Justin Hilton
(He/Him)

Founder & Executive Director


An entrepreneur, writer, passionate activist, personal growth, and spiritual leader who is deeply committed to social change. Justin had a successful career in Real Estate that was always punctuated by Social Action and the support of underrepresented communities. He has spent the last 2 decades leading workshops and intensives with thought leaders like Debbie Ford and Alanis Morrisette. He also worked in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Mexico on LGBTQ+ transformational work focused on combating oppression and advocating for inclusion for over 3 years. The founding of Safe Place represented the coming together of his experience as a philanthropist, human potential leader, and passionate defender and supporter of marginalized communities.

Email
justin@safeplaceinternational.org

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Cherie Singh
(She/Her)

Director of Operations 


Cherie is an engineer-turned-development professional with 7+ years of experience in designing and implementing initiatives in gender equity and education. She has a MA in International Affairs with a dual specialization in Global Gender Policy and International Development. It is her lifelong commitment to end all forms of suffering and promote gender equity. A strong believer in the power of humanistic values, Cherie identifies herself as a critical agent of change, hope, and compassion. At Safe Place, she directs international operations, fundraising, advocacy, and research initiatives, and is constantly seeking new opportunities for partnerships.

Email
cherie@safeplaceinternational.org

Matt Bartek
(He/Him)

Program Director - Greece


Matt comes with 8 years of experience working with transitional aged youth in California as a peer counselor, case manager, and program manager. He has a BA in Sociology and has used that along with his personal experience of homelessness as a gay man to better serve marginalized communities. Matt directs the Moms 2 Moms and Athens Housing Collective programs by keeping a client-centered approach to empower the community to create community-based solutions. He is based in Athens and is always looking for organizations and individuals to partner with. Safe Place provides human solutions to complex modern situations in a way that reminds everyone of how human we all are. It is a privilege to be able to experience the resilience and power of people as they develop and flourish.  

Email
matt@safeplaceinternational.org

Lynn Walsemann
(She/Her)

Executive Director - The Dream Academy 


As a resident medical doctor and The Dream Academy team lead, Lynn brings her brilliance and analytical prowess, depth of heart, and dedication to the transformative heart-healing of The Dream Academy and Safe Place International. Lynn’s organizational, leadership and editing skills helped to birth and change many new projects and systems within The Dream Academy. Her vision for the world is an inclusive, healing safe place where everyone is celebrated for the way they are exactly the way they are.

Email
 lynn@safeplaceinternational.org

Yvonne St. John-Dutra
(She/Her)

Senior Training Faculty 


Working with teens and adults in schools and communities since 1980, Yvonne has been instrumental in designing and implementing over 20 different nationally recognized prevention, intervention and Leadership programs for teenagers and adults. Yvonne’s earliest experiences varied from classroom presentations, school assemblies, to TV programing on eating disorders, gender stereotypes, and all forms of social oppression. She later focused her attention on working with at-risk youth, creating addiction and recovery programs, emotional intelligence, peacebuilding, couples, parenting, and family workshops.

Email
yvonne@challengeday.org

Rich Dutra-St. John
(He/Him)

Senior Training Faculty 


A former high school teacher and championship wrestling coach, Rich has worked with teens and families since 1978. As a licensed family therapist and drug intervention specialist, Rich was recruited to open and direct two unique adolescent treatment facilities in California where he served as founding clinical director and program designer. As a man committed to social justice and equality, Rich has facilitated several men’s groups over the years and was honored as one of the Men of Merit by STAND! For Families Free of Violence and Contra Costa’s Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence Initiative.

Email
rich@challengeday.org

Nyasha Zhakata
(She/Her)

Community Director - South Africa 


Nyasha is a lesbian asylum seeker from Zimbabwe living in South Africa. She is a graduate of The Dream Academy is now the Community Director for South Africa. Nyasha created, organized, and advocated on behalf of the Pachedu Collective, a group of over 50 African LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers in South Africa. She is also a mother, a partner, and an outspoken activist for her community.

Email
 nyasha@safeplaceinternational.org

Lionel Monkam
(He/Him)

Community Director - Greece 


Lionel is a gay asylum seeker from Cameroon living in Greece. He is a graduate of The Dream Academy and is now the Community Director for the Safe Place Greece community. Lionel brings his passion for community building and empowerment to his work and coordinates all volunteers and workshops that are held at the community center along with food and donation distribution for both Moms 2 Moms and the Athens Housing Collective.  He is often the first person that many people see when first discovering Safe Place Greece and he dedicates himself to making sure that everyone feels safe, seen, and respected.  Lionel also works with The Dream Academy as a small group leader and is constantly looking for other leaders to help develop their skills to support their communities.


