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Home » Santa Clarita News » Empowering HeArts Honorees Named

Empowering HeArts Honorees Named

SMOHeartsSingle Mothers Outreach, which provides education and training to help single parent families in the Santa Clarita Valley become independent, kicked off their second annual Empowering HeArts event last week with an elegant reception in The Woodlands community.


The annual fundraising initiative began last year and celebrates women who have overcome adversity, and exemplify courage and strength in family life and community.

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This year’s Empowering HeArts theme is “Breaking Barriers,” and will highlight the stories of several honorees who have been nominated by a member of the community or local organization.

The honorees have been paired with a local artist who will creatively capture their story through compelling photography, water color or oil painting which will be on display at the gala event, taking place on Saturday, November 19 at 6 p.m. at the Dianne G. Van Hook University Center at College of the Canyons.

A panel of industry professionals will review the artists’ work and will announce the “winning” honoree and artist at the November 19 event. The collection of artists’ work will also be available in a commemorative book detailing each woman’s story.

The “Breaking Barriers” nominees include:

Sarah Alethia:  Nominated by Real Life Church, this courageous young woman left prostitution to begin a new life. Paired with photographer Joanie Miller.

Tamara Gurney:  Nominated by the staff of Single Mothers Outreach, she climbed the ranks to become a bank president in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Paired with painter Nancy Eckels.

Gail Ishimoto: Nominated by her son, this hard-working single mother worked two jobs while attending college full-time so she could provide her sons with a better life. Paired with sculptor/watercolorist Zony Gordon.

Marlee Lauffer:  Nominated by the Single Mothers Outreach Board of Directors, Lauffer is an independent, successful woman working in real estate development with Newhall Land and political arenas mostly dominated by men. Paired with photographer Samantha Hines.

Debora LeBlanc:  Nominated by Charter College, this single mother of two boys attends school full-time while battling cancer. Paired with photographer Michaela Hart-Zerib.

Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch:  Nominated by Levitt Pavilions, this inspiring woman transformed her life-long passion for the arts and music into a source for social change that contribute to community strength. Paired with painter Georgette Arison.

Mitzi Like:  Nominated by her team at L/B/W Insurance, this former single parent started and pioneered advancement for women in the insurance industry. Paired with photographer Maureen Benoit.

Gloria Locke:  Nominated by DaAnne Smith, this courageous 16-year-old was living on the streets of Detroit and convinced her mother to move to California to begin a new life. Paired with photographer Phil Althouse.

Barbara Ralsten:  Nominated by her daughter, this single mother broke through the barrier of domestic violence and substance abuse.  When one of her children was sexually abused, she became a tireless advocate to bring the abuse to justice, and appeared on national television to bring attention to this issue. Paired with photographer Sandra Correll.

Maria Rodriguez:  Nominated by her family, Rodriguez was a newly-widowed woman when she smuggled her then-7-year-old son out of Cuba to the US shortly after Fidel Castro took power.  Seven years later, this brave mother fled the country as a political exile to the US to be reunited with her son. Paired with photographer Ted Dayton.

Julie Visner:  Nominated by College of the Canyons, Visner is a 30-year employee of the College and dedicated counselor, helping countless students find satisfying career paths as she has battled back from cancer. Paired with painter Laurie Finkelstein.

Jayme Wisdom:  Nominated by Laura Pecham, a CPA from Soren McAdam Christenson, this 8th grade science teacher is raising a special needs son without the support of nearby family. She continually radiates contentment and peace despite her challenging circumstances. Paired with photographer Yoti Telio.

The November 19th Empowering HeArts gala event will offer sparkling wine, hors d’ouevres and live music provided by Grammy-nominated R&B singer/songwriter Shanice Wilson, best known for the 90’s hit singles, “I Love Your Smile” and “When I Close My Eyes.” In addition, her vocal talents have been aligned with such major recording artists as Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, Usher, Kenny Loggins, Babyface, Josh Groban and InSync. In addition, she has appeared on Broadway in “Les Miserables.” Over the years, Wilson has remained widely visible, receiving close to six million hits from her devoted YouTube followers.

Tickets to the Empowering HeArts gala event may be purchased for $65.00 at All proceeds will benefit the programs and services of Single Mothers Outreach, helping the organization to continue its mission organized around the four “Pillars of Success:” Assist, Grow, Sustain and Inspire.

Empowering HeArts Honorees Named

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