Meet the board members of the San Diego Leadership Alliance.
Co-Presidents: Wyn Furman & Caridad Sanchez
Secretary: Maya Rosas
Treasurer: Malieka Johnson
Alumni & Programming: Ashley Rodriguez & Davin Widgerow
Communications: Marco Briones & Ajay Estrada
Finance & Compliance: Matt Strabone & Mark Tran
Institute: Cassie Purdy
Membership & Development: Jeremy Addis-Mills & Krista Stellmacher
Mentorship: Gary Rotto
Selections & Outreach: Sean Elo & Alberto Velasquez
Owner, Strabone Law
Matthew J. Strabone is the owner of Strabone Law, a practice specializing in the representation of nonprofits, campaigns, and small businesses. He has counseled numerous campaigns for office at the local, state, and federal levels as well as a number of ballot measure committees. He has also provided guidance to President Obama, national party committees, and state and county Democratic parties.
Matthew has advised progressive nonprofits including NARAL Pro-Choice America and a number of nonpartisan public charities and foundations. He also has served as counsel to a host of small and family-owned businesses in a wide variety of industries.
Additionally, Matthew has published policy articles and op-eds on a range of topics in U.S. News & World Report, The Hill, The Diplomat, the Georgetown Public Policy Review, the Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, and Circulate San Diego's blog. His media appearances have included stints on NBC San Diego's Politically Speaking program, KPBS San Diego Public Radio's Midday Edition program, and Voice of San Diego's VOSD podcast.
Matthew holds a B.A., cum laude, from the University of Rochester and a J.D. from the University of Southern California Law School, where he was development editor of the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice. He is a partner of the Truman National Security Project, a board member of the North Park Community Association, and an appointed member of the City of San Diego Parking Advisory Board.
Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Mayor Mary Salas, City of Chula Vista
In December of 2014, Alberto Velasquez became the Senior Policy Advisor for Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, the first Latina elected Mayor in the history of San Diego County. In that capacity he is the Mayor's primary advisor on issues ranging from Economic Development, Infrastructure, Transportation, the Environment to Binational Affairs. He is also the primary contact in regards to these issues for the Mayor's office.
A near life-long resident of the South Bay of San Diego, Albert has been active in his neighborhood as chair of the Otay Mesa/Nestor Planning Group and as the District Eight representative for the Qualcomm Stadium Advisory Board. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and was named the most outstanding student of political theory of his graduating class.
Prior to joining the Mayor's staff, Albert was a District Field Representative for Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez serving the communities of San Diego, Chula Vista and National City. He was lead policy person in the district on Health Care, Education, the State Budget, Transportation, the Environment and Border Issues.
In his spare time Albert enjoys traveling, reading, and a fan of Manchester United and the San Francisco Giants.
Development Coordinator, The Center on Policy Initiatives
Ashley Rodriguez supports resource development at the Center on Policy Initiatives, a local progressive policy think tank, where she manages grants, individual giving, and special events. She also is the Board Chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of San Diego, and is a board member of the Sherman Heights Community Center, Victory Fund Campaign Board as well as the San Diego Leadership Alliance. Additionally, she is a legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
Ashley holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of San Diego and completed her bachelor’s at San Diego State University in International Security and Conflict Resolution. Previously she worked at KPBS, where she managed grants and coordinated community engagement initiatives.
She is passionate about social justice and the nonprofit sector, and in her spare time enjoys walks downtown with her two dogs.
San Ysidro Health Center and Independent Contractor
Malieka Johnson is a humanitarian, artist and healer. As a general and adult special needs dentist, she firmly believes in a patient-centered approach to oral health care. This involves actively listening to the needs and desires her patients and working collectively with them and staff to achieve the best outcomes.
