Staff

Our Staff

16

Alison Edwards

(she/her), CEO
10

Angel Zavala

Human Relations Specialist
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April Van Ligten

(she/her), Director of Youth & Education Programs
7

Brenda Chavez

(she/her), Restorative Justice Specialist
1

David Reyna

(he/him), Grant Writer
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Doan Dang

(he/him), Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist
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Don Han

(he/him), Director of Community Partnerships
8

Kenia Castro

(she/her/ella),Senior Restorative Justice Specialist
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Gagandeep Kaur Mann-Saechao

(she/her), Assistant Director of Youth & Education Programs
2

Ginrich Moua

Administrative Liaison
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Gloria Choi

Human Relations Specialist
13

Gyu Jin Kim

(she/her/hers), Restorative Justice Specialist
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Haley Brown

(she/her) Human Resources Coordinator
Helia Daigeau

Helia Daigeau

(she/her) Senior Human Relations Specialist – Hate Prevention
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Ignacio Gutierrez

Senior Restorative Specialist
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Joyce Sanchez

(she/her), Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist
4

Jesus Palapa

Senior Human Relations Specialist
6

Khushbindar Kaur Sood

(she/her), Director of Development
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Kristian Vallee

Director of Finance
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Leonel Talavera

Senior Human Relations Specialist
15

Madeline Wall

Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist
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MariaIsabelle (Isabelle) Garcia

(she/her/ella), Human Relations Specialist
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Marco Antonio Ortega

(he/él) Director, Dispute Resolution Program
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Nicole Hernandez

(she/her), Development & Communications Associate
3

Norma Lopez

(she/ella) Commission Executive Director
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Peko Gomis

Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist
11

Sami Frame

Senior Restorative Justice Specialist
5

Sara Sheikh-Arvizu

(she/her), Senior Human Relations Training Specialist
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Seema Shah

(she/her), Director of Training
14

Valerie D. Acosta

(she/her), Senior Human Relations Training Specialist
16

Alison Edwards

CEO

Alison has been involved with the organization since 1998. She served as program director for the BRIDGES program and then Deputy Director of the organization before becoming CEO in late 2017. Alison has a passion for leadership and has served as a leadership trainer and speaker. Alison earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Ethnic Studies and American Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder and earned her Masters of Arts in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University. The fundamental framework of Groundswell's Community Building, Mediation, and BRIDGES programs are empowerment strategies rooted in grass roots organizing, diverse leadership development, and creative conflict resolution.

10

Angel Zavala

(she/her/they), Human Relations Specialist

Human Relations Specialist, first became involved with Groundswell by participating in the BRIDGES program at Newport Harbor as a high school student. Having grown up in the Orange County area, she is committed to helping her community become an equitable environment where all feel welcomed and empowering our youth to make a positive change. She has a strong passion for social justice and has experience working with multiple nonprofit organizations such as Orange County Environmental Justice and the Chicana Project.

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April Van Ligten

(she/her)
Director of Youth & Education Programs,

April has over 15 years of experience in the field of education ranging from educational advocacy for foster youth and families, teaching special education in public schools, and supporting schools in their implementation of restorative justice practices. April organized with and was a member of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) as well as a member of NYCoRE’s affinity group, Educators of Color (EoC). She has worked with middle and high schools throughout Orange County to support students and staff in learning about, developing, and implementing restorative justice practices in the school setting through her work as a Restorative Justice Specialist with Groundswell. April’s varied experiences in education have strengthened her passion for social justice and working with youth to cultivate their power. April graduated from New York University with a B.S. in Childhood Education/Childhood Special Education with a minor in Art History. She has a M.A. in Education with emphasis on Social and Cultural Analysis from California State University, Long Beach.

7

Brenda Chavez

(she/her)
Restorative Justice Specialist

Brenda was born and raised in Orange County. While she was in middle school, she was initially introduced to the work of Groundswell through her school’s Bridges United organization. After having left Orange County for 6 years, she is happy to be back home and working with an organization that was so impactful during her upbringing. Though Brenda has been involved in community work for years now, she is most proud of the work she has conducted through equity minded programs such as the ASP Booklending Program through SPACES @ UCSD and Fun on Wheels through the City of Anaheim. Now, as a Restorative Justice Specialist, she is excited to start this new chapter of community work in her own hometown.

