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 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.
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.
Hadiyyah Abdul-Jalaal currently serves as the Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA member sponsored by the University of Maryland SAFE Center Equity and Community Engagement programs for the July 2021- July 2022 service year. In this role, Ms. Abdul-Jalaal will review and recommend updates to internal policies that will foster an environment of diversity and inclusion and align with the Center’s vision of being an antiracist organization. She will work to support the development of the Center’s Survivor Leadership Program and Survivor Ambassador Program. Before joining the Center, Ms. Abdul-Jalaal served for three years as an undergraduate research assistant at George Mason University under the direction of Dr. Correa-Cabrera. In addition, Ms. Abdul-Jalaal had the opportunity to interns twice with the U.S. Department of State. First, in 2019, with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Office Multilateral and Global Affairs on the Internet Freedom, Business, & Human Rights team. Then, in 2020, with the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons on the Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs team. Ms. Abdul-Jalaal received her Bachelor’s degree in Government and International Politics with a concentration in International Relations while receiving a minor in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government in May 2021. Ms. Abdul-Jalaal will graduate with her Master’s in Public Policy, with an emphasis in Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption, in May 2022.
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.
Danielle M. Barnard is a nationally certified victim advocate, CA, serving as a Case Manager at the SAFE Center. In addition to her experience in victim advocacy, Danielle has background in social justice, community development, international development, and diversity and inclusion. Before coming to the SAFE Center, Ms. Barnard worked as a legal advocate for survivors of sexual assault in Southwest Michigan for the Cora Lamping Center in Benton Harbor, MI. In this position, in addition to providing trauma-informed direct services and crisis response for survivors across the county, she also developed relationships with the county prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, and cross-cutting local groups such as the SW Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force and the Interfaith Action Collaborative. Internationally, Ms. Barnard worked on a team of development and social work graduate students in Madagascar working local governments and organizations to support various high-needs populations such as youth in detention, rural farmers, and isolated medical facilities. In addition, while in Madagascar, she and her cohort did policy advocacy on behalf of regions being exploited by transnational corporations and presented proposals to the president’s Chief of Staff. Ms. Barnard has a Masters in Community & International Development and a Bachelors in Theology. In the future, she aspires to complete her Masters in Social Work so that she can provide more clinical support to high-needs communities nationally and internationally.
Sierra Egan, M.S., supports the SAFE center team as a case manager. She completed her Master’s degree in Justice, Law, and Criminology from American University School of Public Affairs in May 2021. As a graduate student Sierra conducted countless research projects on topics such as intimate partner violence among undocumented latinx women, project management, and trauma informed police training. Most recently, she worked alongside her six peers to create a in-depth analysis of the nexus between public health and policing to provide a comprehensive report of best practices and recommendations to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Prior to joining the SAFE Center team, Sierra worked at House of Ruth Maryland as one of their Legal Victim Advocates. During her time there, Ms. Egan assisted dozens of survivors of intimate partner violence with obtaining protective orders. In the future, she aspires to continue her work with survivors and her education in the criminology field, specifically police reform and victim’s rights.
Rebeca García Gil is an Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow at the SAFE Center. During her two-year fellowship, she will represent survivors of sex and labor trafficking in all immigration matters and in crime victims’ rights advocacy and enforcement, as well as connect survivors with pro bono organizations and low bono attorneys for other legal matters arising from victimization. Ms. García Gil is bilingual and strives to give clients a culturally competent legal representation. She obtained her law degree in 2018 from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the Maryland Journal of International Law and a student attorney at the Immigration Clinic.
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.
Ellie Lewis Park began her professional anti-trafficking career in 2017 at the University of Maryland SAFE Center, where she currently serves as the Outreach & Program Coordinator. As a member of the Research Team, Ms. Park coordinates outreach efforts for the Regional Navigator program — building, training, and equipping a network of partner agencies across Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to increase identification of and specialized services for potential youth sex trafficking survivors. Ms. Park also supports in conducting internal program evaluation plans across all SAFE Center programs, oversees the SAFE Center’s client data management system, and assists in preparing federal government and foundation grant proposals. Prior to this position, Ms. Park served as the SAFE Center’s Communications Coordinator, completed one year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member developing the SAFE Center’s economic empowerment and volunteer programs, and worked as a Teaching Assistant for the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice course on human trafficking. Ms. Park received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 2017 and will graduate with a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Maryland School of Public Health in 2023.
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.
Vasu Moodley currently serves as the Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA member within the SAFE Center’s economic empowerment and volunteer program. 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.
Agatha Schmaedick Tan joined the SAFE Center in November 2020 as our Labor Rights and Policy Attorney with the goal of assisting the Center in expanding and deepening its work on labor trafficking. Agatha is a labor and human rights advocate with over fifteen years of experience both in the U.S. and internationally. Agatha lived and worked in Indonesia for seven years, where she served as a factory auditor for the Worker Rights Consortium, a U.S. nonprofit that monitors and inspects factories making U.S. collegiate apparel for their compliance with applicable local and international labor laws. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Agatha was a staff attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC), where she represented numerous low-income immigrant workers in matters of employment and immigration law, including representing survivors of human trafficking. For four years, Agatha served as the Associate General Counsel of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a human rights, farmworker-based organization in Immokalee, Florida globally-renowned for having pioneered the “worker-driven social responsibility” (WSR) approach to combating modern day slavery in corporate supply chains. Agatha has also served as the Senior Advisor on Labor Trafficking at Polaris, the Washington, D.C. based nonprofit that operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. Agatha earned her J.D. from Georgetown, where she attended as a Public Interest Law Scholar and was awarded the ABA Award for Excellence in Labor and Employment Law.
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.