Every year, Los Angeles city council members get the chance to honor one woman in their district; a pioneer whose work is changing the lives of Angelenos every day. Last Friday, L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, bestowed the title of Pioneer Woman of 2011 on Yolanda Brown, the new Parish Life Director at Blessed Sacrament Church. Tom LaBonge, 4th district, honored Aileen Getty, a philanthropist and founder of Gettlove, a program which feeds the homeless, and Paul Koretz, 5th District, nominated Rosalind “Roz” Wyman, the youngest person and second woman to ever sit on city council.
Brown, Getty and Wyman were three of the 15 women honored for their service and impact in their local communities by the city council. This year’s Pioneer Women were treated to breakfast at the top of city hall, where they were each introduced and awarded a certificate by the council member who chose them.
“I hope I’ve helped make it clear what a pioneer Roz has been for our city, but I certainly want to emphasize that she has been a pioneer for women,” councilmember Koretz said in his introduction of Wyman at the breakfast. “She has been a trailblazer of female political involvement and an illustrious example for girls and women, by virtue of her compassionate activism and profound leadership, serving the causes of our city and all people but always marked by a special determination to empower women in the political process and all walks of life.”
Wyman was a member of the city council from 1953 to 1966, and she was instrumental in bringing both the Dodgers and the Lakers to Los Angeles. She was also the first woman to chair the Democratic National Convention in 1984.
Aileen Getty, Tom LaBonge’s choice for Pioneer Woman, is the granddaughter of oil baron J. Paul Getty, but made her own name in Los Angeles as an influential philanthropist. She is also the founder of Gettlove, an organization that helps the homeless by providing food, clothing, personal items, and winter jackets to the homeless.
Many of the women honored have collaborated on projects together, and speak highly of each other’s work.
“Aileen has a heart of gold that is beyond just advocacy, one in which she endeavors to transform other people’s lives, just simply through understanding the joy and the happiness that people deserve,” said Yolanda Brown, who works with Getty to alleviate homelessness. “It was a very humbling experience to be honored, because each councilmember nominated a woman, and I was surrounded by women who have inspired me and encouraged me and who I will continue to work with in the future.”
President Garcetti also stressed the collaborative nature of these women with each other as well as the city, particularly with his nominee, Yolanda Brown.
“Yolanda has been involved in a wide range of social issues in Hollywood, from addressing homelessness to creating jobs to providing much-needed services to low-income families,” Garcetti said. “It’s been a pleasure working with her, and I look forward to continuing to do so.”
Blessed Sacrament has a reputation as a social ministry, and has often collaborated with the city to make their service initiatives happen.
“It’s a real institution in the community, helping not just parishioners but members of the surrounding community as well,” said Julie Wong, President Garcetti’s senior advisor and communications director. The church offers social services to the homeless and runs a food pantry and a school, among other outreach programs.
Brown was formerly the pastoral associate to Reverend Michael J. Mandala, who recently left the post. She also spent seven years as a pastoral associate for the Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, where she was known for her efforts in helping the local community flourish.
Brown comes to the church from an unlikely background: before her work at the Dolores Mission, she worked in the financial industry. But those who know her say that this unique mix of experience is what makes Brown so successful.
“Yolanda has a wide variety of experience that’s not just pastoral. She has a lot of experience out in the world, which makes her very approachable,” said Deacon Scott Palmer, who serves as the regional assistant to Bishop Ed Clark and has known Brown for two years. “She also has a great sense of humor, which is very important when you work in a very wide parish environment. You’re dealing with a variety of communities and backgrounds, and you have to be able to adapt quickly.”
As Parish Life Director, Brown is responsible for the administration of the church and the Blessed Sacrament School next door, including staffing and fundraising. She also serves as the face of the parish, connecting with its members, reaching out to other parishes, and working with organizations throughout the city. She was unreachable for comment at press time.
“I don’t think the woman sleeps,” laughs Suzanne Jones, the principal at Blessed Sacrament School. “She comes in at 8:30 or 9 in the morning, and stays until 8 or 9 at night. She’s tireless.”
“The amount of time and energy and commitment she’s put into serving Hollywood is totally disproportionate to the recognition she gets,” Wong said. “Hopefully, this award will inspire other women and young people to answer the call to service. Maybe it will inspire people like Yolanda who aren’t a hundred percent satisfied with their initial career choice to give something else a try.”
“It is very well deserved,” Palmer said of Brown’s nomination. “Within what she’s doing, she is a pioneer. She is among the few courageous women who have stepped forward into this position, and part of being a pioneer is being courageous.”
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