Young Professionals Council Academy Class of 2024

Note: These bios remain static from the time of the participant’s graduation from YPC Academy. Many graduates have moved on to new careers, board service, and other activities since the time of this publication.

Class of 2024

Paul Ammons


Paul Ammons (he/him) is a lifelong neighbor in San Diego and has lived on the same city block in Normal Heights for his entire life. He currently serves as an Advocacy Supervisor with Voices for Children where he manages Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers to advocate for the needs of the county’s local foster youth. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 2020 with a B.A. in Sociology and emphases in Latin American Studies and Political Science.  Paul also attends Normal Heights United Methodist, a Christian community centered on LGBTQ+ inclusion and exploring the intersections of justice, truth, and spirituality. One of his proudest accomplishments in this space is co-leading small groups with SD United, an LGBTQ+ affirming Christian youth group where teens ages 12-18 come to learn about justice and simply have fun.  In addition, Paul serves as a Board Co-Vice President for Rainbow Spaces, a non-profit dedicated to cultivating spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in South Bay and East County. Given these commitments, Paul’s professional interests focus on children’s empowerment, the power of place, and the role of Christian communities in reconciling the harm they have wrought through decades of colonization with the potential to facilitate positive change in their local neighborhoods. He holds the privilege of sharing in friendships with teachers from a diversity of cultural perspectives and life paths, and he hopes his time with YPC will give him the opportunity to further learn from other LGBTQ+ leaders as they pursue a collective liberation in their particular contexts. In his offtime, Paul enjoys taking long drives, rewatching Studio Ghibli movies, amateur gaming, and spending time with friends and family.

Jacob Babauta


Jacob (he/they) works in higher education, supporting the student and the LGBTQIA+ community as a Project Assistant at San Diego Mesa Community College’s Pride Center. Jacob’s work centers on helping LGBTQIA+ students navigate academic and professional pursuits, as they strive to be their best selves. They believe that education thrives in diversity and community, and are committed to uplifting diversity in academia, advocating for LGBTQIA+ students’ interests, and centering and operationalizing equity in higher education, and more broadly, in government and other institutions of power.

Jacob’s previous experiences are grounded in mission-driven work within nonprofit and political spaces, with emphasis in climate and environmental justice within frontline communities. Jacob is a proud community college alum, and received a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from San Diego State University. Outside of work, Jacob loves to dance and you’ll see them on long walks around Balboa Park, and exploring new restaurants, cafes, and magical spots across San Diego and beyond.

Kayla Colbert


Kayla Colbert (she/her) spent nearly a decade in Los Angeles in the nonprofit space, working and volunteering for organizations such as The Trevor Project, the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, and Jewish Family Services of Orange County. She returned to her hometown of San Diego in 2020 and made the career pivot to MarTech talent acquisition. Though she has gone to the for-profit, corporate dark side, nonprofits and community-building initiatives still have her heart. She is excited to join the 2024 YPC Academy and learn more about how she can support her neighbors in need.

When she’s not working from home in her PJs, Kayla is mastering the culinary arts (cooking, baking, gardening, and food preservation), lifting heavy things in the gym, hiking, and reading too many sad nonfiction books (your breezy novel recommendations are greatly appreciated).

Raul Duarte


My name is Raul Duarte (he/him), and I am a professional chef working for CH Projects. I am very passionate about food, queer art, and helping achieve justice for those around me. I aspire to understand more about myself and my community through my incredible peers in the YPC Academy. I have been on a journey in my 20s of rediscovering and reconnecting with my queerness, and I’m excited to continue to learn and grow with this group of young leaders.

Abbey Healey


Abbey Healey (she/her) currently attends the University of San Diego School of Law. Her commitment to fostering inclusivity is evident through her active involvement in various student organizations. She is a member of the Women’s Law Caucus, Pride Law, and First Gen Legal Professionals. She is the 1L representative for the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Also, Abbey volunteers in the Name and Gender-Marker Change Clinic, providing free legal assistance to trans individuals seeking affirmation and identity recognition.

