The Hispanic Leaders in Education Program connects educators and those who advocate for education with ambassadors in other states. This program is designed to enhance an organizer’s ability to effectively advocate for school choice programs in a more impactful way.
Hispanic families across the United States are voicing their support for school choice programs in a movement that shows no sign of slowing down. The American Federation for Children (Federación Americana para los Niños) launched the Hispanic Leaders in Education Program to connect education ambassadors across key states and equip Latinos nationwide with the tools necessary to expand educational opportunities.
Valeria Gurr serves as Senior Fellow for the American Federation for Children and is a passionate advocate for educational choice and underserved families. Valeria created the Federación Americana Para Los Niños, which seeks to bring information about school choice to Hispanic communities. She is devoted to assisting families with access high-quality education. Before joining AFC, she worked for the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research & Policy (NICRP) team as a program manager. She successfully provided child maltreatment prevention training to help empower both parents and the general community. Valeria earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Relations with a minor in Marketing at Duo UC of The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in 2009, and a Master of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in 2013. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Public Affairs at UNLV. Valeria loves riding her bike, exploring nature, and going on adventures with her son during her free time.
Denise Ceballos-Viner is a woman of faith who is not afraid to face adversaries. She is courageous and believes God has called her to rise up for such a time as this. Denise immigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 1970s and fell in love with the United States. As a wife, mother, and grandmother, Denise understands the value of family and has worked with thousands of families and children for almost 25 years. She finds joy and purpose in serving and advocating for the community. She is married to a Commander of the Phoenix Police Department, which is the root of her support for law enforcement. Denise prides herself on maintaining balance in her perspective and understands and appreciates the struggles and concerns of our community.
Esly Montenegro serves as the Arizona Implementation Director for the American Federation for Children. Prior to joining AFC, she served in Higher Education recruitment, marketing development, database management, non-profit organization, and ministry. She has dedicated her life to serving and empowering thousands of children, teenagers, and adults from low-income families in personal, professional, and educational development. Today, Esly supports our statewide implementation and government teams with organizing non-public school outreach, coordinating marketing and media, and helping families access high-quality schools of their choice. Esly received her Bachelor of Science degree in Global Business from Arizona State University and her Master of Business Administration from Argosy University. In her free time, Esly enjoys singing, reading, fitness, and sharing faith and hope with her community.
Gaby Ascencio is the Arizona Community Outreach Manager for the American Federation for Children. Gaby’s experience as a Language Teacher, Translator, Interpreter and Advocate for Victims of Domestic violence nourishes her work at AFC with an intellectual background and sensitivity that have proved to be valuable elements to interact with families, particularly with the Latino community. Gaby moved to Arizona in 2011 and worked as a Field Program Manager and Facilitator at Arizona State University’s American Dream Academy, a program where “families gain the tools and confidence to make sure their children have successful academic careers.” She also worked for two years as a Family Legal Advocate for victims of domestic violence at the National Advocacy and Training Network. Gaby has also been a teacher of ESL, Spanish and French as a second and third language for more than 20 years in several countries and prestigious universities in Mexico.
Gladys Carpo is an immigrant from Mexico. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communication from the Autonomous University of Sinaloa UAS. She is the founder of the Latinos Inmigrantes podcast and producer of Cita con la Educación, where she engages the Hispanic community to learn and teach about issues that impact our community. She is very passionate about helping families understand how the education system works and provides them with information that explains education options. She wants Hispanic families to realize that they can change their world, that no matter the circumstances or where they came from, they can DREAM BIG and accomplish anything they want to.
As the AFC National Correspondent, Kim Martinez is a professional storyteller who travels around the country capturing the many empowering stories of families who benefit from school choice. When in her home state of Arizona, she heads state media, messaging, and communications efforts as the Arizona Communications Director. Previously, Kim was an award-winning television news anchor and reporter in Phoenix. She has covered thousands of stories during her career including reporting for CNN and the Weather Channel on big news days. While Kim has covered many stories over the years, her true passion is telling inspirational stories about people and their lives.
Felicitas Padron is proud to be a Latina woman. She has worked at Southwest Behavioral Health Services as a health promoter in Arizona for about 13 years, working with communities in need. Part of her work includes assisting in the prevention of abuse for youth. It is her passion to be involved and to help wherever she can. In addition, Felicitas is involved with Padres Unidos, where she educates parents about school choice. She explains to families the organization’s purpose, helps them with the application process and shows them different school choices to find what is best for their kids. When Felicitas is not working, she enjoys meditating and spending time with her family.
Rosalia Catreto is a model leader in her community. Her dream is to work with teenagers and help them become leaders. She works closely with Padres Unidos which has allowed her to work directly with parentsof families to empower and educate them on different academic options. Rosalia is constantly looking to create new connections and to educate families with few resources.
