People — Young Center (2022)

Table of Contents
Maria Woltjen, Founder (Chicago) Read More Gladis Molina Alt, Executive Director (Phoenix) Read More Olivia Peña, Co-Director (Harlingen) Read More Marisa Chumil, Co-Director (Chicago) Read More Mari Dorn-Lopez, Deputy Program Director (DC) Read More Carrie Vander Hoek, Deputy Program Director (Harlingen) Read More José Ortiz-Rosales, Deputy Program Director (Los Angeles) Read More Pamela Nickell, Deputy Program Director (Houston) Read More Mariana Alvarez, Deputy Program Director (Harlingen) Read More Priscilla Guadarrama, National Volunteer Program Manager (Phoenix) Read More Camila Trefftz, National Program manager (New York) Read More Sondra Furcajg, National Staff Attorney Read More Amairani Rucoba, National Case Support Associate (Houston) Read More Gladys Pineda, National Case Support Associate (Los Angeles) Read More Jenifer Briones, National Volunteer Support Associate (Phoenix) Read More Laila Alvarez, National Volunteer Support Associate (Los Angeles) Read More Shaina Simenas, Co-Director (New York) Read More Kelly Albinak Kribs, Co-Director (Chicago) Read More Jennifer Nagda, Policy Director (Philadelphia) Read More Mary Miller Flowers, Senior Policy Analyst for Child Protection (DC) Read More Jane Liu, Sr. Litigation Attorney (DC) Read More Abena Hutchful, Policy & Litigation Attorney (New York) Read More Anabel Mendoza, Media Relations Specialist (Chicago) Read More Anne Kelsey, Policy Analyst, Disability Rights (DC) Read More Mina Dixon Davis, Policy Analyst (DC) Read More Elizabeth Witmer, Policy Coordinator (Harlingen) Read More Dani Doucette, Chief Operating Officer (New York) Read More Birdie Soti, Philanthropy Director (Chicago) Read More Amy Jo Albinak, Sr. Philanthropy Officer (Chicago) Read More Lorena Gonzalez, Grants Manager (Chicago) Read More Geoff Wood, Director of Operations (New York) Read More Constance Moustakas, Sr. Philanthropy Officer (New York) Read More Izadora Rabelo, Finance Coordinator (Chicago) Read More Paulette Jones, Sr. Accounting Manager (Chicago) Read More Maritsa Leyva Martinez, HR Specialist (Harlingen) Read More Liz Farias, HR Specialist Talent & Culture (San Antonio) Read More Erika Salgado, HR Associate Talent & Culture (San Antonio) Read More Lisa Heineman, Development Coordinator (Chicago) Read More Liz Sanchez, Development Associate (Chicago) Read More Faruq Schieber, Operations Coordinator (Chicago) Read More Jes Olvera, Grants Writer (Chicago) Read More Chicago Raia Stoicheva, Managing Attorney Read More Althea Klein, Social Worker Read More Alli Gattari, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Dane Olsen, Staff Attorney Read More Tatiana Alonso, Staff Attorney Read More Harlingen Miriam Aguayo, Managing Attorney Read More Tania Torres, Managing Social Worker Read More Rosemary Gonzalez, Staff Attorney Read More Elizabeth Garcia, Social Worker Read More Gladys Hernandez, Staff Attorney Read More Janette Gonzalez, Social Worker Read More Sofia Peña, Case Support Associate Read More Lilia Murray, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Juan Gonzalez, Staff Attorney Read More Olga Cantarero, Case Support Associate Read More Houston Deisy Lee, Managing Attorney Read More Valeria Olmedo, Managing Social Worker Read More Elizabeth Silva, Social Worker Read More Blanca Cisnado, Social Worker Read More Mary Moreland, Staff Attorney Read More Melody Koch, Staff Attorney Read More Laura Zelaya, Social Worker Read More Jessica Beecher-Bell, Specialist, Case Support Read More Amanda Del Castillo, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Catherine Bonilla, Case Support Associate Read More Washington DC Maria Barbosa Groszek, Managing Attorney Read More Tami Benchoam Rogers, Social Worker Read More Lorena Zabetakis, Staff Attorney Read More Dorothy Neher, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Jackie Diaz, Case Support Associate Read More New York Leigh Gorman, Managing Social Worker Read More Rebecca Rittenhouse, Managing Staff Attorney Read More Isabella Cajiao-Garces, Staff Attorney Read More Kevin Worthington, Staff Attorney Read More Catalina Carbonell, Staff Attorney Read More Gretchen Begley, Social Worker Read More Juliana Pinto McKeen, Social Worker Read More Emely Recinos, Case Support Associate Read More Rommie Cardenas, Volunteer Coordinator Read More San Antonio Veronica Rodriguez, Managing Attorney Read More Belinda Teye, Staff Attorney Read More Jamilah Tigner, Staff Child Advocate, MSW Read More Dulce Segura, Case Support Associate Read More Julia Beck, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Phoenix Estrellita Alvarado, Social Worker, Safe Repatriation Project Read More Sibila Quiroz, Social Worker Read More Jena Gutierrez, Managing Attorney Read More Lauren Shapiro, Staff Attorney Read More Roxanne Bedoya, Safe Repatriation Associate Read More Isobel Conroy, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Maria Dominguez, Case Support Associate Read More Los Angeles Shantel Vachani, Managing Attorney Read More Perla Aragon, Social Worker Read More Jocelyn Vargas, Volunteer Coordinator Read More Jennifer Umberg, Staff Child Advocate Read More Natalia De Prado-Hurtado, Case Support Associate Read More FAQs Videos

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Maria Woltjen, Founder (Chicago) Read More

Maria Woltjen is the Founder of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. The Young Center’s primary work is to advocate for the best interests—safety and well-being—of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. As part of this work, the Young Center serves as Child Advocate (best interests guardian ad litem) for trafficking victims and unaccompanied immigrant children pursuant to the Wilberforce Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. While at the Young Center, Maria’s focus was on reforming the immigration system to incorporate a best interests standard and developing a dedicated immigration justice system for children. Throughout her career, Maria focused on children’s rights, at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the ChildLaw Center at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, and at the University of Chicago Law School. For her service to children and the advocacy community, Maria was the recipient of the 1996 Public Interest Law Initiative Distinguished Alumni Award, the 2013 American Constitution Society Ruth Goldman Award, the 2017 UNICEF Chicago Humanitarian Award, the 2019 American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois Global Citizenship Hero, and the Young Center’s inaugural Waymaker Award. Maria retired on June 28, 2021, after 18 years of serving children at the Young Center.

(Video) Youth Centre

Gladis Molina Alt, Executive Director (Phoenix) Read More

Gladis Molina Alt is the Executive Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Before that, she served as the Child Advocate Program Director at the organization for four years. Gladis came to the Young Center with a decade of experience in working with unaccompanied immigrant children. She has worked in Harlingen, TX for the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR); in Los Angeles, CA for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND); and in Phoenix, AZ for The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. She has represented children in Immigration Court and Juvenile Court, as well as before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Gladis is a native of El Salvador and grew up in Long Beach, CA. She received her B.A. from the California State University in Long Beach (CSULB) and her J.D. from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). Before attending law school, Gladis worked at the U.S. House of Representatives as a Policy Fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI).

Olivia Peña, Co-Director (Harlingen) Read More

Olivia M. Peña, Esq. (She/Her/Ella) is Co-Director of the Young Center’s Child Advocate Program, where she helps lead a passionate and zealous interdisciplinary team of attorneys and social workers fighting for the rights and best interests of immigrant children. Before joining the Young Center in 2014, Olivia worked with vulnerable communities seeking humanitarian parole, asylum, and other forms of legal protection from violence and atrocities around the world. She represented and fought for the rights of children, families, and individuals seeking safety. At the Young Center, Olivia has served hundreds of immigrant children, who like her, traveled at a young age to the United States in search of a better life. She has lived most of her life along the U.S.-Mexico border, witnessing firsthand the issues and inequities impacting border communities. An expert on issues surrounding immigrant children, Olivia has participated in panels and roundtables with non-profit organizations, members of Congress, and governmental agencies. She has been featured in local, national, and international media outlets including NBC, Univision, Forbes, NPR, and the BBC. Olivia earned her J.D. at the University of Houston Law Center and her B.S. from the University of Texas at Brownsville & Texas Southmost College.

Marisa Chumil, Co-Director (Chicago) Read More

Marisa Chumil, LCSW, is the Child Advocate Program Co-Director at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Since joining the organization in 2013, Marisa served as Staff Social Worker and then Deputy Director of Social Work, overseeing Child Advocate cases in Chicago, consulting on cases nationally for all Young Center offices, and coordinating the Young Center’s work on international home studies. Marisa’s connection to the Young Center began in 2009, when she volunteered as a Child Advocate and served as a social work intern. Prior to the Young Center, Marisa worked for nine years in early childhood programs at El Valor, a Chicago non-profit organization, where she focused on social services, social and emotional development, and mental health services for immigrant children and their families. She received her Masters in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago and specialized in Migration Studies and Children and Families. Marisa initiated her human rights work in Guatemala and El Salvador, where she volunteered in communities rebuilding after civil war.

