SNF Scholarship Series: ANC First Timer Celena Ortega, Manager, Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66, Arizona

Welcome to the 2016 SNF Scholarship Series! We are thrilled to revisit this popular series, in which we connect with your SNA colleagues from around the country to learn more about them and how an SNF scholarship is helping them pursue goals and achieve their dreams. Our First Timer recipients were nominated by a supervising director to attend their first Annual National Conference in San Antonio, Texas. We’ll meet our First Timers and their directors in the weeks leading up to ANC. Please visit the SNA website to learn more about ANC 2016 in San Antonio.

Celena Ortega’s supervisor Richard Hall describes her as having an unstoppable “drive to succeed” which, when paired with her phenomenal attitude, made her the perfect candidate for nomination for an ANC First Timer award.

“Celena is the kind of person who never says no to anything,” said Hall. “She also had good communication skills. When she was moved to assistant manager she would sometimes have to float when a manager was out, and she can go into that situation without rocking the boat.”

In her daily work for the Roosevelt School District, Ortega impresses her colleagues with her drive and dedication. Warehouse specialist Crystal Gray is the incoming SNAAZ president-elect this year, and she’s making it her mission to get Ortega—and all of her staffers—more involved in SNA at every level.

“My goal is to grow as many [members] as I can before I retire!” laughed Gray. “I recommended [Ortega] for the First Timer award [to Richard Hall] because she is very hardworking; she went from kitchen technician to manager of her own kitchen in four years.”

Both Gray and Hall say that they want Ortega to attend ANC for the professional development opportunities–not just education sessions, but networking as well.

“Celena took a big step forward with SNA, becoming a member of the [state] chapter and becoming secretary,” said Hall. “Networking with other foodservice employees from other states will help her develop new ideas.”

Gray echoed Hall’s remarks; the more Ortega sees of school foodservice, and SNA at every level, the more equipped she will be to continue growing within the profession.

“I also want her to network more,” said Gray. “She’s working at the chapter level now and opening her up to ANC will keep her moving forward.”

As for Ortega, she says she was very pleased—and surprised—to have received the award.

“My nomination was a really, really nice surprise,” she recalled. “I have worked for the district for four years, and just recently was promoted to manager. I’m looking forward to the education sessions—I am involved in summer feeding here in my district—but I’m also looking at it as a networking opportunity, and a little bit of a vacation.”

Her work in summer feeding is one of the other reasons Hall decided to submit Ortega’s name for a First Timer award. He says she goes above and beyond the call of duty, and sets a wonderful example for her own children at the same time.

“We have a mobile food pantry where once a month we distribute food, and she’s been one of our superstars,” said Hall. “Celena volunteers every time. We set up on Friday for about three hours, and then a group comes in for about three hours on Saturday morning, and a third group comes in after that to kind of hand out the food—she volunteers for all three shifts, and she brings her children with her.”

Ortega was already planning to attend ANC before her nomination, Hall says, but the First Timer award was a way to give his dedicated employee an extra boost of recognition that she very much deserves.

”We surprised Celena with the award,” he said. “She was already going, but this was just a thing to give her a little bit of recognition. She wants to grow within child nutrition, and [ANC] encourages that.”

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