People

Meet Via's Staff

Elisa Sabatini

President

Elisa became President of Via International in 1998, when it was still called Los Ninos. In 2005, she oversaw both the formation of Los Niños de Baja California, an independent Mexican non-profit, and the transition of the U.S. organization to Via International. She continues to serve as President of both entities.

Elisa brings years of experience working throughout Latin America with an expertise in micro-finance and community development. She continues to oversee the expansion of our global education program, now partnering with over 60 universities and high schools nationwide, with the end goal of making Via International a self-sustaining community development organization. Most recently, she has worked to develop Corporate Social Responsibility programming providing relevant volunteer opportunities for local businesses.

John Fanestil

Executive Director

A native of San Diego, John Fanestil is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and the Claremont School of Theology. In 2017, he earned the Ph.D. in History from the University of Southern California, specializing in the history of early America.

John has worked for decades in movements for social justice, beginning with his work in the Central American peace movement. From 2007 to 2014, he was Executive Director of the San Diego Foundation for Change, the local chapter of a national philanthropic network called The Funding Exchange. Since 2006, John has convened the Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition of local stakeholders advocating for public access to the historic meeting place overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the border between San Diego and Tijuana. Since 2011, he has worked with friends from Tijuana to convene El Faro: The Border Church, a weekly celebration of communion at Friendship Park. He has spoken to hundreds of groups and dozens of media outlets from around the world about the history of Friendship Park and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Rigo Reyes

Director of Community Development

As Community Development Director, Rigo Reyes develops and coordinates community engagement and leadership training for residents in marginal areas of San Diego and Tijuana and manages our Border Immersion program for students visiting San Diego. He is a long-time social justice advocate whose work is rooted in early childhood experiences growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border, attending United Farm Workers of America rallies and listening to Cesar Chavez while playing marbles. When he was 12-years-old he rode his bike 17 miles each way from his San Ysidro neighborhood to San Diego’s Logan Heights to witness the land take-over of Chicano Park, and has been a strong community empowerment advocate ever since. Reyes has been a member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee for nearly four decades, has been lowriding since the mid-1970s, and is a founding member of the Amigos Car Club.

BORDERLANDS COORDINATORS / COORDINADORES FRONTERIZOS 

Via International’s Borderlands Coordinators bring decades of personal and professional experience to their work in the California / Baja California border region.

Los Coordinadores Fronterizos de Via International aportan décadas de experiencia personal y profesional a su trabajo en la región de la frontera de California / Baja California. 

Aida Amador Alemán

Via Migrante Coordinator

A resident of Tijuana, Aida Amador is Coordinator of Via Internationa’s Via Migrante, a program addressing the growing humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. Born in the United States and raised in México, Aida has always lived and worked in the bilingual and bicultural atmosphere along the U.S.-Mexico border. She started with Via in 2017 as a Communications Coordinator,  and fell in love with the mission of the organization, the promotoras and communities they served. When the Central American Caravan arrived in Tijuana in 2018 and seeing all the injustice from the Government and even from the Tijuana residents, she knew she wanted to do something to help… “no me podía quedar con los brazos cruzados!” Aida also serves as the liaison between Via International and their partner in Tijuana México, Los Niños de Baja California A.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, loves to travel and is the proud mother of a toddler boy.

 

Residente de Tijuana, Aida Amador es Coordinadora del programa Via Migrante de Via International, un programa que aborda la creciente crisis humanitaria a lo largo de la frontera entre EE. UU. y México. Nacida en los Estados Unidos y criada en México, con una educación binacional en la frontera de Tijuana y San Diego, siempre ha vivido y trabajado en el ambiente bilingüe y bicultural de la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México.  Comenzó con Vía como Coordinadora de Comunicación en 2017 y se enamoró de la misión de la organización, las promotoras y las comunidades con las que trabajan. Cuando la Caravana Centroamericana llegó a Tijuana en 2018 y ver la injusticia del Gobierno e incluso de los tijuanenses, supo que quería hacer algo para ayudar… “¡No me podía quedar con los brazos cruzados!” Aida también es el enlace entre Via International y nuestra organización hermana en Tijuana México, Los Niños de Baja California A.C. Tiene una licenciatura en Comunicación de la Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, le encanta viajar y es la orgullosa madre de un niño pequeño.

