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New Leaders Council

2017 Fellows

Meet out 2017 Graduated Class of Fellows

Demonte Alexander


Demonte is an expert in building relationships, fundraising, and public speaking which has given him an immaculate reputation for being a "true professional." He is a natural philanthropist who genuinely cares for people and supports a wide range of causes. His ultimate goal is to ensure that his life matters and that he provides value to other individuals' lives. His passion for inspiring youth is driven by his childhood struggles.He strives to someday make a significant impact on our youth by encouraging them to make better choices, and empowering them to engage in activities that produce measurable results with their grades and overall behavior. Demonte is also a US Army Iraq War veteran who has dedicated over 10 years of service to our military personnel and their families.



Mario Bravo


Mario Bravo grew up in San Antonio and attended the University of Texas at Austin, obtaining a BA in history with a minor in mechanical engineering. After graduating from UT, Mario went straight into the political campaign world, managing a re-election campaign for a district judge in South Texas. He then went on to work on campaigns at every level from city council to a presidential race, including two nonpartisan statewide ballot initiatives. After working on twelve campaigns, Mario decided to settle down in Austin for a while, and delved into marketing and public relations work for energy-efficiency focused startup companies. He first worked for Incenergy, a cloud-based commercial building energy management solutions provider, and then went on to work for FlowBelow, a manufacturer of fuel-saving aerodynamic parts for long haul trucks. In 2012, Mario returned to The University of Texas to pursue a master’s degree at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs with specializations in natural resources, diplomacy, and international security. After obtaining his master’s degree, Mario joined Environmental Defense Fund, a national nonprofit organization that applies economics and the latest science to solve the biggest environmental challenges. He currently serves as their Texas Outreach Specialist, focusing on the connections between air quality, health, and climate change. Mario recently began learning how to sail and has a personal dream of becoming skilled enough (or lucky enough) to successfully sail around the world one day. However, Mario is currently taking a break from his sailing hobby in order to spend all of his free time volunteering to help his girlfriend in her campaign for San Antonio City Council. 

Melanie Castillo


Melanie Castillo is sixth year attorney with Castillo Snyder, P.C., a litigation ‘boutique” law firm specializing in business litigation, oil and gas litigation, cross border international commercial disputes, securities litigation, employment litigation and personal injury. Melanie received her Juris Doctor from St. Mary’s University School of Law in May 2010. During law school, Melanie was a member of the External Advocacy Program, participated in the Civil Justice Clinic and interned with Judge Pamela Mathy at the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. Prior to attending St. Mary’s, Melanie received her Bachelor of Science in Child Development and Family Relationships from the University of Texas at Austin and her Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy from UTSA. Melanie began her career working as a preschool teacher for Head Start and continued in the early childhood education field with Bright Horizons Family Solutions for six years. Melanie was a member of the Voices for Children non-profit advocacy group and successfully advocated for City and State funding for training dollars for the professional development of early childhood teachers. Melanie also sat on the Head Start Policy Council and continues to seek avenues to promote and support early childhood education initiatives. Melanie was appointed by Councilman Roberto Trevino to serve as the District 1 Representative for the City of San Antonio Ethics Review Board. Melanie sits on the Tobin Hill Community Association Zoning Committee and recently joined the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee and Education Committee. Melanie was also among the first cohort of Latina's selected for the inaugural Latina Leadership Program with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and after graduating from the program is now working with other graduates to co-found the Latina Power Network. Melanie has two children, Madison, who is a freshman at Ole Miss studying marketing and Alexander, who is a sophomore at Saint Mary’s Hall, where he has served as class president for three years running.

