Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Board of Directors

James F. Wood – Co-Chair

James brings 42 years of legal expertise to the Friendship Bridge Board. James was an attorney in the Business and Real Estate Department of Sherman & Howard’s Denver office and practiced extensively in the areas of private capital formation, business entities, mergers and acquisitions, and other transactional work. James was named Best Lawyers’ 2013 Securities/Capital Markets Law Lawyer of the Year in Denver. He received his B.A. from the University of Texas and his J.D. from Yale Law School. James first became interested in Friendship Bridge when he helped develop an experiential learning program at the school where his children attended; students took school-sponsored trips to Guatemala and learned about Friendship Bridge. For several years, James provided pro bono legal services in connection with borrowings by Friendship Bridge and various corporate and contract matters. His wife (Felicity Hannay) was a board member from 2006 to 2012.

Susan Zimmermann – Co-Chair

An internationally-known speaker and consultant, Susan Zimmermann is the coauthor of Mosaic of Thought and 7 Keys to Comprehension. She co-founded and served as the Executive Director of the Denver-based Public Education and Business Coalition, an organization that has spearheaded groundbreaking work on reading comprehension. Susan has given hundreds of workshops, keynotes, and summer institutes in nearly every US state, and internationally, on ways to deepen reading and writing experiences for adults and children. Susan is also the author of Keeping Katherine and Writing to Heal the Soul, winner of the Colorado Book Award. Susan has been a trustee of numerous nonprofits including the International Rett Syndrome Association, the Colorado Outward Bound School, and The Women’s Wilderness Institute. A mother of four and graduate of Yale Law School, Susan lives in the foothills west of Denver.

Susie Miller – Treasurer

Susie has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for many years as a high school Spanish teacher. She later earned her Master’s degree in community counseling and now works in private practice treating anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Susie started the Friendship Circle in Mequon, Wisconsin and has been active over the years as their Circle leader. She and her husband John have four children. They have both traveled in Guatemala on various mission and insight trips, and Susie has recent experience working on education and development programs in eastern Kenya.

Caroline Rodriguez – Secretary

Caroline joined the Friendship Bridge board of directors in August 2015, bringing over three decades of work in business and community development. In her 33-year affiliation with the McDonald’s Corporation, Caroline spent 22 years on the corporate side and 11 years as a Franchisee. Caroline’s experience spans operations, training & development, marketing, product development, and business research. Caroline serves as the Treasurer of the Antelope Valley Friendship Circle, and she serves her local community in many ways – most recently as the 2014 Chairwoman of the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce, as past Chair of Zonta International, and as Board Member of Girl Scouts Joshua Tree Council. She currently serves on an Advisory Board of Small Business Owners and is a member of the National Latin Women’s Business Association’s Los Angeles Chapter.

“The mission of Friendship Bridge has been so naturally aligned with my own personal concerns for the social support of indigenous women. I am honored and humbled to accept a board position. Offering women and their families a door to education that will lift them from severe poverty and enable them to become role models for their next generations gives such purpose to our existence.”

Paula Farrell, Ph.D

Paula’s professional background includes over 35 years of experience leading and working with nonprofit and government organizations. Her experience has largely involved work with and in organizations that served underrepresented and disenfranchised individuals and families. She frequently worked as an advocate and organizational leader for people with developmental disabilities, individuals with severe mental illness, victims of domestic violence, people who were homeless as well as adults and teens who were unemployed. In the early 90s, she was Director of the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Planning Council under Governor Romer. Her mid-career focus was on the deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities and mental health concerns. She also worked in organizations focused on reducing racial disparities in income and access to healthcare. During the recession between 2007 and 2010, she was the Director of the Division of Workforce Development under Mayor John Hickenlooper. In 2015 she became a Social Entrepreneur when she opened an art gallery to benefit local artists and nonprofit organizations. Paula ran the gallery for two years.

Ledy Garcia-Eckstein

Ledy spent nearly 20 years working for the City and County of Denver in a variety of roles, from Assistant Director of the Mayor’s Office, to Senior Policy Analyst, and eventually as Director of Economic Mobility where she ensured the growth and prosperity of Denver residents, neighborhoods and businesses. She formally worked as a financial planner and loan officer, brokering insurance products for small businesses and frequently speaking publicly at women’s conferences and events. She was appointed by Governor Polis as the Commissioner for the Colorado Judicial Performance Commission in January 2019 and remains in that role today. She holds a Master’s degree in government from the University of Virginia and a Bachelor’s from the University of Iowa.

Maryann Hunter

Maryann has 15 years of experience on the Federal Reserve Board, having served as both as Deputy Director and Senior Advisor. She also served as the officer in charge of bank supervision and risk management functions for the Kansas City District of the Federal Reserve. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Government from Penn State University.