IMG_0884

Robert Vivar

Global Education Coordinator

 

Robert Vivar lives in San Diego, California and is Via International’s Global Education Coordinator. Robert was born in Tijuana Mexico, and taken legally to the United States at the age of 6. He grew up in Corona, California and worked for over 20 years in the travel business, including Station Manager at LAX for Aeromexico Airlines, and Regional Manager based in Chicago for Taesa Airlines.  Robert was deported to Mexico in 2013 and soon dedicated himself to an active life of advocacy in support of deported US military veterans, asylum seekers and families separated by the broken U.S. immigration system. Robert ha recibido a cientos de grupos que visitan a Tijuana desde los Estados Unidos. In May 2021 The California Supreme Court Vacated the charge that had rendered Robert deportable, thus paving the way for his return to the USA on November 11, 2021 (Veterans Day). This Supreme Court decision in Robert’s favor will be very valuable in similar cases to be litigated in California.  Robert remains active in many borderlands advocacy organizations, including the Friends of Friendship Park, and also coordinates the “Charlamigo” (language partner) program through Via’s “Escuela Amistad.”

 

Robert Vivar vive en San Diego, California y es el Coordinador de Educación Global de Via International. Robert nació en Tijuana, México, y fue llevado legalmente a los Estados Unidos a la edad de 6 años. Creció en Corona, California y trabajó durante más de 20 años en el negocio de viajes, incluyendo Gerente de Estación en LAX para Aeroméxico Airlines, y Gerente Regional con sede en Chicago para Taesa Airlines.  Robert fue deportado a México en 2013 y pronto se dedicó a una vida activa de defensa en apoyo de los veteranos militares estadounidenses deportados, los solicitantes de asilo y las familias separadas por el sistema de inmigración roto de los Estados Unidos. Robert ha recibido a cientos de grupos que visitan Tijuana desde los  Estados Unidos. En mayo de 2021, la Corte Suprema de California anuló el cargo que había hecho a Robert deportable, allanando así el camino para su regreso a los Estados Unidos el 11 de noviembre de 2021 (Día de los Veteranos). Esta decisión de la Corte Suprema a favor de Robert será muy valiosa en casos similares que se litigarán en California.  Robert permanece activo en muchas organizaciones de defensa de las tierras fronterizas, inclusive a los Amigos del Parque de la Amistad, y también coordina el programa “Charlamigo” (socio lingüístico) a través de la “Escuela Amistad” de Via. 

20191027_142834

Daniel Watman

Director, Escuela Amistad

 

Dan Watman lives in Tijuana, Baja California Mexico and is the Director of Via International’s Escuela Amistad. Dan has worked for over 20 years as a Spanish language instructor in the San Diego/Tijuana border region, through which he has pioneered a method teaching language through the cultivation of cross-border friendship (“amistad” in Spanish). Dan is part of the Friends of Friendship Park Steering Committee and the founder/coordinator of the Binational Friendship Garden of Native Plants.  The Binational Garden was born from Dan’s Border Encuentro project which brought people together to make friends across the border at Friendship Park. 

 

Dan Watman vive en Tijuana, Baja California, México y es el Director de la Escuela Amistad de Via International. Dan ha trabajado durante más de 20 años como instructor de español en la región fronteriza de San Diego / Tijuana, a través del cual ha sido pionero en un método de enseñanza de idiomas a través del cultivo de la amistad transfronteriza. Dan es parte del Comité Directivo de los Amigos del Parque de la Amistad y es fundador / coordinador del Jardín Binacional de La Amistad de Plantas Nativas.  El Jardín Binacional nació de su proyecto “Encuentro Fronterizo,” que se reunió para hacer amigos al otro lado de la frontera en el Parque de la Amistad.