Isabel Valadez is an entrepreneur and a community leader. She is originally from Sonora, Mexico but resides in Arizona, where she is pursuing her career as a Business Administrator. Currently, she is the owner and Vice President of operations of the employment agency MCI Staffing Services and Solaris Energy. In addition, Isabel is the Director and Editor of Teleritmo Magazine, and the leader of the Women’s Empowerment and Comprehensive Development Group called “Women Abroad.” Isabel also has more than 20 years of altruistic experience working in support of non-profit organizations, representing organizations like Hearts4kids, Agenda Migrante, and Global Citizen USA which serve people and communities across Arizona. As a supporter of education freedom, Isabel believes that as community leaders, and especially as parents, it is our responsibility to give children the best education possible. To Isabel, education is the most important tool to becoming successful in life, and therefore we must fight for our rights to choose what education is best for our children.
Oliver A. Cardenas is a Regional Representative and Bilingual Trainer for RezilientKidz. This nonprofit educational organization offers parenting education programs in 39 US states, which impacts more than 40,000 parents nationwide. Originally from Mexico City, Oliver moved to Colorado Springs in 2023 after residing in California for many years. With more than 24 years of experience in leadership, administration, coaching, and mentoring, he has worked with various US and Latin American organizations in places like Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. In addition, Oliver has participated as a keynote speaker in conferences, events, podcasts, radio, television, and other media. Oliver is passionate about helping children and families find purpose and thrive. He has traveled to over 25 countries and enjoys learning about different cultures, with Southeast Asia being his favorite region. In his free time, he loves spending time with his wife, children, and mother, who is an exceptional cook of Mexican cuisine. He likes to explore new places, make new friends, try new things, and cook. Oliver has a great sense of humor, and his outgoing and enthusiastic attitude is contagious and inspiring.
Luis Hidalgo moved to Oklahoma City from Nicaragua at the age of 15 and pursued an education in the states. Currently, Luis is the Director of Economic Development at Scissortail Community Development Corporation where he oversees various community projects, including the development of a new community-led financial institution in South Oklahoma City. Prior to this, Luis worked at the Latino Community Development Agency (LCDA) as Program Coordinator for the M-POWER Program, focusing on promoting healthy living and tobacco use prevention. At Scissortail, he has led various community initiatives to foster equity, social progress, and economic development. Luis’ notable accomplishments include establishing Academia OKC, a successful non-profit arts program that provided culturally relevant classes to over 150 students in mariachi, folkloric dance, visual arts, and photography. Luis is also an advocate for school choice policies and actively collaborates with community stakeholders to raise awareness of parent empowerment legislation, ensuring access and opportunities for families across Oklahoma. Recently, he was appointed to the Out-of-School-Time Task Force by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, where he contributed to assessing the need for after-school programs and the required resources in Oklahoma schools.
Luis Soto is a Senior Director for Evangelization and Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Originally from Sonora, Mexico, Luis has a passion for integrating into American Society while maintaining his rich Hispanic heritage and culture. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in theology. In his current role, Luis supervises the Family Life, Youth, Young Adult, Campus Ministry, Blessed Stanley Rother Institute, Hispanic Ministry, and all evangelization efforts in the Archdiocese. Prior to this, he was the Director of Ministry Development at the Catholic Leadership Institute, the Director of Hispanic Content and Business Development for Augustine Institute, and the Executive Director of Hispanic Ministry and Centro San Juan Diego for the Hispanic Leadership Institute for Pastoral and Family Life of the Archdiocese of Denver. Luis also developed One Family Under God, a model of unity and integration amongst cultures in Catholic parishes today. As a recognition of his substantial contributions to the Church and society, in November 2010, Luis received the Benemerenti Medal from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI; one of the most noteworthy distinctions to be bestowed upon a lay Catholic.
Monica Suyo moved from Lima, Peru to Norman, Oklahoma in 2001. Her dream was to study abroad and explore other cultures. She achieved this as an exchange student in Sevilla, Spain. After that, she graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and later got her master’s in human relations. Monica has also been in the education setting for over 15 years, with her experience ranging from Pre-K to post-secondary education. She was the Dean of Academic Programs at Le Monde International, a language immersion charter school in Norman, and then became the Assistant Director of TRIO, Upward Bound Program at Oklahoma City Community College. Currently, Monica is the Director of Recruitment and Community Engagement at Cristo Rey OKC High School, where her role is to engage with her community to make sure people know about Cristo Rey and the opportunities it presents. Monica’s goal is to build a presence in the community to make sure that everyone knows about Cristo Rey. Her other goal is to further inform people about Cristo Rey admissions and what it means to be a part of the school. Monica enjoys traveling, but what she loves the most is working with families and students and getting to know them.
