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2019 AMIGOS Summit Recap

The AMIGOS Summit in Houston, TX on October 18 & 19, 2019 truly showcased the head, the soul, and the heart of AMIGOS.

The AMIGOS Summit reconnected and celebrated our alumni by highlighting them as panel speakers and experts in their fields. In this forum at the Hotel ZaZa in Houston, a key group of nearly 100 attendees came together to reconnect with our past, build connections, and energize the AMIGOS community for the future.


The newest AMIGOS video debuted at the Summit.

Over two days, leaders in their fields spoke on curated panels and forums to showcase the AMIGOS impact they have experienced in their lives.

Guests at the AMIGOS Summit included:

  • AMIGOS Board of Directors
  • Chapter Leaders
  • Foundation for AMIGOS Trustees
  • Advisory and Regional Council Members
  • Headquarters Staff
  • Past board members, key stakeholders, and members of our local Houston community

The diverse program at the Summit let attendees discover where life after AMIGOS has taken alumni in a variety of industries such as film, government, and entrepreneurship while exploring the role AMIGOS had in shaping their personal values and path.

v AMIGOS Staff enjoying the Summit.
View of Houston from the Hotel Zaza.

Friday, October 18th

Welcome & Summit Kick-Off

Board Chair Patricia Grad during her summer in the field with AMIGOS.

Current AMIGOS Board Chair Patricia Grad welcomed all of our attendees to kick off the AMIGOS Summit. She shared about her experience in the highlands of Ecuador as an AMIGOS volunteer and how it has shaped her life. Patricia encouraged the room with a warning: inspiration is inevitable at this event!

“I invite you to let AMIGOS in. Let AMIGOS into your head and become genuinely excited by what we are planning for the future. Let AMIGOS into your soul and celebrate how these programs have shaped and continue the shape young people who make the world a place worth living and believing in. And finally let AMIGOS into your heart. It is here that AMIGOS is the most powerful and where AMIGOS lives in me. AMIGOS makes me brave, makes me strong, and makes me so very proud.”

– Patricia Grad, AMIGOS Board Chair

AMIGOS: 2020 and Beyond

Sara Nathan, AMIGOS  President & CEO, during one of her summers in the field.

Sara Nathan, AMIGOS President & CEO, shared how AMIGOS has evolved and discussed our vision for the future of AMIGOS. Sara shared her journey with as an Amiga as a 2x alum of the programs, a 3x alum of project staff teams, a local chapter volunteer in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a 10-year member of HQ staff.

“As we look to where we go from here we first have to root ourselves in our ‘why.’ Why AMIGOS? After 55 years in existence, what purpose do we serve today? What is our vision for the future?”

– Sara Nathan, AMIGOS President & CEO

During her presentation, Sara also announced an updated AMIGOS Mission and Vision that encompass the future direction for the organization:

MISSION: To inspire leaders through authentic service and immersion experiences.
VISION: A world where all people are lifelong leaders sharing responsibility for our global community.


A Window Into AMIGOS 365

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay

AMIGOS has programming 365 days a year with the semester- and year-long Gap Program in Cuenca, Ecuador and Montevideo, Uruguay. Summit attendees were transported to visit the current Gap program running in Montevideo, Uruguay. Current Gap Program volunteers in Uruguay took a break from their internships for a virtual meet and greet with attendees via video chat.

Reception and Evening Program: Dinner and A Conversation with Michael and Jeff Zimbalist

Michael and Jeff Zimbalist gave us an insider’s perspective on documentary filmmaking.

AMIGOS alumni Michael Zimbalist (’97, ’00) and Jeff Zimbalist (’95, ’96, ’98, ’99, ’08) co-founded All Rise Films, an Academy Award-shortlisted, Emmy, and Peabody Award-winning media company dedicated to bringing exciting and authentic stories to global audiences. Since 2004, the Zimbalists have shared powerful stories through their films about community, sports, music, and occasionally international crime.

Michael and Jeff shared about their AMIGOS experiences and how these early years in  the field helped impact their incredible filmmaking careers, inspiring them to share the untold stories of people in Latin America.

By screening vignettes of films they’ve created, Michael and Jeff took the audience on a journey through the documentary film-making process, including stories from a documentary about AMIGOS they created early in their career. They discussed the parallels between AMIGOS training and experiences and the work necessary to become immersed in a community to reveal a compelling story. Some of their award-winning films and docuseries include The Two Escobars, Favela Rising, Nossa Chape, Pelé, and ReMastered.


