AWEE to recognize four at 2018 Faces of Success Gala

Ariel Acosta

Four Valley residents who have overcome personal and financial barriers to create new, improved and successful lives through programs and services at Arizona Women’s Education & Employment will be recognized for their achievements at the Faces of Success Gala on Friday, Feb. 9 at the PERA Club, 1. East Continental Drive in Tempe.

The four honorees’ individual stories range from:

•  Overcoming a meth addiction and seven-year prison term to become assistant director at a Valley supermarket, managing more than 200 employees to

• A young woman entrepreneur who quietly but successfully entered the male-dominated male footwear design business to

• A Moldavian native who came to the U.S. looking for opportunities and is on a career-path in the financial industry to

• A woman who lost her job and her home when she had to take a week off to care for her sick child and is now working full-time in her dream career in the legal field.

AWEE’s signature fund-raising Faces of Success Gala, which is transitioning from a luncheon to an evening affair, also will honor Ambassador Barbara Barrett as the inaugural recipient of the Barbara Barrett AWEE Icon Award, which will be presented annually to an individual who has shown the courage, strength and character to move beyond challenges to make an impact on the world around them.

Shandra Purnell

Ambassador Barrett, who is the event’s honorary co-chair, overcome her own considerable roadblocks to establish herself among the country’s most-respected and successful women, entrepreneurs, dignitaries and human beings.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception and silent auction. The program, awards, live auction and entertainment start at 7 p.m.  Former 12 News Reporter Kim Covington, now with the Arizona Community Foundation, will emcee.

Individual tickets are $350.  Table sponsorships start at $3,500.  Reservations can be made at

The 2018 Faces of Success are:

Ariel Acosta, born, raised and still lives in South Phoenix, turned to drugs after his mother died, fell in with the wrong crowd, lost the support of his family and children and ended up in prison for seven years. “I was living in a very dark place,” he said. “There was never a day without doing drugs.  Never a day without causing some kind of mischief.  I was not good in my mind and not good in my soul.” He considered his prison sentence his rescue because “I would have ended up dead.”  Today, seven years out of prison, Acosta is assistant director at Los Altos Ranch Market in Mesa, managing more than 200 employees.  Once out of prison, AWEE helped prepare him for the job, gave him bus passes, clothing, training and support. He started as a “cart pusher” and is now working toward becoming a store director.

Dianne Halloway, born and raised in Phoenix and attended Alhambra High School, started designing male footwear after graduating from Arizona State University 12 years ago.  She knew the industry was dominated by men and worked quietly behind the scenes to gauge reactions of those who purchased her shoes.  “When most people pick up a shoe, they have a notion that it was a man who designed and developed it,” she said.  “So, I stayed quiet for a year after I started because I wanted to see the type of reactions I’d get from my work.”  When everything came back positively, she started to build her business, but had challenges securing financing.  Through Arizona Women’s Education & Entrepreneur Center, Ms. Halloway found “a great resource specifically geared toward women in business and independents like myself who need a little help to be prepared.”

Dianne Halloway

Anastasia Plesco of Chandler left her native Moldova in Eastern Europe five years ago for America looking for new opportunities.  Then 20, she landed in Corpus Christi, Texas where she worked a series of jobs in the hospitality industry.  Her goal was to find a banking job and Arizona is where she found it.  After moving to Arizona she learned about AWEE’s BankWork$ program, an intensive 8-week, 168-hour program that trains men and women for careers in financial services.  Ten days after completing the program, a partnership with the Sherri and Les Biller Family Foundation and banking partners throughout the Valley, she was hired as a teller at Amtrust Bank where she was recently promoted to the management-training program.

Shandra Purnell of Chandler had dreamed about being a lawyer. But her degree in Administration of Criminal Justice wasn’t opening doors, even though “I thought it would be a shoe-in to get any job I want.”  She didn’t have the necessary skill set and ended up doing call-center work.  Then, the single mother of two lost a job – and the place they were living – after her son became sick and she had to take a week off to care for him.  With housing support from her family, she reached out to a lawyer she knew with an opening for an internship.  After more than half a year in that role, she wanted to leverage that experience to find full-time work in the legal industry.  Her lawyer friend connected her to AWEE.  “Without AWEE, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” in a full-time position at a Valley law firm, she said. “They helped me with my resume, coached me on interviews and gave me confidence.  I think I knew deep down inside, I needed a push.  They pushed me.”  She’s scheduled to take the LSATs the day after the Faces of Success Gala.

Co-chairs of Faces of Success are Christina Worden of SRP and Gaby Cardenas of The Colibri Collection.

For more information about AWEE, visit  For more information about A New Leaf, visit

The Scottsdale Independent publishes a free daily newsletter. A print edition is mailed to 75,000 homes and businesses each month. If you value our journalistic mission, please consider showing us your support.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment