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LISTA Community Advisory Board

The Rutgers School of Social Work maintains a community advisory board for its LISTA Certificate Program. Board members play a critical role in ensuring the LISTA curriculum reflects the dynamic needs of the Latina/o/x communities and continues to grow the skills of culturally responsive social work practitioners. 

Sheila Borges Rajguru

Sheila Borges Rajguru, PhD
Managing Director

Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey
Center for Cognitive Science

Jesselly De La Cruz

Jesselly De La Cruz, DSW, LCSW
Executive Director | Latino Action Network Foundation

Dr. De La Cruz, BA in Political Science (Rider University), MSW (Rutgers University), and DSW (Rutgers University), is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in NJ. She completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy at The Multicultural Family Institute, Inc. in Highland Park, NJ. Having originated from an underprivileged background and being a child of an immigrant family herself, Dr. De La Cruz’s education and work has been motivated by her desire to support traditionally underserved populations. Towards that overarching goal, she has worked with Latino advocacy nonprofit agencies. She currently serves as Executive Director for the Latino Action Network Foundation. Her clinical experience includes providing emergency screening of persons in mental health crisis at an inner city hospital, outpatient and in-home child and family therapy, and clinical consultation for nursing homes with primarily Spanish-speaking residents. In addition, she has extensive experience working in the prevention of child sexual abuse by conducting forensic evaluations, individual, group and family therapy at an intensive outpatient program for court mandated youth who have sexually abused and/or have fire setting behaviors. Currently, Dr. De La Cruz coordinates the psychological treatment of child sexual abuse survivors and their non-offending families in Hudson County, NJ. As a Practitioner Scholar, her research interests focus on systemic approaches to the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse, and the healing of intergenerational trauma in families through the use of mindfulness based psychotherapies, play therapy, multi-systemic family therapy, as well as the political empowerment of Latinos in NJ.

Delia de la Vara

Delia de la Vara 
Senior Vice President for Development and Strategic Initiatives | UnidosUS

Delia de la Vara is UnidosUS’ Senior Vice President for Development and Strategic Initiatives. In her 20+ years with UnidosUS, she has held various roles helping the organization achieve its mission of creating opportunities for Latinos in the U.S. and honing her expertise in nonprofit capacity-building, leadership and organizational development, partnership development, fundraising, marketing and brand management, community outreach and engagement, communications, and event production. 

Delia is a member of the UnidosUS Executive Leadership Team, responsible for implementation of institutional priorities. She contributes to strategic, organization-wide initiatives; efforts to test and explore new initiatives; strengthened messaging and visibility, and leadership discussions on the future growth and operations of UnidosUS. 

Currently, Delia’s core responsibilities include leading fundraising efforts and strengthening the organizations fundraising culture and expertise through creative strategies that leverage UnidosUS community impact with strategic funding partnerships. General support from corporate and foundation partners as well as individual donors support UnidosUS core operations and special initiatives including critical support of UnidosUS’ response to the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. 

Most recently, Delia led the UnidosUS 50th Anniversary Campaign for Equal Opportunity, a signature fundraising initiative to raise $50 million to mark UnidosUS legacy of contributions, as well as, affirm and structure its ability to be a valued resource to the Latino community and the country in decades to come. The Campaign closed December 2020 surpassing its goal raising over $57 million. As part of the 50th Anniversary efforts Delia also led a 3-year initiative that resulted in the organization reaffirming its mission and work, and the launch of an historic name change in anticipation of the organization’s 50th anniversary.  

She also manages the UnidosUS Corporate Board of Advisors, a group of senior executives from key Fortune 100 corporations who convene to advise UnidosUS on key issues and initiatives as well as seek UnidosUS counsel on industry matters impacting the Latino community. 

From 2006-2018, Delia served as Executive Producer of the ALMA Awards® presented by UnidosUS, the only nationally broadcast English-language entertainment television special celebrating Latino contributions to film, television, and music. Delia led efforts to relaunch the ALMAs under the leadership of the then-new CEO, Janet Murguia. She is also collaborating with colleagues in the Communications and Marketing team to reimagine UnidosUS future work to impact and influence the entertainment and media sector through stories that accurately reflect the Latino narrative, recognize Latino accomplishments in front of and behind the camera, and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion. 