The audience was moved hearing stories that were inspirational, funny, and thought-provoking.


During dinner, two members of the AMIGOS family received awards to acknowledge their incredible dedication and contributions to the organization.

The Philip C. Johnson Alumni Service Award was given to Mike Kercheval, AMIGOS alumnus and current Treasurer of the Board of Directors. Ann Crowley of the Houston Chapter received the Eitan Fenson Amigo para Siempre Award.

Mike Kercheval receiving the Philip C. Johnson Alumni Service Award.
L to R: Lauren Hauser, Managing Director of Regional Operations; Taylor Martin, Chapter Operations Director; Meghan Ford, Admissions Manager; Ann Crowley, Houston Chapter Board Member; Erin Aucar, National Outreach Manager; and April Hearne, Managing Director of Business Operations.

Saturday, October 19th

Session: Fresh Perspectives: Finding Inspiration in the Next Generation of Leaders

Matthew Travers moderating the young alumni panel.

The young alumni panelists had us laughing as they recounted stories of working on service projects and learning new words in Spanish.

Recent alumni told stories of their experiences with the Discover AMIGOS Program, Summer Immersion Program, and being on the the National Young Alumni Council. Summit attendees learned about the perspectives of today’s youth and why immersive global leadership experiences like AMIGOS provide a truly unique opportunity for learning and growth.



Our panelists included:

National Young Alumni Council member and Youth Ambassadors Program alumnus Ashley Lin shared her experience with AMIGOS.

Ashley says, “I want to share with my peers that yes, you can travel even if you’re in high school. Yes, immersing yourself in another culture really does change the way you appreciate the present. Yes, do some soul-searching and path-creating with AMIGOS. And no, this isn’t just a summer program. By joining AMIGOS, you’re joining a network of peers and mentors who want to see you succeed just as much as you do.”




Jordan (Jojo) Chase (’18, ’19) has participated in both our Discover and Summer Immersion programs.

In 2018 he joined the Discover AMIGOS Panama Project and returned to Panama in 2019 with our 4-week Coclé project. Back in Panama for the second time, he was able to visit his host family from the previous summer and celebrate his host abuela’s 101st birthday! Jojo is a sophomore at The Post Oak School in Houston, and interns at the AMIGOS office.




Amelia Heymach (’18) is a senior at Episcopal High School in Houston.

Her interest in public health led her to AMIGOS in 2018 when she joined our 8-week project in Chimborazo, Ecuador. Amelia is the Vice President of the AMIGOS Club at her high school and is currently navigating the wonderful world of college applications!





Chloe Pence (’19) joined AMIGOS through the Austin Chapter.

She is a junior at Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin, Texas. Passionate about working with youth, Chloe was excited to volunteer in Santa Elena, Ecuador in 2019 with a project theme of youth empowerment.





Matthew Travers, Project Staff Representative to the Board and three-time Project Staff (Panama ’16, Colombia ’17, and Mexico ’18) moderated the panel.

Matthew is a bilingual sociologist who studies the intersection of leadership development, community building, and international education. He currently works at Atlas Corps, a nonprofit addressing critical social issues by developing leaders, strengthening organizations, and promoting innovation through an overseas fellowship of skilled nonprofit professionals.



Session: Life After AMIGOS: Exploring the Enduring Impact of Our Programs

Part I: Leaders in Their Field: Diplomacy and Public Service

Josh Fryday sharing a story during the panel.

Ambassador Arnold Chacon and California’s Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday shared how AMIGOS influenced their career trajectory and helped cement their belief in the value of service.

Ambassador Chacon shared how his early experiences in Latin America instilled a love of foreign travel, inspiring him to spend his career building bridges between different cultures around the world. Chief Service Office Fryday spoke on the confidence and bravery he learned while volunteering with AMIGOS, inspiring him to face even the toughest challenges and audiences with poise. This panel was moderated by AMIGOS alumnus Doug Alexander.


