The mission of El Grupo Vida is to empower immigrants with disabilities and their families with information, training, and direct advocacy to help them become more self-sufficient and give our community a voice, raising awareness about our rights.


Through love, wisdom and support of their families and communities, people with disabilities can lead happy and productive lives.

Parents who have children with disabilities or any special need benefit from the support that comes from others who have had the same experience.

El Grupo VIDA offers this opportunity, education and information and valuable social spaces during the year for the whole family.

Families who have children or adults loved ones with disabilities:

  • are encouraged to take charge of their situation and take the road to take part in the real world, and
  •  celebrate the gifts of all your children but especially those who have disabilities or special needs.

We invite you to connect with us with a call to (303) 904-6073 or by sending a message to elgrupovida@gmail.com.

Our History 

El Grupo VIDA was founded in 1990 to help and support families who have children with special needs. The group was founded by Ellie Valdez–Honeyman and Maria Castillo who had something in common; they both had children with special needs. 

Ellie and Maria saw that there was a need to support and educate the Spanish speaking community and decided they would start a support group for families like themselves.    

The first support group was small with 5 to 6 parents who met every month with the support of Little LEEP and Laradon Hall.  During one of the meetings, the group came up with the name El Grupo VIDA. The support groups grew every year and in 1997 the group held its first educational conference completely in Spanish. A few years later became a 5013c.  

The idea of holding a conference came from another challenge they knew families were facing.  They would attend other conferences and have a hard time getting resources in Spanish or understanding the sessions through interpreters. 

The conference would offer the opportunity to have other parents connect and learn about resources available in their language. El Grupo VIDA created a committee of wonderful volunteers and professionals, some of these volunteers were parents of kids with special needs. Together with passion and enthusiasm started to coordinate further conferences.  Every year the number of attendees grew, from 100 to 400 attendees.   

El Grupo is very grateful for all of the partnerships it has had throughout the years, together we can make a bigger impact in the community.


El Grupo Vida staff Eli Aucancela

Elisa Aucancela

MA IMH-E® Infant Family Specialist | Executive Director

My name is Elisa Aucancela. I am a Bilingual Early Childhood Special Education Specialist/Developmental interventionist in the state of Colorado with over 13 years of experience working with young children and their families in school- and home-based services. I am a former dual language psychology professor at Regis University.

Veronica Adames

Program Director

Balbina Contreras

Community Navigator

Born in Jalisco, Balbina Contreras lives a bicultural life in Denver. As a young woman she helped her family get through so many things, from school enrollment to registering a business. After this she found herself helping families read important documents and fill out forms. Those experiences guide your professional life. Aware of the challenges facing the Latino community, she remains committed to supporting our community through hard work and support.

El Grupo Vida logo

Claudia Carmona

Project Support Specialist | Community Navigator

Denice Alas-Chinchilla

ED Assistant | Family Specialist | Social Media | Marketing & Events

Alfredo Jesus Bonilla

Community Navigator | Computer and English Teacher

Hello dear readers, my name is Alfredo Jesus Bonilla Flores, a Venezuelan orphan of parents, raised mainly by my maternal grandmother; Rosa Elena Flores Millan and other dear relatives. I have had a superpower called “Cerebral Palsy” since birth which has helped me see and understand the world in a different way. In Venezuela, I graduated from the “Antonio Escobar Lara” Experimental Pedagogical University located in the city of Maracay, Aragua state as a Professor in the area of teaching English as a second language approximately five years ago.
Unfortunately, due to lack of adaptations in different educational institutions for people with special abilities like me and like you that are surely reading, in addition to political problems in the country, I could not develop as a professional in my area and I dedicated myself to other things like working from home teaching the English language and with video games. Currently, I belong to “El Grupo Vida” full time as a community navigator and English and computer teacher. ¡Don’t be afraid to meet me!

Board of Directors

José Torres Vega | President

Social Media Manager / Family Specialist / ED Assistant

Jose was born in Guatemala, Guatemala City during the Guatemalan Civil War. He was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at six months old. At age twelve, he had his first encounter with the war when his older sister and nephew were forced to leave Guatemala for their safety. At age seventeen his father was killed and Jose, his mother and younger sister had to hide. He lost all aspects of his life at that time including his house and his girlfriend. He joined the opposition to the government at this time.

