For Vicki Law, 55, life has been full of adventures. She was born in Longview, Washington but soon after, her family began to move, having her experience living in six States including Oregon, Alaska, Las Vegas, California, Illinois, and Washington. Her father was an executive for FW Woolworths, and that required him to move every two to three years.
“This taught me flexibility and appreciation of different local cultures and locations,” Law said.
Fast forward to now, it is those experiences that have shaped her into the current caring Executive Director for Partners For Peace (P4P). “Vicki cares about everyone she interacts with and you feel it wholeheartedly,” said Board President, Dana Edgull. “She is a treasure and an amazing visionary leader.”
In 2014, Law was the Parent Project Program Director for P4P and was instrumental in adding the prevention program Loving Solutions. Three years later, she had the opportunity to lead the organization.
“I really believe that parent education should be required for all families - to give parents the tools they need in today’s world,” she said.
Program Manager, Leticia Molinero says that Vicki really loves her job and it shows. “She goes above and beyond to make sure the parents/families in our community have what they need to thrive; as a result she is highly involved in the community and is always looking out for opportunities to provide our services,” Molinero said.
Vicki’s love for the communities she lived in began as she traveled from state to state. Her nonprofit career began with an entry level position with Girls Scouts of Napa-Solano in 1989.
After almost 10 years, she got the opportunity of a lifetime! She began to work for Girl Scouts USA Overseas North Atlantic as Director of Membership and Marketing. She worked in 56 locations, in nine countries on military bases/posts. She worked with Colonels to get permission to sell Girl Scout cookies and organized Girl Scout activities with host nation Girl Scouts while providing training to local volunteers.
After five years she was transferred from Europe to the West Pacific and managed training, membership, and marketing to volunteers on mainland Japan, Okinawa, and South Korea. She enjoyed her work with the Girl Scouts and creating opportunities for engagement at the international level.
In 2006, she moved back to California and became the Chief Operating Officer for what is now the Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast. Soon after, she met John, go married and gained. a bonus daughter who has recently made them grandparents of two girls.
“Vicki makes sure that families are able to get their needs met, whether that be for concrete assistance, family education, or simply a warm smile and compassionate acceptance,” said Edgull.
For her, knowing that her team at P4P makes a difference in the lives of families of Monterey County is priceless. “You can see it,” she admits. “Families come with their arms folded and desperate on day one; on the last day of workshops, they have learned to say ‘I love you’ to their child every day and pick up the parenting tools needed for 21st century youth!”
At Partners For Peace, parents learn to reconnect with child and report improvements in communication. Parent/caregiver and child learn to listen to each other’s dreams according to the data.
“Her passion and experience are as parent educator – she mentors and encourages others with the same interests and that's something I enjoy learning from her,” said Molinero.
Of course Vicki thinks the world of her staff. “My staff gives 150%!” she said. “They are amazing and do the work all for the right reasons; they believe in strong families and we reflect the diversity of our families and the community.”
The Board of Directors is another key element that shows its diversity and respect for each other and the guiding work of the organization. 100% of the board makes financial contributions to Partners For Peace each year – they give their time, talents, and energies to ensure that Partners For Peace is strong so the organization can inspire strong, thriving families.
In her spare time, Vicki loves to go hiking, enjoys gardening, and flipping furniture. Many will be surprised to know that she took up cooking at 32 and has turned out to be a great cook.
In the coming years, Vicki has big plans for Partners For Peace. “I want to increase the footprint of P4P in Monterey County; I want to continue to serve families both online and in-person, and give them the tools and compass they need to navigate the challenges that their youth face in today’s world.”
It was 10 years ago that Vanessa Urrea joined Partners For Peace as an administrative assistant. This mother of three worked her way up to Program Manager and has big goals for her future that may include founding her own non-profit.
“Vanessa is extremely smart and talented,” said Executive Director, Vicki Law. “She not only serves our families, but she takes time to get to know them.”
Urrea lives in Salinas with her husband Trozki Urrea and children. She graduated from Hartnell College and is currently in her last year at Brandman University to earn her bachelor’s in Social Work. She will continue with a master’s degree.
