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Women’s History Month: Celebrating and remembering what still needs to change

In 1987 the U.S Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month to recognize and celebrate the contributions and achievements of women in America.  This special designation provides an opportunity for the nation to celebrate women as leaders, visionaries, mothers, teachers, nurses, doctors and more.

In Turlock and across the Central Valley, we are surrounded by exceptional women who have redefined struggles and success.  Some were the genesis of transformational change; others celebrate life every day being able to contribute not for recognition but because of their faith and spirituality.  Each of us has a roster of heroes.  Mine grows every day.

Some have raised families on their own. Some struggled to overcome addiction. Some had a vision for what could be and made it happen.  The women I honor below are incredible, humble people.  They do not seek recognition, but they certainly deserve it.  In their own way, each fights against discrimination, neglect and the status quo every day.  Each underscores what can be when determination mixed with passion and sprinkled with unwavering faith come together.

Judy Kindle has been the Chief Executive Officer of Sierra Vista Child & Family Services for more than30 years and has worked with the program for more than35 years. She is the heart and soul of the institution; her passion and dedication for children and families in need are unmatched.  This year, Judy will be retiring and leaving big shoes to fill. Her leadership here, along with her passion to empower the voices of children throughout our county, has been monumental. Judy has brought care, compassion, and a vision to Stanislaus County that was sorely lacking.

Most importantly, Judy Kindle is that very rare person and professional who never forgot about her own family while caring for tens of thousands of other children.  Her work made her stronger and wiser.  It provided her with a platform to help educate elected officials and other leaders about why things had to change and why every child’s life matters, regardless of income, ethnicity or gender.  Judy Kindle is celebrated because there are so few like her and because praise is never enough.  She is an angel in waiting. 

Linda Murphy-Lopes (now Linda Julien) exemplifies what it is to be committed to a mission and follow your passion to improve the lives of children. Linda recently retired after 25 years as a Sacred Heart and Julien Elementary School principal, and almost immediately agreed to take over the leadership of the United Samaritans Foundation. A day does not pass when she isn’t giving back to her community.  Over the years, she has touched many lives, and each person whose life she has touched remembers her passion, dedication, and caring for the children of Turlock.  Linda demonstrates how one person can be our brother and sister’s keeper.

Kristin Bettencourt is a Turlock institution.  She gives, gives, and gives more.  With a heart of gold and a passion for the Greater Turlock Community, Kristin has taken her local roots to a whole new level. During the day, she works full time at Turlock High School, where she shares her passion and commitment to education.  What defines Kristin is her volunteerism.  Each year she helps to organize the Relay for Life team on campus, helping more than200 children raise money for cancer research. That alone would keep most people busy, but Kristin is also an advisory board member for the Salvation Army, a board of director for The Arrowhead Club, an active supporter of the Kayla Bernardi BEE Positive Fun Run, and president of the most loved fundraiser in town, Dancing with the Turlock Stars. Every week, Kristin steadfastly helps one life at a time because she wants to - not because she has to. When people say that someone is a blessing, think about it and remember that it is Kristin!

Maris Sturtevant was born and raised in Turlock, which is evident in the dedication she has to empower those in the community who need it most. Maris has been working in the Turlock homeless community for more than 20 years. As a founding member of the Daily Bread Lunch Program at Sacred Heart Church in 1992 and the We Care Program shelter in 2003, her passion for giving and helping the community was evident. Each day, Maris works as the Director of Operations for the United Samaritans Foundation and then volunteers as the Executive Director and Treasurer of the We Care Program. She’s not one to talk about her accomplishments, but she has been honored in various ways.  What is important about Maris is her ability to help people in need.  She never asks why someone is facing a hurdle but focuses instead on getting them over it. There are various ways to describe Maris, but the one word that best describes her is “gift.”  She is a gift to the life of everyone she meets, including me!

Chris Martin and her husband are active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Together, they give back to their church community every day.  Chris takes giving to a whole new level.  For the past few months, she has been the acting Executive Director for United Cerebral Palsy, an organization where she has spent more than eight years.  Her passion is to help people with disabilities, and their families understand that nothing is impossible.  And, thankfully for all of us, that is how Chris views the world.  Her energy, passion, and commitment are infectious. They underscore both the importance of giving and teaching others and how this improves the lives of the people you touch as well as your own.  Her smile is disarming, so be ready just to say “yes.”  Chris is a nonprofit leader who is humble, caring and compassionate.  She is simply a wonderful person to have as part of your life.  I know, because she is part of mine.

JoLynn DiGrazia is the Director of Westside Ministries.  With passion in her veins, she has a steadfast commitment to God and every child who lives on the Westside of Turlock.  She is tenacious in her pledge to make sure children are never hungry, without clothing or at least one gift at Christmas.  JoLynn is fighter everyone aspires to have on their team.  In my daily life I always ask a simple question: “Am I doing enough because of the model that JoLynn has established?”

Every day we walk among exceptional and amazing women.  Each deserves to be honored and thanked.

— Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment.  The views expressed are his own. Mr. Lewis can be reached at