Mari Dorn-Lopez, Deputy Program Director (DC) Read More

Mari Dorn-Lopez is a Deputy Program Director with the Young Center. Mari has extensive experience working with and advocating on behalf of detained unaccompanied immigrant children. Before coming to the Young Center, she worked as Supervising Attorney with the Detained Children’s Program at a D.C. nonprofit, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition. At CAIR Coalition, Mari represented detained immigrant children in their removal proceedings and to sought relief for victims of crimes, such as child abuse and domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of persecution. Prior to that, Mari worked for a law firm in northern Virginia, where she practiced general litigation with a focus on family law. Mari completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia and earned her law degree from the Washington College of Law at American University. Mari is admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Carrie Vander Hoek, Deputy Program Director (Harlingen) Read More

Carrie Vander Hoek, LMSW is one of the Young Center’s Deputy Program Directors and shares coverage of the Harlingen, San Antonio, Houston, and DC offices. Carrie previously filled the Managing Social Worker and Child Advocate Supervisor Social Worker positions in the Harlingen, TX office. Carrie began her work with the unaccompanied and refugee children as an undergrad intern at Bethany Christian Services Unaccompanied Refugee Minor and Long Term Foster Care Programs in Grand Rapids, MI. After graduation, Carrie then moved to the Rio Grande Valley and began working as an Americorps volunteer with the Mennonite Voluntary Services at South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR). Carrie then went on to work in the domestic foster care system as a social service worker and supervisor for a therapeutic foster care agency, The Bair Foundation. Prior to joining the Young Center, she worked with General Dynamics IT as a Case Coordinator for 5 years and as a Supervisory Case Coordinator for almost 2.5 years. Carrie earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Calvin College and earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from The University of New England.

José Ortiz-Rosales, Deputy Program Director (Los Angeles) Read More

José Ortiz-Rosales is based out of the Young Center Los Angeles office. He is one of the Young Center’s Deputy Program Directors and shares coverage of the Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Phoenix offices. He received his master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Jose has many years of experience working exclusively with unaccompanied children across the country in various capacities and at different stages in their immigration journey in the United States. Jose has collaborated and partnered with immigration attorneys to provide client-centered legal services focusing on assisting unaccompanied children navigate their immigration case. In 2018, Jose coauthored a book chapter that discussed the multidimensional lives of unaccompanied children in the U.S. and the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to supporting them when they encounter various systems such as child welfare, education, delinquency, criminal justice, behavioral health, immigration, and social systems, among others.

Pamela Nickell, Deputy Program Director (Houston) Read More

Pamela Nickell is the Deputy Program Director at the Young Center’s Houston office. Pam joined the Young Center in 2016 as a Staff Attorney before becoming the Managing Attorney in 2019. Pam has assisted child survivors of human trafficking, children with complex medical needs, youth who are pregnant or parenting, children who are at risk of aging out into adult detention, and other particularly vulnerable children. Because of her commitment to serving unaccompanied children, Pam was appointed to the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative’s Executive Committee, a strategic leadership body made up of representatives from service providers, advocacy organizations, educators, and funders that support immigrants and refugees in the greater Houston area. Pam received her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. She graduated summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University with her B.A. in Spanish and International Studies.

Mariana Alvarez, Deputy Program Director (Harlingen) Read More

Mariana Alvarez is the Deputy Program Director at the Young Center’s Harlingen office. Before joining the Young Center, Mariana represented individuals in removal proceedings before EOIR and with petitions before USCIS. Previously she worked as a legal service provider for unaccompanied children in Corpus Christi with RAICES on various forms of immigration relief. Mariana graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law. Mariana earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English & Psychology with a minor in Spanish from Texas Tech University.

Priscilla Guadarrama, National Volunteer Program Manager (Phoenix) Read More

Priscilla Guadarrama was born in Fallbrook, California. After moving to Phoenix, Arizona, she enrolled at Arizona State University. In 2015 she earned her B.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice. While at Arizona State University she was involved in the Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program where she assisted in a study on perceptions of disorder based on racial cues in neighborhoods. During her senior year, she was an intern at a safe house that lends support and rehabilitative services to victims of domestic violence and/or human sex trafficking.

Camila Trefftz, National Program manager (New York) Read More

Camila Trefftz is the National Program Manager for the Child Advocate Program. She was born in Medellín, Colombia, and raised in Michigan. Camila joined the Young Center in 2020 and served as a Case Support Associate for the New York office for two years. Prior to joining the Young Center, Camila worked at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center as the UC Program Coordinator and a DOJ Accredited Representative, where she represented unaccompanied and separated immigrant children in removal proceedings. Camila holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Kalamazoo College and is pursuing her Master's in Social Work at Columbia University.

Sondra Furcajg, National Staff Attorney Read More

Sondra is National Staff Attorney for the Young Center. Previosuly she served as a staff atotorney in the Young Center's Washington, D.C. office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Sondra was a Staff Attorney at Rutgers Law School’s Immigrant Justice Clinic where she served as an immigration attorney for children in the New Jersey foster care system. Previously, Sondra established the immigrant legal services program at United African Organization, a Chicago community-based organization that serves African immigrants and refugees. Sondra interned with the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania and worked as an HIV/AIDS Prevention and Outreach Volunteer at the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana. Sondra earned a Master of International Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law from Université Paris II and an LLM in International and Comparative Law from Chicago-Kent College of Law. She is a native French and English speaker and is fluent in Spanish.

Amairani Rucoba, National Case Support Associate (Houston) Read More

Amairani Rucoba is a National Case Support Associate for the Young Center. Previously Amairani served as a case support associate in the Young Center's Houston office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Amairani worked in a school and mental health clinic that served children with special needs. Amairani also has an extensive history of working as a Legal Secretary for a law office that practiced Social Security Disability law, where she worked with both adults and children with mental and physical disabilities. Amairani graduated from the University of Houston – Downtown with a Bachelors of Science and minor in Psychology. It is her passion for helping others that fuels her desire to support organizations that fearlessly advocate for the vulnerable and underserved population.

Gladys Pineda, National Case Support Associate (Los Angeles) Read More

Gladys Pineda is a National Case Support Associate for the Young Center. Previously she served as a Case Support Associate in the Young Center's Los Angeles office. She graduated in 2018 with a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA. Gladys’s interest in immigration began when SB1070 in Arizona had passed. In high school, she volunteered with CHIRLA and learned about the CA DREAM Act and had the opportunity to lobby for AB130 and also witness Gov. Jerry Brown sign the legislation into law in 2011. Gladys is interested in studying the aftermath of an unaccompanied minor’s release into the U.S., and the resettlement process into U.S. schools, in hopes to find a way to provide and effective trauma informed school-setting that addresses the complexities and challenges of resettlement.

Jenifer Briones, National Volunteer Support Associate (Phoenix) Read More

Jenifer Briones is an Arizona native. While she grew up in Phoenix, she also considers Juarez, Chihuahua in Mexico home. She earned her degree in Film and Digital Media at Loyola University Chicago, and studied abroad at the John Felice Rome Center where she worked closely with Syrian refugees and volunteers. She has also trained, supervised, and managed volunteers on several local campaigns including the Adios Arpaio campaign, and the West Valley Votes for Arizona House of Representatives campaign. Currently, Jenifer is a member of the Comité de Guía for the Liberation project at Trans Queer Pueblo, where she engages the LGBTQ migrant community of color in projects and work that aims to ensure the protection of the rights of those who are experiencing detention. Trans Queer Pueblo fosters leadership opportunities for previously detained LGBTQ migrants, and enables them to create the change they would like to see.

Laila Alvarez, National Volunteer Support Associate (Los Angeles) Read More

Laila Alvarez is a National Volunteer Support Assocaite for the Young Center. Previously she served as Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center's Los Angeles office. She graduated from Pitzer College in 2018 with a degree in Human Biology. Laila first began working with immigrants at the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, a day labor center focused on advocating for social and economic immigrant justice on a state-wide and local level. As a long-term volunteer, Laila taught ESL classes, worked on local education campaigns, and organized in support of Assembly Bill 60, which granted driver’s license for undocumented residents in California. Additionally, Laila had the opportunity to work with the unaccompanied minor population in Miami as a fellow with the UCLA Labor Center, where she researched education equity policy for undocumented youth. Laila is excited to join the Young Center as she hopes to one day obtain a Juris Doctor Degree and become an immigration attorney.

Shaina Simenas, Co-Director (New York) Read More

Shaina Simenas is a Co-Director for the Young Center’s Technical Assistance Program. Shaina has been a staff member with the Young Center since 2016 and prior to joining the Technical Assistance Program, Shaina served as the Managing Social Worker for the New York office. Through her work with the Young Center’s Child Advocate program, Shaina has extensive experience advocating for the best interests of vulnerable unaccompanied immigrant children in federal custody on issues of care, custody, reunification, safe repatriation, and legal relief. She holds master’s degrees in Public Health and Social Work from New York University. While at New York University she worked with middle and high school students in the Bronx, facilitating individual and group counseling for those at risk of dropping out. She received her undergraduate degree from American University in Health Promotion with a minor in Spanish. She first joined the Young Center as a volunteer Child Advocate in 2015.

Kelly Albinak Kribs, Co-Director (Chicago) Read More

Kelly Albinak Kribs is a Co-Director for the Young Center’s Technical Assistance Program. Kelly first joined the Young Center in 2016 and most recently served as the Managing Attorney of the Child Advocate Program team in the Chicago office. In her work with the Child Advocate Program, Kelly drew upon principles of child welfare, international, and immigration law in order to evaluate and execute best interests advocacy on behalf of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children on matters of their care, custody, reunification, safe repatriation, and legal relief. She has collaborated closely with social worker colleagues to help develop an interdisciplinary approach to assessing best interests as well as best practices for child-centered, developmentally appropriate, and trauma-informed engagement with immigrant children. Prior to joining the Young Center, she worked in private practice and clerked for a federal district court judge. She received her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and her undergraduate degree in communications from Northwestern University. Prior to attending law school, Kelly worked at a research center on Latin American issues and taught English in Nicaragua. She began serving as a volunteer child advocate with the Young Center in 2008.

