Notable Minority Leaders – February 2022 – BizWest


This category recognizes leaders from a wide range of sectors who have demonstrated the power to advance their industries, workplace equality and civic engagement in our region.

The leaders profiled in the following pages were nominated by their peers at work and in the community and showcase the diversity of talent in our market. The leadership shown by the individuals profiled here is setting an example to shape a better future for our region.

METHODOLOGY: The honorees did not pay to be included. Their profiles were drawn from nomination materials. This list features only individuals for whom nominations were submitted and accepted after a review by our editorial team. To qualify for the list, nominees must be employed at companies in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado.

To nominate for future Notables, please visit events.bizwest.com/notables.


Sebastian Africano

Trees, Water and People

Executive director

Years in industry: 20

“Sebastian [Africano] is the backbone of our organization and is taking Trees, Water and People to a whole new level. Sebastian is a compassionate, strong and wise leader that gives us motivation to strive and excel every single day when we come to work at TWP,” said office manager Noelani Salas. 

“He deserves this more than anyone I know because he’s helped expand programs to help minorities in under-developed communities have a cleaner source of energy to cook with. For example, one program focuses on delivering clean stoves to communities in central America that are in need of a cleaner cooking appliance. He also has helped facilitate reforestation programs here in the U.S. Sebastian has developed and is continuing to grow long lasting relationships with indigenous communities across the United States and groups in Central America as well to change lives for the better. 

“His hard work ethic is contagious as he keeps us working hard so we can also follow in his footsteps to make a better tomorrow for the planet and people.”


Betty Aragon-Mitotes

Mujeres de Colores

President/founder

Years in industry: 20

“Betty Aragon-Mitotes is a vocal advocate for the Fort Collins Hispanic community, founder of local nonprofit Mujeres de Colores and co-founder of Museo de las Tres Colonias, an adobe home-turned-museum that highlights working conditions in the area’s sugar beet industry and Hispanic life in 20th century Fort Collins,” said Jessica Thrasher, education and outreach manager at the Colorado Stormwater Center. 

“She produced the 2016 documentary ‘Fort Collins, Choice City. For Whom?’ about racism in Fort Collins and gentrification in its historically Hispanic neighborhoods. Her latest documentary, ‘Hispanic community voices: COVID-19,’ will be screened over Zoom on Jan. 23.”

Aragon-Mitotes led the campaign to get a memorial sculpture in honor of Hispanic and Mexican sugar beet workers approved for the city’s Sugar Beet Park, which opened near Tres Colonias’ Andersonville and Alta Vista neighborhoods in 2019. She also leads the Backpack program getting children ready for school every August by providing free school supplies and backpacks. And she leads the Posadas event, part of the Mexican Christmas tradition. Posadas usually starts with a traditional reenactment of Mary and Joseph walking through the streets seeking shelter ahead of the birth of Jesus, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event consisted of an outdoor distribution of toys, coats, blankets, grocery gift cards and food baskets to area families. “In 2021, she organized two distribution events and served more than 200 families. She is such an important advocate in our community and an amazing leader.”


Dr. Albert Bimper

Colorado State University

Assistant vice president of Academic Affairs

Years in industry: 10

College, university: Colorado State University, Purdue University, University of Texas – Austin

“Dr. Albert Bimper has emerged as a strong, dynamic young leader in higher education. He serves a dual reporting role to the director of athletics at CSU and the vice president for Student Affairs. He oversees an $825,000 budget supporting the student success and programming for all CSU student-athletes — 400 students across 16 different sports. He provides the vision and strategic leadership for academic and student development services to support student-athlete success,” said Cara Neth, director of executive communications. 

“In his role, which was created for him given his area of academic specialty, he has created the first strategic plan for student athlete support services, expanded tutoring support for students, created a new advising process in cooperation with the academic colleges, implemented a new study hall model for student-athletes, created a program to assist athletes with internships and career planning, and created a study abroad experience specifically designed for athletes who typically can’t take advantage of these experiences because of training schedules. 

