2018-2019 Program Staff

Aaron Gallardo – Executive Director

ProfessionalProfileAaron currently works as a Client Audits Administrator at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing.  He received his BA in Music with an emphasis in Industry Studies at the California Polytechnic University, Pomona where his senior project was an ethnomusicological study on the Fil-Am rondalla and how it, along with other facets of culture nights, serves as the main cultural education for Fil-Am youth.  Aaron has worked with the Association for the Advancement of Filipino-American Arts and Culture (FilAm ARTS) to help plan the Festival of Pilipino Arts and Culture (FPAC), with the Filipino Cultural School (FCS) as a music teacher, and served as a Co-Director of Mentees and the Positionality Pillar Coordinator for Lakas.  His hobbies include cooking, Broadway musicals, dancing to 90’s and 2000’s slow jams, and sitting in traffic on the 405 South on a Friday afternoon.

Abby Saavedra – Administrator

AbbyAbby Saavedra is a foodie, fashion enthusiast, dog mama, and busy bee hailing from the Northern California Central Valley (shout out to the 209!). After earning her Bachelor of Science in Psychology (biology emphasis) and Human Development in 2016, she moved to Southern California and is now pursuing her Master of Science in Clinical Psychology at California State University, Fullerton. She splits her time between providing psychotherapy services for a non-profit agency in LA County; conducting research and data analyses related to college student success, social justice education, and ethnic identity development; and sharing her knowledge and skills through community and student organizing. She aspires to attain her Ph.D. in Psychology, become a professor, build a happy home with her partner and dog, find the best coffee shop in Southern California, and use her research work and clinical experience to serve her community and other communities with shared experiences of marginalization.

Director of Mentees – Andrea Mackey


Andrea Mackey currently works at the International Pre-Diabetes Center as a Program Coordinator. She is a graduate of Scripps College ‘17, where she studied Neuroscience with aspirations to become a physician. Andrea’s commitment to challenge health disparities and under representation in research is rooted in her experiences as a mixed Filipina Scottish American. With her involvement in founding the Claremont Colleges’ Filipinx organization on campus, Kasama, organizing with KmB, and continuing the mentorship-tutoring program STEP (Saturday Tongan Education program) as an intern in the Asian American Resource Center, Andrea hopes to uplift marginalized communities and promote equity and justice in the spheres of health, research, and education. She has been to summer corgi beach day 4 years in a row, has scuba dived in Iceland, was Quidditch Captain at her school, and can quote the entire Cornetto Trilogy.


Lauren Higa – Support Staff

laurenUC Santa Barbara (2017) – Asian American Studies and Psychology, BA (magna cum laude)
UCLA (Expected 2021) – Asian American Studies, MA; Social Welfare, MSW

Hi! My name is Lauren Higa, and I’m excited to be returning to Lakas as a support staff member for the Director of Mentees. I’m Filipina (Ilongga) and Japanese (Okinawan), but as someone of the third generation on both my sides, I’ve always felt distant from my culture(s). Once I discovered cultural student groups and ethnic studies in college, though, my life (and its trajectory) was changed for the better. When I’m not reading for school or out in the community, I like to root for the Dodgers, get allyou-can-eat shabu-shabu, and play with my dogs.


Dustin Domingo – Director of Curriculum


MBA, Brandman University

MA in Applied Sociology, University of Alabama at Birmingham

EdD Organizational Leadership [Candidate], Brandman University

Dustin Domingo has been working in education for nearly 10 years. With experiences engaging students from K-12 to undergraduate and graduate levels, Dustin is an advocate for lifelong learning and leadership development. Professionally, Dustin is the Director of Credential Services for Brandman University’s School of Education, supporting the administrative needs of California’s future teachers and K-12 school district partners. Academically, Dustin’s research interests are in the experiences of Asian American students in higher education as well as cultural competence education.


Support Staff – Celeste Banaag

IMG_7506_3Bachelors of Science in Business Administration – Management and Human Resources

Although Celeste graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration; her career goals include working in student affairs in a higher education setting. Celeste was determined and inspired to learn more about her culture through the Pilipinx and Latinx student organizations on campus. Throughout her involvement, she learned the importance of mental health, social justice, and research for people of color. Celeste hopes to pursue a Master’s in Higher Education in the near future but until that happens, Celeste enjoys her food adventures, watching shows on Netflix, and utilizing her local library.


Sarah Miralles – Pillar Coordinator: Positionality 

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Sarah Lynn Miralles (she/her/hers) received her BA in Ethnic Studies from the University of San Diego and then went to get her MA in Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. The primary focus of her research was how Fil-Am youth created counterspace through HipHop dance. Sarah has a passion for teaching, learning from, and growing with youth as they develop their critical consciousness. She now teaches Ethnic Studies at CSULB, and works at the Asian American Resource Center ay Pomona College.


Raphael Natividad – Pillar Coordinator: College Preparation 


B.A. Public Health Policy and Education Sciences, MPH Candidate

Raphael, or Raffy, joined the Lakas Mentorship Program, because he wanted to serve the Filipino-American community, and further develop his interest in education and culture. While his intention was to make an impact, he was positively impacted himself. Lakas is an organization that cares deeply, and he hopes to maintain and strengthen this network of amazing colleagues, mentors, and friends. During his time as an undergraduate student at UCI, he gained a deep appreciation for Filipino-American history and activism. He also discovered his passion of empowering students to reach for their dreams. As a returning Anteater, he is back at UCI, pursuing his Master’s in Public Health. He hopes to combine his interests in public health, education, and psychology to someday work in a non-profit organization and uplift disadvantaged communities. He currently works at an e-learning company in Newport Beach providing technical support, and volunteers his time at the HELIOS Lab at the Health Policy Research Institute.


