Meet the Staff
Patricia Jovel (PJ) Flores is Orange County Environmental Justice's Project Director, and is excited to lead the organization in confronting the many environmental issues disproportionately affecting Orange County's marginalized communities. PJ was raised and currently lives in Santa Ana, California. She began organizing as a student at UC Berkeley, where she worked to bring student power to bear in support of campus labor organizing and the local prison abolition movement. After graduating, PJ returned to Santa Ana, where she organized with Colectivo Tonantzin, a local grassroots organizing collective, to fight wage theft and defend the rights of day laborers and domestic workers in Orange County. Currently, she helps coordinate the Tierras Comunitarias Coalition to ensure public lands in Santa Ana and Garden Grove are put towards community needs such as public parks and open space, in addition to organizing alongside Acjachemen and Tongva activists to Protect Puvungna and other sacred sites in Orange County. In her free time, PJ is a storyteller and musician, and is currently working on a novel centering trans femmes and two-spirit people in the fight for liberation and Indigenous sovereignty. In all her work, PJ is dedicated to building bridges between local Indigenous communities and communities of color in defense of the water, land, and air that we all call home.
Water Justice Director
Keila Villegas (she/her pronouns) is joined our team in July 2020. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Environmental Studies and an emphasis on political science in 2019. She grew up and currently lives in Santa Ana, CA. After learning and being constantly exposed to the reality of climate injustice and people of color always cornered to receive the lower end of the stick, she wanted to turn those emotions into action. Her passion is rooted in prioritizing the well being of our neighbors through community stewardship & leadership. Overall, Keila is passionate about establishing progressive environmental justice while acknowledging its intersectionality with the world around us by creating spaces and opportunities for community leaders to thrive.
Kayla Asato (she/they) joined OCEJ as of April 2021. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii learning about the effects of pollution, climate change, and environmental racism from war, so moving to Orange County to see similar racial injustices in our soil, water, and air really sparked that passion in making sure justice comes. Kayla enjoys bridging feminist, critical race/ethnic studies, queer, and international relations theories to practice at the local level in the fight for justice. She enjoys doing curriculum work, power mapping, coalition building, and inspiring people through deep canvassing/positive imaginary work most of all in organizing. She graduated from Chapman University in 2018 with a passion for organizing around issues and electoralism. Since graduating, she has been working on nonprofits and electoral campaigns nonstop, and is thrilled to join OCEJ as the redistricting organizer.
Land & Health Director
Maya Cheav joined OCEJ in 2022. She graduated from Chapman University with a BS in Environmental Science and Policy and a minor in English with a creative writing emphasis. She grew up in Long Beach, CA, an environmental justice community and one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Seeing her home affected by the pollution caused by the Port of Long Beach and the freeways that transport goods there, she aims to advocate for and empower these kinds of marginalized communities of racial minorities and lower socioeconomic statuses. In her free time, Maya likes to write poetry and screenplays, make jewelry and crafts out of clay, and play music.
Youth & Education Director
Sydney Cheung (she/they) is OCEJ's Youth and Education Director. She grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and studied Environmental Science and Policy at Chapman University. She has a background in community organizing in Los Angeles and is passionate about working with youth in the climate justice movement. Her vision and goal is to improve political education within youth and Asian American communities and to empower folks to get involved in social justice movements!
Please email our staff based on the campaigns you're interested in learning more about. If you have any general questions or inquiries, our staff will redirect your message to the best person available.
Meet the Advisory Board
Julie, currently serves as the Policy Director at the Orange County Asian & Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA). In her role, she leads and supports policy and civic engagement efforts which include nonpartisan voter mobilization and GOTV, community and legislative advocacy, community education, and the integration of policy advocacy and civic engagement across the agency's direct service departments. Previously, she served as Director of Development at Environmental Charter Schools in Los Angeles. Julie has more than fifteen years of experience in nonprofit development and fundraising, youth development, and community arts, particularly in Orange County. She currently serves on the board of the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA), the Steering Committee of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and organizes within a national network of Vietnamese progressives. Julie is committed to developing powerful youth, promoting artistic expression as a way to nurture community, and building strategies for change within communities of color. She has taught at the National Academy of Social Sciences in Vietnam, has been honored for her community leadership by the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and was awarded Best Advocacy Voice by New American Media (NAM). Julie holds a B.A. in Sociology and Asian American Studies and a minor in Education from UCLA.
