Our Team

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 is deeply passionate about ALWAYS, its clients, and its staff.

Emily Steiner – Managing Attorney

Emily was born and raised in Arizona and has dedicated her career to serving the public interest. Emily previously served as an Assistant Attorney General, representing the Arizona Department of Child Safety in child welfare litigation. Prior to that, she completed a year-long clerkship with Judge Yolanda Rodriguez in the Camden County Superior Court. She graduated magna cum laude from the Drexel University Kline School of Law in 2018, where she completed over 100 hours of pro-bono work. Her volunteer positions included an internship with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a six-month Law and Policy Clerkship with Juvenile Law Center, and a fellowship position teaching constitutional rights to high school youth in Philadelphia. Emily is dedicated to uplifting vulnerable populations utilizing compassionate advocacy and educational tools. She provides holistic, trauma-informed representation to her clients at ALWAYS and finds great value in the work.

Valerie Ruiz – Staff Attorney

Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Valerie Ruiz relocated to the Valley in 2012, and became licensed to practice law in Arizona in 2016.  As a staff attorney with ALWAYS, Valerie is committed to providing thoughtful and trauma-informed legal guidance to all that she serves. Valerie began her legal career as an Assistant Attorney General at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, where she practiced juvenile law for five and a half years. While working as an Assistant Attorney General, Valerie appeared in several hundred court hearings, including trials, evidentiary hearings, and mediations. Her prior experience includes being part of the Public Interest Law Society and Asian Pacific American Law Students Association while in law school, and working with Helping Hands Hawaii and Project SHINE during undergraduate school. She came to ALWAYS with a deep desire to directly represent those in the community that would benefit from her litigation experience and optimistic outlook.

Laurie Kalivas – Staff Attorney

Laurie holds a law degree from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Before joining the team at ALWAYS, Laurie worked as an attorney for the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), focusing primarily on the Children’s Court. Laurie was responsible for developing an in-house Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) program at GRIC, and is passionate about the purpose and intent of ICWA. Prior to working for GRIC, Laurie worked as an Arizona Assistant Attorney General, handling juvenile dependency matters. Laurie serves on the Board of Directors for DNA People’s Legal Services. In law school, Laurie held an externship with the Center for Law in the Public Interest, worked for the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, and served as Vice-President of the Women Law Students Association. Laurie is committed to serving the public interest and helping people through her work. 

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.

Maria Virginia Ferrero – Bilingual Office Manager & Legal Advocate

Before joining the ALWAYS team, “Marivi” Ferrero spent over a decade as an attorney in Venezuela, working on a variety of labor and employment, trade and customs, and civil cases. She has several years of management experience and is committed to supporting ALWAYS clients and staff in navigating Arizona’s legal system. Marivi is a certified notary public and has a law degree from Universidad del Zulia in Venezuela, her home country. At ALWAYS, her responsibilities include receiving calls from potential clients, assisting with mailings and local filings, and supporting staff in gathering the information needed for representation.