1

David Reyna

Grant Writer

David joined the Groundswell team in August, 2020. He is a native of Santa Ana and holds a Bachelors Degree in Public Administration and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Urban Management from Cal State University Fullerton. David has over 12 years of experience in the non-profit sector and has served in several roles which have involved completing government and foundation funding proposals to support innovative community programs. David is committed to being an agent of social change and furthering the mission of Groundswell by securing philanthropic dollars to support Groundswells' critical program and services across Orange County. In his free time, David enjoys traveling, visiting baseball stadiums, and attending concerts.

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Doan Dang

Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist

Doan began mediating civil and family cases with Groundswell as a volunteer in 2011. In 2012, he received the DRPA Sherpa award for his exceptional contributions as a volunteer mediator in the court mediation program. An Orange County native and life-long resident of Southern California, Doan graduated from Garden Grove High School, earned his B.A. in Economics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and his Juris Doctorate at the University of San Diego School of Law. He is also a member of the California State Bar, a DRPA certified mediator, and holds a CELTA certificate. After spending the previous five years working abroad in education, Doan returned to Groundswell in 2022 to join the Dispute Resolution Program with a focus on family mediation.

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Don Han

(he/him), Director of Community Partnerships

Don has been with Groundswell since 2001. He has served as a human relations specialist for the BRIDGES program, the Hate Crime Prevention Program Coordinator who responds to reported hate crimes and hate incidents in the county, authored the agency‘s Hate Crime Report and provided Hate Crime Prevention education training. Don served on the Board of the California Association of Human Relations Organization (CAHRO) and was a former chair of GLSEN’s Orange County Chapter and a former Human Relations Commissioner for the city of Santa Ana. He earned a Sociology Degree from Cal State Fullerton, is a Certified Mediator, and speaks Lao and Thai.

8

Kenia Castro

(she/her/ella)
Senior Restorative Justice Specialist

Kenia is a Latina Orange County native who got her Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Over the last few years, she has been pursuing her passion in supporting under-resourced communities. During her time at Berkeley, she presented workshops on “Healthy Relationships/Boundaries” to middle schools in low-income neighborhoods. Moving home after graduating, Kenia worked with survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, often utilizing her bilingual skills. Her compassion and ability to connect with others lead her to pursue Restorative Practice. Her passion is to implement this practice in diverse schools in hopes to contribute to the work of breaking down systems of oppression.

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Gagandeep Kaur Mann-Saechao

Assistant Director of Youth & Education Programs

Gagandeep has been in the non-profit sector for over 10 years. She has a passion for social justice work and mobilizing young leaders to become allies and advocates for change. Her work as a Program Director for New Vision Partners and eventually Executive Director for the Interfaith Youth Alliance, has included, but not limited to, The Interfaith Youth Council of Orange County: a year-round program that brings together teens of all backgrounds to facilitate bonds with youth who represent faith and cultural traditions unlike their own, the Annual Faith Forum and Festival, and Interfaith Youth Leadership Initiatives at USC, Chapman University, and CSU Long Beach. In her time with the Orange County Interfaith Network she has worked with students from Chapman University, Fullerton College, and OC Human Relations’ BRIDGES program, to create much needed Community Forum Series delving into issues pertaining with Orange County in their “The More You Know, The Less You Fear” campaign. In May of 2014, she was the Sikh Representative, in Shinnyo-en Foundation’s Floating Lantern Ceremony and Conference in Hawaii. In July of 2015, she participated in His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to Garden Grove, taking part in the ‘Celebration of Compassion’. Other Affiliations include the Sikh Coalition, The Ujjaldidar Singh Memorial Foundation, Khalsa Care Foundation, and The Interfaith Council of Garden Grove, Stanton, and Westminster. Gagandeep has a background in Psychology and Community and Regional Development from UC Davis.

2

Ginrich Moua

Administrative Liaison

Ginrich was born in Fresno, CA from Hmong-parents who refuged to the United States during the Vietnam War. Shortly after he was born, he moved to and grew up in Sacramento, CA then, as a college-freshman, moved to Long Beach, CA to complete his B.A. and M.A. in Political Science at California State University, Long Beach. During their experience as an undergraduate and graduate student they had opportunities to work with and learn about many diverse racial, socio-economic, gender, and sexuality groups. This inspired them to want to make a difference for all individuals and groups that are affected by social issues, injustices, and inequalities. As someone who identifies as part of the Queer and gender-fluid communities, advocating for all marginalized groups is an important, core value that motivates their work and everyday lifestyle. At Groundswell, they are able to dedicate everything they learned from their life-experiences and education to promote the well-being of; carefully listen to; and build effective and safe dialogues between the diverse communities of Orange County.

