Our Staff

Casa San José is primarily run by over 200 volunteers who provide everything from reporting, correspondence, family support, youth programming, and clerical assistance. A small team of staff provides service coordination, community support, and administrative tasks.

You can reach all staff at 412-343-3111.

Staff Listing

Executive Director                       

Monica Ruiz

Monica Ruiz is the Executive Director at Casa San José. Mónica has been working with Casa since 2014 when she started as an intern, then moved to service coordinator and then community organizer. Prior to that, she worked for Catholic Charities as a case manager. She was born in Cleveland Ohio and has Latino roots from Guatemala and Puerto Rico, where her mom and her dad are originally from.

Mónica holds a master’s degree in Social Work with a focus on Community Organizing and Social Action. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh with a concentration in Psychology. Mónica is a powerful advocate for Latinos on legal, housing, development, and educational issues. She fights for those facing deportation proceedings and launches projects to assist women, children and youth. In addition, she partners with political, labor, religious, and law enforcement leadership to make Pittsburgh stronger and more welcoming to all.

Mónica recently received the 2019 Women of Influence Award, Pittsburgh Business Times and the 2019 César Chávez Community Heroes Award. She was also awarded with the 2018 New Person of the Year, from Thomas Merton Center and the 2018 Rising Star, from the University of Pittsburgh by the School of Social Work. She is currently a fellow of Lead Now Pittsburgh, a transformational leadership program for the civic sector.

Director of Civic Engagement

Sr. Janice Vanderneck

Sister Janice is the Founding Director of Casa San José. She is a Catholic religious sister with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, and she has worked in Latin America, educating and organizing community members to think critically about power structures, oppression, and political engagement. In the U.S., Sister Janice worked for decades as a religion teacher and principal at Catholic elementary schools in the Pittsburgh region.

Sister Janice is a member of the Advisory Council on Immigrants and Internationals for the Department of Human Services of Allegheny County, and she is currently a member of the Welcoming Pittsburgh Steering Committee.

Sister Janice has received numerous awards for her extraordinary service. They include: the Michael McGrady Award for Service at the Art Rooney Awards Dinner in 2017, the OHTLI Award for 2017 given by the Secretariat of the Mexican Government for service to the Mexican community in the US, and the 2016 El Sol Award from the Hispanic Attorneys Committee of the Allegheny Bar Association.

Service Coordinator & Bilingual Navigator:

Pilar Caballero

Originally from Panama, Pilar Caballero holds a degree in Finance and Bank Administration from the University of Santa María La Antigua in Panama City, Panama.  Prior to living in Pittsburgh, Pilar lived in Texas near the Mexican border where she owned a physical therapy clinic that provided rehabilitation services.  It was here, while advocating for a safe working environment for employees, that she had the first glimpse of Latino working conditions at the maquiladoras in Mexico, as well as in manufacturing companies like Alcoa and SAS.  Pilar worked for a few years in Patient Access and also as a Spanish-English interpreter at St. Clair Hospital, where she continued her experience in the medical field.

Pilar had just started volunteering her services at Casa San José when she was offered a position as a Service Coordinator in 2017. She also works as a Spanish-English interpreter for PLAN (Pittsburgh Language Access Network) and as a Spanish linguist for Metlang.  Pilar is a strong believer that knowledge of the English language lays the foundation for better communication and integration for Latinos into the Pittsburgh community.

Volunteer Coordinator  

Sr. Valerie Zottola

Sister Valerie Zottola is our Volunteer Coordinator at Casa San José. Professionally, the majority of her adult life has been devoted to teaching and administering in elementary, high school and junior college education. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Education; a Master’s degree in Counselor Education; a Post Graduate Certificate in Christian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction, along with numerous graduate credits in theology.

