WHO WE ARE

A bi-lingual and bi-cultural group of people with a global vision

and strong local ties.

OUR STORY

Comunidad Connect was founded in 2007 by Jon Thompson and Roman Yavich in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Jon was directing a local education foundation and Roman was conducting research on the impact of tourism development on a Fulbright grant. Their shared interest in contributing to community and economic development in Nicaragua led to the formation Comunidad Connect, a social enterprise that combines sustainable tourism with bottom-up development work.

 

From the beginning, Comunidad Connect has worked with local residents and leaders, public institutions and the private sector to identify development priorities to which to attract resources in Nicaragua and from abroad. Working on a shoestring budget, with small grants, volunteers, and key donors, Comunidad Connect restored a neglected community space into a bustling multi-use recreational facility coined the San Juan del Sur Sports Park, and launched San Juan del Sur’s first municipal recycling program.

 

Comunidad Connect, in partnership with the Nicaraguan sister-organization Sociedad Civil Comunidad Connect, which was formed in 2012, works with groups of volunteers and students on service learning trips through the Cultural Connections program. The revenue from this program enabled CC to expand its community development work that now includes rural healthcare access and a major water filter project. With the recently built rural health clinic providing primary care to thousands of Nicaraguans, we can be proud of far we’ve come, and look forward to how much more we will do.

SOCIEDAD CIVIL COMUNIDAD CONNECT STAFF

DORICEL AGUIRRE OBANDO

HOI Groups Coordinator

Doricel was born and raised in the Yalaguina community of Somoto, Northern Nicaragua. She graduated from National Institute High School in 1996 and in 1999 received a scholarship to study agriculture at Reedley College in California. After returning to Nicaragua Doricel studied English and worked as an English teacher in her town. She is a graduate of the Nicaraguan Autonomous University in Leon. Currently Doricel plans, prepares and guides the HOI volunteer groups who join Comunidad Connect many times a year to share their faith and serve our community partners.

NERYS BLANDON

Community Outreach and Education Coordinator

Nerys is a resident of Los Robles, the community of 2,000 subsistence coffee farmers in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.  Her mother was the founding member of the local health volunteers who have been the heart and soul of Comunidad Connect's work in Los Robles over the last 4 years. Nerys has followed her mother's lead and has been instrumental in the implementation of Nica Agua, which now provides clean drinking water to 90% of Los Robles. Today Nerys is currently the Community Outreach Coordinator for NCHC, in charge of the growing network of brigadistas and the community projects associated with the Los Robles Health Center.

YARISLEIDY CORTEZ

Community Projects and Nica Agua Manager

Yarisleidy was born and raised in San Juan del Sur and graduated from highschool as validvictorian, after having presented her thesis entitled "The Ecological Culture of Nicaragua".  She continued that trend by graduating at the top of her class at UPOLI University with a degree in Business Administration.  She started with Comunidad Connect by managing the El Teson initiative.  Today, she manages all of the environmental projects our Campo Verde program, including Eco Gigante and the emblematic Nica Agua project.

ALISSON FIGUEROA

Groups Coordinator

Alisson is a renewable resource engineer, with experience working in research and conservation of wildlife and forests. She dedicates her free time to making bags from waste material such as tires in order to reduce trash accumulation. Alisson joined Comunidad Connect in order to merge her interest in social work, education, and improving the quality of life for rural communities. Currently, Alisson works to coordinate and guide volunteer groups from North America as they serve with our community partners in Jinotega.

HUMBERTO GAMBOA

Guide

Humberto, a native of Managua, studied civil engineering and has a Master’s in project management. He has worked all across Central America leading groups of volunteers on community development delegations. He has worked with volunteers from around the world, and trekked throughout Costa Rica doing community service and facilitating personal development. In all of his roles, Humberto has emphasized creating long-lasting connections and relationships with the communities surrounding him. Humberto also deeply values the importance of sustainable development in community service, and is excited to share his knowledge and insights through Comunidad Connect.

JULIO GUERRA

Maintenance

Julio has been a loyal employee of Comunidad Connect since November 2009. He has worked as a security guard in Managua and in San Juan del Sur and is a skilled mason and carpenter who has contributed in a variety of ways to the improvements of the Comunidad Connect Sports Park in San Juan del Sur.

ALEJANDRO JOSE NOGUERA CASTRO

Sports Program Manager

Alejandro was born in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua in 1979 and early on demonstrated tremendous ability as a baseball player. After 7 years of playing in the amateur baseball leagues as a teenager, he started his

professional baseball career.  He eventually became an all-star pitcher for the national team representing Nicaragua on an international level. Alejandro traveled to Venezuela, U.S.A., and Holland to play against the world’s best teams. After a career-ending injury in late 2006, he was hired by Comunidad Connect to manage our youth development and athletic program.

