Our Team

STAFF

Crimilda Andrade

Administrative Assistant & CCHW Community Health Worker

My name is Crimilda Andrade. I am originally from Magdalena de Kino, Sonora and I have a degree in computer science from the Technological Institute of Hermosillo. I am also an immigrant mother of two young dreamers, we came to the United States more than 20 years ago with the desire of a better quality of life. We lived in Arizona for 10 years and in 2010 we made the decision to move to New Mexico, specifically, to  Albuquerque, where we were received with great human warmth for which we are very grateful for. Since we arrived in Albuquerque, my children and I have been involved in supporting different organizations, such as El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Southwest Organizing Project, and Encuentro among others. I have been working for Encuentro for two years as an Administrative Assistant and recently was given the opportunity to support as a case manager (navigator) in the Pathways program. For me, it is a true privilege to have the satisfaction of being part

Susana Aranda

Educational Programs and Digital Education Assistant

I was born in Juarez, Chihuahua and have been living in Albuquerque for the past 14 years. I have my CDC certificate and associates classes. I have at the daycare at Encuentro since it began. Here I’ve had the opportunity to get to know my know my community, the resources it has to offer, and it has given me the chance to better myself at working with kids. I like working with kids, teaching them and learning from them.

Brook Bernini

Economic Opportunities Manager- HHA Program

Hello, my name is Brook Bernini and I am originally from Dalton, Massachusetts. After living in Tucson, AZ for 15 years I moved to Albuquerque and joined Encuentro as the Training and Employment Coordinator. In this position, I facilitate the Connecting Harvest to Health senior nutrition course, coordinate an internship program matching home health aides with low-income seniors in our community, and support cooperative development. In the past I have worked in adult and experiential education, as a doula and interpreter, helped run a community farm, and have been involved in grassroots fundraising projects and community organizing. I have a masters degree in Geography with a focus on solidarity economies, and hold a deep commitment to working towards social and economic justice.

 

Fiore Bran Aragón

Leadership Development Manager- HHA Program

Hello all, my name is Fiore Bran Aragón, and I am the Leadership Fellow in the Home Health Aide Program. I am a proud Central American migrant with Nicaraguan and Salvadoran roots. I came to New Mexico in 2019 to pursue my graduate studies and stayed to work with the Latinx migrant community. I hold a Master’s in Latin American Studies and a postgrad in International Migration Studies and Human Rights. My professional background includes working with returned and deported migrants as a humanitarian officer, educator, and qualitative researcher in Central America and Mexico. I have also collaborated with grassroots and community-based initiatives working on refugee integration and well-being in Costa Rica. In addition to my work at Encuentro, I enjoy practicing and teaching yoga to family and friends. I am very grateful to be part of this team, and my commitment is to contribute to social justice and equity in rights so that migrants have the opportunity to flourish and contribute to their host and origin communities.

Norma Casas

CCHW- Community Health Worker

Norma is Encuentro’s case manager. She was born and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico and has been living here for more than 15 years. Her work at Encuentro began 8 years ago  as computer student, then as a childcare provider and supervisor. After that, she had the opportunity to work as an administrator assistant. Later on, Norma became CCHW (Certified Community Health Worker) and thanks to that and her 8 years experience working with the community she is now our Pathways Navigator.  She knows our community and health system better than anyone and she is always willing to help and provide resources to our community.

Julia Cusatis

Development Director

Hello, my name is Julia Cusatis. I am the daughter of Italian and German immigrants and was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I raised my son in North Carolina before moving to New Mexico in January 2019 to join Encuentro’s team as the Director of Development. In my role at Encuentro, I am responsible for fund raising, grant writing, donor relations, and special events. I am passionate about meeting new people, helping to make connections, and building bridges that strengthen Encuentro’s mission and programs. I love working with the Latinx immigrant community, having the opportunity to practice and improve my Spanish-language skills while living in the Land of Enchantment.   I have a Master’s degree in Education and a post graduate certificate in Training and Development. My eclectic 30-year career has past work experience across fields of higher education, hospitality management, experiential learning, and organizational development.  The common denominator has been a commitment to leverage my skills to support equity, inclusion and racial justice.  Please send me an email at julia@encuentronm.org if you are interested in learning more about Encuentro or helping to fuel our mission with your time, talents or treasures. 

