Leadership and team

Board of Directors

Stephen Bennett, Board Chair

Stephen is a leader in NGO management, human and health services, technology and philanthropy. His current focus includes areas of health care access, international conservation, disabilities and human rights.

He currently serves as Board Chair of the Inland Empire Health Plan Foundation, and on the Boards of the ARCUS Foundation and Save the Chimps. Among his previous Board engagements, it includes The California Endowment. Former CEO of United Cerebral Palsy from 2003 to 2016, he had also served as the President of Pallotta Teamworks (charity event production organization), Founder and Chair of TransDecisions (Software firm), Founding Partner, Sokolov, Schwab and Bennett (Healthcare Consulting group), and CEO of AIDS Project LA. He was a VISTA/PeaceCorp volunteer in the 1970’s. Stephen did his undergraduate work at Pepperdine University and University of Heidelberg. His graduate work was at the UCLA Anderson School of Business, MBA.

Larry colton, Board Member

Larry Colton serves on the Boards of Mills College, Eisenhower Medical Center, Eisenhower Foundation, and Digicom Learning. His prior board experience ranges from waste management to social services and prison reform. He has specific expertise in enterprise risk management, strategic planning and development. 

Larry, a long time Bay Area resident, spent his career in the insurance industry where he served as President and Principal of Goldman Insurance Services and Co-Founder and CEO of G2 Insurance Services. 

Larry holds a Bachelors degree from UC Berkeley. He joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in February 2022.

Craig Dougherty, Board Member

Craig Dougherty brings his experience as a financial executive to Caravanserai Project, and a commitment to non-profit work where his focus has been HIV/AIDS and improving the lives of the unhoused. Craig served as Vice Chair of The Weingart Center in Los Angeles, which provides innovative solutions to break the cycle of homelessness. Craig’s passion for helping those with HIV/AIDS led him to APLA, where he volunteered in various capacities. Craig founded the Foundation for The AIDS Monument, which is building a living memorial in West Hollywood Park in partnership with the City of West Hollywood to honor those we lost and the heroic efforts of caregivers and activists, and to promote education.

A graduate of Tufts University, Craig founded Union Bank’s entertainment/media finance group and served as President of the bank’s private equity group. Craig subsequently served as CFO of ReplayTV, Ease Entertainment and TodayTix. He joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in October 2023.

Susan Gomez, Board Member

Susan Gomez is founding President/CEO of the Inland Empire Community Collaborative, an association of 67 non-profit agencies working together to strengthen our organizations and improve outcomes for individuals and communities throughout San Bernardino & Riverside County, California. Prior, Susan served as the Executive Director, responsible for the leadership of Another Way, a volunteer nonprofit organization made up of employees of Inland Regional Center.

She also was recently appointed to the Inland Empire Complete Count Census committee, serving on the Field Outreach-Region committee. In 2020, Susan joined the Board of Directors of California Association of Nonprofits. She joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in 2020, and started a second term in October 2023.

Christopher "Edwin" Hopkins-Gillispie, Board Member

Christopher “Edwin” Hopkins-Gillispie is an attorney specializing in labor and employment law. He currently works at international retailer Lidl as the Director of Employment Practices and Head of Employment Law for Lidl’s U.S. operations. In this role, he oversees Lidl’s HR strategy regarding Employee Relations, Labor Relations, HR Compliance, Investigations, Employment Law, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion functions. Prior to Lidl, he worked as a Labor & Employment attorney at the international law firm Morgan Lewis. While at Morgan Lewis, Edwin’s primary practice included employment law counseling, and litigating claims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. 
Edwin has long focused on diversity both within the legal profession and beyond. Since earning his JD from Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law in 2011, he has volunteered his time speaking on alumni panels and mentoring students in making educational decisions and career choices. He previously served on the DC Bar Foundation’s Young Lawyer’s Network Leadership Council, Indiana University LGBTQ+ Alumni Association board member, and an ambassador for the It Gets Better project. Before his legal career, Edwin worked in public relations and marketing communications as an Account Executive at HK Strategies and Marketing General Manager at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Southern California. Edwin joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in May 2022. 