Jennifer Nagda, Policy Director (Philadelphia) Read More

Jennifer Nagda is the Policy Director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. For more than a decade, her work at the Young Center has focused on protecting the rights of immigrant children in government custody—in particular, their right to have their best interests considered in every decision. In 2015, Jennifer was appointed by then-DHS Secretary Johnson to the ICE Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers. From 2012-2015, she staffed the federal Interagency Working Group on Unaccompanied and Separated Children, which published its Framework for Considering the Best Interests of Unaccompanied Children in 2016. Jennifer is a lecturer in law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic and previously taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Before joining the Young Center, Jennifer was an attorney at the Midwest Regional Office of MALDEF, where she litigated immigration, education and employment discrimination cases. She clerked for the Honorable James B. Zagel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Prior to law school, Jennifer was the Associate Director of what is now the CityBridge Foundation in Washington DC. Jennifer received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and her undergraduate degree from Duke University.

Mary Miller Flowers, Senior Policy Analyst for Child Protection (DC) Read More

Mary Miller Flowers is a Senior Policy Analyst for Child Protection for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Prior to joining the Young Center, Mary was the associate director for justice at the Open Society Foundations’ Human Rights Initiative where she managed a global grant giving program on criminal justice reform, supporting civil society activists to uphold the rights of vulnerable criminal defendants. She was previously based in Liberia, West Africa with the Carter Center, working to improve access to justice. Mary received a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University and a master’s in divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Jane Liu, Sr. Litigation Attorney (DC) Read More

Jane Liu is a Senior Litigation Attorney with the Young Center. Jane has litigated public interest and civil rights cases for over a decade. Prior to joining the Young Center, Jane was the Legal Director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, where she led legal advocacy and litigation strategies to advance the rights of Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls in the areas of reproductive rights and health, economic justice, and immigrant rights. Previously, Jane was a partner at Terris, Pravlik & Millian, a public interest law firm in Washington, DC, where she litigated public interest and civil rights cases, primarily class actions. She began her career as a public defender in Boston. Jane received her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and her undergraduate degree from Princeton University.

Abena Hutchful, Policy & Litigation Attorney (New York) Read More

Abena Hutchful is the Policy & Litigation Attorney in the Young Center New York Office. Previously, Abena led the Youth Free Expression Program for the National Coalition Against Censorship. She has also worked as a humanitarian law extern for the UN OCHA in Sudan, where she supported the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism Task Force for Grave Violations Against Children. Prior to law school, she worked with UNHCR and Youth Action International to advocate for stronger social and legal protections for displaced youth in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Abena holds a JD and LLM in International Human Rights from Northwestern University School of Law and is admitted to practice in Washington, D.C.

Alex McAnarney is the Digital Media Specialist for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. She has extensive experience working on human rights, social justice and migrant rights communication and advocacy strategies. Prior to joining the Young Center, Alex worked at the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) as Director of Communications where she developed and implemented online and press strategies and campaigns to advocate on behalf of victims of serious human rights violations across the Americas. Her work has been published in El País, El Faro and Al Jazeera, among other outlets. She received her M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Chicago, where her thesis focused on the right to healthcare for Central American migrants in Southern Mexico, and her BSc in Journalism and B.A. in Literature from Florida International University.

Anabel Mendoza, Media Relations Specialist (Chicago) Read More

Anabel Mendoza (she/hers) serves as the Media Relations Specialist for the Young Center where she manages relationships with the press and ensures the voice and mission of the Young Center is accurately represented in media coverage. Prior to joining the Young Center, Anabel worked on the communications team at United We Dream and served as co-lead of the communications team for the Defund Hate campaign. She joins the Young Center with an extensive education in social justice and investigative journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she received her B.S. and M.A. She is passionate about bringing to light the untold stories of immigrant communities often hidden in mainstream media coverage and shifting media narratives to prioritize the inherent humanity and dignity of immigrant families, children, and individuals. In her free time, Anabel loves exploring new restaurants in Chicago with her partner, going for bike rides along the lakefront, and spending time with her family and two dogs.

Anne Kelsey, Policy Analyst, Disability Rights (DC) Read More

Anne Kelsey (she/her) is a Policy Analyst for Disability Rights at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Anne has worked on disability and health rights issues for nearly a decade. She has previously held positions at the Center for HIV Law and Policy; Disability Rights New York (New York’s Protection and Advocacy organization); the Community Service Society of New York; and at Disability Rights Advocates. Anne received her J.D. from the Fordham University School of Law and her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia.

Mina Dixon Davis, Policy Analyst (DC) Read More

Mina Dixon Davis is a Policy Analyst at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Prior to joining the Young Center, Mina was at the Children’s Defense Fund, where she focused on pursuing justice for children at the intersections of child poverty, child welfare, and immigration policy. Mina comes to the Young Center with a background in journalism and law, and she grounds her work in listening, storytelling, and building a case to improve the odds for children. Mina received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Elizabeth Witmer, Policy Coordinator (Harlingen) Read More

Elizabeth Witmer is the Policy Program Coordinator based out of the Young Center Harlingen Office. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and is currently completing her Master of Social Work degree from UTRGV with concentrations in community practice and administration. Prior to her current role, Elizabeth worked as a Case Support Associate in the Young Center’s Child Advocate Program and as the Office Coordinator for EMU’s Intensive English Program, where she worked with adult immigrants, refugees, and international students. During her undergraduate studies, she completed her social work practicum with American Friends Service Committee in Guatemala City, where she completed research on the repatriation process for unaccompanied migrant children in Guatemala. Elizabeth spent a significant portion of her childhood living in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.

(Video) Young Peoples Participation Critical For Responsive City Planning - Auroville Youth Center

Dani Doucette, Chief Operating Officer (New York) Read More

Dani Doucette (pronouns e/em/eir) is the Chief Operating Officer of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where e supports the entire team to maintain efficient systems and a compassionate work environment. Dani previously served as CFO/COO for the Rainforest Alliance, EngenderHealth, and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, where e also served as Interim CEO. E has sat on the boards of Big Apple Performing Arts (chair), American Cancer Society-Brooklyn (chair), El Centro de Conocimiento Compartido, DanceNYC (treasurer), and Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (treasurer). As a volunteer, Dani taught English to newly arrived immigrants with Ayuda in Washington, DC, facilitated suicide awareness workshops for youth with the Trevor Project, and mentored an unaccompanied minor with Dorcas International. For four years Dani owned and operated BraveShift, a leadership and culture change practice, and currently e produces and hosts two podcasts, “The Workplace Healer,” and “A Healing Being.” A healing artist, Dani recently founded Healeology, a resource teaching modern meditation practices. Dani holds masters degrees in both international development and organizational development, as well as a professional certification in leadership and life coaching.

Birdie Soti, Philanthropy Director (Chicago) Read More

Birdie Soti is the Philanthropy Director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, leading a multi-talented team to fundraise philanthropic dollars from generous individuals, foundations, and corporations. She comes to the Young Center from having been the first Executive Director of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, a performing arts and music education organization. Her fundraising and leadership efforts grew the organization from its premiere performance in 2004 to receiving the distinguished 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Through a performance series developed in 2017 titled “Chicago Immigrant Stories” she came to learn of The Young Center and highlighted their mission to thousands of audience members across free citywide events. She is often invited to serve on grant review panels for local, state, and national arts and education agencies, and is currently the Board Chair for Chicago Art Department. Birdie has an MA in International Relations from University of Chicago and a BA in East Asian Studies from Columbia University.

Amy Jo Albinak, Sr. Philanthropy Officer (Chicago) Read More

AJ Albinak joined the Young Center in 2018, the day after a federal judge ordered the government to reunite separated immigrant children with their families. Since then, she has built a Philanthropy team that has expanded the Young Center’s foundation support, established new major gifts programs, and executed the $1 million Waymaker Campaign matching challenge with Young Center lead supporters Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds. She is also a volunteer Child Advocate, having worked with a West African teen in federal custody. AJ is a multi-genre author of more than a dozen novels and co-publisher of a series of social justice-focused anthologies featuring short stories by New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. She has been active in fundraising for Chicago elementary schools, work-to-play sports programs for children, and LGBTQ youth shelters for twenty years. Her background includes a decade in HR management and extensive experience in social media platform building.