“CSU student athletes recorded a cumulative GPA of 3.31 for all sports teams in Fall 2020, largely as a result of his leadership in expanding their support and academic coaching. Albert is also the first chief diversity and inclusion officer for CSU Athletics, and the first in this role among all schools in the NCAA. In 2014, he earned the NCAA’s Diversity Award for his leadership. In addition, he oversees the master of sport management graduate and undergraduate programs at CSU; the MS program now ranks seventh in the U.S. He has been named a 2021-22 National Fellow of the Education Advisory Board Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship Program, nominated by CSU President Joyce McConnell, and received the Emerging Scholar Award from Diverse Issues in Higher Education. He is an exceptional mentor and colleague.


Ann
Cooper

ReMax of Boulder

Broker associate

Years in industry: 25

“Ann [Cooper] has been a tireless leader in the residential real estate game. She has been helping families in the Boulder Valley for the past 25 years. She has helped counsel many in the minority community to purchase homes and investment properties,” said fellow broker associate Lisa Wade. 

“It is one of her main goals to help folks build their wealth through owning real estate. She is also a tireless advocate for civic engagement and helping with nonprofits and charities. She sits on several boards. It is her goal this year to create a team of women of color at ReMax of Boulder to continue the work of educating other minorities about the opportunities that owning property can bring them,” said Wade.


Drew Esquivel

FirstBank

Assistant vice president

Years in industry: 5

College, university: Colorado State University

“Drew [Esquivel] is highly involved in the community and currently acts as the assistant problem captain for the Colorado Odyssey of the Mind, district director for Delta Sigma Pi, as well as a board member of Friends of A Woman’s Place and Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra,” said Janese Younger, senior vice president at FirstBank.

“Drew heads FirstBank’s Spanish Banking Centers in Greeley working to meet the language needs of our community and provide banking services across all levels of the bank to Spanish speaking individuals. Drew originated the most loans to Spanish speaking customers out of the entire company in 2021 and continues to challenge himself to exceed his previous years’ best. 

“In this position, he also works to train our Spanish speaking staff members on financial vocabulary, customer service and ways to advance within the company. Overall, Drew is self-driven and focused on making a difference in his community. Drew is deserving of this recognition because he actively works to help advance others and help them achieve their goals,” Younger said.


Angel Flores

Mosaic Church

Pastor

Years in industry: 20

“Angel Flores is not only an intelligent, gifted and caring leader of Mosaic Church in Greeley, he is also an actively involved community leader. Under his leadership Mosaic Church has grown significantly. The congregation has developed and implemented several projects that have benefitted the region,” said Jeannine Truswell, president and CEO of United Way of Weld County. 

“For the past several years Angel has led the United Way of Weld County Weld’s Way Home Collaborative Initiative to address, prevent and end homelessness, helping this collaborative effort achieve several goals and progress. One of the programs under the Weld’s Way Home comprehensive plan is on track to end veteran homelessness in Weld and Larimer counties in the next year. 

“He also serves as chair elect of the UWWC board of directors and is an active leader on other community committees and councils. He is greatly respected by leaders in private business, public, nonprofit and faith sectors of the Greeley and Weld County community,” Truswell said. 

“Pastor Flores is recognized as a motivational speaker sought after by local, state and national organizations in the development of leadership skills. He speaks to many minority youth groups in the area inspiring young people to set positive goals for their lives.”


Cristóbal Garcia

University of Northern Colorado

Associate director of alumni relations

Years in industry: 7

College, university: University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University

Chris Garcia is a first-generation graduate from the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University, and the Latino Leadership Institute through the University of Denver. He currently is the associate director of alumni relations at UNC, working to engage alumni from across the country in institutional priorities, alumni career employment and advancement, institutional recruitment efforts, and through alumni social media channels. 

“Chris is also co-founder of the Latino Northern Colorado podcast, which highlights issues, opportunities and contributions of leaders in the Hispanic/Latinx community in the area. Chris serves UNC on both the Hispanic Serving Institution taskforce and the Graduation & Retention Taskforce with a focus on finding, developing and scaling the policies, procedures, and practices that increase servingness and student success and persistence toward graduation,” said CeCe Majchrowski, workforce deputy director with Employment Services of Weld County. 

“He recently left the board of directors of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization. He is a 2018 Honoree of both 40 Under Forty from BizWest, and the Student Impact Award from the Colorado Coalition for the Educational Advancement of Latinos, and a 2020 honoree of the Best of Greeley in the Community Activist category from the Greeley Tribune. 