Felipe Duran

Educational Programs Assistant

My name is Felipe Durán and I was born in Guaymas Sonora Mexico on October 5, 1961. I studied elementary school in the cities of Empalme Son. and El Fuerte Sin. My middle and high school studies were in the city of Los Mochis, Sin. I also studied a university career with a bachelor’s degree at the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, in the beautiful state of Jalisco, in the career of Bachelor of Business Administration.These are the beautiful cities that have seen me grow up in my beautiful country of Mexico. Now the city that houses me is Albuquerque NM in this also beautiful and generous country of the U.S.A. that has given me the opportunity for a better future for me and my family. My position at Encuentro is as a computer teacher and as an educational assistant. Encuentro, its staff and all the present and past students are like a big family and I feel very happy to be part of it. My experience as a teacher has been most wonderful. This is my story. Proud of my Mexican roots and proud to share with my countrymen from all over Latin America the same story of courage and desire to excel.

Ilse Grijalva Lastiri

Communications Associates & Tu Voz Digital Coordinator

My name is Ilse Grijalva, I was born in Cuidad Delicias, Chihuahua and have been living here in Albuquerque for nearly 10 years. During those years, I have been actively involved with many other organizations as a volunteer. I have experience as a health promoter and consular agent. Currently, I’m the Communications Coordinator for Encuentro and am the person in charge of the Encuentro’s community journalism project “Tu Voz Digital”. My experience in the field of communications has been in radio (AM and internet), as well as written media production (magazines), social media management and story development. What I like the most about my position at Encuentro is the opportunity that I have to continue developing my communication skills at the same time that I keep working with my community promoting social justice.

Teresa Guevara

Teresa Guevara

Director of Educational Programs

My name is Teresa Guevara and my roots are in Sonora, where I was born, and in Sinaloa, where my son was born. I came to the United States in 2006 with my then-adolescent son. My training and professional experience in Mexico were in language teaching and in 2008 I obtained a master’s degree in TESOL at UNM. Ever since I found out about Encuentro, I dreamed of working here. In 2012 I joined as a Citizenship teacher and soon after as Director of Educational Programs. Encuentro became my second family with whom I have shared many important experiences such as becoming a grandmother in 2013 and graduating from UNM with a Doctorate in Language and Sociocultural Studies in 2019. My origins, my Spanish language and my identity as an immigrant mother, help me understand the challenges of learning a foreign language and of integrating to a new country. For this reason, what I like most about my work is being a witness and part of the powerful leadership of immigrant women and the great potential of education as a tool for collective transformation. In addition to my work at Encuentro, I really enjoy playing Latin American and American folk music with LasOtras.

Iliana Lopez

Educational Programs Coordinator

Hello, my name is Iliana López, I am originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, but I have lived in Albuquerque for more than 15 years. I am very dedicated to my work. I am very happy to be part of Encuentro because it welcomes all people from our community. Encuentro is like a second home for all of us.My journey with Encuentro began in the fall of 2010 as a childcare teacher and later as an administrative assistant. In 2012, I started as coordinator of Educational Programs, focusing on supporting teachers, students and taking care of data processing for these programs.I like my job very much and am very happy to be a part of this organization since my passion is helping people achieve their educational goals and improve their lives. I am very grateful to be a part of this team, and I believe that as long as we are committed to achieving our community’s goals, we can accomplish anything we put our hearts into. 

 

Mayte Lopez

Educational Program Manager - HHA Program

My name is Mayte Lopez, I am a queer native Burqueña, first generation Mexican-American. I am currently a student at the University of New Mexico finishing my Bachelors of Science in Biology. I began volunteering at Encuentro when I was in high school ~2011, and began working as a Public Ally in the fall of 2017. I have since transitioned into the role of Home Health Aide Training Program Manager.  As a community leader, I have participated in national campaigns for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, work as an Election Official in Bernalillo County, and volunteer my time with Casa Fortaleza. I am currently participating in the Essential Jobs, Essential Care Steering Committee which is focused on policy change in the direct caregiving sector of NM. My goal with my work is to create a training program that is nationally recognized and replicable, so as to change the narrative around care in our society, and implement dignified work and training models throughout the nation. My dream is to foment leadership in a way that domestic workers not only have a seat at the table, but are also directing the dinner party entirely.

 

Samantha Morales

Home Health & Career Development Director

Hello, my name is Samantha Morales and I am the Home Health & Career Development Director. Originally born in Nicaragua, I immigrated to the U.S. with my family when I was a child. I lived in California for the majority of my life and moved to New York City in 2008 to pursue a graduate degree. After spending a decade in New York working in the non-profit sector serving older adult and immigrant communities, I moved to New Mexico in 2018. With experience working on health care advocacy issues, I am interested in initiatives that improve the working conditions of the home health aide labor force, and that makes quality long-term care more accessible to immigrant communities. In my role at Encuentro, I work collaboratively to support the Home Health Aid team, and program participants to ensure that the Home Health Aid program continues to serve the immigrant community and older adults in impactful and meaningful ways. I hold a Master of Arts degree in Politics from the New School University in New York. I enjoy spending time with family, traveling, reading, running, exploring new music, and collecting vinyl records.

