Our Staff & Board

Our Staff & Board

Our Staff

Aissa Perez, Development Manager
She/Her | Languages: English
Aissa comes from a family of immigrants and has always felt connected to work that values and lifts up immigrant communities. Since graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Sociology and English, she has worked in both programs and development for nonprofits focused on affordable healthcare and breast cancer research and services. She has called Seattle home for the last 4 years and is excited about working for an organization so centered on the community in the city she loves so much.
Fun fact: Aissa has a cat named Whopper with whom she is only mildly obsessed.

Angel Huaringa, Soccer Coordinator
He/Him | Languages: Spanish, English

My name is Angel. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. Migrated to Seattle at the age of 17 years old. I am deeply passionate about using soccer as a means to empower and uplift youth, providing them with opportunities for personal growth and integration into their communities. I have been soccer coaching from the past 5 years and have found my long term career as a coach for BIPOC communities. I believe that soccer serves as a universal language that surpasses any barriers, helping youth build connections, develop self confidence and embrace their cultural identity.
Fun fact: I love to eat chicken and play, watch and read about soccer.

Baeda Makka-Agonafer, Volunteer Coordinator 
He/Him | Languages: English
Baeda is an alumnus of Eastern Mennonite University where he graduated with a BA in Psychology. Baeda has a long history of working with organizations that focus on youth development, and social justice. As Kandelia’s Volunteer Coordinator, Baeda works to emphasize the importance of supporting our growing community.
Fun fact: I consider myself an expert in corn chips.

Chandra Rapley, Community Resource Coordinator
She/Her | Languages: English, Spanish
Chandra is an empathetic educator who is passionate about empowering youth and families and building healthier, more connected communities. She has spent the past decade working and volunteering in the nonprofit and education fields, serving in a variety of roles from volunteer coordinator, homeless services specialist, bike and pedestrian safety educator, and ESL teacher. She was born and raised on the central coast of California, graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. Since then, Chandra has lived and worked in many places, from Montana to Costa Rica, and has found volunteering is her favorite way to connect to her new home and serve the community. She is a newcomer to Seattle, and is looking forward to serving this community and exploring beautiful outdoor areas around the city.
Fun fact: Chandra has a green belt in judo!

Gustavo Alfaro, Youth Program Coordinator
He/Him | Languages: English, Spanish
Born and raised in El Salvador, I moved to Seattle in 2012 when I was 13 years old. I started in 7th grade (middle school) at Seattle World School and graduated high school in 2018. Ever since I was a student at Seattle World School I always liked to help other students in the same way students and staff helped me, I tried to make them feel safe and welcome, I made sure that they knew they could trust the school staff for anything they needed. I love cars and I like to work on them as well. I like learning new things, car related and in general. I started doing a lil bit of off-roading and I like it. I like to go out to nature every now and then. I like to take a lot of pictures of nature or my car.
Fun fact: I like to collect hot wheels as well as playing cards.

Iana Rotari, Family Program Coordinator – Refugee Supports
She/Her | Languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, conversational Romanian, conversational Spanish
Iana was born in Moldova and immigrated to the Greater Seattle Area when she was 14. Iana recently graduated with her degree in Psychology from the University of Washington. Her future plans include attending graduate school with hopes of becoming a culturally competent Marriage and Family Therapist. In her free time, Iana loves to sew, knit, crochet, spend time outdoors, and take care of her plants.
Fun fact: Iana is a big fan of horror movies.