Ambassador Arnold Chacon (’74, ’75, ’76, ’77, ’78, ’79) is a career member of the United States Foreign Service currently serving as the Senior Vice President at the National Defense University. He has held senior leadership positions at the State Department, including Chief of Mission in Guatemala and Chief Human Capital Officer. He is widely recognized for his expertise in Latin American and European affairs, talent management, communication strategies, and building a diverse workforce.

Prior to his service in Guatemala, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Spain. His other diplomatic assignments include postings to U.S. Missions in Honduras, Mexico, Chile, Italy, Peru, Ecuador, and the United Nations. Ambassador Chacon joined the AMIGOS Board of Directors in 2019.

From 1974–1979, he served with AMIGOS in Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, and Mexico as a volunteer, route leader and member of the AMIGOS international staff. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ambassador Chacon is a Boettcher Foundation Scholar and graduate of the University of Colorado. His wife Alida Chacon is retired from the Foreign Service and they have three children.


Josh Fryday (’98) was recently appointed California’s Chief Service Officer, leading the organization California Volunteers. Before this role, Josh was the mayor and city council member of Novato, CA. In his professional capacity, Josh served as President of Golden State Opportunity, working to provide financial security to low-income working people throughout California. Prior to that, he served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for NextGen Climate, a leading national organization focused on climate change and clean energy.

Josh volunteered with AMIGOS in the Dominican Republic in 1998.





Doug Alexander (‘70–’74) moderated the panel. Doug is widely regarded as one of the premier advocates specializing in practice before the Supreme Court of Texas and is listed by Texas Super Lawyers as one of the Top 10 lawyers in Texas. Doug is the 2013 recipient of the Texas Bar Foundation’s Gregory S. Coleman Outstanding Appellate Lawyer Award; was selected as the 2013 Austin Appellate Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in America; and is listed in the Texas Lawyer Go-To Guide as one of five “Top-Notch Lawyers” in Texas for Appellate Law.

Doug is recognized as a leader in the appellate bar. He has been selected by his peers for inclusion in Best Lawyers in America in Appellate Law; is listed in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business in Appellate Litigation; and has been inducted as a Fellow into the by-invitation-only American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

Doug served on the AMIGOS Board of Directors from 1986-2002, 2005-2007, 2018 and as Foundation for AMIGOS Trustee from 2014-2017. He participated in AMIGOS from 1970-1974 in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Colombia.


Session: The Role of Youth Programming in an Evolving Latin America

AMIGOS Staff Pablo Davila sharing his experiences as a Latin American volunteer with AMIGOS.

During this session, the Programs Team discussed the current sociopolitical context of life in Latin America. Using lived volunteer experiences as a narrative lens, they outlined how AMIGOS programs plug into the broader social context, including how AMIGOS contributes to local initiatives and promotes youth leadership development across the Americas.

Session: Reflections on AMIGOS in Action

In this panel, attendees grabbed their passport, AMIGOS polo, and spirit of adventure to head to Latin America with us! Summit attendees heard from alumni and supporters who recently had the chance to see first-hand how AMIGOS is evolving while continuing to provide unparalleled youth leadership experiences. They shared their stories of going back in to the field in a whole new way.

Supporters trip to Costa Rica, 2019.
Supporters trip to Costa Rica, 2019.

Session: Life After AMIGOS: Exploring the Enduring Impact of Our Programs

Part II: Leaders in Their Field: Social Enterprise and Innovation for Public Good

Summit attendees were inspired by panelists Kirsten Tobey, Co-Founder and Chief Impact Officer at Revolution Foods; John-Paul Maxfield, Founder and President at Waste Farmers; and Vicki Barghout, Founder and CEO of Viver Health, and how they are each harnessing the power of business to find solutions to the large problems facing many communities today.

We are eager to consider ways to highlight social entrepreneurship in future AMIGOS programs. This panel was moderated by Kirk Iverson.


Kirsten Tobey (’94, ’96, ’98) co-founded Revolution Foods in 2006 while in graduate school at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Based in Oakland, Revolution Foods is becoming the nation’s leading innovative, nationwide food solution for citywide wellness. Revolution Foods serves approximately 2 million healthy, affordable meals per week across 15 states, serving over 2000 school and community sites in the US. Revolution Foods’ mission is to build lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef-crafted food accessible to all.

