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.
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.
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.
Shoshanna Allaire is an Office Manager working with the SAFE Center and the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB). She earned an associate degree in Finance in 2017, an associate degree in Business Administration, Management, and Operations in 2018, and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from University Maryland Global Campus in 2021. Ms. Allaire’s professional background includes working in various supporting roles within University System of Maryland universities as well as Howard Community College. She has volunteered on numerous committees including College Counsel, the Executive Support Group, the Middle States Periodic Review, the Safe Zone, the Power of Two, and managed the Giving Tree for several years.
Julia Aviles-Zavala, BSW, supports the SAFE Center as a Case Manager, bringing with her six years of work with CASA and three years of paralegal experience in immigration. She is bilingual in Spanish and English, and is a first generation American who takes pride in her Mexican and Honduran heritage. Julia is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she obtained her B.A. in Social Work and Psychology. She is currently a student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work where she is pursuing her MSW.
Sophie Aron joined the SAFE Center staff in June, 2019 as a Research and Program Coordinator. In this role she will help develop and support the SAFE Center’s state and local task force work, public health research and program implementation, and survivor leadership programming. She also works to support the Center’s crisis intervention team. Before joining the SAFE Center in her current role, Ms. Aron interned for a year at the Center in a similar capacity while pursuing her Masters in Social Work. She has also completed an internship with social workers at a D.C. charter school and served a year of AmeriCorps conducting conflict mediation in Montgomery County middle and high schools. Ms. Aron has spent a year in India, Vietnam, South Africa, and Argentina studying healthcare systems and how trauma affects access to public healthcare systems. Ms. Aron earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and her BA in Anthropology from Hamilton College.
Ashley Greene supports the SAFE Center as an Economic Empowerment Coordinator, working with trafficking survivors to secure employment, education, and housing, and connecting clients with the tools and resources necessary to lead self-sustaining lives. Ms. Greene joined the SAFE Center in January 2021, bringing with her nearly a decade of experience as an employment specialist, during which she developed high-level skills in client relations, pre-employment assessment, and interpersonal communication. Her past work includes job counseling and coaching at non-profits and social service providers, as well as experience in community health as a patient account representative. Ms. Greene also brings to the SAFE Center team over 3 years’ experience working with Columbus House Shelter to fight against homelessness, where she supported clients’ transition back into the community. She has also worked with the re-entry population as an advocate, supporting them as they reenter society. Ms. Greene plans to continue her work in the Workforce Development field at the SAFE Center developing new partnerships to provide employment to trafficking survivors.
Tanejah Jones, MSW-LMSW joined the SAFE Center as a Prevention Social Worker in September, 2020. Tanejah’s primary role is to help develop, implement and manage the Prevention Project that will be presented in high schools within Prince George’s County. In addition to the prevention project, she is also providing clinical, crisis intervention, and individual and group therapy services at the Center. Ms. Jones completed a Master’s degree Clinical Social Work from Simmons University in Boston, MA. During her time at Simmons she interned with Dove, Inc., a community domestic violence organization as an outreach and education specialist. Her role was to go into the community, local middle schools and high schools to present about domestic violence and the warning signs of an abusive relationship. Additionally, she interned at the Centers for Violence Prevention and Recovery (CVPR) at Beth Israel Medical Center working with survivors of domestic violence, community violence, sexual assaults, and human trafficking. At CVPR she also worked one-on-one and facilitated groups with survivors of violence using trauma-informed care. Tanejah has a passion for prevention work and enjoys working within the community.
Connie Kratovil-Lavelle, JD, Senior Legal Advisor, is building and expanding the SAFE Center’s pro-bono and low-bono attorney networks to seamlessly connect our clients to attorneys when our clients have family law, landlord/tenant, criminal justice, labor and employment, and legal issues other than or in addition to immigration. An attorney, collaborative law practitioner, and mediator, Connie has 20 years of experience developing and managing legal service programs for non-profits. She established a legal service and social justice organization that promotes the peaceful resolution of conflicts through collaborative law and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to persons of low and moderate income, and offers restorative justice services. Prior, Connie served for 10 years as executive director of the Department of Family Administration within the Maryland’s Judiciary Administrative Office of the Courts in Annapolis. Her work included developing policy and programs promoting best practices in family law cases, promoting family court reform in the State; managing all Judiciary domestic violence programs and projects; and developing programs that expand the use of alternative dispute resolution in domestic and juvenile cases. Connie developed the first collaborative law program on-site in the Maryland courts for family law and probate cases, called the Expedited Collaborative Process. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Maryland Legal Services Corporation Award for improving the civil legal services delivery system in Maryland; Maryland Access to Justice award for developing programs within the Maryland Judiciary; the Women’s Law Center of Maryland Access to Justice award, Civil Justice of Maryland award for developing a reduced fee legal service program, and the Daily Record’s Maryland’s Top 100 Women.
