Meet The Design Team


& Materials Co-Lead

Emily Mahipus

Hello! My name is Emily Mahipus. I live in Santa Ana, CA, and I currently attend Santa Ana United Methodist Church. I am also a nursing student at West Coast University and hope to graduate in two years. My first year at CI was back in 2009 as a camper. I was part of the staff for two years and was a counselor for one year. Now I’m serving as co-director with Alonzo! Going to CI for the first time was such a pivotal moment in my life. I accepted Christ into my heart, and God has drastically changed my life since then.  Through CI, I have also met amazing brothers and sisters in Christ who have not only become my life-long friends but also my family. CI allows a wonderful opportunity to truly encounter Christ. CI holds a special place in my heart, and I want campers to experience it the way I did. Some of my hobbies include eating, getting boba, napping, going to art exhibits, and galleries (basically anything artsy). I also enjoy and am really good at binge-watching shows and movies. Some other fun facts about me: my favorite drink is sea cream Jasmine, and my favorite foods are chicken nuggets, tacos, and baby back ribs.


Praise Band Co-Lead


Alonzo Ablola

Hi my name is Alonzo Ablola, I'm from Paradise Hills, CA and I attend First United Methodist Church of National City and serve as the Youth Director. I'm currently a student at San Diego State University, studying Business with an emphasis in Sports. I attended my first C.I as a camper back in 2009 and then started serving the leadership team in 2014. I am truly blessed and honored to serve as the Co-Director and Praise Band lead for this upcoming C.I. Christmas Institute has been important in my life and allowed me to gain a strong relationship with God, and it shaped me into becoming the person I am today. I continue to attend CI because I want to give back to the youth and give them the best experience possible to find themselves through God. It has been a blessing to attend C.I for a decade and I consider this my second home and family. Some of my hobbies include playing music which I play ukulele, guitar, drums, piano, and the alto saxophone. I love listening to Hip Hop & Island Reggae. I'm also a college student-athlete where I play baseball, and a martial artist. I'm a really big fan of the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Seahawks. Lastly I like turtles, love to surf, snorkel, and bodyboard. 


Leo G. Ortega III

Hi! I am Leo G. Ortega III from Rancho Cucamonga, CA. I attend La Verne United Methodist Church, and studied Electrical Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. I got my Bachelors of Science in June of 2020. I first started attending Christmas Institute as a camper back in 2014, and started serving in leadership as a staffer in 2016. I then first became a counselor for Christmas Institute in 2017 and started my run as the Creative Team Leader in the Design Team in 2019. From camper to leadership, being a part of Christmas Institute has been truly a blessing as C.I. has helped me in my life. C.I. is where I learned about other people's life stories and how their experience's affected their life and faith. C.I. helped me find my own spiritual gifts and opportunities for leadership by changing the way I looked at the world. With that said, C.I. holds a high importance in my life, and I want campers to experience it the way I did. In hopes, the campers create their own spiritual 

relationship with God. Some of my hobbies include drinking boba, traveling across the world, and singing my lungs out (hypothetically speaking). Other fun facts about me is: my favorite drink is coffee, my favorite food is steak (or anything beef), and my favorite pass-time is building something that I think would be cool to have.

Associate Dean

Eric Iki

Minister Eric Iki from Faith UMC in Torrance. I am the associate dean for CI 2020. I studied history at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and then received my Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m currently in the commissioning process and hope to be commissioned at the UMC annual conference in 2021. I’m married to my beautiful wife Crystal and we’re dog parents now to a puppy named Appa (IG: AppashowStappa). In my free time, I consider myself a gamer, cook, and basketball player. Sometimes I fish too!


Jenine Cadlaon

Hello! My name is Jenine Cadlaon! I attend and am the youth leader at Wilmington UMC, and I am currently the youth leader. I hold bible studies for my youth while also coordinating for events and fundraisers. I've been going to Christmas Institute since 2012 as a camper. last year, I became a staff member and had an opportunity to become design team for this year! Christmas Institute has made such a big impact in my life and with my relationship with God, and I wanted to do anything in my power to continue that experience for the campers. My hobbies that I enjoy doing is cooking and hanging out with my friends and trying new foods. Because I've been inside most days, I've been trying new hobbies like painting and embroidery. I'm excited to start this journey with everyone and to strengthen my relationship with God!

Camp Dean


Rev. Neil Platon

Hi I am Pastor Neil Platon. I am the dean of camp for Christmas Institute since 2003. I am currently the pastor of discipleship at New Beginnings UMC. I was born and raised in the Philippines. I was a pre-med student at the University of Santo Tomas (BS Botany & Pharmacy) in the Philippines before I followed God’s call to ministry. I studied at both Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena in Pasadena, CA for my Master of Divinity and Claremont School of Theology for my Doctor of Ministry. I enjoy technology working with computers and gadgets. Before I became one of the pastors of New Beginnings my family and I served churches in rural Iowa and at Wilmington First United Methodist Church in the Los Angeles area before moving to the San Bernardino in 2016.

Staff Coordinator

Praise Band Lead

Julian De Pano

Hi! My name is Julian DePano. I am from Irvine, CA and I attend Santa Ana UMC. I am a currently a youth and young adult leader/volunteer, a worship leader, and one of the audio/video techs for my church. I first starting attending CI as a camper back in 2006 and haven’t missed a year since (with exception to 2018 when SoCal’s delegation went to NorCal’s CI). I joined Staff in 2011, Praise Band in 2012, and finally Design Team in 2013. I was offered a position on Design Team to co-lead the praise band when my predecessor announced that she was stepping down. I’ve been on DT and CI’s praise band director ever since. Some of my hobbies include playing video games, streaming, and jamming out on my guitar. A fun fact about me is that I once ate a banana for MTV nite.

Drama Team Lead


Christian Dauz

Hi! My name is Christian Dauz.

Materials Co-Lead

Karen Navarro

Hello! My name is Karen Navarro and I grew up going to First Filipino United Methodist Church of San Gabriel Valley in Hacienda Heights. In 2017, I graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liberal Studies, and I am currently a Paralegal Studies student at Mt. San Antonio College. In my free time, I like to bake different desserts, watch shows on Netflix, read and write stories, and play games on my Nintendo Switch! I attended my first C.I. as a camper back in 2007, I was part of staff in 2012 and 2013, and a counselor in 2019. Now, I'm serving on Design Team as the Materials Co-Lead alongside Emily Mahipus! I wanted to serve on Design Team because not only am I passionate about the Gospel, but I am also passionate about making sure the church is accessible to those with disabilities. I am positive that C.I. will become more accessible as time goes on, and I'm excited to see what God has in store for C.I. in the future! Christmas Institute has a special place in my heart, it was the place where I accepted Jesus as my Savior and pretty much played a role in laying the foundation in my walk with Christ. Through C.I. I've made some of my closest friends who I consider family to this day. I hope that the youth and young adults that come to C.I. will learn how much Jesus loves them, and how they can truly follow him by demonstrating their love for others as well.