Lorena Gonzalez, Grants Manager (Chicago) Read More

Lorena Gonzalez is the Grants Manager for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where she manages grants and cultivates relationships with funders. She comes from a public health and development background working predominantly on humanitarian aid, gender equity and human rights program development and grant writing. Lorena has 9 years’ ‘experience in developing organizational programs, securing funding, designing projects and supporting monitoring and evaluation systems to ensure accountability to target populations. Previously, Lorena worked with the National Foundation for Development and Humanitarian Response based in Yemen as the Programs’ Advisor and Development Specialist, and has had the honor of working with a multitude of organizations internationally, located in Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Egypt, India, and Burkina Faso. She has an MPH from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and served for 3 years in Burkina Faso as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Geoff Wood, Director of Operations (New York) Read More

Geoff Wood is the Director of Operations with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. From 2016 to 2019 Geoff served as the National Volunteer Program Coordinator and prior to that he was the Volunteer Coordinator for the New York office and also managed the volunteer program in Chicago. Geoff first began working with immigrants through a volunteer program that matched undergraduate students with recently arrived refugee families in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After graduating, Geoff worked as an employment specialist for Lutheran Family Services of the Rocky Mountains Refugee and Asylee Programs where he prepared refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking to enter the workforce. Following his work with Lutheran Family Services, he taught English in Argentina and later volunteered with the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans in Queens, New York. Geoff holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colorado College where he majored in International Political Economy and a Master’s in Public Administration- Public and Nonprofit Management from NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Constance Moustakas, Sr. Philanthropy Officer (New York) Read More

Constance Moustakas is the Senior hilanthropy Officer for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where she executes strategies to cultivate and steward donors in support of the mission. Previously, Constance was the Vice President of Development for the Mental Health Association of Westchester and has over 15 years’ experience working in philanthropy. She has served on numerous non-profit boards and is currently a board member of CASA New York State. Constance has an MBA in Finance from Pace University and a BS from Fordham University.

Izadora Rabelo, Finance Coordinator (Chicago) Read More

Izadora Rabelo is the Finance Coordinator for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, supporting the Finance Team and serving as liason between the Finance and Fundraising departments. She is originally from Brazil and grew up in Orlando, Florida where she completed a BA in International Affairs at Rollins College. She would, soon, like to start her own non-profit of wrap-around services for refugees.

Paulette Jones, Sr. Accounting Manager (Chicago) Read More

Paulette Jones is the Accountant for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Previously, she worked at various Chicago area non-profit organizations as Manager of Accounting. Paulette comes to us with over 15 years of experience working in the non-profit arena and holds a Masters in Non-Profit Business Administration (MNPA) from North Park University. She is currently in the process of obtaining her CPA license and is owner of her own Bookkeeping and Income Tax Business.

Maritsa Leyva Martinez, HR Specialist (Harlingen) Read More

Maritsa Leyva Martinez was born in Guerrero, Mexico and was raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveler and amateur chef, she has enjoyed delicious cuisine in Singapore, France, Spain, Vietnam, Mexico, Hong Kong, Italy and other smaller and bigger nooks in the world. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Arizona State University.

Liz Farias, HR Specialist Talent & Culture (San Antonio) Read More

Elizabeth Farias, ACSW, is the HR Specialist, Talent & Culture and is based in the San Antonio office. Formerly Elizabeth served as a bilingual social worker for the Young Center also for our San Antonio office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Elizabeth worked as a Program Manager at Bronx Community Solutions and the Brownsville Community Justice Center with the Center for Court Innovation in New York City. Elizabeth provided supervision and clinical expertise to a multidisciplinary team while overseeing diversion programs in the criminal court setting. Elizabeth holds a master’s degree in Social Work from the Silver School of Social Work at New York University with a concentration in micro and macro work. During her graduate career, she interned at the Family Justice Center in the Bronx where she worked with immigrant survivors of domestic violence working with attorneys to receive their U-Visa. As a daughter of immigrants, Elizabeth has found a passion to work with families with similar backgrounds and advocate for their rights. Elizabeth’s practice revolves around holistic, restorative and trauma informed care.

Erika Salgado, HR Associate Talent & Culture (San Antonio) Read More

Erika Salgado is the HR associate for Talent & Culture at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Erika was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management with a concentration in Human Resources from Texas A&M-San Antonio. As a first generation Mexican-American, Erika is very passionate of helping her community and knows the importance of giving back, formerly Erika served as a child advocate volunteer for the Young Center for our San Antonio office. She enjoys spending quality time with her loved ones and cat.

Lisa Heineman, Development Coordinator (Chicago) Read More

Lisa Heineman is the Development Coordinator for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where she supports the development team. She cares deeply about building a better future and is honored to do so in this capacity. Lisa has worked for numerous social and environmental justice organizations both domestically and internationally. Prior to joining the Young Center, she served as a Program Manager for a Chicago-based non-profit focused on increasing access to quality STEM education for underserved youth. She also worked as a Program Director for a sustainable development organization in the Dominican Republic and volunteered for one academic year as an English teacher with the Ministry of Education in both Ecuador and Colombia. She holds a bachelor's degree in Geography with a specialization in Environmental and Societal applications.

Liz Sanchez, Development Associate (Chicago) Read More

Liz Sanchez is the Development Associate based in the Chicago office. Liz is from Chicago’s Southwest side, where they grew up. They graduated Summa Cum Laude from DePaul University with a B.A. in Latin American and Latinx Studies and a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. Prior to joining the Young Center, their work focused on serving immigrant survivors of domestic violence through trauma-informed legal advocacy with the National Immigrant Justice Center’s (NIJC) Immigrant Legal Defense Project and with Mil Mujeres Legal Services. Liz has also served unaccompanied and separated immigrant children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement with NIJC’s Children’s Projection Project. Since 2014, Liz has been engaged in grassroots community organizing with Telpochcalli Community Education Project (Tcep) in Chicago's Little Village and surrounding neighborhoods. Their work has focused on developing and coordinating adult and youth programming and events centered on creating safe spaces, community strength, community care, uplifting Latinx culture, radical learning, and social justice. To this day, Liz continues to be engaged with Tcep as their Board of Director’s Secretary.

Faruq Schieber, Operations Coordinator (Chicago) Read More

Faruq Schieber is the Operations Coordinator for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, where he supports the Admin team and handles several of the organization’s HR & Operational components. Prior to the completion of his undergraduate degree, Faruq studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador, where he researched the socioeconomic implications of the Venezuelan migration crisis in Ecuador and across Latin America. He would later complete his undergraduate thesis on the consequences of US immigration/border policy for both migrants to and citizens of the United States. He received a Bachelor of Arts specializing in International Studies and Political Science from Kalamazoo College.

Jes Olvera, Grants Writer (Chicago) Read More

Jes Olvera is the Grants Writer for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. For the past nine years, Jes has lived in Milwaukee where she worked with various non-profits from Boys & Girls Clubs to Sojourner Family Peace Center. During her time at Sojourner, she worked as a Domestic Violence Survivor Advocate where she assisted survivors in petitioning for restraining orders, provided emotional support during court hearings and co-facilitated a multi-week curriculum for women and children that provided education in coping skills, conflict resolution and rebuilding trust. At Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Jes worked alongside the Development department where she provided global support to the team, coordinated gift in-kind donation acceptance and delivery to the Clubs’ 44 site locations. Additionally, during her time in Milwaukee, she served in the AmeriCorps program Public Allies which aims to create a just and equitable society and the diverse leadership to sustain it.

Chicago

Raia Stoicheva, Managing Attorney Read More

Raia Stoicheva is The Managing Attorney with the Young Center based in Chicago. She served as a Staff Attorney and Child Advocate Supervisor in the Chicago office for three years prior to her transition. Before joining the Young Center, she was a staff attorney and clinical instructor at the DePaul College of Law Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic. There she helped community-based organizations to provide legal representation to immigrants and taught a clinical course on immigration law. She graduated with honors from the Northwestern University Pritzker College of Law where she participated in the asylum law and the international human rights law clinics. Raia has served as a Child Advocate with the Young Center. She is originally from Bulgaria.

Althea Klein, Social Worker Read More

Althea Klein, LCSW, is the social worker in the Young Center Chicago Office. Althea’s professional background has focused primarily on unaccompanied immigrant children, children involved in the child welfare system and child and adult survivors of trauma. Previously, she was a bilingual therapist in the child and adolescent outpatient clinic at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago. She has also provided case management and housing advocacy to families experiencing homelessness at La Casa Norte, she completed a graduate internship in the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Office of the Public Guardian, and she worked as a paralegal in the Immigrant Child Protection Project and the Immigrant Legal Defense Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center. Althea has also served as a volunteer child advocate with the Young Center. She received her Masters in Social Work from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Alli Gattari, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Alli Gattari is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s Chicago office. Prior to joining the Young Center, she was a legal assistant with the National Immigrant Justice Center’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project. Alli’s work focused on providing legal services for unaccompanied and separated immigrant children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Previously, she was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Chiapas, Mexico and worked at a migrant shelter with asylum seekers. After graduation, Alli was a bilingual teaching assistant for the Urbana School District in Urbana, Illinois and worked as a community organizer for Champaign-Urbana Immigration Form.

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Dane Olsen, Staff Attorney Read More

Dane Olsen is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center’s Chicago office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Dane clerked for a federal district judge and worked in private practice. He graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Law School, where he served as president of the Immigration Law Society and participated in the Young Center Clinic. While in law school, Dane traveled to Laredo, Texas, and Dilley, Texas, to provide legal aid to recently arrived immigrants in detention. Before law school, Dane earned undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and Spanish Studies from Brigham Young University.

Tatiana Alonso, Staff Attorney Read More

Tatiana Alonso is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Chicago office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Tatiana worked as an Associate Attorney practicing family-based immigration law, and family law. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Political Science and Latino/a Studies. Tatiana graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law with her J.D. and a certificate in Public Interest Law and is admitted to practice law in Illinois. While in law school, Tatiana worked full time as a legal assistant and was a member of the Immigration Law Society (ILS). As a member of ILS, Tatiana volunteered with the CARA Pro Bono Project at the South Texas Family Residential Center and worked directly with detained women and children seeking asylum. Tatiana is fluent in Spanish and proud daughter of Mexican immigrants.

