SONG Staff

Paulina Helm-Hernandez, SONG Co-Director
Paulina Helm-Hernandez, Co-Director

Paulina Helm-Hernandez is a queer femme cha-cha girl, artist, trainer, political organizer, strategist & trouble-maker-at-large from Veracrúz, Mexico. This Chicana grew up in rural North Carolina, and is currently growing roots in Atlanta, GA.  She has been the Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) for 9 years, having joined the staff after coordinating the Southern regional youth activism program at the Highlander Research & Education Center for over 4 years. Paulina has a background in farm worker and immigrant / refugee rights organizing, cultural work, youth organizing, anti-violence work, and liberation work that centers people most affected by violence, poverty, war and racism. Paulina is also a founding member of the national First Nations / Two Spirit Collective, an queer & trans indigenous movement-building cadre, and has served on the boards of YouthAction, Student Action with Farmworkers and The Third Wave Foundation.  Paulina currently sits on the Vision and Strategies Council of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, and is always exploring ways to deepen political unity with people willing to fight and organize for collective liberation.


Caitlin Breedlove, Co-Director

Caitlin Breedlove is a Queer, 2nd generation Eastern European immigrant who has been in the South her whole adult life. She has been the Co-Director of SONG since 2006. Previous to her time with SONG, Caitlin spent three years as the Coordinator of the Intern Program at the Historic Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. She is a former funding panel member at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, and contributes regularly as a blogger for HuffPost Gay Voices. Caitlin’s current organizing passions are intersectional campaign building and new organizer leadership development. She lives in North Carolina.


Mary Hooks, Campaign Coordinator
Mary Hooks, Campaign Organizer

Mary Hooks joined the SONG team as a field organizer for the state of Alabama in March 2011.  Her passion for helping people is reflected in her years of community service and mentoring.  Mary’s background is in Human Resources and holds a Master of Business Administration with a focus in Human Resources Management and recently obtained her Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification.  Though Mary is new to organizing, her personal story has prepared her for such a time as this.  The chapters of her life begin with a life of poverty, being parentless, and shy.  Eventually the story unfolds of a rebellious teenager who converts to a devoted Christian in Pentecostal church, who comes out as a lesbian and left without the support of her foster or church family and stricken with tons of Christian guilt.  The climax of this story occurs when, in undergrad at a private Lutheran college, Mary begins to redefine her self and discovered a radical desire to be a catalyst for change in the world.  Since then Mary has relocated to the hot shades of Atlanta, GA, and has found her niche in organizing with SONG, throwing dope parties and singing with the Juicebox Jubilees, a queer choir, created to provide a safe space for folks to gather their voices together, sip a little wine, and sing songs that uplift, inspire, and liberate.   As she continues to navigate through movement work, she hopes that the folks she connects with are inspired to write their stories of self-determination, liberation, and love.


Kate Shapiro, Membership Coordinator
Kate Shapiro, Membership Director
Originally from North Carolina with roots in West Virginia, Georgia and New York City, Kate Shapiro is a long time member of SONG and thrilled to be back home in GA.Since 2008 she has worked with Spark Reproductive Justice Now, The Center for Participatory Change and The Beehive Design Collective doing youth organizing, capacity building, and popular political education with rural, queer, and immigrant communities. She came to SONG after an amazing stint in rural Wisconsin working in the historic recall elections where she had the opportunity to fuse electoral and community organizing strategies. She is a founding and continued member of the Vision and Strategies Council of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective. Shapz loves ‘making what we need’, swimming holes and all things savory.





Hermelinda Cortés, Communications Coordinator

Hermelinda Cortés, Communications Coordinator

Hermelinda Cortés is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant father and a white factory-workinʼ mama. Raised on a small farm amidst the Southern delicacies of potato salad and mole, she is a working class Xicana Queer Feminist mama from the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A luddite techie at heart, she schemes and daydreams about liberation and movement driven communications to build lasting connections between communities and strategically dismantle systems of domination. She came to organizing with lots of other young people through Students for a Democratic Society in the height of protests against the Iraq War and has been organizing ever since. She’s worked with the People United, 97.3 LPFM WRIR Independent Radio, the Flying Brick Library and is a founding member of the Shenandoah Valley YES! Alliance and Better Together. She’s been with SONG since 2010 and returned to the rolling blue hills of Virginia in 2012 after a somewhat failed attempt at city life. She believes in the revolutionary possibilities of small towns and lives in one where she continues to pursue her dream of building a multi-racial, multi-generational queer farming familia.



Serena Sebring, Campaign Coordinator
Serena Sebring, Campaign Organizer

Serena Sebring is a queer black feminist organizer, educator, and mother. Originally born in Boston, MA, Serena came to the South by way of Boulder, CO in 2005, where she found home in Durham, NC and SONG family. Serena lives at the LoveShack in Bull City (aka Durham, aka Queer Capital of the Universe) with her family and two beagles. She teaches Sociology at North Carolina State University, where her academic research examines the history of reproductive justice and women of color in North Carolina. Serena is a Taurus, who loves working in the garden, house parties, porch-sitting, and kitchen table talks.








Salem Acuña, Regional Organizer

Salem Acuña is a latino, queer regional organizer with SONG. As an immigrant, originally from Santiago, Chile, Salem is committed to social change and liberation work that is rooted in an international understanding of oppression and history. An understanding that recognizes that we are all part of one another and that social change must come from communities directly impacted by oppression–in any part of the world. Through his work with SONG, Salem has been part of community organizing efforts on a local, regional and national level and has experience working on issues of anti-violence, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, language justice and anti racism. Salem is committed to radical and long-term social change that centers transformation, accountability, resilience and joy within ourselves, our communities and our world.






Elias Lyles, Fundraising Coordinator

Elias H. Lyles, Fundraising Coordinator

Elias H. Lyles works on fundraising and regional membership for SONG, and has been on staff since 2011. They grew up in Greenville, SC, in a big loud Lebanese family. They are passionate about leveraging resources for LGBTQ movement work in the South and growing the SONG family. They are also a co-founder of Girls Rock Charleston.