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CLass of 2023

25th HLI COHORT

Introducing the 25th Class of the HOPE Leadership Institute (HLI)!
2023 marks 25 years of the HOPE Leadership Institute (HLI). To provide more access to our programs and engage more Latina Leaders in California, HOPE has launched two cohorts in 2023, our traditional in-person cohort and a hybrid model aimed at leaders in need of more flexibility. Fifty eight Latina leaders will be trained in vital leadership and advocacy skills, enabling them to create fundamental change within their local neighborhoods and across California. We are thrilled to welcome these incredible Latina leaders from diverse backgrounds, representing all regions of California to the HOPE network.

Meet cohort 1 - HLI Class of 2023

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Natalia Alarcon

Assistant Director, Community Services Department | CommUnify | Carpinteria

Natalia Alarcon has over a decade of experience working in the health and human services field within the County of Santa Barbara. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, she has worked with clients diagnosed with severe mental illness, provided therapy to adolescent females on probation and victims of domestic violence. She currently works as the Assistant Director of the Community Services Department at CommUnify overseeing administrative functions of the department. Natalia is an active member of her community serving as the first elected Latina of the Carpinteria City Council and is a board member for the Rental Housing Mediation Program of the City of Santa Barbara, AHA! and LatinX Arts Project of Carpinteria. Lastly, she is the founder of the Carpinteria LatinX Collective with the purose of providing professional and personal growth oppurtunities for the LatinX community through networking and training events.

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Adriana Arvizo

External Communications, Sr. Manager | Comcast California | Tracy

Named one of the 2019 Top Women in PR by PR News, Adriana Arvizo is a seasoned communications strategist with more than 15 years of experience leading strategic, corporate, consumer and crisis communications for the private and public sectors. Arvizo joined Comcast in August 2016. Prior to her role at Comcast, she served as the Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Before that, she was the Public Relations Manager for Visit Philadelphia. Adriana was born and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 to attend the University of Texas at El Paso where she graduated in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in Communications and a minor in Spanish.

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Dora Beyer

Community Relations Manager | Excite Credit Union | Hollister

Dora Beyer is a first-generation professional with a passion for advancing educational and socioeconomic equity. As Community Relations Manager at Excite Credit Union, she oversees the organization's philanthropic efforts, including financial education, children's savings accounts and nonprofit and school partnerships. Through the Excite Foundation she has administered hundreds of children's savings accounts in East Side schools to promote college-going. She has volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and CASA Mentor with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley since 2015, and served on the board of the Center for Excellence in Nonprofits since 2020. Up until 2019 she also guided hundreds of first-gen students on the path to college for over a decade through programs such as Breakthrough Silicon Valley, Cal-SOAP and EAOP. All the while she has helped grow the family business, Alladin Nursery, and committed to supporting local entrepreneurs. Her involvement in the community, including with organizations like Hispanic Foundation and Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, have brought compassionate leadership, strengthened multi-sector collaboration and increased Latinx representation in San Jose. 

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Natalie Cardenas

Regional Lead, State Government Relations & Public Affairs | UCB, Inc. | Sacramento

Natalie Cardenas is the Regional Lead of State Government Relations & Public Affairs for UCB, Inc., a global biopharmaceutical company focused on severe diseases that have significant unmet need. Natalie oversees state legislative lobbying and advocacy in 25 states across the west and mid-west.Before her work in biopharmaceutical advocacy, Natalie lobbied for Anthem Blue Cross (now Elevance Health) and Blue Shield of California. She also has previous lobbying experience with real estate trade associations including the California Association of Realtors, Silicon Valley Association of Realtors and Tri-County Apartment Association. She began her career with former Assemblyman Jim Cunneen in Silicon Valley, serving as a Field Representative and District Director.In her community, Natalie has served as a mentor for SheShares, which partners young female professionals with Sacramento women leaders. She also volunteers with Broadway Sacramento, serving on their Gala Committee. Natalie is a member of the Fresno State President's Sacramento Council. Natalie graduated Magna Cum Laude from California State University, Fresno with a degree in Political Science. She has also earned a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt from the University of Georgia, Terry College of Business. She is a graduate of Leadership California Issues and Trends program.

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Paulina Chavez

Senior Director, Programs and Special Projects | EveryoneOn | Los Angeles

Paulina Chavez serves as Senior Director, Programs and Special Projects for EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit unlocking opportunity by connecting families in underserved communities to affordable internet service and computers, and delivering digital skills trainings. She represents EveryoneOn in local advocacy coalitions such as the Los Angeles Digital Equity Action League and is the liaison to city and county entities such as the LA Mayor's Office and LA County Internal Services Department. She also has experience partnering with cross-sector stakeholders to develop digital equity strategies that increase access and adoption of internet service. Paulina previously worked as EveryoneOn's Senior Manager of Programs and Special Projects, and Regional Director for Southern California. Paulina has fifteen years of project and program management experience within the social sector. She also volunteers for the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project (CLYLP), a statewide youth leadership nonprofit of which she is an alumna and she currently serves as their Vice President, Alumni Relations. Born and raised in Bakersfield, CA to immigrant parents working as farmworkers, she went on to receive her B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Chicana/o Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles and is now based in Los Angeles, CA.

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Ivette Chavez

Realtor | Park Place Real Estate | Madera

Ivette Chavez is currently serving her community through education on how to create generational wealth through real estate along with her brokerage at Park Place Real Estate. She is an active member through both the Fresno Association and the Tulare County Association of Realtors. Ivette is an active member of the Fresno League of Mexican American Women and serves on the Adelante Mujer Conference committee. Ivette is also an Active member of NAHREP ( National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals) and currently serving on the Government affairs committee, as well as served on the board as Education Director 2021. Ivette is an active member with Central California Hispanic Chamber and is currently in consideration to serve as an ambassador for the 2023 year. Ivette has been serving her community through real estate sales and education since 2019. Prior to Real estate Ivette was a Peace officer with the State of California from 2016-2019. Prior to her service with the State, Ivette owned her own financial services brokerage in Tulare Co. which helped her community by providing education of life insurance, investments and loans. Ivette has a passion for community service, outreach and empowering our youth.

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Carolina Chavez-Gonzalez

Founder CEO | Community Reciprocity Development | Grand Terrace

Working alongside the Latino Youth with parents incarcerated bringing forth breaking generational patterns. Paving a new foster of healthy views.