“In his free time, he enjoys building community in the company of loved ones and friends and hiking the Colorado outdoors. Chris’ personal philosophy: Every day, I show up as the collaborative, authentic, impactful, espacio-filling advocate who adds culture and to brings a new perspective and style to my organization and my community. Additionally, UNC Alumni Magazine recently featured Chris as an influencer of Power the Comeback: https://www.unco.edu/unc-magazine/blue-gold/2021/fall-alumni-notes.aspx


Dr. SherRhonda Gibbs

University of Northern Colorado

Dean of the Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business

College, university: Grambling State University, Winona State University, Jackson State University

SherRhonda Gibbs, who goes by “Sher,” recently joined the faculty and administration at UNC as the dean of the business college. She was previously the interim director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Management where she held the endowed chair of minority entrepreneurship.

She held positions in the private sector at the Mayo Clinic and at IBM. 

She earned a Ph.D in business administration, an MBA and a bachelor’s in computer science.

She specializes in the study of entrepreneurship, including recognizing opportunity, social psychological perspectives and entrepreneurship among Blacks and underrepresented minorities.

She’s a faculty fellow of the Direct Selling Educational Foundation, senior vice president of membership for the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and is the associate editor of “Management Decision.”


Bryan Guest

Great Western Bank

Northern Colorado Group President

Years in industry: 25

College, university: University of Northern Colorado; Graduate School of Banking at Colorado

Bryan began his banking career when he was 17-years-old as a data entry specialist and has been working in the financial industry ever since. Prior to joining Great Western Bank, Bryan held numerous positions such as Wholesale Analyst, Underwriter, Commercial Lender, Market President, and SVP of Community Banking. Bryan also served as the CFO of an Oil/Gas Industry service company. Bryan received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Northern Colorado and was an honors graduate of the Graduate School of Banking – Colorado. 

Dedicating himself to the United Way, Bryan served on the United Way of Larimer County from 2004 – 2013 and the United Way of Weld County from 2013 – present. He previously held the title of Board Chair for the United Way of Larimer County and is the current Board Chair for the United Way of Weld County. He is also a member of the Board of Trustee’s for Mosaic Church, and a board member of Greeley’s A.C.E. program.


Tatiana Hernandez

Community Foundation of Boulder County

CEO

Years in industry: 19

College, university: George Washington University

Tatiana Hernandez assumed the role of CEO of the Boulder County Community Foundation in just July last year, but she’s no newcomer to philanthropy and foundation work.

For the past 19 years, she’s been deeply embedded in nonprofit work that extends not just to raising money for charitable purposes but also attempting to solve problems.

She came to Boulder County from the Emily Griffith Foundation, where she served as president. She led the development of mission aligned fundraising strategy that resulted in revenue of $2 million annually. She also created the nuts and bolts policies necessary for any successful foundation: fiscal management policies, gift acceptance policies, investment policies.

Prior to Emily Griffith, she worked as senior program officer at the Kresge Foundation in Detroit, where, among other things, she worked with a cross-team group to “strengthen democracy, protect human dignity and build access to justice,” according to her LinkedIn profile. 

“Tatiana is a creative, thoughtful and dynamic professional who cares deeply about using the power and platform of philanthropy to create a more just and equitable world. I enjoyed collaborating with Tatiana while we were both at The Kresge Foundation and would eagerly do so again,” said Chris Kabel, senior fellow at Kresge.

She worked at the Hemera Foundation in Colorado to create the first public/private funders collaborative for the arts in the state. And she worked at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as program officer for the arts where she managed a portfolio of more than 500 grantees totalling more than $100 million in investments.


Arthur Hicks

Namaste Solar

Senior director of technical services

Years in industry: 8

“Arthur [Hicks] built a partnership between Namaste Solar, Denver Public Schools, and the district’s CareerCoach program to give high school students the opportunity to learn about professional paths in the solar industry. He drove this partnership with Namaste Solar’s mission and values in mind, notably to ‘create holistic wealth for our community’ and to ‘build equity and dismantle oppressive systems,’” Zoe McKinney, marketing coordinator for Namaste said.

“This program helps students from historically underrepresented groups gain valuable career experience in the electrical trades. Interns develop the technical skills to create residential solar designs that are used in new construction communities. Namaste Solar employees have mentored 60 students, totaling about 1,400 volunteer hours. As someone who attributes many opportunities he’s had to being a former DPS student, Arthur is proud to give back. 

