|CJSHS College & Career Center||
Meet the mentors
|CJSHS College & Career Center||
Meet the mentors
Jacqueline Aviña Espinoza ~ My name is Jacqueline Aviña Espinoza and I graduated from Calistoga Jr./Sr. High School in 2016. Following high school, I continued my education at Sacramento State. In May of 2020, I graduated with a BA in Child Development with a concentration in Social and Community Settings and a minor in Counseling. I am currently working as a Paraprofessional for the Special Education program at Calistoga Jr./Sr. High School and am in the process of applying to a graduate program. Mentoring is so valuable as it creates a strong support network for an individual. I have been challenged by my mentors in a way that has allowed me to grow academically, professionally, and personally.
Dario DiGiulio ~ I graduated from CHS in 2014, and immediately started a 5 year architecture program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. In many ways I feel lucky to have stumbled into a program I loved, because Cal Poly’s system of claiming a major before even stepping foot onto campus is a real disservice to many students who end up going there - who could possibly know what they want to be at 17?
I still live in SLO, and after having worked a few architecture jobs I’m taking time to figure out what I want to do next in life, having recently enrolled in a welding training program. With the strange new world brought on by the pandemic, I’ve spent more time than ever riding my mountain bike, drawing, reading, and getting excited to see people again.
I’ve been lucky to have a variety of mentors since leaving for college, and each has given me a sense of understanding about myself that I would be hard-pressed to reach without their help. That is the beauty of a good mentor, someone who can sense something within you that you yourself cannot yet see. In some way I wish I I would have had more of a mentor figure in the time before I went off to school, but I realize that one cannot rush that process, and those people present themselves to you in your life only when you are ready.
Maria DiGiulio ~ A very long time ago, I graduated with a BA in Philosophy. During my college years I worked in restaurant kitchens to pay my way through school. Afterwards, needing to make money and realizing that cooking was more interesting to me than continuing in university studies, I kept cooking. A few years later, I attended culinary school, got an associates degree and...continued to cook!
Eventually, I married and had a baby.
After our son began kindergarten at CES, I began an after school gardening program on the campus as a volunteer.
From then on I volunteered within the CJUSD district in a variety of ways: CHS art docent for 20 years; CES cooking class teacher; CJSHS tutor in the AVID program; CJUSD volunteer establishing a Calistoga Promise program for all students in the district; and a variety of other non-paid jobs that helped children.
Through the mentorship program, I hope to continue to help students reach their personal, educational goals.
Kathy Flamson ~ Having grown up in a very small town in an isolated area on the Mendocino Coast, it was difficult to know what the future really had in store for me as I felt confined by my past life experiences. Santa Rosa Junior College was my first foray into higher education. I loved the school and the experiences it offered, and eventually received my AA degree after a few detours. My dream, however, was to get a Bachelor’s degree. That dream came true over 30 years later, after my children went through college. It was the BEST thing I’d ever done for myself. But there were many adventures and life lessons before and after that led me to where I am today.
The small town experience and lack of financial support give me a unique perspective of what many of our current students might be going through. I would love to share my experiences and perspective with those who want my support.
Meredy Herrera ~ Hello my name is Meredy, I graduated from CHS in 2013. I went to a private school, Mount St Mary's University in Southern California. I was there for 5 years. I became a Registered Nurse in 2018, working my way up from a skilled nursing facility to a hospital, and I am now working at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
I believe it's important to have a mentor because there are many life changes that happen during this "college" stage of your life. Whether it be finding who you are as a person, friendships or relationships ending, or simply being homesick. It's important to have someone you know you can always count on, someone you can trust, and someone who will continue to motivate you.
Richard Kaiser ~ I am originally from New York and l moved to California in 1990. My family purchased our Calistoga home in 2004. I attended Cold Spring Harbor High School on Long Island, New York and graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in Marketing and Accounting. I have worked for large and small companies until I ventured out and started my own businesses. I am a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and have a tax & accounting practice with over 1,500 clients. In addition, I am a financial planner and I work with many individuals and small business owners. I also own a small winery called Kaiser Family Winery located in Calistoga. Winemaking was a hobby that developed into a business. My son, growing up, wanted to be a chef owner of a restaurant. As a result, our family owns two restaurants that he manages in Calistoga--Johnny's and Amaro.