Abbey grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in business. After working as a media negotiator for four years, she decided to pursue her dream of law school and moved to San Diego. Abbey wants to make a lasting impact on the world and help contribute to her community’s identity by influencing positive development.

In her free time, Abbey enjoys playing beach and indoor volleyball, watching football, and running. She plays piano and guitar, and she has a love of sitcoms.

Elena Herfi


Elena Herfi (she/her) is a queer, Chaldean-American activist, originally from Michigan, focused on intersectional feminism and reproductive health access. She is a graduate of American University with an MA in Public Anthropology and Michigan State University with BAs in Comparative Cultures and Politics, and Arabic. During her Arabic language, history and cultural studies, she has lived in Morocco and Jordan, and is a recipient of the Boren Scholarship from the US Department of Defense for her studies in Jordan.

She currently works in global procurement and logistics for US Agency for International Development contractors, focused on global health in areas like HIV/AIDS, Malaria, reproductive health, and Zika prevention. In the past 5 years in her field, Elena has delivered life saving medical supplies to over 65 countries around the world and is currently working with the President’s Malaria Initiative in African and Asian countries. Recently relocated to San Diego from DC, she is excited to join the strong network of progressive activists on the west coast.

Carmelina Herrera


With an aspiration to become a global change maker, Carmelina (she/they) is a Program Officer at the San Diego Diplomacy Council. In this role, she collaborates with international leaders across diverse fields, facilitating connections with their counterparts in San Diego to collectively address global challenges. Carmelina graduated from San Diego State University with a BA in International Business and Entrepreneurship. Since 2019, she has been an enthusiastic volunteer, dedicating her time to supporting marginalized communities in San Diego, including the LGBTQ+ community, women of color, and those affected by homelessness. Through her involvement with organizations such as Kitchens for Good, Monarch School, Boys and Girls Club, and San Diego Pride, Carmelina has nurtured a passion for creating impactful change through direct support and policy advocacy. Originally from the Bay Area, Carmelina enjoys exploring new dining spots and discovering emerging music artists.


Jaylen Jones


Jaylen “Jay” Jones (they/them) is a queer and trans latine who was born and raised in San Diego. They have a B.A. in Sociology, with a Minor in LGBTQ studies from UCLA, where they worked on the LGBTQ Community Resource Center’s Outreach Team until they graduated in their third year. Now, in their role as the Hillcrest Youth Center Coordinator, Jay works to foster community amongst LGBTQ+ youth and ensure their needs are met through various, curated programming and services. They dedicate themselves to creating spaces where youth feel heard and encouraged to be all that they are and aspire to be.

Jay volunteers with We All We Got San Diego (WAWGSD) to procure and distribute food, clothing, and other basic necessities to those experiencing food and financial insecurity in their community. They also volunteer with SD Pride’s outreach team to secure LGBTQ rights and justice in the forms of phone banking, canvassing, and tabling. Jay’s involvement in various LGBTQ+ and youth serving organizations has fueled their dedication to community care, abolition, and ensuring youth are respected as authorities in their own lives and communities.

In their free time, Jay loves to listen to and discuss music, read, make art, cook, hang out with their dogs Raven and Beau, and have lively conversations about queer media with their friends.

SJ Justo


“SJ” Sharlene Justo (they/she/he) is a queer Khmer-Filipinx gender fluid Associate Professional Clinical Counselor at Alvarado Family Therapy and Practicum Facilitator at San Diego State University’s Community Based-Block Program. They have a spectrum of experiences working with individuals and couples in life transitions, transitional age youth,  community mental health, and K-12 schools. As a first generation student and child of refugees/immigrants, they hold a kaleidoscope perspective for humans to feel radically seen and empowered to trailblaze pathways that honor their authentic selves. 

