Dr. Virginia Necochea
vnecochea at nmelc.org
Dr. Virginia Necochea is a long time educator, researcher, writer, and community advocate. She is the former executive director and a founding board member of the Center for Social Sustainable Systems (CESOSS), a community-led nonprofit focused on protecting and preserving land and water resources in the Valle de Atrisco (South Valley, NM) and larger Middle Rio Grande region.
Dr. Necochea’s connection and commitment to land and water emanates from her abuelitos - individuals who were deeply connected to Mother Earth and the importance of remaining connected to the land. The foundation and drive for Dr. Necochea’s work is rooted in ceremony, her Mexican Indigenous roots, and motherhood. She strives to engage in work that places community and environmental justice at the forefront.
Director of Operations
kandar at nmelc.org
kpalmer at nmelc.org
Senior Staff Attorney
ejantz at nmelc.org
sschuurman at nmelc.org
mlocke at nmelc.org
mara.yarbrough at nmelc.org
Intern/Institute for Policy Studies Fellow
ennedith at nmelc.org
Board of Directors
The Board of Directors governs the Law Center, establishes policy, hires the Executive Director, and determines which cases the Law Center will handle. The members of the Board, their date of association, their occupations, and affiliations are:
Ramon Padilla, Chair, 2016, Las Cruces – Ramón is a high school social studies teacher at Alma d’arte Charter High School and college instructor in the College of Education at New Mexico State University. Prior to his teaching career, he worked for many years with the Doña Ana County Colonias Development Council as their youth and community organizer. He brings to the board his experience working with communities, political organizing and community education. His commitment to equity is the foundation of his teaching and community work.
Johana Bencomo, Vice Chair, 2018, Las Cruces – Johana Bencomo is the Executive Director of NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fe (CAFe) and a Las Cruces City Councilor. Johana has been community organizing for eight years, working to build power for and with historically underrepresented communities throughout Southern NM. Johana joined the NMELC Board of Directors in 2018.
Carla Nieto, Treasurer, 2022, Albuquerque – Carla is a Senior Financial Accountant at Bernalillo County and a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, where she is completing a Master of Accounting (MACCT) degree. Carla has worked with nonprofit organizations in grant management and financial and accounting planning and has volunteered for Income Tax Assistance/Counseling for the Elderly programs. She was also the Treasurer of the board of South Valley Academy, her alma mater.
Kristine Suozzi, Secretary, 2022, Albuquerque – Kristine Suozzi, MS, PhD, worked in Public Health for over 30 years. She was Public Health Division Director for the New Mexico Department of Health. She began and coordinated the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, focusing on the Social Determinants of Health, especially racism and poverty. Kristine is enjoying retirement, especially her two adult children and two grandchildren. She is on several boards and volunteers with community-based organizations that address equity.
Donna House, 2006, Alcalde – Donna House (Diné) currently is a biocultural consultant who works with Indigenous community-based organizations to protect People and their ecosystems. A lifelong ethno|botanist|conservationist, House was previously one of the key designers of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and has protected plant species/habitat on Indigenous lands throughout the southwest. House inhabits spaces in historic Ohkay Owingeh territory along the Río Grande del Norte, and the Navajo Nation.
Harry Browne, 2010, Silver City – Harry is the business manager for the Aldo Leopold High School. He is the former Executive Director of the Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) where he worked closely with the Law Center on the Chino and Tyrone Mine cases. He is in his second term as a member of the Grant County Commission and brings administrative and public policy expertise to the board.
Magdalena Avila, 2022, Albuquerque – Dr. Avila (Dr. PH, MPH, MSW) identifies as a public health researcher and scholar activist and has worked her entire professional career of over 35 years in partnering with frontline communities in local research, community engagement and addressing public health challenges using community based participatory research. Her research and efforts have also focused on creating sustainable community-based cultural interventions. She is a pioneer of Environmental Justice and is fully committed to health and social justice.
Divana Olivas, 2022, Albuquerque – Divana Olivas was born in Albuquerque and raised by Mexican-immigrant parents in El Cerro Mission and Los Lunas. She graduated in 2015 from the University of New Mexico with honors in Chicana/o/x Studies & Spanish. She served as a youth food justice intern with the SouthWest Organizing Project’s “Project Feed the Hood.” Currently, Divana is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.
Douglas Meiklejohn founded the New Mexico Environmental Law Center in 1987 and remained the Law Center’s Executive Director until 2019. He served as Founder/Staff Attorney through the Fall of 2021.
Under his direction, NMELC advocated for communities and the environment on hundreds of issues. Doug led landmark industry changes in uranium mining clean-up, exposure to medical waste, landfill locations, oil and gas ordinances, aquifer and river water protections, the cleanup of legacy radioactive waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory, greenhouse gases and highway expansions.
To read a complete history of NMELC’s founding, click here.