2014 NLC Fellows: Orange County

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Karina Casillas , Office Staff Assistant & Intern Coordinator , Department of Education and Workforce Development, Mayor Garcetti’s Office at Los Angeles City Hall

Karina is the Office Staff Assistant and Intern Coordinator at Mayor GarcettiÍs Office of Education and Workforce Development. She is also a social entrepreneur with experience in social media, education policy, and access to higher education. Prior to City Hall, Karina focused on mentoring the youth of Southern California on an individual level. As a college and career mentor, she works to empower the students, parents, and communities of Southern California. After graduating from USC, Karina entered into educational policy to address educational issues and improve the opportunities of access for first-generation college interested youth with high financial need. KarinaÍs long-term goal is to become a Post-partisan Educational Policy Consultant working closely with the government and community to solve current day issues in education. She has been recognized as a CNN Next-Lister and a ïLatina to WatchÍ through HOPE. Karina was considered a multidisciplinary scholar at the University of Southern California, studying Policy, Planning, Development & American Studies and Ethnicity. She interprets the intersection of her majors as the study of social issues and how policy can change or affect those. During her tenure at USC, Karina has been active in many academic, community, volunteer, and professional endeavors such as: Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, the Latino Alumni Association (LAA), the Undergraduate McNair Research Program, the Sol Price Ambassadors, and the Polymathic Academy. Through her work with USC LAA Karina has gone back to her hometown, and specifically to Santa Ana high school to volunteer as a mentor and college workshop coordinator through their La Curacao Academic Achievement Program (LCAAP). In Fall 2011 Karina opted to study aboard in Bilbao, Spain in which her being bilingual in English and Spanish, and having proficient use of French opened the door of opportunities for her. Although interested in international social justice issues, she recognized that before extending a helping hand to those suffering injustices abroad, it would be wise to address the work needed in the United States. KarinaÍs passion for service and social justice was inspired by observing her parentÍs sacrifices to ensure that her brother and she received access to higher education. For 2014, Karina is considering graduate school programs around the nation such as Harvard, USC, and UCLA for an action research-oriented degree in Education, Policy, and Law. Karina enjoys amateur road cycling, dancing, drawing, reading, and traveling when given the opportunity. She presently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Ernest Hammond III, Legal Fellow, The Office of Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin

A recent graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law, Ernest Hammond III is currently a Legal Fellow for a Los Angeles City Councilman.

A native of Illinois, Ernest was raised on the south side of Chicago where he learned to overcome adversity through education and hard work. Having attended the University of Florida on a full merit-based tuition scholarship, he became the first in his family to graduate from college with a B.S. in Psychology. At UF, Ernest served as a student leader in a number of organizations focused on improving the lives of minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. Ernest also served on the Executive Board of Alpha Kappa Psi Fraternity where he fostered the professional development of hundreds of UF students.

After college Ernest immediately entered law school at American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. where he served on the first year class’s advisory board. After his first year of law school, Ernest transferred to Washington and Lee where he served as a research assistant to a professor and as a judicial extern for the Honorable James R. Swanson of the Roanoke County Circuit Court. He also served as the Director of Corporate Relations for the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Students Association and as a member of the Committee on Grievance and Discipline of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

Ernest is a devoted follower of Chicago sports teams as well as the Florida Gators’ basketball and football teams. He passionately enjoys playing tennis and traveling having studied abroad in Western Europe in both 2007 and 2010.

Deana Helmy , Program Manager , Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies

 	Deana	Helmy	Deana Helmy is a Program Manager at the Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies (MECCA), a non-profit consortium of local ethnic organizations that provide mental health prevention and early intervention services in various ethno-linguistic communities across Orange County. Prior to joining MECCA, Deana worked at several non-profit agencies providing individual and group therapy sessions, in addition to conducting classes on parenting, drug awareness, and leadership development. As a native to Southern California, Deana grew up very connected to the Muslim and Arab American communities. She spent most of her years teaching/mentoring youth and sitting on various committees at local mosques and organizations. Her focus was on bridging the gap that many youth felt being born to immigrant parents and living in a society that was foreign to their parents. She aimed to facilitate identity development among the youth by creating a space for them to express themselves freely; gain an appreciation for their parentsÍ struggles and perspectives; and learn tools to effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings.
Deana graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a MasterÍs in Counseling and an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy, and was awarded the Academic Excellence Award. Prior to becoming a Titan, Deana graduated Summa Cum Laude with her BachelorÍs in Psychology and Social Behavior and obtained her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from the University of California, Irvine. Understanding that personal growth is a lifelong journey, she has been involved in various personal development and leadership trainings, with the hopes of using her skills to not only promote positive mindsets and lifestyles, but to also empower her community to examine a new narrative for America: one that is built on mutual respect, understanding, and connectedness. In her spare time, Deana enjoys traveling, reading, photography, and playing board games with friends.

Yessica Hernandez , Account Executive, Imprenta Communications Group, Inc.

