Our Team

Mayan Families’ staff is nearly 80% indigenous. This staffing policy is critical to truly understanding the needs of the community, build strong community relationships and to provide the required services in an appropriate way.

Mayan Families Directing Committee

Erica Berthelsen, Director of Development & Operations

After falling in love with the rich cultures of Guatemala in 2012, Erica returned to Guatemala in 2014 to follow her passion of creating a world where cultural rights are recognized and indigenous peoples are treated equally. Previously, Erica spent time developing education programs for indigenous Zapotec peoples in Oaxaca, Mexico, and running a social enterprise for a women’s empowerment non-profit in Melbourne, Australia. Erica speaks Spanish and English and will receive her Master of International and Community Development in 2016.

Maria Gloria Chiroy, Program Administrator

Gloria’s deep rooted knowledge of and experience in the surrounding communities where Mayan Families works is vital to the success of all Mayan Families programs. Gloria met co-founder Sharon Smart in 1990 through her textile work. Together, Sharon and Gloria began to help women and families around the lake. She strongly believes in working hard each day to help families move forward. This became the basis for the work of Mayan Families. Gloria is Kaqchikel Mayan, and speaks Kaqchikel and Spanish.

Juan Chiroy, Construction Program Manager

Just like Julio and Gloria, Juan has been with the organization since the very beginning. Juan’s strong ties with the communities that we work in have been crucial in creating partnerships and trust with community leaders. Juan is Kaqchikel Mayan, and speaks Kaqchikel and Spanish.

Brenda Lety Chiroy, Family Aid Program Director

In 2005, Lety started volunteering with Mayan Families, doing whatever she could to support the organization. She became the Family Aid Program Director in 2009 and is grateful to have the opportunity to help her people through her work. Lety has a degree in social work and is studying towards her Masters in Social Work. Lety is Kaqchikel Mayan, and speaks Kaqchikel and Spanish.

Sandra Chiroy, Education Program Director

Sandra believes education truly can change a person’s life. At the age of five, she was one of the first students sponsored by the founders of Mayan Families before the organization was even officially founded. Thanks to her hard work and a sponsorship from Mayan Families, she obtained a Masters in Social Work in 2014. Sandra is Kaqchikel Mayan, and speaks Kaqchikel, Spanish and basic English.

Julio Coroxon, General Manager

Julio has been with the organization since the very beginning, when Mayan Families was just an idea. He continues to help Mayan Families support children and families of the region every day. Julio grew up in San Jorge la Laguna where he witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of extreme poverty. This inspired him to help indigenous communities overcome social and economic injustice through the work of Mayan Families. Julio is Kaqchikel Mayan, and he speaks Kaqchikel, Spanish and basic English.

 

Dwight Poage, Co-Founder & President

Dwight Poage began travelling through Central America in 1987. He backpacked through the Darian Gap in Southern Panama into Northern Colombia before heading back north and becoming enamored with the country of Guatemala in 1988. It was in Guatemala that he met his future wife, Sharon, and in 2005, they co-founded Mayan Families.

“Years ago, this began as a dream of ours. We just wanted to help. We saw the suffering, we saw the great need, and we could not ignore it. We knew that we could make a positive difference – a generational difference – and that is how Mayan Families was started.”

 Sharon Smart-Poage, Co-Founder & Director

Sharon came to Guatemala in 1986 as a buyer for an ethnic store in Canada. She fell in love with the textiles, the colors, and the people of Guatemala. Eventually, she opened her own business exporting handicrafts to Australia. Working closely with indigenous people, she saw the incredible hardships they faced.

After the devastation of the Sololá area in 2005, she joined forces with Dwight and Patti to provide as much help as they could, but it was obvious that there was so much more to be done. They made the decision to put all of their energies into helping, as turning away was not an option; and so together, they formed Mayan Families. Sharon and Dwight have two adopted daughters from Guatemala which has been another motivation to help Guatemalan children.

“The thought that it could have been [our children] without an education, without a safe place to live, without access to medical care and going to bed hungry at night spurs us on to try to make sure that no child should suffer like that. Thankfully, we have been able to help thousands of people – something that we never imagined.”

 

 

 Program Management

Ana Can, Nutrition and Welfare Program CoordinatorMarco Chiroy, IT ManagerSergio Chumil, Hope for the Animals Program Coordinator
Alberto Bocel Coc, Sewing Trade School InstructorErin Crandell, Communications & Marketing ManagerWill Culhane, Donor Relations Manager
 
Megan Furnivall, Education Program ManagerAdela López García, PsychologistTeresa Panjoj Morales, Medical Program Coordinator
Reynaldo Manano Tacan Sipac, Carpentry Trade School CoordinatorFredy Vasquez, Microloans Program CoordinatorDra. Silvia Zacarias, Doctor
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