Quick Take:

As women’s need for support multiplied during the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura Segura and her Monarch Services team met the profound challenges of helping those driven for help with sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. The work crowned Segura’s contributions in helping the people of her native Watsonville.

Laura Segura, a Watsonville native who touched the lives of Santa Cruz County residents through her government and nonprofit work, lost her cancer battle on June 9. For the past 15 years, Segura helped lead Monarch Services, a force in combatting sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking locally.

Segura, 54, had a wide-reaching impact on the lives of many in the community, said close friend and colleague Susan True.

“She had an unbelievable belief in people and the strength of people,” True, CEO of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, told Lookout on Tuesday. “She saw [her family members] march on their knees through Watsonville, striking against the cannery conditions … that shaped her in her thinking of the strength of people and the power they can have.”

Segura and True first worked together at First 5 Santa Cruz County from 2004 to 2006, before both moved on to other nonprofit organizations. Segura’s dedication to social justice stemmed from her life experiences, and made her that much more impactful in her work, True said.

True recalled Segura’s steadfast focus on the struggle — la lucha — and how Segura advocated for people to embrace the struggle, “because they know they can have better.”

The South County native had worked across the county dating back to 1998, when then-Watsonville city manager Carlos Palacios convinced Segura to return home from a position with the City of San Jose. Palacios had first encountered Segura, then a college student, when she performed a “social justice rap” at a Watsonville conference.

“She was amazing — she was so charismatic and so fierce in her lyrics,” he said. “It was so compelling and smart … she basically just blew the doors off this place.”

Laura Segura (far left) and the Monarch Services team
Laura Segura (far left) had a wide-reaching impact through her work with Monarch Services over the past 15 years. The co-executive director died June 9. Credit: Via Monarch Services

A few years later, Palacios invited Segura back to the city of Watsonville as a neighborhood services manager, a position she held for five years before moving to the nonprofit sector.

“She was just such a natural leader, and really had such good relationships with the neighborhoods,” Palacios said. “When she entered the nonprofit world, I knew that she was going to do really, really well, and excel, and she did.”

Segura joined Monarch Services, offering bilingual crisis intervention and prevention services to domestic violence survivors, in December 2006 as the nonprofit’s executive director. Kalyne Foster Renda had served as her co-director since 2015. Renda calls Segura “an amazing partner,” and says she was always able to see the bigger picture.

“It was always looking at where the inequities were, and how we could fit in,” Renda said. “She could really dig into the weeds and see what needed to happen.”

Monarch Services grew substantially under the pair’s leadership. Prior to the pandemic, the nonprofit supported 1,300 individuals per year. Now, that number has increased across all of the work Monarch does, with Renda estimating approximately 2,100 people in need of help in 2022.

“It’s a huge jump, and for all of us, the pandemic changed us, and Laura took that to heart,” Renda said, acknowledging Segura’s desire to compensate staff even more for their steadfast work in these difficult areas.

As diligently as Segura worked in her role at Monarch over the past 15 years, she also emphasized the importance of loving life. Renda said Segura would often bring tablecloths and flowers to enliven Monarch team meetings. Further, Segura helped to create an office culture of love and support, to ensure the staff could do the very difficult work.

“It was always about, ‘This is hard work and life is to be enjoyed,’” Renda said. “She’s an artist in every way of her life … she’s a Renaissance woman, a bleeding light of leadership and light and art.”

True counts herself “among the very lucky” community members who got to know Segura through food, too, happily eating Segura’s rice and beans alongside warmed tortillas from the griddle. Further, Segura was “the most fun host”: “She would have parties where she would keep appearing in multiple dresses [she had made], and dancing and have a great time.”

When Segura was first going through chemotherapy in 2018 and was again diagnosed just last month, True recalled her strength once more: “She worked very hard to be at peace when she was at the end … she really wanted us to make sure we took care of each other, and never let that pass by.” She had been in remission since 2019.

For Palacios, the community connection is the ultimate example of Segura as a role model: “She could have gone anywhere and done anything, she was that talented — but she chose to come back to Watsonville, and really gave her life for this entire community.”

Segura leaves behind two daughters, aged 21 and 24, whom both True and Renda said will advocate for social justice in their mother’s memory. Part of that includes a new scholarship, aptly named the Laura Segura Scholarship, three awards of $4,000 apiece toward Pajaro Valley youth or young adults who have been involved in the juvenile justice system.

Community members can donate to Segura’s scholarship fund, and support Monarch Services’ continued work.

Grace comes to Lookout from just over the hill, originally from Sunnyvale but with a variety of journalism experience from across the country.After doing her undergrad at Seattle University, Grace earned...