Malieka graduated, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in 2003. She later earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2011. Dr. Johnson completed a general practice residency at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California where she received specialized training in treating people with special needs, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Dr. Johnson also serves as volunteer adjunct faculty for Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, and as a volunteer clinical faculty instructor for the UCSD Student-Run Free Dental Clinic. She is a board member for the San Diego Dental Health Foundation as well as a member of the Editorial Board for the San Diego County Dental Society. Dr. Johnson is an alumna of the American Dental Association Institute for Diversity in Leadership.
Malieka has been on multiple dental mission trips abroad, volunteers in her local community with various events, and helps lead a ministry building homes in Mexico. Malieka enjoys learning, music, Spanish, as well as a variety of hobbies and interests that focus on staying mentally, physically and spiritually active.
Organizer, San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Cassandra Purdy works as an organizer for San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO where she is dedicated to improving the lives of all working families and creating strong community partnerships for a more just society.
She received her BA in Social Work from Point Loma Nazarene University, where she learned to think critically about the social and economic justice issues facing our community today. As a student, she spent a summer with the Center on Policy Initiatives as a Students for Economic Justice intern. She also worked for most of her college years at her university's Sustainability Department, working to create a more environmentally sustainable campus and environmentally conscious student body.
After graduating, Cassie spent a year developing her community organizing skills with the Gamaliel National Foundation and Pilgrim UCC in North County San Diego. She went on to put those skills to practice during San Diego's special mayoral campaign and the June Primary Midterm elections, working field campaigns for progressive, pro-labor candidates before joining the Labor Council as the Executive Assistant.
Cassie loves being an Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education Facilitator for her faith community. She enjoys sewing, baking, reading liberation theology, and occasionally pretending to be a rock star.
Director, Campaigns and Policy for Mid-City Community Advocacy Network in City Heights
A first-generation college student, Sean Elo earned his bachelor's degree from Chapman University where he studied psychology, sociology, and history. While in school, Sean was an award winning high school swimming and water polo coach. After graduating, Sean served as an English and Special Needs teacher in Peru and worked as environmental preservationist in Ecuador. He then taught English in a rural South Korean community.
Sean subsequently came to San Diego to attend California Western School of Law where he was selected to receive a Creative Problem Solving Scholarship. At Cal Western, he served in multiple leadership roles serving as president of La Raza Student Association and Amnesty International and as a Student Representative. Inspired by his diverse background and belief in the importance of historically disadvantaged communities working together, Sean also worked to strengthen the Student Diversity Coalition. Sean received a Pro Bono and Public Service Honors Society Award for his work with the City Heights Community Law Project.
In 2014, Sean served as a Regional Field Director in the successful effort to reelect Democratic Congressman Scott Peters. Applying his prior experience working with students and passion for encouraging youth participation in politics, Sean led the campaign's student outreach efforts. He now serves as Director, Campaigns and Policy for Mid-City Community Advocacy Network in City Heights.
Davin Widgerow, Esq.
Davin Widgerow is an environmental lawyer whose work is focused on toxic contamination remediation. He earned his BA (Political Science) from Berkeley, and his JD from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Davin was admitted to the California Bar in 2011. He began his law career interning for a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and advocating for disabled individuals.
Davin serves on the Steering Committee for Sierra Club San Diego, which is tasked with coordinating Club projects, activities, finances, and administration. He also serves as Chair of the Political Committee, which engages political candidates and environmental activists to further Sierra Club's conservation efforts. Davin is also overseeing the local chapter's internship programs and social media initiatives.
Davin was nominated by San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez in February 2015 to serve on the City's Community Forest Advisory Board, and was appointed to the Board by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in June 2015. The Community Forest Advisory Board is charged with overseeing the city's urban forest, and thereby creating an attractive and ecologically healthy urban environment.
Davin was born and raised in South Africa, where he grew up hiking in the mountains with his grandfather. He remains an active hiker who has hiked in over 18 national parks and monuments across the US, and he has also explored many of San Diego County's hiking trails. Davin has been inspired by John Muir, Edward Abbey, Theodore Roosevelt, and David Brower, and is passionate about devoting his skills and energies to protecting the Earth.
