Honorees at the gala event were Angela Huneault and Siris Barrios of Riverside Rediscovered, Marcia Estrada and Maria Avila. Sandra Gil was honored posthumously with the Legacy Achievement Award. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Hundreds attended a gala event last night at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow for SEPA Mujer (Services for the Advancement of Women). The nonprofit organization whose goal is to empower women through a wide array of programs, commemorated its 24-year anniversary by celebrating with their East End members and other allies with an elegant dinner followed by dance and raffles.

This year’s theme for the gala was “We are the Movement” and highlighted the importance of partnerships and membership, said SEPA Mujer executive director Martha Maffei.

“We want to recognize the people who’ve had a role in the community and that have helped improve the lives of local women,” Maffei said.

Renaissance Downtowns’ Riverside Rediscovered, a community-driven initiative that focuses on redeveloping the Riverside area, received the Partnership of the Year award.

Maria Avila, a young woman who has worked with SEPA Mujer for the last four years, was the recipient of the 2017 Rising Star and Marcia Estrada, a long-time member and activist, was the recipient of the 2017 Member of the Year award.

The daughters of Sandra Gil, recipient of the 2017 Legacy Achievement Award, received the award in their mother’s name and gave an emotional speech. Gil, who passed away on Sept. 1 due to uterine cancer, was a well-known community leader throughout the East End. She worked at the Suffolk County Health Department in the Division of Patient Care and was a coordinator at the Parent Leadership Initiative. She dedicated most of her life to empowering and helping immigrant communities in Suffolk County. Kathya Verdesoto-Martinez, a SEPA Mujer member, sang a traditional ranchera song, “Amor Eterno,” to honor her memory.

The organization whose goal was also to raise funds for the upcoming year, sold about 220 tickets to the event, and raffled off several gift baskets. Attendees were able to donate at the event last night and online.

SEPA Mujer will soon lose one of its main sponsors, the Hagerdorn Foundation, which will close its doors Oct. 13.

SEPA has also received federal funds from a grant from the Department of Justice through the Violence Against Women Act that has helped the organization fund their legal aid services and staff attorney’s wages for the last three years. The grant expired on October 5, and although they have re-applied they don’t know if they will be approved, said Maffei.

The night was filled with music, dance, laughter and hope. “We have so much to do to keep helping the women in our communities across Suffolk County,” Maffei said.

“It is amazing to see us coming together like this,” she said.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Maria Piedrabuena

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria