Anders is a native Texan originally from Ft Worth who graduated from The Military College of South Carolina with a BA in Political Science. He moved to Austin with his husband to start their mixed family in a place where diversity is a welcomed part of the city's culture. His background is in preschool and elementary education primarily in ESL and Special Education classrooms. Through volunteer translating and youth program leadership, he discovered a passion for helping others, especially in mentoring little ones. Most recently, he ran a grant funded program to provide vocational rehabilitation services and independent living skills for adults with disabilities. He is excited to be a part of a nonprofit that provides great opportunities for young people to grow and thrive.
Andrea Arca was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and minor in Psychology from Sam Houston State University. She is a proud first-generation college graduate, native Spanish speaker, and daughter of immigrants. Andrea has a history of working with at-risk youth and families for various non-profits including CASA, Helping Hand Home for Children, Goodwill, and Breakthrough Central Texas. She brings experience in child advocacy, social services, and family law. Andrea hopes to provide support in the community to ensure youth are successful and able to reach their fullest potential.
Marco Bustamante was born in Lima, Peru and from an early age, was passionate about soccer, eventually playing in college and on a semi-professional team. Marco moved to the U.S. in 2001. As an immigrant, Marco had to work hard in order to succeed in a new country and with a family and full-time job, pursued higher education in order to further his career. After spending time on the East Coast, Marco moved to Texas where he completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at Huston-Tillotson University. Marco has worked as a soccer coach, substitute teacher and Teacher’s Assistant at Austin Independent School District and most recently at the American School of Dubai and GEMS Dubai American Academy. Marco and his family returned to Austin in the summer of 2019, and he’s thrilled to be a part of Friends of the Children and to be mentoring children in Austin. Marco’s goal is to use his experience to show children that all things are possible; he strives to be a role model for his family and those around him.
At an early age Changa learned the value of mentoring through his parents who were educators. A native Floridian, Changa’s interest in youth began with an incredible 4-year experience at Kids Across America. Furthering his desire to serve urban youth took him on a journey through Austin TX, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Memphis where he served for 6 years as an Area Director for Memphis Athletic Ministries, impacting the community of Orange Mound. Changa holds a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communication from Pensacola Christian College. He not only has a love for video and film production, but he also knows “the kitchen”, having published his own cookbook. By Leveraging those interests, he’s had the privilege of mentoring kids in the creative arts, sports, and the culinarily arts. Many of whom have received athletic and academic scholarships to four-year universities. Changa and his family returned to Austin in 2020, and they are thrilled for him to be a part of Friends of the children Austin.
Brenda Luz Cotto-Escalera is a Latinx educator and activist who has worked for educational equity and access throughout a professional career that includes roles in community arts, higher education, public schools, and the nonprofit sector.
While growing up in a tight-knit barrio in Puerto Rico, she developed a passion for social justice and community empowerment. She channeled this passion into the practice of street theater and traveled throughout Latin America working with communities that used drama as a means to imagine a better world and organize to attain it. She later focused her academic studies on the areas of Latin American Theater and Popular Education and completed a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduate school, she moved to the Boston area where she taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lesley University and directed theater productions at various New England venues.
Searching for work that offered direct engagement with social justice and community empowerment, she worked in the education departments of nonprofit organizations focused on LGBT rights, economic equity, and environmental justice. After realizing that the education of our youth was at the core of all positive social change, she moved to the Austin area where she has been working as a bilingual teacher and education leader for the last 12 years. Throughout this time, she honed her skills in the areas of literacy instruction, second language acquisition, and special needs intervention.
Brenda feels that her role as Education Program Manager at Friends of the Children Austin is the culmination of a career dedicated to attaining justice through community empowerment and is thrilled to focus her training and experience on the task of making a better world one child at a time!
Being the first born in the United States from an immigrant Mexican family Uriel knew that he had a huge responsibility to work extra hard to reach his goals. He wanted to be a role model for his siblings, and his family. While in middle school his family had to move to Mexico, and he had to move in with an uncle in Houston. This is where Uriel was confronted with many challenges, but fortunately was lucky enough to have teachers and mentors that persuaded him to never give up. Years later, while in college, Uriel used his summer time to get involved with national non-profits that worked specifically with vulnerable populations. He did not know before graduating what he wanted to do, but with personal and professional experience, he knew that he wanted to make a difference and help youth follow their dreams. Specifically, youth that come from vulnerable populations, so that he can persuade them to never give up just like his mentors have done for him in the past.
Kay is a native Texan. She grew up in Port Arthur and attended East Texas Baptist University. In 2016 she made Austin her home. Her passion for helping others to see their value has driven her enjoyable, eclectic work career. Developing a worship arts program for 300 children and leading 18 justice initiatives for women to Kolkata, India, she has been able to use her creative abilities in ways she never dreamed. From producing an original song written by women rescued from the sex trade in Kolkata, facilitating the start of a slum village sewing center in Udyan Pally, India, and producing over twenty-five musicals for children, her experiences have left her knowing that life is about way more than herself. Having served as the National Project Coordinator for a nonprofit in Austin just prior to joining Friends of the Children, Kay feels like she has found a special home within this organization.
Lupe was born and raised in Southern California. She is the daughter of incredible Mexican immigrants. Lupe learned early on the value of hard work and the privilege she held having the status of an American citizen. Lupe’s childhood was surrounded by volunteering events her parents organized and funded out of their home and church. Witnessing firsthand the power of giving back to others in need shaped Lupe’s personal life and career aspirations. The never-ending encouragement Lupe received from her parents to pursue higher education allowed her to graduate from the University of California, Irvine. Lupe was given the opportunity to intern for the American Federation of Teachers and was immersed into local politics. As an intern, Lupe was able to fight for her Mother, a minimum-wage full time worker in Los Angeles County. This opportunity led Lupe to earn her degree in Political Science. Lupe continued her career aspirations working with local non-profits throughout Southern California. Lupe has experience working in title 1 schools and immigrant communities in the San Ysidro/Tijuana border. Lupe continued her goal of working with at risk youth and families in Austin through Early Childhood Intervention. Lupe hopes to continue her passion for helping at risk youth by being an advocate and nurturing their own goals in life.
Hector G. Garcia Jr. has 6 years of experience in afterschool programming for elementary-aged kids. He feels that serving underserved youth and families is his sole purpose both professionally and personally. Born in Laredo, TX, he moved to Austin in 2005 after serving in the U.S. Army for 4 years. He attended Le Cordon Bleu and earned an associate degree in Culinary Arts followed by earning a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Wellness at Kaplan University online. Hector feels that the best way for him to utilize the skills learned from his educational experience is by educating those around him on how to cook, showing the basics of nutrition, and doing personal chef work. He previously worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Austin for 6 years on the Eastside (Norman-Sims Elementary) starting as a Youth Development Professional and then as the Club Director. He loves cooking (no surprise there), as well as learning about food, culture, and traditions through cooking, reading, and interviews with people. He also enjoys hanging out with his 6-year-old pit lab, Barley, spending time with family back in Laredo/San Antonio, getting sun any way possible, and relaxing at home. He can’t wait to dedicate his time with Friends of the Children and serve our community!
As a proud daughter of immigrant parents from El Salvador, she knew what hard work and determination meant. Pursuing a higher education was important for her because she didn’t want her parents sacrifices to mean nothing. Her coaches along with her high school college adviser served as mentors to her and helped her get to where she is now. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Iberian and Latin American Languages and Cultures. During her undergraduate years she joined Sigma Delta Lambda Sorority, Inc. because of their philanthropy, at-risk youth. She had the opportunity to work with different programs such as the Boys and Girls Club and APIE, as well as a mentoring program that was established by her sorority, Doves Achieving Success. After college she served as an AmeriCorps member for two years with Advise TX. During her time, she served as a college adviser to guide low-income and first-generation students to college. Because of her upbringing and mentors, she wants to continue giving back to her community and continue to be a role model for the youth and inspire and empower.
