our board

The American Friends of the Bajio is governed by a volunteer board composed of leaders from across the United States and Mexico. Several of the members of the Board also sit on the Community Foundation of the Bajio’s Board.

We created the American Friends of the Bajio because most of us have travelled to this area over the years and been inspired by the local work of The Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio and the commitment of its executive director Adriana Cortes to working with the residents of the small communities we visited. Many Americans wanted a way to donate directly to support their projects and operations, so we started this American non-profit to meet this need. All board members are volunteers. Almost 100% of the funds are expended to support projects and operations in Mexico.

Marla Adams

Jose Luis Arzola

Adriana Cortes-Jimenez
Vice President

Jane Crowe

Cindy Defoor

Ilana Dubester

Hannah Gill

Joan Lorden

Lawrence McSwain

Tom O'Connor

Millie Ravenel

Sharon Schaap

Melissa Edwards Smith

Wendy Whitson

Kelley Wilkinson



Asheville, NC

Marla Adams is retired from the Van Winkle Law Firm in Asheville and serves on numerous nonprofit boards. While serving as chair of the Center for International Understanding board in 2001, she first traveled to Guanajuato. She has returned many times and has hosted delegations from Guanajuato in Asheville several times.




Jane Crowe has worked in nonprofit organizations for the past 20 years as a social worker, community organizer and fundraiser.  Jane organized and hosted Adriana's delegation visit to Penland in the spring of 2014, and she has a deep connection with the people of Latin America, which she continues to build through annual visits to the region.



Saxapahaw, NC

Hannah Gill, Ph.D is the Director of the Latino Migration Project at UNC Chapel Hill. Since 2008, she has taught Global Course Guanajuato and traveled to Mexico with 100+ students to study migration. 



Summerfield, NC

Lawrence McSwain is a retired District Court Judge, and served the people of North Carolina for over 23 years. After traveling to the Bajio in 2002 and 2011, he became interested in helping the Community Foundation of the Bajio because of the important work they are doing.



Seal Beach, CA / Valenciana, Mexico

Sharon Schaap worked with a private fiduciary practice serving the elderly for 25 years in the Southern California area. She decided to switch her focus of service to hosting guests from all over the world by creating a bed and breakfast inn, Casa Estrella de la Valenciana in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was here that she met Adriana Cortes who inspired her interest in the developmental activities  in the rural areas by the Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio.



Marshall, NC / Las Trancas, Mexico

Kelley Wilkinson and her husband Stephen bought and renovated the 450-year-old Hacienda Las Trancas as a boutique hotel near Dolores Hidalgo in Guanajuato and spend part of each year living in Las Trancas. Kelley has worked closely with the local community and the Community Foundation of the Bajio in advancing the visions and goals of the local Las Trancas families.


Burlington, NC.

Jose Luis Arzola was born in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
and came to the US in 1968. He has volunteered with and founded many Latino organizations
in the state. In 2006 he was elected counselor of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad. In 2008 he
founded the Federation of Hometown Associations for Guanajuato and is now the official
government representative for Guanajuato in the Carolinas.


CINDY DEFOOR - Treasurer

Garner, NC

Cindy DeFoor has devoted her career to building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and currently serves as Senior Administrator in the Office of Grants at the Wake County Public School System. She became captivated by the work of the Fundacion Communitario del Bajio during a visit to Guanajuato in 2005 and is pleased to support the partnership between the Foundation and the American Friends of the Bajio.



Apex, NC

Nancy Hagan, Ph.D. works with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work doing labor trafficking analysis. She serves on a number of local and national boards and has received recognition for her work in the community.  She has lived in Mexico and knows the Bajio area well.


TOM O'CONNOR - Vice President

Athens, Greece

Tom O'Connor has been active with the Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio since 2005. He and his wife Helena lived in Guanajuato state from 2005 to 2008 and assisted the Fundacion with training and education programs. He also serves on the board of the Community Foundation of the Bajio.




Raleigh, NC

Melissa Edwards Smith is the International Programs Coordinator at NC State University's Global Training Initiative. In her previous role, she directed the Center for International Understanding's Latino Initiative program, which allowed her to lead hundreds of community leaders on study programs to the heart of Mexico for more than a decade. She first began working with Adriana Cortes and the Community Foundation of the Bajio in 2005 and was inspired to continue to support the vision of Adriana and her community-based projects ever since.


ADRIANA CORTES - Vice President

Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico

Adriana Cortes has over 30 years of experience in community development. She founded the Community Foundation of the Bajio in 1998 and has been executive director since then. She is a national leader in the non-profit sector in Mexico and has worked transnationally with organizations throughout the world to advance economic development opportunities for marginalized communities.



Pittsboro, NC

Ilana Dubester is a native of Brazil. She has been engaged in advancing the rights of Latino immigrants in North Carolina since 1995. She met Adriana at a conference in 2001 and was immediately taken by her passion, openness and generosity. Later that year, she visited Adriana’s home state of Guanajuato and has since partnered with Adriana in many transnational projects. Ilana is Executive Director of El Vinculo Hispano in Siler City, NC.



Charlotte, NC

Joan F. Lorden, Ph.D. is Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UNC-Charlotte with a strong commitment to both international education and civic engagement as components of a strong educational experience. She has traveled to Guanajuato with the Center for International Understanding and has encouraged her colleagues to participate in these programs as a way to better understand the impact of immigration on North Carolina's educational institutions and the opportunities for partnerships with Guanajuato institutions, including the Community Foundation of the Bajio, to enrich the educational experiences of students in both states.



Raleigh, NC

Millie Ravenel is the Executive Director Emeritus of the NC Center for International Understanding, an international education program of the University of North Carolina. She has been to Guanajuato numerous times over the past 15 years working with the Community Foundation of the Bajio, bringing 300 NC public policy and civic leaders to Guanajuato to better understand the impact of migration between Mexico and North Carolina and the culture of these new North Carolina immigrants. 



Asheville, NC / Pozos, Mexico

Wendy Whitson is an artist and arts
advocate who helped to develop the River Arts District in Asheville and has hosted Guanajuato business and tourist leaders. She has been active in creating arts projects in Pozos and was instrumental in the success of the recent mural arts installation at the K-12 school in Pozos.