in memory of
A visionary leader who devoted her life, passion, and creativity to catalyzing groundbreaking programs, launching community-based businesses, and forging wide-reaching partnerships that fostered food security and equitable economic development.
Ciara’s previous experience within California’s food system spans multiple industries, including early-stage food startups, organic produce distribution, and participatory social science research. She brings with her a strong capacity to think across disciplinary borders and a dedication to thoughtful, place-based advocacy that is driven by the needs and perspectives of local residents. Food is her greatest pleasure and what inspires many of her political commitments.
Ciara joined Mandela Partners in 2018 to address competing food access and economic challenges - ensuring fair pricing for farmers who grow sustainably while simultaneously keeping the cost of healthy food affordable in underserved communities. Since then, she has led the strategic growth of the organization’s food access initiatives and farmer network, and now oversees its business and workforce development programming. In her role as co-executive director, she will continue to deepen Mandela Partners’ cross-sector partnerships and programs, and cultivate pathways for asset and wealth building in limited resource communities of color.
Ciara grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and has lived in the Bay Area for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Feminist Studies from Stanford University and a M.A. in Geography from the University of Texas at Austin.
Born in the East Bay and raised in the Central Valley region of California, Maureen has seen firsthand the impact of urban development on local farming communities. She is passionate about uplifting sustainable food systems as a way to strengthen local economies, but also to help restore our planet. Since joining Mandela Partners, Maureen has played an integral role building the organization's fund development program from the ground up. Maureen has worked closely with the Board of Directors to diversify Mandela's funding revenue streams, and deepen relationships with philanthropic institutions and individual donors to support a $2.7MM organizational budget. She has led the organization through a multi-year fund development plan, created a streamlined donor management and communications platform, and built systems for effectively evaluating and reporting annual impact data. In her role as co-executive director, Maureen supports strategic planning and program development--including assessment of current and future initiatives, fostering innovation and areas of growth, and building new partnership opportunities on a local and national scale.
Over the past decade, Maureen has been part of several nonprofits--serving communities nationally as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area-- to support healthier, equitable food environments. Maureen acquired her Master's Degree in Public Health from San Jose State University in 2014, and has traveled extensively across the country providing consultation with coalitions, nonprofits, and public health departments to develop multi-sector strategies that advance healthy places nationwide.
Finance & Administration Director
Christine has more than 20 years of experience in finance across multiple industries, including healthcare, power and gas, entertainment, software, and retail. Before joining Mandela in 2014, she was a Finance Manager for a biotechnology firm in the Bay Area, working directly with divisional account teams, driving financial management cycles, and facilitating capital planning budgets. In search of an opportunity to work in a community-based field, Christine left the corporate sector to pursue a position with Mandela Partners. At Mandela, Christine has been able to build on her passion for healthy food and positively contribute to the Oakland community. As the Director of Finance & Operations at Mandela, Ms. Kuo manages a $2.7MM budget, provides oversight for contract and funds compliance, and oversees operations for the organization. Additionally, Christine is the organization’s technical assistance lead for financial management advising and support provided to Mandela incubated businesses. Christine has a BS Degree in Managerial Economics from UC Davis.
Business Development Director
Born and raised in Richmond, California, Ana’s parents modeled that food is a symbol of love. Everywhere they went -- to a soccer game, a school event, or even just a playdate -- they brought something to share.
This passion for building community through food has flowed seamlessly into her career. With an eclectic educational background in food growth and production, leadership development, and over 10 years of restaurant industry experience, Ana offers an advantageous blend of business insight, and a “community-based” savvy that enables success in the unique dynamic world of food businesses. She has helped launch local restaurants of all sizes, scaled and pivoted business plans effectively through turmoil, retained over 80% of employees during growth periods, and maintained invaluable relationships with influential community members. As the Business Development Director, Ana is leading the strategic direction and operations of Ashland Market & Café—community food hall and business incubator in unincorporated Alameda County—with Mandela’s Business Development Team, oversees individual advising and evaluation with community entrepreneurs, and provides oversight and support to Mandela's incubated businesses.
In her free time, Ana is an avid reader, adores cooking with and for her family, and loves to hike the Bay Area and beyond with her partner and Pitbull, Talulah.
Food Retail Manager
A third generation East Oaklander, Sean's grandparents owned a restaurant for 22 years, which had a big influence on his interest in food. Working in the restaurant industry for the last 10 years, Sean has worked every job in the kitchen from dishwasher to Sous Chef. Drawing on a background in everything from menu development to running an internship program at a local restaurant, Sean became the Food Retail Manager at Mandela Partners.
Sean manages the day to day operations at Oak Harvest Kitchen, formerly Core Kitchen -- a produce-center restaurant and second-chance employment training program -- in addition to providing facilities management and support for the Ashland Market & Cafe, a community food hall and community space. His belief in equity, job training for residents with employment barriers, and investing in underserved communities are the core values that attracted him to working at Mandela Partners and he looks forward to continuing to grow with the organization. Outside of work, Sean enjoys watching the A's and the Warriors, as well as trying new restaurants in Oakland.