MAYRA RIVAS CONTRERAS

Country Director

Dra. Mayra Rivas Contreras earned her degree as a Doctor of Medicine and Surgery from the National University of Nicaragua in Leon in 1984. She became a specialist in Integrated Medicine in 1991, and earned a postgraduate degree in Administrative Management and Financial Evaluation of Projects in 1996. Dra. Mayra has previously worked on many community health projects, including the World Bank, and with a the National Health System Modernization program with the Internal Development Bank and Ministry of Health. Additionally, she worked as a project coordinator for the International Health Plan of Nicaragua and with Medicos del Mundo, a partnership between Spain and Nicaragua. Since July 2016, Dra. Mayra has been working as the Comunidad Connect in-country director, supervising and supporting all programs and staff.

RONALD ZELEDON

Logistics Coordinator​

Ronald hails from Jinotega, in Northern Nicaragua. He serves various roles for Comunidad Connect, working as a driver and logistical support for volunteer groups. Also, Ronald coordinates the sports academy in the rural town of Los Robles, just outside of Jinotega. Currently he is studying law, and is a soccer player as well as coach.

COMUNIDAD CONNECT STAFF

THERESA BAILEY

Princeton in Latin America Fellow

Theresa graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Spanish in 2014. Theresa’s passion for Latin America and the Spanish language has taken her to Argentina to study health care provisions and public health policy. She also spent time studying in Sevilla, Spain and, later, working with Médicos del Mundo in Madrid, evaluating the organization’s projects in Africa and Latin America. Before her time in Nicaragua, she was researching cultural perception of teenage pregnancy in Hidalgo, Mexico.  Her main interests lie in global health, community outreach, masculinity and how perceptions of masculinity may impact health outcomes and health seeking behavior. Theresa joined Comunidad Connect in August 2015 and works in Los Robles at the NCHC clinic.

GRACE GALLOWAY

Princeton in Latin America Fellow

Grace graduated from Northwestern University (2013) with a B.A. in Psychology. While studying at NU, Grace had the opportunity to work on an organic farm in Costa Rica, and study public health at the Makerere School of Public Health in Kampala, Uganda. After graduation, Grace spent two years living and working Panama City, Panama, with Global Brigades, a community health and development organization. There, she honed her interest in public health and health education, focusing on clean water and nutrition. Grace joined Comunidad Connect in August 2015 and works with the Nica Agua program in San Juan del Sur.

JON THOMPSON

Co-Founder/Board Chair

Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, Jon graduated from Centre College in Danville, KY in 1997 with a B.A. in History.  He first visited Nicaragua in 1998 and returned every year thereafter.  In 2002, Jon obtained his Masters of Social Work with a concentration in Community Development from Georgia State University. Jon and his Nicaraguan wife moved to live in San Juan del Sur full time in 2005, where Jon met Roman Yavich and founded Comunidad Connect in 2006. After working as volunteer Executive Director for 5 years, Jon moved on to serve as Board President.

KELLY VLASKAMP

Director of Cultural Connections

Kelly Vlaskamp is native to Houston, Texas and graduated from Knox College in Illinois with a double major in Spanish and Sociology. As an undergraduate, she studied in Barcelona, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has worked in programs serving unresourced communities in Mexico, Paraguay as well as in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, which were the experiences that sparked her passion for international community development. Before beginning her work with Comunidad Connect, Kelly worked on public health and sanitation projects in rural communities in the Dominican Republic and most recently worked with Bridges to Community in Nindirí, Nicaragua where she organized and led sustainable community development projects. With Bridges Kelly worked on housing, latrine, and reforestation projects, as well as hosted brigades of North American volunteers.

ROMAN YAVICH

Co-Founder/Executive Director

After completing studies in business and economics at the Univ. of Colorado in 2006, Roman received the Fulbright Grant to research the impact of tourism on the community, economy, and environment in Nicaragua. He spent a year in San Juan del Sur, and together with Jon Thompson founded Comunidad Connect. After another year in Nicaragua, during which the organization became firmly planted in the community, Roman has remained active on the Board of Directors, and currently serves as the treasurer. He is originally from Ukraine and holds a Masters in Public Administration from Syracuse University and a Masters in Environmental Science from SUNY-ESF.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

AMY BONILLA

Amy was born in Managua, Nicaragua and was raised in Upstate New York. She received her BA in International Relations and Communication from Stanford University, and her MPA from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. She has worked for several organizations focused on international development and is particularly interested in health initiatives. She is currently a PhD student in Health Policy and Management at UCLA.

AUSTIN DRILL

Austin received a B.A. from Rollins College in 1999, and returned to New York City to begin a career in the real estate arena. He soon became a founding partner in a firm specializing in property acquisition and restoration. In 2005, he migrated west to continue his real estate education at UCLA, where he turned his focus to sustainable development. After several years of exploring progressive building techniques, Austin and his wife moved to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, where they founded, Casa de Tierra, a natural building firm that furthers a global effort to integrate environmentally responsible building materials into the construction industry. Austin soon began partnering with Comunidad Connect on projects, including the eco-construction of a bathroom for a schoolhouse in a rural community, and joined the board in 2010.

