"I will never forget the first time I locked eyes with a woman
outside a brothel in the red light district of Calcutta. She was my
age, born into a different set of circumstances. Her eyes were vacant.
Every time I think of that moment, I think of her emptiness. I vow to
use my voice and resources to uncover opportunities for her and
others in her situation. It could have been the other way around."
Executive Director and Co-founder, LCSW
Appreciating that circumstance is all that separates her reality from those of marginalized populations, Kristy has spent 17 years leveraging her social worker background as an advocate for the vulnerable among us. Empower Her Network benefits from all Kristy learned and experienced during her time as Executive Director of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore and Her Future Coalition. She runs transparent programs with the goal of building up those in need towards a day where they can support themselves. As Dorothy Day stated, “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community”.
"I believe in Empower Her Network's mission at it's core. The first survivor that I encountered made me think of my favorite poem “Footprints”. These women are resilient and able to walk on the sand with both feet. At times they may face obstacles that may hinder them for whatever reason. EHN is there to provide extra support and carry them during these times so they can get back on their feet and work towards self-sufficiency."
Atlanta Advocate, MSW, CLC
Melba Robinson has an extensive history of working for and collaborating with trafficked and commercial sexual exploitation victims throughout Georgia. Currently Program Director of Haven Atlanta, Melba’s expertise is in working with children and families, case management, and program & curriculum development. She joined Empower Her Network because she believes aftercare support is crucial for survivors on their road to independence.
"When I think of Empower Her Network, I think a lot about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. By collaborating with organizations already meeting the critical basic needs of survival and healing at the bottom of the pyramid, we at EHN can set our sights high and accompany survivors on the path of self actualization."
New York Advocate, LCSW-R
As a clinical social worker who has spent the last eight years focused on the advancement, health, and healing of people affected by gender based violence, Kate Okamoto, LCSW-R joins Empower Her Network as our New York Advocate and Program Committee member. Her experience as the Supervisor of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families' Legal Center and therapeutic expertise counseling and advocating for victims of human trafficking and other extreme abuse makes her an invaluable resource as we build out survivor programs and evaluate nominations. Kate received her master's degree from the Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, and completed post graduate training at the Trauma Studies Center at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.
Southern California Advocate
Alexandra Molina has an extensive history working and advocating for the homeless population and victims of trafficking. As a former homeless youth herself, Alexandra brings a wealth of personal and clinical experience to Empower Her Network. Alexandra received a full scholarship on the Oprah Winfrey show back in 2004. After receiving her bachelor's degree in Sociology from Loyola Marymount University, Alexandra worked as a case manager for Covenant House California where she secured funding for the renovation of their residential facilities. Alexandra now serves as our Southern California Advocate. She believes in assisting victims of trafficking with an empathetic, compassionate, and trauma-informed approach.
Board of Directors
Chair and Co-founder
Abby Fabiaschi is a mother, novelist, and human rights activist that has long been a believer in economic solutions to social and cultural problems. When she read HALF THE SKY five years ago it ignited a fierce desire to fight the human trafficking epidemic, and she joined the board of Her Future Coalition, which works with survivors in Asia. She came to learn there are three main components to the movement: exiting the life, change advocacy, and rebuilding lives. That last piece is particularly important: Exiting the life without an aftercare plan results in re-trafficking, further exploitation, or a life of poverty. It’s also tricky: There isn’t a one-path-fits-all solution. Abby is thrilled to bring the tenants of what she learned with HFC to help transform the lives of survivors domestically at Empower Her Network. With resources and effort, a path to independence is attainable.
Christine Merser has spent much of her adult life focused on women’s issues. She founded The Women’s Resource Center in 1992, the first referral database for women, and continued feeding her burning desire to empower all women through her blog, Freesia Lane www.FreesiaLane.com and her Podcast, Screen Thoughts www.ScreenThoughts.net, where she appears as Hollister on the flip side of O’Toole reviewing film and television and its effect on the female gender. Her company, Blue Shoe Strategy, provides all the marketing and social media for Empower Her Network. She is committed to the future of women rebuilding lives after such difficult experiences.
Read Not-for-Profit Compensation... by Christine Merser
Maureen has had a long career in finance, starting at a time when there were few senior female role models. Coming of age in the early days of feminism made its mark and she was determined to be financially independent. That belief found an avocation when she initiated her fundraising work with Women's World Banking, a global women's focused micro finance group. Hearing first hand from women whose incomes "helped me keep my daughter from being trafficked" opened up a new passion for ensuring women had education and access to financial independence. Two years ago she heard a presentation about the size and scope of the US trafficking industry and her thoughts expanded towards the US. Maureen met Abby and Kristy during a brief interlude at Her Future Coalition. When asked to join the board of their new effort she jumped at the opportunity to work with these committed women, in an area that seems to be the culmination of years of work.