Victoria Echeverri


Victoria Echeverri is an educator with over nine years of experience teaching, working with students as well as educators in museums, galleries, and public schools. She currently teaches elementary school in San Antonio ISD. Her interest in San Antonio communities was sparked early on and nurtured by family, who included her in their vested political and civic commitments. She has 15 years of experience organizing volunteers and events for local and national non-profit organizations which include the Human Rights Campaign and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center— both organizations dedicated to engaging the community through education, and promoting a deeper understanding and respect for human cultures, values, and traditions. Currently, Victoria sits on the Steering Comittee as Digital Communications Chair for the San Antonio chapter of Human Rights Campaign, a national organization committed to ensuring that LGBTQ people are ensured equality and embraced as full members of society at home, work and in every community. She interned in Washington D.C. with the Human Rights Campaign, as well as attended leadership conferences, in order to return home to San Antonio and better represent and serve the town she calls home. Ms. Echeverri studied Sociology and Communication and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Trinity University. In her free time, she explores the city on her bicycle, supports the local music and arts communities, and seeks out as many road trip and hiking adventures as possible.

Jessica Estorga


An Austin native, Ms. Estorga first moved to San Antonio to attend Trinity University where she received her Bachelors of Arts and double majored in Religion and Political Science. After graduation, Ms. Estorga moved back home to Austin for a year to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member through Texas Campus Compact, where she promoted service learning and civic-engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Estorga went on to earn her Juris Doctorate from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, Texas after which she founded Estorga Law. With a focus on family law, Ms. Estorga helps families dealing with custody disputes, family violence, child protective service cases, and adoptions. Since being admitted to practice lawm Ms. Estorga has had the honor of being named 2015’s Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year by the San Antonio Young Lawyer’s Association. In continuing with her commitment to advocacy, Ms. Estorga has volunteered through the YMCA Youth and Government Program as a Mock Trial coach for the past four years at John F. Kennedy High School in San Antonio, Texas. Ms. Estorga works weekly with her students helping them to prepare a legal courtroom case by teaching the students to draft their own opening/closing statements, execute effective direct/cross examination questions, make objections, and have the confidence to stand up and speak with authority. Ms. Estorga has watched her team advance to nationals twice and place seventh in the nation. Ms. Estorga is serving her second year a Board Member of the San Antonio Young Lawyer’s Association. In her first year as a Director, Ms. Estorga established and secured a grant for SAYLA’s first annual “Season of Service”, a season long drive to promote young lawyer’s involvement in the community. 

Julia Grizzard


Julia Grizzard is a Policy Analyst for Texas State Representative Diego Bernal (D123) and Masters Candidate in Education Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to her work with Rep. Bernal and her coursework at Columbia, Julia spent a decade in curriculum development and implementation, teaching and training, and education management with The Princeton Review. While working for Princeton Review, she worked as a classroom teacher and private tutor, then directed High School Operations in Central Texas and, finally, joined the national product team as the National Director of College Readiness and Institutional Programs. In that final role she authored The Princeton Review’s College Handbook series and oversaw every product that Princeton Review carried to around fifty-thousand students every year in middle school, high school, and college classrooms. Julia left The Princeton Review to take her skills and passion to ensure students have the resources, support, and opportunities necessary to go to and complete college into the public sector.

Veronica Haywood


Veronica was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is a Registered Nurse with 4 years of clinical and academic teaching experience in the area of women’s health. She currently works as a New Parent Support Program Nurse at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland AFB. As a New Parent Support Program Nurse, her responsibilities include empowering new parents toward goals relating to physical and mental health, early childhood development, and personal life skills. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Texas at San Antonio Health Science Center and a Master of Science in Nursing Leadership in Nursing Systems degree at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Veronica has been acknowledged for her contribution to nursing. In 2014, she was recognized for the development of Healthy Beats Case Management Program for the City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. Veronica envisions herself as a lifelong student. She has gone through additional training, including STD/HIV Prevention Training at Johns Hopkins University. She is a Certified Lactation Counselor and has pursued entrepreneurship with starting her own childbirth education business called My Mommylogy,LLC. Veronica has dreams of owning her own women’s health clinic in the future and plans to start at The University of South Alabama this spring to pursue a Post-Masters Certificate for Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. Veronica is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, Black Nurses Rock-San Antonio Chapter, and affiliates with March of Dimes for community initiatives. She is an experienced teacher and healthcare professional. She is passionate about directing women toward better health and better home situations. She finds a deep sense of fulfillment in her work, and looks forward to each day as an opportunity to put her skills and talents to good use. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her family, close friends, and dog Charlie.

