Saffron Strand is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization with new solutions to help homeless persons find gainful employment and achieve economic independence.
Homeless adults can become members of Saffron Strand at no charge except for their time and effort helping to support our mission. Their help builds our intentional community, which is dedicated to the individual and collective success of all members through their gainful employment in the local workforce.
During the pandemic, Saffron Strand Training Center operations are following strict Covid-safe protocols. Counseling, training, and work opportunities take place primarily by phone and in online virtual meetings.
Even with these limitations, Saffron Strand staff and volunteers can help members successfully enter transitional employment in local communities and progress toward independent employment, and safe, affordable housing.
We are planning for California members to be able to use our Richmond location as we move ahead with plans to develop a new Training Center in Albuquerque.
One-on-one Saffron Strand training and counseling of individual members will take place during select workdays following a schedule to assure health and safety. We will ramp up activities as the pandemic ends in order to renew services through a wide range of programs.
Board of Directors
The Chair of Saffron Strand is Michael Rosenfield, an attorney specializing in criminal law who has a long career serving residents of New Mexico through the Law Offices of the Public Defender in Albuquerque. His public service includes leadership as the Chief Public Defender and mentorship for younger attorneys developing their careers as public defenders. He received his law degree from the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University and began practicing in New Mexico in 1978. In his work as a public defender, Michael represents people charged with crimes who could not afford a private defense attorney. His career brings him into frequent contact with the homeless and others who are destitute and vulnerable, often the victims of crimes and violence themselves. Michael looks forward to helping to lead Saffron Strand’s positive, creative approach to helping the homeless get off the streets and back to work in Albuquerque.
Saffron Strand’s Vice Chair is Brenda Cunningham. Brenda has more than 30 years of experience as a paralegal and legal assistant “helping clients with problems.” Those problems span a wide range of civil and criminal law, up to and including indictments for first degree homicide. Her legal career began with a private practice law firm in California, where she also took continuing education courses in criminology, criminal procedures, and Spanish. She moved to Albuquerque in 2006, where her legal support work has required well-developed staff and client management skills as well as advanced skills in computer applications such as Word and Excel. Along the way, Brenda has achieved certifications for tutoring English as a Second Language and Basic Reading and become a Bernalillo County Voter Registration Worker. Guided by her passion to help vulnerable people solve their problems, Brenda brings to Saffron Strand a wealth of practical legal, management, and work-related technical and social skills.
Chysandra Nair is our Secretary/Treasurer and a founding Director of Saffron Strand. Currently, she works full-time as the executive assistant to the principal of a law firm in Albuquerque. Her experience includes serving as a police dispatcher in both Albuquerque and Richmond, California. Chi also has served as the statewide coordinator of the Minority Counselor Training Institute of the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and worked as a laboratory technician in the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. In volunteer work, she has helped rebuild homes destroyed by a hurricane, cooked meals in a center for abused children, and helped the victims of vehicle collisions, heart attacks, and attempted suicides as a firefighter and emergency medical technician. Chi appreciates how Saffron Strand can help people experiencing homelessness use their time productively, improve their social and vocations skills, and interact in positive ways with their communities.
Eleana Lai-yin Shair is the data manager for the Early Childhood Services Center in the University of New Mexico’s Division of Continuing Education. Her work with vulnerable populations includes serving as a resource for the New Mexico Home Visiting Database, which promotes child development and confident parenting by supporting the relationship among the family, the community, and the home visitor from the state’s Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD). A key goal of the program is to reduce length of time an infant or toddler is in foster care and to improve their psychological and developmental care. Homeless and at-risk mothers face especially serious challenges in raising healthy, happy children. Eleana took an early interest in Saffron Strand in 2019 and looks forward to bringing her skills and talents to our mission.