Reverend Lorenzo Lebrija, DMin, MBA, Board Member

Internationally noted as an expert in the innovation field, Fr. Lorenzo is the chief innovation officer of Virginia Theological Seminary and the executive director of TryTank Experimental Lab. He is responsible for the entire process of development and implementation of experiments for innovation in the church. Prior to launching TryTank, Fr. Lorenzo was the Chief Development Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. He also served as the Pastor on behalf of the Bishop at St. John’s Episcopal Church in San Bernardino, CA, and as priest associate at St. Athanasius Episcopal Church at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in Los Angeles. He studied at the General Theological Seminary in New York City where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. He is also currently finishing the doctoral program at Virginia Theological Seminary. Before entering seminary Lorenzo was president and CEO of Seraphic Fire & Firebird Chamber Orchestra, Miami’s professional choral and orchestral ensemble. He was also the Miami Program Director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation responsible for a substantial grant portfolio and the launch of the Knight Arts Challenge. Having been General Manager for RadioActiva Hispanic Radio, as well as Editor/Director of Operations for Miami’s Community Newspapers, Lorenzo also has vast experience in media and marketing. 

Beyond the MDiv degree, he also has an MBA and a B.A. from Florida International University, has completed the full training at the Fundraising School at Indiana University, is a Certified Foresight Practitioner from the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA, has a certificate in Design Thinking from IDEO in Palo Alto, CA, and is a graduate of Rice University’s Executive Education Program.He also earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. 

He joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in October 2023.

Armetta Parker, Board Member

Armetta Parker has an extensive marketing communications and public affairs background in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Throughout her career, she has coupled her lived experience, curiosity and passion for diversity and inclusion to her understanding of her professional roles. Her driving principal is “who I am is what I do. What I do is who I am.”

Armetta holds a bachelors degree in Journalism from Wayne State University. She is a former San Mateo County Commissioner on Aging and previously served on the board of the Wall Street Institute, a DC-based nonprofit focused on youth financial literacy. She joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in 2020, and started her second term in October 2023.

Nereyda Rodriguez-Loo, Board Member

Nereyda Rodriguez-Loo is part of the leadership team with FirstBank in the Coachella Valley as a Banking Officer. Her area of focus includes consumer and commercial lending, managing existing relationships, business development, oversight of bank operations, and risk assessment. She was born and raised in the Coachella Valley to parents who immigrated from Mexicali, Baja California and is heavily involved with the Hispanic community. Nereyda recognizes the need for business education across the region and hopes to provide valuable information and insight to these underserved communities so they too can become successful business owners. She joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in October 2023.

DeeDee Towery, Board Member

In 1998, DeeDee Towery founded ProActive Business Solutions, Inc. from the basement in her home in Oakland, California. Today the company employees over 300 full-time and part-time employees. On December 31, 2022 DeeDee sold the business to a key employee. She continues to advise the management team on an as-needed basis. Among her Board Affiliations are Board Member of Junior Achievement of the Bay Area, Chair of Junior Achievement Oakland Advisory Board, Advisory Board Member of San Francisco Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors – National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Board of Directors – Women’s Initiative of the Bay Area, and Board of Directors – California Utilities Diversity Council (CUDC).

DeeDee graduated Summa Cum Laude from UC Berkeley and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  A native of Georgia, she lives in Rancho Mirage, California with her husband John Gregoire.She joined the Caravanserai Project Board of Directors in October 2023.

Rhett Wilson, Board Member

Rhett serves as the vice president for development at the White House Historical Association, the privately funded, non profit partner to the White House.

Previously, Rhett served as the chief development officer for several business schools and held associate and assistant dean appointments at Johns Hopkins University and George Mason University, respectively.

Rhett holds a bachelors degree in justice studies from Arizona State University. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership and previously served on the advisory board for Alaris, a signature verification technology firm launched in partnership with Rolls Royce, Inc. He is a former member of the Town Council in Kearny, Arizona.


