Brenda Quiñonez-Cortés, LCSW, MSW
Born in México and raised in Los Angéles, Brenda places value in family and comunidad. She is a mother, wife, and activist. Committed to generating change in the field of mental and behavioral health, Brenda joined efforts with EPdE founder Lynn Haynes, in creating a pathway of equity and leadership for culturally and linguistically diverse students and professionals. Brenda received Bachelor’s Degrees in Sociology, Spanish, and Chicano Studies from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She later graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Brenda’s professional experience in the last 20 years extends to field counseling, medical social work, program management and various realms of non-profit work and clinical mental health settings, independent contract work in school-based therapy, private practice and more recently, training and consulting in cultural/linguistic proficiency, anti-oppression, and racial healing.
Rachel Bowen, LCSW
While born in New Mexico, Rachel’s upbringing in southeast Asia propelled her dedication to cross-cultural and global issues leading her to work and volunteer on youth leadership, community development, and public health issues in Latin America and the US. Rachel earned BA degrees from the University of Oregon in International Studies, Spanish, and Sociology, and went on to receive a Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver. She has since worked with immigrant families as a therapist for survivors of domestic violence, as a social worker in the public schools, and in school and community-based mental health. Rachel values teaming with others who share her deep commitment to social justice.
Kate Gibbons, LISW, LCSW, PhD
Kate has been in New Mexico for ten of her twenty-three years as a systems-change consultant. She is known for achieving organizational and system transformation through her ability to build relationships with a broad range of audiences. Kate’s work includes grant implementation and initiatives, capacity building, qualitative measurement, leadership coaching, organizational development, and planning. She has worked at the state and national levels in quality and system change utilizing design and co-creating approaches, as well as with several state human service agencies, behavioral health providers, professional associations, universities, and private companies to develop systems and grow employee leadership skills.
Kate has a Ph.D. in Organizational Systems and independent clinical licenses in Social Work. Kate especially enjoys co-facilitating along side peer workers, youth, and young adults to build relationship and leadership skills. Kate lives in the South Valley of Albuquerque and is excited to apply her own leadership point of view at El Puente de Encuentros.
Azul Cortés, MA
Azul (Huasteca/Tepehuan) is the Director of Heritage Languages at Dual Language Education of NM (DLeNM). With Master’s degrees in Bilingual, Secondary and Special Education, Azul is passionate about language, community and cultural identity. He is currently a Doctoral Student at UNM’s Language Literacy and Sociocultural Studies with his research focusing on the maintenance and revitalization of the heritage language through cultural Identity. Azul has worked as a Clinical Research Educator at the University of New Mexico’s College of Education Elementary Education in the area of Teacher Preparation and in numerous indigenous communities with linguistically and diverse youth through the Bureau of Indian Education and in México. He continues to work with grassroots organizations, La Plazita Institute in Albuquerque and Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles who dedicate services to adjudicated youths and young adults. Current work highlights language maintenance and revitalization efforts through an indigenous lens that centers culture and language as the voice of the community and the land in which they reside.
Adriana Martínez Guzmán, MSW
Adriana was born in Aguascalientes, México and has lived in the United States for the past 21 years. She is passionate about education and community development. Her role as a program manager at WESST allows her to fulfil a passion of teaching financial education across the state of New Mexico; coaching people to reach their goals; and supporting them in their journey. Adriana is often humbled and inspired by those around her and strongly believes in the power of diversity. Adriana graduated from New Mexico Highlands University with a Master of Social Work degree. She loves traveling, dancing, exploring the great outdoors, and spending time with her cat and family.