“When I first started here, I was not so involved in the programs, but when I started teaching, I was hooked,” she said. “Parents are so appreciative and thankful and I look forward to helping these families who want to make a change in their lives.”
She is certified to train all 3 programs: Strengthening Families Program, Parent Project® and Loving Solutions.
“I like teaching them all,” she said. “But my favorite is the Strengthening Families Program because of the interaction with parents, caretakers, and youth; it’s more work, but I love it!”
She credits previous Executive Director, Kathy Bauer for her training and passion to help families. Urrea uses this training in her own family life and confessed that her 15-year-old daughter is doing much better than she was at that age, “that’s how I know I am doing a good job.”
Vanessa says that some parents come into the program feeling discouraged, thinking that they will be put on the spot and be judged as a ‘bad parent,’ which is all they are used to hearing from everyone else. Vanessa came up with her own motivational and inspiring quote that says, “Perfect parents don’t exist, but amazing parents do and you are one of them.”
“People see the outcomes and the transformation because we are all working as a collaborative - staff, facilitators, volunteers, and community partners,” she said.
The parents’ perspective and attitude change once they know that the Partners For Peace team is on their side.
Urrea loves family time. At home, they enjoy board games, arts & crafts, hiking, camping, swimming, movie night, and more. During a normal year, she loves to visit Lake Tahoe. As a hobby, Vanessa is serious about couponing – saving money is her area of expertise!
At the end of the day, she is happy to be making a difference in the lives of many.
“It’s rewarding at the end of each series,” she said. “You get to see the change in families, even if it’s a little.”
It was back in 2011 when Leticia Molinero joined the efforts of Partners For Peace (P4P) as a volunteer in the Strengthening Families Program.
Leticia’s goal was to become a family therapist, thus her educational journey led her to Southern California as a double major in psychology and child development at Cal State University San Bernardino. She stayed in Orange County working at a Kinder Care facility and later at the Refugee Immigrant Shelter.
Less than two years ago, Leticia returned to Salinas and reconnected with Partners For Peace. Executive Director, Vicki Law, welcomed her with open arms as outreach assistant. A few months later, she would be promoted to program manager.
“It’s great to be back,” she said. “I am doing what I intended with my degree; I can relate to clients and I understand what they are going through.”
Leticia and boyfriend Valaire have a beautiful baby boy, Elias, who is almost two-years-old.
She says that the team at P4P is supportive.
She says that parents should not be afraid to ask for help. “We are here to make families stronger,” Leticia said.
When Ruben Martin saw the post for Office Manager at Partners For Peace, he researched the organization’s website and got excited at the possibility of being part of a team that helps transform lives.
“I liked that Partners For Peace focuses on youth and in helping them find the right path,” he said. “I want to give back to my community.”
Ruben, 25, grew up in Salinas, CA, attended Alisal High School, and Hartnell College. His younger sister is getting ready to start her studies at Hartnell.
As Office Manager, Ruben will be in charge of organizing and running the home base, working as a liaison for probation and other agencies. He has a background in accounting and has delved into marketing.
“I want to develop tools to make the organization run efficiently for staff, facilitators, and families,” he said.
The Step Up Mentoring Program is one of Partners For Peace’s flagship offerings and German Lopez is behind its success. He is the coordinator of the program and has worked for Partners For Peace for over five years. He started as a volunteer, and then he was hooked.
He said that he felt a connection with youth in his community, “I know what kids are going through, I can relate to them growing up in East Salinas just as most of them.”
German, 32, attended Alisal High School and moved on to Fresno State University where he earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Liberal Studies. He is in the process of starting his master’s program to become a Special Education instructor in Monterey County.
“Partners For Peace works in the community,” he said. “All programs are for parents and youth; facilitators are familiar with the Latino community and can offer different options available to them.”
Step Up Mentoring is staffed with a coordinator, assistant coordinator, two college mentors, and one intern. During normal times, they have over 20 youth participating; during the pandemic, they have 14 youth in the program. Tutoring is offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays for 2-3 hours; they get Internet access, a computer, and meet any other need in order to help youth be successful, personally and academically.
