Award Recipients

Paul & Irene Elizondo Legacy Award


Verna Blackwell-Hilario

Verna Blackwell-Hilario has been a community Organizer in San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas for more than 40 years. Verna is the former Executive Director of the Bexar County Democratic Party, Staff Member for Texas House of Representatives, Staff Member of Texas Senate. She is a grassroots community activist who is committed to working with Senior Citizens and promoting voter education, and responding to physical and emotional needs of Senior Citizens with Bingo's, Dances, Thanksgiving Projects. Christmas Projects, Raffles and provides many other community services for the City of San Antonio. Verna Blackwell is a strong advocate for the poor and disenfranchised Over the past two decades, Verna has been honored and recognized for her years of services, resulting in numerous prestigious awards. Her dedication to seniors on the West Side has resulted in recognition by Judge Peter Sakai, San Antonio Nutrition Division, former Council Woman Pattie Radle and Bexar County Commissioners. Verna Blackwell and her son Mark are the Founders of "Mark's Coffee Mates" a project that provides coffee yearly during the winter months for Senior Citizens in City of San Antonio Nutrition Centers. She is a Veteran of the United States Army who served in the 277th Engr Co and the 149TH Army Guard and has Co-Chaired the Veterans Committee for the Bexar County Democratic Party and Membership Co-Chair for the Texas Democratic Parry Veterans Committee. Today, Verna is involved in various Veterans meetings and Organizations spreading the message about needs of Veterans and working on Veteran GOTV. She works in her church community and is past president of the Holy Rosary Christian Mothers, and former Board member of the Holy Rosary Parish Council and presently a member of the Soul Harvest Women's Ministry. She is a member of the Northwest Democrats, Bexar County Democratic Women and participates in the Martin Luther King March, Cesar Chavez March and Dream Act March and many other civic Causes. She is committed to local ministry food pantries at Soul Harvest and West End Baptist.

The Pinnacle Award

Patricia Mejia

Patricia Mejia is the Vice president of Community Engagement and Impact at the San Antonio Area Foundation, where she is focused on targeted investments to create more equitable communities. With 1 billion in assets, one of the largest community Foundation’s in the country, the Foundation works in collaboration with partner organizations across sectors to address the area’s greatest needs both at the community level and individual level. Patricia’s 20 plus years as an executive in both the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors allow her to community voice to lead her team to implement trust based philanthropic practices and authentic community engagement. She has an MA and BA, both cum laude, from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas and completed the Executive Leadership Program at Harvard. Away from work, Patricia is a proud mom to Ms. Karolina whom she enjoys making memories alongside.

The Pinnacle Award

Cecilia Herrera

Cecilia’s commitment to service to the community began at an early age thanks to her parents and aunts who taught her to use her talents to help others. Her education with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and later with the Sisters of Divine Providence imbued a charism of servant leadership which gave her the impetus to travel the world in service to her country. Inspired by her husband and family members she continues today to commit herself to service to her beloved community. She joined the Foreign Service in 1987. From Guadalajara, Mexico, to Melbourne, Australia, and from Washington D.C. to Rome, Italy, Cecilia has served with a commitment to make life better for those she encountered. She has traveled throughout Russia, North Africa, and the Arabian Gulf. While stationed in Washington as Assistant Chief of Protocol for the Department of State and the White House, Cecilia was asked to establish the Office of Protocol at the U. S. Embassy in Baghdad. She has also served as Consul General in Matamoros, Mexico and as Management Counselor at the U. S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. Cecilia retired after twenty-five years in the Foreign Service and became President and CEO of The Cisneros Center for New Americans, a non-profit, non- political corporation designed to assist and empower immigrants by fortifying a culture of learning and educational attainment in the Latino community and establishing a corps of future Latino leaders. She continued her commitment to creating future leaders by serving as the Chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber Alex Brisenio Leadership Development Program and on the Steering Committee for the Chamber’s Latina Leadership Program. She has also worked with the University of the Incarnate Word as The Global Service Coordinator at the Ettling Center for Civic Leadership. In this capacity, Cecilia assisted in the planning of service-learning trips abroad for the University’s undergraduate and professional school students. She is currently a member of the International and Texas Women’s Forum. She has served as President of the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council, President of the Old Spanish Missions Advisory Board, a member of the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Board, The Good Samaritan Board, the World Affairs Council of San Antonio Board, and the Our Lady of the Lake University Board of Trustees. She serves on the San Antonio Museum of Art Board and is a member of the Equestrian Order of Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Cecilia was originally appointed as Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Mexican American Civil Rights Institute and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors. It is the first Institute of its kind in the United States. She also currently serves on the Board of the CHRISTUS Children’s Hospital Foundation.

The Pinnacle Award

Frank Herrera

Known for his commitment to bringing justice to the underdog, Frank Herrera’s famous line “Winning isn’t luck. It’s knowing how to fight” epitomizes the devotion that has driven him to succeed. It was the encouragement of Frank’s parents, Frank Sr. and Elvira that drove him to become an attorney and consequently shape his future as well as the lives of others. Born and raised in Edna, Texas, Frank’s interest in law began while observing court proceedings with his father. He found a hero in civil-rights litigator, Gus Garcia, the first Mexican American to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1969, he opened his own law firm with the help of his parents, who refinanced their home to purchase Frank's office furniture and equipment. Eventually, he formed Hardberger & Herrera, an endeavor with Phillip Hardberger, former Chief Justice of the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals, and former Mayor San Antonio. In 1983, Frank Herrera became the sole owner of The Herrera Law Firm (known then as The Law Offices of Frank Herrera), a firm that truly represents all of the life experiences and hard work Herrera had been working toward since his graduation. He runs his law firm and businesses in much the same way that he runs his life—with hopes that every move he makes will positively impact others. Frank is a strong advocate for economic and political empowerment for the Latino community. In addition to helping thousands within the legal system, he has made a strong commitment to his community and regularly volunteers his time, energy, and financial resources to social causes. Active in a wide variety of charitable endeavors, he has served on a range of boards and has donated money to numerous civic, community, cultural and educational organizations, most of which aim to improve the lives of the less fortunate. Finally, Frank’s most proud aspect of his life is his family. Frank has two sons, Jorge, and Javier, both of whom are litigators in his firm and actively participate in his business ventures with Toyota. His wife, Cecilia Elizondo Herrera, is a retired Foreign Service Officer with the United States Department of State. They both enjoy spending their time with their grandchildren, traveling and devote of time to smaller community organizations and fundraisers in San Antonio. Throughout his life, Frank has worked for others and his endeavors have been recognized as he has received numerous awards and accolades.