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Categories: Leadership

Ambassador Susan G. Esserman founded and leads the SAFE Center. In addition to leading the Center, she is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, a Washington, D.C.- based international law firm, where she heads the firm’s international trade policy practice and has been active in firm management. She leads the firm’s pro bono program on behalf of survivors of human trafficking and has represented numerous human trafficking survivors. She has received numerous awards and recognition, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Justice for Girls Empowerment Award and the National Journal’s Outstanding Women’s Lawyers List, recognizing the 75 most outstanding women lawyers in the nation. Ambassador Esserman held four senior positions in the Clinton administration: She was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and Assistant Secretary of Commerce. She also served in the role of General Counsel at two agencies – the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce. She has served on a number of nonprofit boards with a women’s rights and international focus. Ambassador Esserman is a graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Michigan Law School.

Laura Ardito has worked on human trafficking issues for over a decade from a direct services, programmatic, and policy perspective. As a senior associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, she built her pro bono practice around legal immigration service provision to survivors of human trafficking and other human rights violations. Prior to her work at Steptoe, Ms. Ardito managed the first Anti-Trafficking program, which she also helped initiate, at Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit organization focused on women’s leadership. She served as a Legal Fellow at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, focusing on human trafficking laws and policies, and also as an attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ms. Ardito began her career as an AmeriCorps volunteer coordinating social and legal services for immigrant and refugee families at a Washington D.C.-based transitional housing program. She has recently been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where she taught a class on Women’s International Human Rights. Ms. Ardito is a graduate of Cornell University and American University Washington College of Law.

Heidi Alvarez, M.A., is the Director of Special Projects at the SAFE Center. She believes in having a trauma-informed and holistic service-oriented approach when advocating for and empowering survivors of human trafficking. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Alvarez provided social services advocacy for victims of human trafficking, victims of torture, and asylum seekers at Polaris and at the University of Denver. Most recently, she oversaw a staff of social services coordinators at affordable housing properties in Washington, DC where she provided management and programmatic leadership to expand programs and services to residents. Ms. Alvarez has earned a Master’s degree in International Development from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Connecticut College.

Rosa “Delmy” Alvayero, MSW-LCSW-C joined the SAFE Center as the Director of Clinical Services in July, 2019. Delmy is a social worker, immigrant, and community activist with over a decade of experience working in the nonprofit sector and social and behavioral health systems. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Alvayero served for ten years at the Maryland Division of the Latin American Youth Center where she developed, implemented, and evaluated programs using a positive youth development approach. She also served as a clinician at Mary’s Center, a multi-site, integrative, healthcare clinic, where she worked one-on-one with a range of clients as they navigated their medical and social-emotional needs. Ms. Alvayero’s professional approach emphasizes the importance of connecting somatic practices with experiences of trauma, especially in cases of children, youth, and families who have been impacted by migration, displacement, and other forms of oppression. She specializes in challenges related to depression, anxiety, and trauma, including PTSD, attachment, anger in children, and family reunification. Ms. Alvayero completed a Master’s degree in Clinical Social at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, with a dual track in Program Management and Clinical Work and a sub-specialization and Certificate in Maternal and Child Health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Certificate in Women Studies, both from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Amelia Rubenstein, MSW, LCSW-C is the Director of Research and Programs at the SAFE Center where she oversees direct services, program evaluation, research, and policy initiatives. Ms. Rubenstein has advocated for trafficking survivors for over 8 years in both clinical and macro capacities. Ms. Rubenstein is dedicated to assisting youth-serving agencies and organizations to address the issue of human trafficking, particularly among system-involved youth. As an experienced forensic social worker, Ms. Rubenstein has been qualified as an expert witness and provides testimony on sexual violence, trauma, and victimization. Ms. Rubenstein previously oversaw the Anti-Trafficking Program at TurnAround, Inc., a victim services non-profit in Baltimore where managed a program providing clinical services to survivors of human trafficking. Ms. Rubenstein received her Bachelors of Social Work from Skidmore College and a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University with a concentration in public policy and reproductive rights, and is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Ms. Rubenstein received the Outstanding Contribution to the Fight against Human Trafficking award from the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2015 as well as formal citations from Governor Hogan, Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Baltimore Mayor Pugh for her efforts to fight trafficking.

Mari Snyder joins the SAFE Center as Director of Economic Empowerment. In this role, she is leading and developing the Center’s portfolio of economic empowerment-related initiatives and partnerships, which are critically important in helping trafficking survivors achieve financial independence. Ms. Snyder most recently served as Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for ten years of her seventeen-year-career with Marriott International. While at Marriott, she gained global corporate experience in human rights and trafficking as well as workforce development programs that focused on both vulnerable young adult populations and the employers who saw their untapped potential. Ms. Snyder sees her mission as being a connector, as she experienced in her role as corporate liaison between Marriott and the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, a 501©3, and its signature Bridges from School to Work program in nine U.S. cities. Internationally, Ms. Snyder and her team worked with a number of partners – nonprofits, industry associations, and government – on career readiness programs that provided education, real-world skills, practical experience, and mentoring for young adults from Brazil to Rwanda, from Jordan to Haiti. Ms. Snyder’s mission as Director of Economic Empowerment at the Center is to be a path maker for the women and men who turn to the SAFE Center to find an empowering job – and the better life, health, and well-being that come with it.

UMD SAFE Center Team Statement on Racial Injustice

The UMD SAFE Center decries the structural racism that remains as a toxic legacy of our country’s history and permeates our society today, and we are working to ensure that we are an actively anti-racist institution.