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These 12 extraordinary women make up the 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit honorees. Graphic: Mónica Hernández/AL DÍA News.
These 12 extraordinary women make up the 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit honorees. Graphic: Mónica Hernández/AL DÍA News.

Announcing the 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit honorees

As nominated by the public and selected by our advisory board, 12 tremendous women leaders will be honored as the 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit later this month.

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The 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit Forum is less than three weeks away.

The annual media event acknowledges and celebrates the tremendous contributions of notable women leaders from throughout the region. 

At this year’s event, 12 dedicated and inspiring women will be honored for their impactful work within their respective industries.

The honorees are broken into five categories — Corporate, Education, Nonprofit, Public Service, and Entrepreneurship. 

In addition to the 10 who will be honored within the five aforementioned categories, there will also be an Emerging Leader Award recipient and a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. 

After a long nomination and selection process, AL DÍA is excited to officially announce the 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit honorees.

CORPORATE

  • Rebecca Acevedo

Rebecca Acevedo is the senior vice president and director of corporate communications at WSFS Bank, where she leads efforts in public relations and social media, among other areas.

A results-driven communications leader with more than 20 years of progressive communications experience, Acevedo often uses storytelling to drive brand equity, business outcomes, and customer and employee engagement. Over the years, she has established herself as an expert in providing strategic communication planning, thought leadership, advocacy/counsel, reputation and brand management, content marketing, employee engagement and media relations outreach, as well as utilizing her talents to develop and coach teams and work groups to accomplish business goals. 

Acevedo earned her bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University and then obtained a master’s degree in corporate communication from Rowan University.

  • María Garcia

María Garcia is the vice president district manager at KOHL’S with extensive experience leading teams in the Retail Industry.

She brings her passion for Diversity- Equity and Inclusion in each role.

Most recently, she served on Kohl's Diversity & Inclusive Task Force led by the CDO and championed by the CEO.

Garcia also spent the last 4 years creating a space for belonging and inclusion for Latinos as the Leader of the Hispanic y Latino Business Resource Group. 

The BRG brings the voice of its members to action by championing equitable opportunities and fostering a workplace of inclusion and belonging. 

A native of the Dominican Republic, Garcia received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature & Business from Fordham University.

EDUCATION

  • Michelle Lopez

Michelle Lopez is the director of the Institute for Community Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Community College of Philadelphia.

In her role, she is responsible for the College’s volunteer and service-learning programs, community outreach and partnerships, and the administration of student support programming. 

A higher education and nonprofit professional, Lopez also has over 15 years of experience in volunteer management, event planning, community engagement, relationship building, marketing and fundraising. 

She passionately creates events and experiences for students to feel empowered to improve community conditions. In 2018, she launched CCP’s #CCPVotes student democratic engagement program, which led to the College earning national recognition for three consecutive years as a Voter Friendly Campus through the Campus Vote Project and The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Lopez also co-designed and spearheaded the College’s Fostering Caring Connections program where existing and prospective students with experience in foster care can find safe spaces on campus to receive needed support to be successful through college completion. Lopez also launched Voluntarios En Accion, an older adult volunteer program for Congreso de Latinos Unidos. 

Lopez graduated from Penn State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in corporate communication. 

  • Latesha Beasley

Latesha Beasley is the vice president of operations at Girard College. 

In the role, she leads all administrative, operational, facilities, and human resources functions at Girard while partnering with the President on organizational strategy. 

A strategic planner and community advocate, Beasley has deep professional roots in the nonprofit and educational sectors, where she has advocated heavily for social justice and sustainable change in pursuit of equity and opportunity for all. 

Among her various previous roles include Program Director for Early Childhood Education with the Reinvestment Fund; Chief of Staff for North10 Philadelphia; and Senior Director of Operations and Special Projects for the Lenfest Center. 

As a champion for children, she also served as Interim Executive Director for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Camden County, where she was responsible for increasing the visibility of the program to ensure its sustainability. Under her leadership, the program grew its educational advocacy initiative to advocate for abuse and neglected children in out-of-home placement, and increased the percentage of young people who would receive a CASA volunteer. 