She served 14 years as Principal of Holy Rosary Elementary School and helped to create the Crossroads Foundation which supports impoverished elementary age students in their Catholic high school education.  As a Sister of St. Joseph, she is dedicated to serving those most in need, which is what drew her to Casa San José. She believes that Casa San José is doing an incredible work that few if any in this area are addressing—supporting undocumented Latino immigrants. The love that the staff has for those whom they serve became clear to her when she first visited Casa San José—which is why she asked the leadership of the Congregation of St. Joseph to let her offer her services there.

Youth Community Outreach Coordinator 

Jose Ochoa_Youth Coordinator_
José María Ochoa

José María Ochoa is our new Youth program coordinator. He was born in Georgia, moved to Mexico at a very young age, was raised there for most of his life, and then came back to the U.S. 6 years ago. Understanding the current situation of our people, he started to get involved with the Latino community in Pittsburgh last year though music, culture and protesting. He then became involved in a musical education program with Youth from different oppressed backgrounds, attended a course about Youth empowerment and organization from the “SOUL” school of movement and unity.

He is currently organizing and will be running the Summer Camps for the East Liberty and Beechview area. He will also be coordinating our programs “Puentes Hacía el Futuro” and “Jóvenes con Propósito” at Brashear, (where he was volunteering before).

Assistant Volunteer Coordinator

Roye Werner

Roye Werner is the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, assisting Sister Valerie in recruiting, training, and processing volunteers and supporters, and is a volunteer herself.  She also writes various communications for Casa San José including a bi-weekly email newsletter.  She came from a 40-year career as a public-services librarian, primarily at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, and lived for several years in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Her first professional job was as the Hispanic Services Librarian at Lawrence Public Library in 1977. She has volunteered for numerous political campaigns and service organizations and has a BA in literature from Mt. Holyoke College and a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin. She chose to work with Casa San José because of its passion, vitality, and effectiveness, and because she believes Latino and other immigrants are being brutally victimized, also, because she loves Latin American culture, and because she came from immigrants herself, as did so many Americans.

Emergency Response Organizer

Laura Perkins

Laura Perkins is Casa San José’s Emergency Response Organizer. In addition to immediately responding to ICE detentions and their consequences, she accompanies people to ICE check-ins, coordinates Casa San Jose’s PA is Ready! community engagement, and generally responds to many of our urgent organizing needs.

Laura came to Casa San José after nonprofit human rights work in Honduras and Nicaragua, throughout two political crises. Before that, she ran an ESL program in Washington, DC, where she obtained her B.A. in International Relations and interned at various nonprofits. Laura is a native of the mighty hills of Pittsburgh, and she feels a personal obligation to put her international crisis experience to work by actively challenging the status quo and responding to the injustices her neighbors suffer.

Community Organizer

Ibania Rivas

Ibania Rivas is a native of El Salvador, who has devoted 20 years to non-profit work supporting people in need. She grew up on a coffee farm and ultimately graduated from the University of El Salvador with a degree in Economics. She began helping those living in conflict-affected zones of the civil war, especially vulnerable youth, at-risk farmers and families. She spent 16 years working on development projects at Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador and became a program manager, before coming to Pittsburgh last year.

In a recent interview, she said, “I believe everyone needs compassion, but beyond that, we all need motivation, new ideas, space to learn and grow and develop as human beings who can contribute to making our society better.” We are so glad to have Ibania on the Casa San José team!

Veronica Lozada

Verónica Lozada is our newly appointed Community Organizer. Verónica started with Casa San José as a volunteer in 2016 when she relocated to Pittsburgh from the Philadelphia area. With a degree in Psychology from the University of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, she brings great insight and skill resolving the daily emotional challenges for our families. Verónica joined our staff as an ISAC Services Coordinator for our immigrant families, with the primary role of providing referrals and coordination to social service opportunities that are imperative for long-term self-sufficiency. She developed a unique insight in working with high need communities in the West Chester and Kennett Square communities of Pennsylvania, managing public charter school operations and community service organizations.

Verónica has also managed and developed food service programs developed a local gardening program, and she has expertise in volunteer management. Verónica’s years of experience in social services and family-based education enhance our organization with innovative solutions, personal insights, creative perspectives and high level of cultural sensitivity for our immigrant families.