Paolo Leiva

Paolo is an Industrial Engineer with an MBA from Universidad Mesoamericana and a Master in Microfinance and Social Development from Universidad de Alcalá de Henares Spain. He is Guatemalan and is a finance business manager at Cementos Progreso, a “multi-latina” cement company. He brings to Friendship Bridge 20 years of corporate finance background mainly in treasury, credits and collection, and financial planning and analysis in diverse industries. He is a social entrepreneur that co-founded Asociación Solidaridad por Guatemala and founded Asociación Emprendimiento Social, an association from which he earned seed capital from an entrepreneurship contest in Guatemala launched by the Ministry of Economy (EMPRENDEGT) to develop the first Guatemalan crowdfunding platform to raise funds for NGOs and social entrepreneurs.

“I support Friendship Bridge because since I first knew about their work and mission, I said to myself, ‘I want to be part of that organization.’ I began working in the Credit Committee and the more I learned about the work, the staff and leadership team, and the real contribution to empowering Guatemalan women, the more I wanted to contribute to the organization. Thank you for the opportunity to help my country through this wonderful organization.”

Meryle J. Melnicoff, Ph.D.

Meryle’s involvement with Friendship Bridge builds on her longstanding work to empower women entrepreneurs. Meryle was a co-founder of the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs of Philadelphia and has published two guidebooks on funding for start-up businesses. Currently, she is a member of WIL of Greater Philadelphia, which supports selected microfinance institutions, including Friendship Bridge. Previously, Meryle was the Director of Business Development at The Wistar Institute, where she established multiple collaborations that led to the commercial development of Wistar’s technologies for new vaccines and cancer treatments. Her work at Wistar brought substantial funding to the institute and enabled it to double the endowment. Meryle received an M.S. in Clinical Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University College of Medicine) and has been involved with multiple projects to develop new diagnostic tests. Meryle resides with her family in New Jersey where she is on the board of the Delanco, NJ public library.

“When I visited Guatemala with Friendship Bridge, I saw firsthand how effectively and efficiently this organization helps women develop better lives for themselves and their families. The loans are the critical first steps, but Friendship Bridge integrates the loans with training on health, education, and business management to enable their clients to break out of the cycle of poverty.”

Carolina Roca

Carolina Roca is an Economist with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University. She makes her home in Guatemala and is a senior partner at IDC, a Guatemala consultant firm where she focuses on the areas of finance, institutional development and innovation, and public sector reform. In addition, Carolina is an active member of the community where she has served as President of the Foundation for Women’s Development, a small NGO granting credits and training to women’s micro-business projects, and is presently a board member of FUNDASISTEMAS, Entrepreneurs for Education and Vital Voices Guatemala. Prior to IDE, Carolina served as Vice-Minister of Energy and Mines, Vice Minister of Public Finance, Technical Secretary of the Economic Cabinet and Director of External Financing. In addition, she was the Commissioner of the Guatemalan Tax and Customs Administration from 2005-2008, serving two different government administrations.

“I support Friendship Bridge because I share its mission, values and developing strategy. Fostering sound entrepreneurial opportunities for families and strengthening women’s self-esteem are key factors to take families and communities out of poverty in Guatemala.”

Dan Thomas

Dan joined the board of directors in January 2012, bringing more than 30 years of experience in the global corporate finance world.  Additionally, he served/serves on several non-profit boards, including Past-Chair of the People’s Clinic in Boulder, CO, currently Treasurer of both Intercambio Uniting Communities and the Colorado Alzheimer’s Assoc.  He is a retired CPA, and after his corporate finance career, Dan taught a course in Financial Statement Analysis for several years in the business schools of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

“ I joined the board of Friendship Bridge because I was asked by the Executive Director, Karen Larson.  I previously worked with Karen and knew how passionate she is about the mission.  After spending two weeks on the ground in Guatemala in November 2012, I can see why Karen and all the folks associated with Friendship Bridge are so passionate!  The organization truly makes a difference in thousands of peoples’ lives, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Sandy Younghans

A past president of the board of directors at both Friendship Bridge and Women’s Choice, Sandy is passionate about community service and political activism particularly focused on women and children’s rights. Sandy practiced law in Colorado for 25 years. She helped implement Colorado’s Joint Custody Act and is an active member of Boulder Valley Women’s Health Clinic. She is on the advisory boards of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s Beyond our Borders initiative and the Boulder International Film Festival. A former trustee of Naropa University, she continues her work with the Peace Studies Program there, which she helped create. In 2004, Sandy received the Boulder Resource Center Award for Women Who Make a Difference, and in 2005, she was the recipient of the Zonta Yellow Rose for her work in advancing the status of women.


Connie Ning
Ted Ning
Mimi Schlumberger

Strategic Advisor

Chris Dunford – Co-Chair, Truelift Steering Committee