“As the senior director of technical services, Arthur leads the Residential Design, Consulting Design, and Operations and Maintenance teams. The results of his leadership can be seen in record profitability in 2021 for his division at Namaste Solar. Last year, Arthur oversaw 17,900 solar designs, totaling 269 MW of solar. The clean renewable energy these systems produce is equivalent to removing emissions from 129,146 vehicles each year for the life of the system. “Arthur has held various roles at Namaste Solar, including warehouse manager, commercial installer and residential designer. Each of these positions allowed him to develop skills that made him the leader he is today. He encourages new hires to explore their interests and find avenues of professional development within the company. As a senior director, Arthur prioritizes the growth and happiness of his co-workers. This approach has increased tenure and creates an inclusive, capable, and well-rounded team at Namaste Solar.”


Gaudencio Holguin

The Water Valley Co.

Executive director of natural resources

Years in industry: 25

“Gaudencio [Holguin] comes from an extremely proud heritage of honesty [and] hard work, and that has led him and his coworkers to greatness during his tenure at The Water Valley Co.,” said coworker Kurt Hinkle, director of marketing and public relations for Water Valley.

“Gaudencio is an immigrant from Mexico and arrived at The Water Valley Co. in the mid-1990s. He persevered with the juggernaut that is the immigration system and became an American citizen in a celebrated ceremony in Estes Park in front of more than 50 witnesses who were there solely for Gaudencio. 

“He makes an impact with whatever task is in front of him, whether it be the 25 years at The Water Valley Co. or in his personal hobbies that include training and raising exotic, giant Friesen horses. Within the past year, Gaudencio has led an irrigation and maintenance team for the company’s numerous metro districts through the COVID pandemic with patience, grace, and high character. He leads by example, and his superiors respect his quick decision making and attention to detail. 

“As the maintenance lead for numerous metro districts, he has the trust of the residents, and they know he’s a phone call away if they need his services. His personality always brightens the office, and he’s the first person contacted whenever the company has a historic question about the business, region, or town of Windsor. Gaudencio lives in Windsor with his wife and three daughters.”


Annett James

NAACP Boulder County

President

Years in industry: A lifetime

College, university: University of Colorado Boulder

Annett James has a long history of working to address the needs of African-Americans in Boulder County. James was president of United Black Women long before Boulder’s NAACP Branch was formed. She is a 2020 National Philanthropy Day Colorado Honoree. 

“Annett has an innate understanding of the needs of Black community members, for dignity, for a voice, for recognition and for opportunities for success,” said Bruce Borowsky, an NAACP member.

As president of NAACP BoCo, membership has tripled to more than 700 members. Under her leadership the branch not only has grown in size, but also in impact, Borowsky said. “Annett speaks out unequivocally for diversity, equity and inclusion in all facets of community life. Her visionary audacity has energized our branch to both celebrate Black contributions and culture and to persevere in tackling systemic racism wherever and however it reveals itself in Boulder County. Annett demonstrates leadership by standing up for, speaking up for, and demanding action for, equal rights and justice for the BIPOC community. Her leadership is characterized by her steadfast perseverance, her ability to speak truth to power and most importantly, in her ability to inspire others to join together in these endeavors,” he said.

As noted in her nomination, James has initiated working with local businesses and nonprofits to be accountable for their impact and responsibility to the community in the perseverance of racial equity goals through the NAACP corporate membership initiative. Her vision is evident in the NAACP BoCo Ambassador Program, designed to work with businesses to support Black recruitment and hiring, greater cultural competency in the workplace and a more intentionally welcoming Boulder community. 


Iffie Jennings

Xcel Energy

Area Manager

Years in industry: 1

College, university: Colorado State University, Regis University

Iffie Jennings serves the Boulder region and Colorado’s mountain communities as Xcel Energy’s area manager. In this role, she operates as the local government and community relations liaison for 26 Colorado cities, towns, and counties. 

“Iffie has shown exceptional leadership in unprecedented and challenging times by navigating each challenge with courage, grace and compassion for her customers,” said Kelly Flenniken, director of community relations for Xcel. 

“In the past year Iffie has provided strong leadership as Xcel Energy and the city of Boulder began working together in a formal partnership. Through her leadership, a community advisory panel in Boulder was established to provide input, direction, and insight into company initiatives. Further, Iffie represented the company in Grand County as the company worked to resolve a natural gas capacity issue. Iffie’s leadership was critical to the ongoing relationships needed to do business in the Fraser Valley. The thoughtful, yet detailed communication she provides has strengthened every relationship in the 26 communities she works. 

