This week Natalie Komuro, Ascencia’s Executive Director, is being honored by The Glendale Chamber of Commerce as their Woman of the Year. We caught up with Ascencia Board member and 2016’s Glendale Man of the Year, Shant Sahakian to talk with us about Natalie and the award.

Shant, tell me about the Woman of the Year award.

Sure, the award’s from Glendale Chamber of Commerce. Every year they select a number of awards, including organizations as well, that they’re going to honor. But kind of the long-standing tradition, I think it’s been almost 57 years I want to say, long time in Glendale. The Chamber’s been around for almost 100 years, actually over 100 years I believe.  They choose a Man of the Year and a Woman of the Year every year.

It’s a huge honor, and it’s obviously a very selective award. But something I said in my speech and I think is really important; I think Natalie and a lot of the awardees feel the same way, it’s much more about the community of people you have around you. It’s all the board members you serve with, all the great people that you volunteer with. It’s your family life, for me it was my wife who just takes care of so many things so that I can have the time and the ability to do all the volunteer work that she also believes in. I’m sure Natalie feels the same way about her family and the support she gets.

But you realize that this award is more of a testament to what you’ve been able to accomplish, not on your own but with all those different people around you and you’re being recognized for that work and the result.

Last year, you received the Man of the Year award. When you received that phone call to receive the award last year and then this year, you’re introducing Natalie, someone you’ve known for a while and then worked with her a bit. What is that like?

I was completely speechless. It was a surprise phone call, and then you immediately feel the gravity of the award. I’ve been lucky to serve on organizations, like our Glendale Parks Foundation where we’ve received an organization award. It’s different, you don’t feel it as personally, but with the Man of the Year, you feel the weight of the award. If you go down the list of the Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, down past years, you see they’re just incredible people who’ve accomplished a lot, who’ve done a lot, given back to our community. You immediately feel the pressure that comes with the award.

But it is a tremendous honor. I’m sure Natalie was excited as well when she got the call. She’s just so deserving. It’s great being an Ascencia Board member with Natalie as our Executive Director. It’s very cool to have the opportunity to somewhat pass on the torch to somebody you’ve worked with for so long. There’s no greater advocate I’ve known for men, women, children and families that are homeless. For me, just our vulnerable communities are of the utmost importance. You’ve got to serve the voiceless, and she’s done that for many, many years and clearly has a great team here as Ascencia. I almost feel more pressure introducing her than giving my speech last year.

What is it that Natalie brings to the table that makes her an obvious choice?

Words I’ve used to describe Natalie is passionate, just always brings passion to the table. Smart – she knows the issue of homelessness in and out. If I have any questions relating to the topic, she’s the person I would go to and ask. Any new legislation that comes out she’s the first person I would think to ask as an expert on this issue. And fierce is the third word I would use. She just knows how to attack the issue head on, and I think we’re very lucky to have her in the community that’s fighting for homeless families and children. ‘

I think it’s great for Ascencia as well that she’s being honored because it also elevates the issue. There are going to be 500, 600 people in the room. How many of them have thought about homelessness, have worked on the issue, have thought about how they can contribute. It’s a great opportunity to promote Ascencia and bring the awareness because a lot of people may not know. Like we were talking about with other nonprofits I’ve served on unless you’ve personally been affected, a lot of times people just don’t know about the different issues that are going on and the challenges. They maybe haven’t thought about, “What can I do to help?”. Maybe they could volunteer with the Guest Chef’s program at Ascencia to get involved in the process too.

Can you tell me about a time where you’ve seen Natalie shine?

Well, last year, we had a lot of one-on-one meetings because we were reaching the end of the Capital Campaign and my wife and me personally, we’ve given a lot of our time. We’re not necessarily as well off as many people, and she instilled the importance of giving to the Capital Campaign and becoming one of the contributors. It was that passion that got us to contribute. I think her passion comes through with everything she does. Through the retreats too, we get a lot more time to talk about homelessness and what opportunities there are to better address the issue. How we can support housing and mental health support and all the different issues that our folks are going through.

You also see it with Measure H for example, the coalition of people had to come together to advocate for it, and she was, of course, instrumental and especially in Glendale and surrounding areas, where we didn’t have L.A. elections, getting people to turn out and vote. I’m very happy it passed because it’s a huge opportunity and looking forward to the funding and implementation to help elevate the situation, bring some relief.

Ascencia Board Member, Shant Sahakian

I’ve seen her with the Winter Shelter, the years we haven’t had it where you see the frustration. The years we have had it where you see that she’s, obviously, a very instrumental role in making sure that we provide shelter, especially during the winter months when the conditions are a lot tougher.

She wears her heart on her sleeve. I almost look at it as synonymous when I think of Natalie. She is so close to the issue you could tell that she eats, sleeps and breathes the issue and if we had more advocates like her in the community, I could see a lot of issues disappearing. She’s great at what she does.

What do you want to make sure we know about Natalie?

First I would say that Natalie is truly instrumental.  At Ascencia, I think the toughest thing about the work in homelessness and the vulnerable communities we serve; you don’t know the work that’s happening in the background unless you’re directly affected – like, it’s your own back yard or your own family member.

I’m excited for this opportunity for Natalie because it highlights her and it honors her and it’s a very well deserved award for all the work she does that often is done behind the scenes. A lot of the people in our community don’t know that Ascencia’s here. They don’t know the incredible people we have here across the board, the entire team and the Board. But most especially I think we have an incredible Executive Director, and it’s great that we have this opportunity to honor her, celebrate her. As I said earlier, I think it’s a great promotional vehicle for Ascencia, and I hope that it helps us bring in more volunteers, more supporters, more organizations that want to contribute. Again, I think it’s a celebration of Natalie and the entire team here for all the work that Ascencia’s been doing for many years.