Jose and his family eventually fled to the U.S. for their safety and he began to advocate for the civil rights of the disabled. He joined ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit) and CCDC and advocated for the civil rights of people with disabilities. According to Jose, “In these last years I have met true friends, people who fight with the same passion and love. Now I have a whole new world of opportunities, like being invited to be trained by and work for CCDC. The best has been to be able to work for and with the disability community

Silvia Contreras | Vice President, Parent

Silvia Contreras is the mother of a young woman with different abilities of 22 years. She is Mexican with sixteen years in the United States, has participated as a volunteer in Grupo Vida for 16 years, and has been on the Board of Directors for six years. She is currently Vice President of the Board of Directors. She has participated and trained in different disability organizations.

Cruz Pedraza | Treasurer, Counselor

Cruz Pedraza-Ruiz, MA studied psychology at the University of Puerto Rico. He has worked in the area of mental health for the past 25 years with babies, children and adults. He serves as part of the mental health team at Florence Crittenton School. High school that offers services to pregnant and parenting teens.

Yudi Morales | Secretary

Izabel Ramirez | Secretary

Maria Lopez | Board Member

Educational Training and Support Group Facilitators

Bob McGill

Advocacy Denver, Volunteer Facilitator East Denver-Aurora Educational Support Group

Bob McGill is a Child and Family Advocate for Spanish-speaking families of children with disabilities. He holds a B.A. in International Studies from William Jewell College. His work for AdvocacyDenver draws on more than 15 years’ experience in personal and public advocacy for farmworkers and recent immigrants; program evaluation and development; and assisting non-profits and public agencies that serve Latina families in the areas of education, health, and immigration.

Briceida Nuñez

Francina Taveras

Nutrition and health teacher

My name is Francina Taveras. I have worked in the education field as a Montessori teacher for the past 10 years, especially in bilingual institutions. I have always believed that access to education and tools to support the family are effective weapons against discrimination and inequality. I really enjoy teamwork and serving the community.



Zaira Gutierrez

Hello, my name is Zaira Gutiérrez and I am an intern at El Grupo Vida. As a Latina I understand the struggles our communities face. I believe that each individual should have access to the pursuit of happiness, justice and freedom. I am studying social work at MSU Denver and hope to become a social worker. In addition to social work, I have a deep passion for animal rights and the environment. I look forward to working with you and your families this year. I am excited about the progression we will achieve as the year progresses. Thank you in advance for trusting me and I will do my best!

Janice Valdez

Hello, I am Janice Valdez. I am 22 years old and I was born and raised in Denver, CO.  Im Mexican-American. and I am the middle child in my family and the only person in my family who has a learning disability. I struggle with dyslexia and have a tumor in my eye. I am excited to now be able to help families with children who have a disability. I will be working with El Group Vida till the beginning of July. Then my expectation is to study early childhood education and become a preschool teacher.  I’m very thankful for the opportunity of being able to work with El grupo Vida.


Emilia Heinz

Hello, I am Emilia Heinz, I am 18 years old and I come from Germany. I did my high school in Germany and now I’m volunteering for a year at El Grupo Vida. I speak Spanish, because my mom is from Ecuador. I am very grateful for having the chance to have new experiences here in the United States and to be able to help Spanish-speaking families, especially children with special abilities, who unfortunately still have to face a lack of sufficient support. After that year I want to study psychology in Germany to work as a child psychotherapist.
I think that vulnerable children, with problems and difficult life experiences, should be especially helped, because they are the ones who shape the present and the future of society. I appreciate the work that the Grupo Vida team is doing to support families and children with special abilities.
In my free time I love to take care of children, in Germany my younger brother Levin, 6 years old, is waiting for me and I miss him. I am also very interested in activism and environmental protection as well as nature in general. I also play the piano and love to dance salsa, ballet and belly dance and listen to Latin or folk music. Swimming, painting and reading and learning about children with different abilities, as well as biology, history and politics, are also part of my expectations.
I am very happy to be able to work that year with you.