelson has secured four churches to donate space for overnight warming centers as well as necessary supplies and transportation services for the homeless while generating publicity, grants and donations.

According to her nominator Pearl Munak, “Cherie works to eliminate the unmet needs for food and shelter in Paso Robles, working through all-volunteer organizations and performing the work at the absolute minimum of cost.”

Michelson revealed in her speech that a homeless woman told her that all she needed was a floor, a bathroom and a roof. She conducted a mobile fair for the homeless that included many local agencies, and she operates “Sandwiches on Sundays” in Pioneer Park every week.

Anita Robinson, the CEO of Coast National Bank, was given the Progress for Women award. Robinson founded Mission Community Bank in 1996 with a focus on underserved groups, and helped start the Housing Trust Fund of San Luis Obispo County. She also served 15 years on the board of the CAPSLO, the community agency focused on serving people living in poverty.

“When people ask me how I do it, I tell them it’s because I have an amazing mom,” said Anna Bates, the recipient of the Susan Dressler Women in Education Award which was last given out in 2010.

Bates has been an Agriculture Education teacher and part of the Future Farmers of America Department since 2002 at San Luis Obispo High School. Bates makes home visits to meet the families of her freshman students in order to involve them in the activities of the agriculture department.

Marissa Greenberg, Bates’ nominator and student explained that Bates is an ideal role model for all women lucky enough to know her.

Libbie Agran, the retired president of Libbie Agran Financial Services, closed out the ceremony receiving the Barbara George Women in Philanthropy. This special award was last given in 2010.

“Being mentored is a great thing. Having someone help fuel your imagination and guide you,” Agran said. “Those two things mentoring and imagination are a beautiful thing we all need to share.”

Agran’s Financial Services helped support women, the arts and people in the her community. She also went on to developed the Economics of Being a Woman, an educational series that demystified the world of finance for women in 1987.

“I’m proud of the incredible  passion and diversity of not only the women receiving these awards, but the women presenting them as well,” Agran said.

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