Rebekah J. Hook-Held, M.A.
Director of Public Affairs, The San Diego LGBT Community Center
Rebekah Hook-Held is the Director of Public Affairs at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, which is the 2nd oldest and 3rd largest LGBT center in the United States. Through her role, Rebekah coordinates numerous civic engagement, leadership development, and public policy advocacy efforts in the community.
Prior to joining The Center, Rebekah obtained invaluable experience as a Public Policy Associate at Collaborative Services, a public outreach firm in San Diego, where she worked with, and for, public agencies and local and regional political figures on projects ranging from transportation, to urban planning, to natural resource management.
Earlier in her career, Rebekah held leadership positions at Western Washington University's Queer Resource Center and the Office of Sustainability, supporting and furthering the diversity and sustainability goals of the university. In addition, Rebekah had the unique opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge in crafting public policy as an intern for United States Congressman Rick Larsen.
In 2015, Rebekah was honored as a "Woman of the Year" by the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Toni G. Atkins and was additionally named one of San Diego's "Who's Next: 21 Future Leaders" by Our City San Diego for her work in the LGBT community.
Rebekah holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with an emphasis in American politics and elections, and a Master's Degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies with a focus on public policy, stakeholder engagement and environmental land use, from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.
Committed to making a difference in her community, Rebekah is a member of the San Diego Leadership Alliance Board of Directors, a 2013 Alumni of New Leaders Council Institute, a member of The Center's Young Professionals Council, and remains steadfast in her commitment to be civically engaged through her volunteerism.
Field Rep, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
Raised in San Diego's South Bay since age 2, Marco Briones was born to a single mother, from whom he learned the values that guide him today. Marco is still continuing his education at San Diego City College with plans to transfer to SDSU and focus on Political Science or History.
At City College, Marco was one of the first members of a school organization called Bringing Education and Activism Together (BEAT) that introduced him to social and economic justice issues and how to get involved in standing up for them. This experience motivated Marco to look for ways he could help better his community and the lives of working families in a positive way, which led him to the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. After the November 2012 elections and subsequent special elections, he pursued a position in the District Office of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, representing the 80th Assembly District.
Marco is a proud alumnus of the 2014 San Diego Leadership Alliance Institute.
Online Fundraising Manager, San Diego Humane Society
Wyn Furman is the Online Fundraising Manager for San Diego Humane Society. She was previously Manager for the Community Scholarships Program at The San Diego Foundation (TSDF), a community foundation dedicated to preserving and enhancing quality of life throughout the San Diego region. Prior to joining the Community Scholarships Program, Wyn served as the organization's Manager of Community Research, conducting research on behalf of fund advisors at TSDF. Her work served 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. Wyn 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 was active with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy throughout her time at TSDF, and served on the steering committee of the San Diego chapter for two years. She is 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 is also a 2014 graduate of the Young Professionals Council Academy of The San Diego LGBT Center.
Wyn enjoys volunteering for Animal Rescuers Without Borders (ARWOB) from which she adopted her beloved dogs, and for her alma mater as an alumni interviewer of prospective students.
An alumna of the 2013 SDLA Institute, Wyn has served on the board of the San Diego Leadership Alliance ever since, first as communications chair and co-chair, and as co-president beginning in 2016. A native of Philadelphia, she received her Bachelor's Degree in European History and French Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
Communications Director, San Diego City Council District 8
Jeremy Addis-Mills currently works for the San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez's Staff. Jeremy's primary role is to develop and manage Councilmember Alvarez's communications and consitutent outreach efforts.
Prior to joining San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez's Staff, Jeremy has worked as a Legislative Campaign and Communications Consultant for not-for-profit organizations, businesses, and electoral campaigns like the Australian Labor Party, ResMed, David Alvarez for Mayor, San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, San Diego County Democratic Party and San Diego CoastKeeper.