Email
lionel@safeplaceinternational.org

Madrine Nanyonjo
(They/Them)

Community Director - Kenya 


Madrine is a gender non-conforming asylum seeker in Kenya, and is also a trained Computer Networking Specialist, who has been involved in mobilizing refugee communities since 2018. They are also the Deputy Communications Officer at Refugee Coalition of East Africa (RefCEA). At the same time, they serve as the Communications Lead at Nature Network, which is a member organization under RefCEA. As a member of Global Platform Alliance Kenya, Madrine runs support workshops. As a social change agent, they have continued promoting HIV, TB, and Malaria prevention among refugees in Kenya. Madrine is also interested in photography and videography.

Email
 madrine@safeplaceinternational.org

Treasure Nabakiibi
(She/Her)

Community Director - Kenya 


Treasure is a 19-year old asylum seeker from Uganda currently living in Nairobi, Kenya. Treasure loves reading novels, swimming, and social work. Her love for social work was sparked by the unfortunate and hurtful situations she faced while in her home country which caused her to flee when she wasn't an adult. Treasure has since volunteered and helped young girls who faced similar situations like her. Her goal is to further help young girls with basic needs and education. Treasure’s dream is to go back to school and become a nurse.

Email
treasure@safeplaceinternational.org

Dhalie Bulyaba
(They/Them)

Assistant Senior Director 


Dhalie is a gender non-conforming asylum seeker currently living in Nairobi, Kenya. They are a trained orthopedic technician by profession, a passionate queer rights activist and a feminist. They currently work with the Foundation for LBQ womXn Refugee (FLBQR) and RefCEA, that aim at elevating and advocating for the rights and wellbeing of LGBQTIA+ refugees living in Kenya. Dhalie loves doing crafts, and they train LGBTQIA+ refugees in these skills to help them become more self-reliant. Dhalie’s great passion for LGBTQIA+ community work traces back to their own experience as an all-out queer person who had to flee 'home' to save their life from injustice.

Email
dhalie@safeplaceinternational.org

Joseph Baluku
(He/Him)

Technical Director


Joseph is a gay Ugandan refugee and the co-founder of the Athens Housing collective. He has devoted 3 tireless years working to bring resources and visibility to LGBTQIA+ refugees in Greece and around the world. He brings such a wealth of talent, warmth, and inspiration to everything he does, and we are extremely grateful that he plays such an important role at Safe Place International.​

Email
joseph@safeplaceinternational.org

Rosa Aguayo
(She/Her)

Facilitator - Spanish Dream Academy 




Email
rosa@safeplaceinternational.org

Karine Brasil
(She/Her)

Program Coordinator

 

Karine feels inspired by Safe Place International's mission and is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Email
karine@safeplaceinternational.org

Whitley Crawford
(She/Her)

Website Manager 


Finding a space that brings comfort and encourages your true authenticity is rare. Safe Place is that space. I want to help create a safe community for everyone to be included and to be their true self without fear. A safe space is where potential and people grow from a place of love. 

Email
whitley@safeplaceinternational.org

Ananya Ramani
(She/Her)

Advocacy Director 


Ananya is an international human rights lawyer, with a passion for contributing to real change in the lives of everyone she encounters. With over 6 years of experience, Ananya has previously focussed on policy research, advocacy, and project management by engaging with grassroots communities; national, regional, and international civil society organizations; the judiciary; and in developing policy for governments on a range of human rights aspects. She holds a Masters in International Humanitarian Law & Human Rights from the Geneva Academy.

Email
ananya@safeplaceinternational.org

Leonidas Galeridis
(He/Him)

Advocacy Director - EU Parliament


Leonidas has a Masters in International Relations and recently completed a Council of Europe course on Asylum and Human Rights. As a big supporter of SPI, he feels grateful for the opportunity to contribute in making a difference in the world by using his experience and knowledge acquired at the European Parliament.

