Miami Lakes announces 2021 Women of Distinction Award winners

Education Linda Trischitta, Editor Thursday, March 4, 2021

An attorney, a judge, three educators, a dentist, an activist and a community volunteer comprise the 2021 class who are to receive Miami Lakes Women of Distinction awards on March 6.

Coordinated by the Miami Lakes Cultural Affairs Committee, the awards celebrate some of the town’s most extraordinary women and their work in the fields of the arts, business, civic affairs, education, government, health services, humanitarian aid and volunteer services.

A ninth woman, longtime swimming teacher Reta Lee who died in 2020, was recognized with an honorary award.

The honorees -- and descriptions of their accomplishments as provided by those who nominated them – are listed below:

Arts Category: Sara Cino, music director, Miami Lakes K-8 Center

Sara Cino inspires her students to bring the magic of music to the community through public performance, such as during the Superintendent's Honors Music Festival; Miami Lakes Festival of Lights; holiday shows and Fine Arts Night. Cino was honored with the Rookie Teacher of the Year Award in 2005 and Teacher of the Year Award in 2015. She belongs to the American College of Musicians and the Dade County Music Educators Association. 

Business Category: Annette Sanchez, attorney, Annette Sanchez Law, P.A.

Annette Sanchez began her career working with Children’s Legal Services at the Florida Dept. of Children and Families, where she helped countless children in at-risk family situations.  Five years ago, she opened her own practice in Miami Lakes, and focuses on family law, real estate and general civil litigation. Sanchez is a voice for children to ensure they are in a safe and loving home and has assisted women in getting the protection they need from unsafe environments.

Community and Civic Affairs Category: Ibis Mendoza, media specialist, Miami Lakes K-8 Center Ibis Mendoza has successfully led community fundraisers and awareness campaigns for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Teens for Jeans, Give a Ball, Spread the Love and Reading Under the Stars in Miami Lakes. Mendoza is always ready to support programs that will help make Miami Lakes a better place to live and a safe and inclusive town.  Mendoza is pursuing a doctorate in school psychology.

Education Category: Virnalis Martinez Arvelo, Language Arts Teacher, Miami Lakes K-8 Center

Virnalis Martinez Arvelo grew up in Miami Lakes, attended local schools and graduated from Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School and Florida International University.  She was determined to return to Miami Lakes K-8 Center and accomplished that goal.  Through games in class and plays she gets the kids excited, and it gets them enthusiastic about writing essays. She also teaches Zumba dance classes as an elective in the school and at Shula’s Athletic Club.

Government Category: Hon. Carmen Cabarga, The 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida

A former prosecutor and defense attorney, Carmen Cabarga’s passion for the rule of law over two decades is evident. She has a proven history of approaching clients and cases fairly and abiding within the applicable laws and policies. Cabarga has served underprivileged communities while working as a defense attorney with the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel where she was an advocate for indigent children and parents. In August 2020, she won election to the 11th Circuit.

Health Services Category: Dr. Carmen Crespi, orthodontist, Lakes Orthodontics

Carmen Crespi is a board-certified orthodontic specialist and owner of Lakes Orthodontics in Miami Lakes. She is passionate about early, interceptive orthodontic treatment which can increase a patient’s self-esteem. Crespi graduated first in her class at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. She received the Milo Hellman Research Award, Excellence in Academic Achievement, Scholastic Achievement Award, Dental Student Award and Omicron Kappa Upsilon Award for Excellence in Orthodontics.

Humanitarian Category: Marianela Alvarez, founder, Hope for Autism Team  

Marianela Alvarez is founder of the Hope for Autism Team in Miami Lakes. Alvarez created the organization to educate parents with autistic children, advocate for the rights of children on the spectrum and create activities to include them in society and ensure their futures are full of potential. Alvarez has advocated for continued education in the community through support groups for parents and siblings and promotes awareness and inclusion in town.

Volunteer: Elsa Reus, community relations and alumni director, Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School

Elsa Reus has served Miami Lakes during the past three decades. She is a member of the town’s Cultural Affairs Committee and belongs to the Miami Lakes Chamber of Commerce.  Reus has dedicated thousands of hours to the community, and last year during a difficult time for the country, she organized the Miami Lakes Virtual Unity Prayer. Reus never hesitates to volunteer wherever she is needed, whether it is for her employer, Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School, or the Chamber of Commerce or the town.

Education Honorary Award: Reta Lee. For more than 50 years, Reta Lee, a certified swimming instructor and lifeguard, taught generations of children how to swim in her family’s backyard pool in the Lake Katharine neighborhood. Lee died on May 26, 2020; less than a month later, the town renamed a section of Miami Lakeway South in Lee’s honor.

Saturday’s virtual ceremony may be viewed at 10 a.m. when it will be livestreamed on the town’s Facebook page,

Theme picker