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Meet Our Team

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Susana Almanza
 

Susana Almanza is a founding member and Director of PODER. Susana has overcome poverty, prejudice, and segregated schools to face down some of the world’s most powerful transnational oil corporation. 

Susana is an indigenous person of the continent of America and resides in East Austin, Texas.  She is a longtime community organizer, and educator, mother and grandmother.  Susana participated in the civil rights movement as a Brown Beret taking up issues of police brutality, housing, quality education and equity in school systems and health care as a right not a privilege. She co-wrote the 17 principles of environmental justice at the First People of Color Summit in 1991 and has been fighting against environmental racism for over 30 years. 

Susana Almanza is a proven leader and nationally recognized environmental justice activist.  Susana was recently appointed to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Susana served on the City of Austin’s Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Board, Environmental Board and the Community Development Commission.

Executive Director

Valerie Menard

Colorado River Conservancy Project Coordinator

Valerie Menard is a freelance writer and editor, and the founder of S.A. Esa Enterprises, a freelance writing and editing service. Before that, she worked as an editor for Hispanic magazine, and La Prensa. She is an expert on Latino issues and use promoted stories that addressed the important political and social issues facing Latinos like, environmental justice, immigration, bilingual education, and Affirmative Action.

She has also published multiple books for children on Latino identity and issues and is the founder of the Latinx Children’s Book Project, where she encourages more Latinx children’s book writers to write culturally relevant books.

Her work was recognized by the California Latino Legislative Caucus in 2003 when she received the  Latino Spirit Award from.

A native of Glendale, California, Ms. Menard was raised in San Antonio, Texas and is a second-generation Mexican American. Valerie attended the University of Texas at Austin where she earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in English and the other in journalism.

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Paul DiFiore

Colorado River Conservancy Advisor

Paul DiFiore is a freelance consultant in public & government affairs, and environmental advocate for PODER and SOS Alliance.

 

He previously worked on social responsibility programs for major international energy companies, including Hunt Oil and ExxonMobil. Paul brings to the Conservancy expertise in building multi-sector partnerships for long term positive impact and sustainable development. He lives in east Austin and can often be found birding along Boggy Creek. 

 

Paul holds a B.A in Political Science from Davidson College and an M.S. in Global Business and Finance from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He speaks Spanish and Arabic, and has lived and traveled extensively across Latin America and the Middle East. Paul was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. 

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Alexia Leclercq

Policy & Campaign & Comms Manager

Alexia (she/they) is an organizer based in Austin, TX. They graduated summa cum laude from NYU (’20), where they self-designed a major titled “The Politics and Economics of Inequality.”

 

They have worked in the climate space for the past 5 years and been with PODER since 2019 where they worked on various issues from preserving the Colorado River, fighting land use policy and zoning that enforces race-based discrimination, conducting ethnographic research on climate health, to organizing mutual aid, youth programming, and shaping national legislation alongside members of the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance.  

 

Alexia is also the co-founder of Start: Empowerment, a BIPOC led social and environmental justice education non-profit working with youth, educators, activists, and community members to implement justice-focused education and programming in schools and community spaces. S:E curriculum and programming has reached over 2,000 students, been recognized by the NYC Department of Education, and taught in universities. In 2021, their work was recognized by the prestigious Brower Youth Award.

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Dr. Sylvia Herrera

Health & EJ Advisor

Dr. Sylvia Herrera is a native East Austinite, longtime community organizer on civil, social, environmental and economic justice issues and a founding member oof PODER. 

 

Dr. Herrera earned her Ph.D  in 1998 (University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education). Her research has examined health impacts in neighborhoods surrounding the Tank Farm (benzene) the Holly Street Power Plant (Electro Magnetic Fields-EMFs, noise) and the BFI Recycling Center (Noise, rodents).

Over several years, Dr. Herrera has also worked in Arizona in various communities on reforming immigration laws & addressing civil rights violations, such as racial profiling. Along with Tonatierra (Comites de Defensa del Barrio), she is seeking to raise the consideration of civil rights abuses (from individuals such as Maricopa County Sheriff  Joe Arpaio) to human rights violations on an international level. She and others have provided testimony to the US Department of Justice about these various problems.

Dr. Sylvia Herrera continues to support PODER and plays in a crucial role in the writing and research of PODER's report on various social and environmental injustices. 

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Pedro Hernandez

Organizer, Fair Fare's Coordinator

Pedro Escobar Hernandez, Jr. is a native Austinite that was born in East Austin and grew up in the Montopolis neighborhood, where he currently lives. He is a proud father of two daughters and three grandchildren.

Pedro is an environmental and social justice advocate for PODER and has worked on many issues ranging from voter education and registration, Covid Rapid Response Team Community Outreach, preserving the Colorado River, fighting CapMetro to get fair fares for the new light rail, to educating our youth through the Young Scholars for Justice Leadership Development Workshop with PODER. He has been with PODER since 2016.

Pedro is the Chair for Vasquez Fields Neighborhood Association and is an Executive member of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association. As a member of the Montopolis Neighborhood Planning Contact Team he has fought developers to keep his community affordable for those currently living there. He was a member of the Project Connect Community Investment and Wealth Building Advisory Committee. He is also a member of the Austin Latino Coalition and the Texas Anti-Poverty Project and many other local organizations. Pedro is a 2018 recipient of the Cesar E. Chavez Si Se Puede Award which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated leadership in changing lives and transforming communities.

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Marian Sanchez

Solar Equity Cordinator

Marian Sanchez was born and raised in West Texas before moving to Austin to pursue her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Studies, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Geography. She attended The University of Texas at Austin, from where she graduated in May of 2022.

 

During her time as a student, Marian interned with PODER as a research analyst and organizer for the Project Connect Fair Fares campaign. She also conducted an East Austin stakeholder analysis and synthesis in collaboration with the Colorado River Conservancy as a part of her capstone research. Within this research, development in Austin and its implications against primarily lower income, people of color communities were highlighted. It further involved discussions of displacement, gentrification, pollution, and poor representation of
stakeholders overall.

 

With a passion for social and environmental research, justice, and advocacy, Marian is currently project coordinator for PODER’s Solar Equity campaign and continuing her work as a research analyst and
community organizer for the Colorado River Conservancy.

 

Marian is bilingual and based in East Austin.