Trina Wheeler (LMSW, CCM, CPSW, SOAR) has worked in the Social Services field for decades. She’s been a community organizer, activist, advocate, program developer, case manager, and medical social worker, serving latchkey children, victims of domestic violence, people diagnosed with severe mental illness, terminally ill patients, special education students, and people experiencing homelessness. Trina has worked as a job coach in a club house model program, empowering mentally ill members using the work-ordered day. Her volunteer board service includes Camp Fire Kids, National Organization for Women, Unitarian Universalist Church, and Albuquerque Continuum of Care. Currently, Trina is the Housing Program Manager at Presbyterian Health Plan, serving Centennial Care clients throughout New Mexico who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. She is developing a pilot SOAR program to assist the homeless in applying for Social Security benefits. Having followed Saffron Strand’s progress in Albuquerque during 2019-2020, Trina is excited for the future of the program.
For more than three decades, Teddy Parker (MSW, CPSW) has helped people in extremely difficult situations make better choices. As a life coach and counselor, she has worked with clients to address critical life issues, including addiction and other health issues that blocked their progress in relationships, careers, and overall quality of life. Currently, Teddy is a recovery support assistant with Blue Cross Blue Shield, working with members who are frequent users of the ER for alcohol dependency, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. She advocates for her members and helps connect them to counseling or rehabilitation and assists them in finding employment, housing, food stamps, and other services. Teddy holds a Master’s in Social Work and Psychology from the University of Kentucky. She credits her background in social work and private counseling/life coaching with her later success as an executive producer of commercial television programming and industrial and educational videos. Teddy believes Saffron Strand offers new ways forward for some of Albuquerque’s most vulnerable — ways to rediscover their best selves and build rewarding new lives.
Clayton Gill is one of Saffron Strand’s longest serving volunteers and current webmaster and media outreach person. He is an editor by training and profession with a MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin and membership in the Council of Science Editors. He has more than 30 years of experience in international agricultural communications, having worked abroad and filed reports from farms and ag facilities in 40 countries. Clayton believes Saffron Strand is a cost-effective way to enable the least advantaged people in a community to gain useful skills, develop rewarding relationships, and produce value for themselves and others.
Richard Plank is the founding President of the Stewardship Fund of San Francisco, an investment group built around a shared Code of Ethics. This group housed Saffron Strand in one of the Stewardship Fund’s buildings in Richmond, CA – favoring Saffron Strand and their mission over other potential tenants precisely because of their Code of Ethics and because of their invaluable efforts to help the homeless and those at risk of homelessness re-enter the workforce. Richard’s fellow Stewardship Fund members represent multiple generations of experience in real estate investment, management, construction, and development in the Bay Area. Richard holds degrees in the hard sciences and in leadership. He has worked in program evaluation and research for public schools and education policy institutes, managed sales and software implementation teams, and managed national accounts of two Fortune 500 companies.
Judge Katherine Lucero is an Honorary Board Member of Saffron Strand. She is a Superior Court judge of Santa Clara County who currently sits as supervising judge in Juvenile Dependency Court, overseeing hundreds of cases involving abused and neglected children. Her judicial experience includes the Superior Court Appellate Division, Juvenile Delinquency Court, Adult Criminal Court, Family Court, and Dependency Court. In 2002, Judge Lucero started a Family Treatment Court to assist parents with substance abuse problems. Before her judicial appointment by the governor in 2001, she had spent her entire legal career in the area of child abuse and neglect, including work as a deputy district attorney specializing in crimes against children and the elderly and as a Juvenile Dependency Superior Court commissioner. Judge Lucero has trained other judges and child welfare professionals at local, state, and national conferences on issues such as the impact of domestic violence on children, family drug courts, immigration issues in dependency court, and the disproportionate impact of the child welfare system on children of color. Judge Lucero sees potential in the Saffron Strand approach to improve the lives of children and their parents who are homeless.
Yvonne Nair is the Founder, President, and CEO of Saffron Strand, Inc. As a non-profit executive director, Yvonne has led the successful growth and development of large and small organizations in public health and human services, including the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, ARH Recovery Homes, and Contra Costa Clubhouses. Her expertise covers innovative workforce development programs and non-traditional vocational education and job training. She holds a B.S. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as certifications in small business, office software applications, and social services training institutes. Born and raised in Malaysia, Yvonne is a naturalized U.S. citizen with two adult children. She founded Saffron Strand to meet the critical need for new solutions to the problem of homelessness.
