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, (she/her), Director of Youth & Education Programs, has over 15 years of experience in the field of education ranging from educational advocacy for foster youth and families, teaching special education in public schools, and supporting schools in their implementation of restorative justice practices. April organized with and was a member of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) as well as a member of NYCoRE’s affinity group, Educators of Color (EoC). She has worked with middle and high schools throughout Orange County to support students and staff in learning about, developing, and implementing restorative justice practices in the school setting through her work as a Restorative Justice Specialist with OC Human Relations. April’s varied experiences in education have strengthened her passion for social justice and working with youth to cultivate their power. April graduated from New York University with a B.S. in Childhood Education/Childhood Special Education with a minor in Art History. She has a M.A. in Education with emphasis on Social and Cultural Analysis from California State University, Long Beach.
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.
Brian Han, Restorative Justice Specialist, grew up in Santa Ana and participated in the Human Relations Associated Program (HRAP) as a high school student. HRAP has a positive impact on Brian to pursue a B.A.degree in Sociology. He has enjoyed mentoring youth throughout his college career through his roles as a swimming coach and as an Instructional Assistant. Once he graduated from the California State University of Fullerton he was eager to mentor students and create an impact within the public school system..
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.
Ginrich Moua, Administrative Liaison, was born in Fresno, CA from Hmong-parents who refuged to the United States during the Vietnam War. Shortly after he was born, he moved to and grew up in Sacramento, CA then, as a college-freshman, moved to Long Beach, CA to complete his B.A. and M.A. in Political Science at California State University, Long Beach. During their experience as an undergraduate and graduate student they had opportunities to work with and learn about many diverse racial, socio-economic, gender, and sexuality groups. This inspired them to want to make a difference for all individuals and groups that are affected by social issues, injustices, and inequalities. As someone who identifies as part of the Queer and gender-fluid communities, advocating for all marginalized groups is an important, core value that motivates their work and everyday lifestyle. At OCHR, they are able to dedicate everything they learned from their life-experiences and education to promote the well-being of; carefully listen to; and build effective and safe dialogues between the diverse communities of Orange County.
Haley Brown, Operations Liaison, studied criminal justice and attained a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento and a master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. She furthered her education with graduate certificates in Employment Law and Advanced Paralegal studies from California State University, Long Beach. With a professional certification in human resources, SHRM-CP, Haley paired her administrative background with her passion for social justice issues. After volunteering with OC Human Relations as a mediator in small claims court, she is very grateful for the opportunity to work with this organization and help make a difference in the community.
Hannah Miller, Restorative Justice Specialist, grew up in a small town in Central California. She has always held a desire to help others to know they are valued and worthy of love and respect. This desire developed into a passion to work with youth to empower them while dismantling systems of oppression. She has worked with young people living in transitional housing, mentored underserved youth, and supported autistic children in their learning while advocating for their autonomy. She is excited to now work with OCHR to use restorative practices on school campuses to build stronger relationships and collaboration with students, faculty, families, and community. She is graduating Spring ’22 from California State University, Long Beach with a BA in Psychology and then will continue on to pursue a Master’s degree in School Counseling.
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..
Jesus Palapa, Sr. Human Relations Specialist – Subcontract Liaison, graduated from UC Irvine with a B.A in Sociology and Economics with a Minor in Criminology, Law, and Society. Originally from Los Angeles, he has since immersed himself in the OC life along with his Jack Russel, Scooby. Having grown up with a big family and community support, Jesus has continued to aid in empowering families and their growth. He has worked with non-profits across Southern Californian in education, research, and family advocacy roles. His passion is learning and uses his experiences to continue supporting marginalized communities.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, Senior Conflict Resolution Specialist, has been working for OC Human Relations since June 2009. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from California State University, Fullerton in 2008. Currently, Joyce works as a mediator with our Alternative Dispute Resolution Program providing mediation services to the community and at court. Previously she was the hate crime prevention specialist responding to victims of hate crime and hate incidents. She has also worked in the Police Community Reconciliation Program doing Police Community Dialogues to build better working relationships between police officers and residents.
Kenia Castro, (she/her/ella), Restorative Justice Specialist, is a Latina Orange County native who got her Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Over the last few years, she has been pursuing her passion in supporting under-resourced communities. During her time at Berkeley, she presented workshops on “Healthy Relationships/Boundaries” to middle schools in low-income neighborhoods. Moving home after graduating, Kenia worked with survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, often utilizing her bilingual skills. Her compassion and ability to connect with others lead her to pursue Restorative Practice. Her passion is to implement this practice in diverse schools in hopes to contribute to the work of breaking down systems of oppression.