 

image (2)

Joanna Salazar Harris

Director of Resource Development

Joanna joined the Via family in May 2013 as our Resource Development Director. Joanna holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from UCSD and has worked in cross-border collaboration and infrastructure planning for 25 years. Joanna is passionate about empowering individuals to be their own best advocate and believes that civic engagement is key to a thriving community. She is an avid gardener, urban bee-keeper and mom of two teen-aged boys. Joanna is the main contact for foundations, corporations and individual donors and leads our build-a-beehive program in the San Diego area.

Gabriel Reed

Director of Education

Gabriel serves as the Director of Education and Voluntourism working to expand Via International’s university partnerships by fostering increased education and community engagement through our Volunteer Travel Programs. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Art Theory from the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Gabriel’s experience includes working as an international educator with a background in non-profit management, community activism, and a continuing creative practice as a professional artist.

Gladys Esponda

Executive Assistant

Gladys serves as the Executive Assistant for Via International’s staff. She is a non-profit advocate, with over 15 years of experience supporting multiple organizations addressing the most pressing issues facing our communities. She has learned that in order to help others and improve their quality of life, we must engage in our community, build strong alliances, and work in collaboration and partnership. Gladys loves dogs, music and tennis.

Meet Via's Board of Directors

Dr. Phillip Hadley - San Diego, CA

Chairman

Phil Hadley brings more than four decades of experience to Via through his extensive background as a teacher and administrator in independent secondary schools. His academic background includes a PhD in Latin American History from the University of Texas. During his career as an educator Phil served as headmaster of boarding and day schools in several U.S. states and directed study programs in Mexico. Through his participation with planning and implementing student service programs Phil brings practical experience to the board. While Phil’s professional background make him particularly interested in the organization’s education programs, he enthusiastically committed to Via’s full range of activities.

Read Phil’s Board Highlight Interview.

Amy Komorowski - San Diego, CA

Amy is an elementary school teacher in Chula Vista, CA with a passion for facilitating community development as well as self development through cultural exchange. After spending several years abroad, Amy learned that combining meaningful volunteer work for both the participant and local communities can be very rewarding for all. By combining these experiences with her studies in tourism and international development, she has developed a philosophy around building social capital within communities and is excited to continue working within her passion with Via. Board Highlight Interview.

Jim Gerber- San Diego, CA

Dr. James Gerber retired from teaching in 2019 after more than three decades as a Professor of Economics at San Diego State University.  His fields of specialization include international economics, US-Mexico economic relations, and Latin American economies.  In his role as Director of the University’s National Resource Center for Latin American Studies, he was actively involved in international education and developed and led student programs in Mexico.  In 2008 he co-authored an economic history, Fifty Years of Change on the US-Mexico Border, which took a symmetrical look at both sides of the border during the years 1950 to 2000, from San Diego-Tijuana to Brownsville-Matamoros.  He is currently working on the history of economic integration in the border region during the 20th century.  The 8th edition of his widely used text, International Economics, will be released in 2021, and another book, A Great Deal of Ruin:  Financial Crises since 1929 was published in 2019. He has been a visiting professor in Mexico and Canada. Board Highlight Interview.

Tom Melchior- San Diego, CA

Tom Melchior brings fifty years of experience in law, education and business to the Board of Via International.  A graduate of Duke University, then the University of Michigan Law School, he also holds a Master’s Degree in Theology from University of San Diego. Tom practiced law in Los Angeles and San Diego for several years before changing direction and entering the tuna fishing industry as the operator of a fleet of purse seiners fishing for tuna in both the Eastern Tropical Pacific and Western Pacific regions.  Through the course of that activity, he engaged in years of business with private and government entities in Mexico, Central and South America as well as several Western Pacific Island countries, spending much time in both regions, as well as Europe and Japan.   After selling his interests in the fishing industry, Tom again changed directions and became engaged in education as a teacher and coach at both the Middle School and High School levels, a vocation which remains close to his heart. He currently serves as Chairman of a community bank he founded twenty years ago.   Tom resides with his wife Sandy in La Jolla.  He is the proud father of three adult daughters who have gifted him and Sandy with four grandchildren living in San Diego, Los Angeles and Connecticut. Board Highlight Interview