Beasley earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and a master’s degree in public administration from Villanova University. 

NONPROFIT

  • Rosalind Pichardo

Rosalind Pichardo is an activist and educator whose work has been heavily influenced by gun violence. She survived an attempted homicide, and shortly afterward her boyfriend Talvird Jackson was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. She later lost her twin sister to suicide and her brother, Alex, to murder. 

Her story was the subject of a short documentary titled, “Hello Sunshine.”

In response to those tragedies, Pichardo founded Operation Save Our City, a volunteer-led organization that supports homicide victims’ families in their time of greatest need. 

Through the nonprofit, she aims to offer comfort and facilitate communication with the police department to draw attention to unsolved crime and homicide cases. 

In June 2022, Pichardo was invited to the White House to be a witness of the bipartisan gun control bill. 

Pichardo also works in harm reduction for Prevention Point, the Kensington-based social services organization. She’s worked at Temple University Hospital’s emergency department as a trauma victim advocate, and also previously ran a DEA-sponsored drug education program for at-risk youth in Philadelphia schools. 

  • Leslie Patterson-Tyler

Leslie Patterson-Tyler is the Vice President Program Communications and Partners at The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc. 

In her role, she provides overall leadership and management of The Kimmel’s communication strategies for its programming and education initiatives and overall institutional identity and messaging, as well as overseeing internal communications initiatives and cross-departmental communications. Patterson-Tyler is also a member of The Kimmel’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and has been instrumental in helping The Kimmel with community engagement strategies that diversify audiences and key partnerships. 

Patterson-Tyler is also the co-owner and COO of Tyler Made Media, LLC, a multi-media consulting company that assists faith-based groups, non-profits, and small businesses tell their stories. She transitioned to PR after a very successful career as a television news executive having worked in commercial newsrooms around the country for over two decades. 

Her senior leadership management roles has seen her work in some of the nation’s most competitive markets, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami, and her native of Cincinnati. 

Patterson-Taylor is a graduate of Xavier University and studied in the Graduate School at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. 

PUBLIC SERVICE

  • Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz

Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz is a Pennsylvania State Representative for the 129th Legislative. She is the first Latina to ever be elected and the only Democrat currently representing this district.

A Dominican-American from New York City, Cepeda-Freytiz worked in a number of different roles in The Big Apple, including Program Director for the Beacon Center and part-time College Counselor for Marta Valle Secondary School. 

In 2007, she made the decision to relocate from NYC to Reading, Pennsylvania, for an entrepreneurial business endeavor. She is the founder of Mi Casa Su Casa Café. 

Her work as an entrepreneur led her to receive the James Hyson Entrepreneur Award from Community First Fund and be named the Businessperson of the Year by the Latino Chamber of Commerce. 

Upon entering into politics, she served as City Councilman of Reading’s 6th District before being elected State Representative. 

Cepeda-Freytiz obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz College, where she majored in French and minored in Spanish. She also obtained a Master of Science in Education degree from Long Island University. 

  • Joy Huertas

Joy Huertas is the Senior Deputy of Communications for the City of Philadelphia.

Huertas joined the City just six weeks before the 2020 lockdowns, placing her in the unique role of communicating critical information to Philadelphians in the midst of  once-in-a-generation events. In the role, she has led strategic communications and advises senior leaders for a wide portfolio of City departments and has been critical in leading public safety emergency communications, ensuring that the public and the press had critical updates as quickly as possible during the COVID-19 citywide vaccine rollout and various other events. 

Throughout her career, Huertas has displayed strong dedication and passion for serving and advocating for those who need it most. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, she immigrated to the United States at the age of 17, later becoming the first in her family to complete an advanced college degree. 

As the daughter of a pastor, her work in public service and advocacy began several years earlier when she joined a humanitarian mission to assist young victims of the war conflict in Colombia during the mid-to-late 2000s. 

Huertas holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a master’s degree in strategic communications from Liberty University. 