Julie MacDonald, Executive Director of Finance and Operations
She/Her | Languages: English, basic Spanish and Italian
Julie comes to Kandelia with 20+ years of international experience in finance, operations, and strategic planning. During her tenure working at the United Nations World Food Programme, she performed a variety of leadership roles spanning 4 continents managing multicultural staff and teams. She developed strong competencies in leadership, strategic planning, process design and advancing projects quickly from analysis to implementation. Her strengths include solid communication, problem-solving skills, and adapting to and affecting change. In 2020, she returned to Seattle, where she was born and raised, to utilize her leadership and technical skills to advise nonprofit leaders on strategy development, operational challenges, and leadership development. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from Seattle University. She enjoys cooking, gardening, and being out in nature, as well as travel. She can often be found in Lincoln Park with her dog Dexter in West Seattle.
Fun fact: She is the youngest of 8 children, with 16 nieces and nephews and 10 grandnieces and nephews

Kristina Rallu, Executive Director of Development and Communications
She/Her | Languages: English, French, basic Spanish
Kristi grew up on a farm in rural Idaho with her parents and five siblings, and was the first in her family to graduate with a 4-year degree. She holds a BA in Psychology and MA in Education from Stanford University, and a MBA from ESSEC Business School in Paris, France. Kristi is passionate about breaking down barriers to education and opportunities for youth. Her career includes 6 years as an elementary school teacher in low-income schools in California and 7 years in fundraising, partnership management, and team leadership at Treehouse, a nonprofit serving youth in foster care across Washington State. In her free time Kristi loves climbing, backpacking, and traveling with her husband Arthur.
Fun fact: Kristi was a wildland firefighter for 4 summers, and still loves a good bonfire!

Lorna Nguyen, Operations Manager
She/Her | Languages: English, Vietnamese
Lorna is a Seattle native who graduated from the University of Washington with dual arts degrees in Psychology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, with a minor in Diversity. Growing up, she was always drawn towards anything that involved artistic self-expression, service to others, and education. This left her with no other choice than to work with the immigrant and refugee community in Seattle, individuals who are much like her parents, who came to Seattle in the early 90s.
Fun fact: I am skilled at back-in parking!

Melanie Kirtland, Family Program Coordinator – Spanish
She/Her | Languages: English, Spanish
Melanie Kirtland is from Nashville, Tennessee, and originally moved to Washington to attend Whitman College. After getting a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, she began working with organizations that focus on supporting immigrant communities – and she is excited to continue this work at Kandelia! In her free time, Melanie enjoys gardening, going on walks, and trying out new recipes.
Fun fact: My favorite animal is a raccoon!

Sieng Douangdala, Community Engagement Manager
She/Her | Languages: English, Lao, Khmu, Lamet
Sieng is a creative connector, whose background informs her personal investment in servant leadership and fostering social change. Sieng’s lived experiences as a refugee from Laos helps her serve a variety of cultures. Her experiences includes: program management; wraparound services; and development and implementation of programs focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Sieng’s work is rooted and driven by inclusivity, humility, collaboration, and commitment to healing our communities.
Fun fact: Sieng has two girls and a grandson and loves spending time outdoors.

Susanna Haley, Administrative Coordinator
She/Her | Languages: English, basic Italian, basic German
Susanna is from the greater Seattle area, and received a B.A. in European Studies from the University of Washington. She has a background in administration and event management in academic and music fields, as well as at an immigration law organization helping create equitable legal access for immigrants and their families. She is passionate about accessibility across many sectors, including language and neurodiversity. Susanna is also a professional violinist and violist, and loves to travel.
Fun fact: Susanna gets excited about birds and mycology!

Tamthy Le, Executive Director of Programs
She/Her | Languages: English, Vietnamese, minor Spanish
Tamthy Le is the youngest daughter of two Vietnamese refugees who love to rhumba. She was born and raised in South Seattle and later attended the University of Washington where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare with a Minor in Diversity. She began at Kandelia in 2014 as a Case Manager and currently serves as the Executive Director of Programs. She holds over 10 years of experience in Youth Development and Programming and is trained in Change Management, Leadership Development, and Intergroup Dialogues. She believes in putting people first and normalizing rest and healing. She is a big fan of the Mariners, fried chicken, and spending time with her cat, Benedict, and wife in their home in Renton.
Fun fact: At 5’ 3”, Tamthy is the tallest person in her family.

