Board of Directors

The Coalition is led by a Board of Directors consisting of direct caregivers who serve people who are elderly or disabled and includes those with occupations such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, direct support professionals and direct care workers. Please see the biographies below to learn more about them and their goals as members of the Board of Directors.

Diana Abeyta

Diana is the statewide coordinator & tribal liaison for the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) Office of Community Health Workers (OCHWs). Diana has been with the Department of Health, Public Health Division since 2008. She is a lead trainer in Stanford University’s “Chronic Disease Self-Management” curriculum, a lead trainer in Indian Health Service’s “Honoring the Gift of Heart Health” curriculum, and also a CHW trainer on various subjects. Within the NM Department of Health, Diana has also managed, evaluated and monitored county and tribal health council contracts. Prior to coming to NMDOH, she worked for Montañas Del Norte Area Health Education Center, at Luna Community College, where she coordinated community health workshops and served as an adjunct faculty member, student government advisor, grant’s manager, and foundation director. Diana has a long standing background in community health, grant management, academics, fundraising, conflict resolution, health and wellness, and holds a Bachelors of Science degree in biology with a minor in applied science with an emphasis in chemistry.

Richard Bela

Ric, Volunteer and Special Advisor, is a civil rights attorney with more than forty years’ experience in community development, real estate and business development, and government and private organizational management. He started his career upon graduation from the University of Texas Law School by working in Washington, DC with President Lyndon Johnson’s administration in the “Great Society” programs and the Office of Economic Opportunity. He also served as President of Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility from 1991-2000, replacing former Governor Jerry Apodaca.

His program areas of focus included forming and funding community-based migrant farm-worker self-help programs and legal services programs in the southwest states. Much of this work included providing technical assistance in forming non-profit community organizations, including NM organizations like HELP-NM and Siete del Norte.

Raise the Floor, Build the Ladder Summit attendee

Ray Benton

Ray Benton is Owner of the Benton Company, a tax and accounting company in Albuquerque. Ray went to work as a Class A electric lineman after high school. He worked for five years as a lineman until he was hurt on the job. He then continued his education with assistance from vocational rehabilitation funding. He became a Real Estate Broker in Michigan, later moving to New Mexico to practice real estate. In 1995, he and his son, William, opened their own tax and accounting businesses adjacent to one another.

Mr. Benton is married to Janet, his wife and a person he calls his caregiver following his accident for several months. He also has three sons, one daughter, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Mr. Benton has served on several corporate and nonprofit Boards including the New Mexico Manufactured Housing Association, the Michigan Vocational Rehabilitation Commission, Tree New Mexico, Inc. and his home church. Ray is a member of the New Mexico Enrolled Agents Association, licensed to practice before the IRS. In addition to Masters level courses completed in business administration, Ray holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Organization and Management from Andrews University.

David Fresquez

David Fresquez is the owner of Home Companion Care, LLC, (HCC), a statewide caregiver service fully dedicated to supporting seniors as they successfully age at home. David has extensive experience in providing services to seniors who reside in an assisted living setting and in the development and delivery of services specifically designed for seniors at community senior centers.

David fully understands the value of seniors remaining at home while making use of community services for increased quality of life. As a nursing home administrator, David created a variety of programs taking into account the special needs of seniors residing in these settings. Prior to specializing in senior health care, David served as a business consultant for the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, Texas. As a business consultant David fully appreciates the value of quality services and meeting the needs of his clients. He received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Business Administration.

David is deeply committed to the delivery of professional and timely services to New Mexico seniors in a caring, supportive and organized manner. David takes special interest in meeting the specific needs of seniors through superior caregiver training and attention to detail.

Sabrina Smith

Sabrina Smith is the part-time Administrative Director at A Better Way Of Living, Inc. (ABWL) and has held that position since 2003. She is the treasurer of ABWL’s Board of Directors and the treasurer of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition (NMCC). Her passion for Human Resources is exemplified in her quest to contribute in any way to the success of her employees. Sabrina graduated from UNM in 2005 with a Bachelor’s Degree of University Studies with an emphasis on business communications and human resources. She is a seventh generation New Mexican and takes great pride in ensuring that her position and knowledge in this field will positively affect the lives of the clients and employees alike. She has been involved with NMCC since its inception and truly believes in the mission of this company. She would like to see caregivers get the pay, recognition and support required in order to give the best possible care to those in need.