Mihai Patru, Chief Executive Officer

Mihai is an Entrepreneur in Residence on Social Entrepreneurship at University of California in Riverside. In October 2022, he was appointed by the Governor of California to serve on the 2022 Entrepreneurship and Economic Mobility Task Force, led by California Office of Small Business Advocate. He is also a finalist of the 2022 Inland Empire Sprit of Entrepreneurship Award. 

Prior to co-launching Caravanserai Project and taking on the role of Executive Director, he served as a Senior Fellow at the School of Public Policy, University of California in Riverside where he designed and launched the first social entrepreneurship pre-accelerator at the University.

He started his professional career as a diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania and later joined the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, as a Senior Fellow. He is a recipient of the U.S. State Department Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellowship (2013/2014 cohort). He completed his graduate work at Central European University in Budapest (MA ’10) and Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC (MIPP ’17).

Franzene Minott, Chief Strategy Officer

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Franzene Minott joined the Caravanserai Project in March 2024. She holds a B.A. in psychology and political science and is currently pursuing an M.B.A. with concentrations in strategy and organizational leadership at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Her background includes five years of non-profit strategy and partnership development experience.

Before officially joining the team, Franzene collaborated with Caravanserai Project as a business consultant during her MBA program. She has actively engaged in social impact investing ecosystems, dedicating her efforts to empowering historically underserved entrepreneurs. This commitment is demonstrated through her volunteer work with local organizations and her role as an investor in her business school’s inaugural student-run Venture Capital fund, aimed at supporting Black, Latinx, and Native business owners.

Bradley Chargualaf, Chief Technology Officer

Born and raised in the Inland Empire of California in a Chamorro-Mexican family, Bradley has a strong background in facilitating student learning having served as Learning Assistant for undergraduate students at University of California Los Angeles. His diversity-focused pedagogy experience and unique acumen as a Varsity eSports Athlete inform his approach to mission-driven work. A graduate of University of California, Los Angeles, with a Bachelor’s in Biology, his knowledge and passion of genetics and technology provides forward-thinking solutions and modern interpretations of current challenges. In 2021, Bradley was awarded by Majority Leader Eloise Gomez Reyes the 30 under 30 Award. Between 2021 and 2023, Bradley served as Program Manager and Director of Program at Caravanserai Project. In April 2024, he rejoined Caravanserai Project as the organization’s first Chief Technology Officer.

Adriana Ruvalcaba, Finance and Operations Senior Manager

Adriana Ruvalcaba joined the Caravanserai Project team in December 2022. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Adriana graduated from California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Accounting. She has more than 8 years of experience in the private sector in which she was in charge of financial management and provided accounting oversight for several companies focusing on reducing tax payments and increasing profitability.

From 2016 to 2018, Adriana served as an accounting tutor and mentor at College of the Desert (Palm Desert, California) supporting students from underserved communities in Coachella Valley improve their academic performances.  Adriana is an entrepreneur herself and has started a small business promoting Mexican hand-made jewelry during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Susan Unger, Senior Development Advisor

Susan is a senior management and marketing consultant who assists client organizations to grow profitably. She joined Caravanserai Project in March 2024. She is a skilled strategist, powerful communicator, and experienced manager. Her ability to rapidly gain insight into both internal cultures and external audiences has helped a broad range of organizations to successfully define and execute their strategic business development objectives.

For more than 25 years, Susan has served corporations and nonprofit organizations, including foundations and associations. She has established an exceptional track record for generating results that exceed client expectations.

Susan excels at translating her clients’ missions and visions into results-generating strategies and content, including white papers, blog posts, proposals, case statements, speeches, press releases, website content, curriculum, sales and marketing collateral, and reports.

Stasik Winderbaum, Public Affairs Manager

Born just outside of Moscow and raised in Westchester County, New York, Stasik Winderbaum joined Caravanserai Project in June 2023. His professional experience includes a variety of roles in government and politics, working with candidates whose priorities center on affordable housing and education, LGBTQ+ and voting rights, and supporting organized labor, both through fundraising and working directly as campaign staff. His experience in development comes from his work with Ditto Consulting, a small firm in Westchester that primarily supports candidates for the New York State Legislature.