Harlingen

Miriam Aguayo, Managing Attorney Read More

Miriam Berenice Aguayo is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Harlingen office. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Texas at Brownsville. While in college, Miriam worked as a youth coordinator with Proyecto Juan Diego, a non-for-profit organization serving low-income communities in Brownsville, Texas. She also interned in Washington, D.C. with Immigration Equality and worked on advocating for the passage of legislation that would end the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Miriam continued her studies and graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law. Before joining the Young Center, Miriam worked with the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Represented Project (ProBAR) representing unaccompanied children as they navigated the complicated U.S. immigration system.

Tania Torres, Managing Social Worker Read More

Tania Torres joined the Harlingen office as an LMSW, Social Worker and currently serves as the Managing Social Worker for the Harlingen office. Tania has been advocating for children and adolescents in some capacity for over 10 years. Prior to joining the YC team, Tania was a public-school teacher for 5 years and worked at ProBAR as a legal assistant. As a graduate student Tania, provided short term therapy for mothers with depression and facilitated support groups for Latin American parents. Tania has volunteered and interned as a Social Worker in both Guatemala and Mexico. Most recently, Tania served as a clinical counselor supporting children working through and living with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Tania was part of the first cohort of YC volunteer child advocates in Harlingen and has continued her work with this beautiful community since then! Tania has a BA in Latin American History and a Master's of Science in Clinical Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin.

Rosemary Gonzalez, Staff Attorney Read More

Rosemary Gonzalez is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Harlingen office. Before joining the Young Center, Rosemary represented unaccompanied children in South Texas on various forms of immigration relief. Rosemary graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law. While in law school, Rosemary worked as a Texas Access to Justice Associate at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. She also interned at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in San Antonio where she drafted asylum opinions which were taken under advisement by the immigration judges. Rosemary earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Spanish from St. Edward’s University.

Elizabeth Garcia, Social Worker Read More

Elizabeth Garcia, LMSW is the Social Worker at the Young Center’s Harlingen, Texas location. Previously, she served as the Case Support Associate. Elizabeth received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Spanish from the University of North Texas (UNT). After taking a semester break from UNT, Elizabeth decided to pursue her master’s degree in Social Work from the new joint master’s program that UNT and Texas Woman’s University offered. While receiving her MSW, Elizabeth interned with International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Dallas as an Academic Coach in the Youth Department. In this position, Elizabeth worked with refugee high school students and their families to establish personal and academic goals for the academic calendar year. Elizabeth is determined to apply the knowledge she gained at IRC into her work with the Young Center.

Gladys Hernandez, Staff Attorney Read More

Gladys Yamell Hernandez is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center’s Harlingen office. Gladys graduated Cum Laude from Lehman College ‐ Bronx, NY. with a Bachelor of Arts, and she earned her J.D. with a certification in International Law from Pace University School of Law ‐ White Plains, NY. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, issues pertaining to immigration have always been close to her heart. After a successful career in corporate law, working in Washington, D.C., Mexico City, MX, and New York, NY she decided to make a change and pursue her passion for immigration law. In 2019, Gladys joined the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) and moved to Harlingen, TX. While at ProBAR she represented unaccompanied minors seeking relief before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), immigration court, and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Janette Gonzalez, Social Worker Read More

Janette Gonzalez is a bilingual Licensed Master Social Worker for the Young Center Harlingen Office. Prior to joining the Young Center Team, Janette worked as a Program Supervisor for the Domestic Violence Pretrial Diversion Program and the Re-Entry Court Program at the Community Supervision and Corrections Department in Hidalgo County, Texas. She incorporated her social work values/perspectives while working in multidisciplinary teams in the criminal justice system. Throughout her career, she gained experience in the areas of mental health, substance use screenings, assessments, and working with mandated clients. She has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology. She obtained her master’s in Social Work from the University of Texas Pan-American (now UTRGV). She completed her graduate internship with a Pretrial Diversion Drug Court Program which served first time drug offenders. Janette is a proud daughter of immigrant parents. She is a first-generation college graduate. She is a C.A.M.P. (College Assistance Migrant Program) and S.A.F. (Student Action with Farmworkers) Alumni. Through S.A.F., she was able to advocate for decent wages and living conditions for immigrant agriculture workers in the state of North Carolina. Janette has also served as a volunteer child advocate for the Young Center. Her passion for the immigrant community comes from seeing firsthand the many injustices her family endured as immigrants and migrant workers.

Sofia Peña, Case Support Associate Read More

Sofia Pena is a Case Support Associate at the Young Center's Harlingen Office. Sofia received her bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Sofia has been active in her native Rio Grande Valley community for over a decade, primarily as an advocate for reproductive justice. Sofia co-founded Frontera Fund, a non-profit serving the Rio Grande Valley area, to make reproductive care more accessible. Sofia developed the non-profit for five years. While simultaneously working as the reproductive justice reporter for a local news platform, Sofia became familiar with all the ways reproductive justice and immigration intersect in the Rio Grande Valley. This interest, and her desire to step more into the social work world, led Sofia to want join the Young Center on their mission to protect the rights of immigrant children.

Lilia Murray, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Lilia is a Rio Grande Valley native who has several years’ experience in non-profit work which includes social justice, public health, and animal rights advocacy. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Communication Studies from the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. Her passion lies among analyzing the sociological imaginations of political and societal decision making.Compelled by immigration reform and policies close to home, Lilia joined The Young Center to work towards dismantling the systems that criminalize asylum seeking. Bridging gaps in communities through volunteerism is the core of Lilia's professional and personal values. Lilia currently resides in South Texas where she enjoys reading under the sun, yoga, roller-skating, and tending to her plants.

Juan Gonzalez, Staff Attorney Read More

Juan Gonzalez is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s Harlingen office. Before joining the Young Center, Juan helped to reunify separated families at Kids in Need of Defense. Juan is a graduate of the Howard University School of Law.

Olga Cantarero, Case Support Associate Read More

Olga Cantarero is a Case Support Associate for the Young Center. She was born and raised in Nicaragua, but in the late 80s, due to war and unrest in Nicaragua, Olga migrated to the US. Once situated in Harlingen, Olga found an organization called “Refugiados por la paz” (Refugees for Peace) where she found her calling to serve in the local community. “Refugiados por la paz” provided clothing, food, and services like legal counseling, WIC program, and ESL Classes. In 1992, Olga’s asylum case was denied. Shortly thereafter, Olga became a Volunteer Local Program Coordinator for the Mennonite church, recruiting volunteers to provide legal assistance to detained unaccompanied children and adults. Additionally, she volunteered with the non-profit legal organization Proyecto Libertad where she was an Accredited Representative for 2 years, and with ProBAR as a child advocate. During this time, Olga visited the shelters and provided Know Your Rights presentations for unaccompanied children. In 1997, an immigration judge granted Olga legal relief. By the time Olga started working for LIRS in 2004, she had nearly 10 years of experience working with unaccompanied children. Today, she brings 25 years of experience and a soaring spirit to the Young Center Harlingen team as a Case Support Associate.

Houston

Deisy Lee, Managing Attorney Read More

Deisy Lee is the Managing Attorney for the Young Center’s Houston office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Deisy worked as an Associate Attorney practicing Social Security Disability law, namely Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, where she worked with children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Deisy also worked for the Scanlan Foundation, a non-profit organization in Houston, where she worked alongside the Board of Trustees, including Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Deisy is a proud first-gen who is committed to being an effective agent of change for the vulnerable and underserved in the legal system. Deisy graduated Cum Laude from the University of Houston with a B.A. in Psychology and a Minor in Human Development and Family Studies, and received her J.D. from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. She is also a Certified Mediator in the State of Texas.

Valeria Olmedo, Managing Social Worker Read More

Valeria Olmedo is a bilingual Licensed Master Social Worker who joined the Houston office in 2019 as the first Social Worker on the team, and transitioned into the Managing Social Worker in 2022 . Prior to joining the Young Center, Valeria worked as a mental health clinician at a Houston shelter for unaccompanied minors ages 5-17. She provided mental health services including individual therapy and crisis intervention as well as focusing on assessing for trauma, abuse, neglect and trafficking. Valeria completed a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Houston-Downtown and continued her studies to obtain a Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Houston with a concentration in Clinical work specializing with Latino populations. While completing her graduate degree, Valeria served as a volunteer child advocate with the Young Center. Her experience includes working with Latino adults and adolescents with trauma history, parenting and case management for immigrant and low income families. Valeria utilizes a trauma-informed lens in her work with Latino families and immigrant youth and is passionate and committed to her professional development working with the Latino immigrant population.

Elizabeth Silva, Social Worker Read More

Elizabeth Silva is a bilingual, Licensed Master Social Worker, currently under clinical supervision under Michele Frances Purvin, LCSW-S, LCDC, License number 42218. Elizabeth joined the Houston office in August 2021. Her professional experience includes five years of case management experience working in diverse social work settings. Experience working in a mental health setting under The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, as a Bilingual Care Coordinator. Elizabeth also completed a one-year graduate-level internship under The Harris Center Mobile Crisis Outreach Team. Previously, Elizabeth worked with youth ages 12 to 16 residing in one of Houston’s most underserved areas in the Fifth Ward community. Working under a juvenile justice diversion program using restorative justice in interactions with youth and youth inspired trainings. Elizabeth is a veteran, she served in The United States Marine Corps enlisting after 9/11. Elizabeth comes from an immigrant family both parents immigrated to the United States.

