At just two years old, Fernanda Ocana’s parents decided to bring her to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico to East Salinas. She graduated from Alisal High School and has attended Hartnell College and Monterey Peninsula College.
Fernanda works for the City of Salinas implementing the Community Leadership Academy and Youth Leadership Academy for Salinas’ residents with the intent to increase community civic engagement and leadership skills.
Her love for community led her to become a board member for Partners For Peace (P4P) two years ago. Her skills in logistics, social media, and marketing are true assets to P4P.
As part of her work with the City of Salinas, Fernanda supports different initiatives, such as the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP). She also co-founded The Epicenter.
“I admire what they do here to help parents and youth,” she said. “Partners For Peace is breaking generational gaps and helping families learn to communicate better.”
In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, bike rides, going to the beach, and reading. In the near future, she wants to travel.
Two years ago, Mike Nolan joined the Partners For Peace Board. He is a CPA and partner at Hayashi Wayland and his expertise was the perfect fit for his role in the executive board as the treasurer. In addition, his passion for community drove him to be involved.
“Partners For Peace is a great organization working diligently to help a lot of our families here in the community providing valuable workshops for youth, parents, and families,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that work and help them advance the mission.”
Nolan was born in San Francisco, but has resided in Salinas for 17 years. He and his wife Jaime just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary alongside their three children: Kaitlyn (17), Jack (15), and Caleb (13).
For Mike, the best part about being a board member is to hear the stories of positive change from the families that go through the programs. These outcomes energize him to continue with his involvement.
“I hope the organization continues to grow, expand, and serve even more families in our community,” he said. “We have a great group of volunteers and staff who work day in and day out to accomplish that.”
Besides making a difference in his community, Mike enjoys going on a run, mountain biking, and hiking. With his family, he enjoys the outdoors and would love to vacation on a tropical island, scuba dive, and explore marine life.
Something not many people may know about Mike is that he has swam with sharks. That shows bravery! Partners For Peace is grateful for his support and involvement in making a difference
For the past 38 years, Dr. John Silva has worked as a Family Physician, 30 of them with Natividad Medical Center. The reason he chose to become a family physician is that he values the influence of the family on the person, the family unit, and assisting others. “I just did not want to specialize; instead, I wished to be general,” he said.
He was originally exposed to Partners For Peace when he worked at Natividad. Classes were hosted there at the hospital. He was impressed by noticing how the interaction with the families helped in so many ways. “Seeing the whole family there and seeing the facilitators work with the parents and another group of facilitators working with the kids, it changed my perspective about family health,” he said.
Dr. Silva has been part of the board development committee since January of 2016 and wishes to expand into a leadership role and join the executive board in the near future.
Dr. Silva was born in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1983, he relocated to Santa Rosa to complete his medical training. He has lived in Salinas since 1987. He is happily married to Natalie Luján-Silva – they have three children together: Martin, Matisse and Alejandra.
He became interested in community solutions for healthcare inspired by the work of Building Healthy Communities. “Despite the fact that I had been doing it for years, it was beautiful, I saw some very intriguing things in the exam room, and I learned a lot from our community,” he said. “But I recognized that the issues our patients were dealing with were more than what could be treated in the exam room.”
As that interest sparked, he became more involved in what Partners For Peace was doing to promote peace in the community. “The program helps parents, and their children learn nonviolent communication and effective parenting skills,” he said. “I had a glimpse of that and was eye opening to me and said this is what I've been talking about.”
He feels proud of the work Partners For Peace is doing in the community. He feels excited about how it has expanded beyond the Strengthening Families program into Step-Up Mentoring, the Parent Project® and Loving Solutions.
Dr. Silva attends classroom sessions from time to time; for him, it is refreshing and pleasant to see community members engaging. He meets with past patients and with youth he helped deliver into this world and they are working together to improve their lives. “This is better than anything I could offer in the office,” he said. “This is impactful.”