Some of German’s duties include coordinating guest speakers, implementing a curriculum that shows support and understanding, designing pep talks, field trips, and more.
“Youth will learn about the consequences of drugs, alcohol, crime, and gangs from our guest speakers,” he said. “They realize that a life of crime leads them to limited paths; we are here to provide them with options that lead them to a healthy future.”
Youth get incentives as they show improvements. They also participate in outings that allow for social distancing, like kayaking and horseback.
“I want to give back to my community and provide guidance to youth,” he said. “I want to show them that if I made it, they can too.”
This program is active from March through December. For more information about Step Up Mentoring, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.”
A few years ago, Margarita Cervantez was having some challenges with her children and that’s how a friend referred her to Partners For Peace. She took the Loving Solutions® course and she was so inspired that she went on to sign up for the Parent Project® right after. "The first thing I learned was it was not just my kids that needed to change,” Margarita said. “My parenting style was not what I had thought; my intentions were good, but my actions were not.” It was in these classes that she realized two things that had changed her for the better. She realized that she needed to make changes to her expectations for her young children, thus had to adjust her own behavior. The second teaching moment was to realize the need for a support system. For the first time, she was able to open up to others about her own issues and struggles as a single parent trying to raise her children. She felt supported and understood. So naturally, she wanted to pay it forward and become a certified facilitator herself and went through the 40-hour training. She is now certified to teach both courses. "For me, teaching these classes is a constant reminder of the things I should be doing as a parent and the things to try and avoid,” she shared. “I tell them in the class we will learn positive ways to discipline kids that are proven to be effective. "Margarita is one more reason why Partners For Peace is such a success. Thank you for all you do and for sharing your story to add that extra ingredient of relatability with our families.
What makes a good facilitator for Partners For Peace? Going through a rigorous training? Or, perhaps being a client who wants to give back by going through the training to become a facilitator and relate to the clients.
This is exactly what happened with Joyce Ponton, a childcare counselor and residential services assistant for Santa Lucia Girls Group Home.
But for Joyce, her first contact with Partners For Peace was not pleasant; she was court ordered to attend the Parent Project because of her younger son who had landed in juvenile hall.
“As most parents, my reaction was that I knew what to do and no program or workshop would teach me otherwise,” she said. Joyce has three children and one foster child. She did what was right with all of them, but there was something different about the younger one. He was in and out of the system.
So as she took the parenting classes, she learned how to navigate being a parent of a ‘strong-willed’ child and to help connect with him in a firm way. She learned the tools to work with him in a different way.
“My facilitators, Dawn and Teresa, saw something in me and approached me about taking the training to become a facilitator myself,” she said.
Joyce did not only take the training for the Parent Project, she also became certified to teach Loving Solutions. This is something she is really proud of and has done for three years.
“I’ve seen it work with me and with others,” she said. “I am able to make that connection with these parents and that ads credibility to my teachings.” She is a success story and other parents in her community notice the difference in her and in her younger son.
In addition, Joyce is the only facilitator to teach Parent Project and Loving Solutions in Monterey County Jails.
“I am very proud to be the first one to offer these classes inside the jails,” she shares. “The inmates are so receptive and so thirsty for information and it is my pleasure to be there as that someone they need to understand them.”
