Photo: Gloria, who has served as chair of the Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers for the past three years stands with past chair Ed Bolden and the mascot of the Centers’ annual fundraiser, the Rubber Ducky Festival.
Her smile lights up every room she enters, and even though she stands just 5’1” tall, don’t be fooled by her diminutive frame. Gloria Mercado-Fortine is a force of nature, whether organizing volunteer committees or wielding a hammer at Homes for Heroes building projects.
Her boundless energy seems to have no limit. She is just as comfortable participating in boot camp training activities as a Marine Corps Ambassador and making parachute jumps as a member of the Flying Samaritans (a group that provides free doctor visits in Mexico hospitals) as she is crunching numbers for an American Cancer Society fundraiser.
The 2018 SCV Woman of the Year honed her work ethic and enthusiasm for community service growing up on the Castaic ranch owned by her parents, Antonio and Petra Mercado. As a young student, she worked the ranch’s alfalfa fields alongside her five brothers and sisters, waking up at 4 each morning to change the irrigation sprinklers, then repeating the process after returning home from Castaic Elementary School.
Gloria was an excellent student who enjoyed extracurricular activities in the Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, and sports programs. In sixth grade, she was selected to attend California Junior Girls State, a leadership program teaching the principles of American Government. The program inspired a passion for government and politics that would persevere throughout her life.
During her years at Hart High School, Gloria was involved in various sports and school clubs and was instrumental in forming the school’s Powder Puff Football Team. After-school activities included working in agriculture projects and babysitting. One of her first jobs was at Magic Mountain when it first opened. She also spent many years working weekends at Val Verde Park tutoring and mentoring children in the community.
Following high school graduation, Gloria enrolled at California State University Northridge where she earned her undergrad degree. She continued her education at Pepperdine University, graduating with Master of Science degrees in school management and administration. Her 30-year career in education included positions as a teacher, counselor, principal and assistant superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Gloria has been a passionate advocate for education and a role model for young people, both in her professional and personal life.
Her experience as an educator and her devotion to student success led to service as a board member of the Castaic Union School District, then later as a William S. Hart District board member. During her 16-year tenure with the Hart District Gloria was instrumental in the passage of two school bonds earmarked for building new schools and modernizing older ones.
She also worked to develop strong partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to support educational programs like the Academy of the Canyons Middle College, Valley Industrial Association Connecting to Success Program and Career and Technical Education.
Outside the education arena, Gloria has been a hands-on volunteer on a number of non-profit community boards including 35 years with the Zonta Club of SCV, 23 years with the SCV Boys & Girls Club, and 20 years on the City of Santa Clarita Anti-Gang Task Force.
Because husband Bruce Fortine is as dedicated to community service as Gloria, most volunteer organizations soon discover that when they get one partner, they also get the other. Bruce and Gloria are perhaps the most recognized couple at every non-profit function in the SCV. They led the Santa Clarita Valley Leukemia/Lymphoma Light the Night Walk in 2009 and 2010, raising nearly $500,000 in donations. Together, they have made the Christmas season brighter for underprivileged children as one of the Domestic Violence Center’s Rent-a-Santa couples. They have also provided an English-Spanish narration for the SCV Annual Fourth of July Parade for the past 20 years.
Having lost her mother to terminal cancer, Gloria founded the SCV Unit of the American Cancer Society in 1994. As founding president, she helped establish the Relay for Life, Daffodil Days, and Luminaria events for the SCV.
At last count, Gloria has served as a leader or hands-on volunteer in over 40 charitable and service organizations, including those dedicated to opening the doors of higher education to young Hispanic students. As a student at Hart High School, she founded the first Latino club in an effort to provide a support system for Hispanic students. She assisted English teachers with classes for non-English speakers, many of whom were migrant workers. For this she was presented with the “Principal’s Award” and selected to go to Sacramento as the California State Representative for Hispanic youth affairs. As the Latino population in the valley has grown, Gloria continues her work as a mentor.
With all these varied professional and community endeavors, there is always quality time with family and close friends. That includes vacation trips, birthday celebrations, parties of all kinds, holiday tamale-making with Gloria’s brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, and the love of the Mercado-Fortine family, Lexi, the couple’s 8-year-old Border Collie.
The 2018 SCV Woman of the Year has spent her entire life in this valley and has seen its transformation from a semi-rural community into one of the most vibrant cities in California. Her life-long volunteer service has been an important part of that growth.