In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing baseball and going on hikes with his wife and two dogs. He would love to have the opportunity to disconnect for a few days and not worry about a phone, emails, messages, electronics, etc. He would love to enjoy peace and nature for once. Something not many people know about him is that he used to play baseball till his 50s and he was a catcher.
Just as a catcher, he wishes to continue to get better at helping his Partners For Peace team, especially in fundraising. “Programs are expensive to run and I would like to get better at asking people for money to help enhance our programs,” he said.
It was in 2015 that Judge of the Monterey County Superior Court, the Honorable Vanessa W. Vallarta joined the Board of Directors for Partners For Peace (P4P). She is deeply involved as Vice President of the Board, and Development Committee Chair.
Her passion for real change in families is what led her to have a significant role with Partners for Peace. “I have seen the profound changes in parents and youth who go through the Strengthening Families and other programs in our courtrooms,” she said. “The work with families is deep, healing, and transformative.”
Judge Vallarta brings an array of skills, knowledge, and talents to the board. Besides being trilingual (German, Spanish, English), she has deep connectivity and love for Salinas and broader Monterey County community.
Before becoming a Judge, she was City Attorney, City of Salinas; and Executive Director for the Center for Community Advocacy. She graduated with a BA at Princeton University and earned her JD at Stanford Law School.
Judge Vallarta was born in Mexico City, Mexico and currently resides in Salinas, CA. She has two grown children ages 22 and 26.
“The longer that I am in this work, the more that I understand and value the importance of family,” said Dana Edgull, President of the Board of Directors for Partners For Peace. “We all need help; there is more that we can learn and do.”
Dana brings a lot of experience and expertise to the organization. She has been a board member for over 6 years – President of the Board starting this year. Her love for youth initiatives makes her a fan of the Step-Up Mentoring program, designed to guide youth towards roads of opportunities.
She came to Salinas at the tender age of eight. Dana attended Salinas High School and went on to the University of California Santa Barbara to complete a psychology degree.
As Edgull looks back at 25 years of Partners For Peace in the community, she is reminded that this parallels her 25-year anniversary working for Monterey County Behavioral Health. She started as a psychiatric social worker after earning her masters from Portland State University. She worked on a family preservation model to help parents keep their families together by changing their environment.
Edgull became a mom to Trevor, now 22, and switched to a team that works with children in foster care system. This is how she encountered Partners For Peace. The team was in charge of implementing a grant for safe schools and safety for students where they worked on preventing bullying, provided therapeutic programs, plus children’s behavioral programs.
Two years ago, she became Prevention Manager overseeing the maternal mental health, suicide prevention coalition, and the prevention and early intervention programs.
“There is more that we can learn and do,” she said. “Parents need a lot of help and support; Partners For Peace provides them with that strength and tools to have better relationships.”
She said that Executive Director, Vicki Law goes above and beyond the call of duty making sure that the program is running smoothly and that staff and families have all the tools they need.
With the pandemic making it difficult to connect with others or interact with friends as usual, she hopes that programs like this will help families and youth navigate through obstacles in a safe way.
Dana loves to read, she is in a book club, loves to walk, hike, and be outdoors. During normal times, she enjoys going out and visiting wineries. She hopes to be able to celebrate 25 years of marriage to Robert in Hawaii in 2021.
David Jenkins is an active and dedicated board member at Partners For Peace. He is past president of the board and currently chairs the Fund Development Committee, whose main goal is to raise funds to expand programming.
David F. Jenkins Is a Financial Advisor at Salinas Valley Financial Services, a financial advisory practice of Ameriprise financial services, LL.C. With over 20 years of experience in finance, he brings a thoughtful approach to the organizations fundraising activities.
“I definitely have a dream that this organization expands throughout Monterey County and touches many, many more lives,” he said. “The best part is knowing I'm participating in an organization that is creating positive outcomes and results - that is very rewarding.”
Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania. He moved to Monterey County in 1991, when he joined the Army and attended the Defense Language Institute to learn Arabic. He and his wife, Devone, decided to return to the area after his time in the service and make Salinas their home. They have one son, Nicholas, 27, who also resides in Salinas.