Husband and wife team, Myrna Herrera and Brian Wood, are star facilitators for Partners For Peace. They are certified to train in Loving Solutions Program, the Parent Project Program, but it is the Strengthening Families Program that keeps them both really busy with families and youth alike. Brian joined Myrna in this venture in 2012 when he found the workshops to be beneficial to the families involved. He was inspired to get his certifications and that’s how this amazing duo began. “I really hope that as the concept of parenting classes becomes part of our culture, that all families take advantage of this opportunity to have evidence based tools in their parenting tool box,” said Myrna.“We are a blended family with a total of three adult children: my daughter and son, and Brian’s son. They all have college degrees and contribute to society with their work. We both understand the challenges of raising children, and specially teenagers in a different way and time than we were raised, and me being a Mexican national, and raising biracial, bicultural children.”Myrna came to P4P in 2010 when Kathy Bauer became the Executive Director. They found Strengthening Families Program to be beneficial to parents and youth because it allows time for free expression without fear or conflict.Most classes have been offered at night to make it easier for families to commit, thus Brian became a bit concerned for Myrna’s safety being out late at night. As a result, he began to attend classes with her and to assist her and other facilitators and the families while he was there. He got his trainer certificate in 2012 and they have been teaching together since.“The team pulled him in as he had already done much to be part of the family,” Myrna said. “His calm and male tech engineer-focus demeanor was an asset to the teen aspect of the program, especially for those who might lack a male figure at home.”For Myrna, becoming a facilitator became a passion. She remembers her mom’s frustration when she could not handle a rebellious child and said ‘there is no school for parenting!’ She took that to heart later on in her life by becoming a Parent Educator. Her husband Brian is a Web Developer. For them, helping families and youth is a calling.As they facilitate from home via zoom, they support each other in the three sessions. The Spanish-speaking parents really enjoy Brian’s effort with the language, and, in general, admit Myrna, “having us teaching as a couple gives them a window of who we are as people, since they have to share their family situation with us - I think it improves the rapport process.”Partners For Peace is proud to have facilitators who lead with professionalism and heart.
Years ago, Partners for Peace helped Esmeralda Muñoz Ramos to become a better parent to her strong willed child. She started as a parent taking the parent courses and was then given the opportunity to help other parents in her community to learn these valuable skills by becoming a Facilitator herself. “My family is a living testament that they work. What a great opportunity given to us free of charge. We are so fortunate,” she shared. According to Esmeralda, parents can expect to see positive changes in their children's behavior and in their own behavior. There is a group of other parents that can relate to the difficulties of raising a strong-willed child.“I love knowing that families who take the parent courses will gain valuable skills that will make their lives better,” she added.
Teresa Guzman and Dawn Allen met about eight years ago while training for the Parent Project®. They hit it off right away and found comfort in the friendship they quickly developed. Once they began working as facilitators for Partners For Peace, they found an even deeper connection – they complimented each other in the delivery of the curriculum.
“We bring different strengths to the table and we bounce off of each other in an effective way,” said Dawn.
“I respect her 1000%,” said Teresa. “She is so from the heart; such a giving person.”
These ladies come from different backgrounds and this is what sets them apart, but at the same time, ads an extra ingredient into the effectiveness of their instruction with the Parent Project®.
Teresa is a Community Liaison for Salinas Union High School District. She has worked there for 18 years and she loves her role! She was asked by the District to take the Strengthening Families Program training, and that is how she became acquainted with Partners For Peace. She has six children, 10 grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Dawn is a Probation Services Manager for Monterey County. She is in charge of eight different units and has worked as a Probation Officer for 22 years. As life has it, she had to become the parent and the care taker for her siblings due to instability at home. She is the oldest of five.
“During the time that I was going through family transitions, I was taking the training to become a facilitator,” Dawn said. “What was so nice about it was that, what I was learning, I was able to implement in my own home.”
Some of the families come to the program on their own, while others are referred by the courts. When they hear Dawn introduce herself, parents are apprehensive and express their dislike for Probation Officers. But Dawn and Teresa make it clear from the start: they are facilitating the classes because they care and want to be there to help. Soon enough, families warm up to them both and develop a trust in them and in the Parent Project curriculum.
“These parents are not used to saying ‘I love you’ to their children,” Dawn shares. “Once they start implementing this simple action and see how it works with their children, they open up to try other things.”
This power duo is making a huge difference in the lives of families in Monterey County. The combination of education and probation expertise provides for successful outcomes that continue beyond the 10 weeks, and transcend into the next generations.
“I tell parents to sign up. It’s worth it and now that it’s online, it’s easier and faster,” recommends Teresa. “You will find that the staff at Partners For Peace are amazing, like a family that you can rely on. They are professional, respectful, caring, and I am proud to be deeply connected to them.”
Both Teresa and Dawn agree that the Parent Project® help make better parents; they feel this program is transformational and brings out the best version in each of the parents that go through it.