Donna Zapata, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma County, is leaving her post to become a business development representative for Redwood Credit Union.

Zapata, who has been with the chamber for four years, said her decision to leave the organization was extremely difficult and she has "mixed emotions" about the change.

"But at the same time knowing what I was able to do for the last four years, being able to be part of something like that was always a badge of honor -- I love my community," she said.

Zapata said she is most proud of her efforts at the chamber to establish a leadership forum aimed at cultivating local leaders who reflect the county's rapidly changing demographics. Modeled after The Press Democrat Leadership Forum, the program launched in 2009.

"It was one of the first things I implemented with the Hispanic Chamber. It's very dear to my heart," she said.

Pedro Toledo, president of the chamber, said Zapata helped build a solid foundation for the chamber, which was founded in 1998. She joined the chamber as office manager and was promoted to executive director in November 2011, Toledo said.

"She's always been the face of the chamber," Toledo said. "When people think of the Hispanic Chamber they think of Donna Zapata."

During her brief tenure, the chamber added 20 new members, increasing its membership to 250, he said. Aside from her work with the chamber's leadership forum, Zapata helped improve the group's operational effectiveness and strengthened the chamber's communications with members, Toledo said. Zapata will continue to work with the chamber on events and initiatives, he said.

"Donna's not really going away," he said. "She will serve on our advisory committee. She's still very committed to the chamber."

Before joining the chamber, Zapata worked at Redwood Credit Union in its call center serving members.

Previously, she worked for 30 years at Hewlett-Packard and spinoff Agilent Technologies. During the last 15 of those years, Zapata worked in facilities engineering as a program project manager.

Her husband, who works as a process technician for Agilent, is retiring this year, she said.

Zapata said her decision to join Redwood Credit Union was also motivated by the fact that she will now be receiving health benefits, which she was not getting for her work at the chamber.

"It's not a loss," she said. "I'm just moving on to helping our community in a different way."

Zapata's last day at the chamber is Feb. 15. She begins her new job in March.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or