Rabina Luitel joined the SAFE Center in September 2022 for a 3-month fellowship through the Community Engagement Exchange program sponsored by U.S. State Department and implemented by IREX. Rabina is from Nepal and holds a Master’s in International Cooperation and Development and has been professionally engaged in the field of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion for 5 years. Through her work, Rabina has gained experience in project cycle management including proposal writing. Rabina has worked with survivors of trafficking and violence including violence against women and girls; and all forms of gender-based violence. Rabina is the co-founder of “Devising Change Through Activism – Dakchyata” which focuses on enabling economic and political empowerment of women and youths who belong to vulnerable and marginalized communities.
During her time at the SAFE Center Rabina has worked with the Economic Empowerment Team to support the team’s organizational development process by working collaboratively to develop a roadmap for the team’s future programmatic goals. Rabina also worked on proposal writing and programmatic reporting for one of the team’s signature programs. Additionally, Rabina represented the team by attending webinars and presenting during staff meetings on the progress of her work.
Neil Mallon, LCSW-C is a clinical social worker with The Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work and a clinical field instructor and advisor to the University of Maryland SAFE Center. Mr. Mallon has over ten years of clinical and macro social work practice experience within a variety of service settings, including child welfare, mental health, immigration, staff training/development, research and evaluation. In his current role at The Institute, Mr. Mallon works extensively with Maryland’s public and private child welfare providers to support the implementation and integration of a functional assessment tool to support decision making, quality improvement initiatives, and outcomes monitoring for youth and families served by the state’s child welfare systems. He is also the clinical field instructor for social work student interns at the SAFE Center and advisor for case management related policies and practice protocols. Mr. Mallon has assisted in the development of the Center’s trauma-informed and survivor-centered approach to practice and serves as a liaison to the State’s public and private child serving systems to support cross system collaboration in service delivery for domestic minor victims of trafficking. Mr. Mallon earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Towson University and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Áine McLaughlin is a Senior Strategic Communications Specialist and works with the SAFE Center and the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB). She received a Bachelor of Arts in English, Writing and Studio Art from Loyola University Maryland in 2014, and completed a Master of Library and Information Science at University of Maryland College Park in 2020. Ms. McLaughlin’s professional background includes working as a field organizer and communications professional with both local and national labor unions and affiliated nonprofits.
Vasu Moodley currently serves as the Operations Manager for the SAFE Center. Vasu has over 16 years’ non-profit experience in South Africa, India, and the United States with special focus on community development and adult basic education for social change. As the Business Manager of CV Projects SA, Vasu led the establishment of the Ikusasa Development Trust, a nonprofit organization that spearheaded the S3Village Integrated Development Project. Vasu was the former Acting Director of Operation Upgrade of South Africa, a literacy nonprofit that was awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Confucius Prize for Literacy in 2008. Vasu is a Trustee of the James Nxumalo Education Trust, and an advisory board member of the Family Literacy Project. He has also served as a Rotarian with the Rotary Club of Umhlanga since 2012. Vasu holds a Bachelor of Social Science in Politics and History from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (previously University of Natal).
Jannina Santana is the Paralegal for the Legal Services Team at the UMD SAFE Center. She has over 7 years of experience as a Paralegal in various firm settings. During her five years at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, she assisted in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) pro-bono cases. She is fluent in both Spanish and English. She is currently attending Prince George’s Community College to earn her Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies.
Karina Velasco is a bilingual licensed bachelor level social worker. Karina has extensive outreach, recruitment, and advocacy experience working with Latino youth and families. Karina has worked with the immigrant community in different capacities over the past decade, beginning with her work as a youth leader with CASA de Maryland helping bring change and educational opportunities for undocumented students through the passage of the Maryland Dream Act. She also served as the Outreach Specialist and later Case Manager for the Adelante youth program at the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC) in Langley Park, MD. Karina has most recently worked with unaccompanied minors and victims of human trafficking, providing home assessments and case management services through Bethany Christian Services. Additionally, Karina worked with CASA de Maryland as a Community Youth Organizer where she led and encouraged young adults to take part of community change and support initiatives in immigration, health, and education. Ms. Velasco received dual-associate degrees in General Studies and Mental Health from Montgomery College in 2013 and later earned Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2017.
Susan Wallendorf, MS, supports the SAFE Center as a Case Manager. Ms. Wallendorf received a BA from the University of Baltimore in 2019, where she majored in Human Services Administration, with a Victim Studies minor. She went on to receive her master’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Baltimore in 2021, where she also earned a trauma-informed care certificate as part of her studies. Ms. Wallendorf has a professional background in victim assistance and case management and has worked in direct services in both the public and private sectors, including roles with the Baltimore County Health Department and the University of Baltimore’s Second Chance College Program. Her past work has focused on program coordination, victim services and peer recovery, among other areas. She has undergone extensive training in victim assistance, including completion of the Roper Victim Assistance Academy of Maryland, which provides participants with an advocacy-based overview of victimology, victim rights, and victim assistance.