The SDLA posts profiles of our Fellows at the time they are admitted to the SDLA Institute. After graduation, many Fellows change jobs and advance in their careers, which is not reflected in these bios. Accomplishments of SDLA Institute Alum can be found here.
Skadden Fellow/Staff Attorney, Casa Cornelia Law Center
Charlie Gillig is a Skadden Fellow at Casa Cornelia Law Center, a legal non-profit that provides free representation to immigrant victims of abuse. At Casa Cornelia, Charlie founded and serves as director of Casa Cornelia’s satellite office in the low income, high immigrant neighborhood of City Heights. In this capacity Charlie has a caseload of asylum seekers, victims of domestic violence and unaccompanied children. He also provides community education on legal rights and serves as the Asylum Task Force Chair at the San Diego Refugee Forum.
Before moving to San Diego, Charlie lived in Washington, D.C., graduating with a dual degree in law from Georgetown University Law Center and in international relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Upon graduation at Georgetown, Charlie received the Jeffrey Crandall Award, given to the graduating student that most exemplifies a commitment to public interest law.
Charlie is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont. After college, Charlie worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa.
Public Policy Assistant,Collaborative Services, Inc.
Rebekah Hook has Midwest roots, grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended Western Washington University.
While at Western, she majored in Political Science with an emphasis in American politics, environmental studies and environmental policy. Highly active in student and local politics, Rebekah founded and was President of Students For Hillary, a grassroots organization focused on gaining support on Western’s campus for Hillary R. Clinton to secure the presidential nomination. She also held leadership positions at the Queer Resource Center (formerly the LGBTA) and in the Office of Sustainability, supporting and furthering the diversity and sustainability goals of the university. Rebekah had the privilege to work as a District Intern for Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-2). An lifelong athlete, she also competed in varsity NCAA Division II Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field ⎯ Go Vikings!
After earning her Bachelor’s Degree, Rebekah obtained her Master’s Degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies, with a focus on public policy, stakeholder engagement and environmental land use. While in graduate school, Rebekah worked as the Deputy Campaign Director on the Jean Melious for County Council campaign and was a member of The National Political Science Honor Society.
Currently, Rebekah Hook is a Public Policy Assistant at Collaborative Services, Inc., a public outreach firm in San Diego. Through her role, she contributes to the firm’s success as it works with, and for, public agencies and local and regional political figures on projects ranging from transportation, to urban planning, to natural resource management. Rebekah works to ensure that the public’s communication, outreach and community involvement needs are consistently met. She continues to cultivate new partnerships with aligning organizations, companies and political leaders to enhance existing and future programs. Whether she is researching policy information or interacting with stakeholders, her support helps ensure that projects run smoothly and finish successfully.
Rebekah is an active member of the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Young Professionals Council (YPC), continues to volunteer on various political campaigns and enjoys a mildly competitive round of golf.
Senior Environmental Specialist, Port of San Diego
Cody Hooven is a Senior Environmental Specialist with the Port of San Diego. She manages the Green Port Program, the Port’s comprehensive environmental sustainability effort. She is also leading the development of a Climate Plan for the entire Port jurisdiction, an exciting project addressing both the carbon footprint of the Port and well as adaptation to future climate impacts, such as sea level rise. She also works with other environmentally progressive leaders on various collaborative sustainability efforts in the San Diego region and statewide.
Prior to moving to San Diego in 2007, Cody worked for NOAA Fisheries in Honolulu, Hawaii. She began as a student employee. Proving herself dedicated to science, and willing to get dirty in the field, she quickly worked her way up coordinating the marine turtle stranding research program for the entire state. While enjoying the Hawaiian lifestyle and marine research, she decided to return to her home state of California and shift her focus to the intersection of science and policy.
In addition to her passion for bringing people together on sustainability issues, Cody finds inspiration and motivation in helping her community progress. While in grad school, she worked for Ocean Discovery Institute, a San Diego region non-profit, teaching underserved City Heights students about marine research and applied science. She continues to volunteer with them, and travels to Baja each year to support their impressive efforts.
