Santa Monica Place (file photo)

The four women come from different backgrounds and work in a variety of fields, but they are united by one goal: improving the local community.

These active citizens — Julia Miele, Rochelle Fanali, Julie Rusk and Sandy Jacobson — will be recognized at 7 p.m. March 26 during the eighth-annual celebration of “Women Who Shape Santa Monica,” an event hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica.

The event aims to build on the legacy of the league, which was founded in 1920 to educate newly enfranchised female voters. And the Santa Monica chapter, which was established in 1934, lives on through a new generation of activists.

“It’s always a privilege to shine light on the accomplishments of these special women who’ve given so much to our city,” chapter president Ann Williams said in a release. “Their lifework expands upon the progress of the pioneering suffragists who gave American women the right to vote and founded our organization.”

Three of the honorees were chosen by board members for their contributions in the fields of nonprofit work, education and government. A fourth award is reserved for an active member.

The ceremony will be held at Ocean House, 2107 Ocean Ave., between Pacific Street and Bicknell Avenue. For more information, visit, call (310) 692-1494 or email

Julia Miele

As a parent in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district, Julia Miele has spent ample time volunteering, fundraising and supporting education. But having a daughter also inspires Miele to focus on improving the community for future generations.

In her role as the executive director of the local YWCA since 2008, Miele has worked to empower women and girls through a wide array of programming.

“I’m delighted to receive this honor, as it calls attention to the important work women are doing to help our community thrive,” she said. “In my case, this honor also highlights the life-changing programs of the YWCA Santa Monica/Westside, which supports our community’s women, girls and families over a lifetime.”

Miele, who previously held posts with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the American Cancer Society, noted the history of collaboration between the YWCA and the local league chapter. In October, the two groups partnered on a forum featuring state senate candidates Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke.

“Leading an organization that advances the goals and pursuits of women and girls at every life stage has given me the opportunity to deeply engage with the Santa Monica community and benefit from the support it provides to women, girls, families and community service agencies as a whole,” she said.

Rochelle Fanali

Through the Parent Teacher Association at the local and state levels, Rochelle Fanali has been involved in education and children’s advocacy efforts for the last 15 years.

But the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s current PTA council president acknowledges that her actions fall within a larger context of community activism.

“Forming nearly 100 years ago just as women won our right to vote, the League of Women Voters advocated for an open, accountable and responsive governmental system,” she said. “Their mission is as relevant today as it was then.”

Like the PTA, Fanali said, the league is nonpartisan but strives to be forward-thinking.

“I am incredibly honored to be in the company of the women receiving recognition by the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica this year,” she said. “I am continually inspired by the commitment of so many other women — and men — to supporting the youth and public schools of our community. I feel lucky to volunteer alongside them.”

Julie Rusk

Back in 1988, Julie Rusk arrived from the East Coast to work in the city’s Community and Cultural Services division. Twenty-five years later she became the department’s assistant director, a position she holds today.

Her career has been marked by involvement in a plethora of projects in Santa Monica. She’s overseen human services grants and after-school programs. She’s worked on Virginia Avenue Park. She’s contributed in the Police Activities League and spent time aiding local homeless people.

“Santa Monica is a unique city — valuing its people, committing substantial resources to things that matter to us all,” she said. “Santa Monica is full of people who care about their neighborhoods, their schools, their branch library, their parks, and even their grocery stores.”

Rusk, an active parent who has two teenagers in district schools, is currently a leader on several major initiatives. One is the Wellbeing Project, a city-sponsored plan to measure and improve community wellbeing. Another is Cradle to Career, a collaborative effort focusing on childhood development.

“We strive to craft and implement good policy because that’s how our community becomes stronger, more connected and more resilient,” she said.

Sandy Jacobson

This year’s Christabel Pankhurst Award will go to Sandy Jacobson, a league member and longtime CityTV host. A producer and program host for the local cable channel for 25 years, Jacobson is being honored for her work as a candidate forum moderator.

“Her professionalism and gracious personality have elevated these forums into a class by themselves,” Williams said.

Jacobson has questioned numerous City Council candidates, interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, produced two Emmy Award-winning documentaries, served as a docent at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and volunteered with a literacy program through the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She is also a counselor for a suicide prevention hotline.

Jacobson’s award is named after an English-born suffragette who is buried in Santa Monica.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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