This year's winner is Elisa de la Vara, who currently serves as Chief Community Officer with the Arizona Community Foundation. She will be presented with the Pete Garcia Los D-backs Hispanic Leadership Award during a special pregame recognition prior to the D-backs vs. Padres game tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.
de la Vara oversees the Arizona Community Foundation's affordable housing initiative, impact investing program, The Affiliate Network and the grants management division. She is also responsible for leadership of staff, volunteers and consultants that guide the Community Foundation's Latinos Unidos initiative, Black Philanthropy Initiative, and the Asian American Women's Giving Circle. Prior to joining the Arizona Community Foundation, she led the District 7 Office of U.S. Congressman Ed Pastor and has served as State Director for the Fannie Mae Arizona Business Center, where she created and developed the business/work plan to grow the organization's resources, tools and products across the state.
de la Vara has held significant civic leadership roles throughout Arizona, including serving as Special Assistant to Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt from 1983 to 1986 and later, as Comptroller for Gov. Babbitt's 1988 national presidential campaign. She rose through the ranks at the nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa from 1975 to 1983, ultimately serving as Executive Vice President, the most senior position ever held by a woman in that organization at the time. She also served as Assistant to the President of the L.U.L.A.C. (League of United Latin American Citizens) National office in 1972 and 1973. In the mid '90s she hosted a weekly Spanish-language television program on Univision entitled Bienvenido a Mi Casa, devoted to informing and educating viewers on the rights and responsibilities of home ownership, including the mortgage process and general community information. de la Vara grew up in the Yuma Valley. The Migrant Seasonal HeadStart program in her hometown of Somerton, AZ bears her name.
About Pete "Big Dog" García
García was raised by his mother Victoria in the Marcos de Niza housing projects in central Phoenix along with his brother and sister. He attended Phoenix Union High School before volunteering for the US Army in 1962, serving in Germany. Upon his honorable discharge, he worked as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service while first attending Phoenix College, and then Arizona State University on the GI Bill. He earned a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from ASU and later earned his master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. After completing his bachelor's degree, he worked with the Job Corps and then went on to start a service program for runaway youths with the City of Phoenix, before joining Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC). García spent his free time coaching Little League baseball, first for other neighborhood children, and eventually his own kids.
After receiving his master's degree, García returned to Phoenix as the President & CEO of Valle del Sol, a drug addiction rehabilitation organization and later rejoined CPLC in 1984 as President & CEO. He would go on to become the most successful and longest serving leader of the organization, retiring after 24 years at its head. Under his leadership, CPLC's operating budget grew from $3 million to over $60 million, and in 2008 it was named as the second largest Hispanic Non-Profit in the US by Hispanic Business Magazine. During this time, García received numerous awards and recognition including thrice being invited to participate in Ditchley Foundation Conferences in Enstone, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. He was also selected as Johnson Fellow, named an AARP Inspire award recipient, received the Cesar E Chavez Leadership Institute legacy award, Pioneer in Excellence by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and "One of the Valley's Most Influential People" by the Business Journal of Phoenix, among many others. During his career, García met with three different U.S. Presidents and His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales.
Upon retirement, García started a new foundation focused on creating educational opportunities for underserved students and named it the Victoria Foundation in honor of his mother. From 2008-2017 García raised more than $4 million to enable students to attend ASU, UofA, NAU, GCU, Maricopa Community Colleges, and several out of state schools. García also raised money through the Victoria Foundation to provide 300 bikes for inner city youth, stockings to the elderly at Christmas, and deliver turkey dinners to veterans on Thanksgiving. García passed away on May 3, 2017 at the age of 72