Deya grew up in Mexico City and then moved to Monterrey where she graduated and married before moving to Austin, where she has lived for the past 31 years. Deya’s most important and rewarding role is and has been to be a Mom of two wonderful children on the autism spectrum. Deya holds a BSc degree in Agricultural Engineering and a master’s degree in Human Services as well as a Certification in Advanced Mediation. Professionally, Deya has been fortunate to be part of great organizations that share her belief that access to relevant information and supports improves the outcomes and quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families. For more than 25 years Deya has served her community through various community organizations. As a staff member of the Arc of the Capital Area, Deya advocated for more than 250 families with disabilities and of low socio-economic means (primarily Spanish speaking) in the educational system, promoting special education rights, supervising emotional support groups for families of children with disabilities and supporting collaboration between schools and parents. At CASA of Travis county, Deya supervised more than 30 volunteers appointed to represent in court the best interest of children under the care of child protective services. Deya published a parent-to-parent support model for families of children with disabilities in Mexico. More recently, she collaborated with Safe Place Austin in creating “Promotion of Justice - An Essential Resource Guide for Responding to Abuse Against Children with Disabilities”, a document intended to provide essential knowledge of autism for first responders and the judicial system.
Growing up in El Paso, Texas Jorge’s two brothers, librarian mother, and ever inquisitive father taught him the importance of education and persistence. While attending the University of New Mexico he was able to experience different parts of the country, and the world, including Lebanon and Egypt. During university he worked with toddlers and children on the autism spectrum while simultaneously mentoring high school students in a college prep program geared towards Latinx and disenfranchised populations. He completed his degree in International Studies: Conflict Peace and Diplomacy and was selected to join the Peace Corps. Jorge served as a community organization and economic development volunteer in El Salvador, working with local women and youth groups. He also served as the project manager of Vitals: “Men as Partners Training,” focusing on topics of gender equality, sexual health/education, and understanding masculinity. Jorge expanded his reach by working with refugees through Caritas of Austin as an employment specialist. Through these experiences he learned the importance of access to all forms of education and its related benefits.
As a full-time nanny for the past four years, Abbey spent her time working directly with youth, supporting them through several developmental milestones, engaging with each child’s creative interests, and from time to time, performing the ever-evolving character “Ursula” from The Little Mermaid.
In 2020, Abbey earned her MA in Nonprofit Management with the University of Houston-Downtown. Previously working with Friends Austin in 2018 as a volunteer, and then again in 2020 as an intern, Abbey has had the opportunity to learn from multiple departments, from Finance, Operations, Programming, to Development. Volunteering with the organizations Rebuild Joplin and Head Start as an undergraduate student, Abbey quickly realized her passion for working in the social sector, and more specifically, her passion for youth development. Now serving as the Administrative Specialist for Friends Austin, Abbey is thrilled to be in the position where she can continue honing her skills and supporting the Friends Austin mission.
From Marlin, Texas, Abbey is the oldest of 7, one sibling being her twin sister. In her free time, she enjoys being with her family and doing outdoor adventures and sports with her long-time boyfriend, Felix, and her sweet lab, Lucy.
Marilyn was born and raised in sunny Long Beach, Calif., along with her four siblings. As a child of immigrants, she has always had a collective mindset and desire to serve her community. Because of her parent’s lack of resources growing up- they constantly emphasized education as a way to succeed in life. After graduating from UCI with a double major in Business Economics and Sociology, she continued to work with families and children in the nonprofit sector. She acquired experience via working in: a foster home for teenage girls, as a Youth and Mentor Program Coordinator in Dove Springs (78744), and Program Manager for an Early Childhood Team in Travis county. She has had the same mentee for over two years now, and it brings her joy to guide her. She is truly grateful and excited to work towards a mission that embodies her passion.
Sheila a is community development professional enthusiastic about collaborating with communities to create generational wealth, by building and creating resources for the advancement of community growth. Her experiences included working with AmeriCorps VISTA, to increase fundraising efforts for affordable housing as well as, monitoring and evaluating youth banking programs in Washington DC.
