Current Members

Maria Arabbo

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


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.

Samuel Nizi


Refugee Family Liaison, Austin ISD


Samuel Nizi was born in Rwanda and grew up in Congo-Kinshasa and Namibia. He moved to Austin in 2017, after he had been a refugee for more than 25 years. He is committed to supporting Refugees by connecting them to resources in the community and offering language support. He speaks nine languages, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Leadership and Management, focusing on Global Business.

Samuel works for Austin ISD as a Refugee Family Liaison, supporting refugee families and Teachers across the district.

He is very proud of his work, especially when helping the vulnerable. He believes in being an entrepreneur and intends to start a profitable business soon.

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!

Alex Chandler




Alex Chandler is the Chief Communications Officer for AVANCE, the mission of AVANCE is to create pathways to economic mobility for predominately Latino families through high-quality, culturally responsive, two-generation programming that ensures school readiness for young children and opportunities for parents to build social and economic capital. As a first generation college student, Alex believes in the power of education as the great equalizer and wants to see the systemic inequities in the system eliminated. Through Alex’s role as CCO of AVANCE, Alex is responsible for leading AVANCE’s communications, marketing, branding, and community engagement efforts. Alex has over 15 years in communications and marketing for educational non-profits. Before joining the AVANCE, Alex worked for WGTE PBS, Trellis(formerly Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation), Austin ISD, and E3 Alliance, leading various marketing and community initiatives while also doing graphic design and video and photography. Alex received his Bachelor of Visual Communication Technology from Bowling Green State in Bowling Green, Ohio, and studied art, photography, and graphic design at the Studio Arts Center International in Florence, Italy.

Diana Anzaldua


Founder, Austin Trauma Therapy Center


Diana Anzaldua is a Texas native, Latina Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Somatic Therapist in Austin, Texas. She is also the founder and owner of the 2021 award winning health and wellness centers; Austin Trauma Therapy Center and Contigo Wellness. Diana completed her Bachelor’s in Psychology at St. Edward’s University, and Master’s of Science in Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. 

Diana Anzaldua, is a social change activist and influential leader in mental health equity and reform and has worked in numerous healing spaces with trauma survivors. Her vision and leadership create a safe space for other survivors to grow, embrace their resilience, and heal; all-in-community with others. Diana and her clinical expertise have been featured in a number of media such as: Bustle, Vice, Allure magazine, PBS, The BBC, Yahoo, and The Atlantic Journal. Diana serves on the 2021-2024 Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities in Austin, and has received numerous awards for her work in community healing, wellness, public service and leadership. Diana is a Board Certified LCSW Supervisor and is professionally Licensed in the States of Texas, North Carolina, and Nevada. Diana is also a graduating member of the 2021 Leadership Austin cohort and currently in the 2023 ATXelerator cohort.

Norma Castillo


Director of Talent Acquisition, AISD


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.

Florencia Rueda

Board Chair

Staff Attorney, Project Engage


Mrs. Florencia Rueda was born and raised in Houston, Texas to parents who came from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She moved to Austin,Texas to attend the University of Texas where she met her husband and later graduated with a B.S. in Communication Studies and a B.A. in English. In 2004, she attended Baylor Law School, where she received her J.D. with a Criminal Practice Area of Concentration. She has dedicated the last 16 years to providing legal representation and advice to those in need in Central Texas. She is passionate about serving and volunteering to ensure youth have a path to success and volunteers as a Staff Attorney with Project Engage to help reduce the number of convictions and jail sentences in teenage offenders. When Mrs. Rueda is not working, she is spending time with her husband and son exploring new places to eat and relax and connect with family.

Deserah Telles


Counselor and Mental Health Advocate


Deserah Telles [ella/she/her(s)] was reared in East Austin (before gentrification) all her life. She has committed her life work to helping young people who may walk through similar paths as she did during childhood. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. She has a PhD of Philosophy in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior. 

She specializes in integrating counseling, restorative justice, and Christianity. She works with challenging life experiences, trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression, substance use and defiant behaviors. Deserah is a mental health advocate and champion of underserved communities, providing trauma responsive care through crises. Deserah provides trauma and gender responsive care consultations and training for organizations. Fun fact: She fell in love with her side hustle as a user experience researcher. 

She prides herself on integrating restorative justice practices throughout her work. In her free time, she enjoys playing sports, writing, volunteering with local nonprofits, bible studies, and hanging out with friends and family.

Macus Groggs


Group Facilitator, SAFE


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.