Our twenty-four RISE Fellows for the 2015 program year represent some of San Diego’s best and brightest community leaders, activists, practitioners, and agents of social change. They have demonstrated their experience in and commitment to a variety of issues affecting urban communities across San Diego, including education, urban planning and redevelopment, food justice, and gang violence prevention.

 


 

 

Rahmo Abdi

RAHMO ABDI

Read Bio
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Rahmo came to the U.S. as a refugee and understands the challenges of acclimating to life in a new country while preserving one’s cultural heritage. She founded the International Refugee Girls Association to connect first-generation immigrants with their native cultures while also offering learning opportunities on issues including sexual health, financial literacy and planning, self-esteem, and education. She is the recipient of numerous honors, including Young Woman of the Year from Refugee Women’s Network and Bank of America’s Local Hero Award. Rahmo is a proud wife and mother of four.

 

Dennis-Michael Broussard

DENNIS-MICHAEL BROUSSARD

Read Bio
Dennis-Michael is an event producer and community activist who cares about helping people. Through his event management and production firm, Silk Road Productions, he has been able to work on and create many projects that help organizations reach their goals. He is also co-creator of the hit television show, Asian Voices, which spotlights the stories of the Asian American community in Southern California. Dennis-Michael has an international master’s in business administration from the University of San Diego and a master’s of Pacific International Affairs from the IR/PS program at the University of California, San Diego.

 

Ruthie Carrillo

RUTHIE CARILLO

Read Bio
Ruthie presently works as an intervention specialist at Sweetwater High School in National City. She is committed to serving underrepresented youth and hopes to expand her work by supporting children within the juvenile justice and foster systems. She volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) with Voices for Children, where she supports and advocates for youth in the foster system. Ruthie earned her BA degrees in sociology and ethnic studies at California State University East Bay.

 

clark-castaneda-a2

ALBERT CLARK-CASTANEDA

Read Bio
Born and raised in Panama, Albert moved to the U.S. to attend Bradley University in Illinois. He relocated to San Diego in 2005 where he has continued a thirteen-year career in commercial insurance. Albert currently works at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., the third-largest insurance agency in the world, where he focuses primarily on nonprofits and Hispanic-owned businesses. He also serves as chairman of the San Diego Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a position that he has held for the last two years.

 

 

jose_cruz

JOSE CRUZ

Read Bio
Jose is the executive director of Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI), a college-prep, out-of-school-time program for disadvantaged youth. Located in the heart of Barrio Logan, where only about a third of residents 25 years of age or older have a high school diploma and less than 3% have a bachelor’s degree, BLCI combats these statistics by ensuring 100% of its high school graduates enroll in college so that they can use their higher education to transform communities. He graduated magna cum laude from San Diego State University with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish and obtained a master of education degree in Adolescent Risk and Prevention from Harvard University.

 

Ralph Dimarucut

RALPH DIMARUCUT

Read Bio
Ralph is a policy advisor for San Diego Council President Pro Tem Marti Emerald and previously served as a senior field representative in San Diego for both the State Assembly and State Senate. Calling southeastern San Diego home since moving from the Philippines at the age of four, Ralph is a proud alumni of Morse High School and advocates for the inclusion and participation of everyone in our local, state, and federal decision-making processes. He earned a master’s in public administration at San Diego State University.

 

Rashida Hameed

RASHIDA HAMEED

Read Bio
Rashida is the president of Epiphany Women in Focus, a nonprofit organization she founded to help empower women. She has worked with and served on the boards of many community organizations and has participated weekly in peace rallies throughout the city to denounce gang violence. Rashida is a longtime community advocate and financial literacy educator, and works as a grant writing intern. She graduated with honors from Maric College in 1995.

 

Brandon Harrison

BRANDON HARRISON

Read Bio
Brandon has been the director of operations and community relations at the Elementary Institute of Science (EIS) for seven years. He serves as a member of EIS’s management team and is responsible for overseeing all official communications, maintaining its $6.5 million state of the art facility, stewarding key supporters, leading community outreach efforts, and cultivating strategic partnerships and collaborations with other community organizations. Brandon graduated cum laude from San Diego State University in 2009. He is a husband and a father of two wonderful boys and is passionate about seeing the families and youth of southeastern San Diego thrive in every aspect of life.

