Meet some ‘extraordinary’ Central Valley women honored by state legislators this year

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Nonprofit leaders, elected officials and a veteran teacher are among the Central Valley women recognized this week by California lawmakers.

For more than 35 years, state legislators have celebrated Women’s History Month by naming Women of the Year and honoring them with a formal ceremony at the State Capitol.

These are some of the Fresno-area women selected by state representatives.

Naomi Tobias, Assembly District 8

State Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, chose Naomi Tobias as the Woman of the Year for the 8th District, which includes parts of Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Inyo and Mono counties.

Tobias founded the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT) in 2011. Through her organization, she has saved thousands of animals across the Central Valley by coordinating with emergency response agencies to evacuate and provide emergency animal sheltering during crisis situations, according to Patterson’s office.

The CCADT has deployed to assist at 45 wildfires, 42 of which were in the San Joaquin Valley, as well as major floods and home fires, Patterson’s office said. The organization helped save animals during the Camp Fire in Butte County, the Lightening Complex fire in Solano County and the Caldor Fire in El Dorado County.

Tobias and her team responded to flooding in Merced County earlier this year, and now are working in Tulare County, too, providing animals shelter across the region.

Stephanie Dietz, Assembly District 27

State Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, chose Stephanie Dietz, as the Woman of the Year for the 27th District, which represents areas of Fresno, Madera and Merced counties.

Dietz is the first woman to serve as Merced’s city manager. She has “facilitated sustainable growth in housing and directed investments to water and sewer infrastructure,” Soria’s office said in a statement.

She also developed the county’s first financial reserve of $15 million to guard against service declines during recession seasons.

Dietz has “gone above and beyond” in ensuring community involvement in city priorities, Soria’s office said.

“Dietz’s commitment to the community of Merced is unparalleled,” Soria said. “She is an inspiration to young women in Merced and beyond.”

Genoveva Islas, Assembly District 31

Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, chose Genoveva “Veva” Islas as the Woman of the Year for the 31st District, which includes the city of Fresno and surrounding areas.

Along with serving as president of Fresno Unified School District’s Board of Trustees, Islas is also the founding executive director of Cultiva La Salud, a nonprofit organization focused on creating health equity.

Arambula said he chose Islas because she is, “a tireless, fierce, and exceptional advocate for improving access and equity to build healthier and better communities.”

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was a critical partner in ensuring vaccinations were available to our most vulnerable residents,” Arambula said in a news release.

Islas is the daughter of Mexican farmworkers and a first-generation Fresno State graduate. She recently spoke against alleged “xenophobic” actions against Latinos and continues helping mobile food vendors run their businesses.

Genoveva Islas, directora ejecutiva de Cultiva la Salud, en el Parque Radio en Fresno el jueves, 21 de abril para educar a los residentes de Central Valley sobre el Fondo de Equidad Sanitaria y Justicia Racial (Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund por su nombre en inglés) y los posibles beneficios para sus comunidades. 
Genoveva Islas, directora ejecutiva de Cultiva la Salud, en el Parque Radio en Fresno el jueves, 21 de abril para educar a los residentes de Central Valley sobre el Fondo de Equidad Sanitaria y Justicia Racial (Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund por su nombre en inglés) y los posibles beneficios para sus comunidades.

Connie Conway, Assembly District 33

Assemblymember Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, chose former congresswoman Connie Conway as the Woman of the Year for the 31st District, which includes communities across parts of Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties.

Conway served as a federal representative from 2022 to 2023. She previously served as a member of Tulare’s County Board of Supervisors, a state assemblymember and executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. She was elected to Congress to fill the vacancy left by former congressman Devin Nunes’ resignation.

Conway is an “extraordinary example of dedication to her country,” Mathis said in a statement.

“Throughout her astonishing career,” he said, “Connie has proven her devotion to serving the people of the Central Valley, and the state as a whole.”

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Lisa Smittcamp, Senate District 12

State Senator Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, chose Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp as the Woman of the Year for the 12th District, which includes parts of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties.

Smittcamp became Fresno County’s District Attorney in June 2014 and is now serving her third term.

She also is chairwoman of the policy and direction team of the Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (M.A.G.E.C.), a member of the Board Directors of Valley Children’s Hospital and vice president of the Board of Trustees of AMOR (Alliance for Medical Outreach and Relief).

Grove said she is proud to honor Smittcamp for her “dedication to justice and for bringing awareness of critical issues that impact the Central Valley.”

“Her efforts in educating communities across the state about the dangers of fentanyl have been crucial in the ongoing war against this deadly drug,” Grove said in a statement.

Tamara Cobb, Senate District 14

State Senator Anna Caballero, D-Merced, chose Tamara Cobb as the Woman of the Year for the 14th District, which includes parts of Merced, Madera and Fresno counties.

Cobb was the first Black family support officer to work for the Merced District Attorney’s office. She is also a founding member of the Merced Black Parallel School Board, a foster parent since 1990, and the current president and organizer of the Merced MLK Jr. Committee.

Beyond her 30-year career in law enforcement, Cobb is also dedicated to closing the achievement gap in public schools, Caballero’s office said in a statement.

She was elected as the South Merced representative for the Building Healthy Communities project and serves on several boards that promote education, health, social justice and economic equity.

Cobb currently holds several positions in different nonprofits and community organizations across Merced, including the NAACP.

Lola Lerma, Senate District 16

State Senator Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, chose Lola Lerma as the Woman of the Year for the 16th District, which spans communities in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties.

Lerma lives in Kings County and was the Corcoran Unified School District’s bilingual coordinator, Hurtado’s office said in an emailed statement. She also taught third grade at John C. Fremont Elementary in Corcoran for 32 years.

“During that time, Lola was actively involved in volunteering for local and county organizations that would benefit children, their families and the community,” the statement said.

She was also married to Raymond Lerma, a Corcoran City Council member and community educator who died unexpectedly during his seventh term in January 2020.

Hurtado congratulated her honoree, praising her decades of service to her community.

For more information about the California Legislature’s Women of the Year recognitions and past honorees, visit