Maria "Mari" Hernandez is our Founder and Volunteer CEO. She is responsible for planning, coordinating and directing all activities and programs. She works to promote our mission and enable us to provide services to the youth, families and the communities we serve. Her professional experience includes more than 24 years in the field of Human Services. She is passionate about Conscious Living and Conscious Parenting. In 2006, she and her husband began the journey of adopting a sibling group from Orange County foster care system. Although she always dreamed of starting a non-profit, her son Andrew's suicide in 2018 (he was the youngest of her adopted children), became the impetus for Vida Center. In addition to working in private practice as a therapist, she enjoys spending time with her family, teaching and speaking on Personal Growth & Development, working and growing her own business goals and volunteering to help build Vida Center into a self-sustainable non-profit social enterprise. She was born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA and raised by hard-working Mexican immigrant parents. She obtained her Master’s degree in Social Work from UCLA in 1997 and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in 2009.
Ben Vigil was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. He was encouraged by his sister to transplant to Santa Barbara in 2017. The Santa Barbara community, specifically SBHS was fortunate that Vigil heeded his sister’s advice. He is currently in his 3rd year of special education teaching at SBHS and has also served as the assistant coach for SBHS wrestling. However, his dedication to education began many years ago; he has been an educator for 21 years. His unending commitment to working with youth is demonstrated not just through education and coaching, 12 years ago he became a school liaison for the Special Olympics and helps facilitate school programs at both a local and national level. Six years ago he also began contributing his time and energy by serving on non-profit boards. Ben was a key contributor to the development and creation of A Park Above, a 6 acre park in Rancho, NM. A Park Above was the first fully-inclusive and accessible playground in New Mexico. He is also a dedicated husband and father of 3 (ages 19, 16 and 8 months). He joined Vida Center in honor of Andrew Hernandez whom he coached at SBHS and in honor of his brother, who years ago also ended his personal pain and suffering through suicide. Vigil serves as Board Vice-President.
Jennifer Parks is the General Manager for McDermott-Crockett & Associates Mortuary. She is also a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Funeral Arrangement Counselor. Jennifer is passionate about her career and was named a Local Hero through the Santa Barbara Independent in 2016. However you would never know that, if it was left to her. Her humble nature and compassionate heart has touched so many people especially those impacted and affected by tragedy, death and grief. Jennifer is truly passionate to serving and helping others, among the many ways she does this is through service to non-profit organizations. She has served for many years on the Board of Life Chronicles and more recently joined the Leadership Committee for the Alliance of Living & Dying Well. She is also passionate about Alternative and Complimentary medicine and loves taking care of people. She has a background in Women’s Health and is a Reiki practitioner. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, CA but made Santa Barbara her home in 2002 along with her husband and 3 children. She joined Vida Center as she believes it is an “amazing endeavor to empower kids”. Jennifer Parks serves as Board Treasurer.
Thomas Dominguez is a Santa Barbara native. He played football and wrestled for Santa Barbara High School (SBHS) Dons and graduated in 2018. He recently completed his CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) and HHA (Home Health Aid) certification and works for a local Hospice agency. He has a passion for and commitment to helping others. Along with work, he is also a second year student at Santa Barbara City College. Thomas’ goal is to receive his BSN and become a professional nurse. Thomas enjoys spending time with his family and younger siblings, backpacking with friends and working on his physical health and well-being. He joined Vida Center in honor of his friend and SBHS football teammate Andrew Hernandez. Dominguez joined the Board since it’s inception and currently serves as Board Secretary.
Emilio Vela graduated from UCSB in 2011. Originally from Bakersfield, CA, Emilio made Santa Barbara his new home after graduating with a double major in Communication and Spanish. Emilio’s career has mainly centered around educating people on how to best manage their finances which consequently became his passion in life. His hard work and dedication led to a recent promotion as a Senior Manager at his current company, Pensionmark Financial Group. Emilio was raised along with his two siblings by a single mother. From his mother and family, he learned the value and importance of education, hard work and helping others. He is the first in his family to receive a higher education and is grateful for the financial assistance that made his education a reality. Emilio’s passion for personal finance education has led to volunteering through the Santa Barbara’s Partners in Education organization. Emilio is also a talented dancer and has been a member of ME Sabor, a local Latino Performing Dance Group, for several years now. Emilio joined Vida Center to continue his commitment to helping youth. He wants to help young people who like himself as a student, struggled financially, move from that place to a place of economic empowerment, a commitment he believes Vida Center embodies.
Naomi Vogel is a talented graphic designer, photographer and 3-D modeler. She studied photography at Brooks Institute of Photography and received her AA degree from Santa Barbara City College. Naomi is also a children’s author and has published two children’s books, Do You Know a Big Tiny Bunny and The Happy Animal Alphabet. Naomi was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM and transplanted to Santa Barbara 18 years ago. She enjoys spending time with her husband and children ages 5 and 3. She joined Vida Center when her older brother, Ben Vigil, shared Vida Center’s website with her. Naomi states reading about Vida Center “touched me…we lost our brother too” She knew then, that she wanted to be a part of Vida Center. Naomi also recalls as a child, her father volunteering and being involved with non-profit organizations that served youth and feels that it has somehow inspired her commitment and involvement with Vida Center.
Rafael Mora was born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCSB in 2014 with a major in Economics & Accounting. He was also a part of the UCSB Gaucho soccer team and continues to enjoy playing the best sport in the world with friends and family in local soccer leagues. Rafael is currently an Investment Analyst with PensionMark and is passionate about assisting others with their financial literacy and wealth management. He has taken his passion for personal finance outside of work and has volunteered for several sessions now with Santa Barbara’s Partners in Education program as one of their Career Coaches. Rafael serves as a role model, source of inspiration and sounding board not only to the youth he volunteers with but also to his nephews and nieces whom he enjoys spending time with and guiding along the way. Rafael is the first in his family to receive a higher education and as his life and career grows and expands, he plans to do what he can to ensure others can obtain theirs as well. Rafael joined Vida Center because “helping people is my passion and I want to continue helping to empower youth".
Maria Vallejo-Meza has been in the financial industry for 7+ years, since completing her studies in Business Administration and Economics at Santa Barbara City College and CSU Channel Islands. Maria was raised in Santa Barbara from the age of two and considers it home. She is grateful to be fluent in two languages and enjoys music and poetry in both Spanish and English. Maria makes it a point to dedicate some of her free time to educating our local communities on finance, and volunteering lunch hours to kids’ summer programs. She loves traveling because she feels it gifts her with the opportunity to experience some of the many beautiful cultures around the world. India, Cuba, Peru, and Mexico top her list of favorite countries visited. Lastly, Maria thoroughly enjoys her profession, volunteer work, and spending time with her adored friends and family. Maria joined Vida Center to contribute her time and energy to an organization whose mission and goals, she readily identifies with and feels are important to both Youth and our communities.