YWCA Utah recognizes five community leaders for their work supporting women, girls

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rosie Rivera, in this 2017 photo, is the first woman in Utah to serve as any county's sheriff.

Ever since she was a little girl, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera wanted to be a police officer.

“Now, I look back and I think I never could imagine that I would be in the position that I am now, a position that gives me a voice on a much larger scale and the ability to bring change and hope to others,” she said.

Rivera told the hundreds of people gathered Friday at Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel that as sheriff she promises to help “as many women as I can along the way.”

YWCA Utah recognized Rivera and four other community leaders — Deanna Kepka, Amy Rees Anderson, Mara Rabin and Kendra Tomsic — for their work supporting women and girls at the organization’s 31st annual Leader Luncheon. It’s the biggest fundraising event for the YWCA Utah and its programs, according to Amberlie Phillips, chief development officer.

The goal is “to honor women in our community who have achieved amazing things in their fields while also being advocates and champions of" women, girls and racial justice, Phillips said.

(Becky Jacobs | The Salt Lake Tribune) YWCA Utah held its 31st annual Leader Luncheon Friday at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Rivera was sworn in as Salt Lake County’s first female sheriff in 2017. She oversees the sheriff’s office, Public Safety Bureau and Unified Police Department. She previously worked as a precinct chief and watch commander, as well as in investigations, the metro gang unit, community policing, public/media relations and patrol and narcotics.

Tomsic is the athletic director at Rowland Hall and has taught physical education for 42 years. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame at College of Eastern Utah in 1996. She is passionate about athletics and what participation can bring to young people’s lives, particularly girls and women.

Tomsic pursued her passion “during a time when a woman in the world of sports was not the norm," she said. On Friday, she quoted professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, who said, “Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” Tomsic said that’s an idea that needs to be shared broadly.

Rabin provided Utah’s refugee health screenings for 14 years and advocated for incorporating these screenings across the country. Since 2003, she’s been the medical director of Utah Health and Human Rights, a nonprofit dedicated to holistic healing of refugee and immigrant survivors of severe human rights abuses.

“I became a physician because I thought it would be the most effective way to help people, to heal people,” Rabin said. “But it didn’t take me long to realize that truly helping patients heal went way beyond what I could offer in an office visit.”

Kepka is an investigator with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Utah. She is also a member of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences research group, the director of Global and International Health in the College of Nursing, and the founding director of the Intermountain West HPV Vaccination Coalition.

Anderson is the managing partner of REES Capital and the founder of the IPOP Foundation, a charity focused on promoting entrepreneurship as a pathway to self-reliance. She also contributes to Forbes and the Huffington Post and is the author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How to Excel in Business & Life.”

The luncheon’s keynote speaker, Valarie Kaur, spoke about the idea of “meeting people you disagree with with love rather than hate,” which Phillips said she thought “would really resonate for the people in our audience.”

Kaur is a civil rights activist, filmmaker, lawyer, faith leader and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, which produces stories and tools “that equip and inspire people to practice the ethic of love,” according to the organization’s website.

“Love is a form of sweet labor, fierce, demanding, bloody, ongoing, imperfect, a choice that you get up and make every single day,” Kaur told the audience Friday.

Kaur grew up in California where her family settled as Sikh farmers. Her grandfather taught her what it means to be an American and to love your neighbor, she said. Now, as a mother in a time of tension and what she said is hateful rhetoric in the country, she worries about her young son. She has realized, though, that she can’t protect him but she can make him resilient.

“Love can be taught. Love can be modeled," she said. “And love can be practiced.”

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.