Associate, LeSar Development Consultants
Jessica Lawrence joined LeSar Development Consultants as an Associate in February of 2011, having previously worked as an administrator for the New York City Mayor’s Office in the Department of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Her experience also includes an internship with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the NYC Housing Development Corporation (HCD).
In her current role, Jessica primarily focuses on supporting LDC’s provision of consulting services related to affordable housing policy and planning, community development and homelessness, with an emphasis on grant writing, research and reports, and analysis of local, State and Federal funding sources. Her work with LDC has also included a variety of business development and communications activities.
Jessica graduated Magna Cum Laude from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a BA in Urban Studies and Public Policy. In addition, she holds a Certificate in Real Estate Finance, Investments and Development as well as a Certificate in Real Estate Entitlement, Development and Design from the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. She is also a member of the Urban Land Institute San Diego/Tijuana Chapter Young Leader’s Group.
Community Worksite Organizer, SEIU Local 221
Mark Leo was born in Baguio City, Philippines in 1984. He immigrated to the United States at the age of one, after his father had joined the Navy. After a brief stint in Oregon, his father was stationed in San Diego, California, which Mark would call home. As a “native” San Diegan, Mark grew up in the Paradise Hills and attended Morse High School. After graduating high school, Mark attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and got his undergraduate degrees in both History and Asian American Studies, making sure his concentration would be on social and economic justice issues.
Mark would return to San Diego and work for two years with the San Diego County Office of Education, working in the Juvenile Court and Community Schools. He would then return to academia and attend San Francisco State University getting his MA in Asian American Studies, a program that pushed students toward community work. After graduation Mark returned back to San Diego and worked for the Center on Policy Initiatives, and more recently as political/community organizer for SEIU Local 221.
Policy Advocate, Environmental Health Coalition
Carolina Martínez is a Policy Advocate at Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), a social and environmental justice non-profit based in the San Diego/Tijuana border region. Martínez’ work with EHC’s Toxic Free Neighborhoods Campaign focuses on National City. She is responsible for supporting residents in this low-income majority Latino community advocate for land use policies that respect their priorities, improve health, and are consistent with environmental justice principles.
Currently, she is working on the implementation of a comprehensive community plan that includes phasing polluting industries out of a residential neighborhood and creating an affordable housing project. Carolina has an M.A. in Urban Planning and an M.A. in Latin American Studies. Her work experience includes environmental justice policy advocacy in Oxnard, California, collaborating with community groups in Orange County on cultural and social justice campaigns, and researching international labor rights.
Carolina enjoys working at the intersection of race, culture, gender, civic engagement, environmental issues, health, and city planning in the struggle for environmental justice. She spends her free time playing Son Jarocho and learning to play Bomba.
Web Content Specialist, Port of San Diego
Barbara Moreno is the Web Content Specialist for the Port of San Diego, the fourth largest port in the state of California. In her current role, she is a key member of the Port’s web and social media team. She also is a co-producer for the agency’s in-house video production unit. In her four years at the Port, her videos have earned several awards including a 2010 Webby Award Honor for online video (News & Politics Category), three national Telly Awards and first-, second- and third-place awards from the San Diego Press Club.
Prior to this, Barbara worked as a television news producer in cities including Las Vegas, Sacramento, Phoenix and Los Angeles. Her newscasts were nominated for several Emmy awards and she earned a Radio Television and News Directors Association award for “Best Breaking Newscast.” She also worked as an online news editor at the San Diego NBC web site, NBCSanDiego.com.
Barbara is a member of the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Young Professionals Council (YPC), and was part of the inaugural class of the YPC Academy in 2012. She is an active volunteer with the Center and participated in the “Equality Voters Vote” effort this past election, registering first-time voters and participating in GOTV (get-out-the-vote) phone banks.