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

  • Gabriela Watson-Burkett

Gabriela Watson-Burkett is an award-winning filmmaker, producer and multimedia journalist, and co-founder of ¡Presente! Media!, a creative collective that produces bilingual journalistic articles and documentaries focused on social justice. 

As a Producer, Watson-Burkett has been part of several media outlets, including WPVI-TV/6ABC, WHYY, and PhillyCAM. She has also taught Latin American Cinema and filmmaking at various universities across the city. 

Throughout her career, Watson-Burkett has shown a keen passion for using her storytelling skills to bring attention to social inequalities and also highlight inspiring stories of communities often overlooked in traditional media. 

Watson-Burkett holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Faculdade Casper Libero in her native Sao Paulo, Brazil, and an MFA in film & media arts with an emphasis in documentary arts and ethnographic practice from Temple University. 

  • Ana Omana

Ana Omana is a multi-passionate professional and creative visionary, whose innovative mind has led to many firsts for the Latino community in Philadelphia.

As a published writer and author of children’s books, when Omana noticed a lack of platforms for Latin American authors like herself to showcase their work, she led the charge in co-founding the Latin American Book Fair in Philadelphia. 

Coming up on its 5th year, the Latin American Book Fair is an annual event that hosts authors, writers, designers and readers from across the city to promote and showcase their work. 

Omana is also the founder of Latin America Thrives, a cultural event that highlights the multicultural Latino community that enriches the city of Philadelphia every day. 

As a creative mind, Omana is known for working with other creative community leaders and entrepreneurs to create, design and execute strategies that showcase, gain exposure and empower the Latino community. 

In addition to those endeavors, Omana also serves as the events director for Gente de Venezuela, culture director for Alianza Latina, and program coordinator at Congreso de Latinos Unidos. 

Omana is a graduate of Universidad Católica del Táchira in her native Venezuela, where shere earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. 

EMERGING LEADER

  • Erika Guadalupe Núñez

Erika Guadalupe Núñez is the executive director of JUNTOS, a community-led, South Philly-based Latinx immigrant organization that advocates for human rights for workers, parents, youth, and other marginalized groups.

A cultural organizer, Guadalupe Núñez’s personal experiences have heavily influenced her advocacy work. After emigrating from Mexico at a young age with her mother, she remained undocumented in the U.S. until 2013. With her firsthand understanding of the challenges that come with that reality, she has dedicated the past decade fighting against the criminalization, detention and deportation of her community. 

Also an artist in her own right, Guadalupe Núñez’s public work has centered around creating art for rallies and cultural celebrations with members of her community to both highlight issues of inequality as they pertain to the immigrant rights movement and preserve traditions for future generations. 

Guadalupe Núñez is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, printmaking & drawing.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT 

  • Sara Manzano-Diaz

Sara Manzano-Diaz is the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the first Latina to be appointed to the role.

In her role, she leads the charge in protecting the interest of the public by ensuring the integrity of legalized gaming through strict enforcement of the law and regulations, the licensing of qualified individuals and entities, and fulfilling the objectives of legalized gaming in the Commonwealth. 

Over her career, Manzano-Diaz has accomplished significant and distinguished public service work on both the state and federal levels. 

On the state government side, Manzano-Diaz has served as the highest-ranking Latina Law Enforcement official in her previous role as Pennsylvania’s Executive Deputy Attorney General for Public Protection, as well as Deputy Secretary of State for Regulatory Programs. 

At the federal level, she served as the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of General Services, Director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, and various Senior Executive Service positions at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Manzano-Diaz holds a bachelor of science degree in public relations and communications from Boston University, and a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law. 

The honorees were selected by our esteemed 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit Advisory Board

These women represent the changing demographics of 21st-century America, one in which no business, organization, or corporation can survive — let alone excel — without the presence and contributions of women leaders. 

AL DÍA is looking forward to celebrating those contributions, and providing a platform to allow these brilliant women to obtain their due. 

The 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit Forum & Reception will take place Friday, May 19, 2023, at Franklin’s View. For more information or to purchase tickets to attend the premier celebration of multicultural women leaders, click here

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