Judge Villarreal honored by Community Foundation for Monterey County

Judge Lydia Villarreal receives award from Birt Johnson

Monterey County, California — Judge Lydia Villarreal has made an incredible impact in Monterey County. Her accomplishments were recognized Wednesday, October 30, 2019 by the Community Foundation for Monterey County (CFMC) at their annual Celebration of Philanthropy. 

Each year the CFMC presents the Distinguished Trustee Award to an individual or couple who has demonstrated philanthropic leadership in our region. The award, now in its 30th year, was presented to Judge Lydia Villarreal at the foundation’s annual Celebration of Philanthropy.

The event took place at Corral de Tierra Country Club in Salinas and was attended by more than 250 friends and supporters. Judge Villarreal has been a champion for farmworkers rights and an outstanding supporter of nonprofits advancing literacy, healthcare, public education and youth development. The CFMC’s Celebration of Philanthropy thanks those who support and partner with the CFMC to invest in healthy, safe, vibrant communities. 

“The Community Foundation for Monterey County is proud to honor Judge Villarreal. She exemplifies community leadership and giving saying, ‘It’s important that we wake up and do the right thing. Treat people with respect and do your best for everybody every day,’” said Birt Johnson, Jr. CFMC Board Chair. 

As award recipient, Villarreal designated a $10,000 grant from the CFMC to the nonprofit organization(s) of her choice. Judge Villarreal selected The Center for Community Advocacy, which she  founded, K.I.N.D, Kids in Need of Defense, which helps unaccompanied minors with their requests for asylum and the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.  

Judge Villarreal graduated with Honors in Psychology from U.C. Santa Cruz in 1976 and then worked as a paralegal for the United Farmworkers Union. She received her J.D. in 1980 from Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley and began work for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) in Salinas. 

Over the next seven years, she became head of the migrant farmworker project. Villarreal next moved to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office in the Consumer/ Environmental Protection Unit. She has served on the Monterey County Superior Court since being appointed in 2001. As a judge she has a reputation for fairness, toughness, compassion, excellence and integrity. She was elected by her peers to serve as the presiding Judge of Monterey County. 

She co-founded the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) in 1989, where she is the current board chair. CCA provides help with housing, health and education to low-income families and farmworkers. Just before CCA began there was an important class action lawsuit, “Rancho de Cuevas,” where migrant farmworkers were living in deplorable conditions, including caves, in a North County strawberry farm. Despite the successful lawsuit, she realized a new response was needed. 

She said, “While law can be a tool to help and defend people, we need networking and to bring different people together to solve our problems.” 

CCA has developed housing committees, educating people about their rights and responsibilities as tenants, and improved housing conditions for farmworkers. They also provide culturally-sensitive health information to farmworkers. Monterey County is the only county with a farmworker advisory committee to work with the county ag commissioner.

Judge Villareal dedicates time to improve the lives of others including serving on boards for nonprofits including the Community Foundation for Monterey County, CSU Monterey Bay, President’s Council, Natividad Medical Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Save the Redwoods, National Steinbeck Center, Elkhorn Slough Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation, where she is the first Latina and first female chair. 

Judge Villarreal’s awards include: Lady Justice, Lifetime Achievement Award, Monterey County Women Lawyers’ Association; Opus Christi Award, Monterey Diocese, Catholic Charities; Outstanding Farmworker Housing Advocate, Center for Community Advocacy; CSU, Monterey Bay Fellow Award; Outstanding Community Contribution Monterey County Latino Network; Woman for Justice Award, California Latina Political Action Committee; National Hispana Leadership Institute Alumnus; and the Ralph Atkinson Civil Liberties Award For the Defense of Migrant Farmworkers, A.C.L.U. 

The mission of the Community Foundation for Monterey County is to inspire philanthropy and be a catalyst for strengthening communities throughout Monterey County. Thanks to generous individuals and families who have created charitable funds in their lifetimes or through their estates, the CFMC granted $18.7 million in 2018 to more than 400 nonprofits in Monterey County and beyond. The CFMC has granted more than $200 million since 1981. For more information, please call (831) 375-9712, visit www.cfmco.org, or stay connected at www.facebook.com/cfmco.

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