In the fall of 2022, he interned on Capitol Hill with the office of Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), who represents Upper Manhattan and parts of the West Bronx. There, he had the opportunity to work closely with both the legislative and communications teams to conduct detailed policy research, prepare the Congressman for interviews with major media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC, and rework previously-introduced bills and propose them for re-introduction in the 118th Congress.

Stasik is a graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, and will be completing his Master of Public Administration (MPA) with Baruch College in December 2023.

Sierra Sims, Program Manager

Born in Portland, Oregon, Sierra joined the Caravanserai Project in August of 2023. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Southern Oregon University in 2020 with her Bachelors in Literature and her Certificate in Native American Studies. During her years in Undergrad, Sierra was actively involved with the Native Student Union, and in turn worked with the nine Federally Recognized Tribes. Additionally, Sierra worked as a Program Assistant, where she developed the ‘Native Studies Library’, a massive resource of over nine-hundred texts for students to check out and utilize.

In 2022, Sierra graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with her Masters of Arts in Ethnic Studies. Her focus throughout her education has been on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Queer and Two-Spirit relatives, and she deeply believes in advocating with communities to better understand and address systemic issues.

In June of 2018, Sierra testified at a hearing in Salem, OR regarding missing Indigenous women and the lack of statistical data. She then took what she learned, and published several articles regarding the endemic of violence.

Brian Munoz, Program Manager

Born and raised in Palm Springs, California, Brian joined Caravanserai Project in August 2023. His professional experience comes from roles in accounting and management in nonprofit organizations, property management, and hotel management. As an entrepreneur, Brian started and also currently owns several e-commerce stores garnering over 20,000 sales in the last 2 years over various platforms. During this time, he has excelled at analyzing online sales performance and has contributed to web store related promotional campaign activities designed to increase sales and optimize platforms like Amazon, Etsy and Facebook.

He graduated from California State University San Bernardino with a Bachelor’s in Accounting.

Nelson Earl, Office Manager

Born in the town of Truckee, CA, Nelson’s journey led him to embrace a new chapter in April 2023, when he joined Caravanserai Project. With a background in retail management and then representing manufacturers independently, Nelson brings a wealth of expertise to the table. Beyond his professional pursuits, Nelson’s compassionate spirit finds expression in his local community involvement. He has volunteered at the Mizell Center. Additionally, his dedication shined through at DAP, where he played a pivotal role in shaping the PAWS program. He has also volunteered at The Center. Nelson joined Caravanserai Project in June 2023.

Advisors & Consultants

Dr. Guadalupe Buitron

Expertise: Financial Therapy

Taharima Habib

Expertise: Board engagement and development / Diversity, equity and inclusion / Community engagement

Jeremy Hobbs

Expertise: Start-up support and mentorship / Board engagement and development / Strategic planning / Fundraising / Legal and financials

Juan Maya Hernandez

Expertise: Start-up support and mentorship / Entrepreneurship / Marketing and sales

Jose Navarrete

Expertise: Financial Management, Entrrepreneurship

Dr. Guadalupe Buitron

Dr. Guadalupe Buitron is a first-generation Latina social worker turned entrepreneur with a passion for advancing economic equity and improving the economic outcomes of marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Dr. Buitron holds a doctorate of social work from California Baptist University where she focused on promoting the financial capability of first-generation college students. She has several years of direct practice experience in child welfare, community social work, and mental health. Dr. Buitron is a certified financial social worker and financial therapist. 

Dr. Buitron is a former SEED Lab Fellow (2022/2023) and joined the Caravanserai Project network of consultants in August 2023.

Taharima Habibi

Taharima is a multidisciplinary community builder and organizer, specializing in facilitation and training design in nonprofit and charity organizations. Born in Bangladesh, she came to Canada at the age of 3 with her family and calls Montreal her home.

Taharima has a Masters degree in Microbiology and Infectiology from the University of Sherbrooke, where she studied the functions of HIV. After falling in love with the communications and public facing aspect of her academic work, she left research to pursue a career in the community and non-profit sector across Montreal, in grassroots and national organizations.

