Ricardo helped found the Hispanic Affairs Project in 2006. He has over thirty years of experience working as a community organizer and leadership development trainer for community projects and social justice institutions in El Salvador, Guatemala and the United States. Ricardo was born in El Salvador where he actively participated in the social movement to advocate against oppressive systems and in favor of equality for the Salvadoran community. Before coming to live in the US, he worked for 8 years as a technical coordinator for an NGO On local/regional projects working on national reconstruction. He gained a great deal of experience in municipal government, public administration and program implementation for social, economic, infrastructural and environmental projects. His educational background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and a Master’s Degree in the Latin-American Theology with other studies in social planning, social research methodology, popular education and local sustainable development. In 2011, he received the Immigrant Liberty Award from Colorado Chapter of the America Immigration Lawyer Association, AILA for his commitment to the immigrant rights movement. Currently, he collaborates with other regional, state and national boards and committees working for social justice.
DOJ Accredited Immigration Legal Representative
Marketa comes from the Czech Republic and she has been enjoying her life in the mountains of Crested Butte for more than a decade. Her primary role with HAP is to provide immigration legal assistance to low income families as a DOJ Accredited Immigration Legal Representative. She has been a HAP leader since the beginning of the organization working with the immigrant population in Gunnison. In her work she has focused on diversity of the immigrant population and immigrant integration. She has done extensive research about the Cora Indians, an indigenous group from Nayarit living in Western Colorado, and their integration as a minority culture. Marketa holds a Magister of Czech & English Philology degree from the Palacky University, a Bachelor of Arts in to Spanish from Western State Colorado University and a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies with Emphasis on Latin America from Prescott College. In 2012 she received HAP’s John Kiernan award for solidarity and commitment to the immigrant community. In 2013 she received the 8th Immigrant Liberty Award from Colorado Chapter of the America Immigration Lawyer Association for her extensive volunteer work with the immigrant community and the outreach with H2A range workers. She is a recipient of 2019 Mountain Leader Award from the Western Colorado University’s Center for Mountain Transitions for her work in the Gunnison Valley.
Elisa Rodriguez Mejia
Community Advocate in Montrose County
Elisa, born and raised in Mexico, has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Minot State University. Elisa is in tandem with the struggles of the immigrant community as a first-generation immigrant herself. She moved to Montrose Colorado in the late 1990’s and alongside with her husband was actively involved with HAP from 2006 to 2012, helping HAP to find success in the project’s early stages. They moved to North Dakota for five years and now have returned to Montrose, a place they call home. During Elisa’s time in North Dakota she had the privilege of working with the Native American community, learning about their culture, values, customs, and centuries of struggles. In 2016, Elisa was elected President of the Native American Club (NAC) at Minot State University, helping to organize the annual Powwow and also helped recruit and organize other Native American events. During her time in North Dakota she visited Standing Rock and witnessed the oppression, prejudice, and racism towards those who were here prior to any other people. She volunteered for the Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center/Shelter where she became aware of the physical, psychological, emotional, and social impacts and distress that battered women endure with their children. Elisa fell in love with HAP’s work and decided to pursue a degree in social work. Her primary role with HAP is to be a community advocate and provide awareness and prevention against sexual violence, domestic violence, and human trafficking. One of her goals is to create awareness to end the culture of domestic violence.Elisa is passionate about social justice, civil rights and human rights for all especially for underserved communities.
Community Advocate in Mesa County
Sarena Wells grew up in a rural town about an hour and half outside of Denver. She is the oldest of six children and has always had an interest in languages, especially Spanish. When Sarena was 19 years old she served a mission for her church in Lima, Peru. She learned Spanish during the year and a half that she lived in the country. She came to love the culture and feels that a piece of her heart is still in Lima. It was those experiences in Peru that solidified what degree she wanted to pursue in college. When she got home, she earned her degree in Hispanic Studies from Colorado Mesa University. During her years at college she had many opportunities to serve, especially in the Hispanic community in Mesa County. She is passionate about making a difference in others’ lives and truly wants there to be justice and equality for everyone. Sarena is very excited about the opportunity that she has to work with the Hispanic Affairs Project and help make a difference in the community that she loves so much.
Karen Sherman Perez
Civic Engagement & Development Coordinator
A Montrose native, Karen has been connected with the immigrant and migrant farmworker communities for over 15 years. After graduating from Fort Lewis College with a degree in environmental biology, Karen left for El Salvador as part of the U.S. Peace Corps where she worked on environmental education and agroforestry projects in rural communities. After Peace Corps, she continued working in San Salvador as an English language instructor until returning to Western Colorado in 2003. Since then, Karen has advocated for immigrant families including coordinating Project Common Ground, a Mesa County community and immigrant integration effort from 2006-2009, as part of the statewide Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Families Initiative. Following this effort, Karen worked with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) for nearly a decade filling a few different roles, including as a regional organizer to engage local communities in policy and advocacy campaigns to advance local, state and federal policies that protect immigrant families. She later transition into the role of CIRC’s first development director, helping to build the necessary fundraising infrastructure and capacity to ensure sustainability of the coalition and the movement. Karen joined the HAP team in 2018 to build community engagement capacity among local stakeholders with the goal of building a more welcoming and inclusive community. Additionally, Karen oversees HAP’s fundraising and communications programs. When she is not working on other local organizing issues, Karen can be found digging in her garden, spending time with friends and family, or out hiking across the beautiful Western Colorado landscapes.
AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer
Laura grew up in Southern California. She was raised biculturally in the suburbs between Los Angeles and San Diego. Her mother is the second youngest in a family of migrant farm workers. Originally from Baja California, her mamá spent her youth up and down the state following the seasonal harvests. Laura’s father, the oldest of his kin, travelled ‘Out West’ in the early 1960’s, leaving behind the small, family farm in Kentucky. These humble origins are Laura’s roots, and have spurred her interest in advocating for agricultural and minority communities.
Helping others was modeled to Laura throughout her upbringing. She has volunteered domestically with emergency response providers including the American Red Cross, the Trauma Intervention Program, and as a victim advocate for those affected by domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault. She has travelled abroad to support community building initiatives and to participate in conflict analysis and resolution programming. These experiences, in addition to her formal education in Psychology and Cultural Studies, have helped cultivate the unique skill set that Laura brings to the Hispanic Affairs Project. In this role, Laura endeavors to understand new perspectives, fortify partnerships, and contribute to the neighborly spirit of Montrose.