Jeremy is a graduate of California State University San Marcos with a Bachelor of Arts in Women's Studies and in Social Sciences.
Gary S. Rotto
Senior Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at Borrego Health
Gary Rotto serves as the Senior Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at Borrego Health. He is the former Director of Health Policy and Strategic Communications for the Council of Community Clinics. In that role, Gary oversaw the legislative, political and strategic communications functions of the organization and its three subsidiaries.
Through the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), Gary serves as a past chair of the Consortia Policy Group, the statewide network of community clinic policy directors. He is also on the CPCA Legislative Committee, Rural Committee and the Government Operations Committee.
Gary has been a fixture in local and state politics for almost 20 years. He has served as a Deputy Director in the Office of the Governor, representing the office in San Diego and advocating for San Diego interests within the Administration. He has also served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for County Supervisor Ron Roberts. In this capacity, he provided policy guidance as the Policy Director and as Deputy Communications Director.
As the representative of the Council of Community Clinics, Gary serves on the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee and the Health Committee. With the Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP), Gary sits on the Public Policy Committee. He is also on the Health Committee of the San Diego Taxpayers Association.
Gary has a background in non-profit management and was selected for the Federation Executive Recruitment and Retention Program, a national program of the Council of Jewish Federations. In San Diego, Gary directed the work of the American Jewish Committee, one of the foremost human relations organizations in the world, acting as its Regional Executive Director. In that capacity, Gary led policy discussions with the Embassy of Armenia, Embassy of Indonesia and Embassy of Mexico.
His extensive community endeavors include serving as a Past President of Congregation Dor Hadash, the only Reconstructionist (Jewish) congregation in San Diego County and as a board member of the Latino- Jewish Coalition.
He is known in the University City and Clairemont communities as "Coach Gary" for coaching for over ten seasons with Mesa Soccer and with a University City girls basketball program at Standley Recreation Center.
An avid runner, Gary participates in the Ragnar Series of long distance relays and has completed the Triple Crown, running the Carlsbad Half Marathon, La Jolla Half Marathon and America's Finest City Half Marathon in one calendar year. The paths around Mission Bay formed his training course on his longer training runs. As a compliment to his running, Gary is a novice boxer, working with trainers at the Art of 8 including former Muay Thai world champion, Melchor Manor.
He was named a "Top Influencer" by the San Diego Daily Transcript and is a finalist for the Healthcare Champion Award from the San Diego Business Journal. Gary was also named as a 2015 recipient of the Grassroots Advocacy Elizabeth K. Cooke MVP Award from the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Gary currently writes a political and lifestyle column for the San Diego Jewish World.
Chief of Public Information and Legislative Affairs, California Department of Transportation District 11
Caridad Sanchez is the Chief of Public Information and Legislative Affairs for the 11th District of the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). Caridad was formerly the San Diego and Imperial Counties regional Director for United States Senator Barbara Boxer.
Caridad's interest in public affairs developed from her experiences growing up in San Diego's toughest inner-city neighborhoods. She remembers her mother, a housekeeper, working hard to provide improve their quality of life. Caridad and her mother, Cristina, actively participated in political campaigns and organized voter registration drives. Through these life experiences, Caridad developed an understanding of and deep commitment to improving her community and country.
Born in San Diego, Caridad grew up in the neighborhoods Logan and Sherman Heights. She graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in History and Political Science. Sanchez previously worked as a senior community representative in the office of United States Congresswoman Susan Davis in San Diego. She previously chaired the San Diego Cesar E. Chavez Commemoration Committee, is active in the San Diego Jewish Latino Coalition, the Chicano Democratic Association as well as the San Diego Leadership Alliance, for which she has served as co-president since 2017.
Long time residents of San Diego, Caridad and her husband Nicolaz Portillo remain active in local politics and civic organizations. They live in Southcrest, where they are raising their sons Nicolaz, Jr. and Cruz.