Yessica HernandezYessica has worked on various programs and initiatives in the Latino Community for more than 6 years and is passionate about making a positive impact through meaningful outreach. Her work with migrant families and individuals has shown a history and focus on ensuring rights and fair treatment. Currently, Yessica works for Imprenta Communications Group where she is responsible for supporting a number of public education, community relations, political and marketing campaigns for various clients. Before joining Imprenta, Yessica worked with migrant families, non-profit legal aid organizations, and in the State Capital. Most recently, she served as a Legal Assistant for a public interest law center in San Diego where she worked exclusively with undocumented immigrants and low-income families. At the law center, Yessica was the liaison between the center and the Immigration Juvenile Detention Facilities. She was responsible for educating the detained minors and their families about their Immigration Rights and court preparation. In addition, she prepared Immigration benefit applications such as: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Asylum, and adjustment of status. Yessica has been instrumental in giving Latinos and low-income communities a voice through extensive outreach to businesses, political leaders, and the community at large. Additional experience includes: ´Participated in the Executive Fellowship Program; nationally recognized as one of the top fellowship programs in the nation ´Legislative Aide for California Department of Insurance ´Served as a Board Member for the California Latino Capitol Association

Meghan Medlin , Employment Services Manager , Taller San Jose

 Meghan MedlinMeghan Medlin currently works as the Employment Services Manager for Taller San Jose, a nonprofit organization that works with high-risk young adults training them to a path of self-sufficiency. She is extremely involved in the local community especially in the field of criminal reentry and gang prevention and intervention. Meghan serves on the Board of Directors for Homework House, OCSAPN (Orange County Substance Abuse Prevention Network) and OCREP (Orange County Re-Entry Partners). She is an Advisory Board member for UCI’s Civic and Community Engagement organization and volunteers with The Elite OC and America On-Track, as well as owns and runs a small consulting company and clothing company. In 2010 Meghan earned a Gang Prevention and Intervention Certificate from Coastline Community College and was an OC Superior Court Leadership Academy Participant. Meghan earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Redlands in 2003 and a Master’s in Advanced Study degree in Criminology, Law & Society from the University of California, Irvine in 2013.

Michael Mooney , Attorney , Office of Orange County Public Defender

 	Michael	MooneyMichael Mooney is a Deputy Public Defender in Orange County and former associate attorney at the Law Offices of Thomas A. Johnson in Sacramento, CA. Michael grew up in Orange County before leaving to attend the University of California, San Diego for his undergraduate degree, and the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law for his J.D. While attending law school, Michael was a law clerk at the Office of the Federal Defender, participated in a pro bono tax clinic for migrant farm workers, participated in a parole representation clinic, and acted as a mentor to underprivileged youth in the Sacramento area. This background has acted as a base for what Michael is committed to: protecting and fighting for the rights of the indigent, marginalized, and people without a voice. He hopes to one day be in a position where he can influence, in a more general sense, policies that relate to these populations.

Jacqueline Parker, Manager, Latin America Desk & World Trade Institute Professional Development Intern Program , World Trade Center San Diego

Jacqueline Parker currently serves as the Manager of the Latin America Desk at the World Trade Center San Diego. Part of the network of over 330 WTCs in 100 countries, San Diego’s World Trade Center connects its business community to the people, data, companies, and government agencies that make up the fabric of global commerce. In addition to doing research and making connections for businesses looking to enter Latin American markets and increase the competitiveness of the region, Jacquie heads the World Trade Institute, WTCSD’s Professional Development Intern Program.

A recent graduate of Columbia University, Jacquie took New York City by storm completing internships with the International Human Rights Funders Group, Brooklyn’s District Attorney Office and New York University Child and Family Policy Center, all while completing her B.A. in International Relations.

After four fast paced years, Jacquie returned to her hometown of Orange, California where her family has owned and operated Watson Drug & Soda Fountain for over forty years. The old fashion diner is an iconic landmark that has been featured in several moves, such as That Thing You Do with Tom Hanks. Jacquie is a very active member of her community participating in the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Orange Program and serving on the local Dog Park Board. Jacquie enjoys volunteering with her dog through Pet Partner’s Therapy program visiting local hospitals and schools.

Mitchall Patel, WIC Liaison, Community Action Partnership of Kern

 Mitchall PatelMitchall Patel currently works as a liaison for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in Kern and San Bernardino Counties—serving as a resource to over 20,000 WIC participants and 100 authorized vendors in Kern and San Bernardino Counties. In addition, Patel serves on the board of a Children’s non-profit in Bakersfield and the Executive Board of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee and is the three term Chapter President and Founding Member of the “2013 California Young Democrats Chapter of the Year.”

Melanie Peck, Project Coordinator, The Energy Coalition

Melanie serves as a Project Coordinator working on Special Projects and New Business Development at The Energy Coalition. In this role, Melanie manages new development opportunities, partnerships and strategic planning.

Prior to joining The Energy Coalition, Melanie managed capacity, training , community activism and grant programs with Keep Louisiana Beautiful in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina Melanie served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in southeast LA. Throughout her career, Melanie maintained multiple volunteer commitments with the American Red Cross, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Special Olympics and several neighborhood improvement organizations.