David came to know of Partners For Peace in 2009, when he was president of his Rotary Club.
“I was really discouraged with all the gang violence in Salinas and was trying to figure out what I could do personally to make a difference,” he said. “And then I asked myself, could I, through the club, help improve enforcement, or could we make a difference with lives of those that are incarcerated?”
“Eventually, I got together with four other Rotary Clubs and encouraged them to join in to find a project that we could bring to ‘another level’ in an intentional way,” he continued. “After a lot of research, we selected Partners For Peace as we fell in love with the organization and its programs. We were encouraged with the thought that a strong healthy family environment leaves little room or desire for a youth to seek gang involvement.”
Jenkins became one of Partners For Peace’s biggest fans. Soon after the Rotary Clubs joined forces to support the organization, he decided to join the board. He has taken an active role in fundraising, which elevates the organization to higher levels each year. In 2021, Partners For Peace celebrates its 25th Anniversary, and David is a big part in designing this special celebration to take place on May 25th.
“As a parent, I have made plenty of mistakes of my own and realized that this program is not only for at-risk youth or for dysfunctional families. There is no guidebook to parenting that I'm aware of that has the influence that this program has,” he said. “After hearing and seeing all the success stories, it makes me all the more eager to ensure Partners for Peace’s success. I wish more young families would participate in programs like ours.”
In his spare time, David likes to exercise, do weightlifting, and enjoys writing.
Just over a year ago, Sam Cunningham joined the board of directors for Partners For Peace. He is on the executive board and is part of the marketing committee.
“I knew of Partners For Peace through the work that I do with youth in the community,” he said. “It was Executive Director, Vicki Law who approached me to be a part of the board in hopes to add some diversity in the group.” He was excited to see first-hand the work being done to improve families’ lives.
Sam was born and raised in Los Angeles but currently resides in Seaside. He is married to Marian, with whom he shares a blended family of 4: Sam Jr. 38, Eugene 36, Ashley 30, and Michelle 45.
Cunningham works as a re-entry coordinator in Santa Cruz with Barrios Unidos, a non-profit organization that helps men and women who are coming out of prison and into civilian life; the program guides them to re-enter successfully back into society.
In addition to his work as re-entry coordinator, he is involved with a mentoring program in Seaside called I Am My Brother’s Keeper. This program mentors young boys without a father figure or positive influence in their lives. Sam gets youth referrals from the Seaside Police Department, middle schools, high schools, continuation, and probation schools.
The work he does for Barrios Unidos and for I Am My Brother’s Keeper is really dear and near to his heart.
“At 21, I was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of a young man,” he shares. “Because of good conduct, I only served 30 years.” He added that while in prison, he began to help inmates coming in counseling them on a better way to be and showing them a more productive way of life outside of crime. In prison is where his calling to help other young men and women was born.
“With me, that's where I find my healing at, that's where I find my peace at by being of service to other people,” he said. “So personally, I've just dedicated my life so no young man or any young girl experience 30 years in prison like I did; and more importantly, so no mother has to open a door to a detective announcing her son’s death.”
He wants his experience to not be in vain. Sam wants to use his story for the youth to realize that it is not worth going in that direction. He has made this his life’s mission.
“Helping people is my passion,” he said. “I have always respected and appreciated the work of Partners For Peace - I was amazed at how much work they were doing.”
The best part for Sam is to witness the impact that P4P is having in the many families and young people they serve.
“The parenting classes at Partners For Peace are so important because a lot of parents don't really understand the damage that they do to their children with their actions,” he said. “Parents don't really understand that it's not only about getting shoes or lunch money or a nice phone, it's about spending time, talking and communicating and that's what Partners For Peace is all about.”
Sam lives by this quote by Mahatma Gandhi that reads, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’
One thing many do not know about Sam is that he is a big ‘softy’ and said that he cries to happy and joyful news all the time. He feels his exterior portrays a tough man, but he assures everyone that all he has is love and affection for all.
