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Two recognized as ‘extraordinary women’ by Durango Women’s Resource Center

Karen Zink and Mariel Balbuena stand out for contributions amid COVID-19 pandemic
The Women’s Resource Center in Durango honored two women, Karen Zink and Mariel Balbuena, at a gala Wednesday for their contributions to women and the community. The gala was the first in-person awards ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Two Durango women, Karen Zink and Mariel Balbuena, were honored by the Durango Women’s Resource Center at a gala Wednesday for their contributions to women and the community at large throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

They each received an Extraordinary Woman Award.

Nearly 100 people attended the event at the DoubleTree Hotel, which was the first in-person award ceremony and dinner hosted by the Women’s Resource Center since the pandemic.

Christy Schaerer, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, said the theme of this year’s ceremony was “women who provide healing and promote health.” In an opening speech, she said the center received so many nominations this year that it decided to award two women instead of one.

Zink, a certified nurse practitioner for Southwest Women’s Health, which she opened in 1989, thanked the Women’s Resource Center for its services and said in an interview that she is full of gratitude for the recognition.

“I feel very blessed to have been born in Durango, raised in Durango,” she said. “Able to come back to Durango, work in Durango, serve the community in this area. I’m blessed.”

Balbuena, executive director of La Plata Family Centers Coalition, said she is humbled by the recognition. In an interview, she said she is receiving the award on behalf of her staff members, directors and parahealers at the family center as well as the community at large.

“I’m really excited for what’s coming and how we can come together to better the community and support those who are in need,” she said. “I’m just really happy and grateful that we are in person.”

Karen Zink
Karen Zink, certified nurse practitioner at her practice, Southwest Women’s Health, was acknowledged for her contributions to the community with an Extraordinary Woman Award on Wednesday at the Durango Women’s Resource Center’s annual gala. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Alison Zarlingo and Bethany Bernal gave speeches acknowledging Zink’s contributions to the medical community and the community at large.

Bernal said Zink is brilliant and is usually “one step ahead of the system.” She said Zink, who helped jump-start La Plata County’s vaccination effort, takes the hopes of others and turns them into her mission and duty.

Zarlingo described Zink as “fierce” and “uncompromisingly protective of women’s health.” She said Zink is thorough, thoughtful and has provided primary care, gynecological exams and intensive counseling for women of all ages.

Zarlingo said Zink has mentored more than 20 nurse practitioner students and provided them with hands-on experience that convinced many of them to take up a career in women’s health, and that Zink has supported 4-H events by purchasing livestock for teenage girls at the county fair.

“She has helped support women interested in public office, has worked in political campaigns, volunteering her time, hosting events, networking (to support future generations of women),” Zarlingo said.

Mariel Balbuena
Mariel Balbuena, executive director of La Plata Family Centers Coalition, was recognized with an Extraordinary Woman Award on Wednesday by the Durango Women’s Resource Center. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Kelly Von Stroh, board member of La Plata Family Centers Coalition, spoke to Balbuena’s contributions.

Balbuena led the La Plata Family Centers Coalition through the pandemic to deliver aid straight to residents at their homes.

Von Stroh said Balbuena made extraordinary strides in developing herself as an individual and a leader “so she can lift up, learn from and inspire her staff and the community.”

“Mariel tirelessly works to empower the women, young women and daughters of our community to build a stronger and healthier community,” Von Stroh said.

Balbuena does not stand alone, she said, and is supported and loved by her family and staff members. She described Balbuena as a humanitarian who exercises her strength in promoting hope and healing through “vulnerability, inclusivity, connection and collaboration,” and has always been passionate about children’s well-being and education.

Balbuena was born in Argentina and moved to the Dominican Republic where she worked as a technical translator for a local power plant, Von Stroh said. She has traveled to South America, which has prepared her for her work in equity and advocacy.

Von Stroh said Balbuena received a national board certification as a medical interpreter after arriving in the United States and volunteered as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking women during labor. That led to her becoming an AmeriCorps member of the La Plata Unity Project, Von Stroh said. Balbuena joined San Basin Public Health in 2010 before returning to childhood education in 2014 with La Plata Family Centers Coalition, which she now leads.

Alison Zarlingo, left, and Bethany Bernal gave speeches acknowledging Karen Zink’s contributions to the medical community and to the community at large at the Durango Women’s Resource Center gala on Wednesday. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)
Christy Schaerer, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, gives an opening speech at the center’s annual gala Wednesday. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

One example of Balbuena’s contributions was through grant writing when she earned a $487,000 Colorado Health Foundation Grant for the family center – the largest one-time grant issued by the foundation, Von Stroh said. The grant will be used to “promote and sustain healthy lifestyles for women and families in work and endeavors,” she said.

A silent auction for items such as books, bags, pens, alcohol, treats and board games continued after Zink’s and Balbuena’s acceptance speeches, with proceeds benefiting the Women’s Resource Center.

cburney@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed several paragraphs to Bethany Bernal when they should have been attributed to Alison Zarlingo. Also, the story has been updated to correct where Mariel Balbuena was born.

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