Food Access Program Manager
Nina Arrocena is a core contributor of the Healthy Retail Team, and leads Mandela's Community Produce Stand Program. Raised in the Salinas Valley, agriculture has been a large part of her life, and she moved to Oakland with hopes of making a positive contribution to her new community. She is thrilled to be part of the meaningful work of providing access to fresh, healthy food to community members throughout the city. From families at elementary schools to the regulars at the Senior Center, Nina's favorite part of her job is the daily interaction with a wide variety of customers.
Entrepreneurship Development Coordinator
Raised in Brooklyn, New York to Haitian Immigrants, Sabine is grateful for the path that brought her to California and now, Mandela Partners. Following several years of securing tour dates for performing arts companies, nursing injury after a bike accident was one of the catalyzing events that motivated her to pursue work connected to health, nutrition and food systems. Deeper reflections and questions about the built environment of her Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush sparked the necessity to ask complex questions over simple solutions. In 2015, she moved to the Bay Area to complete a graduate degree in Public Health at UC Berkeley.
In her role as Entrepreneurship Development Coordinator, Sabine collaborates with East Bay entrepreneurs in service to promoting their businesses and contributing to positive shifts in community wealth and health. Leading with curiosity, she relies on the tools that shaped her rich and diverse background working in arts administration, nutrition education, urban agriculture, and teaching. In her free time, Sabine swims regularly to keep her sane and hopes to complete a (non-competitive) swim from Alcatraz.
Healthy Grocery Initiative Coordinator
Amani is an Oakland native and the Healthy Grocery Initiative Coordinator at Mandela Partners. Amani received a Masters in Social Work from California State University, East Bay, where she studied community mental health and her understanding of societal injustices were deepened. Shortly after, she was called toward food justice while volunteering in Oakland. Her professional experience includes nonprofit administration and facilitating a variety of youth programs. In her free time, Amani enjoys cooking and competing in pool (billiards) tournaments.
Aliyah is Mandela Partners' Wellness Educator. She is from Southern California and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and Psychology from California State University, East Bay. Aliyah studied nutrition and recently became a Registered Dietitian. Aliyah joined the Mandela Partners team because the work aligned with her core values, which allows her to support communities that desire to live healthy and peaceful lives.
Development & Communications Coordinator
As a dancer and arts administrator, Piper is very familiar working in and with nonprofits. She brings her passion and expertise from the field to her new position with Mandela Partners and could not be more excited! Born and raised in Stockton, CA (occupied land of the Miwok people), Piper is also no stranger to the importance of advocating for food justice. Her first job (in high school) was at El Concilio, a resource center for marginalized communities, primarily serving the local migrant farmworkers. At Mandela Partners, Piper coordinates fund development and communications with program staff. She is responsible for building relationships with Mandela's network of donors and supporters, and creates external materials that furthers the mission and the work of the organization.
For the past few years, Piper has felt grateful to call Oakland (unceded land of the Ohlone people) her home because she is surrounded and inspired by the art that comes out of the East Bay (especially Oakland) which has a depth and honesty that is resounding and inspiring. It speaks to the spirit, tenacity, and history of the people of this place and she looks forward to contributing, both to the artistry and to our collective liberation via empowering and uplifting already-vibrant communities, in her own way by listening, loving, and acting.
Marketing & Outreach Coordinator
Born and raised in the East Bay (unincorporated Alameda County), Jeremy received his Bachelor's of Arts in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Resource Management from California State University, East Bay. While in college, he developed a deep appreciation for how our food choices affect the health of our physical environment, impact local economies, and influence community wellness. For the past five years, Jeremy has thoughtfully engaged in both food-based nonprofit and for-profit sectors to develop a deeper understanding of how to work towards building a more sustainable food system in the Bay Area. From crafting strategic communication approaches for small business owners and facilitating both regional and local partnerships among farmers market operators; to providing guidance to vendors in agricultural and county health compliance, and creatively spearheading projects and initiatives, he’s been exposed to a wide breadth of experiences that all contribute to his current work for Mandela Partners.
Jeremy's role centers on establishing the Ashland Market & Cafe (AMC) as a space for entrepreneurship development and community engagement. By leading the execution of marketing and promotional strategies, developing events and programming, collaborating with local community-based organizations on projects and initiatives, curating meaningful relationships with our talented entrepreneurs, and supporting facilities and operations management, he envisions the Ashland Market & Cafe to be a resource for small business owners seeking guidance and for residents to gather around delicious food.
More recently, he's taken up a position in serving on Slow Food East Bay's Leadership Committee, co-leading the implementation of the organization's digital marketing strategies and public communications to foster connections and uplift the work other food-based nonprofits and organizations in the East Bay.
