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14 across Arizona receive 2023 awards for efforts to end poverty

Cynthia Zwick, above, has been awarded the Margie Frost Champion Against Poverty Award. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Cynthia Zwick named Margie Frost Champion Against Poverty Award winner
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

Fourteen community advocates from across the state received 2023 awards from Wildfire for their individual and collective efforts in the battle against poverty at the annual Wildfire Statewide Conference, held earlier this month at Harrah’s Ak-Chin, 15406 N. Maricopa Road in Maricopa.

The conference, under the theme, ‘Transforming Community Action, Transforming Lives,’ featured keynote speakers Iya Affo, founder of Heal Historical Trauma; and Dr. Nika Gueci, executive director of the Arizona State University Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience.

The two-day conference also recognized recipients of Heart in Hand Awards, Beating the Odds Award, President’s Award and the Margie Frost Champion Against Poverty Award.

Sponsors included: Platinum: APS, SRP and Southwest Gas. Gold: Desert Financial Credit Union, TEP, PPEP and Husch Blackwell Strategies. Silver: Snell & Wilmer, Morgan Stanley, Trico Electric Cooperative, Inc., A New Leaf/MesaCAN and the city of Phoenix.

2023 honorees:
  • Cynthia Zwick, Margie Frost Champion Against Poverty Award. Currently Deputy Executive Director of the Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO), Ms. Zwick was executive director at Wildfire, formerly the Arizona Community Action Association, for 19 years. Through her leadership, Wildfire was established as Arizona’s leading anti-poverty organization, bringing together varying constituencies to solve the most pressing problems faced by vulnerable communities across the state.
  • Malissa Buzan, President’s Award. Embodying the ideals of Community Action, Ms. Buzan spent her career as a fierce and compassionate advocate for her community. A lifelong Gila County resident, she served as the Executive Director of Gila County Community Services from 2009 until her recent retirement. Seemingly tireless in her commitment to impacting others, she also served as the President of the Wildfire Board of Directors, the co-chair of the Gila County Community Network, and on the boards of Habitat for Humanity, Gila County Foster Care Review Board, and Kids Care.
  • Beating the Odds awards:
  • Teresa Gault, Flagstaff. Nominated by Coconino County Community Health and Human Services, Ms. Gault is a caseworker at the City of Flagstaff who brings her personal experience overcoming trauma, poverty and abuse at home to support individuals and families on their own path out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency.
  • Chad Palmer, Yuma. Nominated by the Western Arizona Council of Governments (WACOG), Mr. Palmer, now retired, overcame homelessness and raised his two daughters as a single parent. His choices could have taken him and his family to darker life experiences, but he persisted and succeeded in showing that through hard work and determination, you can overcome any challenges.

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2023 Heart in hand awards
  • Margaret Bentzen, Flagstaff. Nominated by Northern Arizona Council of Governments, Bentzen, who retired from the Flagstaff Police Department after 32 years, has been the Senior Services Lead Case Worker for the Coconino County Community Action Division for five years. Bentzen provides support with rent and utilities and other programs impacting seniors to reduce crisis, fight poverty and allow dignity. She is a warrior for senior services, always volunteering for time to add to and improve service delivery.
  • Denise Carter, Mesa. Nominated by MesaCAN, Carter founded Over-Flo, a non-profit organization providing meals, water, personal hygiene packages and other resources helping individuals and families experiencing homelessness and other challenges. Her commitment and passion to serve others led to the beginning of MesaCAN’s food pantry in 2018.
  • Tom Cock, Yuma. Nominated by Western Arizona Council of Governments, Cock is a landlord and property owner who collaborates with WACOG to rent homes to individuals and families working to rebuild their lives by overcoming personal challenges including homelessness and turn their lives around. Cock provides opportunities for housing by waving application fees for those without credit and those who may have criminal records.
  • Lori and Roger Deutsch, Flagstaff. , nominated by Northern Arizona Council of Governments, Lori and Roger are visionaries who see a community problem or need and put in the work and leadership to find a solution. For the newly formed Love Diaper Bank, they were willing to sign a lease to secure space for the Diaper Bank even before securing funding Working without pay, they can often be found working weekends building shelving or driving long distances to pick up and deliver diaper donatons.
  • Councilwoman Lisa Fitzgibbons, Casa Grande. Nominated by Community Action Human Resources Agency (CAHRA), in addition to her responsibilities on the Casa Grande City Council and as Director of Marketing and Business Development for Fitzgibbons Law Offices, she is a committed volunteer helping those who are less fortunate. Among her contributions are providing leadership for the I-HELP Project, a temporary overnight shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Constables Denise Garcia (Avondale) and Lennie McCloskey (Surprise). Nominated by the City of Glendale Community Action Program, Garcia and McCloskey are two of the strongest advocates when it comes to treating people with dignity and compassion during eviction proceedings. Their willingness to learn and understand the eligibility process and associated timelines have increased the relationships and trust between Glendale Community Action Program and property managers and owners.
  • Anna Marie Maldanado, Phoenix. Nominated by the City of Phoenix Human Services Department, Maldanado is a consultant working with Helping Families in Need (HFIN), facilitated a contract between HFIN and the City of Phoenix Industrial Development Authority to provide critical application assistance, housing navigation and case management services to Phoenix mobile home residents at Weldon Court and Las Casitas. She and her team were able to gain the trust of residents, which allowed them to be effective conduits for connecting with other government and social service agencies. Residents have called them heroes.
  • Gloria Padilla, Tucson. Nominated by the Pima County Community Action Agency, Padilla has been with Pima County CAA since 2009, demonstrating her passion to serve the most vulnerable. As a lead, she quickly adapts to the ever-changing needs and policies and programs, using her extensive knowledge of state services, CAA programs such as LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) and others to better serve low-income communities and mentor peers.

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