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.
Leonel Talavera, Senior Human Relations Specialist, has over 10 years of diverse experience working with multiple resident-based community groups. His experience includes the organization and facilitation of meetings, team-building activities, health and education programs and outreach events throughout Orange County. He spends most of his time in Fullerton, California were he, his beautiful wife two children have called home since 2010 engaging residents, nourishing positive interaction, and empowers the community to make sustainable changes and become resident leaders that can advocate for themselves to improve quality of life. Leonel Currently serves on the board of directors for the Fullerton Collaborative, a cooperative of executive directors, educators, activists, community service leaders and volunteers dedicated to building and supporting a healthy cohesive community. As an alliance of non-profit organizations and individuals who enjoy making “good things” happen for the community, we are able to provide community assistance where we are needed most. Our unique partnership allows us to help each other accomplish goals. We encourage our members and the Fullerton Community to “Think Collaboratively.”
Marco Antonio Ortega, (he/él) Director, Dispute Resolution Program, 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.
Madeline Wall, Conflict Resolution Specialist, earned a Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) from The University of Southern California and a B.A. in Communication Studies with a Minor in Theatre Arts from California State University, Long Beach. Madeline is a DRPA Trained Mediator having resolved cases in Los Angeles & Orange County Civil Courts, in addition to guiding new mediators to resolve conflicts under DRPA training requirements. Madeline feels honored and privileged to work with the civil court and family law volunteer mediators, assist the community mediations, train new mediators under DRPA requirements, and bring peace to Orange County through OC Human Relations. Madeline believes we are all capable of gaining the tools to become effective communicators. Her passion for connection, harmony, and peaceful dialogue shine while assisting OC Human Relations in resolving conflicts.
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.
Nicole De La Riva, Development Assistant, joined the OCHR team in November 2021. She graduated the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising with a degree in Merchandise Marketing, and transferred to BIOLA University to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing Management from their School of Business. After interning with St. John Knits, and the Event Society, she was able to gain the knowledge to work as an Event Planner, with a focus on weddings, while also helping her local church. She volunteers her time in San Juan Capistrano, reaching the Hispanic community at a Spanish-speaking church, through her service in directing the kids program, and marketing/event coordinating. Previously, she assisted her parents in an administrative role at their business in Santa Ana, where they help the Hispanic community with taxes, and some immigration work, such as compiling DACA cases and translating documents. As a Bolivian-American woman, she has grown passionate in her efforts to best serve the Latino community, and is excited for the work that OC Human Relations is doing for the youth, and the impact she can have.
Norma Lopez, (she/ella) 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. Norma’s life and career choices have led her to many different places, and it has allowed her to experience life in different parts of the world while learning the lives of people from their own perspective. 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.
Shachar Cohen-Hodos (she/her), Restorative Justice Specialist, grew up in Los Angeles engaged in local faith rooted organizing. As she was exposed to the political landscape of Los Angeles she was drawn to restorative practices that put people’s humanity, needs, and relationships at the center of problem solving. Shachar is an alum of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs in New York. Throughout her time in the fellowship, she cultivated her facilitation skills and strengthened her resolve that sustainable social change comes through building deep relationships. Upon return from New York, she joined the George Gascón campaign for District Attorney as the Deputy Political Director and Interfaith Liaison and served as the Senior Project Manager of Conscious Builders, a DEI Consulting Firm. She is excited to hold space for her students and colleagues to explore restorative practices and continue building an environment of care and collaboration across conflict and through relationships.
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.
sara sheikh-arvizu (she/her), Senior Human Relations Specialist-Subcontract Liaison, has been involved in social justice education, multicultural organization development, and equity work for more than 15 years. She is experienced in facilitation & training, finding opportunities & innovative solutions, reducing bias in recruitment & hiring processes, and community advocacy & building. Having graduated from UC Irvine with a B.A. in Psychology & Social Behavior with a minor in Women’s Studies, and from Colorado State University with a M.S. in Student Affairs in Higher Education, her work has spanned across three states, and in multiple education and community settings. sara and her wife have been a resource (foster) family to five children since 2018, and adopted their son Oliver in April 2021. .
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 (she/they) Human Relations Specialist, 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.