Arianna Dela Rosa – Pillar Coordinator: Self-Awareness


Degree: B.S. in Managerial Economics at UC Davis

Arianna is a first-generation college graduate, a proud LA Native, a Fly Pinay, and an advocate for educational equity. She currently works for a charter school network supporting teachers and continuing the fight for quality education for all. As the 2018-19 Self-Awareness Pillar Coordinator, Arianna hopes to empower youth to acknowledge their values and use them to better themselves and their communities. In her free time, she enjoys having jam sessions, exploring LA, and chilling at coffee shops!


Joseph Navales – Pillar Coordinator: Leadership 

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Joseph Navales is the LAKAS Leadership Pillar Coordinator for 2018-2019. He attended UC Riverside and majored in Political Science International Relations. Today he works as an immigration attorney in the Orange Country area. He enjoys traveling, sports, and good food.


Mona Mesa – Community Liaison


Degree: B.S. Environmental Science and Management

Mona recently moved back home to Los Angeles from the Sacramento area after earning her degree this past June. During her time at UC Davis, she explored her Filipina identity and spent her four years uplifting the Filipinx student community through narratives, culture, and history. She hopes to empower and connect the Filipino community Lakas serves while increasing visibility of available resources. On her down time, Mona likes to experiment with vegan food and review vegan restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area.


Megan Dela Cruz – Staff Counselor 

33382246_10216077184104464_2993786397963321344_n (1)Degrees: B.A. in Gender, Ethnicity, and Multicultural Studies, emphasis in Asian American Studies

My name is Megan Dela Cruz and I’m a recent graduate from Cal Poly Pomona! I’m currently working as the Program Assistant at the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Center at CPP and I aspire to serve underrepresented communities to get them into higher education. In my undergrad, I served in the different Fil-Am organizations on campus and I’m now a part of KmB (Kabataang maka-Bayan), a community Fil-Am organization based in Historic Filipinotown. In the future, I hope to pursue a Masters degree in either Social Work or Higher Education, and eventually pursue a Ph.D in Ethnic Studies. Along the way, I love watching anime, playing Kingdom Hearts, and ta

Kent Paris – Staff Development Coordinator 

SAMSUNG CSCUC Riverside: BS in Biochemistry and minor in Education
UC Riverside: Masters in Education with credential in Chemistry

Kent Paris graduated from UC Riverside with his Bachelors in Biochemistry and a Masters in Education. He is currently a high school science teacher who aims to inspire future scientists. In his spare time, he likes to read manga, go on hikes, and drink different blendsof coffee.


Imma Villamor – Director of Mentors 

headshotImma aspires to become a medical doctor, but in the mean time she is currently working as a Medical Assistant. She is actively involved in the COPE Health Scholar Program at Riverside Community Hospital as volunteer and on the Leadership Team as the Training and Education Coordinator. During her time in college, she was an active member of Katipunan Pilipino Student Organization as the Outreach Director, a peer mentor for the Early Academic Outreach Programs and the Asian Pacific Student Programs, and served a Lakas mentor for 2 years. Experience from these organizations ignited her passion for helping young students obtain positive connections, while promoting higher level of education. During Imma’s spare time, she enjoys trying different types of delicious foods and coffee, hiking, occasionally working out, and taking pictures of her dog.


Ann Dela Cruz – Support Staff 

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Ann Dela Cruz graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelors Degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management. She moved to Southern California in 2016 and has been with Lakas as a Mentor and Positionality Pillar Coordinator. This year she will be assisting staff with Social Media and Marketing. In her free time she is a freelance makeup artist and loves experimenting with new recipes at home.


Lara Elaine Balajadia – Support Staff 


CSULB || Bacherlor of English in Literature and Creative Writing
UCLA || Master of Education

Lara Elaine’s lifetime involvement with the Filipino American community laid the foundation for her social justice minded teaching. She is currently a high school teacher who moonlights as a musician and college aide whenever her schedule permits. Her love of the written and spoken word follow her wherever she goes with her journals and oversized pencil case. When she isn’t teaching, she is caffenating and creating art.


Support Staff – Rodrigo Lim

Rodrigo is a graduate from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a Bachelors degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology. Rodrigo joined Lakas Mentorship Program in 2012 as a mentor and continued on as a staff member thereafter. He believes that all people have the potential to be great and do great things in life. Lakas provides a means to which he can help the youth realize that potential early. Rodrigo currently works as a software engineer at a telecommunications company. Aside from that, he loves all things superheroes, to dance, watching TV shows, and going to concerts.

Support Staff – Terrence Diaz

IMG_8730-14.jpgA software engineer by trade, Terrence learned to recognize that technology has a social responsibility that cannot be ignored and uses his STEM background as one of many ways to approach community and activist spaces. This mindset drove him to get his B.S. in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd College, switching from a Concentration of Economics to one of Asian American Studies. After being deeply involved in volunteer and Filipino orgs at a predominately white college, Terrence became inspired to uplift the presence of Filipinos and Filipinx-Americans in everyday society, but especially in STEM. Now, as a support staff member on the Lakas team, he loves the empowerment him and his fellow staff members provide for Filipino youth in Los Angeles county, where he grew up most of his life. In his free time, you can catch Terrence perfecting his pass in volleyball, reading a visual novel, escaping real life through video games, figuring out why his code won’t work, or bragging about the fact that he’s from LA. Did we mention he’s from LA?