Alison Lehmann Edwards, Chief Executive Officer, 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 OC Human Relations’ Community Building, Mediation, and BRIDGES programs are empowerment strategies rooted in grass roots organizing, diverse leadership development, and creative conflict resolution.
April Van Ligten, Restorative Justice Specialist, has over 10 years of experience in the field of education ranging from educational advocacy for foster youth and families to teaching special education in both New York City and Long Beach public schools. 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). April’s experiences in education have strengthened her passion for social justice and working with youth to cultivate their power. She currently serves Brookhurst Junior High in Anaheim, CA and supports students and staff in learning about, developing, and implementing restorative justice practices in the school setting. April graduated from New York University with a B.S. in Childhood Education/Childhood Special Education with a minor in Art History and has a M.A. in Education with emphasis on Social and Cultural Analysis from California State University, Long Beach.
Ariana Melton, Restorative Justice Specialist, is an Afro-Indigenous millennial, born and raised in south central Los Angeles. Her diverse upbringing cultivated a diverse experience socioeconomically, ethnically, and artistically. As an avid believer in community activism Ariana took her talents and passions to Washington, D.C. where she studied music therapy, and classical voice at the historically Black university, Howard University. As a student at Howard University Ariana had the privilege of acting as an US ambassador for African-American music, traveling domestically & internationally singing in front of many prestigious leaders, including past United States President Barack Obama twice and current President Joe Biden three times. Her creativity and passion for community establish unimaginable positions for her, from life coaching, music instruction, to creative directing. Her love for people is seen through her dedication to this work and commitment to dismantling systemic oppression. Ariana believes her life purpose is to be a bridge, acting as a catalyst for connection.
Aurea Martinez Velasco, Human Relations Specialist, was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and immigrated with her mother to the United States in 1992. She grew up in Costa Mesa and attended the University of California Santa Barbara where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Latin American studies. In college, Aurea organized to provide resources for undocumented students, stop tuition increases and the passage of the DREAM Act. After graduating she worked at the Orange County Department of Education with the Friday Night Live Partnership program focused on youth development. In 2014, she was part of the inaugural Code for Progress Fellowship in Washington D.C where she learned computer programming. Aurea has done various jobs from working at a farmer’s market to leading a team to build websites for progressive candidates running for office. She now is excited to support students to become leaders in building a safe and inclusive community on campus. In her free time, Aurea enjoys the outdoors and plans to eat her way around Orange County!
Bethany Bruhl, (she/her/ella) Restorative Justice Specialist, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a B.A. degree in Psychology and three minors in Education, Chicano/a Studies, and Applied Developmental Psychology. Shortly after, she earned her M.A.Ed in Social and Cultural Analysis from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Bethany’s undergraduate and graduate experiences have strengthened her drive to support youth and school stakeholders in creating and sustaining safe spaces for all identities.
David Reyna, Grant Writer, joined the OCHR 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 OCHR by securing philanthropic dollars to support OCHR’s critical program and services across Orange County. In his free time, David enjoys traveling, visiting baseball stadiums, and attending concert (pre-COVID).
Don Han, Director of Operations, has been with OCHRC since 2001. Prior to becoming the Director of Operations, Don was the Hate Crime Prevention Program Coordinator who also responds to reported hate crimes and hate incidents in the county. In his time with OCHR Don has worked with the BRIDGES team. He has authored the agency‘s Hate Crime Report and provided Hate Crime training. Don serves 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, speaks Lao and Thai.
Gagandeep Kaur Mann-Saechao, Human Relations Specialist, 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.
Ignacio (Iggy) Gutierrez, Restorative Justice Specialist, 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 OCHR 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..Jorge Franco, Human Relations Specialist, was raised in California’s Central Valley for most my life. Learned and developed passion for serving the underserved and working with low socioeconomic communities while serving his community. Attained BS in Community and Youth Services from CSU Fresno. Soon after, started working as a Community Relations Officer for a credit union supervising, developing, and facilitating financial literacy programs and outreach. Currently attaining a Masters in Education with Emphasis in Social and Cultural Analysis in Education from CSU Long Beach.