Mika Tari, LMSW
Mika was born in Korea and was adopted by a second generation Ukraine. She came to the US at approximately 4 years old and grew up in Long Island, NY. As an Asian child in a homogenous, affluent area Mika’s childhood was challenging to say the least. She was inspired to pursue a degree in a field of social justice. Mika attained her Masters degree in Social Work from New Mexico State University and since then has lived in New Mexico for more than 23 years. Her career journey includes 15 years in group homes serving individuals with IDD and on the autism spectrum. She then pursued work in the non-profit sector and dedicated years in the Medical Assistance Division. Most recently she has been in state government with the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) and the last five years with the Behavioral Health Services Division (BHSD) as a Deputy Director and briefly as the Interim Director. Mika currently serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Social Work- New Mexico
Michelle Garcia, BS, BA
Although not originally born in New Mexico, Michelle Garcia considers herself a native of the Land of Enchantment. Michelle has lived in Albuquerque since 1989 when she moved here with her family. As a child, Michelle spent her free time working for her family’s telecom business, which helped her develop a strong work ethic. After graduating from Manzano High School in 1997 she went to work in the telecom industry while also taking college courses. After suffering a debilitating back injury Michelle medically retired from the phone company and decided to go back to complete her degree. As a busy wife and mother of five, Michelle attended the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she graduated Summa Cum Laude in May 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor from the UNM Honors College in Interdisciplinary Arts, and a Bachelor of Science in Family and Child Studies with a concentration in Human Development and Family Relations. She was awarded the Outstanding Student Award from UNM’s College of Education and Human Sciences. Michelle is also an alumnus of the El Puente de Encuentros fellowship (2021-2022). Michelle is currently working on completing her Master of Social Work with a concentration in Clinical Practice with plans to also complete her Ph.D. in the same field.
Maria Fernanda Ferrer-Hernandez, LMHC
Fernanda was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and was primarily raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with a dual major in Criminology and Spanish from the University of New Mexico in 2017. Along with that degree, she earned a designation in international honors after completing a year abroad at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. She also has her Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from New Mexico Highlands University, focusing on children, adolescents, and families. She was also a mentor for Rio Grande High School through the ENLACE program, a Behavior Technician for youth with autism, and has worked as the graduate assistant for the Counseling Department at NMHU. Fernanda is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and was a fellow for the UNM Developmental Disabilities Department’s LEND program. Fernanda currently works as a licensed clinical mental health counselor at a private practice as the only fluent Spanish speaker, providing services to these individuals and their families. In addition to this, she is currently in the process of attaining her School Counseling certificate. Fernanda works in behavioral health with the aim of giving back to the community by providing culturally competent services, as well as diminishing the gap in access to Spanish-speaking services.
Lynn Haynes, LCSW
The creation of El Puente de Encuentros was motivated by my years of experience working in the behavioral/mental health field with New Mexico’s underserved populations. That span included working for New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department, working for a non-profit mental health organization specializing in trauma, and, in private practice, as an independent contractor and consultant to public entities. The experience that prompted the founding of El Puente came while offering outpatient therapy in Albuquerque’s public school system.
While the schools primarily served students of color, administration, teachers and clinical support were predominantly Caucasian. Clearly, bridging this divide, both culturally and linguistically, was key to achieving effective clinical interventions. With the help and support of many people, it was Jorge García, Senior Program Manager at the University of New Mexico’s El Centro de La Raza, who inspired me to take action. The many professionals who joined in planning and implementing programs have been a blessing. El Puente owes its existence to the selfless work of so many who share the desire to be agents of change.
Kee J.E. Straits, PhD
Born Quechua (Indigenous) in Perú and raised in the United States, Kee is a Clinical/Community Psychologist. She received her BA in psychology from Williams College, her MA in special education from the University of New Mexico, and her PhD in psychology from Utah State University. Dr. Straits is the sole proprietor of Tinkuy Life Community Transformations, LLC. Through her business, she offers consultation to schools, organizations and communities, trainings, evaluation, and direct clinical services. In her career, she strives to achieve health equity in Native American and Latino communities, improve the effectiveness of mental health systems that serve youth, and increase the number of competent Native and Latino health professionals.
Jorge García Atilano, M.A., EMBA
Born and raised in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Jorge grew up in Chicago, moving to New Mexico in 1997. He holds an undergraduate degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Chicano Studies and Latin American Studies. In addition, he holds a Master’s degree in Education (Language, Literacy and Socio-Cultural Studies) and an MBA from the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management. Jorge is Senior Program Director at UNM’s El Centro de la Raza. His research and entrepreneurial activities are focused on creating initiatives and projects that support the social, cultural, political and economic development of local and indigenous communities.