She has a dual bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science, from Salisbury University. Currently she is a student at Cornell University perusing a professional certificate in project management.
Sheila is a new resident of Austin, she her husband and pet dog moved from the DC- Metro Area in the beginning of 2022. On her free time Sheila enjoys traveling, listening to music, trying new foods, hiking, camping, and managing her travel Instagram page catch her travels at Ms. Nayatravels.
Caroline is a native Austinite and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Journalism. After graduating, Caroline served as the Tour Director for a Ugandan children’s choir, where she planned, led and traveled with the choir tour through six states over six months. Caroline moved to New York City after completing the tour and worked for six years at Robin Hood, New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization. Caroline focused on development, educating and engaging young people and donor families on the issues of poverty and Robin Hood’s approach to grantmaking and strengthening Robin Hood partners through governance and board placement. Caroline moved back to her hometown in 2016, where she became the Executive Director of A Legacy of Giving. Legacy existed to create a culture of compassion through education and leadership development and envisioned a society of empathetic individuals building stronger communities through service and giving. Caroline recently led Legacy through a collaborative acquisition process, which resulted in Legacy becoming part of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, part of U.T.’s Moody College of Communication. The acquisition ensures the long-term sustainability of Legacy’s work. Caroline has volunteered with iMentor since 2011 and has mentored the same student for seven years, through their high school completion and entry into higher education. Caroline is elated to join Friends of the Children–Austin because her passion for the organization’s commitment to transform the lives of Austin’s most underserved children and experience and skills in development and donor relations are a wonderful match.
LaDonna was born and raised in California, spending time in both Northern California (Bay Area) and in sunny San Diego. LaDonna holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in guidance counseling. Raised by hard working parents who believe in giving to others, LaDonna is no stranger to volunteering and helping others. Whether it’s serving in her church in various ministries or volunteering as a mentor in the Aztec mentor program at San Diego State University, LaDonna enjoys serving and imparting to the next generation. LaDonna has spent the past decade in the mental health field working with youth in a residential treatment setting. LaDonna’s love for sports and mentorship was brought to life as she managed the recreation therapy department at San Diego Center for Children. In this position, LaDonna was able to teach youth ages 6-18 years old life and social skills, sports, and coping skills to deal with frustration and anxiety. LaDonna believes the glass is half-full and encourages youth to focus on the positive things in life rather than the negative. In her free time, LaDonna enjoys being active, including playing softball, cycling, bowling, hiking, and relaxing by watching a good movie. LaDonna’s mission statement for her life is: Trust God, Laugh Daily, and Give Freely.
Sierra was born in Austin, TX and possesses dual citizenship as a Peruvian being born to a mother whose homeland is Peru. Her parents instilled in her the importance of service to others and our responsibility as citizens to work towards a more just society. While in university she had the opportunity to study in Costa Rica for a year where she led a community outreach soccer program for youth facing challenges in the neighborhood. Upon returning to the U.S., she set out to finish her studies while continuing to look for ways to serve the youth in her community through various endeavors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Texas State University where she minored in sociology. After university Sierra joined the SAFE Alliance in Austin where she mentored and advocated for children residing on campus. She brings with her a lifelong passion for justice, equality and service and is excited to be a part of the Friends of the Children’s mission and to continue investing in the lives of youth in her hometown.
Nancy Pollard is the Executive Director of Friends of the Children–Austin, Friends of the Children’s first Texas chapter, of which she was a co-founder. She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English Literature and a concentration in Women's Studies; she then earned a J.D., cum laude, from Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law. Nancy practiced as a Trusts and Estates attorney in Dallas at Bisignano and Harrison LLP and in Austin at Andrews Kurth. She was most successful in business development and focused heavily on nonprofit creation and compliance. During this time, she volunteered extensively with the Junior League of Dallas, served on the board of Hope International, and founded and directed August Dog, a nonprofit dog rescue group. When her three children were born, she followed her passion for the nonprofit sector and became an active community volunteer. She now has more than fifteen years of experience volunteering in, building, and leading local and national nonprofit organizations. Nancy has experience serving on a variety of nonprofit boards and currently serves as an advocate with CASA of Travis County and on the boards of Austin Pets Alive!, The Marcella Project and Austin PBS.
