• Santa Maria Connect, a program of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber, delivers networking and career development opportunities for professionals under 40. We are focused on building business , community leaders and relationships through fun and professional events.

    Join us at our next Santa Maria Connect! Meeting - register at our events page.

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  • 2019 Steering Committee 

  • Yarely Corona - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Yarely Corona - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce


    Yarely was born and raised here in Santa Maria. Graduated from Santa Maria High School and went straight to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where she received her B.S. in Agricultural Business.

    Once she graduated, she was given the opportunity to intern for a State Agency, California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville, CA. She helped with Community Relations in their Public Policy Department.  She interned for about 6 months until she was hired on permanently. She spent 5 years working in representing all California Strawberry Growers, Shippers and Processors as their Events and Outreach Coordinator. She worked with every department, Marketing, Public Policy, Research and Grower Education to help put on events not only state wide, but nationwide always-representing California Strawberries.

    After five amazing years with the Strawberry Commission, She decided to move back to my native roots back to the Santa Maria Valley. She was fortunate enough to be hired on by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau working as their new Tourism Coordinator for the Visitors Bureau. She is now learning and navigating the world of tourism and making sure to represent Santa Maria Valley in the best way to increase tourism in our beautiful valley. 

    Kira Farrell - CASA of Santa Barbara County Kira Farrell - CASA of Santa Barbara County

    Kira is the Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for CASA of Santa Barbara County. “My favorite part of my job is getting people excited about and invested in advocating for a child in foster care. I get to introduce people to one of the most rewarding and essential volunteer opportunities in our community,” says Kira. At CASA, Kira manages their growing social media accounts, print marketing, graphics, and participates in various networking and outreach opportunities. In her first year at CASA, she grew the online audience to more than 5,000 followers, and got CASA it’s first ‘viral’ post, thanks to Pam from the Office! Kira is a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate, earning her degree in Animal Science while simultaneously being a Cal Poly Cheerleader, Sigma Alpha President, gymnastics coach, ‘model’ at Abercrombie and Fitch, and much more depending on the season! She is an award-winning Extemporaneous Speaker, FFA Rabbit Showman, and National Stunt Champion. Other than her work at CASA, Kira is the coach and choreographer for C4 Cheer and enjoys spending time enjoying all that the local community has to offer!

    Elise Fuentes - Community Bank of Santa Maria Elise Fuentes - Community Bank of Santa Maria


    Elise Fuentes, a native of Santa Maria, California joined Community Bank of Santa Maria in 2008.  She has since worked a variety of positions before being promoted to Assistant Vice President/Executive Assistant in January, 2019.  Elise is an active volunteer at bank sponsored events and is a member of Santa Maria Connect.  Elise is a graduate of Pioneer Valley high school and attended Allan Hancock College.  She resides in Santa Maria with her daughter Danikah.

    Ryan Duclos - United Staffing Associates Ryan Duclos - United Staffing Associates

    Ryan Duclos is an Account Executive for United Staffing Associates. He specializes in temporary, temporary to hire and direct hire placements. Ryan is a Morro Bay native and has been working in the Santa Maria area since 2017.  Prior to getting into the staffing industry, Ryan worked in customer relations and customer service for a luxury vehicle dealership as well as SolarCity/Tesla. Ryan’s passion for customer service and helping others makes him very successful in his career. Ryan also sits on the Board of Directors for Partners in Equestrian Therapy, a non-profit that provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons for physically and developmentally disabled children and adults. Outside of work, Ryan enjoys wine tasting, volunteering, and spending time with friends and family.

    Joseph Borjas - Borjas Law Joseph Borjas - Borjas Law

    Joseph Borjas is a local, Santa Maria Attorney, rooted in the Central Coast. Joseph was born and raised in Santa Maria.  After graduating from Righetti High School, he left the area to attend Vanguard University of Southern California in Orange County, graduating with a degree in history and political science.  Joseph began his career in the hospitality industry, where he gained experience in sales and management, prior to achieving his dream of attending law school. 

    After admittance to the State Bar of California, Joseph began practicing law in the area of Trusts and Estates.  His years in the hospitality industry taught him to provide a high level of client care and service.  He enjoys working closely with his clients to assist them in creating a plan that preserves their estate’s assets and provides a legacy upon which they may rely.  

    In his spare time, Joseph enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons, Joshua and Luke.  Having returned to the Central Coast, they are enjoying all of the outdoor activities that the area has to offer!

    Samantha Corder - Cottonwood Canyon Winery Samantha Corder - Cottonwood Canyon Winery

    Samantha Corder, Wine Club & Tasting Room Manager of Cottonwood Canyon Winery, joined the Santa Maria Connect steering committee in January 2019. Samantha found her way into the local Wine Industry after tasting Reserve Pinot Noir at Riverbench. Before the Riverbench tasting, Samantha drank mostly beer recommended by friends. After the Riverbench tasting, Samantha became obsessed with learning all she could about wine and found herself enrolled as a full time student at Allan Hancock College pursuing an Associates of Arts degree in Agribusiness: Viticulture and Enology. During her time as a student, she entered the wine industry as a Tasting Room Associate at Lions Peak Vineyard in Solvang, California. Working at Lions Peak Vineyard was invaluable. Samantha learned the basics of working in a busy tasting room, the details needed for wine club management and how to be a wonderful host. Not to mention all the wine knowledge! Samantha is passionate about the wine making process, bringing awareness to the Santa Maria Valley Appellation as a whole and growing in areas of hospitality and leadership. Before wine, Samantha worked in a leadership capacity at a wide variety of retail companies including Starbucks and Bath & Body Works.

