Board of Directors

Support families in our community today.

Succesful Leaders from all Walks of Life

AVANCE-Austin's Board of Directors blends a diverse group of distinguished leaders. The Board oversees the organization's business strategy, ensures accountability, enhances its public reputation, and serves as a thought partner to the leadership team.

Maria Cantú Hexsel

Board Chair

Maria serves as Judge Elect for the 53rd District Court. She serves as a Committee Member for the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin. She has extensive experience in outreach, advocacy, community service, and strategic planning. AVANCE-Austin captivated her to be directly involved in providing services to the Hispanic community. Previously, she served as a Board Member for the American Lung Association. She also served as a Parliamentarian and President of Becker Elementary Parent-Teachers Association.

Vanessa Santamaria Dainton


Vanessa Santamaria Dainton [ella/she/her(s)] is a first-generation immigrant and Austinite that serves as a community advocate working collaboratively and in solidarity on causes around equity. She has recently served as VP of Diversity and Inclusiveness for the Austin Council of PTA board—working closely with Austin ISD and local PTAs in over 100 schools to begin to examine and explore inequities in family-school engagement and PTA systemic practices and racial and socioeconomic inequities, in order to support family engagement, work to build trusting relationships, and advocate for student success. She has also served with AVANCE-Austin community partners as a Lead Facilitator, Coach, Trainer & Consultant of Play to Learn™ at Austin PBS which served as a multi-generational, early childhood school readiness program in partnership with United Way of Greater Austin Success by Six. Having started her career as an elementary bilingual teacher, she holds dear to her heart how public education spaces are crucial in not only building community but building our community leaders of tomorrow.  She holds two degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, in broadcast journalism and an M.Ed in Multicultural Special Education.

Belinda Arambula

Belinda May Arambula is an attorney and partner at Burns Anderson Jury and Brenner, LLP, where she practices civil litigation. Belinda is the current President of the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin (HBAA), where she is active in fundraising, outreach, and continuing education. Belinda previously served two terms as the Treasurer for HBAA. She also enjoys volunteering with the Girls Scouts of America. Belinda is originally from El Paso and was raised by two educators who taught ESL and citizenship classes; Being a part of AVANCE-Austin helps her feel as though she is following in her parents’ footsteps.

Cristina Gomez

Cristina currently works as the Deputy Director of Annie’s List PAC and runs a consulting practice, CACSM.  She is an expert fundraiser and strategy planner, helping organizations raise over $575MM and elevating their organizational profiles among national leaders throughout her career. Cristina is committed to transforming our entire country through social and political change, empowering others to develop their own personal political activism. She founded the New Leaders Council South Texas Frontera in 2020 and currently serves as Vice Chair for Austin Women Invest to Elect. She holds a BA in Public Relations from the University of Houston, MA in Public Administration from the University of Southern California, and has certificates in Social Sector Leadership from UC Berkeley, as well as, Spanish Language and Culture from La Universidad de Granada.

Yajaira Munoz-McKiver

Yajaira has worked for Amerigroup/Anthem for the last 14 years.  In her current role with the TX Marketing Team, she is responsible for marketing and community outreach for approximately 24 counties in Austin, San Antonio, and the surrounding areas.  She has lived in Texas for 35 years, so this is definitely home.  She married her high school sweetheart, and they have two beautiful babies—ages 21 and 17.  She and her husband have always shared a passion to give back to their community in any capacity. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Texas State University and a Master’s degree in Social Work at University of Texas at Austin.  Although her most recent work experience has been in managed care, she has also worked in city/county government positions, nonprofit organizations and in healthcare. Yajaira has served on the Program Committee for AVANCE-Austin for about one year and has worked with a great deal of community organizations as a representative of Amerigroup or Dell Children’s Health Plan.