Melanie has eight years of experience working cross-sector to foster strategic partnerships and build healthy, eco-conscious communities. Melanie’s expertise includes energy management, waste reduction, blight eradication and cultural resource management, K-12 curriculum and program design and community outreach. Melanie holds a B.A. in Political Science from CSU Fullerton and is currently pursuing graduate credits in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans

Jessica Preboski , Philanthropy & Tenant Services Officer and Office Manager , Affordable Housing Access, Inc.

 JessicaPreboskiJessica Preboski grew up in one of South Orange County’s earliest planned communities. Jessica witnessed the change in her physical environment with the construction of new homes and shopping plazas over top rolling hills and oak trees. Her childhood in the suburbs prevented her from experiencing any connection to urban neighborhoods. Her first experience of “city life” didn’t occur until she moved to the city of Orange at the age of 19. This change in surroundings would prove to be a catalyst to forming her academic and personal investigation of sense of place and community.

Jessica transferred from Irvine Valley College to California State University, Fullerton in 2009. Her initial academic interests focused on physical geography and environmental analysis. After completing her junior and senior level courses in less than two years, Jessica continued her education by entering the Geography MA program in 2010. During her graduate program, Jessica worked for the university as a teaching assistant to undergraduate and graduate students in the Geography program. This experience gave Jessica a greater understanding of the students of CSUF and how they view “community” in Orange County.

For the past six years Jessica has worked at Affordable Housing Access, Inc. (AHA), a non-profit corporation dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing in California and throughout the West. Jessica’s career with AHA began with administrative work and secretarial responsibilities. As she worked while continuing with her education she quickly found that her academic passions began to align with her workplace interests. After the completion of her BA, Jessica continued her education through the MA program and began to take a more important role at the non-profit. Jessica’s thesis work further enhanced both her academic and professional understanding of affordable housing. As part of a new initiative of AHA, Jessica is currently working on the development of a rental assistance program for tenants as well as furthering AHA’s philanthropic efforts. In addition to her passions for geography and urban planning, Jessica is interested in the expansion of affordable housing in Southern California with a focus on historic preservation and sustainable development.

Jessica lives in Old Towne Orange with her husband and two cats. She enjoys walking through the city’s plaza and discovering new additions to the community’s changing culinary landscape.

Mahnaz Siddiqui

An Orange County native, Mahnaz Siddiqui is an entrepreneur and senior technology leader with over ten years of
experience in Information Technology. She recently founded a technology start-up specializing in social media applications and cloud-based business intelligence solutions. Prior to her current role, Mahnaz was a Director of Information Systems at a leading online real-estate firm. In this capacity, she was sought out by the business for her for versatility and strength in integrating cross-functional teams and technologies, crisis management, problem solving, and teambuilding.
Mahnaz hopes to translate her corporate experience to public sector organizations, which often encounter the same challenges as the private sector.

She aims to address concerns such as resource management, process optimization, and transparency and accountability. Mahnaz also hopes to get more women involved in technology and leadership positions through mentorship programs and professional guidance.

Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker received her bachelor’s degree in urban studies and planning and her master’s in public policy from California State University Northridge. Nicole’s work experience includes working as a development specialist for the County of Riverside Economic Development Agency, where her duties included site development review and environmental planning. Nicole also held a position as a business development associate for UK Trade and Investment, the British Government’s international business development department, where her duties included providing market information for British companies in exporting into the US market and assisting US companies in expanding into the UK. Some of her recent leadership positions include serving as president of the newly formed Los Angeles International Black Chamber of Commerce. Recently, Nicole published her first novel, titled The Malburry Tree. In her spare time, Nicole volunteers her spare time to promoting literacy to teens and young adults from lower income areas.

Bobby Waltman, Attorney, Bergener & Associates

My name is Bobby Waltman. I am passionate about civil rights, justice, music, and nature. I received my Bachelor’s degree from UCSB, where I majored in Environmental Studies. During and after college, however, my focus was on music. I was a keyboardist in Boombox Orchestra, a funk band. During college I also worked at a group home for children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities. For a few months, I even lived in a broken down Volkswagen Vanagon to pursue music with my band. Ultimately, the band did not get signed. But, my college experience helped me develop a lifelong desire to continue working with and advocating for the indigent, as well as mentally and physically disabled people. My experience with drug addicts has also motivated me to fight for change in our country’s drug laws.
After the band broke up, I moved home and began studying law at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law. Beginning my first year of law school, I interned with the Public Defender’s Office. After my father passed away during the summer after my first year of law school, I moved to Alaska and lived in a tent city with indigent people in Juneau while I interned with the Alaska Public Defender. Then, I moved to Colombia to brush up on my spanish and learn to salsa dance. I came back home to finish law school.
As a brand new attorney, I look forward to using my degree and experience with indigent people, drug addicts, and people with mental health disabilities to become a Public Defender in Orange County. But I don’t want to stop there. I would like to advocate for changes in our state and country’s drug laws, rehabilitation programs for inmates, surveillance, environmental policies, urban planning… I want to participate in local politics and organize the community behind the values I feel strongly about.