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Update From the Foundation’s Human Rights Program

Photo of a group of people from Essie Justice Group.

It has been over 10 months since I joined the Heising-Simons Foundation as its first Human Rights Program Director. Over that time, I have had the chance to meet movement leaders, who have broadened my perspectives of the work to combat mass criminalization, and I have also deepened my existing relationships with those I have known from my past advocacy work. I appreciate the trust and openness you have brought as I continue to adapt to my new role in philanthropy.

I came to the Foundation to build upon the work the Foundation has been supporting in immigrants’ rights and criminal justice reform, and to develop a vision and strategy for our Human Rights program that both reflects the Foundation’s values, and also addresses the urgent needs of movements addressing mass criminalization in the U.S. Over the last few months, the Human Rights program team has engaged in a strategic planning process that includes conversations with a range of leaders across the country to inform the direction and outcomes of our strategy. We thank you for helping guide us through this process, and we look forward to sharing our thinking with you in early 2020.

In addition, we have been working to expand and strengthen our team. Late this summer, Gina Peralta joined our Human Rights program as a program officer, handling some of our justice reform grants. Gina joins Peggy Chang, Chhandasi Pandya Patel, and Justine Choy to round out our team. In addition to giving us added capacity to deepen our relationships and support of our grantees, Gina brings a different perspective to our grantmaking based on her personal and professional experiences.

A native of Northeast Los Angeles, Gina witnessed first-hand the harmful consequences of drug addiction and community violence as her friends and family fell prey to society’s all-too-frequent solution to ensuring community safety: involvement in the criminal legal system. In response, Gina has spent her career working to transform the institutions that were exacerbating harmful conditions in communities like hers by breaking families apart rather than working to make them whole.

Gina spent time as a deputy probation officer in Santa Cruz County, helping build the department into a national model for its work, reducing unnecessary use of secure detention by creating community-based alternatives. Most recently, for 10 years, she was with the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), a national non-profit organization working to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the youth and criminal legal systems by creating community-based alternatives to system involvement. Gina provided strategic direction to system and community stakeholders working to improve local and state policies contributing to racial and ethnic disparities. While at BI, she engaged with community representatives across the country who were willing to serve system-impacted people, yet their voices were silenced or were not resourced to do so. She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and women studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

We are thrilled to have Gina join our team as we continue to center and resource the leadership of those individuals and communities most impacted by mass criminalization. Collectively, we look forward to continuing to build in solidarity with you all towards a more just, humane world.

Human Rights