Women Take Center Stage

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If this hadn’t been a virtual Zoom awards ceremony, it’s certain there would have been many hugs and congratulations all around for all seven of the outstanding women recognized at last week’s Malibu Women’s Leadership Awards.

The Malibu Chamber of Commerce and Pepperdine University presented the second annual women’s awards for business and philanthropy, which “celebrate exemplary leadership … and promote engagement in the business community.”

This year’s theme, Evolving for Success, recognized the ways in which local businesses and philanthropy adapted to change, including the challenges of the pandemic as well as the ongoing aftermath of the Woolsey Fire. 

The awardees were as follows:

Women Breaking Barriers: Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, president, Santa Monica College (SMC)—Jeffery’s biggest tie to Malibu is the current construction of the new SMC Malibu campus in the Civic Center area.

“I see my connection to Malibu as not just my role at SMC,” Jeffery said while accepting the award, adding, “I never expected to feel so comfortable in Malibu, and for the place to embrace me the way it has.” 

Women in Philanthropy: Avesta Carrara (sponsored by Optimist Club of Malibu)—Avesta went “above and beyond helping her neighbors after the Woolsey Fire in the trailer park at Seminole Springs,” according to the awards’ host, and also volunteers at the Malibu Navy League. The 143-lot trailer park lost 110 of its 143 trailers to the Woolsey Fire. 

“People were overwhelmed by the need and the loss,” Avesta said. She gave credit to Evelyn Weber and the Malibu Foundation for bringing in resources to help rebuild.

Women in the Community: Susan Manners, Malibu Association of Realtors—“Susi” Manners won the award because she “worked tirelessly to bring an understanding of COVID-19 policies and practices to her fellow Realtors.”

Andy Cohen Women in Safety award: Kian Schulman, co-founder, Poison Free Malibu—Schulman was presented the award by Chaya and Kevin Cohen, the adult children of Andy Cohen. Schulman has been working at city, county and state levels to protect wildlife and the environment since 2012 and helped to obtain a statewide moratorium on four kinds of rat poison that have been proven to get into the food chain and kill all kinds of wildlife, including mountain lions. The moratorium went into effect the first of this year.

Women in Health: Dr. Lisa Benya, Malibu Medical Group (sponsored by CURE Spa)—When the coronavirus hit last year, Benya formed a partnership with the nonprofit CORE and the City of Malibu to provide drive-through COVID-19 testing for the Malibu community. She was the lead doctor supervising the testing and thousands of people were tested.  

“This award means the world to me after an extremely difficult year,” Benya said. “We all have the ability to adapt and change based on life’s circumstances … We’ve all had so much trauma. It’s been awful—but we did what we could to protect the town from COVID.”

Women in Disaster Recovery: Cynthia Cornell Novak—Novak was nominated for her work with the LA County Woolsey Fire Long Term Recovery Group in the Seminole Springs trailer park. She worked with 80 outside groups like United Way and Red Cross to bring in resources, and also “stepped up as a leader to single handedly motivate that community to get motivated, take action and have hope,” said Jenni Campbell, executive director of the fire recovery group.

Lifetime Legacy Award: Karen Portugal York, publisher, The Malibu Times and Malibu Times Magazine—Karen has been an entrepreneur and businesswoman for most of her adult life and a Malibu resident for 45 years. She’s had businesses in advertising, public relations and executive recruiting, co-founded the Malibu Film Society and the Malibu Dolphin Charitable Foundation, and served on the boards of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, the La Costa Beach Club and the Malibu Chamber of Commerce. 

As far as receiving the “lifetime” award, she laughed. 

“I’m not done yet! I still have a lot to achieve!” York said. Calling herself a “serial entrepreneur,” Karen talked about “failures” in the business world. 

“Our mistakes and missteps are actually achievements. I learned more from my failures than I learned from my successes,” she emphasized.