Ruth Morales serves as the Latino Outreach Family Engagement Specialist for Holy Name Catholic School in Omaha, Nebraska. She works part time as the Citizenship Instructor for the Latino Center of the Midlands. Ruth is no stranger to adversity, as she has experienced it. By immigrating to the United States and by growing up in the foster care system, she knows first-hand what it means to experience adverse childhood experiences and to be under-resourced. However, Ruth has turned those experiences into her superpower by using her voice to advocate for children and families throughout the community. Ruth also holds a bachelor’s degree in foreign language and literature, a concentration in Spanish, a TESOL Certificate and a minor in English. In her free time, Ruth enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and swimming.
Tanya Santos is known as a “mother to many” because in addition to having five children and four grandchildren, she has over 20 years of experience working in non-profits and various educational settings, both advocating and treating the children and families she works with as her own. Tanya is a leading early childhood and education professional with a passion for strengthening and enhancing educational opportunities for those who are under-resourced. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a master’s degree in Elementary Administration and Supervision, as well as one in Early Childhood Education. Currently, Tanya is working on her EdD in P-12 System Level Leadership.
Diana Reyes has been a leader within the Hispanic community for 12 years and has been an advocate for school choice for about 10 years. Her advocacy began when she had to fight against all odds with Nevada public schools regarding their poor and failing education system. She has also been a volunteer for the Metropolitan Police Department for about 11 years and is an AB board member of Chaplaincy Nevada. In addition, Diana has been involved with ReCap for over 10 years by helping the community and supporting them with any emotional stress and after tragic situations.
Coreen Villalobos boasts a commendable 23-year career in community service, contributing to both print media and radio as a Venezuelan journalist. Her mission has been to keep communities informed about the negative impacts certain public policies have on them, inequalities, rights, and different progressive opportunities that they may be unaware of due to historical marginalization. Coreen came to the U.S. almost seven years ago, and since then, she has worked as an editor for the North Carolina-based newspaper, La Conexión USA. Coreen creates content to bring Hispanic families closer to education programs, specifically regarding school choice opportunities. With all the reports she has written, Coreen feels that she has contributed to the empowerment of parents who make the wise decision of choosing the best education for their children, based on their potential or needs. Coreen is the CEO of the editorial services company Bell Creative LLC, through which she translates content from the government and from private institutions that develop different community programs, such as translating all content on the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority website. Overall, Coreen is happy to have contributed to closing the gap that separates our families and their children from educational resources, like opportunity scholarships and savings accounts for children with disabilities.
Martha Zaldivar is a servant leader and the only woman and Hispanic member of the executive team at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Her personality is bold, energetic, and adaptive. Her work impacts every aspect of the school’s administration, operations, and corporate/community support. She began her career in business, shifted to the classroom, and then was drawn to school administration by sheer curiosity. Martha has also been credited as being the guiding spirit of her school, but her greatest pride is that people know they can talk to her, and that she will listen. Martha’s personal mission has been to drive change for the better, and she believes that education provides many opportunities to have an impact and make a difference. When she sees an educational gap, she does her best to help close it. Martha believes competence reflects professionalism and—above all—respect at every level of an organization. She also believes inclusivity and equity are essential precursors to collaboration and teamwork for shared success. Overall, to Martha, her bottom line is providing effective servant leadership.
Iliana Martinez is the Statewide Latino Support Coordinator/Multicultural Specialist, Trainer for the Mid-Ohio Latino Office of the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD). Iliana has been with OCECD since 2010. She serves the Hispanic/Latino families of Mid-Ohio, providing individual assistance and information about their rights as parents through trainings in Special Education. She also supports parents in being advocates for their children through her leadership of the Latino Parents Associated for Special Children in Ohio (P.L.A.N.E.O.), an empowerment group for Spanish-speaking families who have children with disabilities. This group not only provides emotional support, but also builds a parent’s confidence and comfort level in raising a child with disabilities. She holds an associate degree in biology science and a Community Health Worker Certification granted by OSU College of Nursing/State of Ohio Board of Nursing. Iliana has two children, one of which has multiple disabilities.
Guadalupe “Lupita” Howell was born and raised in Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, México and graduated from the Universidad Autónoma de Cd. Juárez with a law degree. In addition, she served as a state labor judge and worked in various legal practice areas, including juvenile justice and family law. In 1992, Lupita immigrated to the United States and became a certified paralegal in the state of Texas. After that, she moved to Tennessee in 2013 and further became active in her community by working as a school choice advocate with the American Federation for Children of Tennessee. She was a Regional Field Representative in Governor Bill Lee’s successful 2022 re-election campaign, among many other roles, including promoting the Educationion Savings Accounts (ESAs) amongst the Hispanic community. Lupita also serves as the Hispanic church outreach coordinator for organizations: Latinos for Tennessee and Men of Valor prison ministry.