Elise Raymund is the Development Manager of Friends of the Children–Austin. She is a native Texan and has called Austin her home since 2010. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015 with a degree in Communication Studies and a concentration in Social Entrepreneurship and Nonprofits. Elise began her professional career as a founding member of the development team at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School. During her five years at Dell Med, Elise enjoyed the challenge of helping design and implemented a donor and alumni relations program for the brand-new medical school. As a young adult cancer survivor, Elise was especially interested in Dell Med’s goal of designing and delivering better patient-centered medical care for all. Over the past three years, personal experiences ignited her passion for helping vulnerable children, leading her to pursue volunteer opportunities in the child welfare realm. Elise currently serves as a volunteer at Helping Hand Home for Children and as a court-appointed special advocate with CASA of Travis County. Outside of work, Elise and her husband, Andrew, enjoy exploring Austin’s local restaurant scene and taking care of their two guinea pigs.
Veronicais the rare native Austinite. She did venture outside of the Austin city limits for her college education at Texas State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology along with a minor in English. She ventured a great deal further than Austin in 2012 where she chose to work abroad in Costa Rica at a wildlife and turtle sanctuary. Single-handedly she released over a thousand turtle hatchlings into the ocean!
As a first generation Mexican-American she has experienced first-hand the many hurdles the bilingual population has to overcome in and out of the education world. Due to this, Veronica has placed an enormous value on education. First, she was an Enrollment Broker with the state of Texas aiding the public in understanding, utilizing, and maximizing the use of their state benefits. Next, she entered the exciting world of elementary education as a 3rd grade bilingual teacher. As an educator, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, it became incredibly evident that children need more than a solid education in academics, they need social emotional learning, positive relationships, de-escalation strategies, and above all someone to truly believe in them. These were the pillars of her classroom, and she is thrilled to continue implementing these foundational skills as a Professional Mentor with Friends of the Children-Austin.
Growing up in the border town of Del Rio, TX Leenayvia experienced many volunteer opportunities both in the U.S. and Mexico, cultivating experience working with individuals and families from different backgrounds, cultures, and life styles. She has worked as a youth leader and coordinator, Residential Specialist and Residential Specialist Supervisor at Roy Maas Youth Alternatives Residential Treatment Center and as a Community Living Support Specialist and Wraparound Facilitator for the YES Waiver program working with children at risk of out of home placement as well as children in DFPS, ODFPS and DSHS custody who have been diagnosed with behavioral and mental disabilities. She has worked directly with the children, planned and implemented daily and monthly agendas, and become a liaison between volunteers and the organizations. Leenayvia graduated from Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi with a Bachelors of Art degrees in Psychology and Sociology. She continued her education, receiving a Master of Arts degree in Mental Health Counseling from Texas A&M University-San Antonio. She has a passion for working with youth, and advocating for individuals who struggle to have a voice of their own.
Alex was born in Arlington, Virginia where he was raised by his mother with the help of his older sister. Alex was fortunate to attend Washington-Lee High School and eagerly developed his social skills through church involvement and various extra-curricular activities. Alex loves the sport of soccer and actively participates as both a coach and a player. It was his love of the sport which ultimately served as the deciding factor in attending Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia where he studied Criminology. While in college, Alex was elected President of Student Government, where he was heavily involved in building up his community, staff, and student relations. Upon graduation in 2013, Alex decided to focus his career on crime prevention by focusing on counseling and mentoring youth. He moved to Austin, Texas and began working with at-risk boys and girls as a high school English tutor. Afterward, Alex chose to take on the challenge of moving to a developing country by enrolling in the United States Peace Corps to Colombia. It was there that Alex served for three years as an English teacher and trainer for current and incoming Volunteers. He returned to Austin in February of 2018 and now works to foster the growth and development of the social, emotional, and critical thinking skills of children. His desire is to prevent crime in the communities of Austin and empower children to become honorable and productive citizens.