NATHANIEL KORN

Nathaniel was born in Cincinatti, Ohio, and raised in St. Louis, MO. After graduating in 2004 from the University of Colorado, Boulder, he moved to Santo Domingo, Dominical Republic to pursue a career in international business and finance. In 2010, he founded IMAIM CAPITAL, a Registered Investment Advisory firm. Nathaniel currently lives and works in Miami, FL. He holds a MBA and has previously served on the Miami Beach, FL Arts District Board.

MICHELLE MARINO DRILL

Michelle earned an English degree from Rollins College in 1998, and returned to her hometown of NYC to work as a Producer at VOGUE magazine. She eventually left publishing and moved westward to parlay her print experience into a production career in film and television in Los Angeles. In 2005, she and her husband made their first trip to Nicaragua, and fell in love with the vibrancy and authenticity of San Juan del Sur. They slowly transitioned their lives to Central America, where they dedicated their time to establishing a natural building firm, Casa de Tierra, believing that sustainable development answers the need for effective, efficient, and affordable housing. Michelle proudly joined the board of Comunidad Connect in 2014.

MAT MENDONCA

Mathew Mendonca spends his summers fighting forest fires in his home state of Oregon as a smokejumper. During the winters he has had the opportunity to travel in Latin America, and in 2010 he found himself in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, and began to collaborated with CC. He originally started as a Comunidad Connect volunteer, where Mathew co-founded and piloted the Nica Agua program. Mathew serves on the Strategic Planning committee.

BRANDON PITTMAN

Brandon Pittman is a Senior Developer, Trainer, and Director of Business Development for Teksouth Corporation's Huntsville Office, and currently resides in Madison, Alabama. With a technology degree in Computer Information Systems from Athens State University in 2003, Brandon has held many positions across multiple organizations in the defense industry. He got involved with Comunidad Connect after a visit to Finca el Peten and San Juan del Sur during a vacation in 2010 and has been an active board member since 2011. Brandon currently serves as the Vice Chair for Comunidad Connect. He is also a licensed Foster and Adoptive Parent in Madison County Alabama and enjoys spending time with his family, riding his motorcycle, and youth ministry in the ELCA Southeastern Synod.

CAREY SMITH-MARCHI

Carey was born and raised in a small coastal community in Northern California. She received her BA in Education from Emory College, and MBA from Emory’s Goizueta Business School. In her time at Goizueta, she traveled to Nicaragua with CommunidadConnect, where she was inspired by with the nation’s people, natural beauty, and collective community focus. She currently serves as Vice President for Strategy & Execution at SunTrust Bank driving enterprise strategy and transformational change initiatives. Prior to SunTrust, Carey was an Alumni Relations Manager for EY, leading development and delivery of the US alumni engagement strategy.

LESLIE STEWART

Leslie was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Syracuse University Leslie moved to Los Angeles where he worked in commercial real estate before joining the US Peace Corps. Leslie served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for 3 years while living in the department capital of Rivas in Nicaragua. He taught entrepreneurship to high school students and implemented various initiatives to support personal & professional development, financial planning, and leadership amongst locals.. Currently residing in San Juan del Sur, Leslie is an active real estate investor and consultant.

JON THOMPSON

Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, Jon graduated from Centre College in Danville, KY in 1997 with a B.A. in History. He first visited Nicaragua in 1998 and returned every year thereafter. In 2002, Jon obtained his Masters of Social Work with a concentration in Community Development from Georgia State University. Jon and his Nicaraguan wife moved to live in San Juan del Sur full time in 2005, where Jon met Roman Yavich and founded Comunidad Connect in 2006. After working as volunteer Executive Director for 5 years, Jon moved on to serve as Board President.

BEN THROWER

Ben Thrower M.D. is a neurologist and has served as the Medical Director of the Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute at Shepherd since 2001. Prior to that, he served as Medical Director of the Holy Family MS Center in Spokane, Washington. Dr. Thrower is the Senior Medical Advisor to the MS Foundation and has served on the boards of the Consortium of MS Centers and the Georgia Chapter of the National MS Society. He is the recipient of the Norm Cohn Hope Chest Award from the National MS Society and was the first physician inductee into the Georgia Chapter Volunteer Hall of Fame. He co-authored Navigating Life with MS and is the principal investigator on many clinical MS studies.

ROMAN YAVICH

After completing studies in business and economics at the Univ. of Colorado in 2006, Roman received the Fulbright Grant to research the impact of tourism on the community, economy, and environment in Nicaragua. He spent a year in San Juan del Sur, and together with Jon Thompson founded Comunidad Connect. After another year in Nicaragua, during which the organization became firmly planted in the community, Roman has remained active on the Board of Directors, and currently serves as the treasurer. He is originally from Ukraine and holds a Masters in Public Administration from Syracuse University and a Masters in Environmental Science from SUNY-ESF.

Become a piece of the puzzle.

GET CONNECTED

COME SEE US:

Parque Central / San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Tel: 011-(505) 2568-2731

MAIL US SOMETHING:

Comunidad Connect / PO Box 1687 Madison, Alabama 35758

Tel: (720) 363-6453

©2014 COMUNIDAD CONNECT - Registered 501 (c)(3) organization