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Melissa Delgado

Director of Product Management | Wonderful Citrus | Bakersfield

Melissa is currently employed as the Director of Product Management at Wonderful Citrus, where she manages the field to market plans for their citrus varieties grown in California, Texas, and Mexico. In 2019, Melissa was elected as the President of the Prospanica Bakersfield Chapter and served for a year.  Previous roles in the organization included Executive Vice President, Marketing Officer, and Membership Officer.  In 2015, she participated in the Latina Leadership Institute and volunteered in the Youth Leadership Program, both organized by the Latina Leaders of Kern County. In 2014, Melissa graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from California State University, Bakersfield.  During her undergraduate studies, Melissa participated in the MEXUS dual degree program between San Diego State University and the Tecnologico de Monterrey in Guadalajara, Mexico.  She graduated with a dual Bachelors Degree in International Business.  In addition, she passed an exam proctored by NASBITE International, earning the designation of a Certified Global Business Professional. During college, Melissa was involved in numerous music organizations including Sigma Alpha Iota and the SDSU Marching Aztecs. In her free time, Melissa enjoys music, playing soccer, and traveling.

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Janet Fernandez

Account Supervisor | Elevate Public Affairs | Azusa

Janet Fernandez is an Account Supervisor at Elevate Public Affairs where she specializes in communications, coalition building, and community relations to help a diverse range of clients meet their unique goals. She works with reporters across the state, advocating for clients, who include some of the largest companies in the world and municipalities. With experience in coalition building and community engagement, Janet works with diverse organizations and communities statewide. Prior to joining Elevate, she worked on political campaigns, ballot measure campaigns, and coalition building at GrassrootsLab. Janet earned a Bachelor of Arts in Politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Sandra Gallardo

Executive Director | Associated Students, Inc. at CSU Sacramento | Sacramento

Jessica has over 15 years of experience working on political campaigns, legislative advocacy, and external affairs in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Currently, Jessica is a Government Relations Manager at Southern California Edison (SCE) where she leads external affairs strategies in central and northern Orange County. Prior to joining SCE, Jessica served as Senior Director of Communications and External Affairs at a children’s health policy organization. Jessica also spent over 7 years in Washington, D.C. where she led federal advocacy efforts for a public affairs firm after serving as Senior Legislative Advisor to former U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Jessica is a strong supporter of health equity and proudly serves on the board of directors for Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers (the Coalition) and Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA). She also serves on the executive board of the North Orange County Chamber and is a member of the Santa Ana Chamber board of directors. Jessica is a graduate of Coro’s Women in Leadership (WIL) program and Equality California (EQCA)’s Institute Leadership Academy. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Chapman University and a Master's degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Riverside. 

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Lillian Garcia

Executive Officer | United For Justice Inc. | Coachella

Lillian Garcia was born and raised in the Coachella Valley. She is an Environmental Justice Advocate from the Southern Border-Calexico, Imperial County to the Coachella Valley, Riverside County and has focused on the Salton Sea, New River, Alamo River, and the Water, Air and Pesticides Nuisances within the Salton Sea Basin. Some of her recent work was to assist the National Border Patrol Council Local 2554, in obtianing Locality Pay (Los Angeles Pay) for all federal employees working in Imperial County. Locality Pay was granted and this year beginning January 2022, all federal employees received a raise of $12,000 more a year. Due to the Cancer-cluster among the Border Patrol Agents, she investigated from the Southern Border to the Coachella Valley what they were being exposed too. The reason to obtain such is for Border Patrol Agents to be granted hazard duty pay. Upon investigating, she also spoke to numerous Federal, State, and Local governmental entities that hold authority to comply with Environmental Laws. While, investigated she also advocated for not only just Border Patrol Agents, but also for the community and noncitizens. She has mentioned, "Pollution has no boundaries, we are all exposed".

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Araceli Garcia Munoz

Chief of Staff | City of Fresno, Office of Council President Nelson Esparza | Fresno

Araceli Garcia Munoz serves as Chief of Staff to Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing all operations of the Council Presidents office. Araceli began her career in public service working for a state-wide non-profit where her work focused on executing public education campaigns, performing leadership development, and supporting the local implementation of the California Voter's Rights Act. Since then, Araceli has served as Congressional and State government staff. Most recently, Araceli served as the Central California Regional Coordinator of External Affairs for Governor Newsom where she served as a liaison to the Governor's Administration for stakeholders across an 11-county region. Araceli's work in public service is driven by a passion to create government access for disadvantaged groups of people. Araceli is a lifelong resident of the Central Valley and earned her B.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Merced.

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Vanessa Gonzalez

Public Affairs Manager | Golden State Warriros | Berkeley

A native of Berkeley, California, she is a first-generation Mexican-American and the first in her family to graduate from college, receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Gonzalez is the youngest of three siblings. With over eight years of experience working in the sports industry. Her vast experience and knowledge come from the numerous part-time positions she held for multiple teams such as the Raiders, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco Deltas, and UC Berkeley Athletics. In her current role, Gonzalez serves as a liaison between the Warriors organization, the local community, and government officials in the San Francisco and Oakland area as the Public Affairs Manger for the Goldent State Warriors. In 2019, she served as a crucial piece on the team that led the opening and development of Chase Center in San Francisco and the neighborhood engagement before being promoted to Public Affairs Manager. Gonzalez serves as a member the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council for the Warriors organization and the Chair of Latino Employee Resources Group, Fuerza En Números. Along with serving on the board of Latinx in Sport, an organization that aims to create networking opportunities and exposure for Latinx professionals.

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Paola Guzman

District Director & Policy Advisor | Office of Congresswoman Sara Jacobs | San Diego

Paola Guzman is the District Director & Policy Advisor for the Office of Congresswoman Sara Jacobs in San Diego, California. Paola initially joined the Office of Congresswoman Jacobs as a Legislative Assistant. Paola previously served in the Office of Congressman Juan Vargas as a Legislative Assistant and before that as a Senior Field Representative, where her portfolio consisted of both legislative expertise and field operations surrounding issues of border affairs, immigration, and environmental policy. Prior to working in government, Paola worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego, where she received a bachelor's degree in Political Science and a master's degree in International Affairs and Public Policy. Paola is a native San Diegan and is proud to call this vibrant border community home. 