Barbara is passionate about volunteering. She is a board member of the San Diego chapter of Gay for Good, the only national all-LGBT volunteer group. Each month, the group volunteers with a different non-profit or community organization within San Diego County.
Barbara grew up in Burbank, California and earned her B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from California State University, Los Angeles.
Organizer, United Food and Commercial Workers – Local 135
Sandy Naranjo is currently an Organizer at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, a union that represents workers in retail, food, meat, drug stores, packinghouses, pharmacies and laboratories in both San Diego and Imperial Counties. Sandy is responsible for improving the lives of working women and men by developing the workers into effective leaders and organizing them into the union.
Prior to her job with UFCW, she previously worked as a field organizer for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO where she worked to enhance the labor movement by connecting organized labor with the broader community through campaigns and activities such as We Deserve Better, A Better San Diego breakfast series, May Day, Occupy Labor Solidarity and Anti-Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement forums. Her experience in union organizing developed through her internship as an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 99, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1167, and with the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OURWALMART).
Sandy earned three bachelor degrees in Political Science, Economics, and Political Economy with a minor certificate in Women’s Studies at California State University San Bernardino. Sandy was an active student heavily involved with Feminist causes by raising awareness on reproductive rights, equal pay, and domestic violence. She was also an active member on the Coyote Debate team where she competed in British Parliamentary debate tournaments in Bangkok, Thailand, Antalya, Turkey, Melbourne, Australia, Denver, Colorado, Ithaca, New York, and Portland, Oregon. She was also on the Model United Nations team where she and her team competed and won the Outstanding Delegation for two consecutive years.
One of Sandy’s defining activist moments was organizing a mock-same-sex wedding at her high school. Along with her colleagues from the Gay Straight Alliance, they wanted to highlight the need to legalize same-sex marriage. Despite much criticism, and protest from the local elected officials, churches, and the community, Sandy and her allies were able to garner support from LGBT national organizations and they successfully changed history in their town.
Sandy’s passion for social justice was ingrained in her since birth. She was raised by parents who immigrated to the United States and like many other immigrants faced harsh racism and classism. Her father Joseph A. Naranjo was an Ironworker who taught Sandy into believing that the wedge between poverty and a good life for working people are unions. She owes her union activism and passion to her father.
Program Associate, The San Diego Foundation
Sadie Brinton is the Program Associate for Regional Outreach at The San Diego Foundation, where she supports the work of seven affiliate foundations. The San Diego Foundation’s affiliate foundation help identify and meet the emerging needs of the diverse communities throughout San Diego County through collective philanthropy and member engagement. Sadie provides grantmaking and marketing coordination, membership management, and operational support to the seven affiliates and more than 200 active volunteers.
Sadie is Co-Chair of the Events Leadership Team of Women Give San Diego, a women’s collective giving organization, a board member of the Duke Club of San Diego, and an active member of the San Diego chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy.
Prior to moving to San Diego in 2011, Sadie was an intern with the White House Office of Public Engagement, where she worked on disability policy and women’s issues. She also volunteered as a legal assistant at CASA de Maryland, a Latino and immigrant advocacy organization, and consulted for the Entertainment Industries Council, a nonprofit that raises awareness of major health and social issues through the entertainment industry and media.
Sadie grew up outside of Washington, D.C. in a Virginia suburb. Active in political campaigns since high school, Sadie most recently volunteered with the 2010 campaign of Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly and the 2012 campaign of San Diego Congressman Scott Peters. Sadie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina
Pharmacy Intern Coordinator, CVS Caremark
Paul Richardson currently serves as the Pharmacy Intern Coordinator at CVS Caremark for the Southern California and Southern Nevada regions. He works as a liaison between CVS Caremark and multiple pharmacy schools throughout the Southwest, where he oversees the interviewing and hiring of pharmacist interns and graduate interns that support over 300 CVS community pharmacies.
Paul started with CVS in 2000 in the pharmacy department as a Lead Technician, was a pharmacy trainer for five years, aided on the transition team for both the Sav-on and Longs Drugs acquisitions, and served as a problem solver for struggling stores until he began in his current role in 2010.