“In addition, Iffie is the founder of The Kindness Network, an organization that strives to foster a better and kinder community through thoughts and actions. Iffie also serves on the Boulder Economic Council executive committee, board of directors for Denver Delta Inc., and is a committee member for Sistahbiz. 

“Iffie holds a BS in health and exercise science from Colorado State University, an MBA from Regis University, and a certificate of corporate social responsibility from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. 

“On a more personal note, Iffie brings a sense of calm and care to the entire community relations team. Iffie is truly a servant leader willing to take on any task and challenge with a smile. I believe everyone who has the privilege of working with her, will be better for it,” Flenniken said. 


Tracy Kessner

Avivid Water Technology LLC

Vice president of business operations

Years in industry: 3

College, university: Colorado State University, University of Colorado

“Tracy [Kessner] is a strong advocate for conservation and environmental sustainability. She is president of the board of directors for the Southern Colorado Land Trust. SCLT is preserving more than 32,000 acres of grasslands in Southern Colorado where they are rebuilding an important bison herd,” said Lockett Wood, CEO of Avivid Water.

“In addition they are sequestering more than 15,000 metric tons of carbon being sold as carbon credits to support the trust. At Avivid, she manages all business operations of the company including sales and marketing, customer contacts, technical literature development and legal affairs interface. 

“Tracy’s entrepreneurial spirit is supported by her attention to detail and ability to interface successfully with people outside the company in making a significant contribution to the development of this early stage company. She is motivated by the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to treating the billions of gallons of industrial wastewater created in the U.S. each year. Her education in environmental policy gives her the perfect background to talk to other C-level executives interested in environmental issues in the U.S. and worldwide,” Wood said. 

“Tracy carries a large responsibility for the present and ongoing success of Avivid Water Technology in being able to treat some of the most difficult to treat wastewaters.”


Michael Martinez

City of Brighton

City manager

Years in industry: 6

College, university: University of Colorado Denver

“I have worked for the city of Brighton for more than 22 years. Many leaders have come and gone, and I can say Michael [Martinez] is one of the very best I have worked for and with,” said Karen Surina, assistant city manager. 

“I have watched him fill various roles in the city during his approximate six years tenure. He is a natural leader, a genuinely kind person and collaborator. It is an honor for me to nominate him as a Notable Minority Leader. 

“Michael Martinez was appointed city manager by the City Council after the former city manager resigned. Michael immediately began improving staff morale by his positive, trusting approach and outgoing personality. Michael is very visible in the workplace and community. He regularly meets with the Chamber of Commerce members, developers, etc. 

“Prior to serving as city manager, he was assistant city manager, where he led the city’s pandemic response and served as the liaison to the Brighton Housing Authority. Michael is very committed to the Brighton community and the region in which he serves,” Surina said.

Martinez serves on the Adams County Workforce Development Board, Adams County Economic Development board, he serves as public policy committee representative for the Economic Development Council of Colorado, he’s municipal caucus representative for the Colorado Municipal League, and Aerotropolis Regional Committee representative. 

“He encourages his management team to get out into the community and participate in local events. Michael is a pleasure to work for and is very well thought of.”


Roberto Ortiz

Assist 2 Sell/Ortiz Realty

Broker/owner

Years in industry: 23

Roberto Ortiz has been involved in many youth-oriented programs from being a little league coach to proctor parenting for the Jacob Center in Fort Collins. He is currently on the board for the Larimer County Juvenile Courts and was just voted in as a director of the Eagle Brooke Meadows/Metro Tax Board. 

Ortiz has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, Jaycees, Realities for Children and Neighbor to Neighbor (board member 1994-2000 and president 1998-2000.) His business is accredited with the BBB. 

“I am a big advocate for education and in addition to having attained the GRI-SFR-CMRE and CRS designations and always participate in many CE classes. I’ve had more than 100 CE credits over the past three years,” he said. 

Ortiz started his real estate career in April 1999 and has lived in Northern Colorado since 1995. He completed the Larimer County 12-week class where he learned about county government and its operations. He has been involved in LBAR, CAR and NAR and is an advocate for RPAC and a member of the silver club.