Revolution Foods has been named by Fast Company as one of the world’s 50 most innovative companies and has been listed as one of Fortune Magazine’s “Seven World-Changing Companies to Watch.”  Kirsten is a social entrepreneurship fellow for the Schwab Foundation, as well as an Ashoka Fellow, an Aspen Institute Environmental Fellow, and a member of the Culinary Institute of America’s Business Council. She currently is a member of the Board of Directors for Mercaris and ARTA River Trips.

Prior to founding Revolution Foods, Kirsten was a teacher, researcher, and garden educator. Her AMIGOS service included Costa Rica (volunteer – 1994), Ecuador-Manabi (Field Supervisor – 1996) and Ecuador-Cotopaxi (Associate Project Director – 1998).  Kirsten holds an AB from Brown University and an MBA from UC Berkeley. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three daughters.


In 2009, John-Paul Maxfield (’98) left the world of private equity without a clear plan for his future. He did know that idealism and capitalism can coexist. John-Paul didn’t know what the next 9 years (and three kids later) would look like, but he did know that building a company with strong, regenerative values can be a powerful lever for addressing emerging social and environmental needs. That’s why he founded Waste Farmers and is hell bent on building the biggest and most responsible conglomerate in the history of mankind. Acknowledged as one of Denver Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40, “Fifty for the Future” by the Colorado Statesman, and the “Top of the Town Environmentalist” by 5280, John-Paul’s purpose is “to build one of the greatest, most responsible companies that’s ever been built.”

Additionally, John-Paul helped form the Colorado Americana Band, Coal Town Reunion. The band’s approach to music is simple, write honest songs and play the hell outta them. CTR just recently released a new album entitled “Stories We Tell.” John-Paul served with AMIGOS in the Dominican Republic.


Vicki Barghout, MSPH (’93) volunteered with AMIGOS in Mexico. She became inspired from her experience to be an advocate for health education. As a result of her experience with AMIGOS and being a breast cancer survivor, she founded Viver Health to educate and empower people about the importance of eating healthy and understanding the impact food can have on the body.

Viver Health publishes portable pocket guides that empower users to reduce the risk of disease by integrating healthy food choices with good daily habits. The inaugural published guide, “Reduce Your Risk of Cancer,” is based on her own personal action plan of melding modern science with back-to-basics food techniques to minimize the side effects of her treatment. By the time of her surgery, her aggressive tumor was undetectable, and today she is 9 years cancer free and is happily married with 2 beautiful daughters.

Vicki has worked in the health care industry for over 20 years, leading various pharmaceutical divisions for Novartis US Oncology health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) and Pricing, Global Novartis GI Franchise HEOR, and Bayer HEOR. Her roles included implementing patient reported outcomes, health economic endpoints, and pricing for compounds in development. She also has worked on multiple drug launches and post launch activities focusing on oncology, gastroenterology neurology, primary care, women’s health, and diagnostics. She has published over 35 manuscripts in top-tier journals and has presented over 110 abstracts at major international conferences. Her work in gastroenterology has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She has lived in multiple countries, including Switzerland, England, Mexico, and Guatemala. She received her undergraduate degree from Loyola University Maryland and her graduate degree from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. Vicki is also a certified nutrition integrative health coach.


Kirk Iverson (’94, ’95) is the Founder & CEO of Globalcraft. Kirk joined the AMIGOS Board of Directors in 2019. He served with AMIGOS in ’94-’95 in Ecuador and Honduras. He lives in Portland, OR.


Session: Finding Your Inspiration in AMIGOS Today

In this interactive session, attendees explored what drives and inspires the AMIGOS community. Everyone drew on their own AMIGOS experiences as well as takeaways from the Summit in this closing session.

Reception and Dinner: A Moveable Feast

Attendees at the Moveable Feast.

A dazzling variety of unique dinners were hosted in the private homes of alumni and AMIGOS enthusiasts across the Houston area. The night began with a cocktail reception at Hotel ZaZa. Then, attendees traveled to their dinner destinations with Amigos new and old, not unlike visiting your route in Latin America as an Amigo! This was a great chance for everyone to reconnect and get to know others in the broader AMIGOS community.

AMIGOS Board Chair Patricia Grad said inspiration at the Summit would be unavoidable—and that proved true!

In our 55-year history, we have never hosted an event with so many opportunities to see the power of our impact. Thank you all for an incredible event! We cannot wait to see you all at the next AMIGOS Summit. If you would like to share your photos, please email [email protected].

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