Beginning with transforming her own life after the tragic death of her sister, Carmen has dedicated her life to advocating, providing leadership opportunities and helping transform the lives of young people. She is the founder of the youth leadership group R.E.A.L. (Reforming Education, Advocating for Leadership) and also the co-founder of the Girls Task Force in Santa Cruz County which is dedicated to improving gender specific services to better support all girls in our communities. As well, Carmen developed the idea of supporting youth speaking out on their hot topic issues. She created and supported the “Youth Summit” concept whereby young people came together to discuss solutions on serious topics such as drug and alcohol reform, detention alternatives, gangs, and violence. Recommendations that came out of the group discussion were often presented and adopted by community and state-wide policy makers.
Carmen has organized cultural, spiritual and educational events and provides support to individuals incarcerated in juvenile hall and inside California’s prisons. Carmen has traveled across the nation and internationally promoting peace, interconnectedness and alternatives to incarceration while collaborating in several national policy presentations. Constantly in pursuit of advocating for individuals in the criminal justice system more efficiently, Carmen went to work for the Santa Cruz County Probation Department as a bilingual Probation Officer. With an all female intensive caseload, Carmen worked tirelessly to provide appropriate and re-entry services to young women in the juvenile justice system. She looked critically within the system to reduce racial disparities and advocated for monolingual Spanish speaking families. She has helped implement gender specific services that incorporated, sexual trauma counseling through art therapy, teen-parent mediation, co-founded and assisted in facilitating at an evening program for girls, Girlzpace.
Today, Carmen is the Executive Director for The Gathering for Justice, an inter-generational, inter-cultural social justice, civil rights organization rooted in history, spirituality and nonviolence direct action founded in 2005 by Harry Belafonte. (http://www.thegatheringforjustice.org) “The Gathering” as it is referred by many, provides non-violent direct action trainings to thousands of individuals across the country based on the methodology of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It introduces Kingian Nonviolence as a foundation for community organizing, civic engagement and community reconciliation. Carmen’s work with “the Gathering” allows her the opportunity to provide additional capacity and coalition building to the Gathering’s focused cities where she bridges the gap between government institutions, emerging & non-traditional leaders, and inner city youth.
Carmen’s record of accomplishments spans a decade of public service in the areas of national and international organizing, youth development, leadership enhancement, education and training, gender-specific program development, policy advocacy, and she is most intimately knowledgeable in the work for criminal justice – in the areas of juvenile and adult systems, and probation. Carmen is deeply grounded in various cultural and spiritual practices that create space for healing, relationship building and reconciliation. She has been featured on several TV programs, articles and is the 2008 recipient of United Ways, “Community Hero Award,” and Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission, “Trailblazer’s Award in Criminal Justice.” She has been presented a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community and has also been presented the “Zaragoza Award” by the Committee for the Mexican Culture at D.V.I. Prison in Tracy for her contribution and dedication to bringing hope to incarcerated men.