Blanca Cisnado, Social Worker Read More

Blanca Cisnado is a bilingual Licensed Master Social Worker with a certification in being a Certified Trauma & Resilience Practitioner-Clinical at the Houston office. Most of her experience has been in the child-welfare system, in areas such as foster-care/adoptions, school settings, childhood/adolescent development, and program development. During her final MSW internship, Blanca had the opportunity to work in Disaster Recovery and provide emotional/counseling support to individuals affected by Hurricane Laura in southwestern Louisiana. Prior to joining our Houston office, Blanca was a mental health clinician who worked with unaccompanied minors ranging from ages 15-17 years old. Blanca is a first-generation college graduate; both of her parents are from El Salvador. Blanca is very passionate about working with children from all ages and being able to advocate on their behalf. Blanca received a B.S in Child Development and Family living with a minor in Psychology from Stephen F. Austin State University and then a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) with a concentration in Advanced Practice Leadership from Texas State University. Blanca enjoys the outdoors and being surrounded by family and friends on her free time.

Mary Moreland, Staff Attorney Read More

Mary Moreland is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center's Houston Office. Mary joined the Young Center in 2022 after having served as a Young Center volunteer child advocate since 2019. Prior to joining the Young Center, Mary was an Associate General Counsel for Latin America for a worldwide supplier of products and services in the power generation and natural gas industry. Mary also has vast experience in ethics and compliance matters, having served as the Chief Compliance Officer for two international publicly traded companies. Mary received her J.D. from Tulane Law School. She graduated cum laude from Washington & Lee University with her B.A. in Spanish.

Melody Koch, Staff Attorney Read More

Melody Koch is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center Houston’s office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Melody worked in the business immigration landscape helping international clients seek employment in the United States with petitions before USCIS. While in law school, she participated in the International Human Rights Clinic, researching issues for the UN and the ICC relating to human right violations. She also interned for Public Law Center advocating for individuals who were victims of human trafficking, crimes, and persecution in their home country. Melody was also a public policy fellow at the Center for Poverty Research conducting research on issues that affect immigrant communities. Melody graduated from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. She earned a B.S. in Community and Regional Development with a minor in Human Rights from University of California, Davis. In her spare time, Melody works with religious and philanthropic organizations to support the development of immigrant children in local communities.

Laura Zelaya, Social Worker Read More

Laura Zelaya (she/her/ella), is a licensed master's level social worker in The Young Center Houston’s office. She received her Master of Social Work from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, where she completed a macro concentration with a focus in health and behavioral health. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Spanish from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Laura has extensive experience working with community organizations providing services to people that have experienced trauma, such as survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and child abuse. Before joining The Young Center, she provided support as a social worker to children with hearing loss and their families. She has also worked as a speech language pathologist assistant in the home health setting. Laura volunteers as a medical interpreter, mentor to first-generation college students, and serves on the board of Latino Social Workers of Greater Houston. Some fun facts about Laura, she enjoys reading, a book she loves and always recommends is Unforgetting by Roberto Lovato, she loves dinosaurs, and her favorite place in the world is El Salvador.

Jessica Beecher-Bell, Specialist, Case Support Read More

Jessie Beecher-Bell was trained as a volunteer Child Advocate in 2015 and worked with many children in shelters prior to coming on staff in 2018 as a Child Advocate Supervisor. Jessie managed resident services coordinators and case managers in low-income housing for 20 years as leader of a company contracting with public housing authorities and real estate developers nationwide. Prior to that, Jessie worked as a journalist and news director for various media outlets in the Northeast US and in Latin America.

Amanda Del Castillo, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Amanda Del Castillo is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Houston office. She is a native Houstonian and has an extensive history working and volunteering with grassroots organizations and non-English speaking communities. Amanda seeks to mobilize and empower migrant and LGBTQ communities by developing their leadership and organizing skills. A first generation Mexican-American, Amanda loves to meet new people and cats.

Catherine Bonilla, Case Support Associate Read More

Catherine Bonilla is the Case Support Associate for the Young Center's Houston office. She majored in Sociology and Anthropology and concentrated on Family Studies and Women's and Gender studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. During her time at St. Olaf, she was a Resident Assistant for three years to first-year students. Catherine was a member of the Diversity Initiatives Support Committee (DISC) and two Latinx organizations, Presente and SOMOS. During the Spring Semester of her Junior year, she studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador. Catherine interned at a low-income elementary school providing English classes and educational activities to students. Before joining the Young Center, she worked at the Houston Independent School District (HISD) for two years as a Wraparound Resource Specialist (WRS) providing students and families with non-academic resources in the Denver Harbor and Fifth Ward area. As a first-generation Salvadoran-American, Catherine’s interest in advocating and supporting other migrant children's transition into the country has grown during her time in Education. During her free time, she enjoys taking walks in the park, exploring different coffee shops, and watching good shows on Hulu.

Washington DC

Maria Barbosa Groszek, Managing Attorney Read More

Maria J. Barbosa is the Managing Attorney in the Young Center’s Washington, D.C. office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Maria received a Michigan Law Bates Overseas Fellowship to represent refugees in resettlement at the Refugee Legal Aid Program (RLAP) at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services in Cairo, Egypt. She then continued at RLAP as a Senior Legal Officer where she supervised legal staff and volunteers representing refugees in refugee status determination and protection matters. Maria is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University, where she received a B.S. in Social Policy. While at Michigan, she worked with victims of sex and labor trafficking with the Michigan Law Human Trafficking Clinic. Maria is admitted to practice law in Illinois.

Tami Benchoam Rogers, Social Worker Read More

Tami Benchoam Rogers, LMSW is a social worker for the Washington, DC office. Previously, Tami worked at a local non-profit in DC conducting home visits and parent groups with families who have young children. Tami obtained her Master’s degree from Tulane University School of Social Work with a certificate in Global Social Work. During her degree training, Tami interned in Pretoria, South Africa working on a research project to highlight the difficulties experienced by refugees and asylum seekers; and in the United States she worked as a case manager for victims of trafficking. Tami’s passion for social justice and working with the immigrant population comes from her mother, who came to the United States as a refugee.

Lorena Zabetakis, Staff Attorney Read More

Lorena Zabetakis is a Staff Attorney with the Young Center’s Washington, D.C. office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Lorena was an Associate Attorney at a small private litigation firm, where she provided legal representation to several members of the Hispanic community in various civil and criminal defense matters. Lorena obtained her law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law, during which she interned for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and also served as a law clerk for the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) at the Baltimore Immigration Court. Lorena obtained her Undergraduate degree from Loyola University Maryland. Lorena’s dedication to serving the immigrant community stems from her own personal history, having originally been born in Quito, Ecuador. She is a native Spanish and English speaker and is admitted to practice law in Maryland.

Dorothy Neher, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Dorothy Neher is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s DC office. Dorothy graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University with a degree in International Relations and Spanish, focusing on Latin America. During college, she volunteered on a refugee camp in Greece and interned at a court service center in Boston, assisting pro-se litigants with civil cases. After graduating, Dorothy worked in New Mexico, helping survivors of domestic violence secure citizenship and at Disability Rights DC, conducting intakes for individuals with disabilities in need of protection and advocacy.

Jackie Diaz, Case Support Associate Read More

Jackie Diaz is a Case Support Associate at the Young Center's DC office. Jackie graduated from American University with a degree in Political Science and a focus on Latin America. Before joining the Young Center, Jackie worked as a paralegal at a small law firm. She has worked with children intermittently since 2014. Jackie's family immigrated to the United States from Mexico during the economic crisis in the 80's. She is very passionate about assisting others in their resettlement efforts.

New York

Leigh Gorman, Managing Social Worker Read More

Leigh Gorman, LCSW, is the Managing Social Worker for the Young Center’s New York office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Leigh worked in the domestic foster care system. She previously worked at New Alternatives for Children, Inc. as a social worker for families navigating through the foster care system and at The Children’s Aid Society as a supervisor overseeing the training and certification of foster parents. She interned with the Legal Aid Society in their Juvenile Rights Practice providing direct representation to children in family court proceedings. Leigh holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Services and a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Language and Literature from the University of Delaware and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service.

Rebecca Rittenhouse, Managing Staff Attorney Read More

Rebecca Rittenhouse is the Managing Attorney for the Young Center’s New York office. From 2018-2021, Rebecca was a Staff Attorney with the Young Center’s New York office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Rebecca worked at ECPAT International in Bangkok, Thailand as a Legal Research Officer, researching and reporting on issues related to child sexual exploitation and child trafficking. Rebecca has worked as a legal intern at the Human Rights Foundation in New York City, as well as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague. She also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua from 2004-2006. Rebecca holds a LLM in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the University of Essex in England, a JD from New England Law/Boston and a BA in International Studies from Allegheny College. She is admitted to practice law in New York.

Isabella Cajiao-Garces, Staff Attorney Read More

Isabella Cajiao Garces is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center based in New York City. During her time in New York City she interned for Sanctuary for Families and Safe Passage Project, where she helped immigrant survivors of domestic violence and immigrant children respectively. She also worked for the Vance Center as a human rights consultant for Latin American projects. Later, she became a Legal Fellow at Refugee Solidarity Network where she worked in projects mainly related to refugees in Latin America and Bangladesh. Before coming to New York Isabella practice law in Mexico, she collaborated with NGOs protecting life and freedom of speech, she also worked as an Associate in an Intellectual Property Law Firm where she led efforts to structure their probono practice. Isabella holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Philosophy from Universidad de La Sabana in Bogota, Colombia and a LLM from the University of Notre Dame Law School. She is admitted to practice in Colombia and in New York.

