A Pacific Beach woman was among three finalists named for San Diego Woman of the Year honors by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.
Laura Mustari of Pacific Beach, CEO of Home Start, a 35-year-old organization dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of children while focusing on child-abuse treatment in San Diego County, was a runner-up to the eventual winner, Betty Peabody of Point Loma.
Peabody is known for her longtime, high-profile volunteerism benefiting Balboa Park.
Also in the mix for Woman of the Year was Dr. Rommie Amaro of La Jolla, who’s received the nation’s highest honor for young scientists and engineers. In 2011, she was selected by President Obama for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists & Engineers.
The trio from San Diego beach areas will be recognized in a formal ceremony by the state legislature soon in Sacramento.
“We look forward to recognizing extraordinary women from our communities during our annual Woman of the Year ceremony in Sacramento,” said Atkins.
All three women were nominated for the Speaker’s Women of the Year project for Women’s History Month in March.
“Our mission is focused on preventing child abuse and neglect and strengthening at-risk families,” said Pacific Beach’s Mustari of her work. She added, “We have a vision that every single child in San Diego should live in a safe and nurturing home supported by a healthy family and community.”
Mustari was “surprised, humbled and very excited” to have been in the running for Woman of the Year honors.
Noting, “Parenting is one of the most important jobs that we get the least amount of training and support for,” Mustari said her career goal has been to provide prevention education aimed at “lowering child-abuse rates.”
“The real heroes are these (at-risk) families,” Mustari said, adding, high-risk groups, like (unplanned) pregnant women ages 18 to 24 and homeless women are being targeted for priority treatment.
“We want to make a difference with this particular population,” she said. “If we can intervene early on offering wrap-around support services and teach skills building parenting, we can stop the cycle of child abuse and neglect and really help these young women change their lives. We want to provide them with everything they need to be independent.”
With more than 25 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, Mustari was a key member of the steering committee that helped launch a new youth housing project. She also served as the first female president of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation’s (SDHDF) board of directors.
She is a social leader with the YMCA’s Youth and Family Services, of which she served as executive director for 12 years. She currently remains active with the SDHDF by serving on the advisory board for its BCAUSE fund (Breast Cancer Alliance to Unite, Support and Educate).
Every year, one woman from each assembly district in Sacramento is honored for her achievements. This year, outstanding women in 10 different communities around San Diego were nominated to be honored along with Peabody at a private luncheon in mid-March.
The nomination process was carried out by Assembly field representatives. Once a final list of nominees was compiled, Atkins reviewed the biographies for all of the nominees, and chose the final winners.
Nominees and winners were chosen and evaluated based on their history of community engagement, and by considering whether their work has made a positive impact on San Diego.
“This year's top honoree is Ms. Betty Peabody who, for the last 30 years, has worked toward the success of San Diego's treasured Balboa Park through her duties as a founding member of the Balboa Park Millennium Society (now Friends of Balboa Park), a member of the board of directors of the San Diego Museum of Man, and as a member of the Central Balboa Park Association,” Atkins said.
Atkins noted Peabody's story is “a microcosm for the contributions women make all over California and our nation. Women bring diverse perspectives to the work place. They support their families financially and emotionally. They make our communities stronger.”