My decision to sign up for this program was to have the opportunity to share my experiences of both failures & success, and to possibly give some guidance to the current generation. Looking back, I had several people who influenced my life and my career, and I very much welcome the chance to do the same.
Edward Kozel ~ I grew up in the SF Bay Area, of Czech and Irish immigrant families. The oldest of five children, I worked my way through college, studying computer science and electrical engineering. Finding the balance between school and work was a constant struggle - a mentor would have been very helpful and hopefully this program can help students find their personal balance solutions. After college I worked for Boeing Aircraft, SRI International, Cisco Systems, Deutsche Telekom, and a variety of other companies large and small. Today we live in Calistoga, and volunteer for Rotary, the Brannan Center, and more recently vaccination clinics.
Julia Leza~ My name is Julia Leza and I am originally from Iowa. I graduated high school and began attending a Community College for nursing before joining the Army as a medic. I served for 4 years and returned home to finish college at a technical school. I earned my Bachelors in Electronics Engineering and moved to California in 2007. In 2018 I decided to return to school for myself and my family. In December 2019, I graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix (UOP). In June of 2020 I completed my course for a Certificate in Accounting through the UOP. I am actively involved with the Rotary Club of Calistoga and enjoy helping others.
My being a mentee, I hope to be of service and help guide others. Navigating the challenges of college life can be overwhelming and I look forward to offering support.
Irais Lopez- Ortega ~ My name is Irais Lopez-Ortega. I was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico. After graduating from high school at 17, I received training to be an elementary special education teacher. I worked in the education system of rural Mexican communities for several years.
I immigrated to the United States in January 1989, eventually moved to the Napa Valley, and started working as a Certified Nurse Assistant at Saint Helena Hospital in the summer of 2000. Later, in 2007-2008, I received my Medical Assistant Associate Degree from Santa Rosa Empire College and was certified as an RCFE Administrator from California Community Care Licensing.
In 2010, I received training from the Women's Initiative of the Bay Area ALAS (Alternatives for Auto Sufficiency) Program in business management and development. This training allowed me to venture further and to open my first care home business in Calistoga--L & B Care Home for the Elderly. Later, I was able to purchase the Cedars Care Home in Calistoga. In both locations, we provide 24-hour care and supervision for the elderly.
I think having a mentor is very important because you get the support, guidance, and encouragement to do things that sometimes you are afraid of. I was 35 years old when I graduated from College, and my mentor, Mr. Hurd, was a 85 years old. I am always going to be grateful to him because he was the one who pushed me to enroll and go to school after work, and I was finally able to graduate.
Edwin Meza ~ After attending Calistoga High School, I was awarded a Soccer Scholarship at a Community College in Missouri where I lived for two years. I then moved to Miami where I continued playing soccer at St. Thomas University and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in International Business. A few years later, I decided to go back to school to earn a Master's Degree in Business Administration.
I continue living in Miami with my beautiful family. I own a Real Estate Brokerage Company and work for MasterCard as a Business Development/Account Manager for the Caribbean. I believe that having a mentor is important because I recall being a high school student with many questions and nowhere to find the answers. There were many people who helped me along the way and I feel strongly about paying it forward.
Citlali Montañez ~ My name is Citlali Montanez, but most people may know me as Cici. I graduated from Calistoga Junior/Senior High School in 2018 and attended the University of California, Davis right after graduation. I am a first generation college student and I am currently in my third year as an undergraduate student studying human development with a minor in Chicana/o studies. As an undergraduate, I have volunteered at the UC Davis Medical Hospital as a “Child Life” undergraduate volunteer. I am also affiliated with a student run clinic called Knights Landing One Health Center where we provide basic healthcare services to an underserved migrant agricultural community, primarily of Latinx individuals. During my summer breaks, I volunteer with the Adventist Health St. Helena Hospital in both the volunteer department and human performance. I believe that having a mentor is important because achieving a higher goal can be heavily implemented in our brain, but we do not necessarily have the guidance to reach that goal. This is especially true for individuals who are a first generation college student and come from a Latinx household. As a mentor, I hope that I can inspire individuals to surpass any educational barrier to reach their fullest potential.
