by Rick Griffin

The San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce recently honored six women at its Women in Leadership Luncheon (WILL) awards. Honorees included: Dr. Christina Back, physicist, General Atomics; Pamela Bensoussan, deputy mayor, Chula Vista City Council; Jo Marie Diamond, president/CEO, East County Economic Development Council (ECEDC); Marcie Hanna, director of education with the American Board of Home Care; Joanne Pastula, president/CEO, Junior Achievement of San Diego and Imperial Counties; and, Namara Mercer, executive director, San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association.. It was the Chamber’s 11th annual WILL awards, and the first time for a winner in the hospitality category. The Nov. 1 awards luncheon drew more than 350 attendees to the Town and Country Resort Hotel in Mission Valley.

The recipients were honored for their outstanding leadership, exemplary character and integrity in the community, as well as their efforts to empower other women to succeed and prosper, according to Leah McIvor, 2013 event chair.

Bensoussan, a certified art and antique appraiser, was honored in the arts, culture and media category for promoting arts programs and engaging the city’s Cultural Arts Commission as a Chula Vista City Councilmember.

Back, honored in the business category, is leading a new business unit, called the General Atomics’ Advanced Nuclear Materials Program, that is focusing on fabricating materials for nuclear reactors that are safer and more accident tolerant.

Diamond, honored in the non-profit category, is leading a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a healthy economic climate and an enhanced quality of life in San Diego’s East County region. The ECEDC is developing an aerotropolis strategic roadmap for the area surrounding the Gillespie Field airport. The aerotropolis concept calls for the creation of a concentrated effort that leverages the asset of the airport and its surrounding areas to stimulate economic growth.

Hanna, a licensed clinical social worker, was honored in the healthcare category for her work with older adults and developing intergenerational programs focusing on health and wellness over the past 25 years.

Pastula was honored in the education/academia category for expanding student participation in Junior Achievement from 15,000 students in 1999 to 50,000 students in the 2012-2013 school year. Under her leadership, she established in 2006 JA Biz Town, a 23,000-square-foot facility that features 20 different businesses where 14,000 fifth grade students visit annually to learn spending and budgeting lessons. She also is currently developing a new facility for teenagers called JA Finance Park, which is scheduled to open in 2015.

Mercer was honored in the hospitality category for her involvement in the Hotel-Motel Association starting in 1985, followed by her appointment as executive director in 2005.

Former TV anchor Carol LeBeau served as event emcee and keynote speaker was Deborah Scott, executive chef and partner of the Cohn Restaurant Group.

Rick Griffin
Rick Griffin

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