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Assemblymember Arambula Selects Diane Phakonekham MS, President & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California, as the 31st Assembly District Woman of the Year for 2024

For immediate release:
  • Felicia Matlosz
  • 559-304-9286

FRESNO – Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) has selected Diane Phakonekham MS, President & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California, as Woman of the Year for the 31st Assembly District for 2024.

The recognition comes in March, which is Women’s History Month. Assemblymember Arambula each year highlights an honoree who is making an inspired and positive impact in her community.

Phakonekham’s story is one of spirited perseverance and selflessness.

Phouangmala “Diane” Phakonekham was born in Vientiane, Laos. She and her family immigrated to the United States when she was a young girl. They were forced to flee because of her father’s active military service in support of the United States during the Vietnam War. Phakonekham’s parents, plus her difficult childhood experiences, instilled in her a deep belief that America offered opportunity and that higher education was part of a path to a better life.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in child development and Master of Science degree in rehabilitation counseling from Fresno State. She also earned a minor degree in psychology and criminology, with a certification in victimology.

Phakonekham’s resolute advocacy for children – especially those facing adversity and/or a disability – is rooted in her life story.

Her career began as entry-level teacher assistant and then program director for Fresno State Kids Invent! But a vehicle accident – she was struck by a drunken driver – left her severely injured and bedridden. The life-changing episode sparked a more intense desire in her to help children who need support the most.

In addition, Phakonekham and her husband have been raising children now young adults, including twin boys who have disabilities.

After recovering from the accident, Phakonekham began working for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California, which believes that every child can succeed and thrive through adult volunteers serving as mentors to children ages six through 18. She started as program director and eventually rose to be its president and CEO. Under her leadership, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California has grown from serving 320 children to more than 1,000 in four Valley counties. Her leadership has been recognized by other organizations, including being named one of the Marjaree Mason Center’s Top Ten Professional Women of the Year for 2017.

Assemblymember Arambula said: “Anyone who knows or has met Diane immediately sees her compassion, empathy, and her unquestionable commitment to help and support children. Her leadership and her volunteers have elevated Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California’s standing as a trusted and safe place for children to grow and shine. The organization’s positive impact on so many young lives is greatly appreciated, and it starts with Diane’s outstanding advocacy for children.”

Phakonekham said: “It’s an honor to be chosen Woman of the Year for District 31. I am truly grateful I get the privilege to serve our wonderful community. I will continue to advocate for all children because they are the best investment we can and should make.”