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Gloria Choi

Human Relations Specialist

Gloria has a BA in Cognitive Science from Scripps College, where she was a Questbridge Scholar. During college, she taught youth in the US and abroad in a variety of subjects, including math, English, Korean, and self-empowerment/leadership. Previously, she worked as a paralegal at a Bay Area civil rights law firm and interned at a national non-profit providing assistance to low-income incarcerated individuals. Originally from Orange County, she is excited to work with youth from her hometown to promote safer and more inclusive school campuses. .

13

Gyu Jin Kim

(she/her/hers)
Restorative Justice Specialist

Gyu Jin graduated from California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. While at CSUF, Gyu Jin found her passion for community-based work, serving as the President of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDA): Love Yourself, a mental health club that centered APIDA communities and their needs, and as CSUF’s Asian Pacific American Resource Center (APARC) Programming and Activities Lead. She is excited to work with youth and their communities to bring restorative practices to school campuses for the purpose of moving away from punitive practices and mindsets

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Haley Brown

Human Resources Coordinator

Haley studied criminal justice and attained a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento and a master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. She furthered her education with graduate certificates in Employment Law and Advanced Paralegal studies from California State University, Long Beach. With a professional certification in human resources, SHRM-CP, Haley paired her administrative background with her passion for social justice issues. After volunteering with Groundswell as a mediator in small claims court, she is very grateful for the opportunity to work with this organization and help make a difference in the community.

Helia Daigeau

Helia Daigeau

(she/her)
Senior Human Relations Specialist – Hate Prevention

Joined the Groundswell team in June of 2023 and has experience in grassroots community organizing, strategic systems change, and community building. She first became involved with Groundswell’s work in 2021 as a member of the Hate Prevention Network representing The Dayle McIntosh Center. As a Black, queer, and mentally/emotionally disabled woman, Helia has always been called to fight for the rights and full inclusion of all with the understanding that liberation is collective and that our struggles are intimately connected. Helia now lives in Long Beach, CA and is raising her child there with her partner and they all enjoy being members of their local and surrounding communities. Helia has a Bachelor’s in Organizational Leadership and a Master’s in Business Administration with a focus on Nonprofit Leadership.

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Ignacio (Iggy) Gutierrez

(he/him), Senior Restorative Justice Specialist

Ignacio is an Orange County native, born and raised. He graduated from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) with a B.A. degree in Communication Studies. In his undergrad, he earned his certificate in Mediation and Dispute Resolution through CSULB’s Communication Studies Department. After completing and earning his certificate, he volunteered with Groundswell during his last undergrad semester where he mediated small claims court cases at the West Justice Center and the North Justice Center. His experience with mediation inspired him to further pursue an education in Dispute Resolution where he is currently obtaining his M.A. in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peace-building at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). In his M.A., he became aware of the field that is Restorative Justice and immediately felt it was his calling and purpose in life to work within the field. Already holding strong beliefs in showing compassion and empathy to those who have caused harm, and believing that their mistakes don’t define them, he has made it his purpose to help those individuals in need of guidance with their journey towards transformation and growth. Through this work, he hopes to build healthy communities, repair harm, and restore relationships for all.

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Joyce Sanchez

Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist

Joyce has been working for OC Human Relations since June 2009. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from California State University, Fullerton in 2008. Currently, Joyce works as a mediator with our Alternative Dispute Resolution Program providing mediation services to the community and at court. Previously she was the hate crime prevention specialist responding to victims of hate crime and hate incidents. She has also worked in the Police Community Reconciliation Program doing Police Community Dialogues to build better working relationships between police officers and residents.

4

Jesus Palapa

Senior Human Relations Specialist

Jesus graduated from UC Irvine with a B.A in Sociology and Economics with a Minor in Criminology, Law, and Society. Originally from Los Angeles, he has since immersed himself in the OC life along with his Jack Russel, Scooby. Having grown up with a big family and community support, Jesus has continued to aid in empowering families and their growth. He has worked with non-profits across Southern Californian in education, research, and family advocacy roles. His passion is learning and uses his experiences to continue supporting marginalized communities.