Joyce Sanchez, Human Relations Specialist, Community and Court Mediator, 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 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 work in the Police Community Reconciliation Program doing Police Community Dialogues to build better working relationships between police officers and residents.
julie vue, (she/they) Director of Youth and Education Program, has been with OC Human Relations since Fall 2016. Julie leads a passionate team who are dedicated to working alongside students, parents, teachers, and administrators in Orange County schools, with the goal to improve school climate and create safe, inclusive, equitable and restorative schools. They graduated from UC Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minors in Gender & Sexuality Studies and Civic & Community Engagement and earned a Master of Arts in Education with emphasis on Social and Cultural Analysis from Cal State Long Beach. .
Kathy Shimizu, Director, Dispute Resolution Program , has been passionate about improving processes for conflict resolution for over 19 years. In addition to participating in many mediation-specific trainings, Kathy received her Masters Degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peace Building from California State University, Dominquez Hills in 2007 and has also been trained in the areas of domestic violence, child advocacy, relationship enhancement, and restorative justice. Kathy has extensive experience conducting mediation cases in a variety of settings and especially enjoys helping parties overcome relational dynamics that have prevented them from working together to resolve their dispute. A credentialed teacher prior to becoming a mediator, she has utilized her teaching expertise to develop engaging basic and advanced mediation trainings that have advanced the skill level of hundreds of mediators. Ms. Shimizu is most proud of her work to develop an extensive court-based practicum that provides mediators with real-life opportunities to refine their mediation skills in a structured, mentored setting.
Khushbindar Kaur Sood, Director of Development, 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.
Kristian Vallee, Human Relations Specialist, 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.
Lenora Forschner, Dispute Resolution Program Specialist, grew up on the outskirts of Mexico City. She is Bilingual in Spanish, and also speaks conversational French and German. She loves local and international travel, cross-cultural experiences, and meeting people with varied lifestyles and perspectives. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communication from California State University Fullerton. Her interest in Conflict Management first lead her to OCHR in 1997, for Basic Mediation Training. She later became a Certified Mediator and an active Volunteer in OCHR’s Community, Civil and Family Court Mediation programs. She is especially passionate about helping to grow the Community Mediation program, and participating in Community Building projects. She brings experience from the corporate sector, in Human Resources, Facilitation, Sales and Management.
Marco Ortega, (he/él) (Senior Human Relations Specialist, Training Team, 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.
Maureen Dadabhoy, Human Relations Advocate, graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Business. She earned her master’s degree in Education and a Paralegal Certificate from University of California, Irvine. Maureen has worked as a teacher and served as Character Education Fellow with OC Department of Education. She is grateful for the opportunities granted to her and is dedicated to serving the community through training and education.
Nhi Nguyen, (she/her) Hate Crime Prevention Coordinator, has been working in the world of international human rights, survivor advocacy, and education for over 10 years. Prior to joining OC Human Relations, Nhi was at UC Irvine, where she worked alongside her outreach and violence prevention team in an effort to end sexual assault, dating violence, family violence, and stalking. In the past few years, she also supported other organizations like Liberty in North Korea, the Peace Corps, and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. In 2016, Nhi received both her BA degrees in Political Science and Human Development at CSULB. In 2019, Nhi received her Master of Arts degree in Education, with an emphasis in Social and Cultural Analysis. In 2020, she became a certified bystander intervention instructor and received a 40-hour domestic violence advocate training from Laura’s House. Nhi believes that communities can come together to create a world that is not only intolerant of violence – but all forms of injustice and inequity.
Norma Lopez, Commission Director, joined the OC Human Relations team in late 2014 and became Commission Director in 2016. She serves as executive support staff to the Human Relations Commission and leads the Community Building Team. Mrs. López has found that her purpose is unremittingly rooted in the idea that one must “help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours”. Consequently, Norma was able to find purpose as she took a leap into the realm of community organizing, social justice, and leadership development by joining the Peace Corps after completing her undergrad work. Through this journey, she discovered an unending source of fearlessness that has allowed her to follow the path less traveled both professionally and personally. Mrs. López is passionate about bolstering emergent change agents and is stimulated by building meaningful relationships that have enriched and expanded her worldview. Norma is bilingual and bicultural with Salvadoran cultural roots. She earned a Bachelor’s in International Studies from University of La Verne and a Master’s in Public Administration from Baruch College – The City University of New York (CUNY).