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Maria Hernandez

Chief Executive Officer | Tower of Youth | Rancho Cordova

Maria Madril Hernandez is a resident of Rancho Cordova and she has lived in Sacramento County for over 25 years. Mrs. Hernandez is CEO of the Tower of Youth (TOY) a not-for-profit organization that for 24 years has transformed youth through digital media arts education, skill enhancement, showcase productions, and career development in the digital arts and communications field. Maria currently is the Communications Committee Chair for the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) Sacramento who's mission is to identify, recruit, train and support pro-choice self-identified women for election and appointment to public office at every level of government. Maria is a strategic, results-driven professional with a proven ability to create new organizations, motivate change, and conceptualize and execute innovative, sustainable initiatives. Her experience in educating, motivating, and empowering diverse communities through media makes her a transformative agent in producing the opportunity for influence and advancement in people, systems, and organizations. Maria's background is in Career Technical Studies from CSU Sacramento and Sociology from CSU Fresno. She is a 2010 alumni of Leadership California's hallmark California Issues & Trends (CIT) program where she learned from area experts about issues affecting California and building strong connections with other women to seek solutions.

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Ellen Kamei

External Affairs Area Manager | AT&T | Mountain View

Ellen Kamei serves as an External Affairs Area Manager for AT&T California and is currently a Councilmember and former Mayor of the City of Mountain View. A third generation Mountain View resident, Ellen is the daughter of a Chinese and Puerto Rican American mother and a Japanese American father born at Heart Mountain Incarceration Camp in Wyoming. Multiracial and multilingual, Ellen is a public servant passionate about youth and civic engagement, mental health services, and social equity for women and communities of color. Her City of Mountain View committee duties include serving as Chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Race, Diversity, and Inclusion as well as the Council Youth Services Committee. She is the Immediate Past President of the League of California Cities Women's Caucus, Vice President for the League of California Cities Peninsula Division, and member of the Cal Cities Board of Directors. Ellen holds an M.P.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, B.A. from UC Santa Barbara, and is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Senior Executives in State and Local Government. Pronouns: she/her

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Maria Reina Lemus Duran

District Director | California State Assembly office of Dr. Joaquin Arambula | Fresno

Maria Reina Lemus was born in Michoacán, Mexico and came to the United States at the age of 9. Her family settled in Kerman, California. She attended Fresno State where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Public Health. She was involved in student organizations and volunteered in outdoor summer camps for youth.  Maria is currently the District Director for Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula and focuses on statewide health policy. As the Co-Founder of the Education and Leadership Foundation (ELF) in Fresno, Maria spent 9 years advocating for expanding access to educational opportunities and services for immigrant families. Maria worked for Senator Hurtado for one year as her District Director and focused on issues including health care, immigration, water and more. Maria completed Cohort XII of the Health Leadership Program at the Sierra Health Foundation. She is currently a board member for Proteus, Inc.; Central Valley Community Foundation; Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative (CVIIC); and ELF. She is the founder of Cosecha Strategies, LLC - focused on political consulting, event planning, and more. Maria is part of the Central Valley Latino Giving Circle, a philanthropic initiative that funds Latino led grassroots organizations.  She is a DREAMER (DACA recipient).

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Christina Lizarraga

 Vice President, Government & Community Relations | TELACU Industries | Long Beach

Kiki Lizárraga is Vice President of TELACU Industries -- her primary areas of responsibility include government and community relations that affect TELACU's portfolio of subsidiaries in the fields of real estate development, financial services, construction, and construction management, as well as TELACU's flagship educational non-profit affiliate, the TELACU Education Foundation. Kiki represents TELACU before various governmental bodies, and with community-based organizations, chambers of commerce and other various partner organizations, directly and personally interacting with government officials, business, civic and community leaders. Prior to her role as Vice President, Kiki served in TELACU's Education Foundation in the College Success Program as Assistant Director. In this role she worked to drive positive outcomes in the Latino community by working with first-generation, low-income college students. Her duties included direct student advising, professional development curriculum planning, managing strategic partnerships, directing resources, grantwriting, and program evaluation to support continuous improvement. Kiki received her undergraduate Business degree from the NYU Stern School of Business in 2016, with a focus in Marketing, Public Policy, & Management. 

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Anabel Marquez

IRS Congressional Liaison | Internal Revenue Service / US Dept. of Treasury | Oxnard

In 2022, Anabel Marquez received the prestigious IRS Commissioner's Award for "serving taxpayers, upholding the law and maintaining the integrity of the tax system" during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Internal Revenue Service. She is a first-generation college graduate with a 12-year federal government career currently working for the IRS Office of Legislative Affairs as a Congressional Liaison. In her role, she serves as the primary point of contact for California's 53 Congressional offices and, among other things, responds to inquiries on IRS administrative matters, programs, procedures and tax law changes. Previously, Anabel served as the designated bilingual spokesperson for the IRS in Los Angeles—a job she was selected for, after having worked as a print and TV journalist in newsrooms across the country. With a background in media, her career expands over several industries, including writing, public relations and congressional affairs. When she's not working, she's spending quality time with her husband and two sons and elevating women's voices as the editor of Mommy in Los Angeles Magazine.

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Anabel Martinez

Policy Associate | Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative, Loyola Law School | Los Angeles

Anabel Martinez (she/her) is the Policy Associate for the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative ("SJI") where she provides support in the development of local, state, and national anti-trafficking policy strategies. Before joining SJI, Anabel was an attorney with the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic ("LIJC") where she provided legal services to low-income immigrant community members of the Los Angeles County area. Previously, Anabel worked as a Victims' Rights Staff Attorney for the Legal Advocacy Project for Survivors at the Los Angeles LGBT Center where she provided trauma informed, client-centered, and affirming holistic legal services to LGBTQI+ survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, hate violence, stalking, and other crimes. Anabel also worked as an attorney at the Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc, where she represented parents in juvenile dependency proceedings. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles where she graduated with a concentration in Public Interest Law and received her undergraduate degree, with a major in psychology and a minor in education, from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

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Sonnie Martinez-Ibarra

Project Coordinator | City of Los Angeles, Community Investment for Families Department | Los Angeles

Sonnie Martinez-Ibarra is a Los Angeles Native - born and raised. She earned her M.S. in Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley with a concentration in American Politics. She currently works for the City of Los Angeles Community Investemnt for Families Department (CIFD) where she manages the City's Opportunity LA program, which is the largerst universal children's savings account program in the United States. Prior to joining CIFD, she spent 5 years working for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti where she worked in a number of roles serving in the External and Legislative Affairs Department as an Area Representative, on the Executive Team as the Executive Assistant to the country's first Latina Chief of Staff for a big city, Ana Guerrero, Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Director of Executive Office Operations, and ended her time in the Mayor's Office as his Executive Officer. Growing up in East LA, Sonnie is the direct product of all of the positive investments in the community. She is excited about the prospect of joining HOPE's Leadership Institute to gain the knowledge and skills to pay it forward.