Paul is an active member of the Young Professional Council – A Program of the San Diego LGBT Community Center and served as CoChair for their 2012 Champagne Brunch fundraiser. He has been an integral part in launch of CVS Caremark’s first LGBT Colleague Resource Group, known as C-FI, Colleagues for Inclusion. He sits on the Community Advisory Board for both PIMA Medical Institute and Newbridge College Pharmacy Technician Programs.
Paul was born in Arizona and relocated to San Diego post high school, where he has made his home. In his spare time he enjoys volunteering, traveling, movies, and good food. He is currently finishing prerequisites to attend pharmacy school.
Director of Practice Development, The Moore Firm
Jacqueline Palmer is the director of practice development for The Moore Firm, a Sorrento Valley business law firm. She works closely with clients starting new businesses and ensures their compliance with state and local regulations.
Jacqueline moved to San Diego in 2007 after graduating from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. She got involved in the San Diego’s LGBT community and quickly realized a new passion for politics and community organizing. She worked on the No on Prop. 8 campaign as the phone bank manager for the San Diego/Inland Empire region. She then went on to work as the San Diego field manager for Equality California, where she led a voter persuasion canvass effort to raise public support for same-sex marriage.
She is also very passionate about women’s rights and reproductive choice. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, and is a member of the San Diego County NOW and NOW PAC boards.
She has worked on a number of other campaigns, including: No on 1, Maine’s 2009 same-sex marriage ballot question; Mary Salas for State Senate 2010; Alliance for a Better California/Jerry Brown for Governor 2010; and, most recently, on Congressman Scott Peters’ successful campaign to represent the 52nd district.
She wishes to further develop her political career in San Diego and serve in a position of greater leadership to strongly advocate for the causes she cares about.
Policy Advocate, Environmental Health Coalition
Kayla Race has been working to protect the environment and public health for four years, most recently with Environmental Health Coalition (EHC). As a Policy Advocate with EHC’s Green Energy/Green Jobs Campaign, Kayla works to advance a green economy that will benefit all communities in San Diego region, with a focus on low-income communities of color.
Prior to joining EHC in 2011, Kayla worked for a local environmental remediation government contractor. She also spent nearly two years working for the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Policy Research Analyst for the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, where she worked to advance legislation on energy efficiency, clean energy, climate change, water, electronic waste, and transportation.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Kayla earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College in Vermont.
When she’s not actively promoting policies and other solutions to protect our environment and health, Kayla enjoys running and bicycling in San Diego’s beautiful outdoors, and dabbling in various artistic endeavors. She is a member of Progressive Speakers, a local Toastmasters club of members sharing progressive values.
Kayla was featured in Patch.com’s 30 Under 30 Leaders in San Diego County for 2012.
Program Analyst, San Diego Housing Commission
Pari Ryan is a Program Analyst at the San Diego Housing Commission. Born in Iran at the height of the revolution, Pari’s family immigrated to the United States when she was three, and settled in San Diego.
Pari graduated from San Diego State University with a BA in Public Administration, and while completing her degree, received her first taste of local politics in 2003 as an intern in the office of Councilmember Donna Frye. In January 2005 Pari joined the Councilmember’s team full-time where she served as a community liaison, and an analyst for land use and housing issues. During this time, she was also heavily involved in the Councilmember’s mayoral and reelection campaigns, where she learned the art of organizing, from precinct walks and phone banking, to volunteer coordination and getting out the vote.
Coming from a family of small business owners, Pari recognized the potential impact of combining private and public sector best practices to effect positive change. So to balance out her professional experience, in late 2008 she took a position in a small firm in San Diego. There, she helped launch an award-winning green roof and living wall contracting company, the first of its kind in the region. Pari also dove head first into the world of construction, serving as estimator and project manager for the company. She developed a passion for sustainable contracting, which combined with her management responsibilities, gave her insight into the benefits and challenges that face small businesses on a daily basis.