Jaire Loggins


Jaire Loggins (He/Him/His) is a dedicated advocate and professional with a passion for community engagement and social justice. With a Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies and Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Jaire has cultivated a profound understanding of culture, power, and representation, with a particular emphasis on LGBTQ+ activism.

Throughout his career, Jaire has made significant contributions to various non-profit organizations, including Volunteers of America, Los Angeles, where he served as the Start Up-Close Out Program Coordinator. In this role, Jaire lead coordination efforts across departments for startup/closeout projects, ensuring the seamless implementation of vital social services such as Head Start-Up Programs, veterans’ services, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. His meticulous attention to detail and effective communication skills have been instrumental in managing award documentation and fostering relationships with funders. Prior to this, Jaire served as a Community Ambassador at Safe Place for Youth in Venice, CA, where he raised awareness about health issues, conducted surveys, and facilitated discussions within the Los Angeles community, particularly focusing on the needs of homeless youth. Jaire’s commitment to advocacy and inclusivity shines through his work, whether he’s compiling research for the Department of Mental Health or organizing events and outreach programs to foster a sense of community and support among diverse populations.

Angel Marquez


Angel (he/him) currently serves as a Field Representative for U.S. Senator Alex Padilla. In this role, his primary responsibility is to engage with stakeholders in San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside Counties. Prior to joining Senator Alex Padilla, Angel was a Senior Field Representative for U.S. Representative Juan Vargas, who represents California’s 52nd Congressional District. Angel graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He is passionate about politics and government, and wanting to become a leader in his community. Angel is simultaneously involved in San Diego politics, having managed and consulted numerous campaigns. Most recently, he helped establish a new Democratic club, the South Bay – National City Democrats, to help give a greater voice to South Bay residents.

Shanelle Meyer


Shanelle Meyer is a Realtor® with Compass Downtown, an avid volunteer with the Youth Assistance Coalition and Be a Friend program (both focused on breaking the cycle of homelessness in youth), and a lover of chihuahuas, mainly her beloved rescue named Poke.

Originally from Upstate NY, Shanelle has lived in San Diego for over eight years. She is focused on building the voices of queer, BIPOC communities and recently joined the San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce Emerging Leaders Committee. Through enhancing advocacy and aligning her real estate career with her passion for helping her community, Shanelle aims to break down barriers to generational wealth for all backgrounds and help everyone find their place in the world.

Avery Montoya


Hello! My name is Avery Montoya (he/him). I am a recent graduate of SDSU with a B.A. in Public Health. I currently coach at several gyms as a group fitness trainer. I love the holistic approach to health and believe access should be improved for everyone. I want to find a career that uses research to help advocate for policy changes in order to support marginalized communities in San Diego.

I love to keep active by working out or dancing! Other hobbies include video games and arts. And, I own two lizards and a snake!

Kyle Okamuro


Kyle Okamuro (he/him) is a research project manager at the UC San Diego Department of Urology. Much of his research focuses on improving the safety and accessibility of health services for transgender patients. He has presented and published his research in urologic and transgender health conferences and peer-reviewed journals. He also works closely with the faculty at UC San Diego’s Gender Health Program and played a key role in securing federal funding that supports ongoing gender-affirming care research initiatives at the university. Kyle is starting medical school in the fall of 2024, where he aspires to become a physician that addresses health disparities in gender and sexual minorities. He graduated from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Human Biology.

Outside of work, Kyle serves on the board of directors of Different Strokes Swim Team, San Diego’s LGBT-inclusive swim club. In this role, he coordinates the team’s annual involvement in the San Diego Pride Parade and focuses on community-building efforts that create safe spaces for LGBT people in sport.

In his free time, Kyle enjoys photography, swimming with Different Strokes, and participating in triathlons and open-water swimming events.