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Altagracia Mercado

Teacher on Special Assignment | Fresno Unified School District | Fresno

Altagracia Mercado is a Teacher on Special Assignment in the Office of Multilingual/Multicultural Education and English Learner Services in Fresno Unified School District. She is a teacher leader committed to improving outcomes for English learners and all students by providing instructional support and professional learning to site administrators, colleagues, families, and the community. She recently attained her Preliminary Administrative Services Credential and serves on multiple committees that address opportunity gaps and establish district policy. Altagracia leads support for the Spanish Dual Language Immersion Program, which includes professional development for staff and families, curriculum needs, extended learning opportunities for students, student recruitment, and community engagement. Altagracia transitioned to her current role, after fifteen years as a classroom dual immersion teacher, to support the district expansion of the dual language immersion program as a result of the California Ed.G.E. Initiative passed by California voters in 2016.

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Karely Ordaz

Chief of Staff | The Unity Council | Oakland

Karely Ordaz is a public sector leader with a decade of professional experience. She holds a B.A from UC Berkeley in American Studies with a concentration in Environment, Policy, and Public Health and a Master of Public Affairs from UCB's Goldman School of Public Policy. As Chief of Staff at The Unity Council, she is the strategic advisor to the CEO, supports with fundraising ($3M+), and drives the organization's policy and advocacy priorities. She worked as Chief of Staff at Hamilton Families where she managed multiple executive transitions, led strategic planning processes, and an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion strategy. In the City of Oakland, she worked in the City Council and Office of Mayor Libby Schaaf for over 5 years. She was the Chair of Oakland's Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) Task Force and launched ReportJohn.org, featured in the New York Times. Her policy experience covers education, environment, housing, homelessness, youth development, policing, and redistricting. Karely is a Bay Area native. For 4 years she served on the Board of Amethod Public Schools. For over 6 years she has served on the Board of East Oakland Boxing Association (EOBA). In 2022, she was appointed to the Oakland Police Commission.

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Alejandra Perez

 External Affairs Manager | San Ysidro Health | San Diego

Alejandra C. Perez is the External Affairs Manager at San Ysidro Health (SYHealth). With over 10 years of experience in policy advocacy and working in nonprofits, Alejandra supports the organization's government affairs/advocacy, strategic partnerships, outreach, and orporate communications, including media relations.As a first generation Latina with a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Social Work from Metropolitan State University of Denver, she has dedicated her career to helping the underserved and disenfranchised communities, focusing her efforts on addressing the social determinants of health to shape policies that improve the overall social and economic well-being of individuals.

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Nicole Ramirez Thomas

 Principal/Owner | Wonderstone LLC | South Lake Tahoe

Nicole Ramirez Thomas is a small business owner. She specializes in historic preservation planning and consulting and archaeology. She is an advocate for building strong community identity and sense of place to create community resilience. Her interest in policy at the federal, state, and local level spans her 20-year career. Prior to starting her business in 2018, Ms. Ramirez Thomas worked as an historic preservation planner and archaeologist for her hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She also worked for the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division assisting with management of archaeological data and resources. The first 11-years of her career were spent working within the realm of environmental policy and compliance as a government contractor, specifically for cultural resource management. During that time, she worked on projects for the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and other federal agencies.Her father and his family immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1961. She became interested in history at a young age, having grown up in one of the oldest cities in the United States. She is the only member of her immediate family to attend college. She is married and lives in South Lake Tahoe.

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Araceli Ruiz

Legislative Field Representative | City of Riverside | Jurupa Valley

Araceli Ruiz was born in Jalisco Mexico and immigrated with her family in the 1980's. Her childhood was in Los Angeles' Lincoln Heights area.  She learned a great deal about her culture through art and dance programs she attended at Plaza de la Raza Performing Arts Center, in Lincoln Park.As a teenager, her parents finally accomplished the American dream of owning a home. They moved to the Inland Empire to the City of Fontana. Araceli graduated from Fontana High School, attended Riverside City College, CBU Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, and completed a certificate program at CSUSM. She's lived in the Riverside area ever since.Araceli has had a successful career in Government Affairs for 25 years now. She started her carrier at a Temporary Agency and then worked for the County and City of Riverside, and at a regional government agency, which made her a well-rounded civic servant. She enjoys spending time with her family and giving back to her community through her non-profit work with organizations like Riverside Latino Network, Riverside Transit Agency T-NOW Chapter, and the Environmental Education Collaborative of IE to name a few.

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Vanessa Spagnoli

Director, Public Policy | Casey Family Programs | Carmichael

As a community leader, Vanessa is passionate about honoring the commitments made to underserved communities through training, policy, and legislative change. As the California Director of Public Policy at Casey Family Programs, the largest national operating foundation dedicated to reducing the need for foster care, Vanessa is responsible for expanding the organization's policy footprint and educating state leaders on child welfare issues. Vanessa is an experienced policy advocate with a decade of legislative, budgetary, and regulatory experience in areas such as Human Services, Education, and Mental Health.  Before joining the philanthropy space, Vanessa served HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality) as the State Policy Director, where she expanded the organization's advocacy footprint by uplifting research about the experiences of women of color and specifically the Latina perspective at decision-making tables. Vanessa also serves as the Institute Co-Director for the New Leaders Council, Sacramento, which trains progressive leaders of tomorrow, and is a founding member of the Sacramento Latina Leaders Network, which has grown to include over 300 women in the Sacramento region. When she’s not serving her community, Vanessa can often be found enjoying life at Lake Tahoe or playing with her two puppies, Rocky & Rosie. 

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Sandra Vidrio

Women's Business Center, Executive Director | Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation | Fresno

Sandra Vidrio is currently the Women's Business Center, Executive Director at the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation (FAHF). In her current role she brings more than 7 years of experience in providing Technical Assistance, business development training and coaching to emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners. Under her supervision she leads a team of three business consultants to meet the needs of TA clients at FAHF.  

