Meet Our Team
Elisa became President of Via International in 1998, when it was still called Los Niños. In 2005, she oversaw both the formation of Los Niños de Baja California, an independent Mexican non-profit, and the transition of the U.S. organization to Via International. She continues to serve as President of both entities.
Elisa brings years of experience working throughout Latin America with an expertise in micro-finance and community development. She continues to oversee the expansion of our global education program, Via Go, now partnering with over 60 universities and high schools nationwide, with the end goal of making Via International a self-sustaining community development organization. Most recently, she has worked to develop Corporate Social Responsibility programming providing relevant volunteer opportunities for local businesses.
A native of San Diego, John Fanestil is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and the Claremont School of Theology. In 2017, he earned the Ph.D. in History from the University of Southern California, specializing in the history of early America.
John has worked for decades in movements for social justice, beginning with his work in the Central American peace movement. From 2007 to 2014, he was Executive Director of the San Diego Foundation for Change, the local chapter of a national philanthropic network called The Funding Exchange. Since 2006, John has convened the Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition of local stakeholders advocating for public access to the historic meeting place overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the border between San Diego and Tijuana. Since 2011, he has worked with friends from Tijuana to convene El Faro: The Border Church, a weekly celebration of communion at Friendship Park. He has spoken to hundreds of groups and dozens of media outlets from around the world about the history of Friendship Park and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.
Director of Community
As Community Development Director, Rigo Reyes develops and coordinates community engagement and leadership training for residents in marginal areas of San Diego and Tijuana and manages our Border Immersion program for students visiting San Diego. He is a long-time social justice advocate whose work is rooted in early childhood experiences growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border, attending United Farm Workers of America rallies and listening to Cesar Chavez while playing marbles. When he was 12-years-old he rode his bike 17 miles each way from his San Ysidro neighborhood to San Diego’s Logan Heights to witness the land take-over of Chicano Park, and has been a strong community empowerment advocate ever since. Reyes has been a member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee for nearly four decades, has been lowriding since the mid-1970s, and is a founding member of the Amigos Car Club.
Robert Vivar lives in San Diego, California and is Via International’s Global Education Coordinator. Robert was born in Tijuana Mexico, and taken legally to the United States at the age of 6. He grew up in Corona, California and worked for over 20 years in the travel business, including Station Manager at LAX for Aeromexico Airlines, and Regional Manager based in Chicago for Taesa Airlines. Robert was deported to Mexico in 2013 and soon dedicated himself to an active life of advocacy in support of deported U.S. military veterans, asylum seekers and families separated by the broken U.S. immigration system. In May 2021 The California Supreme Court Vacated the charge that had rendered Robert deportable, thus paving the way for his return to the USA on November 11, 2021 (Veterans Day). This Supreme Court decision in Robert’s favor will be very valuable in similar cases to be litigated in California. Robert remains active in many borderlands advocacy organizations, including the Friends of Friendship Park, and also coordinates the “Charlamigo” (language partner) program through Via’s “Escuela Amistad.” Through his work with Via, Robert has hosted hundreds of groups that have visited Tijuana from the U.S.
Director, Escuela Amistad
Dan Watman lives in Tijuana, Baja California Mexico and is the Director of Via International’s Escuela Amistad. Dan has worked for over 20 years as a Spanish language instructor in the San Diego/Tijuana border region, through which he has pioneered a method teaching language through the cultivation of cross-border friendship (“amistad” in Spanish). Dan is part of the Friends of Friendship Park Steering Committee and the founder/coordinator of the Binational Friendship Garden of Native Plants. The Binational Garden was born from Dan’s Border Encuentro project which brought people together to make friends across the border at Friendship Park.
Molly Porth Cabrera
Molly is passionate about connecting people and programming with needed resources to have the greatest positive impact possible. For over 11 years, Molly has worked in the nonprofit industry - both as an employee and independent consultant - in various capacities, currently focusing on business development and fundraising. She has worked for organizations in sectors as diverse as education, international exchange and development, human services, healthcare, and community development. Molly first crossed paths with Via as a college student participant of a Via Go immersive travel experience on the U.S.-Mexico border and has since engaged with the organization in a variety of functions, Outside of work, Molly is a mother to a toddler, a meditation student, a yoga teacher, a Crossfit enthusiast, an aspiring jaranera, and a doula working to educate and empower women and families. She lives in Mexico City with her husband and son and is originally from Philadelphia, USA.
Resource Development Specialist
Director of Innovation & Development
Gabriel serves as the Director of Innovation and Development, creating unique partnership opportunities for universities, churches, corporations, and community organizations through the ViaGO program. Gabriel has taught at all levels of academia in the United States and abroad and brings more than 10 years of experience coordinating immersive travel programs throughout the San Diego border region as well as select international locations; Mexico City, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, and Sri Lanka.
Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, he is currently completing a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Art Theory from the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Gabriel’s experience includes working as an international educator with a background in nonprofit management, community activism, and a continuing creative practice as a professional artist.
