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5 Honored at Women’s Leadership Forum

Event founder and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva hosted the 17th Annual Fullerton Women’s Leadership Forum along with former Fullerton City Councilmember Pam Keller and the Women’s Club of Fullerton (WCOF) at the Community Center on December 1. Five honorees were selected to receive leadership awards, many of whom were affected by the pandemic.

Front row second from left to right: Aimee Aul, Elvia Rubalcava, Jinan Montecristo, Gardenia Margarita Montero, and Leanna Forcucci were honored at the Women’s Leadership Forum.

Musician and artist Aimee Aul received the Public Service Award. She had been known for her Creative Coop projects at the Fullerton Museum Center (FMC) and leading the Haunted Fullerton Tours. More recently, since she began working at the Community Center during the pandemic when FMC was closed, she is now recognized as the person in the “Discover Fullerton on Foot” YouTube videos.

Aul was raised in a musical family. She developed her musical talent by learning flute at Patrick’s School of Music as a child. After completing her music degree at CSUF, she studied art at Fullerton College. She also wrote for the Fullerton Observer under the guidance of its founder, Ralph Kennedy. In her closing remarks she said, “I love my work. I love my town.”

The Philanthropic Award went to Leanna Forcucci, co-owner of CF Dance Academy and the Classic Ballroom in downtown Fullerton and current Chair of the Fullerton Collaborative. She gives back because she received help from others that enabled her to finish her college degree when she was 23 years old, single, and raising twins. She described her first project to give-back as an Easter Egg hunt for single moms in recovery.

When Forcucci was 30, her mother, who owned and ran the CD Dance Academy in Buena Park died of breast cancer. Forcucci moved the dance studio to Fullerton where she learned of the Fullerton Collaborative, joined it and began to learn more about non-profits.

She wanted her business to demonstrate that she is “not consumed by making money” but is supportive of children and families. Just as she had to struggle to bring her business back after the pandemic, she understands what her students and their parents are going through as they face difficulties. She gave a special thank-you to the Dancing Angels. They are parents of dance students who donate their time and talent to help students and provide scholarships.

Jinan Montecristo is the co-owner and operator, with her husband Juan Carlos, of Les Amis, a Lebanese restaurant in the heart of downtown since 2010. Montecristo received the Business Leadership Award. During the pandemic she managed to keep her business open. She embraces challenges as a “test of determination.”

She said she keeps a strict accounting of her behaviors throughout the day, ends it with a self-assessment and “prays to be a better person each day.” She thanked her husband, siblings, and parents but gave a special “thank-you” to her son for being the “easiest child to raise” and hoped that he would “one day know what it has all been for.”

The Rising Star Award went to a former kindergarten student of Keller and Quirk-Silva, Gardenia Margarita Montero. Neither she nor her twin brother spoke English then. But after passing the California Bar Exam in 2021, she is now an attorney with degrees from UCLA and Western State College of Law.

She said she “feels privileged to be recognized as a leader in the city where she grew up. She recalls as a child she was conscious of others around her and protective of her brother. She said her two kindergarten teachers were early role models. She looked up to her father from whom she learned that a leader cares for others. She also learned from her mother who was “quiet but a planner and organizer.” She thanked all those who “encouraged and guided her.”

The last award winner to speak was Elvia Rubalcava, the Interim Director of the Fullerton Museum Center (FMC). She received the Warrior Award for her leadership that has brought back the FMC after being shut down due to the pandemic. She is a director, producer, and an award-winning playwright who has also led community programs in Fullerton for 18 years.

She said that despite those who “will talk” and “question and criticize” you, you should remain true to yourself and “no one will break you down.” She acknowledged that her successes have not been achieved alone. She thanked her family, FMC employees, volunteers, board members, and board president Janet Bousan, her sister, mother, niece, nephew, and husband. She dedicated her award to her father and former FMC employee Alexa Martinez and to the Public Service Award winner Amy Aul, her “bleeding heart sister.”

To see the list of past honorees over the last 17 years, visit http://fullertonwomenleadership.com.