In previous roles with UnidosUS, Delia served as Vice President of Affiliate Engagement overseeing the nationwide community-based network of over 250 Affiliates, implementing the organization’s regional strategy to strengthen relationships and engagement with the network, and developed and managed the UnidosUS Affiliate (Advisory) Council. She served as Vice President of Strategic Communications where she was (and continues to be) responsible for generating the largest source of unrestricted revenue for the organization and managing an $8M budget and played an instrumental role in the organization’s 2005 re-branding initiative.  Delia began her career with UnidosUS in 1998 in Affiliate Relations. 

Marlene Laó-Collins

Marlene Laó-Collins
Executive Director | Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton

Marlene Laó-Collins is Executive Director for Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton, a faith-based, social impact organization that offers assistance to prevent homelessness, reduce hunger, stabilize people with mental and substance use disorders through integrated health services, address trauma and domestic violence in specialized children and family services, anti-human trafficking program, as well as legal immigration services.  While predominately in Mercer, Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean Counties, there are ancillary programs in Southern New Jersey. Marlene provided leadership during arduous unprecedented times such as the Super Storm Sandy and COVID-19 pandemic.  She and her leadership team remained focused on keeping the doors open for those who count on the services while also ensuring staff safety. 

Before joining Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton Ms. Laó-Collins was director for social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy organization for the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey.  In this position she made recommendations to the bishops on public policy issues; testified at legislative hearings; and worked collaboratively with numerous state agencies and statewide advocacy groups on affordable housing, public assistance, poverty, child care, child welfare, health care and immigration. Marlene had 10 years of experience in state government, where she was involved in assisting in the management of state run programs such as Medicaid and welfare, and overseeing reforms in health care access for the poor, public assistance, child care and other programs. 

Ms. Lao-Collins served on numerous boards: Trenton Board of Education, NJ Advocacy Network to End Homelessness; St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton; the NJ Regional Equity Coalition; the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ; and the NJ Immigration Policy Network. She was co-founder and member of the Mercer County Hispanic Association and the Latina Women’s Council. She currently serves as Vice Chair on Catholic Charities USA Board of Directors and on the Board of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Hamilton.  

Marlene’s greatest blessing was to be married to Michael Collins for 36 year, before he passed away May 4, 2019 and to be mother to two sons, Eric Michael and Abraham Francis.

She earned a B.A. in Business Administration from Rutgers University in New Brunswick and honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service from Georgian Court University (2021)

Elisa Neira

Elisa Neira 
Deputy Commissioner | New Jersey Deparment of Human Services

Elisa Neira is Deputy Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, overseeing the Division of Family Development, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Division of Disability Services and the Office of New Americans. 

Before joining the Department, Ms. Neira served as Director of Human Services in Princeton administering income-assistance and emergency housing services. She played a key role in leading Princeton’s welcoming community efforts and was recognized for her work in building positive relationships between local police and immigrant communities. Ms. Neira also led the development and implementation of Princeton’s first Community Needs Assessment to identify needs and service gaps of low-to-moderate income households. In 2016, she was selected for a Welcoming America Fellowship focused on building more inclusive and welcoming communities for immigrants and refugees. 

Ms. Neira’s professional experience also includes working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in community residential and day program settings and deaf, blind and deaf-blind individuals. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and Spanish from Rutgers University and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University. A native Spanish speaker, she was born in Ecuador and raised in Salem County. 

Sara Peña

Sara Peña, MPA
Director | Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development, Department of State

Sara Peña, was born, raised and educated in Newark, NJ. Her mother was born in Ecuador and her father in Dominican Republic. She is the Director of the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development in the Department of State. Ms. Peña is a dedicated bilingual professional with extensive experience in developing and promoting services while addressing the needs of the community with a superior record of successful community service and engagement. She has been named twice as Insider NJ’s Top 100 Policymakers.  Prior to her current position, she worked in the Public Affairs Department at University Hospital in Newark, NJ, where she developed and managed the hospital overall community outreach program ranging from  partnerships with local government agencies, educational institutions, faith based, law enforcement and municipal alliances

She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Management from Kean University and while at Kean became a sister of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Incorporated.  Ms. Peña received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Rutgers University in Newark, and was inducted into the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration, Pi Alpha Alpha. 