Meet cohort 2 - HLI Class of 2023

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Julie Aguilar

Sr. Policy and Research Analyst | National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals | Los Angeles

Julie Aguilar is a Senior Policy and Research Analyst at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP). Her research focuses on developing equity-based policies to help increase Latino homeownership and bridge racial and ethnic wealth gaps. Prior to NAHREP, Julie was a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Policy Fellow, evaluating COVID legislation and its impact on vulnerable communities. She also conducted immigration policy research with the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), and served a Monica Salinas Policy Fellow at the Latino Politics and Policy Institute (LPPI), publishing reports on how to improve economic mobility, youth justice reform, and immigration policy for Latino communities. Julie holds a Master's in Public Policy from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and a B.A. from Grinnell College. She's proudly from Boyle Heights and a first generation-college student.

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Esmeralda Bautista

Deputy Communications Director | Office of Mayor Sam Liccardo | Northen California 

Born to immigrant parents 6-month-old Esmeralda and her family made their way to Stockton, California, for a better life. In 2010 her entire life changed for the better when she gave birth to the most beautiful daughter Angelina. Having a daughter at such a young age came with many challenges; she quickly learned that she craved more in life than what she had. So in 2013 she moved to Oakland Ca where she received her AA in Mass Communications at Chabot College and shortly after her BS in Journalism at San José State University. Several years later, she finds herself more fulfilled and lives with purpose. In her day job, she serves as the Deputy Communications Director for San José Mayor Sam Liccardo and involves herself heavily in organizations with aligned goals. She currently serves on the Board of Directors with the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley. Esmeralda graduated from the Latino Leadership Alliance Academy and Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley Leadership Board Academy. As she continues to navigate her life, she seeks opportunities where she can uplift her Latino community and contribute by building awareness, mentoring young women, and becoming more civically engaged in fostering meaningful change.

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Michelle Velasquez Bean

Professor of English & Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Treasurer | Rio Hondo College | Los Angeles

Michelle Bean is a professor of English at Río Hondo College and treasurer for the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC). Michelle has been teaching for over twenty-two years with experience in the California community colleges and K-12 systems. Her expertise focuses on anti-racist practices and equity-minded approaches to classroom instruction and academic support systems. Her passion is building innovative programs and leading professional development aimed at supporting people of color and allies. She has led numerous presentations on culturally responsive teaching and learning and on model hiring principles and practices for faculty diversification. She has been chair of the ASCCC Equity and Diversity Action Committee, the Part-time Faculty Committee, the Faculty Leadership Development Committee, and currently the Noncredit, Pre-transfer, and Continuing Education Committee. Michelle has been Río Hondo College academic senate president and currently leads the Río Raíces Latinx affinity group. She has a Master's degree in English from California State University, Fullerton with an emphasis in Writing, Language, and Rhetoric and a single-subject credential in English from California State University, Long Beach, in addition to her Bachelor's degree in English from the Whittier Scholars Program at Whittier College.

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Maria Beltran

Director | Raben Group | Los Angeles

As a director in the Raben Group's Issue Campaigns practice area, María Beltrán is a connector who believes in the power of strategic communications to ensure all communities have access to vital resources and to inform policy. She brings strong skills in communications, analytical writing, stakeholder engagement, program development, community outreach, and partnership building to The Raben Group and her clients.Prior to Raben, María was national director of Latino engagement at Enroll America, the nation's leading healthcare enrollment coalition. There, she worked to engage Latinx communities across the country to ensure their access to quality and affordable healthcare through innovative initiatives, partnerships, and diverse outreach strategies. During her tenure at Young Invincibles, María established the Spanish media department, and was featured on Univisión, La Opinión, ImpreMedia, and Telemundo to discuss their national outreach and education campaigns. She also worked at EducationUSA, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Aspen Institute.A Los Angeles native, María is a first-generation college graduate who holds a bachelor's degree in Global & International Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She also holds a master’s degree in Intercultural & International Communication from American University.

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Vanessa Bravo

Staff | Marie Alvarado-Gil | Northern California

Vanessa Bravo is a California State Senate District 4 recent staff hire. A district that represents 13 counties in northern California. She is currently transitioning out of her position with UC Davis as a graduate program coordinator helping graduate students find career paths and acting liaison for university policy. She graduated from San Jose State University with a Master's degree in Counselor in Education and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology double majoring in Behavioral Sciences.

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Danitza Cardenas

Psychiatric Social Worker | Los Angeles County of Department of Mental Health | Orange County

Danitza Cardenas went to Mount St. Mary's College where she double majored in Psychology and Sociology. She then attended the University of Southern California and earned her Master's Degree in Social Work. She has over 15 years of experience working with children, adults, and family. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she provides support for those in our community dealing with hardships such as grief, covid-19, and Perinatal Mood Disorders. She received training from Postpartum Support International with the intent of normalizing postpartum depression and to support women in their path to motherhood. Her future plans include supporting her community in the areas of grief and loss and Perinatal Mental Health.

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Reina Carrillo

Case Manager/Gang Interventionist | Developing Options | Los Angeles

Raina Carrillo ran for Mayor of Inglewood on November 8, 2022 and this dream all started when she was an at-risk youth at the age of 15 years old when she attended a community event and spoke to former Mayor Dorn and Chief Banks of Inglewood. She currently works in the Crenshaw District doing Gang Intervention with Developing Options to help make a difference in these youth live. Raina listened to her mother about starting her own non-profit organization "The Phoenix Rising Coalition" to give back to her alma maters in Inglewood. Raina was a Case Manager at Soledad Enrichment Action working with at-risk youth being her client's advocate." Raina had the honor of working with City of Los Angeles under the leadership of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as a Program Manager for the department of Gang Reduction & Youth Development. Ultimately, Raina has been a great ally to Inglewood and the greater Los Angeles community her purpose and passion moves her to continue bettering her environment that her very own children will soon grow up in. Ensuring her part is done to bring about change and get that much closer to peace and unity in the community.

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Maria Cervantes

Director of Partnerships and Communications | Latino Health Access | Orange County

Maria Cervantes was born and raised in Zamora Michoacan by maternal grandparents.  She is an active community member of Santa Ana, CA.  Her undergrad is in Human Services from CSUF and Executive MBA from Chapman University. Maria has more than 20 years of experience advocating for minorities and children's well-being, access to quality education, and health equity.   Maria is currently the Director of Partnerships and Strategic Communications as part of the leadership team at Latino Health Access.  Previously, Maria had an 18-year career at MIND Research Institute, an Irvine, CA-based nonprofit organization. As the Community Partnerships Director, she raised millions in funds and created national collaborative partnerships in STEM-focused programs accessible for under-served students.   Maria is an active board member and volunteer in various organizations including an advisor for OCHYCC.   Maria has been recognized for her tremendous work and impact on behalf of our community's young students.  A few of those recognitions include the 2018  "Corazón de La Communidad" by Santa Ana's Delhi Center; 2014 the OC Metro Top Woman to Watch, and the National Fun Fearless Latina by Cosmopolitan for Latinas among others.

