IRCO Success Comes from the Strength of our Staff, Board and Community

IRCO is an agency that was started by refugees, for refugees and continues to be run and operated largely by members from these communities. Over 80% of IRCO staff are immigrants and refugees themselves with leadership roles in their specific communities. In addition, IRCO by-laws state that over 50% of our Board of Directors must be from the communities we serve so from the top down IRCO makes decisions and provides services with the input, guidance and collaboration of the diverse communities we serve on a daily basis.

Meet IRCO's Board of Directors


Board of Directors

Valerie S. Palmer, President

Valerie S. Palmer has served on the Board since January 2008 and is the current IRCO President of the Board of Directors. Born of mixed-race parents in South Africa, Valerie entered the United States as an asylee in 1972. While running a business in Manhattan and consulting for Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Valerie founded the Third World Medical Research Foundation to promote research and education in nutritional and other disorders affecting poor people. She has worked in many countries as a member of medical research teams, organized, participated and developed interdisciplinary research programs and conferences, carried out home-based research on Gulf War Veterans suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, led a toxicogenomics research laboratory at OHSU, and co-authored numerous research papers in peer-reviewed journals. She is a Member of the OHSU President's Diversity Council and Institutional Review Board, and a Founding Member of the university's Global Health Center, where she has developed a unique course that brings students together with refugees and immigrants for an interdisciplinary Community Health and Education Exchange (iCHEE) and is working with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to develop a student exchange program. For the past few years, she has been working with Desire Tshala-Katumbay to develop collaborations in research and capacity building with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Board of Directors

Ronault LS Catalani, Secretary

Ronault (Polo) LS Catalani, Secretary, has served on the Board since September 2009. Polo’s family was expelled from Indonesia, resettled in Amsterdam, then resettled again in Salem. He is the second of his Manado mother and Catalan father’s four sons. His daughter Dr. Caricia E.C. Veneziale Catalani teaches at UC Berkeley and practices public health in India; his son Edan S.O. Catalani paints and exhibits in San Francisco and Portland. Polo and his artist wife Chompunut Xuto are new grandparents. Polo’s work includes immigrant community economic and social integration on the West Coast and political extraction in Southeast Asia. He is a fellow of the Human Rights Institute of the International Court of Justice. Polo's essays are published in The Asian Reporter and The Oregonian, and his work has been broadcast by Oregon, Wisconsin, and Minnesota Public Radio; he is author of Counter Culture: Immigrant Stories from Portland Café Counters. Polo has been associated with IRCO since 1983.


Board of Directors

Claudia Burnett, Treasurer

Claudia Burnett, Treasurer, joined the Board in September 2012. She has lived in the Northwest, Midwest and Northeast of the U.S., as well as in Latin America. After graduation from college, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil for 3 ½ years, most of that time spent in the Amazon. She has traveled extensively in Latin America and has been fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. She has a Masters in Business Administration from Cornell University. Her work experience spans 15 years in progressive financial management positions, including Corning Glass Works, Floating Point Systems, and Cascade Steel Rolling Mills, followed by over 15 years working with nonprofits in senior financial management positions, including the Oregon Symphony and OHSU School of Nursing. She served as Board Member and Treasurer of the Regional Arts & Culture Council from 2004 to 2010.

Board of Directors

Chanpone Sinlapasai-Okamura, Vice President

Chanpone Sinlapasai-Okamura, Vice President, is an attorney with Marandas & McClellan. She represents clients regarding general immigration law matters including visas, citizenship issues, consular processing, deportation defense and appeals. Ms. Sinlapasai-Okamura focuses her practice in assisting children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected, survivors of domestic violence, serious crime, and human trafficking. Ms. Sinlapasai-Okamura received her J.D., from Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College in 2002 and is a member of the Cornelius Honor Society. She earned her B.A. (English & Philosophy) from Santa Clara University in 1998. She is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA Oregon) and currently serves as the liaison for Immigration Custom’s Enforcement. Her volunteer work includes chairing the DOJ’s Immigrant Crime Victim’s Rights Enforcement and membership in the Victims of Crime Act Advisory Committee for the State of Oregon, DOJ’s Crime Victim’s Rights Compliance Project Advisory Committee, F.B.I. Multicultural Committee, Oregon Minority Lawyer’s Association, and Oregon Women’s Lawyer’s Association. She has been involved with the immigrant and refugee community most of her adult life, both in Oregon and California. In addition to her immigration law experience, she has firsthand knowledge of the challenges an individual or family can face when coming to a new country. Her family resettled in the United States as refugees from Laos in 1980.