Susana Castillo-Littlejohn

Vice Chair

Susana I. Castillo-Littlejohn is an Attorney-at-law practicing in the areas of child welfare, family, immigration and criminal law since 2004.  Susana was born and raised in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a teen.  After experiencing firsthand all the opportunities available to immigrants as well as low-income families; she decided to follow a career in the service of families.  Susana opened her own law practice in 2005 and has continued to help the community by volunteering with non-profit organizations like Volunteer Legal Services and RAICES.  AVANCE has a very special place in Susana’s heart, as her mother is an AVANCE alumna and was helped with access to community resources as a recent immigrant to the United States.  Susana brings extensive knowledge in advocacy, strategic solutions and business management.  Susana graduated from St. Mary’s University with a B.A. in Political Science and has received a law degree from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.  Susana has also been part of the Travis County Parenting in Recovery/Drug Court Program since 2015 representing parents.  She is part of the Family and Immigration Sections of the State Bar of Texas. 

Jorge Padilla


Jorge is a partner in Jackson Walker’s trial section. He has extensive experience litigating business disputes for a variety of clients including trustees, executors, tech companies, property managers, real estate investors and developers, healthcare providers, pension funds, and media companies. Although his practice is focused in Austin, Texas, Jorge has advocated for his clients in state and federal courts throughout Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas and enjoys the outdoors.  During the past year, Jorge completed three ultramarathons, including a 100 mile trail ultramarathon. As a father of three, he believes in AVANCE’s mission to train and educate both parents and children, and that parents are the primary educators for their children.

Stephanie Bergara

Stephanie is a native of Austin Texas. She grew up in Southeast Austin and attended Del Valle High School and the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has spent 10 years at the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department’s Music & Entertainment Division as an artist and industry advocate and also serves on the Board of Directors for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Stephanie shows her deep connection to the Austin community in everything she does as Program and Event Manager at Waterloo Greenway Conservancy, Talent Director of Chingona Fest, and lead singer of her award winning Selena tribute band, Bidi Bidi Banda. Stephanie loves to involve her 5 year old son, Andres, in everything she does from her love to music to her creativity in serving their community. 

Julio de la Llata

Julio de la Llata is an Associate Court Judge for Travis Country 1306. He is a new Board Member for AVANCE-Austin, bringing extensive experience in Texas Legislature and analytical solutions. As a parent, Julio knows that parenting is difficult even in the best of circumstances. Through AVANCE-Austin, he aims to provide community members and children long-lasting skills and opportunities. He graduated with a double major in Anthropology and Political Science from Southwest Texas State University and earned a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from University of Texas School of Law. Julio is a Life Fellow, a prestigious honor for of the Texas Bar Foundation.

Lisa Tomaka

Lisa Tomaka is a Senior Consultant at Triwest Group, who focuses on Mental Health Consulting. She was trained in health and mental health leadership to include strategic planning, implementation theory, systems change, program development, and board development. She has extensive grant writing, program development, and implementation experience. Previously, Lisa served as a Board Member to NAMI Texas as well as Committee Member and Chair to United Way. She established a Board of Directors to include writing the bylaws for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cooperative agreement and has worked as part of a collaborative and collective impact effort. She has also worked with AVANCE-El Paso and believes in the organization's mission and vision.

Leonor Vargas

Leonor is a proud advocate of early childhood education and has been collaborating with AVANCE-Austin for over 10 years through the Austin Independent School District (AISD). She has spent many years supporting marginalized families and students through her previous work as AISD’s Administrative Supervisor of Parent Programs and The Austin Project’s Director of Family Resource Centers. Leonor continues her support for Central Texas families with her current Advisory Committee Membership roles with United Way: Success by 6 Coalition, Texas Center for Child and Family Studies, and Early Childhood Quality of Life. She is also the founder of Wisdom En Familias, providing consulting services to school districts and institutions to transform systems of practice. She holds a BA in Criminal Justice from St. Edward’s University and an MS in Social Work, Administration, and Planning from the University of Texas. Leonor is thrilled to share her dedication of providing authentic and equitable family engagement in institutions that honor individual cultures through the AVANCE-Austin board.