Thu Le, Family Engagement Manager
She/Her | Languages: English, Vietnamese
Thu Le came to the U.S. 25 years ago with her husband and daughter as refugees. Before that, she was an elementary teacher in Vietnam for 10 years. She began working with Kandelia in 2014 as the Cultural Navigator and is currently the Family Engagement Manager. She loves gardening, sewing, traveling, and watching the Big Bang Theory.
Fun fact: Thu is the oldest sister of her five siblings.

Kandelia Staff Flunk Day 2023


Our Partners


Benjamin O’Connor, English Literacy Instructor
He/Him | Languages: English, German, Spanish, working on a little Vietnamese and others
Ben is the son of two parents that really value hugs and is the youngest of two. He studied Germanics at the University of Washington and is now working on his Masters in Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages at Portland State University.
Frustrating experiences with bureaucracy in Germany, during a 2-year Fulbright, clued him to some of the challenges facing immigrant and refugee families and helped him recognize many of his privileges. Since then he has actively been trying to connect the community building and language learning he was doing in Germany with ongoing efforts in the northwest. He considers himself more of a cheerleader than a teacher and is involved in language learning communities in both Seattle and Portland. He has been teaching with Kandelia since just prior to the beginning of the pandemic and is a big fan of language learning, baseball, and music.
Fun fact: Ben was once paid to model as an ice skating pioneer for a beef jerky company. The payment was $22 and two (varying sized) bags of beef jerky.

Emily Barbee, English Conversation Class Instructor
She/Her | Languages: English, Spanish

Emily was born and raised in Seattle and is a graduate of Western Washington University where she earned a BA in Education. She believes in building community through education and is passionate about creating a world in which social justice is a reality. Emily has worked as a mentor, tutor, and educator for over two decades in refugee and immigrant communities. She enjoys collaborating with colleagues to create innovative programming for students. She loves swimming in lakes, reading, running, traveling, going to concerts, talking with friends, and being with her two kids.
Fun Fact: Emily has participated in multiple half marathons and triathlons.

Erika Morales, English for Beginners Instructor
She/Her | Languages: Spanish, English
Hi! I’m Erika Morales and I’m from El Salvador, a small country in Central America. I have been an English teacher for 4 years, and I have worked with Kandelia the last 2 years. During the pandemic, Kandelia started the English classes online mode, and I had the opportunity to be in charge of the beginner’s level. Throughout this time, I have been able to help a lot of people coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela. Kandelia has shown me that it doesn’t matter where you come from because we are all worthy. I feel so proud to be part of this family because we have the opportunity to help many people.
Fun fact: I’m a radio presenter, too!

Gaugdy Morales, Digital Literacy Instructor
She/Her | Languages: Spanish, English
Hi! I am Gaugdy Morales, I was born in El Salvador. I am the tutor of the Basic computer skills classes for relatives of the students of SWS. Some years ago my son studied in SWS, that was the time when I knew about Kandelia and everything they do to support our students. They helped and guided my son when he needed to, that’s how I realized the importance of Kandelia at school. I felt identified with Kandelia because I feel passionate about helping, organizing and guiding people who need it. I feel so proud about participating actively in these programs where we help immigrant families from SWS.
Fun fact: I have been an environmental promoter and educator.

Soy Gaugdy Morales, mi país de nacimiento es El Salvador, soy la facilitadora de las clases de Basic Computer Skill para familiares de los estudiantes de SWS. Hace unos años atrás mi hijo estudiaba en SWS y fue ahi donde conoci el trabajo que realiza Kandelia, ya que apoyaban, guiaban y orientaban a mi hijo y de esa manera conocí la importancia de Kandelia en la vida de nuestros estudiantes; me identifique mucho con su trabajo, ya que mi pasión siempre ha sido Organiza a ayudar y orientar a las personas que lo necesitan, por lo tanto me siento orgullosa de participar activamente en estos programas de ayuda a las familias inmigrantes de SWS y ser parte de Kandelia.
Dato curioso, he sido promotora y educadora de medio ambiente.