 

 

Divina Hernandez

DIVINA HERNANDEZ

Read Bio
Divina was born and raised in Oceanside and is the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned her BA in ethnic studies and theology from the University of San Diego, where she also received the Triumph Award from the Student Support Services program, which assists students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds. Divina works for the City of Oceanside and was recently named Employee of the Quarter, reflecting her desire to be a social agent of change in her community at large.

 

Stephen Heverly

STEPHEN HEVERLY

Read Bio
Stephen is the managing director of Equinox Center, a regional sustainability research center in San Diego. He holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Saginaw Valley State University and has nearly a decade of public affairs and environmental experience, having previously worked in environmental communications and policy in the public and private sectors. Stephen volunteers with a number of community groups, local environmental organizations, and non-partisan political campaigns.

 

Darnisha Hunter

DARNISHA HUNTER

Read Bio
Darnisha serves as a District 4 representative and veteran’s advocate to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, where she works to find ways to improve the lives of all San Diegans. Previously, she was the first African American regional manager for The Eastridge Group in their T3 Staffing division based in San Diego, where she received the Top Producer Award for 2010. Darnisha has a servant’s heart, is community driven, and has an entrepreneurial spirit.

 

keryna_johnson

KERYNA JOHNSON

Read Bio
Keryna serves as a senior associate for LeSar Development Consultants, where she works directly with municipalities throughout California to identify affordable housing, community, and economic development priorities for lower-income neighborhoods. Born and raised in the San Diego’s District Four, she received her master’s in city planning and bachelor’s in business management from San Diego State University with a focus on planning for health, equity, and economic development.

 

 

Travis Kemnitz

TRAVIS KEMNITZ

Read Bio
Travis is the talent and culture coach for Ocean Discovery Institute: Young Lives Transformed Through Science, where he manages all aspects relating to the organization’s volunteers, board of directors, and amazing staff. During his thirteen years at the organization, he has gained substantial experience in leadership and program development, culture and priority management, professional coaching, and talent acquisition and stewardship. An avid adventurer, he loves to scuba dive, mountain bike, and soak up nature’s beauty. Travis holds a BA in environmental studies from the University of San Diego.

 

Christopher Knighten

CHRISTOPHER KNIGHTEN

Read Bio
Christopher holds the rank of lieutenant with the San Diego Police Department and has worked in the Southeastern Division since his promotion in 2013. He started his career in law enforcement with the City of Carlsbad, where he worked for five years prior to joining America’s Finest in 1996. Christopher has a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s in public administration. In his off time, he enjoys spending time with his family and coaching baseball.

 

tamara_muhammad

TAMARA MUHAMMAD

Read Bio
Tamara is a lifetime learner and educator who loves to share her knowledge to cultivate the next generation of leaders. She is a graduate of the University of San Diego and National University and is presently working on her credential in school leadership and administration. Tamara chairs the Abraham Lincoln High School’s Governance Team and is an active board member for Valencia Park Pop Warner. She recently participated in a partnership with the National Center for Urban School Transformation (NCUST) to find innovative ways to improve urban education. Tamara is a mother, teacher, mentor, and friend who uses her God-given talents and gifts to help others.

 

alyssa_osian

ALYSSA OSIAN

Read Bio
For fifteen years, Alyssa has dedicated her career to improving the lives of those in her community and her experience as a fundraising and communications professional gives her the opportunity to promote social justice and cultural change. Raised in San Diego, she studied at San Francisco State University’s School of Social Work and earned a certificate in fundraising management from Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. She presently works as the director of development and communications at MAAC, one of San Diego’s largest non-profit social services agencies.

 

 

khea_pollard

KHEA POLLARD

Read Bio
Khea is a native of southeastern San Diego and a University of San Diego Torero with a passion for civic engagement. At USD, she has held multiple leadership positions and was the recipient of the prestigious Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges distinction. She graduates this spring with BAs in English and ethnic studies and aspires to attend law school to study critical race theory, with the aim of combining community organizing and law for a career in advocacy for communities of color. Khea works as a legislative assistant for County Supervisor Greg Cox, where she seeks to directly engage with residents and build strong relationships to better serve the community, and she is a proud member of the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC). When not studying serious topics, she enjoys reading for leisure, attending plays, watching bad reality television, and eating. Khea looks forward to beginning a new chapter of her life with RISE San Diego, hoping to learn valuable life lessons and make meaningful, lasting connections within her community.