Vicool Patel


Vicool Vinodchandra Patel (they/them) is the child of Vinodchandra Ambalal Patel and Carmelita Abejo Cantos Patel – immigrants from India and Pilipinas, respectively.  They moved to Kumeyaay land two years ago after living in Thailand for 5 years.  They’ve had a diverse set of professional experiences ranging from strategy/operations consulting to brand marketing to workplace inclusion and belonging.  After an intentional sabbatical, Vicool has deepened their connection with their diasporic roots, re-indigenizing with authentic yoga and mindfulness practices.  Through this phase of rest and growth, their hope is to be of service to their communities and support individual and collective awakening and stewardship.

Xochitl Perez


Xochi, born and raised in San Diego, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. Viewing life as an ongoing ethnographic journey, she observes the world with a keen eye. Her enduring dedication to social justice and human rights has been a guiding force in both her career and personal life.

Focusing on accessibility in various dimensions, including physical and economic aspects, Xochi now dedicates herself to fostering accessibility for housing in San Diego. As a housing navigator at Alpha Project, an organization providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless, she connects over 20 individuals to substance abuse recovery, mental health services, and diverse resources, employing a harm reduction approach.

Xochi brings a background of User Experience Research from her previous internship at the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid. Here, she concentrated on enhancing website accessibility for FAFSA users.

A little more than a year ago, Xochi dedicated her time to volunteering in the coastal rural community of Zipolite in southern Mexico, focusing on supporting the indigenous community with disabilities. In this experience, she not only learned how to effectively advocate for their rights within the local community but also took the lead in organizing community workshops and served as a dedicated caseworker.

During her leisure, Xochi transforms her passion into art creation, often revolving around social justice themes. From film photography to illustration, painting, and stained glass, her multifaceted approach underscores her commitment to making a positive impact, both professionally and creatively.

Manuel Reyes


Manuel Reyes serves as Policy Advisor and Community Representative for San Diego City Councilmember Jennifer Campbell. He advises the Councilmember on public safety policy, is responsible for LGBTQ affairs, and oversees constituent services for Ocean Beach, South Clairemont, and Old Town.

Manuel attended UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy where he obtained a Master of International Affairs in addition to a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. Manuel focused his studies in the Pacific Region and he is very passionate about immigration policy, national security, and diplomacy. Manuel aspires to one day hold a diplomatic post in Latin America.

Manuel was born and raised in San Diego County and is the son of two Mexican immigrants who migrated from Michoacán, Mexico. He is proud to start his career in public service here in San Diego and hopes to represent the Mexican American and LGBTQ+ communities in the policymaking space.

Eryn Roberts


Hello, I’m Eryn (she/her), a queer Gabonese American and a Project Manager at a rapidly growing tech start-up. I take pride in turning visions into reality with enthusiasm and a proactive mindset. My career spans diverse roles, including Customer Support, Sales, Business Development, and Restaurant Management, all contributing to my success in my current role. In this position, I work cross-functionally in People Operations, spearheading projects and policies I am passionate about with an emphasis on employee development.

I excel in hyper-growth environments, prioritizing tasks, and ensuring stakeholder satisfaction. My approach combines a keen eye for detail, organizational prowess, and effective communication skills.

Beyond project management, I express creativity through writing and performing stories and poetry. Additionally, I am passionate about policy reform, specifically advocating for employee leave protections for living organ donors. When not writing, you can find me at the beach, playing kickball, or volunteering. I eagerly anticipate contributing my expertise to the San Diego Young Professional Council and building a vibrant future together.

Sergio Soto


Sergio (he/him) made San Diego his home in pursuit of higher education back in 2007, and he has remained here ever since. Throughout his journey, Sergio has devoted himself to serving others, particularly in the realm of mental health services and support for underserved communities.

As a proud Gay Mexican man, advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community is deeply ingrained in Sergio’s professional identity. In every role he’s undertaken, he has made it his mission to amplify the voices and needs of marginalized communities.

Currently serving as the Director of Social Services for a non-profit organization in San Diego, Sergio leads with empathy, mindfulness, intent, and inclusivity. His background as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, coupled with a Master of Business Administration, equips him with a unique blend of skills to effect positive change by bringing heart and soul to every meeting.