Director of Youth Programs

Albert Garcia

Albert Garcia is doing a service year for Change a Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program. This program is an 11-month service that focuses on service and experience that empowers young adults to live simply in the community while serving a vulnerable population. Change a Heart follows four major principles which are spirituality, social justice, simple lifestyle, and community.

Albert is from the Bronx located in New York. His family came from the Dominican Republic and currently live in New York. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Health Science from SUNY Buffalo State and he wants to pursue a Master’s in Public Health. Albert worked as a Resident Assistant at his university for a year and was an Educational Opportunity Program assistant to mentor students towards their classes and career.

As a volunteer, he is looking to cooperate and empower Latino communities into becoming a strong group of individuals that advocate for each other and their environment.

Finance and Development Administrator 

Sr. Karen Stoila

Sister Karen Stoila is our newly appointed Administrator of Finance and Development at Casa San José (January 2019). Her responsibilities include setting up and using Quickbooks online and preparing Casa for its first audit. She will manage all employee-related concerns.

Sister Karen taught every level of high school math and science for 19 years at St. Joseph High School in Natrona, PA, Quigley High School in Baden, PA, and St. Pius V High School in Bronx, NY. She then worked with Sister Janice in Miami, Florida at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary School as the development director and business administrator. In 1996, Sister Karen was called back to the Motherhouse to serve in the Development Office and in 1999 was appointed Director of Development for the Sisters of St. Joseph, a position she held until 2017.

Sister Karen is looking forward to sharing her gifts and talents with Casa San José, to assist its wonderful staff to carry out their mission of providing resources and services for Latino immigrants in Pittsburgh and counties beyond. Sister Karen and Sister Janice are longtime friends, having entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on the same day 52 years ago, and having shared many joys and sorrows in life. After a happy career in teaching and many wonderful years building up resources to care for the life and mission of the Sisters, especially the retired Sisters, Sister Karen is following God’s call to now serve at Casa San José.

East Liberty Office

Ruth Farrell

Ruth Farrell currently volunteers with Casa San José. Prior to moving to Pittsburgh, she was the Director of the Presbyterian Hunger Program for the national office of the Presbyterian Church, the USA in its work to complement congregational work to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes globally and locally.

Ruth worked internationally in Peru (10 years) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (4 years) with churches and non-profits organizations to address causes of poverty in communities through successful campaigns and sustainable projects.  She also directed a microenterprise program through the Jewish Family and Vocational Service in Louisville, Kentucky and worked in public policy for Senator Richard G. Lugar in Washington D.C.  She has an MBA in International Finance from George Washington University.   Ruth and her husband Hunter have 3 adult children.  Ruth is an avid soccer fan and hiker and she and her family lived in a shared house for 10 years as part of a commitment to intentional communal living.

Kelcey Bailey

Originally from Charlottesville, Virginia, Kelcey Bailey moved to Pittsburgh in 2016, initially to start her studies at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for a Masters in Divinity. With a background in International politics, government relations, and social justice advocacy, Kelceyhad decided in 2015 to work overseas for International Justice Mission, an NGO working to stop various forms of oppression that exploit poor families and subject them to violence. Recognizing the intersection of her faith and social justice, her recent seminary studies led her to work in the Chaplains Office of Allegheny County Jail, where she realized the need and her interest in pursuing a Masters of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh as well. Kelcey is particularly passionate about offering hospitality to immigrant and refugee communities and advocating for the rights and humanity of all peoples in the United States.

Kelcey comes to Casa San José as an intern from the University of Pittsburgh. She hopes to continue to grow in her awareness of the reality and needs of Latino communities and to gain skills for community organizing, social action, particularly as it relates to immigration policy, detention centers, and resources. She is seeking continuous ways to offer hospitality and sanctuary to immigrant brothers and sisters in the greater Pittsburgh area.