EL CENTRO — MANA de Imperial Valley honored three local women and celebrated its 25th anniversary as a local chapter at the annual Las Primeras Gala & Scholarship Fundraiser Friday, October 18. This year, the three honorees included the Honorable Monica Lepe-Negrete, Esther Sanchez-Banda and Veronica Avila Platero. The event was held at the Barbara Worth Country Club in Holtville with over 350 individuals in attendance. The annual gala raises funds for MANA’s local scholarship program for high school and Imperial Valley College students.   

“We are excited to have the opportunity to celebrate this important milestone for our local chapter,” said Martha Singh, president of MANA de Imperial Valley. “As we celebrate 25 years of service to our community, it is important to acknowledge that MANA could not have done this without the support and contributions of community partners, gala sponsors, corporate members and members.”  

The Las Primeras Award is presented each year to three Latina women who are first in their fields and whose achievements and have gone above and beyond in serving the community. Since inception of the Las Primeras event, 73 women have been honored with the recognition. The Honorable Monica Lepe-Negrete is an Imperial County Superior Court judge. Prior to being elected as judge, she was a lawyer in private practice and a partner in the first Latina-owned private law firm in Imperial County. She has advocated on behalf of disadvantaged populations and served on numerous nonprofit organizations and community service boards. She previously held several positions on the MANA de Imperial Valley Board of Directors, including president. Esther Sanchez-Banda, a school board trustee with the Brawley Elementary School District, was honored for her leadership and tireless efforts in advocating for students in the community. She is currently serving as the president of Hidalgo Society in Brawley and is the first Latina to serve in that role. Veronica Avila Platero, branch manager and senior officer for Prime Lending, was honored for her contributions to the community and for being a champion for families in crisis. She is the president and co-founder of the Fred I. Yturalde Scholarship Foundation and a board member for the Cancer Resource Center of the Desert.

In addition to honoring the Las Primeras Honorees, this year the MANA Board also presented Legacy Awards to the Honorable Ruth Montenegro and Grace Alvarez Sesma for their exemplary leadership, strong community involvement and significant impact in improving the lives of Latinas. Mrs. Sesma was one of the original founding members of the MANA de Imperial Valley chapter and was involved in planning the first Las Primeras event in 1994. She travels internationally to offer lectures on Mexico’s healing traditions. Judge Montenegro is the sole magistrate judge in Imperial County and the first female to hold the position in Imperial County. Judge Montenegro, a previous MANA president, was instrumental in expanding many of the chapter’s programs that are still in place today. During her presidency she increased the chapter’s revenues and membership exponentially, incorporated MANA de Imperial Valley as a 501 (c)(3), and the chapter was named Chapter of the Year by the MANA National organization where they were honored in Washington D.C.

About MANA:

MANA, a National Latina Organization, was founded in 1974 as the Mexican American Women's National Association. MANA's original intent was to provide a voice for Mexican American women at the national, state and local levels. The organization has since expanded into a diverse group of Latinas who continue to develop their abilities in political, social and professional fields. MANA empowers Latinas through leadership development, community service and advocacy. 

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