Gladys serves as the Executive Assistant for Via International’s staff. She is a non-profit advocate, with over 15 years of experience supporting multiple organizations addressing the most pressing issues facing our communities. She has learned that in order to help others and improve their quality of life, we must engage in our community, build strong alliances, and work in collaboration and partnership. Gladys loves dogs, music and tennis.
Aida Amador Alemán
Via Migrante Coordinator
A resident of Tijuana, Aida Amador is Coordinator of Via International’s Via Migrante, a program addressing the growing humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. Born in the United States and raised in México, Aida has always lived and worked in the bilingual and bicultural atmosphere along the U.S.-Mexico border. She started with Via in 2017 as a Communications Coordinator, and fell in love with the mission of the organization, the promotoras and communities they served. When the Central American Caravan arrived in Tijuana in 2018 and seeing all the injustice from the Government and even from the Tijuana residents, she knew she wanted to do something to help… “no me podía quedar con los brazos cruzados!” Aida also serves as the liaison between Via International and their partner in Tijuana México, Los Niños de Baja California A.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, loves to travel and is the proud mother of a little boy.
Via's Board of Directors
Dr. James Gerber retired from teaching in 2019 after more than three decades as a Professor of Economics at San Diego State University. His fields of specialization include international economics, US-Mexico economic relations, and Latin American economies. In his role as Director of the University’s National Resource Center for Latin American Studies, he was actively involved in international education and developed and led student programs in Mexico. In 2008 he co-authored an economic history, Fifty Years of Change on the US-Mexico Border, which took a symmetrical look at both sides of the border during the years 1950 to 2000, from San Diego-Tijuana to Brownsville-Matamoros. He is currently working on the history of economic integration in the border region during the 20th century. The 8th edition of his widely used text, International Economics, will be released in 2021, and another book, A Great Deal of Ruin: Financial Crises since 1929 was published in 2019. He has been a visiting professor in Mexico and Canada.
Roxane Helstrom has over 30 years of experience as a marketing, communications, and fundraising professional. As senior strategic advisor at the National Conflict Resolution Center, Roxane is responsible for content creation, grant writing, and strategic planning.
Prior to joining NCRC, Roxane was development director at three San Diego nonprofits: Family Health Centers of San Diego; Pro Kids, The First Tee; and Canine Companions for Independence. In 2017, she established a nonprofit consulting practice, Rocket Content, and has since secured more than $4 million in grant funding on behalf of her clients.
Roxane moved to San Diego in 2003 following successful runs at two financial services powerhouses: Conseco Finance in St. Paul, Minnesota and The Associates in Irving, Texas. She served as Director of Marketing at Accredited Home Lenders for five years, with responsibility for their wholesale and retail channels.
She is a member of the San Diego Downtown Breakfast Rotary Club and serves as secretary of their foundation board. As a Rotarian, Roxane has developed a passion for and belief in the power of microfinance to change the lives of women and communities, and has worked on several projects in Latin America.
Karen Cebreros brings Microfinance, International and Business experience to the Via Board. She also has decades of experience supporting social business.
Karen is a pioneer in the global certified organic coffee and sustainability movements. She was the founder and CEO of Élan Organic Coffees which was the first organic coffee company in the US -ever. Karen was an early supporter of “Coffee Kids” and served two terms on their board of directors. She has contributed to multiple issues like “Grounds for Health,” “Cup for Education,” and Élan was among the first participants in the “Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Coffee” program. Karen also co-founded the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) of America’s Sustainability Committee and is a longtime member of the OrganicCoffee Coalition, a division of the Organic Trade Association. She is a founding member of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and has worked tirelessly in raising funds for Women in Coffee Microfinance and the Learning Loan Program.
Valerie McCullough Russell grew up in Pasadena, California. Upon graduation she went to the San Francisco Bay Area, attended Oakland City College, and received her Bachelors Degree in Business Management from St. Mary's College, in Moraga, CA. She has many years' experience working with non-profits, as President of Jack and Jill, Contra Costa and also a 25-year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Among providing other life -learning programs for teens, Valerie is proud that during her term as President of Jack and Jill, her chapter sponsored a couple hundred teens to see Nelson Mandela at the Oakland Coliseum. Three years ago, Valerie and a group of community leaders formed a Non- Profit, Mujeres Para Mujeres. This organization is located in Santa Anita, La Mision. Mujeres has sponsored Micro-Finance groups through Via. In addition, Mujeres provides classes in nutrition, English classes, art therapy sessions and some limited shelter for women who have experienced domestic violence.Her professional experience, is in Customer Relations and Sales/ Marketing. As an employee at Nextel and Nokia, she trained Dealer Sales/Customer Service Employees. She was also a Customer Service Supervisor at California Casualty and had several other positions in the Marketing Field. Valerie and her husband retired and moved to Rosarito 15 years ago. Both are involved in the community and participate in many of local activities. They have one daughter and two granddaughter who spend summers and weekend surfing, horseback riding and enjoying the local cuisine.
