In her 26 years of work with the Mar Vista Family Center in Del Rey, Lucia Diaz has seen the many changes the family service center has been through.

Diaz, who has served as executive director of the Mar Vista Family Center since 1995 and now holds the title of chief executive officer, has seen the organization grow from being a parent-participation childcare pre-school into a full family service center.

She has seen the center, located adjacent to the Mar Vista Gardens housing project on Slauson Avenue in the Del Rey area, expand from serving 50 families in 1981 to approximately 600 families today.

The center aims to provide low-income families with childcare, youth enrichment and educational tools to create positive change in their lives and community, center officials say.

In the time Diaz has been with the Mar Vista Family Center, the organization’s annual budget has increased from $100,000 to $1.3 million currently, and its staff has jumped from only four members to 32 today.

“It has changed tremendously,” said Diaz, an 18-year Westchester resident who has three grown children with her husband, Gustavo.

One of the primary changes the center has experienced since it was founded in 1977 to serve an at-risk community is that since 1986, all staff members have been community people, Diaz said.

As a community person who has spent the last 26 years working to help children and families in the local area, Diaz has been recognized for her service.

California State Assemblyman Ted Lieu recently named Diaz “Woman of the Year” for the 53rd Assembly District, saying she has worked tirelessly to serve the community over the last 26 years.

“I’m excited and honored to name someone who has done so much for the community,” Lieu said. “Lucia Diaz is a true treasure of the Mar Vista area.”

In honoring Diaz for her work at the Mar Vista Family Center, Lieu noted the center’s exemplary track record of helping children to succeed in school and steering them away from gangs and drugs.

“People like Lucia Diaz are the reason we have such a strong community spirit in this area,” Lieu said. “She deserves this recognition and much, much more.”

Diaz said she was surprised to receive the Woman of the Year honor, which is a recognition not only for her but for everyone at the family center.

“This award belongs to every single person,” Diaz said. “I think there are so many women in this district who deserve this special recognition but it’s an honor to receive that.”

Del Rey Neighborhood Council president Mark Redick, who worked with Diaz on the first elected board of the Neighborhood Council in 2004, said he was delighted to learn of her recognition and called her a “lady of integrity and honor.”

“Her work extends not just from the Mar Vista Family Center but throughout Del Rey,” Redick said. “She’s a wonderful person to be around and she’s an inspiration to a lot of people.”

Redick also noted Diaz’s career progression since emigrating from Mexico, saying she worked her way from being a volunteer at the Mar Vista Family Center to being its executive director.

“She epitomizes in many ways an American success story,” Redick said.

Diaz, who came to the U.S. from her native Mexico in 1976, started at the Mar Vista Family Center as a parent participant in 1981.

She became a staff member as a pre-school teacher in 1984, and she served in other positions, including peer counselor, head teacher and pre-school project director, before becoming executive director.

Diaz said her work at the family center has allowed her to be involved in her children’s education and it has also given her the opportunity to build relationships with people in the community.

“The commitment to serving the people is why I am here,” Diaz said.

Among her primary duties as executive director are to supervise the organization, oversee funding resources, lead various programs and public relations.

Diaz listed finding needed funding sources as one of her major challenges, saying the organization gets just ten percent of its funding from public sources, with the remainder coming from private and individual donors.

The organization has been through many changes in its nearly 30 years of existence, but it has “always maintained” its mission of incorporating parent involvement in education, Diaz said.

The full family service center, which is divided into the three programs of pre-school, youth and community, will celebrate its 30th anniversary September 30th.

Aside from her work with the Mar Vista Family Center, Diaz has been involved in several other local community groups, including advisory boards, Venice Community Housing Corporation, the Venice Family Clinic and UCLA Community Partnership.

She is a former member of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and has served on committees such as the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council Youth Task Force and the Los Angeles Universal Pre-school Parent Engagement Task Force.