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Team

María Rodriguez | Executive Director

Maria Rodriguez

Maria Alegria Rodriguez is the first Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a bold and dynamic social movement organization that seeks the fair and equal treatment of all people, including immigrants. It builds and aggregates the connection, consciousness and capacity of its diverse membership across 10 counties in Florida. As a movement architect, Maria’s inclusive leadership has yielded impressive wins in college access, wage protections and combating criminalization, allowing more people to live, love and work without fear.

A social entrepreneur, she has co-founded or helped establish half a dozen award-winning organizations, including a free medical clinic, a housing cooperative, an arts & therapy group and an electoral entity, which are all thriving today. From foreign policy advocacy on Southern Africa and Central America, to domestic organizing for quality housing and healthcare at home, Maria brings principled and effective leadership that yields concrete results. She grew up in Puerto Rico in a multi-cultural family, is a graduate of Georgetown University and is the proud mother of Dante.

Isabel Vinent Grimany | Deputy Director

Isabel was born in Honduras and has lived in the US intermittently since 1983. In almost 30 years of social justice work, she has experience working with grassroots organizations (youth, indigenous, immigrant, women, rural) in the US and Central America. She earned a Ph.D. in Education in 2001 in Spain. Her areas of expertise include popular education, gender training, participatory research and project evaluation. She has also taught university graduate and postgraduate courses. Isabel and her husband founded a popular education team called “La Tapizca” in Central America and “Popular Education Consultants” in the US to assist social organizations in creating and implementing educational and organizational capacity building processes. Isabel is also a Board member of the Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigrant Rights (PBCCIR). She joined FLIC in 2008.

Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez |  Lead Organizer & Membership Director

Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez was born in Bogota, Colombia and moved to Miami with their family at the age of 6. They joined the Florida Immigrant Coalition coming out of high school as a youth leader, organizing against deportations and for the DREAM Act since 2007 and has had various roles at FLIC since 2008, especially working with immigrant youth statewide and with farm worker organizations throughout central Florida. In 2010, Isabel was one of the founders of the national Trail of Dreams mobilization where they walked with other students and families 1,500 miles from Miami to D.C. drawing national attention to the need to end deportations and reform our nation’s broken immigration system. Isabel has an Associate degree in Business Administration from Miami Dade College and a Bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of South Florida. As a graduate student at the City University of New York, Isabel also published academic articles detailing the effects of legal status and marginalization on undocumented mothers, their families, as well as adolescents in the transition to adulthood. From 2015 through 2016, they were the state coordinator of New York’s Mexican Initiative on Deferred Action. Isabel also proudly served on the national selection committee of the DREAM.US Undocumented Youth Scholarship Fund from 2013-2015 and is currently on the Board of Unite for a Fair Economy.

Thomas Kennedy | Civic Engagement Coordinator

Born in Argentina, Thomas Kennedy came to the United States with his parents at the age of ten, first living in New Jersey before settling down in Miami. After living as an undocumented immigrant for over a decade and seeing the daily struggles his parents overcame in their daily lives in order to have a better life, Thomas became involved in student activism and immigration reform advocacy. He graduated with an International Relations major from Florida International University and works with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

 

Elizabeth Fernandez | Communications Manager

Elizabeth Fernandez is a writer, communicator, and longtime activist who has spent years fighting for immigrant communities, LGBTQ rights, domestic violence survivors, the labor movement and increased political engagement, among many other things. Born and raised in South Florida to immigrant parents, she feels intimately connected with both Colombia and the United States. She has been volunteering in her community for as long as she can remember, and began her political activism by getting involved in the anti-war movement while a journalism student at the University of Central Florida. In addition to serving as the communications manager for Florida Immigrant Coalition, she is a Board member of Engage Miami and a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters. In the past, she’s served as the communications director of SEIU Florida and the managing editor of The New Tropic, and prior to that, she spent more than a decade working in publishing and media, specializing in creating books, magazines and websites.

Felix Espinal | IT Manager

Felix migrated to the US when he was in his twenties with a Computer Engineering background. Since then, he’s been helping communities by volunteering with different organizations such as Salvation Army, Miami Worker Center and Miami Dade Public Library System. In this era, he joined FLIC as IT Wizard, slaying bugs and error trolls, melting frozen computers with dragon fire and empowering member organizations with the right bunch of tech potions to cure their technology thirst.

 

 

Grace Toapanta | Volunteer and Hotline Coordinator

Grace Toapanta is from Ecuador and came to live to Florida when she was 15 years old. She is a social worker who graduated at Florida Atlantic University. During her years at school, her interest and passion for the immigrant rights movement grew as she heard the stories of undocumented families. In 2008, she realized that she didn’t need to travel to another state or country to help people, because in her community there is an immigration detention center. She joined Catholic Detention Ministry as a volunteer, starting out doing visits to female inmates at Broward Transitional Center. She felt the need to advocate for a couple by taking another extra mile to assist her friend who was detained at BTC and eventually deported. Grace began working with Dreamers Moms, a network of undocumented mothers advocating for Immigration Reform, where she served as a volunteer and become an advocate for undocumented women. Since joining Florida Immigrant Coalition, she has worked on many different campaigns, including voter registration campaign and access to college. She is currently manages the FLIC Immigrant Hotline and coordinates volunteers for Florida New Americans.