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Nataly Diaz

Director of Health Center Operations | California Primary Care Association | Northern California

Nataly Diaz is passionate about creating a robust and diverse healthcare workforce that is responsive to and reflective of the many unique communities that exist across our country. As the Director of Health Center Operations at the California Primary Care Association, she designed and implemented several initiatives that fostered pathway partnerships, expanded community-based training, and removed barriers inhibiting provider recruitment and retention in community health centers.
She built a network of advocates, philanthropic leaders, academic institutions, health system employers, etc. to address the health workforce shortage that affects access to quality health care for the most vulnerable patient populations, including those that are low-income, uninsured, and underserved. She believes the answers to our most pressing healthcare concerns lie within community partnerships and collaboration. Nataly earned her B.A. in Human Biology and Society with a minor in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles and an M.B.A. at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management.

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EMILY ESPARZA

Vice President of Social Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion | National University | Bay Area

Emily currently serves as Vice President for Communications and Partnerships with the Office of Social Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the National University System, an inaugural office appointed by the Board of Trustees to further advocate inclusive excellence across the system's universities and affiliates. In this role, Emily leads the system's collective staff and faculty engagement effort, which partners with the offices to infuse an S-JEDI lens into all system functions. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in International Business and Foreign Languages from San Jose State University. She has extended studies in the History of Consciousness, Transformational Leadership, Diversity, and Social Justice. Emily is a first-generation Silicon Valley agile to embrace California's abundant educational opportunities, labor advocacy, and economic empowerment through philanthropic investment.  She is a first-generation college graduate fueled for foundational change to support, advance, and celebrate her heritage and welcome the celebration of others.
A few of her Key Highlights include the 2022 NAACP Innovation Education Award, 2020 Global Impact Award, 2019 Gold Talent Acquisition Award, and Silicon Valley Inroads Outstanding Mentor Nominee, San Jose KNTV Hispanic Advisory Board, and Chairperson to the Inaugural Hispanic San Jose State Student Day.

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Nena Hernandez

Director of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships | Fairplex | Los Angeles

Nena Hernandez currently serves as Director of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships at Fairplex, Home of the Los Angeles County Fair, providing leadership and direction to the community benefit mission of the 100-year-old organization. She brings a fresh perspective to the problems at hand and is often relied upon to provide honest and constructive feedback at multiple levels of the organization. She is regularly sought out by both junior staff and her peers for guidance and advice on a variety of situations. Fairplex is a local and international convener, and creator of memories, that strives to strengthen the community and economy through arts and entertainment, agriculture, education, and commerce. As a key representative of the organization, Ms. Hernandez interfaces with external stakeholders, in the community and beyond, and philanthropic entities and potential funders to benefit Fairplex's 501(c)(3) nonprofits: The Learning Centers at Fairplex, and the Fairplex Child Development Center. She also serves as a liaison to multiple Boards of Directors and the Los Angeles County Fair Association membership, serving as the primary point of contact and engagement. Prior to her current role, Ms. Hernandez worked with the advancement of the Fairplex Ambassador Program, Farm volunteers, and Fair Kids Field Trip

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Rebeca Herrera-Gonzalez

Government Relations Associate | Weedmaps | Los Angeles

As a Government Relations Associate at Weedmaps, Rebeca supports the public affairs efforts in international emerging markets and social equity initiatives in the U.S. She is also a member of two of the company's employee resources groups: WM FLOR (Flowers Liberate Our Raza) where she currently serves as interim president; and WoW (Women of Weedmaps), where she is Chair of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to joining Weedmaps, Rebeca worked in public diplomacy at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, D.C. and the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, where she currently lives. Outside of work, she is a board of directors for the International Cannabis Consulting Business Women's Association and serves as a Latinas Cannapreneurs' ambassador. Rebeca holds a double major in Political Science and Peace Studies and a minor in Women's Studies from Chapman University. She was born and raised in Mexicali, Baja California, a U.S.-Mexico border city that awakened her love for traveling, music, gastronomy, and nature. 

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Martha Jasso

Provider Communications Analyst | IEHP | Inland Empire

For more than a decade, Martha Jasso has served in various communications roles within government, higher education, nonprofit and corporate. Among her career highlights include the most recent position working in healthcare communications for the Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP) which serves more than a million members throughout the Inland Empire.
Ms. Jasso has also served as adjunct faculty at a community college, as an executive communications advisor, as a nonprofit communications director, and in public affairs and project management for the Digital Communications Division of the Office of the Secretary within the US Department of Health and Human Services. In this role, she was part of the original team that developed and launched the initial HealthCare.gov and CuidadoDeSalud.gov marketplace insurance websites.
Her credentials include a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's in Sociology and Business Administration from UC Riverside. Ms. Jasso is also a current board director for the UC Riverside Alumni Association and enjoys being of service in the Advocacy and Scholarship Committees. In her free time, she loves spending time with loved ones and learning about personal finance and growth mindset.

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Estefania Lopez Perez

Senior Policy Associate | Inclusive Action for the City | Los Angeles

Estefanía is a Senior Policy Associate at Inclusive Action for the City, where she collaborates with the policy team to develop policy solutions in support of economic development and related to issues affecting low-income entrepreneurs. Originally from El Salvador, Estefanía has a background in immigrant and labor rights work, as well as project and campaign management, policy and data analysis, and shelter and crisis management. She holds a M.A. in Higher Education from the University of Michigan and B.A. in Political Science & Sociology from UC Irvine.

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Dayanna Macias Carlos

Principal | Pitaya Consulting LLC | Bay Area

Dayanna Macias-Carlos has over 10 years of public service experience. Leading statewide communication implementation for the state, regional, foundation, and public awareness campaigns. Has led strategic communication, including paid media, ethnic and multicultural media, earned media, social media, research, and quantitative an qualitative evaluation.  Macias-Carlos is the Founder and Principal of Pitaya Consulting LLC, which supports organizations to develop community-first strategies and enhance social justice communications. Before founding Pitaya, Carlos served as a Communications Strategist for the California Department of Public Health's Vaccinate All 58 "Let's Get to Community" and "Safe Schools for All" Parent Education Campaigns.  Carlos was the Public Information Officer at the California Complete Count – Census 2020, leading statewide and regional communication efforts.  Before she was a Program Associate at The California Endowment, working on various health equity issues, including the Affordable Care Act, #Health4all and civic engagement efforts. From 2009 to 2013, she was the Community Affairs Manager for the Dewey Square Group, leading work with government, philanthropy, and non-profit clients.Macias-Carlos is a member of the Contra Costa Commission for Women and Girls. Has earned a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco.

