Wendy has led KIND since 2009, and brings extensive immigration policy experience to the organization. Prior to KIND, she served as Chief Counsel on Immigration Policy in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She held prior immigration policy positions with organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Council of La Raza. She has also written numerous articles, reports and cutting-edge op-eds on the plight of unaccompanied children. Wendy has received a number of awards and honors for her work on immigration rights including: 2017 Williams College Bicentennial Medal Award; 2016 Keepers of the American Dream Honoree by the National Immigration Forum; Women Inspiring Change 2015 Honoree at Harvard Law School’s 2nd Annual International Women’s Day Celebration; Foreign Policy’s Leading Global Thinker of 2014; Nominated as one of two NGO representatives to participate in Seminar XXI Program on U.S. Foreign Policy by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and National Defense University (2002); Honored by Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center for work on behalf of women and children detainees (2002); Child Advocacy National Certification of Recognition, American Bar Association, in recognition of contributions advancing the welfare of children (2001); Human Rights Award, American Immigration Lawyers Association, in recognition of the work of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children on behalf of women and child asylum seekers (1999). Wendy earned a joint law degree and master’s degree in international relations from American University in Washington, DC, and a bachelor’s degree from Williams College in Massachusetts.
Matthew J. Kessler-Vaughn
Executive Vice President Operations
Matthew has spent over 20 years in nonprofit management focusing on efficiency and sustainable business models. He started his career as Director of Administration working with a group of young professionals to build a national organizing organization focused on child and family policy. Matthew then moved in to the public health sector where he spent nearly 15 years as Vice President of Operations for AIDS United, the largest domestic HIV grant maker in the United States. In his role he worked to rebuild the organization with a focus on expansion and sustainable growth. Kessler played a lead role in the 2009 organizational acquisition and subsequent rebranding of a national HIV policy organization thereby expanding the scope and over all mission of the organization. In addition to his work, Matthew consults for leading national and community based nonprofits in the areas of organizational efficiency models, board management, and strategic growth. He holds a master’s degree in business administration.
Vice President, Budget & Contracts
Vibha has over 16 years of operations experience in the private and nonprofit sector. Her areas of expertise include financial management, administration, data management, information technology, and human resources. Vibha grew up in Hong Kong and as an immigrant herself is well versed in the US immigration system and its challenges. Vibha has lived in the Washington DC area for 25 years and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from University of Maryland University College. In her spare time, Vibha likes to take glass classes, play tennis and travel.
Brenda Bowser Soder
Vice President for Communications
A public affairs professional with more than two decades of experience in designing political and nonprofit strategic communications campaigns, Brenda Bowser Soder is KIND’s Vice President for Communications. Prior to joining KIND, Ms. Bowser Soder was the Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In that role, she directed the EAC’s communications team and led the organization’s media relations, digital media, event planning, video production and design activities. Previously, Ms. Bowser Soder was Vice President of Communications at Human Rights First, where she directed the nonprofit’s robust communications department in work to establish the United States as a global leader in the protection of human rights. Among her campaigns were efforts to end torture, protect refugees, support human rights defenders, fight discrimination and end human trafficking. Earlier in her career, Bowser Soder was Director of Communications at Alliance for Justice, where she led the nonprofit’s communications work, including a successful national and state-level campaign to ensure justice for those harmed by dangerous pharmaceutical drugs. She served as a producer for the organization’s 2008 short documentary film on that topic, “Access Denied: The Fight for Corporate Accountability.” Before that role, Ms. Bowser Soder was Communications Director for the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), where she authored a media training handbook and frequently delivered death penalty-related communications training to elected officials, law professors, attorneys, advocates, victims’ family members, and death row exonerees from across the nation. Ms. Bowser Soder formerly served as Senator Olympia J. Snowe’s (R-Maine) Deputy Press Secretary, held a public relations fellowship at The Widmeyer Baker Group (Now Widmeyer Communications) in Washington, DC, and spent time as a newspaper reporter in central Pennsylvania. She holds a B.A. from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Vice President for International Programs
Lisa serves as KIND’s Vice President for International Programs. Lisa was a co-editor and contributing author of Childhood, Migration, and Human Rights in Central and North America: Causes, Policies, Practices, and Challenges, a study on children affected by migration in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States, written in collaboration with organizations from each country and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Previously, she was Managing Attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). Throughout her eight years at CGRS, Lisa worked to advance law and policy for immigrant women, children, and asylum seekers through impact litigation, national policy advocacy, and extensive training and mentoring of attorneys. Prior to CGRS, Lisa practiced child immigration and child welfare law at Legal Services for Children. She began her legal career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center representing immigrant children before the Immigration Court and Board of Immigration Appeals. Lisa has trained and mentored attorneys across the country and has presented to federal judges, immigration judges, and asylum officers. She is a 2002 graduate of Berkeley Law, Order of the Coif, and a 1996 graduate of the University of Maryland, magna cum laude.