Gayne Sanchez, Family Engagement Coordinator
She/Her | Languages: Spanish, English
Gayne Sanchez was born in Mexico City. She migrated to the USA with her three children 22 years ago; her children attended Seattle World School (SWS) for 8 months. Because of her own experience as an immigrant single mother she had learned the importance of getting support and guidance to navigate the different systems. Today she collaborates with the Kandelia team at Seattle World School as a Family Engagement Coordinator providing classes and workshops that offer skills development for adult self-improvement and offer tools for navigating the many resources that Seattle has to offer.

Our Board

Cori Simmons, Co-Chair

Diego González-Medina, Board Member
He/Him | Languages: Spanish, English
Diego is a Chicano & Puerto Rican professional who grew up in Washington State, Russia, and Sweden and is also a resident of Mexico. His professional background is in epidemiological research, health systems consulting, community organization, and technology platforms. He is currently the national Director of Product, Platforms & Analytics for the Anti-Defamation League. He is excited to serve Kandelia’s board where he can marry these skills with his experience as a community leader to benefit Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities.
Fun fact: Diego is a former volunteer at Seattle World School, and is one of the two founders of Seattle’s LGBTQ Ballroom Scene.

Furhad Sultani, Treasurer
He/Him | Languages: English, a bit of Spanish
I grew up in a multicultural household. My father immigrated from Afghanistan and my mother is the daughter of migrant farmers from Mexico. After attending Wesleyan University, B.A. in Economics I earned my Law Degree at University of Washington School of Law. During law school I externed for the Honorable Judge Ruhl—King county Superior Court and served as a student liaison on the Minority and Justice Commission. Now I am an attorney whose practice primarily includes personal injury and civil rights cases. Through my background I have learned that—while we strive to be better—there is unequal access to justice, especially within immigrant and refugee communities. However, through education and community we can do better.

Gregorio Vincent, Board Member
He/Him | Languages: English, French, survival Spanish
I’m the son of Haitian immigrants and I was born and raised in New York City. I graduated from Cornell University in 2011 with a degree in Applied Economics and Management. Though I pivoted a couple of years ago into engineering and was brought to Seattle via my role as a Quality Analyst for Xbox. Being the child of immigrants, I saw the value that Kandelia brings to the Seattle community, and I wanted to be part of it. Being on the board allows me to leverage my professional and community work experience while gaining new skills.
Fun fact: I helped start the Black Joy Parade, an annual community event in Oakland, CA.

Johnny Nguyen, Board Member
I am a proud Vietnamese American that was born and raised in Seattle. I graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and have been working in the emergency and cardiovascular critical care settings in California and Washington state. I am passionate about health equity and health literacy, and after spending a couple years at the bedside am now pursuing my PhD in Nursing Science at the University of Washington with a research focus on occupational health and demography. I am excited to use my health science background and research focus to bring a unique lens to Kandelia’s mission and improve the inequities in our community.

Maria Jimenez-Zepeda, Co-Chair
She/Her | Languages: English, Spanish
Maria is the proud daughter of Mexican parents and has spent her life living and working with immigrant communities. Professionally, Maria brings her policy and project management experience to help create equitable conditions that allow individuals and families to thrive. In her personal time, Maria serves on the Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission and is a partner of the Education Collective Action Team at Social Venture Partners.
Fun fact: Maria got to play the star of a Metro video highlighting Metro’s COVID safety mitigations! Check it out here.

Nikhil Murthy, Board Member
Originally from India, I moved to Seattle in 2021 after spending several years living and working in Australia. I have over 15 years of experience in supply chain and work as a technology product manager at Nordstrom. As a recent immigrant to the US, I am passionate about using my skills to help the immigrant and refugee community in Seattle.

Are you passionate about removing barriers to immigrant and refugee success? Board members use their unique skills and life experiences to help guide our organization to make an impact. Contact us to learn more about opportunities to join our board.



Our Programs


From my personal experience, it was really hard to get my job. I had to practice a lot before coming in to my interview. One thing I liked the most about this program was that we basically did this mock interview, or practice interview. It was something that helped me get more confident. I would say that it helped me a lot with getting my first job.

Trung Nguyen

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