Jose Luis Ramos

City of Fort Collins

Bilingual business specialist

Years in industry: 15

College, university: California Polytechnic State University

Emily Wilson, communications director for Innosphere Ventures, listed Jose Luis Ramos’ achievements over the past 18 months as:

  • Trained community members on how to use the tools that the school district required for at home teaching during the pandemic understanding that the digital gap is one of the biggest barriers for equality/equity.
  • Provided weekly workshops (volunteer work) to community members via Zoom to educate them in finances, business, marketing, etc. 
  • Worked with the state of Colorado hotline to provide support to small business owners about resources available from government. 
  • Developed programs for the city of Fort Collins to reach out to minority owned businesses using a different and innovative approach and building bridges and connections. 
  • Helped and guided community members who were affected by the pandemic on how to start their own businesses; over the past 18 months more than 50 new businesses have been established in Colorado because of his guidance. 
  • Jose Luis guided and helped business owners in the creation of a new Latino Chamber of Commerce in Northern Colorado. 
  • Working for the city and understanding the needs that the underrepresented population in Fort Collins had, Jose Luis is in the process of creating a Multicultural Business and Entrepreneur Center that will provide bilingual support services to this population. 
  • Due to the high unemployment rate that was created by the pandemic, Jose Luis created a project with women in the mobile home park communities. This project is called “The Community Connectors.” The project was formed by 27 women who provide community access services to nonprofits, government, and educational organizations.

This project is about empowering women and generating income for these community members.


Sarita Reddy

Adeo

Executive director

Years in industry: 20

College, university: Osmania University, Hyderabad, India; Mysore University, Mosore, India; University of George

Sarita Reddy is the executive director at Adeo. Adeo is an organization that supports people with brain injuries and other disabilities and provides affordable and accessible housing. Adeo provides care to adult survivors of brain injuries. 

“Sarita has led the organization through the pandemic ensuring the health and safety of staff and the people we serve. She fosters Adeo’s grassroot culture of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Mark Jorgensen, director of operations for Adeo. 

Reddy is a board member of Sunrise Community Health and “advocates on behalf of the patient population at Sunrise Community Health. Sarita has worked with Sunrise’s vaccine team to ensure that people of color and people with disabilities could access vaccine appointments at both the Greeley and Loveland locations,” Jorgensen said.

She co-chairs the community support and equity board for the Larimer County Recovery Collaborative, “which works to ensure Larimer County’s marginalized communities are listening to and their needs are included in Larimer County’s structures, policies, and programs. Major accomplishments to date include working with community members and county commissioners to stand up vaccine equity clinics in more accessible locations that were run by trusted leaders in the community. The vaccine equity clinics increased vaccination rates in Larimer County, especially among marginalized communities. 

“Sarita fosters a culture of inclusion, belonging, and respect. She uses formal and informal avenues to get to know each member of my team better, to know them as humans, and not just employees. Sarita empowers people to use their strengths and passions in productive, meaningful ways,” Jorgensen said.


Juan Andres Rodriguez and Juli Rodriguez

Juli y Juans Kitchen

Owners

Years in industry: 15

College, university: Eastern Connecticut University

“This couple and their business is what Colorado should be about — bringing a diverse and unique cuisine that is delicious and a special attention to detail about connecting culture and food to those lucky enough to be served by them,” said Nathan Scott, community relations manager at Foothills Gateway. 

“They have a commitment to the community by supporting many non-profits through donations of food and service. They have an infectious positivity that surrounds their marketing and day to day operations. They are currently in the process of opening their first in-person restaurant in Fort Collins. They are leaders in their industry mentoring others to take the plunge and start new businesses. 

“I’m grateful to know they are creating a niche of flavors and cuisine that is much needed in Northern Colorado. Juli and Juan are deserving of this nomination and my hope is that more people get the chance to know about who they are as individuals and the great work they are doing in the hospitality/restaurant and catering industry.”


Betzy Sanchez-Valdez

Empowered Leader AKA Be Empowered Dreamer

Founder

Years in industry: 5

“Betzy Valdez, from Pachuca, Hidalgo, in Mexico, is a proud mother, wife, community advocate, entrepreneur and connector. She is also a proud Dreamer (DACA recipient). She is a social media manager for local businesses in Northern Colorado and founder of Empowered Leader,” said Cristobal Garcia, associate director of alumni relations at the University of Northern Colorado. 