In addition to his non-profit work, Sergio also operates his private practice, Thera Coach. Here, he provides a safe haven free of judgment, where individuals can explore their personal and professional aspirations with unwavering support and unconditional positive regard.

Sergio’s ultimate goal is simple yet profound: to ensure that everyone he encounters feels welcomed, seen, heard, and empowered to succeed. He firmly believes in the transformative power of connection and networking and is dedicated to fostering meaningful relationships that uplift and inspire.

Kat Tessero


Kat Tessero (they/them) is a nonbinary, queer, neuro spicy, disabled, vegan, community organizer who is actively working to dismantle systems of oppression within themself, and their sphere of influence. They spend their free time with their wife and 2 small rescue dogs, enjoying nature, reading books, and getting back to the person they were as a child before the world told them who not to be.  


Taylor Thompson


My name is Taylor Thompson (they/he), and I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, descendant of the Anigatogewi (Wild Potato Clan), and identify as Asegi, Two-Spirit, transmasculine, and non-binary. My partner, Rita, and I are enjoying settling into our apartment after moving to Kumeyaay land in Mission Valley, San Diego in early 2024. My career in the nonprofit sector has ranged from wildlife rehabilitation to ecosystem restoration to Native food systems. I currently work as Government Grants Director for the Intertribal Agriculture Council, a national nonprofit that supports Native food systems and agriculture across the country. I look forward to getting involved in the local community and helping support the amazing ongoing work happening across the city.

Alex Thornton


Alex Thornton is an intersex, queer, neurodivergent, and disabled activist from an international, multicultural family. He recently moved to Kumeyaay territory after a decade living on unceded Lower Tanana Dene lands called Fairbanks, Alaska, and works as an independent science, education, and strategic development consultant. In his free time, Alex enjoys spoiling his two dogs and two cats, discovering new music, and learning Italian.

Alex has a Master’s in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation from UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Graduate Certificate in Science Teaching & Outreach from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As an interdisciplinary conservation scientist, he has conducted research with applications in marine mammal and seabird biology, fisheries management, animal welfare, climate change mitigation, and ocean policy. As a classroom educator and Professor, he taught STEM subjects to elementary, middle, and high school as well as undergraduate, Masters, and PhD students.

Alex is an intersectional community organizer and DEI consultant committed to creating equitable access for underrepresented communities and meaningfully uplifting marginalized voices. He is on the Board of the Interior AIDS Association of Alaska and the Founder of Pride in Polar Research, a 3,000+ member-strong, global network advocating for queer rights in polar science. Alex was Lead Organizer of philanthropic Fairybanks Pride events in Alaska and is excited to serve as a volunteer Assistant Parade Manager for San Diego Pride in 2024.

Xitlaly Uribe


Xitlaly’s journey is a testament to the resilience and transformative power of education. As the pioneering college graduate in her family, she navigated the intricate path of higher education, armed with her passion for Psychology and Anthropology from CSU, Dominguez Hills. As the eldest of her siblings, she broke through the barriers that often deter first-gen students from reaching their academic and personal potential. Her path was profoundly shaped by her involvement with the Bayan Scholars, a Filipino American Learning community at SWC that ignited her passion for addressing challenges of oppression and internal racism. This experience not only deepened her understanding of her cultural heritage but also propelled her into roles where she could enact significant change. By establishing the Asian Pacific Islander American Committee at SWC and leading pivotal research projects, Xitlaly has dedicated herself to raising cultural awareness and promoting upward mobility. In her professional capacity, Xitlaly demonstrates exceptional leadership and empathy, from her early days as a Program Assistant with the Bayan Scholars to her impactful role as a Middle School Specialist at the Barrio Logan College Institute. Her efforts in educational programming, particularly focusing on behavior development, and college/career knowledge, have made a lasting impact on the youth of San Diego.

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