8 with La Jolla ties are honored as 78th Assembly District Women of Distinction

Women of Distinction in the 78th Assembly District show their awards during an online ceremony.
Women of Distinction in the 78th Assembly District show their awards during an online ceremony with state Assemblyman and San Diego Mayor-elect Todd Gloria.

Six La Jolla women and two local students were among those honored by state Assemblyman and San Diego Mayor-elect Todd Gloria during the 2020 78th Assembly District Women of Distinction celebration.

Ann Kerr Bache, Dr. Nicole Coufal, Beret Dernbach, Hanna Jaff, Sara Safari, Treger Strasberg, Lindsey Volz and Natasha Wong were among the 21 women recognized for their “strength, poise and contributions to our community,” Gloria said.

The ceremony, held virtually Nov. 19, honors women nominated by the community in “key areas of importance,” Gloria said. The event is usually held in March for Women’s History Month but was postponed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kerr Bache, president of the La Jolla Town Council, was recognized as Woman of Distinction in civic engagement. She has “dedicated over 20 years to the La Jolla community in various activities and capacities,” Gloria said. “Under her leadership, the Town Council has evolved into a communitywide resource to highlight and debate important community issues, problems and opportunities.”

Kerr Bache also created the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival Foundation in 2013, organized the La Jolla STEAM Foundation to convene a series of research roundtables and participated in several community working groups, committees and task forces.

“I am honored to have been selected by Todd Gloria for this award in the company of so many accomplished women,” Kerr Bache told the La Jolla Light. “I am grateful to the [Town Council] trustees and community whom I have called up for their time and effort.”

“In these times, it was special for Todd to take the time to hold the award ceremony, and I look forward to working with Todd in his new role of mayor,” she added.

Strasberg, Woman of Distinction as a homelessness advocate, formed the nonprofit Humble Design to connect donated furnishings with families who are in the process of exiting homelessness. “She believes individuals, families and veterans emerging from homelessness deserve to come home each day to a clean, friendly and dignified home,” Gloria said.

Strasberg’s work, which has been featured on national television programs, “has made a difference in thousands of lives,” Gloria said.

Strasberg told the Light that “the women in this category that have been honored are the engines that push our communities forward. Just to be in their presence is humbling.”

“The homeless crisis is not getting any less complicated to solve, and I’m happy to be part of the discussion,” she said. “It is only with empathy, coupled with reliable data, that we will be able to make any real headway.”

Safari, Woman of Distinction for women empowerment, “experienced firsthand as a young girl in Iran, after the Islamic Revolution, an oppressive and restrictive environment that enables the sex-trafficking trade to thrive,” Gloria said.

She decided in 2015 to climb Mount Everest to bring funds and awareness to girls who become victims of human trafficking or are forced into early marriage, he said.

Safari has shown “girls all over the world that it’s possible to achieve and go beyond their goals, inspiring girls and women to look at life differently and positively,” Gloria said.

“I feel so honored to be a part of this group of very inspiring women,” Safari told the Light. “My passion in life is climbing mountains to raise funds and awareness for the organizations who are empowering women. I think this award was a beautiful way to acknowledge the work of women here.”

Coufal, Woman of Distinction for health care, is a pediatrician with Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego’s pediatric intensive care unit, Gloria said. She also is an assistant professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine studying neuroinflammatory childhood diseases.

“Many of the young women in her lab have said that she is inspirational because she shows that if a woman wants to be professionally successful, she doesn’t have to give up on having a family,” Gloria said. “It is not easy work, but nevertheless, Dr. Coufal persists.”

Coufal told the Light that “having my own three young kids, my life is a constant balancing act, and being honored for the contributions in all those areas was fantastic.”

Wong, Woman of Distinction for culture, is an international law attorney who is on the advisory board for UC Berkeley’s College of Letters & Science, Gloria said. She also is vice president of the Avery-Tsui Foundation and secretary and treasurer for Balboa Park’s House of China.

Wong previously was executive director of the Chinese Service Center of San Diego and principal of the Chinese School of San Diego, the city’s oldest private language school. She also co-founded San Diego’s first fully licensed Chinese bilingual preschool.

Her current focus is on philanthropy and childhood education, Gloria said.

Dernbach, who was a senior at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts in March when the Women of Distinction ceremony was originally planned, was recognized in the high school youth category for her award-winning Highland dancing.

Dernbach, now a freshman at UC San Diego, “holds her Scottish heritage very close,” Gloria said. She started Highland dance lessons when she was 5 and won the juvenile Highland World Dancing Championships in 2018 at age 15 and won in the junior division in 2019.

Dernbach “strives to win at least one more world championship title in the adult division so that she can become the first American dancer to win world championship titles in all three age divisions,” Gloria said.

Volz, Woman of Distinction in the college youth category, finished her bachelor’s degree in environmental policy at UCSD in June. As a regional planning intern for the San Diego Association of Governments, she helped create and implement the San Diego Forward 2021 Regional Plan and assisted in researching data on transportation planning, climate resilience and land-use policy, Gloria said.

Volz “is really passionate about the impact that local government can have when it comes to sustainability and bettering people’s lives,” Gloria said.

She “chose to study public policy so that she can be a better advocate for issues like community development and sustainable planning,” he added.

Jaff, Woman of Distinction in activism, did not attend the ceremony.

Wong, Dernbach, Volz and Jaff could not be reached for comment.

The 78th Assembly District includes the coastal communities between Solana Beach and the U.S.-Mexico border (including La Jolla), as well as the mid-city area of San Diego. ◆