Kevin Worthington, Staff Attorney Read More

Kevin Worthington is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center’s New York City Office. Kevin’s previous experience with immigrant youth includes the coordination of local integration programs for refugees, and asylees in Mexico City while working at Programa Casa Refugiados, a UNHCR partner in Mexico. While pursuing a JD at CUNY School of Law, Kevin worked as a community organizer for local Brooklyn elected officials, and housing rights not-for-profit organizations. Kevin also worked as a legal intern in CUNY’s Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic representing individuals in removal proceedings. Kevin holds the equivalent of a BA in European Studies from the University of Strasbourg in France, a MA in Latin American Studies and a MA in Territorial Development from the University of Grenoble in France. Kevin is admitted to practice law in the State of New York.

Catalina Carbonell, Staff Attorney Read More

Catalina Carbonell is a Staff Attorney at the Young Center's New York City Office. Catalina's previous experience with immigrants includes working with the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration in Washington, D.C., as well as with the International Rescue Committee in Maryland. She further served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with a member of D.C. Public Schools. While pursuing a JD at Northeastern University School of Law, Catalina She also volunteered with the CARA Pro Bono Project at the South Texas Family Residential Center and worked at various international human rights organizations including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, the Center for Justice, and International Law (CEJIL), the World Bank and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. Catalina Holds a BA in Political Sciences from Lynn University in Florida.

Gretchen Begley, Social Worker Read More

Gretchen Begley, LMSW is a social worker in the New York office. Prior to joining the Young Center, she spent eight years as a social worker and Spanish-English interpreter at the Peter Cicchino Youth Project of the Urban Justice Center, a legal services nonprofit serving young people experiencing homelessness, with a focus on LGBTQ and migrant young people. Prior to that she worked as a freelance interpreter, and as a social worker at Catholic Charities Community Services, where she advocated for immigrant children’s release from detention, and supported them after their release. Gretchen also spent a year and a half as a human rights worker in Colombia, providing protective accompaniment to threatened activists and communities with Peace Brigades International. Gretchen has additional experience in the fields of youth development, community organizing, and services for people with intellectual disabilities. She holds a Master of Social Work from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), a Certificate in Interpretation Studies (English-Spanish) from Hunter College, CUNY, and a B.A. in Global Studies, focusing on socioeconomics and politics in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a minor in Spanish, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Juliana Pinto McKeen, Social Worker Read More

Juliana Pinto McKeen, LMSW, is a social worker in the New York office. She holds a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University, and a BA in psychology with a minor in African American, Puerto Rican, and Latino Studies from Hunter College. She is published in the Columbia Social Work Review’s 2021 edition.
Juliana was the co-founder and director of an early childhood program in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The program was open for six years before closing in July of 2020. She interned at the Legal Aid Society’s New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, serving the detained docket at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. After completing her graduate studies, Juliana worked at Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap as the Policy and Program Manager, working on the Build Back Better campaign in the summer and early fall of 2021. She is a licensed clinician, specializing in working with clients processing the immigrant experience in the United States. Her passion for serving the immigrant community comes from her own experience, Juliana is a previously undocumented immigrant from Colombia.

Emely Recinos, Case Support Associate Read More

Emely Recinos is a Case Support Associate for the Young Center’s New York Office. She graduated from New York University in 2020 with a B.A. in International Relations and a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. In her senior year of college, Emely conducted an independent thesis project where she analyzed the relationship between changes in El Salvador’s economy and experienced violence in the country, and was subsequently awarded the Dean’s Certificate of Achievement for International Relations Best Thesis. During her undergraduate studies, Emely served as Co-President of the Disability Student Union at NYU where she advocated on behalf of students with disabilities and helped coordinate initiatives to increase disability representation and inclusion across the university. Emely has previously interned with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The Borgen Project, and volunteered with the Afghanistan International Foundation for the Blind and as a Child Advocate for the Young Center’s New York Office.

Rommie Cardenas, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Rommie Cardenas is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s New York City office. Rommie’s prior experience includes community organizing in Newark, NJ, where she developed programs and resources to meet the needs of local neighborhoods. She was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia from 2018 to 2020 where she taught English to high school students and learned the Khmer language and culture. While completing her undergraduate degree, Rommie worked as a communications intern at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Additionally, she joined the Institute of International Education as an outreach and recruitment intern. She was also an intern at the International Rescue Committee, where she supported families with the application process for the Central American Minors Refugee Program. Rommie graduated in 2018 with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in French from William Paterson University.

(Video) Kincardine and Mearns Youth Centre Concept Survey Findings

San Antonio

Veronica Rodriguez, Managing Attorney Read More

Veronica Rodriguez is the Managing attorney at the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights San Antonio office. Based in San Antonio she is originally from the Rio Grande Valley. After graduating from the University of Richmond School of law she served as an Equal Justice Works fellow along the Texas/Mexico border working to help low income residents obtain legal title to their land and access to basic infrastructure, such as water, electricity, and sewer. She served as the Team Manager for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s (TRLA) Colonias and Real Property Team before transferring to the TRLA San Antonio Office. In San Antonio she oversaw a case load of consumer, manufactured housing, and private landlord/tenant cases and helped to create a website and video to inform consumers of their rights with regard to predatory payday loans.

Belinda Teye, Staff Attorney Read More

Belinda Teye is a Staff Attorney in the Young Center’s San Antonio Office. Belinda graduated Magna Cum Laude from the State University of New York at Albany with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and earned her JD from New England Law|Boston. Upon graduation, Belinda worked with a legal services in Cambridge Massachusetts representing Immigrant Victims of crime in family court and before USCIS. Prior to joining the Young Center, Belinda worked as a Staff Attorney in the Family Court Program of Pace University’s Women’s Justice Center where she supervised and trained law students to obtain orders of protection for victims of domestic violence.

Jamilah Tigner, Staff Child Advocate, MSW Read More

Jamilah Tigner, MSW joined the San Antonio office following several years of working for nonprofit organizations that provide legal and social services to unaccompanied immigrant children. She earned two degrees in Social Work from University of Texas-Arlington and University of Connecticut. Her career and volunteerism have primarily focused on three areas – support for victims and survivors of sexual violence, immigrant integration efforts and promotion of LGBTQ+ civil rights. Jamilah’s interest in this work ignited during her senior year of high school when she served as a youth mentor and read the book “Hear These Voices: Youth at the Edge of the Millennium”. For nearly two decades, she has provided direct services to clients of all ages, offered peer support to fellow human services professionals, and conducted educational outreach to various constituencies. Her goal has always been consistent: to empower marginalized communities; advocate on their behalf when necessary; and help them access, navigate and sometimes confront complex systems and institutions.

Dulce Segura, Case Support Associate Read More

Dulce Segura is the Case Support Associate for the Young Center's San Antonio office. Following her graduation from Texas Tech University in 2015, Dulce interned for U.S. Representative Filemon Vela's D.C. office (TX-34) specializing in Education, Homeland Security and Healthcare policy. Following her internship, Dulce simultaneously worked as an investigator for the Children's Law Center's Guardian ad Litem Program, and as a support specialist with the National Sexual Assault Hotline through the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). While in D.C., Dulce volunteered with various Federal and State organizations advocating for immigrant rights and assisted in developing Lambda Theta Alpha’s annual Lambda Hill Days advocacy program on permanent solutions for DACA and TPS recipients. Currently, Dulce is pursuing her Juris Doctor from St. Mary's University School of Law with a focus on immigration law and continues to volunteer with organizations serving migrants in Tijuana, MX and Matamoros, MX under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.

Julia Beck, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Julia Beck grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She moved to Vermont for college and graduated from Middlebury College in February 2020 with a degree in Luso-Hispanic Studies and a minor in Education Studies. During college, she interned with the Sacred Valley Project, which advances indigenous girls' access to education in Peru, and worked at Middlebury's Center for Community Engagement as a Language in Motion staff member to promote language learning and global awareness in rural Vermont public schools. After college, she worked with the nonprofit Mary House as a family advocate for immigrant families living in Washington, D.C. Now in San Antonio, Julia is excited to continue learning about advocacy work in her role at the Young Center. She also enjoys exploring local parks with her dog and attending the many San Antonio arts and food events.

Phoenix

Estrellita Alvarado, Social Worker, Safe Repatriation Project Read More

Estrellita is a Social Worker for the Safe Repatriation Project in the Arizona office. Prior to joining the Young Center, Estrellita served as a Clinician providing trauma-informed mental health services for unaccompanied immigrant children. As a clinician, she assessed for abuse and human trafficking, facilitated individual and group counseling, and provided crisis intervention. Estrellita graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Bachelor of Science in Family and Human Development and a minor in Communication. She received her Masters of Science in Social Work with a minor in International Social Welfare from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. She has experience working with at-risk youth, undocumented survivors of domestic violence, and immigrant populations in Phoenix, AZ and New York City. Estrellita is passionate and committed to social justice, working with immigrants and their families.