Peko Gomis, Senior Community and Court Mediator and Intern & Volunteer Liaison, 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.
Sami Frame, Restorative Justice Specialist, 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.
Seema Shah, Training Program Coordinator, has been associated with OC Human Relations for over 20 years. She first became involved as a student in the BRIDGES School Program. Seema has been on staff since 2001 working with Orange County students and school communities on anti-bias, anti-oppression and restorative justice practices. Seema’s work focuses on working alongside school communities to support the planning, implementation and support of restorative techniques to build stronger, engaged and connected campuses throughout Orange County.
Ulisses Esparza, Human Relations Specialist, was born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles and is the proud son of immigrant parents who migrated from Guanajuato, Mexico in the late 1990s. He is a former student of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and later attended California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) where he earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Ethnic Studies (Chicana/o/x Studies) and Sociology. Shortly after undergrad, he began working at various school sites across Los Angeles County primarily supporting special education students and college seniors with their transition into higher education. He is a recent graduate from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) where he acquired his Master of Arts Degree in Education under the Social and Cultural Analysis of Education program. His passion for social justice inspired his graduate thesis which examined the educational trajectories of formerly suspended and/or expelled Latino male college students in K-12 and their transition into higher education. He is now looking forward to building meaningful relationships with students and their communities in an ongoing effort to aid students in their self discovery as active leaders in their communities. In his free time, Ulisses enjoys spending time with his family, and walking his dog Lani.
Valerie Dickson, DEI Strategist, Training Team, has worked for and consulted with various social justice and human relations nonprofit organizations in California for the past 20 years. Having lived in Orange County for the last 12 years, she is excited to join OC Human Relations in bringing the diverse communities in Orange County together. Valerie Dickson specializes in intergroup dialogue facilitation, curriculum development, and informal education focused on racial and intersectional justice for youth, adults and workplaces. With backgrounds in higher education administration, corporate human resources and community-based nonprofits, Valerie has worked to increase the power of individuals to grow their power in building just and equitable workplaces and communities. Valerie believes that social justice dialogues are the key to all of us knowing better and therefore doing better. Valerie has an unwavering faith in individuals as a societal force and believes every person, dominant or targeted, has a role to play in creating a better world. 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: critical race theory, queer and feminist theories, trauma-informed practices, restorative justice practices, interpersonal dialogue theory, popular education theory, and adult learning theory.
Vân Bùi Human Relations Specialist, (she/they) was born and raised in Orange County by her Vietnamese refugee parents. She earned her B.A. in Public Health Policy and minor in Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. During their undergraduate experience, they helped organize the annual Reclaim Mental Health Conference on campus to facilitate crucial conversations about mental health from different perspectives, including through art as a medium. They also participated in various social justice-oriented programs, such as the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative that engaged them in experiential learning and nation-wide visits to different non-profit organizations to better understand organizing and activism. After graduating in March 2021, she participated in the Seeding Change Fellowship and was placed at VietLead in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to organize the annual SumOurRoots program designed to raise political consciousness of Southeast Asian high school youth in Philadelphia through political education workshops and skills-based rotations of cooking, gardening, and storytelling. In her free time, Vân loves weightlifting, playing video games, streaming online, going to concerts (pre-COVID-19), and visiting Orange County’s beautiful beaches.
Yadira Pineda, Restorative Justice Specialist, was raised in Compton, California and is a daughter of immigrant parents. Yadira has been working in the field of education for over 8 years where she has acted as a mentor, advisor, and leader for students and the communities she works with. Through her education and professional experience she has learned that it is important to center the needs of students and the communities that she works with. Yadira has created curriculum and trainings that are centered in critical race theory, culturally relevant pedagogy, and community cultural wealth. In 2017 she received her Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and Sociology from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). She also recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Education with an option in Social and Cultural Analysis of Education from CSULB. Yadira is a passionate leader who is committed to pushing for an equity and transformative driven education for all students.