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Aundraya Martinez

Management Analyst | County of Santa Clara | Bay Area

Aundraya Rae Monique Martinez, a fourth-generation East San Jose native with indigenous familial roots in the northern regions of Mexico and the Philippines, is a bridge-builder. Draya works as Management Analyst in the Office of Immigrant Relations within the Division of Equity and Social Justice of the County of Santa Clara. Her areas of focus include co-designing, with community leaders, programs and initiatives that improve economic mobility opportunities, access to affordable housing, and narrative shifting to highlight the many contributions among the diverse immigrant communities of the County. Prior, Aundraya partnered in the Valley Palms neighborhood to coordinate a place-based violence prevention program through the development and implementation of a community platform prioritizing community wealth-building and increased access to space and decision-making power. Draya is active in her community by serving as the Co-Chair of the Anti-Displacement Workgroup of the Eastside PEACE Partnership, as the Alumna Representative on the Mission Integration Committee of the Notre Dame San Jose Board of Directors, and as a recent alum of the Latino Leadership Academy of the Latino Leadership Alliance. Aundraya graduated with a B.A. in Politics and minors in Legal Studies and Public Service & Community Engagement from the University of San Francisco.

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Natalia Merienne

Sales Director & CEO | Anye Produce | San Diego

Natalia is an entreprenur in the produce Industry, recognized as a minority owned woman who runs her own produce busines.She is a full-time mother of 1 girl. She studied her degree in México. Natalia was born in November 09, 1971 in the United States. She grew up in Tijuana, México.

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Maria Mora

 Self employee | Immaculate Cleaning Services LLC | Bay Area

Mary immigrated at the age of sixteen from Jalisco, Mexico with her parents and siblings.
Arriving in a country unknown to her, and cultural and language differences, her journey would include overcoming these challenges. She learned English, attained her GED and started a small business, Immaculate Cleaning, LLC. Her path would include participating in programs with Santa Clara University's, My Own Business Institute, and becoming a certified life coach. Her passion to uplift Latinas to start their own business led to the creation of Unidas Somos Mas Fuertes Business Association or USMF. The translation is ""Together we are stronger"" and it is the driving mission of her organization. Most recently, she has finished the Latino Leadership Alliance Program and the Stanford Leadership Summer Program. She is also a cohort member at New Leaders Council who lives in East San Jose, enjoys volunteering and spending time with her 2 sons. 

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Abigail Ortega

Founder & Psychotherapist | Love Listen and Play | Los Angeles

Abigail D. Ortega is founder and psychotherapist at Love Listen and Play, a group psychotherapy practice that provides in-person services in Long Beach, California and remotely throughout California. Her passion for supporting others in their mental health journey stems from her personal experiences as a child caring for her younger brother while her mother and stepfather worked the evening shift as maintenance workers. Abigail's responsibilities for her younger brother fueled her desire to become a therapist later in life. Before starting her private counseling practice, Abigail worked in several community and medical settings. Her diverse experience included providing assessments and therapy to people and families of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to Abigail's extensive experience working with children and families in therapy, she has expertise in providing evaluations to immigrants requesting hardship waivers and VAWAs. She is committed to sharing the traditions of immigrant populations, specifically Mayan indigenous populations, through her Mayan Wellness Retreat. Abigail brings her rich personal and professional background to the greater population through her volunteer experiences. She is currently serving on the Board of Behavioral Sciences for the State of California, Postpartum Support International Coordinator and mentor-in-training at Anything is Possible Foundation.

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Dulce Ramirez

Senior Legislative Aide | California State Assembly, Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes | Northern California

Dulce Ramirez is the Senior Legislative Aide for Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes. They cover a large portion of the Assemblymembers policy portfolio. where she provides expert analysis and advises the member. Dulce has focused on sustainable transportation, addressing postpartum maternal mental health, women veteran issues, aging, and disability resources, ensuring college affordability and access for low income and historically underserved students, protecting Title IX and reforming sexual assault policies, and ensuring that our most vulnerable are protected during wildfires, floods, and other disasters. Dulce is a New American Leaders Alumni, and a New Leaders Council Alumni now serving as a Co-Institute Chair, and currently serves as the Political Director for the Young Professionals Network at Latinas Lead CA where she works to elect more Latinas into office at the local and state level. Dulce is a first-generation college graduate and the proud daughter of immigrant parents raised in Southeast Los Angeles. Dulce's impact as an organizer and activist led her to pursue a career in policy and government. She graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills, where she received her B.A. in Political Science and B.S. in Public Administration minoring in Sociology with an emphasis in education and gender studies.

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Isuri S. Ramos

Development and Operations Director | Chispa | Orange County

Isuri was raised in one of Santa Ana's densest neighborhoods and grew up understanding her community's resilience as she saw working class mixed status families defy the odds everyday  to provide their children with better opportunities.She attended Santa Ana public schools and the University of California, San Diego where she earned degrees in International Studies - Political Science and Urban Studies Planning.  Her planning classes helped her better understand her lived experiences and how they were impacted by poor policy decisions, urban planning choices, practices, and systems; that failed to prioritize working class communities and put them at risk of displacement. After graduating she returned to Santa Ana and has worked with non-profit organizations, residents, and community partners in Santa Ana to improve the quality of life for working class residents through civic engagement and direct advocacy.  Isuri is currently the Deputy Director at Chispa, an organization doing advocacy across Orange County. Isuri has also served as the Chairwoman of the City of Santa Ana's Community Development Commission and now serves on the City’s Planning Commission.  In her free time Isuri enjoys resting, exploring nature, traveling, and learning about financial independence from people of color. 

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Gizelle Roberson

Middle School Training Coordinator | The Puente Project at UC Berkeley | Inland Empire

Gizelle Roberson has made it her life's mission to work closely with students, parents and their community to assure college readiness for all students. Gizelle currently serves as a Middle School Training Coordinator for the Puente Statewide Office. Here she is able to support all the Middle School Puente programs across the state of California. Gizelle was a key member in developing the Puente Middle School Pilot Program in Hayward Unified School District in 2014. She began her work as an Communications Coordinator for CSUEB and later became a School Counselor in 2011. She completed her Masters in Counseling with a PPS Credential and MFT Option at CSU East Bay.