6

Khushbindar Sood

Director of Development

Khushbindar joined OCHR in 2017 and has worked with non-profit organizations in Southern California for 17 years. She works closely with the CEO and is responsible for fund development and communications. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), has direct hands-on experiences in health and human service programs, facilitated and lead collaborations and worked within a grant-making foundation. Khushbindar’s passion is in working with diverse groups and building capacity and infrastructure within non-profits. She earned the Bachelor of Science in Human Services from California State University of Fullerton and attended San Diego State University for a Master’s in Public Health Degree.

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Kristian Vallee

Finance Specialist

Kristian first worked with OC Human Relations in the late 2000’s as the Camp Director for the BRIDGES program at the Bearpaw preserve. He has also worked as a Junior High school teacher in Orange County for 6 years. Kristian has a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Irvine and a degree in Accounting from Irvine Valley College. He is passionate about economic and social justice and in building positive community relations. Kristian welcomes the responsibilities of again playing a supporting administrative role in helping OCHR to grow and continue its positive effect on spreading awareness, teaching students to make their voices heard, and fostering a community in Orange County that is inclusive and safe for all its citizens.

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Leonel Talavera

Senior Human Relations Specialist

Leonel has over 10 years of diverse experience working with multiple resident-based community groups. His experience includes the organization and facilitation of meetings, team-building activities, health and education programs and outreach events throughout Orange County. He spends most of his time in Fullerton, California were he, his beautiful wife two children have called home since 2010 engaging residents, nourishing positive interaction, and empowers the community to make sustainable changes and become resident leaders that can advocate for themselves to improve quality of life. Leonel Currently serves on the board of directors for the Fullerton Collaborative, a cooperative of executive directors, educators, activists, community service leaders and volunteers dedicated to building and supporting a healthy cohesive community. As an alliance of non-profit organizations and individuals who enjoy making “good things” happen for the community, we are able to provide community assistance where we are needed most. Our unique partnership allows us to help each other accomplish goals. We encourage our members and the Fullerton Community to “Think Collaboratively.”

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Madeline Wall

Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist

Madeline earned a Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) from The University of Southern California and a B.A. in Communication Studies with a Minor in Theatre Arts from California State University, Long Beach. Madeline is a DRPA Trained Mediator having resolved cases in Los Angeles & Orange County Civil Courts, in addition to guiding new mediators to resolve conflicts under DRPA training requirements. Madeline feels honored and privileged to work with the civil court and family law volunteer mediators, assist the community mediations, train new mediators under DRPA requirements, and bring peace to Orange County through OC Human Relations. Madeline believes we are all capable of gaining the tools to become effective communicators. Her passion for connection, harmony, and peaceful dialogue shine while assisting OC Human Relations in resolving conflicts.

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MariaIsabelle (Isabelle) Garcia

Human Relations Specialist

MariaIsabelle has a BA in Psychology and minors in Latinx/ Latin American and LGBTQIA+ studies from Chapman University. During college, she volunteered with the Poor People’s Campaign, CLUE Justice, and the Chapman University Interfaith Council. After graduation, she participated in CLUE’s 2022 Young Religious Leaders fellowship, focusing on Faith-rooted organizing in Orange County. She previously worked at the Kennedy Commission, a nonprofit that focuses on Affordable Housing advocacy and policy for acute to low-income residents in Orange County, as a Community Organizer. She is excited to continue working towards positive change in Orange County!

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Marco Antonio Ortega

(he/él)
Director, Dispute Resolution Program

Marco began volunteering with OC Human Relations in 2014 and became a staff member in 2016. Marco is an accomplished peacebuilder with experience in both conflict prevention and intervention, providing community building, trainings, circles, mediations, and consultations for schools, businesses, courts, and community members. As a practitioner of restorative justice and facilitative mediation, he has helped people navigate a variety of harms in both Spanish and English ranging from small interpersonal conflicts to thefts, harassments, and assaults. Marco is incredibly passionate about serving his community, constantly seeking to help people see people as people and showing folx the power of collaboration, connection, and solidarity. Marco knows that better things are possible, and he enjoys working with others in the quest for meaningful progress.

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Nicole Hernandez

Development Assistant,

Nicole joined the OCHR team in November 2021. She graduated the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising with a degree in Merchandise Marketing, and transferred to BIOLA University to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing Management from their School of Business. After interning with St. John Knits, and the Event Society, she was able to gain the knowledge to work as an Event Planner, with a focus on weddings, while also helping her local church. She volunteers her time in San Juan Capistrano, reaching the Hispanic community at a Spanish-speaking church, through her service in directing the kids program, and marketing/event coordinating. Previously, she assisted her parents in an administrative role at their business in Santa Ana, where they help the Hispanic community with taxes, and some immigration work, such as compiling DACA cases and translating documents. As a Bolivian-American woman, she has grown passionate in her efforts to best serve the Latino community, and is excited for the work that OC Human Relations is doing for the youth, and the impact she can have.