Angelina Támez was raised in a Mexican-American household, and she understands the importance of upholding the American Dream. Angelina currently resides in South Texas, advocating for policies which allow prosperity for her community at her local Republican headquarters. Hispanic Outreach is critical to Angelina: serving as the youngest committee chair of the Hidalgo County GOP and working on the RNC Youth Advisory Board. Likewise, Támez played a pivotal role during the 2022 election cycle for Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz. During the election cycle, Angelina worked on the ground to truly understand the needs of her Hispanic community through major grassroot efforts. Growing up in a majority Mexican-American community, Angelina was invariably told that her ZIP code determined her destiny — and due to being the first in her family to attend college, she would face numerous challenges. Because of this, Angelina is a staunch advocate for school choice – and a staunch defender of a parent’s freedom to be in power of their child(ren)’s education.
Nataly Andrade Sanchez is known to light up a room as she has a passionate and joyful spirit who is driven, knowledgeable, and outgoing. She is a proud product of the parental choice programs and became fond of them during her time working in admissions for schools in Milwaukee. Now, Nataly is the Director of Outreach for Hispanics for School Choice, a non-profit organization that promotes educational freedom in the state of Wisconsin. She is also the co-founder of Mercadera (Spanish for “female merchant”), an organization aiming to empower Latina business owners and Hispanic women to find resources in their community. Nataly’s passion ignites when working with the Hispanic community. Her primary career goal is to educate parents about school choice and to see the program expand and improve. She recently helped coordinate school leaders, students, and herself to testify in favor of Senate Bill 330 and Assembly Bill 305 during the 2023 Joint Finance Committee Budget Hearings, which declared a significant increase in voucher funding for choice and charter schools in Wisconsin. Through all efforts, the bill successfully passed.
Heidy Gómez is a Venezuelan immigrant who has been in the United States for over 20 years, raising two daughters who are in college and one son in high school. She is passionate about education, not just for her own family, but also for the Latino community. Heidy is the Hispanic Representative of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). She advocates for and educates parents on their educational options, as well as assisting families in accessing the state’s scholarship programs. Heidy also leads all PEFNC efforts to involve the Spanish-speaking community in these programs. Thanks to her passion for education, she has been able to raise her voice, through Hispanic fairs, churches, schools, civil organizations, radio, television, newspapers, social networks, local and national news like Fox News, Fox & Friends, ABC News, Spectrum News, Univision, Telemundo and more. In 2023, Heidy actively participated as an important community supporter in passing Senate Bill 406 and House Bill 420, demanding that the state legislature recognize the importance of the expansion of parental school choice, increasing eligibility for even higher earning households and making those programs available to parents regardless of income level.
Daniel Reyes is a first-generation college student at the University of Las Vegas (UNLV). Daniel was among the first students in Nevada to benefit from the Opportunity Scholarship, which allowed him to attend a private school of his choice. At his private school, Faith Lutheran, Daniel saw incredible academic improvement and success. He went from struggling in public school to currently attending UNLV, thanks to this scholarship. Daniel will be the first from his family to graduate college and is majoring in entrepreneurship. He is also part of the 2023 Cohort of the Future Leaders Fellowship at American Federation for Children, traveling around the country and sharing his story of why he supports school choice. Daniel believes that every child is different, and every parent should have the option to choose the best school for their child, regardless of background or income.
Gissell Vera is a Mexican American, first-generation college student from the Southside of Milwaukee. She benefited from the Milwaukee Parental School program, as part of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School’s founding class. She graduated as Cristo Rey’s first Valedictorian in 2019. Gissell attended Prince of Peace Middle School and prior to that, she received seven years of education in Mexico. She currently attends Marquette University on a full ride scholarship, majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Law and Society. Her goal is to become an influential advocate in the school choice movement for the kids and families of her community. Gissell is a Burke Scholar at Marquette, that is actively servicing the Milwaukee community in social justice issues. Gissell is part of the 2019 Cohort of the Future Leaders Fellowship for AFC where she strives to continue creating awareness about educational resources for the Hispanic community and empowering families and students by sharing her story.
Sharon Chavez was born in Milwaukee and was raised by her Mexican parents. She is a first-generation college student, and a beneficiary of the Milwaukee Parental School program. This allowed her to attend Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, where she joined their founding class, interned in Corporate America from the age of 14, and graduated with honors. Prior to this, she attended Alexander Mitchell Integrated Arts School, giving her the experience of attending both a public and private education, and she felt first-hand the differences within them. Recently, Sharon graduated from Marquette University as a double major and double minor student with honors in Corporate Communications, Spanish with a concentration in Business, Business Administration and Advertising. Sharon was also a part of the 2022 Future Leaders Fellowship Cohort for AFC, where she got to share her education journey with others. Currently, Sharon is a full-time communications consultant for AFC, and is working to be even more of an advocate to help those in her community have the opportunity and the resources to a proper education, just as she did.