Jonathan was born in Michoacan, Mexico. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 4 years old. Being an undocumented youth, it was difficult navigating the post-high school education spectrum before the DACA program came to existence in 2012. Having a wonderful mentor and an ever-supportive mother pushed him to attend the University of Texas at San Antonio and graduate in 2018. Volunteering many years in youth soccer enabled him to realize he had a passion for working with the younger generation. Jonathan also helped to bring educational immigration trainings to the community of Fredericksburg, Texas through United We Dream and continues to be an advocate for immigrant rights. Aided by his experience with United We Dream Jonathan was invited to the council of students who lobbied to create a Dreamers Resource Center at UTSA, which has many resources for undocumented and DACAmented students attending and looking to attend the University. Jonathan hopes to continue to motivate, inspire and nurture the next generation.
Freddy was born and raised in Austin, Texas to a loving Mexican mother and dedicated El Salvadorian father and is the oldest of four. While enrolled at The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor he was the Head Resident Assistant at an all-male dorm, a campus guide, and a case manager for foster youth. When Freddy graduated in 2018 with his Bachelor of Social Work, he decided to focus his career on the vulnerable youth population in Austin and began to work at the Child Advocacy Center of Travis County. During his time there he conducted over 250 forensic interviews of alleged victims of child abuse and testified in court. Freddy hopes to give back to his community the same way that his community supported him growing up.
Daisy Woods was born and raised in Tyler, Texas. Her parents worked hard to break the cycle of poverty they grew up in so their children could experience a better life. Daisy received her undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University in 1989. She earned her master’s degree from Nova South Eastern University in 2008. She loves education, so teaching was a natural option for her as a career choice. An AIDS related tragedy struck her family in the early 90’s. This spurred her to pivot and make a career change. Daisy became the Program Services Coordinator for Tyler AIDS Services and worked with families experiencing the full impact of the AIDS epidemic. It was difficult to watch children suffer as their parents were ravaged by the disease. Daisy worked with families to support them during their struggles and designed outings that families could enjoy together. Daisy went back to the classroom after a time and worked in Title I schools with vulnerable youth. Daisy wrote grants as a teacher to bring programs into schools that would expose students to new opportunities and experiences. Some examples include an on-campus Comic-con, a museum exhibit which highlighted the cultural connections between Africa and Latin America, and speakers from universities. Daisy’s goal is to help others break the bonds of poverty that her grandparents could not shake. She credits the determination of her parents to provide a better life for her as inspiration for the work she wants to do with the youth of Austin.
Wayne is an operations and management professional who brings more than 25 years’ experience gained in corporate and non-profit organizations and most recently a philanthropic foundation. His focus areas include finance and operations; project and change management; social outcomes measurement; and the leadership of grant-funded programs.
Born in England, Wayne and his family emigrated to New Zealand when he was young. He graduated from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, majoring in politics and English in addition to completing a degree in finance and accounting. Initially working as a Chartered Accountant, Wayne transitioned into contract finance and project-based roles in a variety of organizations in London and Spain. From 2007 to 2020 he was based in Boston and worked as a business operations executive.
Wayne serves on the board of Engaging Schools, a Cambridge, MA, non-profit organization that creates communities of learning to integrate academic, social, and emotional development in public school programs. While in Boston, he volunteered as a mentor to college guidance counselors.
Outside of a professional setting, with his wife Victoria and puppy Nala he enjoys hiking Austin’s trails and when not on a trail or involved in a DIY project, he’ll be found exploring the Texas hill country and western deserts by motorcycle. Hanging out with Victoria’s Austin-based family, including a handful of nephews and a niece, entertaining at home, traveling, scuba diving, and checking out movies or live music with friends round out his list of favorite pastimes.