Work by Arizona women earns White House nod as ‘champions of change’

Phoenix resident Diali Avila has worked on the Affordable Care Act, on immigration reform and on minority access to college, but she credited “the pillars” of her family for helping her achieve as much as she has. (Photo by Adriana Barajas)

Amanda Tachine of Ganado has a doctorate in higher ed and works to help Native youth succeed in college, among other achievements – but still said being invited to the White House was a “wow’ moment. (Photo by Adriana Barajas)

WASHINGTON – When she moved from Mexico to the U.S. at age 11, Diali Avila could not know that it was the first step toward a trip to the White House.

“When I moved here I didn’t expect it,” said Avila, now 26. “It wasn’t in my head, you know, ‘Oh I’m going to get to the White House.'”

But that’s where she was Tuesday, one of 11 women – and one of two from Arizona – who recognized as White House Champions of Change, an administration initiative that brings attention to “ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things in their communities.”

Avila, of Phoenix, was cited for her work with the Hispanic community while Ganado resident Amanda Tachine was there for her work with Native American youth.

“It was just a feeling of, wow!” said Tachine, 37. “I’m here with my family at the White House to receive an award for our native communities.”

The White House regularly selects a variety of recipients for the program, ranging in the past from faith leaders on climate issues to immigrant innovators, from educators to entrepreneurs, and more. The goal of the program is to inspire young people to continue working to make a difference in their communities.

Avila has worked for the Affordable Care Act, educating families on health care and helping individuals with “Obamacare” enrollment, and has been an advocate since 2007 for the DREAM Act and for immigration reform, according to the White House. It said her significant impact within the Hispanic community and her contributions to the Isac Amaya Foundation – a scholarship organization that helps low-income students pursue a college degree – are what brought her to the White House this week.

“I believe there was a series of nominations,” Avila said after Tuesday’s event. “People were able to nominate community members and then the White House selected 11 of them, and that’s how I was selected.”

Tachine was nominated by her students, who submitted an online video through first lady Michelle Obama’s “reach higher” initiative that detailed Tachine’s contributions to the Navajo Nation. White House materials said Tachine has worked to ensure that Native American students can continue their educations, through a college-mentoring program known as Native SOAR (Student, Outreach, Access and Resiliency.)

“Our students created a five-minute video on YouTube and talked about the work that we did,” said Tachine, who is Navajo. That video was enough to impress someone in the White House and earn her a Champion of Change invitation.

Tuesday’s morning-long event included meetings with White House aides and discussions among the women on the work they are doing in their communities.

Standing outside the White House afterward, both Tachine and Avila said the event was like a dream come true.

“We moved here, we started from zero pretty much,” Avila said of her family’s trip to this country. “Thanks to them, the pillars of my mom my brothers, I got to college, I graduated and now I’m doing the work I’m doing.”

– Cronkite News video by Adriana Barajas