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Michelle "Missy" Apodaca, Government/Law Trailblazer. Missy currently serves as an attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman LL. She has a distinct blend of business, as a previous in-house counsel for a payer, and her legal experience focusing on emerging trends in health care sectors, including value based care, alternative payment arrangements and risk-based contracting. Missy's comprehensive understanding of federal and state health care laws helps clients address the challenges they face with day-to-day operations, as well as the planning needed for reaching long-term objectives. With a commitment to her community she has served on the following boards: Health Section Governing Council serving as co-chair, Washington Health Law Summit, Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce as Chair of the Government Relations and Medicaid Tax Force, Seton Fifty, Children's Advocacy Centers & Women of Courage, former member, Board of Directors, Keep Austin Beautiful, Caring Family Network and the YMCA of El Paso. She is a frequent and respected speaker at national health law and policy conferences, and from 2012-2014 she co-chaired the program planning committee for the ABA Health Law Section’s Annual Washington Health Law Summit. She is a proud graduate of Austin College and the Texas A&M University School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan University School of Law). She also graduated from Leadership El Paso and Leadership Texas and is a former member of the Junior League of El Paso and Austin.

Noel Candelaria, Education/Non-Profit Category Trailblazer.  Noel is the current President of the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA), the state affiliate of the National Education Association(NEA). Prior to his election as TSTA President in 2014, Noel served three years as TSTA Vice President after a distinguished tenure as President of the Ysleta Teachers Association (YTA) where he worked as a Teacher’s Aide and Special Education Teacher in the Ysleta ISD.  As TSTA President, Noel works with members and local leaders across the state daily to create the best possible learning environment for our students and working environment for our educators. At the national level, Noel has worked with the National Teachers Hall of Fame and while acting as the chair of the Memorial to Fallen Educators, legislation was passed to designate the monument as a National Memorial site. Noel was also elected by his fellow state presidents to lead the National Council of State Education Associations as President and will begin his term in July. Noel has been appointed to be a part of multiple national committees and task forces including the NEA Human and Civil Rights Committee and the NEA Member Benefits Corporation Board. As a son of hard-working immigrants growing up in our beloved home town of El Paso, the importance of education and the opportunities that a quality public education can provide were core values instilled in him. Noel is a proud graduate of Del Valle HS and UTEP - The University of Texas at El Paso.

Cynthia C. CorralScience/Healthcare/Technology Trailblazer. After graduating from Andress High School in 2000 she move to Austin to attend UT where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology and completed her Master of Science in Social Work with a clinical concentration. She serves her community as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and her individualized care aims to address patient’s psychosocial needs, helping them achieve their desired goals and outcomes. Cynthia specializes in treating chronic pain and trauma at the Dell Medical School’s Musculoskeletal Institute at UT Health Austin. As a psychotherapist, she believes in the importance of cultural connection, education, and storytelling. Cynthia also serves as an Assistant Professor of Practice at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. She has shared her time and talents with various organizations such as Arthritis Foundation, Hope Through Health Clinic (for victims of human trafficking), Brown Santa, Peruvian Association of Austin, and Earthquake Relief Fundraiser Volunteer. She has been volunteering with the Cine de las Americas Festival since 2011 and has been on their film review committee and as a juror for the short films competition. Cynthia’s upbringing is rooted in the community values that are intrinsic to so many El Pasoans and driven by an inimitable perseverance and self-efficacy. Her example demonstrates the best qualities of humanity: despite over a decade of exposure to the often inconceivable trauma & pain of those who suffer the most.

Alex Franco, Arts/Entertainment Trailblazer. Before calling Austin home, Alex Franco established decades of great memories as a native El Pasoan. A graduate of J.M. Hanks High School, Alex began his notable representation of El Paso when he became the 1st ever male salesperson at Bath & Body Work in Texas! He moved to Austin in 1999 and landed an internship at Mix 94.7 while attending school. Since 2000, Mix 94.7 has kept Alex very busy and consequently enabled him to do a little bit of everything at the station. Alex credits years of persistence, hard work and trying to be funny as reasons he landed a lead role on the popular morning show, Booker Alex and Sara in the Morning. Alex and his co-hosts are consistently ranked #1 among morning shows and continue to be honored with numerous awards. He is the only Latino On Air Personality in Austin, TX. Almost daily you can hear him every morning giving shout outs to our hometown of El Paso. He gives back to Bikes for Kids and a number of non-profit organizations. He is an ambassador of our city day in and day out! Alex and his wife and fellow El Pasoan, Andria, delight in raising their children Jacob (4) and Alexandria (2). Despite his incredibly demanding work schedule, Alex makes time to travel with Andria and their children once a month to the beautiful Sun City to visit their family and friends. Some may find his frequency of travel a bit crazy, but Alex is steadfast about his commitment to El Paso, “My family lives there and the Mexican food is amazing!” Need he say more?

Charles Ponzio Jr., Business/Entrepreneurship El Paso in Austin Trailblazer. Charles moved to Austin in 1997, where he has been actively engaged in commercial real estate leasing and sales, restaurant consulting, community advocacy, and writing interests. Charles owns Conduit Realty Services a realty company that serves families in Austin and El Paso to find their forever home. Before moving to Austin, he served in multiple civic and professional organizations, serving as the founding chair of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Chair of the El Paso CCIM Chapter, twice; chaired both the Sertoma Civic organization and the Hispanic Leadership Institute in El Paso, TX. His passion is evident through his ongoing dedication to his community, advocating for unsung heroes, displaced citizens and general forgotten and often unpopular issues to be placed on the agenda for local institutions to deal with mindfully. Most recently, he led the charge from behind the scenes to get the City of Austin to reverse its original "we have no money to buy out your homes" position, resulting in Austin's City Council approving over $100 million for the buyout of several hundred homes of flood victims in the 3 Onion Creek subdivisions whose residents were predominantly Mexican-Americans. Charles is a graduate of Ysleta HS. He’s a proud father of Sunday, Carlo and Audrey Ponzio and is blessed with 5 grandchildren. He has taught all of them to pursue their destinies with passion and purpose and to serve with a servant’s heart. He has led by example with his tireless advocacy, consummate community engagement and rallying the powers that be for the greatest and highest good.

Past recipients

Trailblazers 2020

Trailblazers 2018

Trailblazers 2017

Trailblazers 2016

Trailblazers 2015

Trailblazers 2014

Trailblazers 2013

Trailblazers 2012


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