Vice President of Public Outreach and Strategic Development
Ellen’s professional career has included extensive non-profit program development and management, administration and fundraising. Before joining KIND, she served as Director of Grants and Development at the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia University. Earlier, in her role as Deputy Executive Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, she worked on international research, public education, and advocacy dedicated to promoting the rights of refugee and internally displaced women, children, and adolescents. Her career began with the Peace Corps in Senegal, followed by five years at Lutheran World Relief, rising to the position of Program Director for West Africa. In 2005-6, she was the Team Leader for Save the Children’s Hurricane Katrina humanitarian response, which provided emergency day care, safe spaces, psychosocial, and after school programs in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Ellen received a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree in international affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
Chief Financial Officer
Originally from Ghana, Hayford Mensah is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). He has an MS in finance from Rochester Institute of Technology and an MBA from the University of Ghana. Hayford has worked in accounting and finance for several other global and U.S. organizations, including the International Baccalaureate Organization, American College of Cardiology and GBTA. Most recently he served as the Chief Financial Officer of HIAS, which works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands. He had responsibility for broad oversight and protection of the assets of HIAS and its related domestic and foreign funding. He ensures excellence in world-wide operations to control all fiscal activities in numerous countries, while creating platforms that create opportunities to scale the organization. He serves as a board member of IPAS and Winter Growth, Inc. where he is the treasurer. Hayford lives in Silver Spring with his wife Margaret and 3 sons. He is an avid soccer and football fan.
Senior Vice President for Legal Programs
Maria M. Odom is the Vice President for Legal Services at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), where she leads a team of immigration legal experts advancing the representation of unaccompanied children in removal proceedings. In this role, Ms. Odom oversees the management of KIND’s 10 field offices, leading the development and implementation of legal services programming nationwide, including pro bono representation of over 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children per year as well as the provision of innovative legal trainings and technical assistance in immigration law and policy. Her department also delivers comprehensive social services programs to address the special needs of unaccompanied children. In the near past, Odom served as the DHS Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman in the administration of President Barack Obama. In that role, she worked with community leaders and immigration professionals across the country to improve the quality of citizenship and immigration services delivered to the public. As Ombudsman, she reported to and testified before the U.S. Congress regarding systemic issues in our country’s immigration system. Odom is a nationally recognized legal and policy expert with a wide range of immigration experience in the private, government, and charitable sectors. She previously led the country’s largest network of charitable legal immigration programs as Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC). For a decade, she practiced immigration law in the southeast, leading a successful private practice in the areas of deportation defense, humanitarian protections, as well as business and family-based immigration. Early in her career, Odom served at the U.S. Department of Justice as Assistant District Counsel for the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service and as a judicial law clerk at the Executive Office for Immigration Review. At DHS, Odom led the department’s human trafficking prevention, training, and public education efforts as Chair of the DHS Blue Campaign. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Freedom Network, which works in coalition with service providers and survivor leaders to advance a rights-based approach to address human trafficking in the United States. Odom is a graduate of The Florida State University College of Criminology and the Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law. She currently lives in New York City.
Vice President, Policy and Advocacy
Jennifer Podkul is an international human rights lawyer and expert on child migration in the United States. She has authored articles, handbooks and reports and presents regularly as an expert at various conferences, briefings, and professional trainings. Jennifer provides technical assistance and education to policy makers and testifies before Congress on issues related to migrant children. She co-authored “Forced From Home: The Lost Boys and Girls from Central America” and was a contributing author to “Childhood, Migration, and Human Rights in Central and North America: Causes, Policies, Practices, and Challenges.” Jennifer has taught child migration at Georgetown Law Center’s Human Rights Institute. Jennifer began her legal career as an attorney at Ayuda in Washington, D.C. first as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and later as a KIND Fellow. Prior to joining KIND, Jennifer Podkul was a senior program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission where she researched issues facing vulnerable migrants seeking protection in the United States and advocated for improved treatment. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, holds a B.A. from Franklin and Marshall College and a J.D. with honors from the Washington College of Law, American University, where she was a Public Interest/Public Service Scholar.