Ambassador Susan G. Esserman founded and leads the SAFE Center. In addition to leading the Center, she is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, a Washington, D.C.- based international law firm, where she heads the firm’s international trade policy practice and has been active in firm management. She leads the firm’s pro bono program on behalf of survivors of human trafficking and has represented numerous human trafficking survivors. She has received numerous awards and recognition, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Justice for Girls Empowerment Award and the National Journal’s Outstanding Women’s Lawyers List, recognizing the 75 most outstanding women lawyers in the nation. Ambassador Esserman held four senior positions in the Clinton administration: She was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and Assistant Secretary of Commerce. She also served in the role of General Counsel at two agencies – the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce. She has served on a number of nonprofit boards with a women’s rights and international focus. Ambassador Esserman is a graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Michigan Law School.
Laura Ardito has worked on human trafficking issues for over a decade from a direct services, programmatic, and policy perspective. As a senior associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, she built her pro bono practice around legal immigration service provision to survivors of human trafficking and other human rights violations. Prior to her work at Steptoe, Ms. Ardito managed the first Anti-Trafficking program, which she also helped initiate, at Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit organization focused on women’s leadership. She served as a Legal Fellow at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, focusing on human trafficking laws and policies, and also as an attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ms. Ardito began her career as an AmeriCorps volunteer coordinating social and legal services for immigrant and refugee families at a Washington D.C.-based transitional housing program. She has recently been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where she taught a class on Women’s International Human Rights. Ms. Ardito is a graduate of Cornell University and American University Washington College of Law.
Heidi Alvarez, M.A., is the Director of Special Projects at the SAFE Center. She believes in having a trauma-informed and holistic service-oriented approach when advocating for and empowering survivors of human trafficking. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Alvarez provided social services advocacy for victims of human trafficking, victims of torture, and asylum seekers at Polaris and at the University of Denver. Most recently, she oversaw a staff of social services coordinators at affordable housing properties in Washington, DC where she provided management and programmatic leadership to expand programs and services to residents. Ms. Alvarez has earned a Master’s degree in International Development from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Connecticut College.
Rosa “Delmy” Alvayero, MSW-LCSW-C joined the SAFE Center as the Director of Clinical Services in July, 2019. Delmy is a social worker, immigrant, and community activist with over a decade of experience working in the nonprofit sector and social and behavioral health systems. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Alvayero served for ten years at the Maryland Division of the Latin American Youth Center where she developed, implemented, and evaluated programs using a positive youth development approach. She also served as a clinician at Mary’s Center, a multi-site, integrative, healthcare clinic, where she worked one-on-one with a range of clients as they navigated their medical and social-emotional needs. Ms. Alvayero’s professional approach emphasizes the importance of connecting somatic practices with experiences of trauma, especially in cases of children, youth, and families who have been impacted by migration, displacement, and other forms of oppression. She specializes in challenges related to depression, anxiety, and trauma, including PTSD, attachment, anger in children, and family reunification. Ms. Alvayero completed a Master’s degree in Clinical Social at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, with a dual track in Program Management and Clinical Work and a sub-specialization and Certificate in Maternal and Child Health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Certificate in Women Studies, both from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Jatnna Gomez, LBSW Director of Equity and Community Engagement, brings more than a decade of experience working with vulnerable communities in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Ms. Gomez graduated at the Maryland Equity and Inclusion Leadership Program from the University of Maryland School of Policy and MCCR. She has worked with vulnerable youth, BIPOC-led community organizations, community education and organizing. In her work, Ms. Gomez has worked with various victim services, public health and youth enrichment organizations to provide programming, advocacy, education, crisis intervention and leadership programming. In her role, Ms. Gomez advises senior SAFE Center leadership, coordinates diversity and inclusion trainings for SAFE Center staff, and works with our team to use an equity and inclusion lens to evaluate SAFE Center policies related to personnel, programs, and clients; as well as SAFE Center partnerships and external advocacy work. Ms. Gomez currently chairs the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force Victim Services Committee, and is a member of the Freedom Network USA Steering Committee.
Mayra Herrera, MSW, is the Director of Social Services at the UMD SAFE Center. As a bilingual social worker, Ms. Herrera oversees comprehensive social services to SAFE Center clients and supervises a team of case manager advocates who provide crisis intervention, intensive case management, victim advocacy, and basic needs for sex and labor trafficking survivors. Ms. Herrera has eleven years of expertise in the nonprofit sector in a variety of roles including program management and evaluation, community organizing, and direct services to at-risk populations in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Herrera supervised a team of 20 case managers at the Latin American Youth Center/Maryland Multicultural Youth Center for the Promotor Pathway Program. Ms. Herrera is highly experienced in evidence-based models to intervene in gang activity, increase family reunification, and engage disconnected youth and adults. Ms. Herrera received a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore.
Amelia Rubenstein, MSW, LCSW-C is the Director of Research and Programs at the SAFE Center where she oversees direct services, program evaluation, research, and policy initiatives. Ms. Rubenstein has advocated for trafficking survivors for over 8 years in both clinical and macro capacities. Ms. Rubenstein is dedicated to assisting youth-serving agencies and organizations to address the issue of human trafficking, particularly among system-involved youth. As an experienced forensic social worker, Ms. Rubenstein has been qualified as an expert witness and provides testimony on sexual violence, trauma, and victimization. Ms. Rubenstein previously oversaw the Anti-Trafficking Program at TurnAround, Inc., a victim services non-profit in Baltimore where managed a program providing clinical services to survivors of human trafficking. Ms. Rubenstein received her Bachelors of Social Work from Skidmore College and a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University with a concentration in public policy and reproductive rights, and is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Ms. Rubenstein received the Outstanding Contribution to the Fight against Human Trafficking award from the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2015 as well as formal citations from Governor Hogan, Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Baltimore Mayor Pugh for her efforts to fight trafficking.
Alysha Welsh serves as the Legal Director of the SAFE Center, with responsibility for leading, managing, and expanding our legal services program. Alysha brings a wealth of experience in both immigration law and human rights advocacy.
Alysha most recently served as Managing Attorney of the Human Rights First Washington, D.C. office, where she oversaw the pro bono legal representation of indigent asylum seekers. In that capacity, she provided support and guidance to volunteer lawyers in law firms located in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia who represented asylum seekers at all levels of the immigration system. Throughout her time with Human Rights First’s D.C. office, Alysha supervised offices in Houston and Los Angeles, represented clients in high impact policy and advocacy related matters, and provided expert opinions in federal litigation and national media publications.
After completing her Juris Doctor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Alysha was in private immigration practice in Boston where she managed a large case load of affirmative and defensive immigration cases on a wide range of immigration issues. Alysha represented individuals before USCIS, Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals and at U.S. Consulates abroad on topics including asylum, LPR and non-LPR cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, waivers of inadmissibility, naturalization, NACARA and employment visas. Alysha began her career as an AmeriCorps Fellow with legal aid in southeast Massachusetts.
Alysha holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Boston University in addition to her JD.