PJU Staff / Quiénes somos

ELSA OLIVA ROCHA
Executive Director (E.D) 

As a daughter of immigrant parents, Elsa Banuelos has organized for equity and justice at sixteen. As a high school student leader, Elsa was involved in campaigns to improve her school’s conditions, West High School in Denver, Colorado. Elsa was the first in her family to graduate from college.  She graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and Spanish. Before joining Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, she was the Program Coordinator for the Promotora project at Clínica Tepeyac.  Elsa joined Padres & Jóvenes Unidos in the fall of 2013 as a youth organizer and since then has helped lead youth and parent led-campaigns and build the internal infrastructure of the organization. Elsa joined the leadership team of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos in 2007 as the Operations Director and later became a Co-Executive Director in winter 2016.  After working alongside the founding members for three years, Elsa became the first sole Executive Director in December of 2019. 

As a working-class Chicana, Elsa is committed to organizing alongside community members to make long-term systemic change to improve her friends, family, and neighbors’ lives.

 

ISAIAS VAZQUEZ
Associate Director (A.D) - 

Before fleeing poverty and migrating to Colorado at the age of eight, Isaias was born and raised in Zacatecas, Mexico. For ten years, he has organized the Latinx community at the intersection of Education, Immigration, and Trans Queer Liberation. Being undocumented, Isaias experienced discrimination, hoping that by the time he graduated high school, there would be a road to gaining documented status. During his senior year at Bruce Randolph High School in Denver, he realized his experience was not exclusive and came out  of the shadows as undocumented, unafraid, and queer unashamed. After his experience, Isaias joined the fight to abolish institutional racism through community organizing, fighting against deportations, and helping others find their voice within the people’s movement. Isaias served as the National Coordinator for the Southwest Region for United We Dream and contributed to local and national victories such as the DREAM Act of 2010, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Colorado ASSET (In-state tuition) earning him the National Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award for his intersectional approach to trans queer migrant organizing.  Isaias co-founded the organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement based in California and has also done collaborative work with The Colorado Democratic Party, One Colorado, and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. Originally joining PJU in 2014 as a Health Justice Community Organizer he spent time in  Denver Public Schools as an educator in 2016 before returning to PJU in 2018 and now serves as the Associate Director under Elsa Bañuelos.

Isa is currently completing a Social Work degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver, making his parents proud of their sacrifices and continuing a lifelong journey of service.


KERI SMITH
Deputy Director

Growing up in Colorado Springs, Keri was raised by a single mother who put herself through school to become a nurse and disabled patient advocate. Experiencing the challenges of poverty firsthand, being entangled in systems that hurt more than they helped and watching her mother persevere through those barriers she develops within her a deep commitment to following in her mother’s footsteps and affecting impactful social and political change. Through outreach, collaboration, and education, Keri contributes to building inclusive, comprehensive, and sustainable community practices grounded in the leadership of those most impacted. Keri spent time with PJU from 2014-2016, launching the statewide campaign to implement the 2013 Smart School Discipline Law. Her unique journey has provided a breadth and depth of experience with a critical understanding of systems of oppression, public policy, public education, and promoting self-advocacy. 

Acknowledging the privilege, complexities, responsibilities, and intersectionality that come with a persons identity, as a cisgender queer white woman, Keri’s is devoted to examining and confronting policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors that uphold racism and other intersecting oppressive systems.


BERENICE AGUIRRE 
Community Organizer

Berenice was born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and migrated to Denver at 7 years old. She spent part of her childhood and many summers in a border town, experiencing first-hand injustices that ignited early on a passion for activism and social justice movements. Her personal and educational trajectory have led Berenice to navigate many systems and better understand the inequities that exist for marginalized communities. She has served students and families throughout Denver for the last 7 years in multiple capacities--including teacher and Director of Extended Learning at a non profit.   

Seeing her people, communities of color, immigrant communities, and all others who have been systematically oppressed benefit from meaningful change drives Berenice to continue the fight. She believes in the power of community to uplift and empower and together dismantle systems of oppression. Joining Padres & Jóvenes Unidos as a Community Organizer is the next step to help lead the movement toward collective liberation.

Berenice graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies in 2013.


ALEJANDRO ORTEGA
Political Manager

Originally from Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico, Alejandro migrated to the U.S. at the age of 16 and has lived in Colorado since then. Ortega's passion for organizing began with fighting for language justice as an ESL student at Skyline High School. Before joining Padres & Jovenes Unidos, he worked with United We Dream in 2016, where he managed the #HereToStay campaign in Colorado and later joined the 2017 Dream Act Campaign. Alejandro has always had a passion for helping other undocumented students on their path through higher education and keeping undocumented families safe from deportation, subsequently creating a new chapter at Northern Colorado Immigrants United dedicated to awarding undocumented students scholarships to pursue higher education. Alejandro led this group for two years by creating space for Undocumented Latinx students to organize and make long term changes for their families and community.  

As a queer immigrant, Alejandro is committed to fighting against systems of oppression that keep Latinx, Queer, and Undocumented parents and youth, from self-governing in the state of Colorado and around the country.

RICARDO MARTINEZ
Senior Advisor | Co-Founder

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