In his spare time, Sam enjoys hanging out with young people playing basketball, going to the park, and riding the paddle boats with them. As soon as he is able to, he would love to take a vacation in Hawaii or any tropical island where he can witness the water crashing up against the rocks or the pier.
“That's where I find peace,” he said. “I love water and waterfalls but the part that would have to come with this experience to be perfect is no internet, no phone, no radio, no nothing just unplugged.”
“When I hear about the statistics and the success stories of children, everything is worth it; Partners For Peace truly makes a difference in the community and I am proud of being part of this board,” said Davina Caracheo-Ybarra, who has been a devoted board member for Partners For Peace for more than three years.
Davina, 28, said she is happy to be part of Partners For Peace and supports every single project the organization creates to help the community. She currently serves on the marketing committee for the program.
“I love what P4P does for the community,” she said. “I have seen children that are raised with bad parenting and it’s amazing to see the opportunities Partners For Peace gives them and their parents - to be better in their relationship.”
Davina was born and raised in Salinas, California and can truly connect and understand the need of programs like P4P in the community. She has seen how P4P influences those in a positive and supportive environment.
“Countless parents need help when it comes to healthy communication with their children and P4P provides the tools to help families all over Monterey County,” she added.
For Davina, seeing the results of the work P4P achieves in the community makes her heart full of joy.
Davina currently works at a private golf club and shares her life with partner, Brian Alexander Parker. In the future, they are both open to moving outside of the area but continue to support organizations like Partners For Peace.
This immigrant story starts in Zacatecas, Mexico where a young Maria made the courageous decision to immigrate into the United States at age 22 with dreams of becoming someone who could make a difference.
She enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and realized that her passion was in social work, where she knew her purpose of helping her community could become a reality.
Dr. Maria Gurrola achieved her dreams. She earned her bachelor's in social work, a master's in human relations, a master's in social work, and a doctorate in social work. She is currently the Department Chair for the Department of Social Work at California State University, Monterey Bay.
"Much of the work I have done has been on the difficulties families face in bringing their young children from their native place," she said. Over the years, she has worked in investigations about Mental Health for the undocumented community.
A few months ago, Dr. Gurrola was approached to be part of Partners For Peace as one of the board of directors. Her dedication and work in the community made her a perfect fit, where she advocates for people in her community.
She loves the purpose of Partners For Peace, as they advocate for youth and families in the community and she believes their work is essential.
"The reason I got involved with Partners For Peace is because of the work they do with the Latino community," she said.
Just like Partners For Peace, the work Dr. Gurrola is doing aligns with improving people’s lives. She hopes to continue finding resources for the community under Partners For Peace.
Dr. Gurrola now lives in Marina, CA, with her beloved husband and three beautiful children.
Finding himself living in Salinas and with a teenage son, Albert Sanchez did not think twice when asked to join the board of directors for Partners for Peace. It has been almost two years since he decided to support such organization in raising funds to make a difference in Monterey County. This was his opportunity to get involved in his local community.
Sanchez is part of the fund development committee and enjoys promoting Partners For Peace (P4P) to raise funds for programming to continue. “There are just a lot of good programs that P4P offers that resonate with me and my family,” he said.
Albert was born in Salinas where he currently resides with his wife Melissa and 15-year-old Xavier. He works as an operations manager for a utility company. His goal is to help change the dynamic towards peace in his hometown for a better future for the new generations.
Albert said that the best part about being involved with P4P is being able to see all the positive changes that the program is able to make in the lives of youth and families.
“Just seeing the impact that they are making here in the community and the changes that are happening is inspiring,” he said.
For the future, one of his goals is to continue to support Partners For Peace. He wants to raise funds and keep the organization growing so it can reach more people. He wants P4P to reach every city in Monterey County.
In his free time, Albert enjoys snowboarding, mountain bike riding, camping and other outdoor activities. He has been snowboarding for the last 20 years. Snowboarding is how he and son Xavier bond.
Albert’s dream vacation would be a month-long European tour visiting multiple countries. One thing that people would never guess about him is that he once attended a Justin Beaver concert. He is no longer embarrassed to share that fact.