Denise Hernandez


Denise M. Hernández was born and raised in the Westside of San Antonio by her mother and grandmother. She graduated from Business Careers High School in 2009 and attended Baylor University. In March 2015, she found community organization Maestranza, based on education, activism and collaboration, which serves to create leaders for future positive impacts in local communities and communities abroad. Maestranza has worked around the San Antonio area to bring social justice issues and history to the forefront, and continues to collaborate with other global and local organizations in various empowerment endeavors. Maestranza was the lead organizer for this year’s “Dump Trump, No Hate in SATX” action, where over 500 people from around Texas were present in peaceful protest. Hernández was featured as a “Rising Star in Their 20s” by News for her ethnic studies education advocacy. She was selected to speak in 2016 on the TEDx San Antonio stage on implicit biases and how they affect our everyday lives in relation to employment, education, and criminal justice. In addition, she has spoken to the girls of Girls Inc., to the young people of City Year, at various DREAM Week events, and around the city on various social justice issues. She has been a featured guest on Public Radio International's show ""Otherhood"" and on Texas Public Radio's ""The Source"" as well as numerous other podcasts. Hernández is also a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, and is active in volunteering with various community enrichment organizations like San Anto Cultural Arts. She is a millennial spokesperson for new non-profit Growing Empowered Together, which serves to connect millennials with their civic duties by means of creative expression. She is passionate about harnessing power within individuals to impact change for a more inclusive and progressive society. 

Sonya Hernandez


Sonya Hernandez has been studying cultures around the world since 2001. She considers herself to be a professional cultural broker bridging gaps within her environment on a daily basis. After studying World Religions in New York City straight out of high school and moving back to San Antonio, Sonya realized the gaps between her borderland culture and the rest of the world and dedicated herself to bridging that gap through academia and entrepreneurship. As the former president of the Mexican-American Studies Student Organization at the University of Texas at San Antonio, she found herself leading the student fight against the attack on ethnic studies during the 83rd legislature of Texas…..and won! Around the same time, Sonya began managing a small law firm where she learned to navigate business and management for 5 years before taking the leap into self-employment by jumping head first into the real estate and restaurant/bar worlds. Since then, Sonya has had the pleasure of presenting her work in Borderland Culture at conferences around the US and at universities in Spain, France, and the Netherlands. Sonya’s ability to express herself before large audiences and through her writing granted Sonya the opportunity to work within the educational system in Cusco, Peru on a Fulbright Scholarship. Currently, Sonya co-owns Burnt Ends in Beacon Hill with her partner in life & business. She travels as often as possible and finds inspiration everywhere. Sonya can usually be found spending time on her garden and ranch tending her goats. Sonya respects the sacrifices her ancestors have made to get her to this point in life and is dedicated to furthering the opportunities fellow women of color have!

Fátima Menendez


Fátima Menéndez is the first generation of her family to be born in the United States. She grew up on the Southeast side of San Antonio and graduated Cum Laude with her undergraduate degree from St. Mary’s University. She then went on to attend St. Mary’s University School of Law. During her time there she clerked at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) working to protect the civil rights of Latinos in the areas of education, immigrant rights, and political access. After MALDEF, Fátima worked as a student attorney in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the St. Mary’s Center for Legal and Social Justice. At the clinic she represented low-income clients in immigration proceedings pro bono, as well as co-founded the DACA Project. This program has allowed hundreds of DREAMers to apply for deferred action, helping them to seek protection from deportation and providing an avenue to legally work, drive, and receive an education. Shortly after law school, Fátima began working at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a non-profit organization specializing in immigration defense and advocacy. She is currently a Senior Staff Attorney in the Children’s Program, focusing primarily on representing unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the United States. In her local community, Fátima helped reestablish and served on the Board of the Lakeside Neighborhood Association, one of the largest neighborhoods on San Antonio’s Eastside. Fátima currently serves on the Board of the Organization of Salvadorian-Americans in San Antonio, which provides financial assistance to rebuild rural schools in El Salvador. "

Molly Neck


Molly is a native of the Rio Grande Valley. After living in New Orleans, Boise, and Washington DC, she returned to Texas for law school. During law school she practiced before the US Immigration Courts representing women seeking asylum, interned with the Honorable Judge Edward C. Prado United States Court of Appeals, and worked for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. She is currently a Senior Associate Attorney at The Rosenblatt Law Firm where she practices business law with a focus on helping young entrepreneurs begin their businesses on the right foot. Molly was awarded the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association’s Belva Lockwood Outstanding Young Lawyer in 2013.



