Susan Mendez

Susan Mendez

A Gilbert resident who is the director of the Maricopa County Department of Human Services is one of six women slated to be honored for their leadership by the Arizona chapter of an international women’s organization.

Susan Mendez will be honored by the ATHENA Valley of the Sun (AVOS) luncheon July 28 at the Clayton House in Scottsdale.

Mendez, a native Arizonan whose Hispanic family traces its roots to the migrant worker community, worked for 23 years for the state Department of Economic Security and is being honored with the group’s Learn Constantly Award.

She started as a caseworker helping food stamp clients and worked her way up to program developer and contract administrator. 

Mendez became a director for the Community Action Partnership in Arizona, explaining, “I think I can make the biggest impact addressing the causes of poverty by using my ability to identify areas where vulnerable populations really need help, either financial or infrastructure, and work to identify what that change needs to be and then pursue it aggressively.” 

Her fellow Arizona directors of Community Action “were her early mentors and taught her a lot about this work,” a spokeswoman for said, calling Mendez “a fighter or a contender, because when she pursues something, she’s not going to let it go.”

“Sandra deftly keeps her fingers in state policy development, program development and legislative analysis,” the spokeswoman said. “However, writing a contract is not as impactful as watching a family become sustainable or watching a young person being able to go to college and break the generational cycle of poverty – that is what she finds exciting.”

When asked if she had the opportunity to change the perception of others, she replied, “If I could change people’s perceptions of each other in relation to race, I could eradicate racism…. The social justice arena as it relates to poverty indicators are directly related to race. 

“So those two are working together. It’s the way that we perceive one another. Second, I could change people’s perception of vulnerable populations living in poverty. People living in poverty are not the problem, they’re the result of a problem.”

“I know when something is not operating effectively or just wrong. I think the place where I can make the biggest impact is my ability to identify areas where vulnerable individuals really need help, either financial or infrastructure and identify what that change needs to be and then pursue it aggressively,” Mendez added.

“I just keep plugging away. I don’t take no for an answer. I know intuitively that we can do better; we can do more.”

AVOS also will be presenting the ATHENA Award to Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, for advancing equality in the workplace. “Her work has changed the game for women by elevating feminine values in the workplace,” the group said.

In addition, six young women East Valley high schools will be honored for the work they do in their communities and will be mentored by the HAIL award honorees.  The 2020 Young ATHENAs are Anna-Grace Sellers, Alondra Macias, Tania Ramos, Chloe Kwa, Deeann Schettrer and Emma Cain.

AVOS was launched in 2015 to help women achieve leadership potential through its mission to “Support, Develop and Honor” female leaders. Luncheon proceeds will help provide leadership programs and other support to area women and young women in East Valley high schools.

Luncheon tickets are available at Information and sponsorships: or call 602-214-5988.