Taharima has built and sustained relationships in the Montreal communities where she has done consulting work for board of directors and executive staff. Today, Taharima is working with junior and senior staff members in mission-driven organizations across Canada, helping them with professional development, and with board directors as a consultant in Culture and Capacity building.

Jeremy Hobbs

Jeremy W. Hobbs is President of the Western Wind Foundation, a private foundation working primarily on social and economic development and education, with a geographic focus on the Coachella Valley. He is also Chairman of Eastek International, a vertically-integrated electronics and plastics contract manufacturer. He also serves on the Board of Directors of The Inland Empire Community Foundation.

Early in his career, Jeremy was a management consultant with a specialty in local governments, local and regional water issues, and strategic and financial planning. A native Californian, Jeremy is a graduate of Jesult High School in Sacramento and Pomona College (BA, English) in Claremont, California. He graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Law School, where he served as a member and editor of The Law Review. From 1987 to 2002, Jeremy practiced law in Chicago, where he specialized in public interest and securities litigation, and where he later developed a practice focused on family-owned and closely-held businesses. In 2002, he left the practice of law to co-found a Chicago-based operating and holding company.

Jeremy has a long history of social service and philanthropic work, ranging from community development to HIV/AIDS education and prevention. In recent years, he has worked closely with dozens of non-profits and charitable organization throughout the Coachella Valley on topics such as education and scholarships, community and economic development, remediation of the Salton Sea, isolation and aging within the LGBT community, and development and support of a thriving performing arts community. He has also worked with numerous organizations on capacity development and governance issues. Jeremy has lived in Palm Springs since 2012.

Juan Maya Hernandez

Juan Maya Hernandez is the Founder of Prepare, where he helps limited English and limited technology immigrant businesses go digital. For more information, visit, www.preparebiz.com. At Caravanserai Project, he support underserved entrepreneurs develop their digital presence by focusing on marketing and sales strategies. 

Juan is a social media marketer with over 4 million views on TikTok (@jmayahern) and 200,000 views on Youtube (@jmayahern). He started his first business at age 19 and he scaled it to generate $8,000 in earnings to finance his undergraduate studies at UCLA which he graduated in 2022. 

Juan is a SEED Lab alumnus, graduating the 2021/202 cohort. Despite facing numerous challenges as an undocumented/DACA immigrant, including epilepsy and a move to the United States at a young age, Juan has excelled in his studies and career. Juan has been supported by: Startup UCLA, UCLAUNCH Accelerator UCBerkeley, SEED Lab Pre Accelerator by Caravanserai Project, Consulate of Mexico San Bernardino, Gear Up Alumni Association, William G Nash Foundation 2022, Golden Door Scholars, Future Founders, & Blackstone Launchpad. Juan is also the recipient of the California Dream Fund seed investment award. 

Jose Navarrete

Jose Navarrete Cruz has been a Finance Professor at CSU – San Bernardino, since 2016. He has taught and continues to teach courses in Corporate Finance, Financial Theory & Practice, Investments, International Finance, Derivatives, Financial Analysis, and Business Plan Development. He also teaches for the School of Business at the University of Redlands and is a regular visiting professor at the National Economics University in Vietnam.

Jose is the founder and Chief Financial Officer of an education in technology company and a partner in a Beach Club in Tulum, Mexico. He has over 10 years of experience working for and supporting entrepreneurial ventures. 

He has served as an advisor for many student organizations and is a member of several university boards.

He is a fellow Coyote and received three bachelor’s degrees from California State University, San Bernardino, along with two master’s degrees. He graduated as a member of five honor societies, graduated Cum Laude, and graduated as the top student in Real Estate during his undergraduate studies. As part of his graduate education, he completed a dual MBA in entrepreneurship and finance.

He sees himself as an entrepreneur, but most importantly as an educator. He continually works with his students and entrepreneurs in helping them navigate their way through their endeavors and believes that hard work and perseverance can lead to great achievements.

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