“Empowered Leader is her vision to provide a variety of opportunities for growth, connection, and community involvement. Betzy engages with a wide variety of individuals and organizations to build strong relationships that have a lasting impact in Northern Colorado. She also serves as the president for the Hispanic Women of Weld County (HWWC), an organization that engages civically, awards academic scholarships, and recognizes the accomplishments of Latinas across Weld County. 

“Betzy has served as a speaker for various events and is also a contributing writer for The We Spot Blog. She has spoken to and led groups in various settings, including the city of Greeley’s “Do Tell” TedTalk style speaker series, and most recently, serving on the board of the Greeley Creative District. She and I have both served on the BizWest 40 Under Forty selection committee, and she recently joined the leadership committee of the Greeley Young Professionals through the Greeley-Area Chamber of Commerce,” Garcia said. 

“Betzy Sanchez-Valdez serves with a quiet presence that is seen and felt. Always listening and learning first, she speaks with confidence because she knows this community and the opportunity that comes with inviting all of our residents to participate and join in efforts for community development, celebration, and support. I’m honored to know her, because we’ve grown up professionally together, and I’ve seen the potential she has for bringing people together and for bridging gaps within the Hispanic/Latino community, and the larger Northern Colorado community.”


John Simmons

C3 Real Estate Solutions

Owner, founder

Years in industry: 15

“John [Simmons] changed from the hospitality industry to real estate in 2006 and quickly received the Loveland/Berthoud Board of Realtors Rookie of the Year award. In 2009 John was voted by the Northern Colorado Business Report [predecessor of BizWest] as one of the top 40 Under Forty business professionals. In 2012, John was recognized for his service and production and was on the cover of the nationally recognized Top Agent Magazine,” said his partner, Jesse Laner. 

“He has 18 years of experience in sales, marketing, and hospitality and has earned many more recognitions and awards. In addition, John is frequently asked to speak to real estate companies around the United States. 

“John was born and raised in California, attended, and graduated Dallas High School in Oregon, and studied business management in college. For six years, John was stationed in 1st Ranger Battalion Hunter Army Airfield, which is in Savannah, Georgia. Sergeant Simmons served in multiple deployments, was squad leader for combat search and rescue, and represented the entire Ranger Regiment competing in Best Ranger Competition in 1996, 1997, and 1998,” Laner said.

“John sets the example when it comes to balance and quality of life. He offers exceptional customer service while balancing priorities: Faith, Family, Friends, Fun (which to most is work), Finances, and Fitness.”


Daysi Sweaney

Food Bank of Larimer County

Outreach manager

Years in industry: 2

College, university: Private University of Tacna, Granada, Peru

Daysi [Sweaney] joined the Food Bank for Larimer County just as COVID was starting. And yet, her impact on our community has been significant in the past two years. When you meet Daysi, you immediately recognize her tenacity for people, desire to help others, and drive to minimize barriers to success for community members,” said Michele Marquitz, Food Bank projects director. 

“Daysi established a team at FBLC that directly impacted more than 2,611 food insecure households in Northern Colorado in 2021, by assisting them in applying for SNAP benefits. 30% of the SNAP applications submitted to Larimer County in 2021 represented Hispanic families in our community. Daysi’s leadership, reputation and performance has spanned the Larimer County Human Services Department, Feeding America, other food banks, and the LatinX Community Network. 

“When Feeding America initiated a study on the state of public benefits in communities, Daysi quickly identified Spanish speaking participants in our community for a focus group and then translated the 90 minute transcript for FA. The focus group participants repeatedly thanked Daysi for her help in navigating the maze of benefits. Our community is stronger because of the FA national study, Larimer County’s participation, and Daysi’s work. 

“In 2021, Daysi reached out to learn more about Energy Outreach Colorado as a resource for our clients. FBLC is in the process of becoming a vendor with EOC. Daysi and her team are committed to helping members in our community access available resources. She is continually identifying opportunities to qualify community members for other benefits, such as, LEAP, WIC, Medicaid, EOC, etc. Daysi and her team’s creativity and efforts to meet clients where they are is commendable. Our community is a better place because of the leadership of Daysi and her team.”