Cynthia Palacios-Rubio ~ After graduating from Calistoga Jr./Sr. High School in 2014, I attended Napa Valley College for about five years. While at Napa Valley College, I was majoring in Music with a concentration in Vocal Emphasis. My plan was to become a middle and high school music teacher. After some life changes, I realized music wasn’t what I wanted to dedicate my whole life to, and after debating taking a break from school I thankfully found inspiration in old stories I had written in middle school. So, I changed my major from Music to English. I ultimately graduated from Napa Valley College with an Associates of Arts in English. I continued my studies by transferring to Sonoma State University, where I am currently working on my Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in a Single Subject Credential. Being a part of the PUERTA program at SSU has taught me to embrace my culture and has made me realize we need more Latino/a teachers in schools so more Hispanic students will feel more comfortable in a classroom because there would be somebody who understands them culturally and linguistically. I am also currently working as a Special Education Paraeducator at Camille Creek Community Schools in Napa, which has allowed me to work with a wide range of students and has been one of the most rewarding jobs thus far.
Being a first-generation student, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to college. I was very lost, and I wouldn't want any other first-generation student to feel as lost as I did. I feel there is so much pressure on many first-generation students to be and do better, and I think it’s important to remind those students that everything will be okay and they can and will succeed as long as they keep their minds and hearts open. As a student in CJSHS, a couple of teachers were my mentors and both teachers are why my life is still influenced by English and Music, which created a passion in me that motivates me to keep pushing forward. I want to be the kind of mentor who encourages students to think realistically, but also allows them to follow their passions and dreams no matter how big or small.
Jonah Pelter ~ I graduated from CHS in 2015. In High School, I played football every year. I then went to SRJC for 3 years and ran on the track team there and was even a captain on the team. I then briefly transferred to a small liberal arts school in SoCal called, University of La Verne. I then decided to be closer to home and try to get into UC Davis. I came back to the JC and finished my AA in communications before transferring to UC Davis where I'm currently attending classes. I also work for an environmental group in Santa Rosa and make rap music. In my spare time, I enjoy meditation, working out, watching sports, hiking and hanging out with my friends.
I believe having a mentor is important because the one constant throughout life is change. Change can be good but, also very tough to adjust to. The class of 2021 has already dealt with a plethora of change in a short time. A global pandemic that has greatly compromised their high school experience, devastating wildfires and political/social turmoil. Yet through all that, these seniors are ready to take the next step in this journey called life. Mentors can be very helpful for folks who are transitioning to a new phase of life. While we can lend advice, sometimes we can simply be good listeners and help these seniors figure out what works for them. Growing up in Calistoga and attending CHS, I was blessed to have many mentors who gave me some sound advice or just listened to me. I look forward to doing the same with the next generation of Wildcats.
Alma Perez ~ I am a first-generation college student who graduated from California State University, Sacramento in 2020. I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Criminal Justice. Now, I work as a Government Contract Specialist at CMG Alliance helping small businesses across California gain government contracts. I currently volunteer with the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce as the Marketing Manager & Advisor for the Creating a Path to Success Program, a program for college-level students to gain personal and professional skills as they enter the workforce. Having had mentors throughout high school and college, I cannot imagine where I would be without them. Even now, my mentors continue to help me when it comes to finding jobs, my career path and even personal growth. I am excited and look forward to being able to share my knowledge and help students be able to reach their educational and career goals.
Xochilt Polanco ~ After graduating from Calistoga Jr./Sr. High, I received my Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies and minors in Biology and Business Administration from California State University Sacramento. While in Sacramento, I had the privilege of being involved in restoration projects, student led educational programs, and even interned for the California Air and Resource Board (CARB) at the California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA). During this time, I also managed to do Harvest internships, which ultimately led me to where I am today, an Assistant Winemaker here in the Napa Valley.
None of this would have been possible without all the wonderful people that took the time to answer questions, provide guidance, and even be an ear to listen when things got hard. Post-secondary there are a million choices to be made, a mentor’s purpose, my purpose, is to help you make those choices if you feel you need it. Life can get overwhelming at times so I hope you all take advantage of this program; we are all here to cheer you on!
