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, in Spanish) 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 Director of External Affairs 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 in understanding how to obtain a high-quality education. Before working for AFC, she joined the program manager of the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research & Policy team. 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 Duoc 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 adversity. 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 this country. As a wife, mother, and grandmother, Denise understands the value of family and has worked with thousands of families and children throughout the valley 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. She prides herself on maintaining balance in her perspective and understands and appreciates the struggles and concerns of her 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 Arizona’s 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’s degree in Global Business from Arizona State University and her master’s degree in 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 nourish 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 an 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.
Mike Alameda, along with his wife Claire, founded the Tucson-based Corazón Ministries in 1994. Corazón Ministries is a national, non-denominational and non-profit Christian ministry. Mike serves as the President and Executive Director of Ministries. He is a national Bible teacher, conference speaker, and guest preacher. Mike also established and developed the Corazón Ministries Hispanic/Latino pastoral leadership team. Over the years, Mike has served as a board member to the Tucson Evangelical Christian Association, was Chair on the multi-cultural committee for Tucson’s Luis Palau Festival, and assisted the Hispanic/Latino Outreach Task Force for the Promise Keepers’ Million Man March. Presently, Mike is a consultant to Arizona and national Christian organizations, promoting a cross-cultural understanding of relationships and interactions between these organizations and the Hispanic/Latino community.
Tanja Aguirre is married to Fernando Aguirre and is a mother of three children, each with their own unique school needs. Her youngest child is 4 years old and has Down syndrome. Since learning about the various scholarships available in Arizona, she has helped South Phoenix families apply for scholarships. Tanja was born and raised in Germany to a German father and Mexican mother. Tanja holds an engineering degree from Arizona State University (ASU). For a number of years, she has worked for an engineering firm that had offices in Phoenix and Guadalajara, Mexico. Tanja is a realtor and enjoys being creative, exploring the outdoors, and spending time with her family.
National Director of Hispanic Outreach at Moms for Liberty, Catalina Stubbe is a former Miss World Colombia, actress, and fashion model who was born in Colombia, earned a Sociology degree from the Université de La Sorbonne in France, and moved to the United States 14 years ago. She is a strong defender of family values, mother of four, and the founder and CEO of Stubbe Ranch. Catalina is a well-known activist in education featured on media outlets including Fox & Friends, Linea De Fuego (Univision), and much more.
Arlene McClintock is the executive director of HACER (Hispanics Aligned for Choice in Education Reform.) As a first generation American and a member of the Hispanic community, she is very passionate about education. She graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education along with an ESL endorsement from Faith Baptist Bible College. She desires to use her knowledge and skills to help give Latino and Hispanic parents a voice to advocate for their children’s education.
Astrid was born in Caracas-Venezuela. She is married to John Hajjar and has three children. While in law school, she volunteered legal services to the less privileged communities living in the Caracas slum areas. Astrid settled in Boston after graduating from Law School in 1993. She served the Hispanic community in the Boston area as a Spanish medical and legal interpreter. She also worked at Bank Audi in Manhattan, NY in their international banking department. Astrid worked as a volunteer, fundraising for several organizations including Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital (10 years), St Mary’s Women and Children Center (8 years), and the Milton Foundation for Education (8 years). She also sat on the Board of Trustees of the Milton Foundation for Education and St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. Most recently, she served with the Harvard Catholic Center Senior Chaplain’s Advancement Council. Astrid is fluent in Spanish and English, and also speaks conversational French and Arabic.
Liliana was born in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila Mexico and moved to the United States at the age of four. Growing up in Michigan, she began working with a non-profit serving the community her sophomore year in high school. There, she realized she had a passion serving the under-served community she is also a part of. Liliana is currently working on completing her bachelor’s in criminal justice with a certification in working with those effected with trauma. She brings several years of non-profit experience working with organizations striving for equal education in Missouri, children in foster care, and the immigrant & migrant community in Saint Louis. Liliana hopes that with her own personal experience she can serve clients with the dignity and respect they deserve.
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Elvira Rincón is married to José Carlos Rincón, and together, they founded the Centro Familiar Dios de Pactos in 2009. During the pandemic, the Center closed before reopening in 2021 as a church supporting the Hispanic Community. Elvira has an 11-year-old daughter, and together, they have sought to support the educational needs of low-income children, working to provide information to families on school choice. Elvira worked for the Nevada School Choice Coalition from 2019 until 2021, and she is still an advocate today. She currently directs a nonprofit organization called “Cafecito Entre Mujeres,” which supports women who suffer from domestic violence, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Cafecito is a ministry that is covered by the church Centro Familiar Dios of Pacts LV. She is also Director of Missions for the Southern Pacific District of the Assemblies of God, leading 26 churches in the city, sending missionaries to specific locations worldwide, and supporting those most in need.
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 our Hispanic community to learn and teach about issues that impact our community. She is very passionate about helping families to understand how the system works, providing them with information that is not limited to their education options. She wants our Hispanic families to realize that they can change their world, that no matter any circumstances or where they came from, they can DREAM BIG and accomplish anything they want.