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Celeste Rodriguez

City Councilmember | City of San Fernando | Los Angeles

Celeste Rodriguez serves as a Councilmember for the City of San Fernando and Associate Director of Community Services for the City of Los Angeles Community Investment for Families Department (CIFD). As a public servant for over 15 years she has held many leadership roles including the Deputy Director for Community Development Strategies for the City of Los Angeles Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity as well as the Senior Program Manager for CIFD and the former Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department. In these roles, she has been able to provide supportive services, capital improvement projects, and economic development opportunities in underserved communities throughout LA. She has a track record throughout her career working to improve the quality of life in communities by creating policies and programs that respond to people's needs. Celeste's passion for service and social justice led her to serve on the City Council. Her goal is to provide a voice for marginalized communities, ensure economic stability for residents and businesses by building a pathway for community wealth, and strengthen programs for families to thrive. Celeste received her bachelor's degree in Economics from San Diego State University and master's degree in Social Work (MSW) from USC.

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Natalie Sanchez

 Director | UCLA Los Angeles Family AIDS Network | Los Angeles

Natalie is a third generation Mexican-American, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley.  She is a two-time UCLA graduate and holds a Master's in Public Health a Bachelor's degree in Sociology. She is well known for her work as a creator, Executive Producer, and writer of the award-winning telenovela web series "Sin Vergüenza" which addresses HIV in Latino communities. Natalie has created and led some of the largest and most successful multicultural HIV campaigns, as well as implemented a combination of public health strategies to reduce HIV infections in Southern California. She is not only a leader in HIV treatment and prevention, but she has also broken into the film industry where she uses film for public health messages creating a space showcasing Latinos and LGBTQ persons as main characters in their own lives. She currently sits on the community advisory board for the State of California Office of AIDS Planning Group, UCLA's Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services and the National Latinx HIV Conference Committee. Natalie is currently the Director of the UCLA Family AIDS Network.

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Mary Soto

 Assistant Director/Counselor | MAAC | San Diego

Mary Soto is the Assistant Director and Counselor at MAAC Community Charter School in Chula Vista, her hometown. She has been an advocate for youth and families in her community and abroad for over 20 years. Mary was born and raised in San Diego, living her entire life in Chula Vista, except for her time in college at UC Irvine, she considers herself to be bicultural with a strong understanding of transborder life. Her entire professional life was a grassroots experience beginning in 2003 as an aide in a special education classroom at a relatively new charter school in the community. It was at MAAC where Mary found her passion and calling to work with disadvantaged youth and families. Mary has always been drawn to a life of service participating in children's and youth activities since she was 14 and serving as an interpreter for church missions trips for over 20 years and still participating to this day. Aside from her dedication to her faith, Mary is the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents and has strong family values which is why she has supported and managed her parents' small business near the US/Mexico border for approximately 15 years.

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Brenda Valles

Executive Director of Western States Policy and Outreach | Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU) | Northern California

Dr. Brenda G. Valles is the current Executive Director of Western States Policy and Outreach for the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU). In this role, she is a policy advocate in the western region, supporting Latinx students' higher education access, retention, and completion. In this role, Dr. Valles can bridge higher education leaders to legislative and policymaking bodies to further support higher education for Latinx students. Dr. Valles arrives at this work with over a decade of experience in higher education as a practitioner-scholar with roles in equity leadership emphasizing in equity assessment and executive equity leadership. Before being at HACU, Dr. Valles was an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Counseling and Education, where she taught in the Higher Education / Student Affairs program. While much of her recent experience is in higher education, Dr. Valles also brings a PK-20 educational policy framework to her work. Before taking roles focused on higher education, Dr. Valles worked in educational policy and the legislative arena as a policy associate for the Utah Educational Policy Center and as a community liaison for a former state assembly member in California.

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Sade Williams

Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Associate    Parent Institute for Quality Education

Sade Williams was born in the Bay area, but she was raised here in Central Valley in the small town of Mendota, California, with a population of 8,000. She is Bi-racial – half Jamaican and half Mexican and represents her hometown with pride and honor with a passion for community development. As the Engagement and Strategic Initiative Associate for PIQE, Parent Institute for Quality Education she works to support families through strategic initiatives and partnerships throughout the Central Valley and PIQE's expanded advocacy efforts in this region of California. Living in Sacramento for about 10 years, as a Case Manager I & II and Director of Youth Ministry, she saw the severity of the homelessness and mental health challenges there and helped support those suffering to overcome barriers and stigmas. Sade moved back to the Central Valley as she wanted her son to experience what she experienced – the closeness of a family network and growing up with close friends. There might not be certain things like we see in major metropolitan cities, but she values what we have. At the core, Central Valley has a lot to offer, and she aims to continue to have people embrace this fact.

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Jessica Yañez PereZ

Director of Communications | City of San Diego, Councilmember Campillo, District 7 | San Diego

Jessica Yañez-Perez is a San Diego native who grew up in the suburbs of the City and has always had a curiosity for other people and their stories. As Director of Communications for Councilmember Raul Campillo she is able to translate government jargon into everyday language for the community. 
Jessica has had the opportunity to live across the Southwestern United States and has had decades of communications experience in both the public and private sector working for organizations as large as the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee to start-up nonprofits. But ultimately there is no place like home for this San Diego girl and she has found her happy place where it all began.
Jessica is also a podcast creator who uses her platform to amplify the voices of people in communities of color. In her spare time, you can find her cheering for the Chargers or exploring the City with her dog, Q.

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Lizbeth Zepeda

Sr. Talent Consultant | MUFG Union Bank | Los Angeles

Lizbeth is currently a Sr. Talent Consultant for MUFG Union Bank where she is in charge of hiring for all levels of branch positions in the Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo county areas.  She is also the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Program Lead for Talent Acquistion and Staffing where is collaborates with other recruiters and stake holders to drive the diversity recruiting strategy for the Bank.  She has been active in the DEI space for 20+ years and has been involved with various organizations and developed programs to impact Latinas and others' career opportunities.  Lizbeth is committed to giving back to the community through initiatives supported by her employer, MUFG Union Bank as well as involvement with her daughters' schools such as holding school board positions. Academically Lizbeth is the first in her family to obtain a degree. She holds both a Bachelor of science in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resources, a Masters in Business Administration, and a certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from University of South Florida. Lizbeth is passionate about education; Her diving force is being an example to her daughters so that they can believe that anything is possible.

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