3

Norma Lopez

(she/ella)
Commission Executive Director

In 2014, Norma joined Groundswell, ascending to Commission Director by 2016. Leading the Community Building Team, she embodies leadership and empowerment, dedicated to fostering inclusive communities and driving positive social change. With a Bachelor’s in International Studies from the University of La Verne, a Master’s in Public Administration from Baruch College, and her bilingual/bicultural Salvadoran roots, Norma's diverse life and career choices have woven a tapestry of experiences. She values the power of co-creating diverse spaces that provide equal opportunity and voice, honoring human life and dignity by recognizing and respecting people's life experiences. Norma's journey is a testament to the transformative potential within each of us, reflecting the belief that inclusivity and shared empowerment lead to a richer, more equitable world.

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Peko Gomis

Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist

Peko was born and raised in Senegal, West Africa. Peko graduated from University Caen, Normandy, France, with a BA in Languages with a concentration in English and Spanish. Peko attended the Basic Mediation training in April 1998 at OC Human Relations and volunteered hundreds of hours before joining the staff in December 2001. While working with OC Human Relations, Peko has mediated over one thousand cases in court and community settings in a period of ten years. For more than five years, he has been a co-trainer of OC Human Relations’ Basic Mediation Program, which is a 40-hour training that teaches new mediators how to mediate conflicts in the community and in court. Peko is fluent in Spanish, French, Mandjacque, Wolof, Diola, Mandingue, and Creole.

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Sami Frame

Senior Restorative Justice Specialist

Sami graduated from Chapman University with a BA with a double major in Integrated Educational Studies and Peace Studies with concentrations in Disability Studies, Human Rights, and Social Movements. Originally from Oklahoma, she found her spirit for justice through loved ones’ experiences with disability and the school-to-prison pipeline. Sami was involved with OCHR during undergrad as an intern for the restorative justice team and later facilitated restorative justice circles with incarcerated youth in Riverside County with a team from Chapman Law. Her experiences in school and as a practitioner of restorative justice have intensified her passion for working with youth and educators to transform schools into communities of care, equitable spaces, and liberatory classrooms for students of all identities.

5

Sara Sheikh-Arvizu

(she/her)
Senior Human Relations Training Specialist

sara has been involved in social justice education, multicultural organization development, and equity work for more than 15 years. She is experienced in facilitation & training, finding opportunities & innovative solutions, reducing bias in recruitment & hiring processes, and community advocacy & building. Having graduated from UC Irvine with a B.A. in Psychology & Social Behavior with a minor in Women’s Studies, and from Colorado State University with a M.S. in Student Affairs in Higher Education, her work has spanned across three states, and in multiple education and community settings. sara and her wife have been a resource (foster) family to five children since 2018, and adopted their son Oliver in April 2021.

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Seema Shah

(she/her), Director of Training Team

On staff with Groundswell since 2001, Seema’s work focuses on curriculum and program development centered on partnering with organizations and communities to build inclusivity and equity. Using a facilitative approach, Seema aims to engage communities in dialogue on often difficult but necessary conversations to expand our collective understanding, motivation, and desire towards a community of belonging for all.

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Valerie D. Acosta

Senior Human Relations Training Specialist

For the past 20 years, Valerie has worked with various social justice and human relations nonprofit organizations throughout Northern and Southern California, as well as nationally and internationally. A specialist in racial and intersectional justice education for youth, adults and workplaces, Valerie facilitates intergroup dialogue, develops curriculum, and facilitates informal education focused on racial and intersectional justice. Through her experience in higher education administration, corporate human resources, and community-based nonprofits, Valerie has worked to increase the power of individuals in order to build just and equitable workplaces and communities. According to Valerie, social justice dialogues are a key to all of us being able to know better, and subsequently do better. In order to create a better world, Valerie believes each individual, whether dominant or targeted, has an important role to play. To help individuals engage in dialogue aimed at exploring and expanding one’s awareness of matters of oppression and privilege, Valerie draws on her experience with multiple knowledge bases: interpersonal dialogue theory, popular education theory, critical race theory, queer and feminist theories, trauma-informed practices, restorative justice practices, and adult learning theory.