Who We Are


Maria Arabbo

Executive Director

Executive Director, Amala Foundation


Maria holds a Masters degree in Intercultural Relations, and has worked in the educational field for eight years. She most recently led the Refugee Support Office in the Austin Independent School District.

While in that role, Maria adapted the district’s social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum to address cultural and linguistic barriers, so that all students could benefit equally from SEL. She has personal experience with mindfulness and equity work, and brings a unique perspective to our team as a first-generation immigrant from Argentina.

Vanessa Santamaria Dainton

Board Chair

Education Consultant


Vanessa Santamaria Dainton [ella/she/her(s)] was born in Queens, NY to parents from Uruguay, but has been an Austinite for over 30 years. She’s an education consultant having recently helped create and facilitate The Play to Learn dual generation school readiness program for Austin PBS in partnership with United Way’s Success by Six initiative. She also serves as a community advocate working collaboratively and in solidarity for cultural and racial equity for various causes. Having started her career as an elementary bilingual teacher, she holds dear to her heart how public education can be a space for not only building community but building our community leaders of tomorrow. When not working, she and her husband Brian co-parent two teenage boys, Noah & Luca, and dog Lali. She enjoys reading, movement-yoga, dance, walking, and journaling. She holds two degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, in broadcast journalism and an M.Ed in Multicultural Special Education.

Adam Michaelson


Consultant, Virtway Invest


Adam Michaelson was born and raised in New York. With the help of great educators and a liberal arts education, he has seen how dynamic teaching can undo past inequities and drive sustainable business and community solutions. He helps emerging companies with strategy and business development, currently focused on the virtual events and training sectors with Virtway. He also serves on the Board of Garbo, a non-profit background check company empowering women. With a background in law representing schools and government, Adam joined his first startup in 2013 and has been working with tech and social good companies ever since. After living in Austin for 5 years, he’s now living in France with his partner where, in their spare time, they help develop an intergenerational pedagogic garden. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College and a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.

Tasha Banks


Assistant Director of Community Engagement and Health Equity


Tasha Banks is the Assistant Director of Community Engagement and Health Equity in the Department of Population Health at University of Texas in Austin, Dell Medical School.As a result of her experience of working with children with HIV/AIDS while she was in high school, Banks knew public health and working with communities struggling with many health disparities would be a part of her life’s work. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and her master’s degree in global health and medical anthropology from the University of Edinburgh. Prior to working in population health, Banks worked as a yoga instructor and as a program manager for multiple nonprofit organizations with a focus on social emotional learning skills, trauma-informed care and healing and wellness for youth mainly in the East Austin area.

Marcus Griggs


Fatherhood Specialist, SAFE Alliance


Marcus Griggs has worked with youth and families affected by interpersonal violence as an advocate, mentor, and group facilitator since 2001 with the SAFE Alliance and the Man in Me Organization. In his work, he has empowered many to take an active role in healing from their trauma with the hopes of creating healthy families and a safer community. He is, truly, a believer in the tongue having the power to pronounce life and death. Therefore, his aim has been to speak life into the world through coaching, blogging, and podcasting via A Father Heard. When he’s not out in the community, he’s at home with his family. His role as a husband and father is the most precious gift, that he has been given in this life.

Espoir Nindeba


Student, Harvard Medical School


Espoir Nindeba was born in the DR Congo, and came to the United States of America with his family as refugees. He grew up in Austin ISD public schools and was a youth participant and leader in the Amala programs. He continued his studies to graduate college as a double major. In addition to continuing to support Amala by serving on the board, Espoir is a photographer in Austin, Texas. He also continues to excel in his studies currently attending Harvard Medical School. His dream is to build a school in his home country for kids living in villages and refugee camps.

Norma Castillo


Director of Talent Acquisition,


Norma Castillo is currently the Director of Talent Acquisition for Austin ISD where she leads a team that recruits, staffs, and retains staff for one of the largest employers in Austin, TX.  Austin ISD is an urban school district of 80,000 students, over 11,000 employees, and 129 schools. In her capacity as Director of Talent Acquisition, Norma has developed and implemented strategic recruitment and staffing models with a keen focus on diversifying staff. Under her tenure, Austin ISD has doubled the number of newly hired Black teachers in the district. With 21 years of experience in public education, Norma is passionate about ensuring children have access to an equitable education. A former school principal and former teacher, she is dedicated to organizations that provide children opportunities. As a migrant student and English language learner herself who attended public schools across the country growing up, Norma believes that public education is the most powerful equalizer to bring about systemic change in society. Bilingual and bicultural, she is committed to increasing the number of Hispanic teachers entering the profession. She currently serves as board secretary for the Amala Foundation, an Austin area non-profit organization that inspires people of all ages to serve as conscious leaders in their communities.  When she is not working, you can find Norma kayaking in the local lakes or hiking the trails. Norma has one son, Adriel, who is currently a senior at the University of Houston majoring in Political Science.

Amaryllis Martin


Finance & Operations Manager, EcoRise


Amaryllis Martin currently serves as the Finance & Operations Manager for EcoRise; a national non-profit organization whose school-based programs empower youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching sustainability, design innovation, and social entrepreneurship. Amaryllis holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Texas State University and in 2020 graduated from Austin Community College’s Non-Profit Financial Management program. With nearly a decade of experience in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, she enjoys helping organizations strengthen their financial positions to build long term sustainability in an ever-changing economic environment. Born and raised in Austin, Amaryllis is passionate about serving the local community. As a native, she’s watched the city change dramatically throughout her life and is committed to contributing to the unique values that have made Austin such a special place to live. In her spare time Amaryllis enjoys volunteering, gardening, and hiking around the magnificent Austin greenbelt. Naturally resilient and enthusiastic, Amaryllis believes that through learning, advocacy, and service, we can continue to create a more equitable and inclusive society for all! amaryllismmartin@gmail.com, she/her(s) ~ 512.587.3357

Greg Porter


Arbitrator, Independent Hearing Real estate Development + Co-founder, Greg and Taylor Brands, LLC


Greg has a held a variety of professional and entrepreneurial roles including technical Account Management for Cisco Systems and two technology start-ups. One the past 12 years, he has been a commercial real estate developer and investor developing office, retail, mixed-use, and hospitality projects. He is now the co-CEO and co-Founder of Dear You, a natural and sustainable body care brand focused on self-care. Dear You will initially will offer natural Castile body care products direct to consumer via Dearyou.com, launching in June of 2021 and ultimately scaling the brand in large grocery stores in 12-18 months. Greg also has a personal blog, meditationbydesign.com which publishes weekly on a variety of topics including conscious parenting, personal development, self-care, wellness, and inclusive politics.

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