The Dunes Center Board of Directors


2019 Board Members

Karen Evangelista, President

Karen Evangelista has been a member of the Dunes Center’s Board of Directors since 2015 and was appointed to Board President in 2017. Karen was born in Guadalupe to Joe and Margie Talaugon and has worked closely with the community for many years as the Executive Director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Education Center. She is proud to be a part of the Dunes Center and its exciting projects aimed at promoting the conservation of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex. Aside from volunteering to make a difference in the community, Karen enjoys spending time with her family here on the Central Coast.

Courtney Cox, Vice President

Courtney Cox became involved with the Dunes Center in 2017 and was appointed as the Board Vice President in 2018. Courtney was born in Tennessee and moved to the Santa Maria Valley in 2012 to work as a biologist for a local agricultural company. Courtney enjoys volunteering in the community and enjoys working with the Dunes Center to promote its mission.

Alyssa Berry, Treasurer

Alyssa Berry became involved with the Dunes Center in 2012 while collaborating on a research study to analyze the efficacy of landscape control methods for veldt grass.  She works as a biologist for the environmental engineering company, Padre Associates. One of her primary projects has been to restore coastal dunes and wetlands at the former Guadalupe Oil Field.  She enjoys volunteering with the Dunes Center to promote community exposure to and appreciation of the unique local dune system.

Brian Tetley, Secretary

Brian Tetley joined the Board in 2015. Brian is a senior land use planner with Urban Planning Concepts in Santa Maria. Brian has over 20 years of local agency experience addressing the unique land use issues of the Central Coast. Brian has substantial experience managing and/or preparing environmental review documents including Environmental Impact Reports. Brian holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Studies/Policy and Planning from Cal State Fullerton.

Brenda Guerrero-Benninghoff

Brenda’s parents are Ralph Guerrero and Elisa Raynaud and were both raised in Guadalupe. After living in San Luis Obispo for a many years Brenda and her husband Bernard recently moved to Guadalupe. Brenda is very proud to be a part of the Dunes Center and hopes to help continue the important work being done preserving the Dunes and providing education to our local school children. Brenda works in San Luis Obispo for a real estate company as a leasing agent and property manager. In her spare time, she enjoys her new home and loves cooking and baking. She also loves spending time with family, her children and grandchildren.

Robert Cooks

Robert Cooks became involved with the Dunes Center in 2019 and shortly after he became a member of the board. He was born in San Luis Obispo and soon after that he relocated to the Santa Maria Valley. He has always been active in giving back to his community and helping those that are in need. Since he briefly lived in Guadalupe when he was younger, the community is near and dear to his heart and that is really why he’s excited to be a part of the Dunes Center and being a part of the growth and expansion!

Jennifer Mejia-Harrison

Jennifer Harrison is a current resident of Guadalupe and has spent most of her life in the Nipomo and Santa Maria Valley areas. Jennifer has been part of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce team since February, 2006. In her current role, she leads the Chamber’s Visitors Bureau activities, including tourism and group marketing programs for the community. Jennifer is responsible for establishing and promoting the Santa Maria Valley as a premier destination for leisure, recreation, and group events. Jennifer is also responsible for supporting group tour operators, meeting planners, and special event coordinators in ensuring their visits to the Santa Maria Valley are successful. She also helps direct the Santa Maria Valley Tourism Marketing District.

Rick Rust

Rick Rust is responsible for Public Affairs in Santa Barbara County for Aera Energy LLC. A native of the Central Coast, he grew up in a local farming and ranching family. Rick and wife Dana, along with their three sons are devoted community members.

Before joining Aera Energy’s Public Affairs Team, Rick served 8 years in the United States Air Force and dedicated 17 years to Aera’s field operations. His rich field experience brings a strong understanding of the industry and Aera’s values. Rick enjoys instructing and working to build a strong foundational experience for Aera’s developing leadership. In 2016, Rick was presented with the opportunity to head up the East Cat Canyon Project, based in Santa Maria, and he leapt at the chance to rejoin his beloved community.

Rick spends much of his free time participating in community events. He is a board member of the EconAlliance, board member of the Energy Partners Fund scholarship committee, and is a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Association. He volunteers his time with the Santa Barbara Foodbank, coaching youth sports, assisting member of Aera’s Veterans’ resource group, and walks with Relay for Life. Rick has assisted in promoting and funding the CASA Organization as well as the Allan Hancock Promise, Bulldog Bound in the community.

Rick holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from The University of Phoenix and an MBA in Organizational Leadership from National University.

Fabiola Najera-Torres

Fabiola Najera Torres joined the Board in 2019.  Fabiola was  born and raised in Santa Maria, CA.  Fabiola has over 19 years’ of experience in the Financial Industry, she currently works for Mechanics Bank as the Branch Manager located in our lovely Town of Guadalupe.  Fabiola loves to volunteer as much as she can within her community as well as spending time with her family.

Rene Zavala

Rene has a diverse professional background that ranges from Education to Horticulture. Regardless of the industry she is in, she always makes time to follow her desire to support outdoor education for children and to promote growth with opportunity to the community. Rene has been on the Central Coast since 2014, became involved with the Dunes Center in 2017, and supports its mission with experience and a great attitude.


Advisors to the Board

Christina Bird-Holenda

Christina moved to Nipomo in 1999 from Atlanta where she retired from a 30 year career in the Trust and Investment business with Sun Trust Banks. She was quite active in the Boards of several arts and native plant organizations in North Carolina and Atlanta and has pursued a lesser role in the same type of activities here in the Central Coast.

Dave Brummond

Frances Romero

Frances is a Director with Forma Design, a planning and landscape architecture firm based in Costa Mesa. Frances is the Team Leader for their Central Coast operations and provides planning and project management for a wide variety of projects throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. Frances is on the SBCAG Board. A graduate of the University of Redlands, Frances has lived in Guadalupe since 1997 and has been involved in the community as a Recreation Commissioner (1997), Interim City Clerk (1998), Fifth District Park Commissioner for Santa Barbara County (1999-2005), Dunes Center Steering Committee (2002-2004), Chair of the Guadalupe Planning Commission (2007-2009), and the Dunes Center Board of Directors since January 2010.

 Vince Tortolano

Vince Tortolano rejoined the Dunes Center as a Board Advisor in January 2019. He previously served on the Board from 2015 to 2017, first as a Board Advisor, then as a Board Member. Vince retired in 2012 from a 29-year career as a corporate attorney in California’s Silicon Valley. During this time, Vince was involved with legal issues arising in many areas of corporate law, including the acquisition, licensing, and litigation of Intellectual Property assets, acquisition and divestiture of corporate technology and product lines, environmental law compliance, human resources, and personal injury. He also advised companies on corporate governance matters and served as corporate secretary for the boards of a number of multi-million dollar companies.

Vince received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Santa Clara University, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Davis.