Laurel Rios ~ After graduating from Calistoga High School in 2010, I attended San Francisco State University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration with an emphasis in Community Wellness. After I graduated, I moved back to Calistoga with my Husband and I worked for the City as a Recreation Coordinator. Since then, I have worked at a handful of world class resorts and wineries as Executive Assistant and Sales Assistant. When Covid hit, I could no longer keep my job, so I had to get creative with a stay at home job. After securing my proper permits and licensing, I started my own Gluten Free Baking Company out of my home kitchen. Since our opening day of July 13, 2020, we have expanded into two Farmers Markets and eight wholesale locations around Napa Valley.
Having a mentor is a great resource, even if you feel like you have everything under control. It could be as simple as having someone help you remember important dates, or as hands on as helping write college application essays. Having a mentor in High School would have been a huge help, so I am happy I am able to lend a helping hand now.
Pamela Rojas ~ After graduating from Calistoga High School in 2013, I attended San Jose State University. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Justice Studies and Forensic Science. I am now a Registered Behavior Technician, I work with students that have a mental disorder or intellectual disability. I am currently working on getting into a graduate program so I can obtain a Master's in Clinical Psychology.
I believe having a mentor is important because there is a lot to get done during your senior year of high school and it can get overwhelming so it is great to know that you have someone to cheer you on and guide you along the way. Furthermore, the first year of college can be scary especially if you are a first-generation college student like I was, so it is nice to have that extra support. If I would have had a mentor my senior year of high school, I think I would have felt more secure going into college rather than feeling so scared. Luckily enough I was able to have a mentor in college thanks to the EOP program which was very helpful because I had someone that had already been through what I was going through so they were able to give me helpful tips and guide me along.
Lucia Tovar ~ My name is Lucia Tovar. I graduated from CJSHS in 2017 and attended the University of California, Merced. I am currently finishing my last semester as an undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with a minor in Natural Science Education. During my time as an undergraduate, I enrolled in the CalTeach program where I completed over 120 hours of classroom fieldwork mentoring middle school science. I also became a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, where I served as their Public Relations Chairman. Furthermore, I work at the UC Merced Kolligian Library as a Student Work Leader and Interlibrary Loan Student Specialist. I plan on attending Fresno Pacific University with hopes of obtaining my Teaching Credential and a Masters of Education. To me, a mentor is someone who pushes you outside of your comfort zone and believes in you. During my time in CJSHS, I was pushed to realize my own potential and I would not have gotten this far if it wasn’t for everyone who believed in me. As a mentor, I hope to be that driving force that encourages students to go out and reach their own academic success.
Xitlaly Vazquez ~ Hi there, my name is Xitlaly ,but most often I go by Laly. After graduating from CHS in 2013 I attended Sonoma State University, earning a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Development and a minor in Art Studio. Thereafter, I continued to work for our local Boys & Girls Club, working my way up to Program Director. I am now an employee of CJUSD as a Special Education Paraprofessional. I also work part time as a Registered Behavior Technician for another agency. In between all of this, I was trying to travel as much as possible. My most impactful trip was to Ecuador, where I volunteered at an orphanage. I am still exploring possible paths for a masters degree, and in the meantime I am planning my second solo travel trip to Costa Rica.
This mentor program is a great resource that can lessen the stress of your journey by receiving "tried and true" advice. In addition, it is a great way to make connections, even more so during a pandemic.
Danny Vega ~ Hi my name is Danny Vega, I was born in Mexico and moved to California at the age of six. I started 1st grade in St.Helena and continued my education there through 10th grade, at which time my family relocated up to Middletown. I graduated from MHS and with little to no guidance chose to attend SRJC after graduation. I moved on to a two-year EMT certificate program and found a great interest in Emergency Medicine. Unfortunately, months after graduation and licensing, I could not locate a job, so I began exploring other options, and eventually began an apprenticeship at Shaw Plumbing in Calistoga. After four years I was able to complete the required amount of apprenticeship hours and take a test to earn my journeyman’s card. I have now been in the trade for over eight years. I take a lot of pride in being in the trades, as it can be hard work, but it’s an essential part of everybody’s everyday needs. One thing I have learned from my journey is that you don’t necessarily need a college degree to be successful.
As someone who did not have a mentor in high school, I believe one could have been an essential resource for me because it would have helped me get a better understanding of the different career options that were available to me. I believe in giving back, and hope that my journey and experiences can be a positive influence on my mentee’s life and future.