Basma Alawee | Refugee Organizer

Basma is the Florida Refugee Organizer for Florida Immigrant Coalition. She came from Iraq in 2010 after earning a Bachelor of Science in Material Engineering. Her own experiences of arriving in the United States have made her keenly aware of the issues refugees are facing. It was very difficult to leave the security of her career as an engineer with the Ministry of Oil, as well as her home and family, but due to the ongoing war, she needed to start fresh. Her flexible nature, resilient determination and self-motivation have served her well as she made this transition. As she learned how to find a job, secure housing and complete all of the necessary paperwork, she realized that these tasks are difficult for many refugees. She began to volunteer and help refugees at several organizations such as World Relief and Lutheran Social Services. Her work with refugees grew to the point that she was selected as a delegate of Florida at the UNHCR Refugee Congress in December of 2013. She is on the board of the Refugee center online to helped translate their GED/citizenship program, and shares on a monthly blogs what it means to be a refugee. Her love of children and math led her to teach at The Foundation Academy for 5 years. She loved introducing her students to her passion for math and science as well as organizing them to volunteer with newly arrived refugees. She is also going to FSCJ to seek an accounting technology management degree.

Pamela Gomez | Central Florida Community Organizer

IMG_1541Pamela Gomez was born in the Dominican Republic. Her family immigrated to the Virgin Islands in the early 1990s in search of better educational and economic opportunities. They relocated to Tampa in 2005, where she completed her undergraduate education in Sociology and is pursuing graduate studies in Latin America and Caribbean Studies at the University of South Florida (USF); focusing on the intersections of race, gender, and migration issues. As an Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Taina, she works to build on the connection between her indigenous and African Disaporic roots and combat oppression, racism, and exclusion in her transnational community. In 2010, she joined the movement and Florida Immigrant Youth Network and Students Working for Equal Right. Pamela has coordinated civic engagement efforts, with Democracia USA (2010) and Mi Familia Vota (2012), achieving voter participation goals of over 12,000 registered voters and hundreds of engaged community members. She has also worked on parent engagement and empowerment initiatives with the Florida Institute for Community Studies (2013) and Hispanic Services Council (2014). Currently, she is part of the membership and leadership of the Dominican Association of Tampa, Black Lives Matter Tampa and Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition.

Julio Calderon | South Florida Community Organizer

image1Born in Honduras, Julio Calderon arrived the United States as an unaccompanied minor in 2005 escaping poverty. Julio started his work with Students Working For Equal Rights (SWER) by pushing for the DREAM Act in 2010. Years after. he served as the END (Education Not Deportation) Coordinator for the State of Florida, which also helped to build a campaign around DACA. After DACA, he became the Outreach Coordinator for DACA-eligible immigrants and successfully helped turn out more than 450 applicants during the first clinic. In 2014, Julio joined other students in Tallahassee to fight for in-State tuition. The strategy and mobilization allowed them to win the campaign. Julio is now the Access to Higher Education Organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. He is working on his Bachelors in Economics at Florida International University.

Patricia Bernal | Office Manager

Patricia is originally from Colombia and came to live to the United States 14 years ago. With a Bachelor in Marketing and Management and a publisher diplomate. With more than 25 years of experience in Management with multinationals companies in Colombia and 12 years as property Manager in Miami. She got involved with the U.S. social justice in Colombia, since she was a teenager. As a volunteer she joined the YMCA (Young Women Christian Association)– Asociacion Cristiana Femenina Colombia and the Red Cross- in Colombia,  helping with programs for poorest people around Bogota. Her work at FLIC began in 2013 and in 2014 became an Office Manager and recently start as a volunteer for the detainees visitation program at BTC through FOBD org. Her primary responsibilities are implementing and maintaining the FLIC Office organization, providing support for staff and financials.  Volunteers Management, liaison with Colleges and Schools, recruit and coordinate volunteers work.

Sundari Harris | Communications Associate

Sundari is from South Carolina. She earned her B.A. in Fine Arts as a Graphic Designer. As the Florida New Americans Communications Associate, she is responsible for FNA’s photography and social media platforms, as well as collecting people’s stories to share with the world and show how FNA has helped them.

Organizational Chart

FLIC Hall of Fame

Rita Mendez | Director Of Services

Rita was born in Mexico City where she studied Telecommunications Engineer at UNAM. Passionate about Technology, Education and Online activism. Her primary responsibilities are implementing and maintaining the FLIC information technology infrastructure, providing support for staff and members.  Collaborated in projects like  Plazas Comunitarias and CCIME where she was part of the Education Committee , Project Manager for the National Immigration Conference 2013 and member of the POC Techies program with the Progressive Technology Project (PTP).