Rebecca Robles is a member of the Acjachemen Nation. She is the mother of three sons, five grandsons, and one granddaughter. She graduated from Northern Arizona University with a B.A. in Business Management. She is also an accomplished health
care provider with more than 30 years worked as a Registered Nurse. She has worked for 10 years in Indian Health Service on reservations in Arizona. Rebecca recognizes that the preservation of sacred places is critical to the cultural, spiritual,
and contemporary survival of Indigenous people of the land. She and her family continue to work on the preservation and protection of sacred sites initiated by her mother the late Lillian Robles. Each year the family hosts “Ancestor Walk “ a
pilgrimage to several sacred sites along the southern California coast. Rebecca has worked extensively with preservationists, social justice groups, community groups and tribal groups to protect sacred lands and open space. Rebecca’s vision is to
promote greater understanding and respect of Indigenous people of California, our history and the ongoing relationships with our homelands. Her goal is to promote healing of communities through decolonization and environmental justice as we move forward preparing for coming generations.
Ray Hiemstra, Advisory Board Treasurer, has spent the last 17 years at Orange County Coastkeeper working to preserve, protect, and restore coastal and inland water quality and habitat. As Associate Director of Programs his work includes water quality advocacy and policy development, Marine Protected Areas, species and habitat restoration and water and sediment monitoring. Ray is a member of numerous committees and workgroups including the Port of LA/Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee and Newport Bay Management Committee. He is a lifelong resident of Orange County and spends his spare time working with the Sierra Club and community groups or outdoors with his family and friends.
Connie McGuire, PhD, Advisory Board Member, is Director of Community Relationships with the Community-based Research Initiative of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at the University of California, Irvine. She works on Research Justice oriented projects in a variety of settings including in the struggle for Environmental Justice. She is a cultural anthropologist and a Latin Americanist by training and teaches community based participatory research methods course in UCI's undergraduate Community Engagement Minor. Connie has trained in and works as a coach and guide in several mindfulness-based practices including yoga, meditation and Hakomi, a mindfulness-based, somatic method for assisted self-study.
Dyana Peña, advisory board chair, was born, raised, and resides in Lynwood, CA, and works at Orange County Coastkeeper. She is a first-generation daughter of Mexican immigrants and a lifelong environmentalist whose respect and love for our world grew from a young age thanks to her parents. (Hi, mom and dad!) Through some hard work and luck, Dyana has dedicated her entire ten-year career to protecting the environment, specifically clean water, through program management, outreach, fundraising, and implementation. She comes to OCEJ with gratitude and excitement to be a part of an organization that aligns so deeply with her values, not just in protecting our environment but in doing so respectfully and inclusively.
Blue Leopo is a Advisory Board Member of OCEJ who is excited to be part of an organization that brings light to the environmental issues found in Orange County. They were born & raised in Santa Ana to Mexican migrant parents, where they grew to be passionate about food justice and food/ seed sovereignty work in their community and others. Their environmental justice work experience started as a youth farmer at CRECE Urban Farm and
as a student manager at the UCI Basic Needs Hub, where they supported the operations of the on- campus pantry that fought against food insecurity among college students.
Currently, Blue is employed in the City of Santa Ana Community Garden Program, where they help coordinate community volunteers in the five community gardens across the city. They are also currently working as a Garden Educator with a non- profit called GroundEd, where they facilitate school garden lessons to elementary school children in Long Beach,CA. Additionally, Blue is working on starting a local Santa Ana seed collective along with other local community members to preserve culturally and Native seeds that will be accessible to community. You may find Blue working in the garden talking to youth and elders, traveling or playing with their dog Watson.