By Danika Worthington, January 2017 Issue.
Finalist Catherine Alonzo (pictured) sat among the crowd at the 29th annual ATHENA Awards Oct. 26 at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, waiting to hear who won the Young Professional Award.
The awards, presented by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) celebrate outstanding Valley businesswomen who make a difference in our community through excellence in business and leadership, exemplary community service and mentorship of other women.
Alonzo didn’t expect to win, not when so many other great women were in the running. But, when it came time to announce the winner, her ears rang.
“I didn’t expect to win so when I heard my name, I was completely surprised and then everything after that was kinda hazy,” Alonzo said. “I remember thinking, ‘OK, I have to stand up now, I have to walk to the stage’ and when I got there, ‘OK, I have to speak.”
Alonzo is a founding partner in Javelina, a branding and marketing firm that works with political campaigns, nonprofits and businesses.
Alonzo has also worked extensively with Equality Arizona as a volunteer and co-board chair, where she has led multiple campaigns, including Why Marriage Matters and Competitive Arizona. She’s currently focusing on Project Jigsaw, which advocates for equality in foster and adoption.
“The way I see it and the experience that I have is that so much of what you’re able to achieve in life is determined by the circumstances that you’re born to,” Alonzo said, calling particular attention to family, birth country, gender and sexual identity.
With Equality Arizona, Alonzo has worked on multiple campaigns including Why Marriage Matters and Competitive Arizona. She’s currently focusing on Project Jigsaw, which advocates for equality in the foster and adoption system.
Arizona statutes still give priority to married men and women despite marriage equality for LGBTQ couples, she said. The campaign works to close barriers to adoption through simple things like changing paperwork that asks for the name of the mother and father and more complex work, such as training county-level employees on how to give support to LGBTQ couples.
“The playing field just isn’t even,” she said. “What I want to do with my life is even out the playing field just a millimeter.”
GPCC spokeswoman Miranda Cain said the ATHENA award is given to women who show excellent leadership and community service while serving as a role model. Out of the 14 women who applied for the award, she said Alonzo stood out the most in all three categories – especially in the way she role models.
“She role models to others by encouraging everyday kindness and helping others to develop their leadership credentials,” Cain said in an email to Echo.
Alonzo said her philosophy of everyday kindness stems from when her older brother died when she was just six months old in her hometown of Solihull, Birmingham, in England.
“What that taught me is you never know what people are going through,” Alonzo said. “The single greatest power we have as people is to be kind to the people around us.”
Paloma Ibañaz, Javelina senior development associate, added that Alonzo’s mantra is a way for people to make the world a better place.
“You really don’t know where people are coming from day to day and a smile and a door held open can really make a difference,” Ibañaz said.
She described Alonzo as fierce and tenacious, always ten steps ahead. “I don’t know where she gets it,” Ibañaz said. “If I knew, I’d try to find it too.”
Not only is Alonzo is deserving of this award, Ibañaz explained, but receiving this type of recognition is really important for women in the business and political worlds.
Ibañaz said it frustrates her that there may be a list of five things a person needs to run for office and when a man has one, he thinks he can run. Meanwhile, a woman may have three but is still not confident enough to go for it.
“You have to fight even harder to get noticed in a meeting,” Ibañaz said. “Speaking up, you have to balance not being too demanding or assertive.”
This is an art that Ibañaz said Alonzo has mastered.
“She’ll also pull in 18-, 19-, 20-year-old interns into meetings, letting them see how it can be done,” she said. “All the while she still talks about bunnies or her love for chocolate in the office.”
According to Ibañaz, the message Alonzo is consistently sending is, “Hey, other young women,” “you can be really awesome basdasses, too, and still be really nice [people].”