Andrea Plaza

Executive Director

Hello friends, my name is Andrea Plaza and I am the Executive Director and founder of this wonderful organization called Encuentro. I am a mother of two, born in North Carolina with proud Colombian roots. I began my studies at the University of North Carolina but 25 years ago moved to New Mexico, a state in which I put down roots, built my home and moved not only to do my graduate studies in Latin American Studies and Community and Regional Planning, but also, to live a different cultural experience. Living here plus my sense of belonging coming from an immigrant family was what made me realize all that I had to offer to our community. My professional background includes working with immigrant women in the field of microenterprise development and educational and asset building programs for immigrant families. My commitment is with the community, that is why one of my main missions is to promote the rights of immigrants as a tool to build social and economic justice and thus create strong and equitable communities for all.

Ivan Rodriguez

Finance Administrative Assistant

Hi everyone! My name is Ivan Rodriguez. I was born on September 5th, 1999 and I’m from Albuquerque, NM. I graduated from the University of Denver (DU) in June 2022 and I’m one of the newest team members here in Encuentro! My studies at the university centered around Mathematics, Spanish, and Computer Science and I even earned the Excellence in Spanish Studies Award from the DU Spanish department! Currently, I’m the new Finance Administrative Assistant here at Encuentro. My professional experiences have centered around working at nonprofits such as Casa de Paz in Denver (as a Translator), the Latino Cultural Arts Center in Denver (as a Technology Assistant) and at South Valley Academy High School here in ABQ as part of their Tech Team. Growing up and working closely with the Hispanic and Latinx Community, I realized how hard people work to support their families and find their children the best education they can. I’ve always believed that an education is one of the best ways children can help their families, but this can also apply to the parents! I’m honored to be part of this team and I hope to help Encuentro and our community in creating the best possible environment for families to learn in.

Veronica Salazar

Digital Education Coordinator and Instructor

My name is Verónica Salazar, I was born in Mexico City where I graduated as a Systems Analyst Programmer. I immigrated to the United States in 2002. The following year I attended a computer class and joined a group called “La Comunidad Habla”, which was a group of immigrant women leaders of the community in which I learned a lot and gained a lot of personal and professional experience for participating in what happens in my community. Based on the experience acquired as a recruiter, computer instructor, training the Hispanic community in the search for health resources, social justice and employment skills, always in combination with technology, I obtained different contracts with various organizations. In turn, I participated in a computer repair class (software and hardware). From 2010 to the present I have worked at Encuentro NM, as a Computer Instructor teaching classes focusing on digital skills. I am also Education programs Assistant and my work is focused on the processes of the classes and being in direct contact with all students. I believe in collective transformation breaking down the barriers of technology and my goal is to build and learn more on a personal and professional level to continue helping my community.

 

Childcare

Fermina Lopez

Childcare Teacher

I have worked at Encuentro since it started. Currently, I work in its Childcare Services. I finished its Childcare Education and I’m taking classes for my Bachelor’s Degree.            I was inclined towards an educational branch since I was in 5th grade when I was placed to help the teacher with 1st grade children. I told myself I wanted to become a teacher when adult. Taking these classes has helped me understand children’s attitudes better. I am grateful to Encuentro and children’s parents for giving me the opportunity to accomplish my dreams.

 

Enriqueta Lucero

Childcare Teacher

I am happy and satisfied to work in Encuentro in its Childcare services. I have my certification in childcare and I am working in obtaining my Associate degree. Just as we adults teach many things to children, we need to learn much from them.  I was born in Juarez, Mexico, and have lived in Albuquerque for twenty years. I want to contribute as much as I can to my community with my childcare skills. I love children and my favorite movie is “The Little Mermaid”.

 

Alma Torres

My name is Alma Torres. I have lived more than half of my life in Albuquerque, NM. I started as a student at Encuentro taking English, Computer and GED classes. I also completed my CDC (Certificate for Child Care). I like to learn new things  about child development. I feel very proud of being part of Encuentro; first as a student, then as a volunteer and now as child care teacher. It is a great opportunity for me to contribute to my community and especially to learn from all these wonderful people who support and serve our community with passion.

Board

Claudia Medina

Treasurer

Claudia is the Director of the University of New Mexico, Community Health Worker Initiatives (CHWI). In that capacity, she has developed, piloted and evaluated projects and tools aimed at integrating Community Health Workers (CHW’s) into the workforce. Before working for UNM, Claudia was the co-founder and executive director for 14 years of Enlace Comunitario (EC), an Albuquerque non-profit serving Latino immigrant victims of domestic violence and engaging in community development efforts. Ms. Medina has a Law Degree, an M.A. in Family Studies and an M.A. in Latin American Studies with a concentration in Community Planning.