Board of Directors

Nhu To-Haynes, Board Member

Nhu To-Haynes, Board Member, currently serves as the State Outreach and Integration Coordinator for the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program. She has been with the Office of Family Health at the Oregon Health Authority for over 10 years. She holds a BS in Nutrition Food Management with a concentration in Community Health from Oregon State University. Nhu has had a variety of public health experiences, including working with the Oregon State Immunization Program as a health educator and trainer. Early in her career she was a certifier and nutrition educator for the Washington County WIC Program, and served 2 years in the U.S. Peace Corp as an HIV/STD coordinator in Kingston, Jamaica. Nhu has worked in many cross-cultural and diverse settings and enjoys bringing communities together through community health issues. Nhu completed her Master’s in Public Administration at Portland State University in December 2010.

Board of Directors

Laura Rojas, Board Member

Laura Rojas, Board Member since January 2014, is the Planning Strategy and Process Director at Nike. Laura was born and raised in Colombia, where she earned a BS in Economics. She has nine years of professional experience in the private sector in Latin America and the US, mainly as a business consultant and process director in multiple firms, including Azurian, Dicorp, and Nike. During her college years, Laura cofounded FNVPT, a nonprofit organization that served low income children and teenage mothers in the slums of Bogota. She was an active volunteer with the organization for over 11 years and served as a Board Member for 3 terms. Laura came to the US for a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. Soon after, she worked as a Fundraising Consultant for CCS Fundraising where she worked in creating the social return on investment model for Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia and planned, designed and led a 5M capital campaign for the Kirby Center – a performing arts center. Laura moved to Portland in 2012 and volunteered for Mercy Corps as the Latin America, Caribbean, Balkan and Caucasus Desk Support Intern before joining Nike. Laura has always had a passionate interest in youth and education programs and is keenly interested in supporting immigrant communities. 

Board of Directors

Trinh Tran, Board Member

Trinh Tran, Board Member since May 2014, immigrated to the United States as an unaccompanied minor, arriving in Portland in 1984. He is currently a contract administration manager for the Oregon State Lottery. Previously as a lawyer in private practice, Mr. Tran specialized in corporate finance, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and venture capital. He also served as foreign legal advisor to a Tokyo law firm. As a deputy city attorney for the City of Portland, Mr. Tran provided advice on business and finance transactions, including real estate development, and on strategic economic partnerships, public records law, and other municipal law issues. Mr. Tran earned his law degree, magna cum laude, from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland and his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. He has served on the board of the Oregon Law Foundation and volunteered for Legal Aid Services of Oregon.

Board of Directors

Tatiana Youseff, Board Member

A Board Member since July 2014, Tatiana Youseff is a refugee from Russia with strong connections to Portland’s Slavic community. A former refugee resettlement case manager for Lutheran Community Services, Tatiana continues to work with immigrants and refugees as a congregation leader at New Beginnings Slavic Church and through her work as a real estate broker, helping immigrant clientele seek and finance housing. She is also a volunteer talk show host on Russian Radio 7. When Tatiana came to this country as a refugee, she was generously assisted in becoming a successful U.S. citizen, a debt she is now able to repay by helping other newly arrived refugees in their own transitions. 

Board of Directors

Taye Yemeru, Board Member

Taye Yemeru, who joined the Board in July 2014, was born in Ethiopia and has worked for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1990. His FAA management role includes administering, investigating and enforcing safety regulations for aircraft operation and airworthiness, as well as overseeing air carrier evaluation of flight crews and aviation mechanics for proper training and qualifications. He also collaborates with the National Transportation Safety Board in investigating accidents and incidents involving air carrier industries. Prior to joining the FAA, he worked in the airline industry for more than 25 years in several aviation management positions. Through his career in aviation safety and administration, Mr. Yemeru lived in Kenya, Nigeria and India before immigrating to the United States. A dedicated humanitarian, Mr. Yemeru witnessed a flood of Ethiopians arriving in Kenya as refugees and, in response, volunteered to assist them in finding food and shelter. While living in India, he sponsored two young women, providing employment and funding educational and vocational trainings that led to self-sufficient careers. He and his wife also funded their dowries, enabling them to marry. While in the United States, Mr. Yemeru has sponsored a number of African students pursuing education in this country and has been recognized for his mentorship. 