Toni was born and raised in England and came to the United States where she has been afforded many opportunities to lead a full life. She has daughter who lives in Las Vegas.
Her background as a radiographer specialist took her on an assignment to Anchorage, Alaska to the states’ largest medical center. Originally sent for two weeks she fell in love with the magnificence of the state and stayed for 20 years. Her passion for medical imaging and all things Alaska lasted until 2017 when she retired.
During her time in Alaska she and four friends opened and operated several very successful imaging centers which were eventually sold to the medical center.
Toni joined Anchorage International Rotary club in 2005 and was very active in various Rotary projects including traveling to India to vaccinate children against polio, and was the Youth Exchange chair for 5 years. Through the Rotary Club of Rosarito/La Misión and her interest womens issues and particularly in microfinance, she met Karen Cebreros who introduced her to Via International.
Toni is now a member of the Rotary e-Club of World Peace
After she retired, she decided to divide her time between travel, her home in Las Vegas and Baja where she is on the Board of Directors of La Misión Performing Arts.
She believes in “giving back” by volunteering within the community by offering a helping hand when and wherever I can as well as participating in the arts with both hopefully being a pathway to health, success and world peace”.
Walter Ludlow, CPA.
Walter has decades of experience supporting businesses in the bi-national area of San Diego/Tijuana with accounting services. He has served on the Via International board for more than 30 years. He is fully bi-lingual and has lived in Mexico. His travels have taken him all over the globe. A seasoned sailor, for many years he lived on a sailboat.
Amy is an elementary school teacher in Chula Vista, CA with a passion for facilitating community development as well as self development through cultural exchange. After spending several years abroad, Amy learned that combining meaningful volunteer work for both the participant and local communities can be very rewarding for all. By combining these experiences with her studies in tourism and international development, she has developed a philosophy around building social capital within communities and is excited to continue working within her passion with Via.
Dr. Elizabeth Reed is Associate Professor of global health at San Diego State University and Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. Trained in social epidemiology, she conducts research related to the intersection of gender inequality, poverty, and health. Specifically, she focuses her research on the social and economic factors influencing gender-based violence and sexual/reproductive health outcomes, including HIV/STI as well as adolescent and unintended pregnancy. She uses the findings of her research to support the development of public health programming to promote economic opportunity, health, and safety. Her research is based in the US, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa.
Dr. Elizabeth Reed
Raquel has worked within the organization for 19 years before retiring, then continued her connection with Via in recent years through volunteer service at our headquarters in San Diego. Having grown up in Logan Heights (where Via’s offices are located), she is deeply connected to the community and issues that make Barrio Logan unique. Raquel’s personal history with the organization, the community, and her previous work in the private sector all make her a wonderful addition to Via's advisors. When not doting on her kids and grandkids, you can find Raquel reading, drawing, in a yoga class or traveling the world!
Andy brings to the role years of experience gained as a career non-profit leader and founding director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. Andy has more than four decades of experience working with nonprofit boards as both a trustee and a CEO, as well as a consultant. Andy is currently IPG Senior Fellow at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG), where he serves in the design and development of the Institute’s Community Voices program. Community Voices is a dialogue and research initiative that engages leaders of innovative social change in dialogue with community leaders, faculty, and students. He is also supporting the “Dialogue on Race” and “Conversation New River Valley”, two innovative, community-wide efforts for social change in his home community, Virginia’s New River Valley. Andy has also taught for Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs and Planning Department and has served on the Board for Community Housing Partners, a leader in affordable housing serving a seven state area in the southeastern US.
Dr. Nancy McGehee
Nancy has been working in the area of tourism development since the 1990’s. She received an MS in Tourism Management from North Carolina State University in 1991, worked for the Appalachian Tourism Research and Development Center from 1991-1994, then received both an MS and PhD in Sociology from Virginia Tech in 1999. Her research in volunteer tourism has focused on the complex relationship between the host community, volunteer organizations, and the volunteer tourist.
Tom Melchior brings fifty years of experience in law, education and business as an advisor to Via International on legal matters. A graduate of Duke University, then the University of Michigan Law School, he also holds a Master’s Degree in Theology from University of San Diego. Tom practiced law in Los Angeles and San Diego for several years before changing direction and entering the tuna fishing industry as the operator of a fleet of purse seiners fishing for tuna in both the Eastern Tropical Pacific and Western Pacific regions. Through the course of that activity, he engaged in years of business with private and government entities in Mexico, Central and South America as well as several Western Pacific Island countries, spending much time in both regions, as well as Europe and Japan. After selling his interests in the fishing industry, Tom again changed directions and became engaged in education as a teacher and coach at both the Middle School and High School levels, a vocation which remains close to his heart. He currently serves as Chairman of a community bank he founded twenty years ago. Tom resides with his wife Sandy in La Jolla. He is the proud father of three adult daughters who have gifted him and Sandy with four grandchildren living in San Diego, Los Angeles and Connecticut.