Valentina Restrepo Montoya – Executive Director & CEO

Valentina is a native of Boston and the daughter of Colombian parents. After graduating from Berkeley Law, Valentina joined the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, where she participated in a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections for inadequate medical care, mental healthcare, and noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Following that, Valentina became an Assistant Public Defender in Birmingham, Alabama. She then joined The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, where she advocated for people deemed unable to represent themselves in immigration removal proceedings. Valentina has been the Executive Director of ALWAYS since June 2021 and is deeply passionate about the organization’s mission.

Marissa Anderson – Managing Attorney

Marissa was one of the first people to join ALWAYS (then known as “Project ALWAYS”) shortly after the organization was founded by January Contreras in 2013. Marissa held the role of Senior Attorney, dedicating over seven years to advocating on behalf of ALWAYS’ clients and supporting its staff. Prior to becoming an attorney at ALWAYS, Marissa practiced at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for several years, representing the Department of Child Safety in dependency, guardianship, and other matters in Juvenile Court. Marissa rejoined ALWAYS as Managing Attorney in January 2024 and has since been largely in charge of programming since then. She earned her law degree from Indiana University School of Law in 2005 and was admitted to the Arizona State Bar the same year.

Shana Dawson Fish – Staff Attorney

Shana is an Arizona native and has been a licensed attorney since 2012. Shana spent the first 10 years of her law career as a trial attorney defending indigent families in involuntary state actions. In law school, Shana held two judicial internships, one in the Federal District Court of Arizona and another in the Maricopa County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, under the Presiding Judge. She also achieved academic excellence, including as an editor of her law school’s law review journal. Shana loves the Arizona community and enjoys advocating for children and families.

Rachel Holesha – Legal Advocate

Rachel received a Bachelor’s degree in Illinois from Elmhurst University with a double major in Political Science and Intercultural Studies. While in law school, Rachel has advocated for Arizonans through the University of Arizona Law School’s Criminal Rights Restoration Clinic, Innocence Clinic, and various other clinics, helping community members obtain legal services, such as assistance with legal name changes and criminal record expungement. Rachel has also interned in the family law field. With a passion for both criminal history repair and family law, she wanted to utilize her knowledge to expand access to the legal processes to her community. While in her search for like-minded people in the legal field, Rachel was one of ALWAYS’ Fall 2023 Law Fellows, where she immediately felt at home because she had found like-minded advocates in the legal field. This winter, Rachel took on the full-time role of Legal Advocate, continuing her work alongside her ALWAYS colleagues on behalf of the organization’s clients.

Graciela Gomez Cruz – Bilingual Social Worker

Graciela, or “Gracie,” was born and raised in South Phoenix, Arizona. She is the daughter of Mexican parents and is a sister of 5 brothers. With hard work, Graciela earned full ride scholarships to study at Arizona State University (ASU), thus becoming a first-generation college student. Gracie graduated from ASU in May of 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice; she did so with a 4.0 GPA, earning ASU’s Moeur Award, given to graduates with the highest academic standing. Just one month after graduating, Graciela stepped into the social work realm by starting as a shelter advocate at a domestic violence shelter and working her way up to a case manager. While case managing, Graciela worked with survivors of human trafficking and/or domestic violence by assisting them to obtain stable housing, look for counselling resources, and taught them life skills. Graciela finds this chapter at ALWAYS the perfect transition in her career as it deals with the legal side of assisting survivors while still holding onto the roots of trauma-informed care.

Marina W. Peterson – Paralegal

Marina was born in Sacramento, California, and spent a decade in Washington State before relocating with her children to Arizona in 2021. Prior to joining ALWAYS, Marina supported lawyers and other advocates in her role as Legal Secretary at the Office of the Arizona Attorney General. Before that, she was a Court Services Specialist at the Tempe Municipal Court. Marina is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Administration with an emphasis in Law & Policy, and is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, and Phi Theta Kappa. She enjoys collaborating with others in the pursuit of justice and serving the community. Marina is proud to be part of a long lineage of people dedicated to public service, including her grandfather who served as part of the Department of Justice until his retirement.