Sibila Quiroz, Social Worker Read More

Sibila Quiroz, LMSW, is part of the social work team for the Young Center’s Phoenix office. She has experience in areas of mental health, human rights advocacy and reunification services for children and families of immigrant backgrounds. After earning her BA from the University of Arizona, she joined AmeriCorps to serve as a youth support advocate in Harlem, NY and Phoenix, AZ. Following her service, she began working in family reunification for unaccompanied immigrant children. In 2017, while attending graduate school, she was introduced to the Young Center where she served as a Child Advocate Volunteer. Most recently, she has worked as a therapist where she has advocated for the inclusion of nature-based interventions, drawing from a child-centered and indigenous knowledge focus. Sibila hopes to continue her commitment in fearlessly advocating and honoring the autonomy of the community she stands alongside.

Jena Gutierrez, Managing Attorney Read More

Jena Gutierrez is the Managing attorney at the Young Center’s Phoenix office. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 2012, her legal work focused primarily on representing unaccompanied children seeking protection through various forms of immigration relief and coordinating pro bono programs. She has worked at the Florence Project, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Ascentria’s Immigration Legal Assistance Program, and Community Legal Aid (Worcester, MA).

While attending Michigan Law, she was awarded a Bergstrom Child Welfare Fellowship, served as a Contributing/Associate Editor for the Journal of Law Reform, and worked as a student attorney in the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic. Before attending law school, Jena completed a year of service as a domestic violence advocate through an AmeriCorps program and worked at a small private firm. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish from the University of Michigan.

Lauren Shapiro, Staff Attorney Read More

Lauren Shapiro is a Staff Attorney with the Young Center. Before joining the Young Center, Lauren represented the legal interests of migrant farm workers in Colorado. Lauren graduated from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Prior to law school, Lauren worked with unaccompanied immigrant children at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.

Roxanne Bedoya, Safe Repatriation Associate Read More

Roxanne Bedoya is the Safe Repatriation Associate for the Young Center. Previously, Roxanne was the Case Support Specialist for the New York office. She graduated from Rutgers University with her Bachelor of Arts. She has spent much time volunteering with children in her community and has spent a significant amount of time working with victims of substance abuse and addiction.

Isobel Conroy, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Isobel Conroy is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Center’s Phoenix office. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Spanish Language and Culture from Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. During her undergraduate education, she worked as a research assistant for both the Transiciones project, which examined the development of Latinx adolescents throughout their college career, and the Pathways to College Health study, which examined the impacts of various environmental stressors on mental health and substance use and abuse outcomes of Latinx and White/Caucasian students. Isobel is a published author in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Human Development and was the Wellness Coordinator of the Sun Devil Fitness Complex, where she created and led events for college students and other local organizations centered around mental health and holistic wellness. In the future, Isobel plans to pursue a Master’s in Social Work to further her education and her passion to advocate for disadvantaged groups.

Maria Dominguez, Case Support Associate Read More

Maria Dominguez is the Case Support Associate for the Young Center's Phoenix office. She was born in Merida, Yucatan, and grew up in Arizona. Maria completed the ASU Child Welfare Education Program and has a BSW from ASU. She interned for the Arizona Department of Child Safety for a year prior to being hired with them in 2017. Maria worked as an Ongoing Specialist for AZDCS for almost 5 years. Some of her duties included providing family reunification services, assessing children’s safety, conducting home visits, and documenting and assisting court hearings. Maria has also interned at De Colores, a domestic violence shelter. At this internship, she took screening calls, assisted with the after-school program, and with campaigns against domestic violence. Maria has also worked as a caregiver for children and adults with disabilities.

Los Angeles

Shantel Vachani, Managing Attorney Read More

Shantel Vachani is the Managing Attorney in the Los Angeles office with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Shantel comes to this role with extensive professional experience providing holistic legal and social work advocacy to youth in the foster and juvenile justice systems. Prior to joining the Young Center, Shantel worked as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work in the Children, Youth and Families Department where she taught policy and clinical practice courses to aspiring social workers, including Social Work and the Law, Working with Transition Age Youth and Advocacy for Justice Impacted Youth. Shantel has also worked as an children’s rights attorney and advocate in the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel Law Center, where she provided holistic social work and legal advocacy for youth transitioning out of foster care. Following law school, Shantel was a Soros Fellow and Education Attorney at the Learning Rights Law Center where she developed and directed a multi-disciplinary project called the School-to-Prison-Pipeline Reversal Project, aimed at preventing youth with special needs from being pushed of the educational system and into the juvenile justice system as a results of disability-related behaviors. Shantel received her joint Law degree and Masters in Social Work (MSW) from UCLA School of Law and UCLA School of Social Welfare, respectively.

Perla Aragon, Social Worker Read More

Perla Aragon is a bilingual, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, based out of the Young Center’s Los Angeles office. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Perla has over 13 years of post-graduate experience. Prior to joining the Young Center, Perla worked as a Children’s Social Worker for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) where she conducted child abuse and neglect investigations and provided family preservation and family reunification services. Perla then went on to join the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) where she served as a Regional Program Manager. Perla provided ongoing technical assistance and training to GRYD contracted providers. Perla also helped coordinate Summer Night Lights (SNL) programming for communities impacted by poverty and violence. Perla later joined Children’s Bureau. As a Supervisor, she guided and supported the Prevention Team staff and MSW interns. Perla also oversaw the implementation of prevention contracts and programs. Most recently, Perla worked for the Department of Mental Health where she conducted mental health assessments, mental health linkages and crisis intervention for children and youth with an open case with DCFS. The primary purpose of these services was to prevent family separation and minimize multiple placements for youth in foster care, while prioritizing child safety and wellbeing. Perla is dedicated to advocating for and working alongside young people who have been impacted by abuse, neglect and trauma.

Jocelyn Vargas, Volunteer Coordinator Read More

Jocelyn Vargas (she/her/ella) is the Volunteer Coordinator at the Young Center’s Los Angeles office. Jocelyn was born and raised in Los Angeles to two immigrant parents, and as a first-generation college student, earned both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles. During her time at Cal State LA, she served as part of the Associated Students, Inc., as a college representative and was eventually appointed to the Executive Board as the Vice President for Academic Governance. In her executive role, Jocelyn advocated for access to basic needs, academic policy changes, funding for student resource centers, and student rights. Simultaneously she interned with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as a Psychiatric Social Work (PSW) Intern serving the communities of Boyle Heights and Southeast Los Angeles. In this role, she provided students and their families with psychoeducation related to mental health, trauma awareness, social skills, conflict mediation, grief, drug prevention and other social emotional issues that impact student learning. Jocelyn is excited to join the Young Center in aiding their mission to protect and advance the rights and best interests of immigrant children.

(Video) THE PEARL YOUTH CENTER ARCHITECTURE ANIMATION BY HAZIQ JUSRE

Jennifer Umberg, Staff Child Advocate Read More

Jennifer is a Staff Child Advocate with the Young Center’s Los Angeles office. She previously served as an Eligibility Associate for UNHCR in Thailand drafting Refugee Status Determination assessments in accordance with international law, and then as a Case Advisor with Asylum Access Malaysia assisting asylum seekers with their claims and appeals in front of UNHCR. During law school, Jennifer clerked with the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic, Legal Services of Northern California, and the Investigations Unit of Disability Rights California. Early in her career, she also served in administrative, development, and reporting roles in several international nonprofits and organizations, including Human Rights Watch and One Acre Fund. She received a UC Berkeley Blum Center for Global Poverty scholarship to briefly work in an internally displaced person camp in rural Kenya, and a Princeton in Africa Fellowship to work with the UN World Food Programme’s regional bureau in South Africa. Jennifer holds a BA in Peace & Conflict Studies from UC Berkeley, an MA in Human Rights Studies from Columbia University, and a JD from UC Davis School of Law.

Natalia De Prado-Hurtado, Case Support Associate Read More

Natalia De Prado-Hurtado is the Case Support Associate for the Young Center’s Los Angeles office. She was born in Bogota, Colombia, and grew up in New Jersey. Previously, Natalia has volunteered for the American Cancer Society as a Patient Navigator. She focused on providing services and translating for Spanish-speaking patients and their families. Natalia has an associate degree in Criminal Justice. She is passionate about helping vulnerable communities.

FAQs

How youth can contribute to the society? ›

Youth are expected to advance the current technology, education, politics, peace of the country. On the other hand, youths have also to maintain the culture of our culture, all good values in the societies, development projects, etc. Youth is the backbone of any nation.

How can youth make a difference in the community? ›

Community activities, volunteering and civic responsibility

joining a Surf Life Saving Club, a scouting group or a local environmental or clean-up group. helping with a primary school play, or coordinating or coaching junior sport. setting up an arts space for the community or getting involved in youth radio.

Why would you want to work with young people? ›

Building young people's self-esteem and self-confidence. Developing young people's ability to manage personal and social relationships. Creating learning opportunities for young people to develop new skills. Encouraging positive group atmospheres.

Do you agree that the youth is the hope of our nation explain why or why not? ›

Our youth can bring social reform and can improve the condition of society. We cannot make do without the youth of a country. Furthermore, the nation requires their participation to achieve the goals and help in taking the country towards progress.

How do you inspire the youth of today? ›

Here are a few ways you can motivate the youth to dream big and reach for their goal.
  1. Responsible Parenting. ...
  2. Helping youth set goals. ...
  3. Mentoring Youth and Building Trust. ...
  4. Providing Opportunities. ...
  5. Instilling Self-Determination and Self-Belief.
25 Sept 2020

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