Karen Cebreros- San Diego, CA

Karen Cebreros brings Microfinance, International and Business experience to the Via Board. She also has decades of experience supporting social business.
Karen is a pioneer in the global certified organic coffee and sustainability movements. She was the founder and CEO of Élan Organic Coffees which was the first organic coffee company in the US -ever. Karen was an early supporter of “Coffee Kids” and served two terms on their board of directors. She has contributed to multiple issues like “Grounds for Health,” “Cup for Education,” and Élan was among the first participants in the “Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Coffee” program. Karen also co-founded the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) of America’s Sustainability Committee and is a longtime member of the Organic
Coffee Coalition, a division of the Organic Trade Association. She is a founding member of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and has worked tirelessly in raising funds for Women in Coffee Microfinance and the Learning Loan Program.

Walter Ludlow - San Diego, CA

Advisors

Dr. Nancy McGehee - Blacksburg, VA

Nancy has been working in the area of tourism development since the 1990’s. She received an MS in Tourism Management from North Carolina State University in 1991, worked for the Appalachian Tourism Research and Development Center from 1991-1994, then received both an MS and PhD in Sociology from Virginia Tech in 1999. Her research in volunteer tourism has focused on the complex relationship between the host community, volunteer organizations, and the volunteer tourist. Her other long-term project involves raising her two children, both 12 year olds, named Grace and Spencer, along with her husband Jim.

Dr. Elizabeth Reed - San Diego, CA

Dr. Elizabeth Reed is Associate Professor of global health at San Diego State University and Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. Trained in social epidemiology, she conducts research related to the intersection of gender inequality, poverty, and health. Specifically, she focuses her research on the social and economic factors influencing gender-based violence and sexual/reproductive health outcomes, including HIV/STI as well as adolescent and unintended pregnancy. She uses the findings of her research to support the development of public health programming to promote economic opportunity, health, and safety. Her research is based in the US, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa.

Raquel Palma - San Diego, CA

Raquel comes to our advisory team with a long history of having served the organization. Raquel worked within the organization for 19 years before retiring, then continued her connection with Via in recent years through volunteer service at our headquarters in San Diego. Her hope is to make a contribution by pushing Via forward with progressive strides to meet common goals in the community. Having grown up in Logan Heights (where Via’s offices are located), she is deeply connected to the community and issues that make Barrio Logan unique and is excited to now serve as an advisor, giving back to the community. Raquel’s personal history with the organization, the community, and her previous work in the private sector all make her a wonderful addition to the Via Advisory team. When not doting on her kids and grandkids, you can find Raquel reading, drawing, in a yoga class! Read Raquel’s Board Highlight Interview.

Andrew Morikawa - Blacksburg, VA

As a Via International advisor, Andy brings to the role years of experience gained as a career non-profit leader and founding director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. Andy has more than four decades of experience working with nonprofit boards as both a trustee and a CEO, as well as a consultant. Andy is currently IPG Senior Fellow at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG), where he serves in the design and development of the Institute’s Community Voices program. Community Voices is a dialogue and research initiative that engages leaders of innovative social change in dialogue with community leaders, faculty, and students. He is also supporting the “Dialogue on Race” and “Conversation New River Valley”, two innovative, community-wide efforts for social change in his home community, Virginia’s New River Valley. Andy has also taught for Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs and Planning Department and has served on the Board for Community Housing Partners, a leader in affordable housing serving a seven state area in the southeastern US.

Ambassadors

Ralph and Cheryl Broetje

Fred Clark

Cain Family

Gotkowitz Family

Don and Virginia Kreuzberger

Jeanette Leehr

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join Via’s Email List