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Hilda Espadas is a passionate woman and pastor determined to do her part to educate, prepare, integrate, and develop goals and dreams for her beloved Hispanic community. She has advocated for school choice for underserved families alongside her faith community. Hilda also has a multi-service business where she helps her community, mainly Hispanic immigrants. Pastor Hilda is the founder and executive of the non-profit organization MIES Community Group. With the support of the Federation of Firefighters Foundation, MIES holds an event around Christmas where 1,500 toys are given to families. She is also the founder of the Siquem “City of Refuge” Church, where she is the senior pastor. She is part of the board of directors of the organization “MOMF,” where she not only supports the healthy development of this entity but also has established a chapter in Spanish where she could integrate the Hispanic community and it has been a great success.
Heidy Gómez is an immigrant from Venezuela who has been in the United States for almost 20 years, she has raised 2 daughters who are in college and 1 son in high school, she is very passionate about education not just for her own family, but also for the latino community. Currently Heidy is the Hispanic Representative of the organization Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) and is a member of the Parent Liaison Team, where she educates parents across the state about their educational options and assists them in accessing the state’s scholarship programs. She is successful because of her knowledge of the scholarship programs and because she is a scholarship recipient herself. Heidy leads all of PEFNC’s efforts to engage the Spanish-speaking community. She leads grassroots outreach efforts, including meeting parents in their churches, schools, community groups, as well as the Spanish-Speaking media of the state of North Carolina.
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Robert M. Ruiz is a non-profit leader in Oklahoma with many years of experience in community, economic and cultural development. As the President of Scissortail Community Development Corporation, Mr. Ruiz brought a diverse range of experiences into creating better outcomes for the most underserved populations of Oklahoma. Primarily working in the area of education and economic development, Ruiz led a team of mission-driven champions creating opportunities for students and families to reach their full potential. Their work has been instrumental in establishing many new high-quality education options for families, providing scholarships for students with limited resources, delivering professional development for personnel serving undocumented students, and creating cultural education opportunities. Robert is also an accomplished musician and artist, and a survivor of stage IV cancer.
Maria Lopez is an accomplished real estate investor and entrepreneur from Nashville, TN. Coming from a political family, Maria has seen firsthand the need for fresh faces in the political arena. With her father as her role model, she has decided to carry the torch with plans to be a positive force in her own community as well as the entire country. Since migrating to the states from Bogota, Colombia at the age of 11, Maria has brought a unique perspective with hopes to change what it means to be a politician and a world changer. Maria also works for Latinos for Tennessee, a non profit organization helping conservative Hispanics get elected in the Volunteer State. Maria is passionate about meeting her community where they are in order to create true and meaningful change. When not working to change the world, Maria enjoys spending time with friends, traveling to new places, and going on long hikes with her German Shepherd, Hugo Maximus.
Alejandro Calderon owns and operates Alejandro Calderon Consulting, an International Marketing and Business Solutions Company, and Earth, Beans, and Fire Coffee Company. He is an avid supporter of parental choice in education. Alejandro has been working tirelessly for over 20 years to bring educational freedom reforms to Texas. In addition to his for-profit ventures, Alejandro is the founder of the San Antonio Coalition for Parental Choice, an organization which brings awareness to the parental choice initiative. He also serves as the Executive Director of Adopt A Needy Family, a program which helps the most needy families in San Antonio meet the needs of their children and the whole family. Alejandro earned his bachelor of Business Administration degree in International Business from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio in 1998. During his free time, Alejandro prefers to be outdoors. Alejandro has always held positions and worked to help others. He will always be dedicated to helping others and leaving this world a better place.
Ezzard Castillo, born in Panama and presently of Floresville, Texas, is currently the Chief Executive Officer of River City Christian School in San Antonio, Texas. Ezzard has dedicated the last twenty six years working with children who learn differently. After retiring from the USAF in 1994 , Ezzard entered Christian Education and began working with the special needs population in 1996. He currently serves as the Chair of International Christian Accrediting Association. In addition Ezzard serves on the Texas Governor’s Cultural Affairs Committee where he focuses on Hispanic educational attainment. Ezzard strongly believes every child can learn despite their learning challenges or background. Ezzard has been married 37 years to his wonderful wife Donna. They have three grown children, and are blessed with six wonderful grandsons. Ezzard is an ordained minister, has a master’s in education from Texas State University and master’s of theology from Logos University in Jacksonville, Florida. Ezzard plans to begin work on a doctorate in education from Oral Roberts University.
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Jordan Banegas serves as Activism Manager at The Institute for Justice, where he organizes people to challenge their communities by sharing their stories and realizing their full potential. Jordan was appointed by the New Mexico Governor to serve on the institution’s governing board of regents. Serving a two-year term, he guided New Mexico State University to increase its entrance requirements, installed a former Governor as Chancellor, and implemented strategic policies to ensure the institution’s future fiscal health was secure, including the partnership to develop the area’s first medical school. Leading one of the nation’s largest Hispanic-serving universities gave Banegas unique experience and insights into our education system and workforce development for the country’s fastest growing community. After 2010, Jordan led efforts in the region to break down economic barriers for the most vulnerable through the founding of a non-profit and organizing coalitions to combat harmful and overreaching policies.