How two young Latina women embraced public service and became Sonoma County leaders
Community leadership is often provided by those seasoned by age and experience. But in Sonoma County many younger Latinos are stepping up to embrace public service, both professionally and as volunteers. Here are two young Sonoma County women with graduate degrees who chose to apply their passions and their skills close to home.
ARIANA DIAZ DE LEON
Advocate for success
She was raised in St. Helena, the heart of the Napa Valley, the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents. But when she enrolled in a master’s program in public administration at Sonoma State, Ariana Diaz De Leon went all in for Sonoma County.
Now the 31-year-old works for the Community Foundation Sonoma County as a senior program officer helping to ensure nonprofits get the funding they need and grant money reaches the people who need it the most.
“I just fell in love with Sonoma County,” De Leon said, “and I have been here ever since.”
One of the main reasons she loves Sonoma is its “generosity,” particularly when it comes to volunteering.
“People just love coming together, especially if it is a for a good purpose,” she said.
While at SSU, De Leon began looking for ways to serve her community. She applied to Supervisor Lynda Hopkins for an appointment to the Commission on the Status of Women representing the 5th District.
“I try to give a voice to women and girls in Sonoma County and bring that to the Board of Supervisors so that with anything they do, they do it with awareness that there is some inequity when it comes to gender.”?
One of her efforts has been to work on the Junior Commission Project, which brings together a group of high school girls on a monthly basis to work on a project.
“It’s about women’s empowerment and having a healthy body and being aware of human trafficking and domestic violence,” she said. “These young girls want to grow their leadership and become powerful women.”
During her time at Sonoma State she worked as a data analyst, an experience “close to me heart,” she said, because it allowed her to look for patterns and disparities between Latino and nonLatino students and to see how success is frequently tied to the resources available. Her work contributed to the effort to win for SSU status as a Hispanic Serving Institution, making it eligible for federal grants to increase the number of Hispanic students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and to improve advising, student internships, mentoring, tutoring, facilities, professional development, research and other programs geared toward helping students succeed.
As the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, De Leon understands the challenges that second-generation students and youth are facing. Her father was a vineyard worker. Her mother worked in factories in Los Angeles before moving north, marrying and working for many years in a St. Helena school cafeteria.
The Helena High School graduate decided to study social work at Long Beach State, a campus far enough away that she wouldn’t be tempted to run home if things got tough.
She joined the Community Foundation in June 2018. Technically she is a senior program officer but she prefers “Community Impact Officer.” Among other tasks, she works to arrange grants for nonprofits. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March she and colleagues were working on their annual Julia L. Grant Basic Human Needs program, which gives funds to agencies that provide emergency assistance to clients - money for a car repair or energy bill, for example - that might prevent them from spiraling downward financially. Aware that the impact of the pandemic would be devastating, the foundation quickly pivoted to strategically send money to organizations that had a good track record of stepping up during previous disasters like the Tubbs and Kincade fires and the West County floods.
“When a disaster hits, it’s not going to hit everyone the same. Those who had less to begin with are going to have a harder time recovering. And in Sonoma County there is a huge inequity when it comes to opportunity, jobs and education,” she said.
De Leon said one particular concern of the Community Foundation is mental health, particularly the undocumented community which, even before the pandemic struck, lived in fear of raids.
“They might be afraid to even ask for assistance,” she said. “To even ask for food or for financial aid, they don’t want it to come back to them and affect their ability to get residency if they ever get that opportunity.”
One of the organizations targeted for support was the nonprofit Humanidad, that provides bicultural and bilingual therapists on a sliding scale.