Sang (John) Saephan
Healthy Retail Associate
Sang is a part of the Healthy Retail Team. Growing up in Oakland, he would often go to corner stores to buy unhealthy snacks while his parents were at work. As a college student with the hopes of becoming a Physical Therapist, he started to understand the value of healthy foods and its role in the physical and mental health for people of all backgrounds, especially those in low-income communities. As part of Mandela Partners' Healthy Retail Team, Sang hopes to promote healthy eating alternatives!
Community Outreach Associate
Silvia lives, works, and plays in East Oakland and is a parent of three children. For the past seven years, she has worked on a wide range of community projects relating to wellness and health, supporting healthy retail projects in the Castlemount community as an East Oakland Innovator, as a community outreach worker with the Building Blocks For Equity Unit, and as a certified First Aid for Youth Mental Health instructor with the Alameda County Public Health Department's Maternal, Paternal, Child, and Adolescent Health division. More recently, Silvia served as a Healthy Food & Healthy Housing Champion with La Clínica de la Raza and is an interpreter with Faith In Action East Bay organization, promoting civic engagement and resident leadership.
Before officially joining Mandela Partners, Silvia organized and trained other parent leaders who supported Mandela Partners' Community Produce Stand program at OUSD elementary schools. In her role with Mandela, Silvia supports outreach and community engagement for Mandela's Community Supported Agriculture service.
Healthy Retail Associate
David is part of Mandela Partners Healthy Retail Team. David is a born and raised Oakland native who would often resort to eating unhealthy liquor store snacks and fast food due to the lack of grocery stores in his community. After graduating from the University of California, Davis, he understood that unhealthy food can affect ones physical and mental health in the short and long term. As part of the Mandela team, he hopes to support and educate his community about the importance of healthy eating and affordable food options!
Marketing & Outreach Associate
Mariah is a born and raised Latine Afakasi from the Bay Area. She received a Bachelor of Science in Communication Design from California State University, Monterey Bay. She loves working with her community by participating in projects that enable healing, activism, and aspirations. She is passionate about building environments everyone can participate in and people from all backgrounds are valued, respected, and supported. Outside of Mandela Partners, she is a Multidimensional Designer for Soulstice Bay Area, a non-profit focused on creating accessible sacred spaces and affordable creative expression for Bay Area artists. She hopes to be a leader in her community who can help develop and empower the next generation of Pacific Islander scholars. Mariah also really enjoys anime, manga, gaming, and her cat, Tito.
Workforce Development Associate
Natasha has spent the past five years splitting her time between managing New Space Studio, the disabled arts program she co-founded, and helping to launch and manage independent Oakland restaurants. Her distinct experiences have cultivated a passion for creating effective and impactful systems for a more equitable world. Originally from Los Angeles, the Bay Area is her home and she has been here for over a decade.
She grew up cooking and connecting to her multi-cultural background through food, which evolved over time into an appreciation for our food systems and their pervasive inequity. Natasha has seen firsthand the effect nourishment has on wellbeing and the capacity for personal development. As a Workforce Development Associate for the Re-Generate Opportunity Program at Mandela Partners, Natasha integrates the skills she acquired in restaurant management with her dedication to social justice work.
Natasha received a BA in Psychology from UC Davis and lives in East Oakland with her dog, her cat and her partner. In her spare time she loves to cook, surf and appreciates all the natural beauty the Bay Area has to offer.
mandela produce distribution
Erick Ismael Sanchez de Leon
Erick Ismael Sanchez de Leon, who friends call "E", loves California and has a special place in his heart for the Bay Area. His academic interests revolve around our built, natural, and imagined environments. He also enjoys learning about places and spaces off the beaten path. Erick works alongside Joseph at Mandela Foods Distribution assisting with warehouse management, produce sourcing, and delivery. Erick loves meeting new farmers, exploring West Oakland, and providing community residents with healthy, locally grown produce.
Associate, Produce Distribution
Yuro is a San Francisco raised Guatemalan-American who has been living in the East Bay for over a decade. He believes strongly in supporting local small farmers and providing the community with healthy fruits and vegetables. He has been with Mandela Partners since 2007, and as part of the Mandela Produce Distribution team he has gained valuable business skills. Yuro looks forward to continuing to grow his skills as well as the business.
Associate, Produce Distribution
Joseph is the Produce Distribution Associate at Mandela Produce Distribution. After serving as a long time member of Mandela Partners' Healthy Retail Team, Joseph grew into this role to further support local farmers. An advocate for change, he believes in healthy eating in all communities. Growing up as an Oakland native, Joseph encourages the strength of cultural diversity wherever he goes. Also a participant of Oakland's Youth Impact Hub, he is starting a social enterprise around cultural soups to bring communities together. Joseph enjoys good music, especially old school Bay Area hip-hop.