In 2011, Pari recognized an opportunity to apply her professional experience to affordable housing, and joined the San Diego Housing Commission. Here, she combines her skills in community development and private contracting, with those developed in the fields of public relations and long-range planning. Pari looks forward to growing within the organization and, having spent her formative years living in affordable housing, is passionate about helping increase quality, affordable housing in the City.
She and her husband live in North Park, where they enjoy exploring the neighboring communities on their bikes, while planning their next big backpacking trip.
Founding Attorney, Law Office of Kimberly R. Simms
Kimberly earned her law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California and started her own law practice focusing on the unique legal needs of the medical marijuana community. In this position she has fought relentlessly for patients’ rights, met with government officials to craft reasonable and effective regulations that allow for safe access, and litigated against cities when they refused to comply with state law. Kimberly is at the forefront of this emerging area of law. She has taught courses on Medical Marijuana Law and has been interviewed by NPR, CNN and various media outlets as a leading expert in this field.
Furthermore, as a passionate advocate for LGBT rights, Kimberly is committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBT community through legal work, education and public policy work. She is currently expanding her practice to include legal services in adoption and surrogacy matters. Kimberly is a member of the Young Professionals Council, a philanthropic organization supporting the San Diego LGBT Center.
As an active volunteer in the progressive community, Kimberly serves as a volunteer attorney for the California Innocence Project; a program devoted to releasing wrongfully convicted inmates. She serves as the Director of Communications for the San Diego County Young Democrats and is excited to serve her second term on the Executive Board of the Sa Diego County Democratic Central Committee as the Director of Fundraising. Kimberly looks forward to the work she and her NLC Institute Fellows will do throughout the community.
AVP of Classes & Coaching, Community HousingWorks/em>
Having fled the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan in 1981, Ali Tarzi’s family fled to Frankfurt, Germany and finally settled in San Diego, California two years later. Arriving in the United States at the age of five, Ali spent his early all his early years in San Diego attending Helix High School in La Mesa and San Diego State University as a Public Administration Major. 2003 marked a pivotal moment in his life when a career opportunity presented itself within the residential real estate industry.
Ali spent the next five years gaining skills and experience in a Real Estate career, working primarily with first time homeowners. This career spanned across two brokerage firms and a private mortgage bank, lasting until the housing crash in 2008. As part of the recovery plan, Congressional appropriations began to make dollars and resources available to select non-profit organizations in early 2008; Ali was hired by one such organization, Community HousingWorks, to use his industry expertise to assist struggling homeowners. Over the next two years he directly counseled over 500 financially distressed San Diego families, serving as a fierce and calculated advocate.
Gaining knowledge in the intricacies of bank loss mitigation procedures, secondary market implications, and housing related bureaucratic complexities, Ali soon oversaw a team of 6 full time counselors, leading his team to local, statewide and even national recognition as a best practice model. Recognitions include appointment to Mayor Jerry Sanders Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, being awarded the San Diego County Bars Distinguished Servicer Award, being highlighted as a Freddie Mac National Spotlight Organization and receiving the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) Affiliate of the year Award. Ali himself was recognized in Sacramento, receiving the Soaring Condor Award from the California Reinvestment Coalition for Leadership and in Washington D.C., receiving a national Counselor of the Year Award for Outreach Efforts and Professional Development from the NeighborWorks America network, a network of over 250 housing focused non-profits. Today, Ali resides in the Hillcrest Neighborhood of San Diego, with his wife Rebekka.
Ali is currently the AVP of Classes and Coaching for Community HousingWorks assisting his department towards a comprehensive service model focused on financial recovery and resiliency for families. He advises on state level housing policy issues to NCLR through the California Housing Committee, sits on the NeighborWorks National Advisory Committee, and is the primary media contact for CHW’s home-ownership lines of business.