    Alex Valadez - City of Santa Maria Alex Valadez - City of Santa Maria

    Alex Valadez is a native of the Central Coast, specifically Guadalupe. Alex loves living near all of her family and enjoys spending her free time with her husband, Julio; 7 year old daughter, Sofia; 3 year old son, Thomas; and their two French Bulldogs. She enjoys finding hidden gems of the Central Coast and appreciates living in such an amazing place. Alex joined the City of Santa Maria  in 2016 and now works in the City Manager’s Office. She loves being part of a team that strives to better the community and learns everything she can about what makes Santa Maria such a wonderful place. She understands the importance of professional development and volunteerism which is why she is excited to be a part of the leadership of Santa Maria Connect.


    Edgar Gascon - Hacienda Realty Edgar Gascon - Hacienda Realty

    Edgar Gascon is a local Real Estate Agent, raised in a “real estate family” in Santa Maria Valley. Edgar received his Psychology degree from Saint Mary’s College of California, before pursuing a Master’s degree at Seattle Pacific University in 2011. Beginning his career consulting at Towers Watson Co. in San Francisco, Edgar was given the opportunity to move back to his hometown after 8 years of being away; he relocated to settle down and start a family. Edgar launched into Real Estate in 2015 at his family firm Hacienda Realty.  Edgar’s experience in the consulting industry showed him the value of customer relationships - making it his focus to develop a professional & personal relationship with his clients for many years. His passion for his city & business are the energizing efforts behind his community involvement - giving back by serving on the Boards of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, Northern Santa Barbara County United Way, Santa Maria Association of Realtors, St Joseph High School Alumni, Toastmasters, and Santa Maria Connect. On his free time, Edgar enjoys spending time with his wife, Yessenia, and 6 month-old boy, Giancarlo. 

    Molly Schiff - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Molly Schiff - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce

    Molly Schiff is the Marketing and Communications Manager for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, and oversees all marketing and public relations efforts for the Chamber. Molly attend college at California Polytechnic State University, and prior to working for the Chamber, was the Marketing Director for Central Coast Lending and Director of Content & Community for FreshBuzz Media. Molly is passionate about finding effective marketing solutions for local businesses and nonprofits. Molly is also involved in Santa Maria Valley Rotaract and in the Leadership Santa Maria Valley Class of 2019. In her spare time, Molly enjoys hiking, biking and enjoying the gorgeous weather on the Central Coast.

    Alex Castillo - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Alex Castillo - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce

    Alex Castillo joined the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2016 as the Events and Special Projects Manager. She plays a lead role in the Chamber’s ongoing member and community events. Alex is responsible for event and meeting planning, logistics, and operations.

    Prior to joining the Chamber, Alex worked for HUB International for three and a half years as a Personal Lines Account Manager. During that time, Alex became a licensed Property and Casualty Agent and received her CISR (Certified Insurance Service Representative) designation from the National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research.  Alex also received the 2016 Insurance Professional of the Year Award from the Insurance professionals of Santa Barbara and became part of the IAIP California Council 2016 – 2017 Public Relations Team, and served as the Communications Liaison for all 12 Chapters in CA.

    Alex is also is very active in the local community, and currently serves as Past President / Founder of the Santa Maria Valley Rotaract Club, a community service club for young professionals sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of SM and Nipomo. She was also a recipient of the 2017 Pacific Coast Business Times 40 under 40 award for her involvement in engaging local young professionals through programs like Santa Maria Valley Rotaract and Santa Maria Connect Young Professionals.

    When Alex isn’t out serving her community, she enjoys spending time with her 3 year old daughter Alina and 1 year old son Tristan. Like any true Santa Maria local, she enjoys good BBQ and the local wine scene we are so fortunate to have here in the Santa Maria Valley.

    Taz Dougherty - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Taz Dougherty - Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce

    Taz Dougherty began working for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2017, primarily assisting with office visitors and information requests, as well as keeping the Chamber and Tourism websites current and full of useful information. He was raised in Santa Maria, attending Pioneer Valley High School, before moving on to Allan Hancock College, and finally attending California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where he received his B.S. in Psychology. Prior to working at the Chamber, Taz worked as a Substance Abuse Counselor. He is passionate about helping and assisting others, and has taken that passion to help better the local business community by working at the Chamber. Outside of work, he enjoys playing music and spending time with friends.

    Alex Smith - Fairway Independent Mortgage Alex Smith - Fairway Independent Mortgage

    Alex Smith is a Loan Officer with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation. He specializes in the structuring and coordination of real estate financing. Alex moved back to his roots in the Santa Maria Valley 8 years ago to settle down and start a family. He has since been an active member in the community through volunteer work and civic groups. Alex enjoys giving back to the community professionally by helping families into homes through transparent financing and sustainable housing. He is a member of multiple local service organizations and business associations. His goal with Santa Maria Connect is to facilitate networking between up and coming and already established younger professionals.

    “Starting a new career/position or business/branch can seem overwhelming at times. I would like to help by sharing strategies that have worked (and not worked) for me in the past, in order to help my peers and colleagues with their own business success .” -Alex Smith

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