Berenice Garcia-Tellez

Energize Denver 

Equitable implementation administrator

Years in industry: 12

College, university: Fundacion Universidad de las Americas Puebla, King Abdulla University of Science and Technology

Berenice Garcia Tellez joined the city of Denver Energize Denver program just last month where she will lead the implementation of all Energize Denver programming. Prior to that, she was the economic sustainability specialist for the city of Longmont. She continues to chair the Boulder County Latino Chamber of Commerce. 

She has a deep background in sustainability efforts. In addition to her most recent positions, she serves as a volunteer sustainability adviser for Erie and was an outreach and development specialist for Americas for Conservation + the Arts in Boulder.

Her LinkedIn profile notes her support for the economic development of Latino businesses in Colorado. She also is the co-founder of Ecologico Albustan in Zitacuaro, Michoacan, Mexico, which is described as an eco-startup “designed to provide an alternative farm-to-table cafe.”


Jessica Thrasher

Colorado Stormwater Center

Education and outreach manager

Years in industry: 5

College, university: Southern Methodist University, Colorado State University

Jessica Thrasher has led the Colorado Stormwater Center at Colorado State University since November 2020 as the education and outreach manager. 

“She quickly recognized the lack of water education resources available in Spanish and has taken measurable steps in the past year to increase Spanish resources available,” said her husband, Pete Thrasher, managing broker of Headwaters Realty.

“In 2021, Jessica delivered five bilingual stormwater classes in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Northern Water, the city of Fort Collins, Resource Central, and the city of Longmont. She is an advocate for the Latinx community and is working to increase the Spanish resources available not only at the Colorado Stormwater Center, but in other water organizations and municipalities across Colorado. 

“In the past year, Jessica has educated more than 2,600 stormwater professionals, homeowners, landscapers, and community members through classes, certifications, and training. Of the 2,600 trained, 141 individuals used the Spanish resources created by Jessica.

“She was selected to participate in the Women’s Earth Alliance U.S Grassroots Women’s Accelerator for Women Environmental Leaders Program in 2021. She is involved in multiple committees including the Colorado WaterWise Education Committee, CASFM Water Quality Committee, and Colorado Stormwater Council Post-Construction Committee. She is also on the Teaching Tree Early Childhood Learning Center board of directors. At times, she is one of the only Latinx voices in the water conversation. She is passionate about changing this by increasing equity, diversity and inclusion in the water field.”


Tamara Wesley

Intel

Fort Collins site manager

Years in industry: 22

College, university: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Tamara Wesley, a Gary, Indiana, native who oversees about 350 people at the Fort Collins Intel facility, toyed with multiple professions before settling on electrical engineering. She thought about medicine and drama. 

It was the drama experience from high school that has helped her succeed in the high tech world of computer chip engineering.

“My talent was drama. I use it every day,” she told BizWest in an interview a few months ago. “I have to build rapport and trust; that’s probably my key differentiator. Treat people like we know each other, like we’re distant relatives. It helps you work in business whether you see people or not. They’re more open, they’ll share ideas, work more organically.”

She oversees the Fort Collins design center for Intel, which produces chips for supercomputers, data centers and for networking. She works in the realm of VLSI — very large-scale integration, essentially incorporating microscopic transistors into chips that perform useful functions.

Wesley, as noted on her LinkedIn profile, adheres to multiple philosophical perspectives, such as “education provides access to the unseen,” “family first,” “there’s no quit in me.”

She notes that “my team doesn’t work for me; I work for them.”

Among her goals is having a role in increasing diversity at Intel by using the internship pipeline.


Valerie Whatley

Life Bridge Christian Church

Single moms pastor

Years in industry: 17

“Valerie [Whatley] is an exceptional and caring leader working to create inclusivity and prosperity for single mothers. She has navigated this trying time during COVID for that population that has been hit exceptionally hard,” said Andrew Welch, president of Sun Construction who volunteers in one of Whatley’s programs. 

“She contributes to other organizations such as Pearl to personalize pathways to betterment and prosperity for women caring for their children alone. She holds a place on the Life Bridge Christian Church diversity board. She has been instrumental in creating industry partnerships to contribute in job placement, volunteering, and many other types of free or reduced price services for single mothers and their families. 

“Val is a leader in a female business group that meets in Longmont to find better ways to lead and lead ethically in business and other organizations. She created synergies between nonprofits, religious organizations and the business community to contribute to the better overall health and diversity of her local community. She also gives of her time to individually mentor a variety of women from all walks of life,” Welch said.


 



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