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Categories: Leadership

Ambassador Susan Esserman founded and leads the University of Maryland SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors. She is Co-Chair of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Labor Trafficking Committee as well as Chair of the Prince George’s Human Trafficking Task Force Labor Trafficking Committee. In addition to leading the Center, she is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, a Washington, D.C.- based international law firm, where she served as Chair of the International Trade Practice and in firm management and co-founded the firm’s Women’s Forum. She leads the firm’s pro bono program on behalf of survivors of human trafficking and has represented many 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 (with rank of Ambassador) 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. She was a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Oliver Gasch, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia. Ambassador Esserman is a graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Michigan Law School.

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.

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.

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.

UMD SAFE Center Team Statement on Racial Injustice

The UMD SAFE Center decries the structural racism that remains as a toxic legacy of our country’s history and permeates our society today, and we are working to ensure that we are an actively anti-racist institution.