After learning about the human trafficking epidemic in India, where Chet's parents were born and extended family remains, Chet became determined to be a part of the solution. Appreciating the correlation between education and opportunity led Chet to Empower Her Network, where she is excited by the possibilities presented to the survivors among us. Chet graduated from Johns Hopkins University and The London School of Economics. She lives with her husband and two boys in Tampa, Florida.
Read Celebrating Diwali by Chet Gowda
Priscilla Angenor is the Owner and Principal Attorney of Angenor Law Office. Priscilla is a member of American Immigration Lawyers Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys, and the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association. Growing up as an inner city kid left her acutely aware of the challenges faced by people with limited means and resources. Her commitment to the community has shone through with Project Bread, helping to get SNAP benefits out to more people, and fighting for her underserved clients in the courtroom.
Read Choice and Decriminalization of Sex Work by Priscilla Angenor
Katisha is a nonprofit human services administrator with a passion for social justice, poverty alleviation, and racial and gender equality. She brings over a decade of experience working with Sanctuary for Families— delivering holistic services to victims of domestic violence, commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and other related forms of gender-based violence—to Empower Her Network’s Program Committee. A graduate of Union College, Katisha went on to be a member of the first graduating class of the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, where she earned her Executive Masters in Public Administration. Her dedication to be a part of the solution is inspiring.
Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco
Dr. Mehlman-Orozco currently serves as the CEO of an anti-trafficking consulting firm, Mahn, Mehlman & Associates, and teaches human trafficking and social justice material at her alma mater George Mason University. Her book, Hidden in Plain Sight: America's Slaves of the New Millennium, is a leading resource for anti-trafficking advocates.
Read Domestic Trafficking by Kimberly Mehlman
Kush Patel is an entrepreneur who believes in taking an active role in helping others. Leveraging his 8 years of business and real estate experience, he has consistently sought the opportunity to mentor or champion others. From being one of the pilot members of the SPARK tutoring program at Babson College, to working with Made By Survivors in a consulting and fundraising capacity, to mentoring inner-city high school students through Minds Matter Boston, Kush has a history of being involved in causes that enhance opportunities for individuals from a variety of backgrounds and situations.
Designer Lisa Salzer-Wiles founded jewelry brand Lulu Frost in 2004 with the purpose of spreading meaning through each of her works. Lulu Frost is beloved for its modernistic approach to celebrating the past, coupled with a brand commitment to create lasting value and meaning in each and every piece. Lisa believes, "Metal is from the earth, it is so rich and elemental. The power and energies it carries, become those that the wearer can carry".
Julie Zuraw is CEO of the Julie Zuraw Group, a consultancy that has been committed to developing executive leaders, and particularly women, since 2003. She is an expert in corporate positioning strategy, having been the strategy lead for the Publicis Brand Optimization Systems Group, where she built the group’s brand education practice and oversaw global client operations and brand identity initiatives. She has held various management roles in New York City political campaigns, and has been a faculty member at both Columbia University and Barnard College, where she has taught courses to undergraduates on skill-development pedagogy and to graduate students on pitching their professional projects, in addition to developing the renowned "Speaking Fellows" program, which builds young women's voice and power. Julie is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.
Read Women’s Voices? They’ve Been There All Along by Julie Zuraw
“I believe every woman (and man) should have a home of their own. My own foundation supports that and the work that Empower Her Network does for women rebuilding lives after unspeakable torment gives me the opportunity to assist around their securing a home of their own. I’m grateful to be a part of it."
One of the most successful mortgage bankers in the country, and an advocate for women having a home of their own through her not-for-profit AHomeOfHerOwn.org, Melissa's group has already assisted with some funding for survivors, to obtain housing through contributions for furniture and deposits. "I'm all about helping women obtain a home of their own, which for me, seems to be paramount in building a new, safe, productive, and fun life. Without a home base, we have no boat to steer to other pastures. It's a pleasure working with EHN to deal with housing issues for women on their way home.
After fourteen years volunteering for her local Big Brothers Big Sisters, Laura now focuses her fundraising experience and charitable enthusiasm on organizations with less staff. Empower Her Network is hugely fortunate to have this helper by nature, whose passion is to advocate for marginalized populations ready to go the next mile, on the team.
“The Empower Her Network is exactly what we female survivors of abuse need to recreate a healthy life. For years, I have served women whose urgent needs fall between the cracks of our mental health and social service system. I feel truly grateful to be a part of this Network and to use this platform to transform lives. The future is female. Investing in women is the best way to transform our world; empower her.”
--Dr. Ileana Abreu
Dr. Ileana Abreu, EdD (ABD)
Dr. Ileana Abreu, EdD (ABD) is a holistic educator that specializes in transformational mentorship. By providing education and motivational coaching, she leads clients to experience authentic, life-changing breakthroughs. Ileana believes in the power of the brain to heal and transform itself after trauma. She has a background in international development and community organizing, and presently serves survivors of abuse through her private practice in the Tampa Bay.