 

ferchil_ramos

FERCHIL RAMOS

Read Bio
Ferchil is a native of the city he would like to make an impact on and serves as festival director for the Filipino American Arts & Culture Festival, where he has adopted a sense of civic duty and shines best with community and creative projects. He is looking forward to growing and attaining further skills as a RISE Urban Leadership Fellow and aims to make San Diego a better place for all.

 

victor_sanchez

VICTOR SANCHEZ

Read Bio
Victor is a first-generation Hispanic college graduate and a product of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, which he acknowledges provided him with support and preparation to make college a possibility. He works for the San Ysidro School District as a program manager for an after-school mentoring program to get students hungry for knowledge. Victor’s goal is to create a program that creates the same atmosphere that the AVID program created for him and have students in elementary school become more engaged inside and outside the classroom with the curiosity for education.

 

Andrew Simmerman

ANDREW SIMMERMAN

Read Bio
A proud San Diego native, Andrew became manager of growth, development and partnerships at Teach For America – San Diego after teaching for four years in the South Bronx and East Los Angeles. He worked for then-startup TOMS Shoes before moving to New York City to join Teach For America as a corps member, knowing that he wanted to seek justice in his career; while there, he taught ninth- and tenth grade English as a second language at a small bilingual high school. He holds a BA in advertising from Pepperdine University and a master’s in education from CUNY Lehman College, and is a soon-to-be graduate of LEAD San Diego’s Impact Class of 2015. While not seeking justice, Andrew loves to go to concerts, explore San Diego’s craft beer scene, and attend SDSU Men’s Basketball games with his family.

 

 

karina_spilker

KARINA SPILKER

Read Bio
Karina is highly experienced in community building, civic engagement, and workforce development. She serves as manager of community and economic development programs at MAAC and has nearly two decades of experience in the nonprofit social service sector with a focus on community building and workforce development. As a long-time resident of Logan Heights, a board member of the Sherman Heights Community Center, and an active community organizer, Karina has played a leadership role in many important mobilization efforts, including massive organizing initiatives related to immigration and immigrant rights, naturalization drives, voter education and registration initiatives, and living wage campaigns. She is fluent in Spanish, a certified notary public, and a VITA-certified tax preparer.

 

cynthia_suero_gabler

CYNTHIA SUERO-GABLER

Read Bio
Cynthia is a professional who hails from District 4 in America’s Finest City and has nineteen years of experience providing uncompromising, confidential support to C-Level executives in the government, nonprofit, private, and political sectors. She was recently nominated by City of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and unanimously approved to the City of San Diego’s Equal Opportunity Commission. She serves as the Confidential Assistant to the President and COO/CFO of Civic San Diego, a city-owned nonprofit that is the entrepreneurial development partner for targeted urban neighborhoods. Cynthia is a change agent who is passionate about fairness and equality, small business success, the environment, community service, civic engagement, and advocating for the dignity of the underserved and underrepresented.

 

jerrica_sykes

JERRICA SYKES

Read Bio
Jerrica is a San Diego native who grew up in the heart of southeastern San Diego. After high school, she joined the United States Air Force where she served for two years as an Information Manager. She is employed as a medical accounts representative at Prometheus Laboratories, a Nestlé Health Science-owned corporation. Jerrica is currently finishing her bachelor of science in business with a concentration in management and plans to attend the University of San Diego in 2016 for a master’s in global leadership. She is honored and proud to have been chosen as an up-and-coming fellow for RISE San Diego.

 

Herbert Taft

HERBERT TAFT

Read Bio
Herbert grew up in Oakland, California. After high school, he attended Boston University and the University of California, Davis where he graduated with a BS in biology. He then worked in a hospital lab for several years before joining the U.S. Navy and being commissioned as an officer. For the past sixteen years, Herbert has worked for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, where he is a lieutenant assigned as the traffic coordinator for the department.