Counselors & Advisors
Dr. Don Schweitzer is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. He received his MSW from Boise State University and his PhD from Portland State University. Prior to receiving his PhD, he worked in the field as the director of a transitional living program and emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth.
Dr. Schweitzer’s current research focuses on understanding and ameliorating the challenges and barriers experienced by runaway and homeless youth. Based on his experience and research, Professor Schweitzer believes that current policy and interventions frequently exacerbate the problems these young people face and result in few options other than high-risk living arrangements.
Dr. Schweitzer’s goals are to continue to conduct participatory research with homeless and runaway youth in an effort to help shape innovative social policies, treatment models, and service evaluation methods.
Dr. Harriet Meek (PhD, LCSW, C004970-NM) is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in Albuquerque who serves Saffron Strand Members (people experiencing homelessness and personal risk) and provides guidance to our volunteer Trainers and Mentors.
Dr. Meek’s experience includes more than 50 years of agency and private clinical practice as psychotherapist, supervisor, consultant, teacher and student in urban and rural settings in the USA and UK. In both countries, she has worked with people from a wide range of cultural, educational and life circumstances, including immigrants from other countries, as well as members of Native American tribes in New Mexico and Maine. She has worked with people who are struggling in inner city settings and with very privileged people who also are often struggling.
In New Mexico, her specialized settings include the UNM Hospital Psychiatry Consultation and Liaison Service, supervising social work staff at the Mental Health Unit of the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility at Los Lunas, and helping establish NMSU’s Albuquerque MSW program. In returning to direct practice in recent years, one of Dr. Meek’s personal sub-specializations is working with people who are not accomplishing what they have expected of themselves.
Dr. Meek has pursued learning through her career, including her PhD, two years of postdoctoral training at the Tavistock Clinic in London, and participation in ongoing supervision, continuing education classes, and seminars. She often uses professional writing as a way of thinking through complex issues, having produced more than 20 articles across the fields of psychotherapy, mental health and social work.
Mojdeh Mehdizadeh is the President of Contra Costa College in California and Co-Chair of Saffron Strand’s 2016 Homeless Workforce Conference. As the former Executive Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology for the Contra Costa Community College District, Mojdeh has more than 25 years of experience in higher education. She began her career at Diablo Valley College in the area of student services and later institutional research. She received an MA in Organizational Communications from California State University East Bay and a BS in Computer Information Systems from San Francisco State University. Mojdeh completed her undergraduate general education requirements at Diablo Valley College and has remained proud of her roots in the community college system.
Through community college education, Mojdeh believes, “high barrier” students, including those who are homeless or at risk, can achieve and sustain careers in today’s dynamic labor market where employers need workers with technical skills and educational achievement beyond high school or the GED.
Sponsors & Collaborators
Following the relocation of Saffron Strand’s headquarters to Albuquerque, New Mexico, our non-profit quickly gained the support of Debbie O’Malley, Bernalillo County District 1 Commissioner. Bernalillo County now is helping to sponsor Saffron Strand and our work in Albuquerque and other BernCo communities.
Commissioner O’Malley has a passion for innovative solutions to economic development for all, including the homeless and those and those at risk, as shown throughout her 30-year public service career. She was a keynote speaker at Saffron Strand’s inaugural fundraiser in Albuquerque in 2019. Learn more about her here.
In California, Contra Costa and other Bay Area community organizations and businesses have continued to encourage the innovative work Saffron Strand pioneered in helping the homeless gain valuable job skills and getting them back to work in local communities. Some had joined Saffron Strand’s effort as early as 2008, offering volunteer and in-kind help or in collaboration with Saffron Strand in key programs, projects, and events:
- City of Richmond
- Laura Kuhn Art & Design
Attorney Elizabeth Riles of Bohbot & Riles, LLP gave excellent council and support throughout Saffron Strand’s start up phase. She understood, appreciated, and respected our unique approach to the problems of the homeless. Elizabeth made our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt application very easy. Thank you so very much, Elizabeth, for all your help and support which went far beyond your professional services. Thank you for believing in our mission!