Guiovanna Aguirre

Hello everyone! My name is Guiovanna Aguirre. I’m a native New Mexican and grew up in Los Lunas, NM. I received an MBA from the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico in 2013. I joined Centro Sávila as the Business Operations Manager in November 2014, before transitioning to the Director of Operations in 2017, and I’m now serving as the Finance Director. I provide support, guidance, and leadership to all Centro Sávila staff, student interns, volunteers, and the community. I’m responsible for the organization’s business accountabilities and ensuring that the day-to-day operations at all four locations run smoothly. These responsibilities include strong experience in an administrative capacity, serving the organizations needs in human resources, accounting, budgeting, grant writing and reporting, and program management. Aside from the work I do at Centro Sávila, I serve on the Board for La Cosecha C.S.A. and Encuentro and is the Board President for Proyecto Educación, all local nonprofit organizations which benefit underserved populations. Working at Centro Sávila has given me a deep appreciation of how the nonprofit sector strives to improve the quality of life for the communities they serve. In my free time, I enjoy planning events for friends and family. 

Martha Hurtado

Board Member

Hello, my name is Martha Hurtado. I am originally from Lerdo, Durango, and am now based in Albuquerque, N.M. I immigrated to the US more than 40 years ago. I am a woman who has worked all her life to raise her 6 children. Currently, I work as a home health caregiver. My journey with Encuentro began 4 years ago when I started with English classes with the teacher Queta. Later I took computer classes with the teacher Veronica and I have not stopped getting involved by attending all Encuentro events, being a volunteer, recruiting new students and motivating my colleagues to continue with their education. I am currently serving as a leader within the Board of Directors that I joined a little over a year ago. There I continue to learn and contribute ideas to make the organization even better. I feel very happy and proud to be part of Encuentro; a place where I not only learn but also have a family, a space where my voice is heard and where I feel empowered.

Patricia Telles

Board Member

Hola, my name is Patricia Telles. I am from El Paso, Texas and I come from a family that for generations has worked for voting rights, against economic disparities and for the general betterment of the Latinos on the Border. I have lived and worked in Albuquerque for the past 30 plus years. As a Clinical Director of Counseling at Enlace Comunitario, we served immigrant victims of domestic violence and their children. I help immigration attorneys in providing reports for their clients to prevent family separations and now I am honored to be a board member of Encuentro. I hold a PhD in clinical psychology and have decades focused on making people’s lives more meaningful, joyful and adding laughter.

Sandra Ortsman

Board President

Sandra Ortsman has over a decade of experience working in nonprofit organizations. Until January of 2015, Ortsman was the Associate Director and Director of Planning, Development and Evaluation for Enlace Comunitario, a social justice domestic violence agency working to end domestic violence and promote healthy families in the Latino immigrant community in New Mexico. Her work has focused on developing, securing funding for and evaluating programs. Ms. Ortsman has created and implemented development plans for a variety of nonprofits. She is a Community Planner who is actively engaged in her community. Ms. Ortsman serves on the board of Encuentro, an immigrant rights community organization. She recently began her own consulting company to help social justice and social service nonprofits in New Mexico and nationally. Ms. Ortsman is also mom to an amazing toddler boy and baby girl.

Shalini Thomas

Hi, I’m Shalini Thomas! I was born in India, grew up in Iowa, and have been in the Southwest most of my adult life, starting when I moved to El Paso, TX in 2009.  I have spent my career working with the immigrant community, from co-founding and organizing with the Comité de Justicia Laboral, a grassroots organization that fought wage theft through community empowerment; to working at Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services as an Accredited Representative; to volunteering with Annunciation House, including as travel logistics coordinator for reunified families during the summer of 2018.   I moved to Albuquerque in May 2019, which means the majority of my time here has been during the Covid-19 pandemic. While El Paso will always have my heart, Albuquerque is definitely a close second! I am now a Supervising DOJ Accredited Representative with New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, which has had a strong relationship and partnership with Encuentro since its inception in 2010, and am so happy to be an Encuentro Board member!    Two truths and a lie: I am fluent(ish) in Spanish, I have an MBA, I love hiking and camping.

Instructors

April Smith

Citizenship and ESL Instructor (Beginner Level)

Barbara Lopez

Financial Education Instructor

Bill Ancker

ESL Instructor

Dair Obenshain

ESL INSTRUCTOR (BEGINNER LEVEL)

Emilia Rivera

Finance Instructor

Felipe Guevara

Computer Instructor

Melanie Bartholomew

Citizenship and ESL Instructor (Intermediate Level)

Queta Lindenberg

ESL Instructor

Mayte Lopez

Home Health Aide instructor

Veronica Salazar

Digital Education Coordinator and Instructor
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