Women of Persistence 2019: Winners Announced

For the second year running, the Women’s Caucus of the League of California Cities honors women who have shaped their local communities through their tireless commitment.

In Santa Clara County, Women’s Caucus Board members Hon. Nancy Smith and Hon. Ellen Kamei used a common nomination form.

Following the Tradition of Women in State Legislature

The women of the State Legislature have a similar celebration and each legislator decides who he or she will honor for their Woman of the Year award based on their contribution to their district. Each Board member of the Women’s Caucus can select an honoree.

Eligibility and nominations

The honorees reside in Santa Clara county and could be elected, appointed, community leaders, and volunteers who are deserving of this award by having worked to equality, change, growth, improvement in their communities. We received nineteen nominations for eighteen amazing women this year.

Selection Process

As a way to celebrate women who have been ‘persistent’ in their journey, nineteen men and women took time to nominate eighteen women of persistence. The members of the Sunnyvale Youth Public Policy Institute created the nomination form and reviewed the nominations. They enjoyed learning about local women who have worked for equality, change, growth, improvement in their communities. They narrowed down the eighteen nominees to six finalists and called references. Two especially outstanding women emerged from the nominations received. The YPPI team recommended the two honorees and the Women’s Caucus Board members agreed.


Marie Bernard

Marie Bernard, Woman of Persistence 2019

Marie Bernard, Executive Director of Sunnyvale Community Services, has been selected as an honoree for persistence and tireless efforts to help families and at-risk individuals to find housing and resources. She writes grants and makes connections to help as many people as possible. She’s a great collaborator and cares a lot about not just helping people, but also helping them find a voice. Just one example of her persistence and dedication occurred in spring 2016, after a three-alarm fire at the Twin Pines Manor Apartment complex, rendering the entire complex unsafe, and left 169 people homeless, 80% of whom were low- to extremely low-incomes, and they had lost their homes, and for many, all of their belongings.

Just three days after the fire, Sunnyvale Community Services took over case management for all of the families. Marie personally reached out to members of the City Council, who helped the families relocate the day of the fire. Over the ensuing weeks, she helped 70 families rebuild their lives by securing funding from our City, our County, The Housing Trust, dozens of corporations, and hundreds of individuals. Local hotels gave discounted rates, nonprofits stepped up with transitional housing units, and dozens of landlords eased their lease requirements for fire victims. Just a month later, all 70 families found permanent housing.

Marie resides in Sunnyvale.

Joan Kurtz

Joan Kurtz, Woman of Persistence 2019

Joan Kurtz, Co-Chair of the Educational Equity Committee of the AAUW Sunnyvale Cupertino Branch, has been selected as an honoree for persistence in helping girls in our region get exposure to STEM careers. She does all she can raise funds for women returning to school, helping women preparing for college, and sending girls Tech Trek, a camp designed to develop interest, excitement, and self-confidence in young women who will enter eighth grade in the fall. It features hands-on activities in STEM-related fields.

She lead the selection process for choosing the 8th grade girls by forming teams to review the applications and essays, interview the girls and their parents, and make the final selection of eight girls. Throughout the year she constantly looks for sources of funding for the campers – $900 to $1,000 per girl. She organized used book collections and sales at her home, using her garage to store books between sales, often carting them around on her ever-present walker. Her ISBN parties found members sitting around her kitchen table checking online to find book buyers who would pay more than the $1.00 price charged at books sales.

When book sale profits began to fall, she sought help from other organizations. She approached the Cupertino Rotary and explained the Tech Trek mission, brought Cupertino girls who had attended Tech Trek to talk about their experiences. The result: Cupertino Rotary now contributes $2,000 each year to support Tech Trek. Each year she arranges for the Cupertino campers to give a presentation at a Rotary meeting. This is a great experience for the girls as well as the members. She has also collected funds from other local groups she is associated with.

Now 86 years old, Joan’s eyesight no longer allows her drive or use the computer, but she is still able to phone and send notes to keep members of the group involved. Her persistence goes on and on.

Joan is a resident of Santa Clara.

Additional Recognition (So Far)

Hon. Cindy Chavez of the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors meeting will be recognizing the League of California Women’s Caucus Women of Persistence honorees with a proclamation presented at 4 p.m. Monday, March 11, when the Board of Supervisors will vote to adopt a special commendation for Marie and Joan for her achievements and dedication as a “Woman of Persistence” honoree of the League of California Cities.

The women will be featured in an upcoming post from the League of California Cities.

Reception for All

Join us for a reception celebrating all the nominators who shared their admiration for women of persistence and the women they admire. The Eventbrite page is here – sign up for a free ticket! The reception will be held at the Sunnyvale Elks Lodge on Sunday, March 31 from 3 to 5 pm.

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