Email
leonidas@safeplaceinternational.org

Dr. Devin Thornburg
(He/Him)

Human Rights Expert & Lead Researcher


Dr. Thornburg is a Professor of Education at Adelphi University, teaching courses in psychology, culture, language, and learning, always within the frameworks of social justice and human rights. He has been involved in educational reform for three decades, writing about teacher-student relationships and roles in diverse settings. He served as part of the leadership team of a non-profit addressing the challenges of educational equity and access and has been deeply involved in collaborations with community-based organizations in the U.S. and other countries all of his professional life. He has collaborated on works being published this year on global perspectives on adolescence, international teacher education, and social media and social justice. With degrees from Tulane, Harvard, and NYU, Dr. Thornburg is the father of two daughters who has taught him how much there is to learn in this world.

Dr. Jody McBrien
(She/Her)

Human Rights Expert & Lead Researcher

 

Dr. McBrien is a professor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus. Her research focuses on children affected by war, whether they are resettled refugee students and their families, or children and families who have returned to their home communities following war. She has explored the connection between discrimination and academic motivation in adolescent refugee girls and evaluated refugee agency programs working to create bridges between new refugees, social services, and schools. She conducted longitudinal work in Lira, Uganda on the use of arts in healing and education. Based on her work in Lira, McBrien’s co-edited book, Cold Water: Women and Girls of Lira, Uganda, was published in July 2015. She received her doctorate in Educational Studies from Emory University in May 2005. She has received numerous awards for her research on international refugee resettlement, including a 2019 Fulbright Award, 2017 USF Global Engagement Award, 2017 USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Research Award, and inaugural 2017 Research Travel Award from Wiley Publishing among many others.

Huy Su Lam
(They/Them)

Research Intern


Huy is a Psychology major and a Levermore Global Scholar, with a minor in Child Development and Family Studies. Most of Huy's work at the undergraduate level focuses on the well-being of LGBTQIA+ individuals with diverse backgrounds. Joining Safe Place International as an Internal Operations Research Intern is an excellent opportunity and challenge for Huy to contribute their perspectives, experiences, and efforts to the mission of Safe Place, which is to spread the message of love, kindness, compassion, faith, and inclusion for everyone. No dream is too big and no goal is too ambitious; everyone deserves to heal, grow and reach their potential to the fullest.

Email
huy@safeplaceinternational.org

Chani Lieu
(She/Her)

Research Intern


Chani is an undergraduate student majoring in environmental sciences and minoring in food studies. Her passions/missions are to contribute to social justice and environmental sustainability. Working with SPI has opened her heart to so many unique untold stories from the LGBTQIA+ refugee community and team members, as well as their wisdom that she is extremely grateful for.

Email
chani@safeplaceinternational.org

Mivsam Yekutiel
(She/Her)

Development Consultant

 

Mivsam has been practicing, breathing, and promoting research practices for more than 15 years. She is also an enthusiastic educator, trainer, and program manager and helped numerous companies and projects develop data-based insights. A fan of puzzles, mysteries, and data, she’s always ready to get out of her comfort zone and face a new challenge.

Simran Hansra
(She/Her)

Grants Researcher


Simran works as the grants researcher where she helps locate and apply for different funding opportunities for all of Safe Place International’s projects. She deeply cares about refugee rights issues and has prior experience in working with vulnerable communities for development projects in Peru, Greece, and Papua New Guinea. She enjoys traveling, hiking, and a good Netflix binge!

Email
simran@safeplaceinternational.org

Caio Gomes
(He/Him)

Research Intern


Caio is a Brazilian college student, majoring in International Relations at Adelphi University (New York), with minors in Environmental Studies and Peace Studies. Caio is also a member of the Levermore Global Scholars Program, a program of distinction that fosters global awareness and civic engagement at Adelphi University, as well as other on-campus communities.

Email
caio@safeplaceinternational.org

Mario Villegas
(He/Him)

Research Intern


Mario is a senior at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus studying Political Science and Economics. He plans to attend graduate school in order to focus on workers' rights and how to maximize working conditions universally.

Email
mario@safeplaceinternational.org

Ngan Nguyen
(She/Her)

Research Intern


Ngan is an undergraduate at Fulbright University Vietnam, majoring in Psychology. With research experience in gender-based violence support services, she is interested in studying the interplay between psychotherapy and medical treatment. She is passionate about providing individualized support for vulnerable populations, as well as advocating for mental health inclusive changes in the hospital system and public health policies. Working with SPI has offered her a chance to become more involved with the LGBTQIA+ refugee community, whose strength and kindness inspire her in so many ways.


Email
ngan@safeplaceinternational.org