Coda Rayo-Garza


Coda was born and raised in the border town of Laredo, TX. Her father is an immigrant from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and her mother was born in Donna, Texas near the Mexican border. Coda left her hometown after graduating high school early to pursue her education. She graduated with highest honors from Texas State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a minor in Value Studies. She moved to San Antonio in 2008 to attend graduate school at the University of Texas at San Antonio where she earned a Master of Arts degree in Political Science with a concentration in Political Philosophy. After leaving graduate schooln Coda went on to teach local, state and federal government at Northeast Lakeview College. Some of the courses she taught included dual enrollment high school students from Judson Independent School District. Following her passion for civic engagement, Coda volunteered much of her time to local non-profit organizations. She co-founded a race in Laredo, TX to benefit Habitat for Humanity of Laredo after a flood had devastated the local community. In addition to having academic knowledge of government, Coda served as Director of Zoning and Planning for Councilman Ron Nirenberg and Director of Policy and Zoning for Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales. During her time with council, she worked on various policy issues including refugee, immigration, housing, development, gender equity and other human services issues. Most recently, Coda is a graduate of the Latina Leadership Institute through the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and member of the inaugural class. She is also a mentor through the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinal Latina Mentorship Program. Currently, Coda serves as the Director of Community Partnerships for P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County: an education focused collective impact nonprofit organization devoted to ensuring academic readiness, attainment and success from cradle to career. Above all, Coda believes in the principles of social justice and equity. She is driven by her daughter Grace and son Carlos Mateo, and the idea that compassion can make a difference in the world. She is happily married to her best friend, Carlos with whom she enjoys good food, good beer and the outdoors.

Kristopher Ryan


Kristopher Ryan currently serves as a Fiscal Administrator with the City of San Antonio. He has had the opportunity to manage the budgets for multiple city departments totaling over $300 million dollars and ensures that the City meets its fiduciary responsibilities to the public. Kristopher has a total of 10 years of public service including experience in both nonprofit and education. He’s committed to serving the public interest and plans to continue working in local government to make a larger impact at the community level. Kristopher has served as both the Secretary and Treasurer of the Urban Management Assistants of South Texas for the past two years. During his 2-year commitment as an Officer, he has been instrumental in helping the organization grow by continuing its mission of providing professional development opportunities to its members. He will continue his commitment to the organization, as President-Elect, by furthering the organization’s mission of improving the lives of the community through professional excellence. Kristopher holds both a Masters in Public Administration and Bachelors in Business Administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He had the honor to receive the 2012 J. Rolando Bono Scholarship awarded by Urban Management Association of South Texas. He is a proud native of San Antonio. 

Chris Stewart


Chris Stewart is a lifelong San Antonio resident with a passion for civic engagement and a belief in the ability of cities to create change at the local level. Chris currently serves as Chief of Staff in City Council District 8, where he is the principal policy and communications advisor to Councilman Ron Nirenberg. In this role, he has developed a special understanding of the ways that cities manage growth and ensure quality of life, particularly in the areas of transportation, land use policy, and water. Previously, he served Councilman Nirenberg as Deputy Campaign Manager of his 2015 re-election, as Community Academy Director in his District office, and as Field Director of his 2013 underdog win.



Michelle Swisher


Michelle Renee Swisher is an innovative and highly driven marketing and development professional offering 8 years of experience in nonprofit healthcare and communications industries. In her career, she is known for building long-term relationships and connections with community organizations bringing together collective partnerships that have resulted in successful outcomes. She also provides her talents in executing effective out-of-the-box marketing and fundraising campaigns. Michelle is very passionate about the arts and giving back to the community, especially when it comes to community health initiatives and is an advocate for increasing access to affordable healthcare to those who need it most.

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