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About Us

Friends of Portugal is a 501c3 nonprofit organization based in North America with teams operating in the U.S. and Portugal.

Focused on promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing, Friends of Portugal establishes social enterprise projects, hosts business & cultural excursions between the US and Portugal, fosters community outreach, and organizes educational programs and seminars for personal and professional development, all through innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives.

Friends of Portugal  serves Secular and faith-based organizations and individuals with similar interests and goals, and a shared desire to influence and motivate the people of Portugal to pursue and create mutually beneficial opportunities that fuel economic growth and development in the community.



Our Team

The Friends of Portugal family consists of hard-working individuals with hearts for serving others.

The Board of Directors and North American Director all serve without compensation or remuneration. 

Get to know our team and the current Executive Leadership of Friends of Portugal:


Board of Directors


Randy Ataíde, President


A Luso-American from an old family from Porto, Portugal, Randy is a retired Professor of Entrepreneurship from Point Loma Nazarene University. Currently, he is a business consultant and investor in several projects, and has spoken in numerous settings during many trips to Portugal, usually on entrepreneurship, leadership, etc. He and his wife Ruth live in San Antonio, Texas, and Randy loves studying Portuguese history, current issues, economics and business, culture, and wines. They have three grown children and two beautiful granddaughters.

Jason Ekk, Vice-President


Jason was born in Dinuba, CA, but raised in Portugal, where his love of the country, people, and history was shaped. He and his wife Alicia and three children live in Visalia, CA. Jason is an attorney with a focus of practice on real estate, business law, estate planning,and litigation. A strong advocate for justice and peacemaking, Jason is also an adjunct Professor at Fresno Pacific University.

Elsa Gomes Bondlow

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Elsa is a passionate and vibrant advocate for the Portuguese and Lusos throughout the world, and was raised in the Loures area north of Lisbon before coming to the U.S. to obtain her degree from Fresno Pacific University, and joined the Board of Directors in 2016. She and her husband John live in the Boston area, where she serves as the Major Gifts Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

Drew Lambert


Drew joined the Board of Directors in 2016, and was the originator of the Friends of Portugal business plan in 2011 during a European study trip, as an MBA project while studying at Point Loma Nazarene University. Drew and his wife Megan live in San Diego, and have traveled together to Portugal, and Drew is a real estate developer in the greater San Diego area.

Joshua Wilson, Treasurer


Josh is an estate planning attorney based in Bakersfield, CA. He and his wife Heidi Ekk Wilson have two young sons, whom they  live with on a farm in Shafter, CA. Josh serves on the Board of Trustees of Fresno Pacific University. Through the years, Josh has also developed a deep knowledge and passion for Portuguese wines, culture, and economic empowerment.

Douglas Nuñez

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Douglas Nuñez was born and raised in Venezuela but moved to the United States in the ’80s to attend college. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Colorado State University-Pueblo, later completing two additional masters degrees: a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering from South Dakota State and an MBA from Point Loma Nazarene University. Throughout his career, Douglas has worked extensively with businesses in the electric power generation industry in addition to his academic research work. He currently works for the Power and Water Division of Emerson Electric as a Plant Performance Consultant. Douglas is an avid traveler and has been to Europe, South America, and the Middle East. He has been married to Carol for 20 years and they live in San Diego with their daughter Isabella.

Matthew Bawks


Matthew Bawks is the President and CEO of Central Valley Sweeping, LLC, a renowned Central Valley sweeping company purchased by his parents William and Jo Ann Bawks in 1986. Matthew first started his career working for the San Francisco Giants Baseball Team after graduating from Westmont College in 1999 with a degree in Communication Studies. Having grown up in the sweeping business, he decided to return home to Visalia in order to help the business grow. Currently, Central Valley Sweeping has 26 full-time and 4 part-time employees. Matthew is an avid sports fan and enjoys playing golf, pick-up basketball, fishing and spending time with his family. Matthew and his wife Katelyn live in Visalia with their three children.



Cathy Gallagher, North American Director


Cathy is co-owner of Jennings House Cafe in San Diego, CA., and former Executive Director of the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University. She has extensive experience in leadership, management, business development, consulting, and training. She has traveled to Portugal 3 times, 2 of which included leading a group of MBA students on business and cultural experiential learning trips. During these trips she has spoken on topics that include entrepreneurship, professional development, employment, and international communications. Cathy loves to travel, and also enjoys living at the coast, reading, walking, and spending time with her grandchildren. She and her husband Mike live in San Diego, CA and have two grown children and three grandsons. 

Hendrik Von Niessen, European Director


Living in Loures, Portugal, as the European Director for Friends of Portugal Hendrik provide primary day to day leadership of the various activities, projects, initiatives and programs that FOP has in place in Portugal. Born in Germany, Hendrik is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German, and he and his wife Margarita and two young sons are active in the many FOP projects, their local church, and various ministries, projects, and groups in Portugal.

ILUDUMILA MIALDA, European AssociatE


Iludumila or Mila is an Angolan national that has lived in Portugal since she was 11 years old. She has a degree in business management from Universidade Lusíada in Lisbon. Mila works as A Ponte’s full-time administrative assistant. Mila’s desire is to grow in her professional career and contribute to the development and well-being of Friends of Portugal and A Ponte. She enjoys watching TV shows, listening to music, dancing and trying new foods.

Guimel Sibingo, Communications Coordinator

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Guimel is a Portuguese-Angolan who studied Communications and Journalism in the United States and has since returned to Portugal in order to invest back into her country. As the communications coordinator, Guimel is in charge of all e-mail communications, website maintenance and social media management.  She is a part of our on-the-ground team in Portugal and assists with communication efforts (in Portuguese and in English) for our projects in Portugal including A Ponte, Re-nascer and the second-hand store. 



José Arrais-Velez


José was born and has lived his entire life in Portugal, and is currently President of the Evangelical Association of Portugal, and serves on several international groups and committees which has him travel frequently to other countries, where he always acts a passionate and compelling ambassador for the Portuguese. His outgoing and positive nature across cultures make him an amazing guide and source of information for the FOP Board and Staff, and he also is fluent or proficient in several languages including Portuguese, Spanish, English, and French. He and his wife Paula have two sons and a daughter, and a profound commitment to the Portuguese at all levels of their existence.

Otto Ekk


In his role as Ambassador for Friends of Portugal, Otto brings vast experience in business, mission work, enterprise development, leadership, and related topics to his service with Friends of Portugal. His deep knowledge and appreciation for cultures and peoples throughout the world is manifest in his thoughtful, kind, and temperate nature towards all, and he also speaks German, Portuguese, and English. For nearly thirty years, Otto and his wife Marjorie have lived in Portugal, and they also lived and worked in Brasil for several years prior to moving to the Loures area. They have three grown children and five grandchildren.