Inspired by her son, Anthony, Ms. Peña founded the Boys to Leaders Foundation. Its mission is to empower and motivate young men by providing leadership training, educational programs, and positive personal and professional development 

Ms. Peña is the Immediate Past President of LUPE Fund Inc., (Latinas United for Political Empowerment) having served in that capacity for three years, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of all Latinas in New Jersey.  She continues to be an active board member since 2008.  

Elizabeth Piñeros

Elizabeth Piñeros, PhD, LCSW
Clinical Director | PROCEED, Inc

A graduate from Rutgers University with a BA in Psychology; Attended New York University where she received her Master Degree in Clinical Social Work; Received her Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work from the International University for Graduate Studies.

She has been an employee of PROCEED for the past 31 years.  She has been a director for several programs including the pre-school programs, Child Abuse Prevention, Youth Counseling, Differential Response, Outreach to Adolescents at Risk and the Substance Abuse Programs. She has 36 years of experience working with families, children, and adolescents.  Areas of expertise include domestic violence, child sexual abuse, family therapy, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and clinical supervision.

Katty Rivera

Katty Rivera
Project Coordinator and Education and Training Specialist | Northeast and Caribbean Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, Rutgers University School of Health Professions

Katty Rivera the Project Coordinator and Education and Training Specialist for the Northeast and Caribbean Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, housed at Rutgers University School of Health Professions, Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions. Her mental health experience comes from managing treatment teams in large community-based behavioral health organizations tasked with the coordination of services for people with serious mental illnesses in employment and housing programs. She also has presented professional training programs and managed large community-based events. Currently, presents on Cultural Considerations for Mental Health Services within the Latino Community and Trauma-Informed Care through the Latinx cultural lens and has provided Suicide Prevention training in Spanish for behavioral health providers in Puerto Rico.

Katty also participates in national workgroups with other federal regions MHTTCs across the country in behavioral health initiatives and the promotion and implementation of evidence-based practices. Her research interests include acculturation and biculturalism and its impact on mental health, Trauma-Informed Care, provider self-care, compassion fatigue and burnout prevention.

She is the Advisory Board Co-chair for the Rutgers University Center for Latino Arts and Culture and a member of the Rutgers University Alumni Association Committee on Diversity and Inclusion and is also a past RUAA Board Member. She is an alumna from Rutgers University- Livingston College and Rutgers University Graduate School of Education.

Raymond Sanchez Mayers

Raymond Sanchez Mayers

Raymond Sanchez Mayers is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Social Work and an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies.

Dr. Sanchez Mayers is the founder and former director of Latino/a Initiatives for Service, Training, and Assessment (LISTA). The goal of this certificate in the M.S.W. program is to prepare social workers to provide services in a culturally sensitive manner to Hispanic populations, individual, family, and community. It was developed to meet the needs of Latinos in the State of New Jersey and beyond. Courses offered through the certificate program, along with internships in Hispanic-serving agencies provide the background, knowledge, and skills to work with this expanding population. He has authored four books, including Hispanic Substance Abuse and Financial Management for Nonprofit Human Service Organizations. His work has appeared in Journal of Family Relations, Journal of Drug Issues, Children and Youth Services Review, Prevention Science, and other publications. He has also presented papers at many professional conferences on issues related to Latinos.

Dr. Sanchez Mayers received the Rutgers School of Social Work’s Innovative and Creative Teaching Award in 2017 as well as the Sage/CSWE 2017 Commission on Research Faculty Award for Innovation in Research Instruction.

On a personal note, Dr. Sanchez Mayers plays chess online and is one of the top 100 correspondence chess players in the U.S.