Past Board Members

Alex Brandt

Alex was born in Sacramento, CA, grew up in San Diego, CA and now lives in Los Lunas, NM. In his free time, Alex likes to watch TV and movies, read, play video games, hang out with friends and attend concerts. Alex has his degree in criminal justice with minors in Psychology and Business. He has been a caregiver for 12 years. He became a caregiver because of his experience in the field and he enjoys helping others. Alex is now employed at Los Lunas Community Program as a Psychology Tech and supervises individuals with mental illnesses and behavioral problems. As a member of the coalition, Alex hopes to focus on implementing better wages and benefits and helping increase respect for caregivers.

Candice Carnes

Candice Carnes has worked as a direct caregiver for over 15 years. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Goddard College. She specialized her studies in illness narratives, or the creative ways we tell stories about illnesses and caregiving. She is now a graduate student in the Science-Medical Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. She is thrilled to advocate for healthcare paraprofessionals by giving voice to those who are under-represented in writing.

Janice Gorman

Janice Gorman is a Registered Nurse who lives in Bernalillo and works through New Mexico as a Case Manager in regional trauma and emergency centers, acute rehabilitation, psychiatric units and private sector patients. She has worked in hospitals with interdisciplinary teams to evaluate patients, often those who have experienced severe trauma.

She was a Catastrophic Case Manager with Presbyterian Hospital, providing service to those with chronic brain and spinal cord injury, and working with family members on assessment, education, referral and community supports. She has also evaluated mental health and substance abuse clients, arranging for treatment and follow-up.

Janice was with Rush Presbyterian Medical Center in Chicago where she was the Unit Coordinator for the Psychiatry Team. And, in addition to clinical work, Janice has also been a sales representative and director of Marketing for Mediscus Products, Inc. Janice received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago and her Associates of Nursing from Triton College in Franklin Park, IL.

Meriam Jawhar

Meriam resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She attended the College of Santa Fe. Meriam currently works at the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and as a personal assistant and caregiver. Meriam was selected to attend the Voices Institute in 2011, a competitive national program to educate caregivers in the areas of advocacy, fundraising, organizational development, message development and more. In Meriam’s free time, she volunteers her time with political campaigns, environmental sustainability projects and disability rights advocacy.

Fermina Lopez

Fermina was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, where she lived until about 20 years ago. She was an accountant there and worked as the administrative manager for a supermarket. She came here for the American dream and to make a better life for her family.

She has five children had to leave them in day care or at an after-school program for many hours a week when they were young. For a while, she was paying almost as much for daycare as she was earning.

It was hard to find a job when she first came here. She had to take the first job that she could get which was direct care work. She had been helping a friend when she realized she could get paid for doing the same kind of work for other people. She worked as a caregiver and as a seamstress. Her original goal was to go to college and get a good education so she could get an administrative job like she had in Mexico, but as time passed, she started loving her job as caregiver.

Fermina’s son, Sinhue, has Down’s syndrome, which will keep her in the caregiving field. Her favorite thing about direct care work is that she is always helping families: her own family and the families of the people she cares for.

Iliana Lopez

Iliana Lopez works as a direct caregiver for a provider agency, caring for two boys with developmental disabilities. Iliana is committed to improving the opportunity for Hispanic immigrants to receive training, education, professional development and leadership opportunities to serve as family and professional caregivers. She advocates for materials and curriculum to be produced in Spanish so that more people can benefit from the knowledge and information available in the direct care field.

She is also very involved with Plaza de Encuentro Gathering place where she has participated in leadership training to serve as a voice and power for New Mexico’s Hispanic community. She volunteers for Casa de Salud, El Centro de Igualidad y Derechos and Salvation Army.

Andrea Plaza

Andrea is Encuentro’s founding director. She is a 22 year resident of New Mexico with roots in Colombia by way of North Carolina! Andrea moved to New Mexico to pursue graduate work in Latin American Studies and Community and Regional Planning. Her professional background includes working with women in the field of microenterpise development and developing educational and asset building programs for immigrant families. Andrea’s experience as the founding President of Enlace Comunitario’s Board of Directors, and a founding board member of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos gives her a depth of knowledge regarding the contributions each organization brings to the Encuentro collaboration. Most importantly Andrea has a life-long commitment to advancing the rights of immigrants as a tool for building social and economic justice.

Fred Weis

Fred Weis of Albuquerque has served as a Family Living Provider for 14 years for Los Lunas Community Program. Prior to that, he served as a direct caregiver for ARCA. He has also worked in the restaurant business. In addition to his volunteer service to the New Mexico Caregivers Coalition, Fred is a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. He is also Treasurer for the New Mexico Association of Family Providers. In his spare time, he participates as an amateur radio ham. Fred holds an Associate Degree from University of New Mexico. When asked what special training or certification he has, he may tell you: “I’ve been married 54 years.”

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