Veterans Advocate, Interfaith Community Services
Gena Truitt is a Veterans Advocate working with the Veterans Homeless Prevention Demonstration (VHPD) at Interfaith Community Services. As a Veterans Advocate, Gena provides case management services for veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless. Gena processes applications for VHPD while providing case management services for veterans assisting them find suitable housing, increase employment opportunities/income and budgeting.
In 2012, Gena graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) with her Masters of Social Work (MSW). While she was as a MSW student she developed two internships as the first MSW intern at both Wolff Canyon Elementary and at U.S. Senator Boxer’s office. While at Wolff Canyon Gena created a “Pride Club” for military children, where these children could strengthen social bonds with other military students and develop an internal support network. The “Pride Club” is now being implemented in multiple military impacted schools.
Gena received recognition for creating this program and had an opportunity to meet Dr. Jill Biden along with other MSW students who had created programs for military children. Gena also helped develop a student leadership role and provided representation for 160 MSW students attending USC, San Diego Academic Center.
Before Gena started her MSW program she served as a military spouse and is a veteran of the Armed Forces. Over the span of about ten years Gena served in the U.S. Navy as an Information System Technician and became a military spouse with two children. Gena had the opportunity to live in England for five years where she was able to immerse herself in a different culture and these years were very impactful. The experiences of living overseas gave Gena an understanding of different education systems and healthcare opportunities.
But, as a military spouse with children stationed in a foreign country, Gena noticed a lack of support for spouses. With the Ombudsman, Gena created and led a Family Readiness Group (FRG) and served as the President. As the FRG President Gena worked to increase attendance to social events and had a tremendous impact on the moral of the spouses who had felt isolated and alone. Through the FRG the spouses had created a support network with other military spouses. It was after serving as an FRG President Gena decided to continue her education and work towards her Masters of Social Work degree when her family was transferred to San Diego in 2009.
Jessica L. Nare
Supervisor, Youth Leadership Programs, Jewish Family Service of San Diego
Jessica L. Nare works at Jewish Family Service of San Diego where she supervises the Youth Leadership Department. While at JFS, Jessica designed and launched several new successful programs that emphasize leadership, empowerment and service learning. Girls Give Back, Ladies of Construction Technology Academy and Dare to Dream: the Teen Social Justice Coalition work to increase civic engagement and self- efficacy skills in San Diego’s next generation of leaders. Jessica continues to be inspired by the commitment, creativity and compassion of youth who give back to the community in a positive way.
Prior to working at JFS, Jessica directed programming at the Midge Costanza Leadership Institute for Public Policy and Politics where she supervised academic research, while managing volunteers and staff.
Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in Women’s Studies from San Diego State University. She has travelled widely to study women’s issues with scholars and community organizers throughout Europe and Asia. She brings these experiences to her work as an adjunct faculty member in Women’s Studies at SDSU and in the Departments of Sociology and Global Studies at National University. Jessica is passionate about exploring diversity, identity and social justice in the classroom and through youth programs. She is a native Californian, an avid reader, and is deeply fond of science fiction horror films.
Manager, Community Research, The San Diego Foundation
Wyn Furman conducts research on behalf of fund advisors at The San Diego Foundation (TSDF), a community foundation dedicated to preserving and enhancing quality of life throughout the San Diego region. Wyn’s work serves to deepen understanding of the regional nonprofit community, increase donor engagement, and inform charitable giving with the aim of encouraging data-driven and impact-oriented philanthropy. She originally joined TSDF to oversee all administrative aspects for Our Greater San Diego Vision, a community-planning project that engaged 30,000 people across the region.
Wyn has been active with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy since joining TSDF, and now serves as the membership chair for the San Diego chapter. She is also a member of Women Give San Diego, an intergenerational collective giving organization that advocates for the economic self-sufficiency and security of lower income women and girls in San Diego County. She enjoys volunteering for a local animal rescue organization and for her alma mater as an alumni interviewer of prospective students.
Prior to her time at TSDF, Wyn worked for a consumer protection law firm, a senior-focused consulting firm, and a women’s reproductive health organization. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in European History and French Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.