Almirca Santiago

Almirca Santiago
Assistant Vice President for Grants and Operations | Hispanic Federation (HF)

Almirca Santiago, is a nonprofit management leader with over 15 years of experience dedicated to strengthening and building capacity to address the needs of Hispanics and immigrant communities.   Currently she is the Assistant Vice President for Grants and Operations at the Hispanic Federation (HF), the nation’s premier Latino nonprofit membership organization with offices along the east coast and Puerto Rico.  For over 6 years, she has held roles that are key to the organization’s expansion, operations, compliance/risk management, government contracting, capacity building and grantmaking.  Most recently, she has led the management and distribution of over $18 million in emergency recovery grants since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For almost a decade, prior to her work at HF, Almirca managed special projects at the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR), a local grassroots non-profit.  She managed annual Get Out the Vote initiatives as well as the Census 2010 campaign, in addition to overall program development, fundraising and efforts to improve organizational structures. With extensive knowledge of NMCIR’s policy campaigns, she was often a spokesperson for pressing community issues, appearing on local and national media, both print and television.

Almirca holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations with a concentration on Human Rights from Syracuse University and a Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Baruch College School of Public Affairs. She is a native New Yorker and is fluent in English, Spanish and proficient in French.

Maria Vizcarrondo

Maria Vizcarrondo 
President and CEO | Council of New Jersey Grantmakers

Maria Vizcarrondo is the President and CEO of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers since March, 2019.   Prior to this, she was Director of Community Development and External Relations at Cabrini University in Philadelphia. She was inaugural Executive Director of the school’s Nerney Leadership Institute, launched in 2013.   

Ms. Vizcarrondo brings more than 25 years of experience transforming service organizations and has served her communities as both an appointed and elected official.   

In 2006, when he was first elected Mayor of Newark Cory Booker tapped Ms. Vizcarrondo to head Newark’s Health and Human Service Department, the largest of its kind in New Jersey. One of her first actions in that role was to develop a Children’s Bill of Rights to benchmark improvements in the lives of children and families throughout the city. Her accomplishments included securing state funding to establish Family Success Centers to provide neighborhood-based services, and launching a major citywide campaign to raise the immunization rates of Newark’s children.  

Prior to her mayoral appointment, Ms. Vizcarrondo served as the first woman president and CEO of United Way of Essex and West Hudson. Her pioneer work in re-engineering the organization’s mission into community building was documented in the United Way Transformation Diaries. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Ms. Vizcarrondo led the New Jersey United Ways in a statewide coordination of services for affected families and managed the distribution of corporate funding for these efforts.  

She was elected Essex County Surrogate in 1993 and served four years of a five-year term before leaving to join United Way.  

Ms. Vizcarrondo has been listed among the “100 Most Influential People in New Jersey” and was a founding member of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.   

Siomara Wedderburn

headshot of siomara wedderburnSiomara Wedderburn
Program Director | Urban Promise

Siomara Wedderburn has dedicated her life to serving marginalized communities. She believes in the power of cultivating healing spaces where families can thrive. She began her career as a Crisis Intervention Specialist in Camden County. She continued her career in child welfare with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). During her tenure with DCPP, she specialized in adolescence, adoptions and guardianships; helping many children find their forever homes and work through their trauma. In her final role as a Supervisor, she helped train future social workers, and coach colleagues as a Family Team Meeting Master Coach. She continues to be a fierce supporter of women and children and loves helping people discover their authentic selves.

Since 2016, Siomara has continued serving young people and creating opportunities for meaningful change at Urban Promise in Camden. First as Director of Children and Youth Ministries where she led the team’s implementation of summer camps, after school programs, an adolescent job training program, and an intern program serving 500+ children and teens. In her current role as Director of Wellness she oversees the organization’s commitment to assuring the well-being of every child through a trauma-informed, holistic framework that recognizes the value of every individual. She has helped develop and implement holistic programs for strengthening resilience among children and teens. 

Siomara holds dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Spanish as well as a Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University. She also holds Certificates in Adoption and Adolescent Advocacy. In recognition of her advocacy and leadership, she has been named a 2020 Culture of Health Leader by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In her free time Sio loves to travel and spend time with her three children, Jaden, Sianna and Mya, motherhood is her greatest joy.

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