Elsa Iris Reyes is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and the eldest of three siblings. She was born in Chicago, and raised in Cicero, IL. She graduated from DePaul University and moved to Austin, Texas in 2016. As a child of immigrants, Elsa saw with the hardships her parents suffered at work because of their lack of education, language barrier, and economic status and felt something had to be done to support families like hers. In college she became heavily involved with organizing and civic engagement in Chicago. Her career in corporate finance and accounting has taught her what is possible with education y con las ganas that were instilled in her. Elsa believes that we deserve an equal access to prosperity and it is because of our strong work ethic that we will win the fight for better education and economic opportunities. Elsa first joined Jolt as a member, taking the organization’s leadership institute. Elsa believes, now more than ever Jolt has the opportunity to mobilize a generation who is tired of watching Latino families struggle.
Bob recently retired from AT&T Labs where he was Lead Member of Technical Staff. He spent more than twenty years in telecommunications network design and is co-author of thirty-six US patents. Prior to his work as an engineer, Bob taught computer science at various schools that include St. Edward’s University in Austin and La Universidad de Chile in Santiago. He has provided for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Austin community and served four years as board chair for AIDS Services of Austin. Bob also chaired the capital campaign for the 5604 Manor Community Center, home to Workers Defense Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Bob holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He is a big fan of community radio and can occasionally be heard on KOOP 91.7 FM.
Dr. Denisa Gándara is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Southern Methodist University. Her research examines education policies and how they affect groups traditionally underserved in higher education. She is originally from the Rio Grande Valley. She earned a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.
Lesley Nowlin Blessing is a renowned photographer and proud mom. Her career encompasses documentary photography, curatorial experience, and fine art photography. After earning her BFA in Photography from the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford in 2000, Lesley traveled the world to document the life and struggles of Latin American migrants and worked with progressive organizations to lift up their stories. Lesley has served on the board of Austin Center for Photography and is a long-time supporter of progressive organizations and causes.
Monica Pintado immigrated from Ecuador. She was raised in the South Bronx, New York, where she learned that to dream big was the only way for opportunities. Like many other young Latinas at the time, she was a young mother, but that did to stop her from working hard and attaining her dreams. Eventually her hard work paid off as she successfully worked in the hedge fund industry for 15 years. She decided to leave the challenging life of the Big Apple and relocated to Las Vegas, seeking a better quality of life for her family. In Las Vegas she worked as a controller in the hospitality and hotel industry. Although, most of her goals and dreams had been attained, Monica felt that there was still more to do in life, and she took on another challenge and eventually found herself in Austin. Austin has open new doors to Monica’s desire to be involved in her community. She became interested in encouraging young people to help them to be civically engaged and educated. She is currently a member of her church, where she teaches ELS classes to adults and Sunday Religion Education. Through all of Monica’s trials and tribulations, she has become an example of the struggle and hard work it takes to achieve the American Dream. Monica is an inspiration to young people, especially women of color to dream big. Her passion to travel inspires her to meet people from different cultures, interact and understand their challenges and way of life. Monica strongly believes that with a little sacrifice everyone can attain their goals, have a family and experience the joys of life. The secret is to be humble and stay true to who you are no matter the circumstances. Monica has a B.B.A. in Public Accounting from Pace University, New York and later in life she attained an M.B.A from the University of Phoenix, Nevada.
Teo has a career trajectory that spans capital formation, regional economic development, high-tech entrepreneurship and community development. He is an innovator and founder of both for-profit and non-profit ventures in the fields of impact investing and social entrepreneurship. Teo also launched EDCO Ventures, a technology accelerator that partnered with entrepreneurs to commercialize technologies and launch innovative business ideas in economically distressed communities. In addition to his private sector experience, Teo also served as a Board Member of Latinitas and the Economic Growth Business Incubator, and as a Mentor for Unlimited USA accelerator. In 2014, he was appointed to the Austin Hispanic Quality of Life Commission. He was voted into El Paso Times 52 under 40 and was a finalist for Austin’s 40 under 40. Teo received a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, and he was also a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) program at the University of Texas El Paso from 2002-2004. He graduated from McAllen High School in 1991. Teo was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas Mexico, and was raised in McAllen, TX. He maintains citizenship status in both the United States and México.
Kandace Vallejo is the Founding Director of Youth Rise Texas, and has dedicated her life’s work to supporting immigrant rights organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Workers Defense Project. Vallejo holds a Masters in Education from the University of Texas at Austin and has been published in Global Policy TV, Waging Nonviolence, Edible Austin and in Be the Change: Teacher, Activist, Global Citizen and Uses of a Whirlwind.