Board of Directors

Abby Liu, Board Member

Abby Liu, Board Member, was born in China and came to the United States for advanced study in 1996. After earning her MS degree in electrical and computer engineering at Louisiana State University, she has worked in engineering, consulting, and financial services industries. She is currently a marketing manager with Capital One Corporation and had been with HSBC Corporation since 2003, prior to the acquisition. Previously, she worked as a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for five years and provided technical consulting services for corporations in litigation and business turnaround needs. In her early careers, Abby worked at Baxter Healthcare as an IT consultant and also worked at FMC Corporation, where she helped design and deliver a real time Automatic Guided Vehicle control system. In her spare time, Abby enjoys volunteering with her two daughters at the Goose Hollow Family Shelter, Girl Scouts, and with other local communities.


IRCO Executive Director Sokhom Tauch

Mr. Tauch has been a part of IRCO since its inception and has directed the agency since accepting the Executive Director position in 1996. Mr. Tauch is passionate about IRCO clients, IRCO’s position in the Portland community and its stellar financial accountability and stewardship.


Sokhom Tauch is the Executive Director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). He has worked in refugee resettlement since coming to the United States himself as a refugee from Cambodia in 1975. He received his MBA from Marylhurst College in 1993. Under his leadership IRCO has expanded its services in many areas including services to youth, seniors, community development, domestic violence services, citizenship, environmental justice, and volunteer programs.

Additionally, under his financial directorship the agency was able to begin investing in its own infrastructure. In 1999, Tauch worked with the IRCO staff and board to purchase its own building and community center for the Portland refugee and immigrant community, which they moved into in 2001. In 2005, Tauch worked with the IRCO board to purchase the Skill Center/Africa House. The Asian Family Center, established in 1996, was able to move into its own building, purchased by IRCO, in 2011.

Recent Highlights of IRCO’s Outstanding Staff!


2013: Abinnet Haile of IRCO’s African Immigrant Mentoring Program (AIM) honored as Inspirational Oregonian

Abinnet Haile of IRCO’s African Immigrant Mentoring Program (AIM) was named one of eleven regional representatives for the “I Am Oregon” campaign, which called on Oregonians to nominate and recognize everyday heroes doing good in their communities. The campaign received more than 1,200 nominations from across the state. Haile was selected as one of two Portland Metro Inspirational Oregonians by a group of her peers at the Oregon Unlimited Roadshow, a series of networking events that convened community-minded Oregonians in six cities across the state. She received a $100 gift card and rain jacket from Columbia Sportswear and a trip to the Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington, DC this June. The conference is the world's largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, corporate, and government sectors. Haile will attend the conference with the other regional representatives from every region in the state, from a teen to an octogenarian, from those working to improve access to health care in rural communities to community arts. Congratulations to our very own Abinnet! Learn more!

IRCO’s Lee Po Cha, MBA New Board Chair of All Hands Raised

IRCO wishes to congratulate Lee Po Cha, MBA, Associate Director of IRCO and Director of IRCO’s Asian Family Center for also becoming the Chair of the Board of Directors for All Hands Raised. All Hands Raised (formerly Portland Schools Foundation) is a fabulous nonprofit that believes transforming children into educated, independent adults is the job of the entire community. All Hands Raised brings together local business, government, non-profit organizations, faith community, parents, students and community stakeholders to ensure the sustained success of every child in Portland and Multnomah County from cradle to career. Learn more at

IRCO’s Asian Family Center Staff Linda Nguyen wins the 2012 City of Portland Spirit of Portland Award for Community Harmony

Please join IRCO in congratulating our very own Linda Nguyen for winning this year’s City of Portland Spirit of Portland Award for Community Harmony. Linda has worked for IRCO at AFC since 2006 where she always provides exemplary customer service to clients in crisis in a way that is compassionate and dedicated. I truly believe that Linda is a shining example of all IRCO employees who are hard-working, client-focused community leaders. We are glad that the City of Portland is recognizing her. Learn more about the award:

2011: Mo Sangsam

Year Started with IRCO: 2007 Current Title: Employment Specialist & Marketer Mo Sangsam was nominated by many of her peers all cited her caring, reliability, trustworthiness, and her ability to go above and beyond with clients, coworkers, employers, her community and for the company. When IRCO’s selection committee met last year, she stood out as one of the best!

2010: Yuka Ishikawa

Year Started with IRCO: 2007 Current Title: Lead Instructor & Assessment Specialist Yuka was selected by members of IRCO’s Strategic Management Team for her outstanding commitment to her job and patience in assisting clients. Her versatility to adjust to a variety of situations requiring change with very little notice while consistently maintained a very positive attitude was what really inspired us to select her.

Past Staff Highlight