We are a passionate, innovative and collaborative team focused on celebrating students and promoting possibility.
Michelle graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2015. Michelle got her start in education while in college by becoming a mentor and coordinator for D.C. Reads, a literacy intervention program that serves underserved youth in Washington, D.C. She then combined her passions for environmental education and community development by creating a youth urban agriculture summer and after school program in Ward 7 of D.C. More recently, Michelle pursued a Fulbright interdisciplinary research scholarship in Chile, where she created a pilot program to help youth understand and design their own renewable energy systems. Michelle is super excited to be returning to her hometown of Chicago to continue inspiring students and working with schools as a Spark Program Lead.
McKenzie’s passion for positive youth development and education lead her to Spark. She is a Delaware native and holds a Bachelors of Science in Applied Psychology from New York University. During her time in New York City, McKenzie volunteered with many New York City public schools working with students ranging from Pre-School to High School. McKenzie is excited to bring her past experience into her role as a Spark Fellow and continue to make a positive impact.
Akua Maat recently graduated from Wake Forest University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Latin and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. After college, she wanted to contribute to the fight for education equity and moved to Philadelphia to complete a year of service with City Year Philadelphia. In her role as a tutor and mentor in a 9th grade English class she developed a greater passion for working with students and supporting youth development beyond the classroom. Akua brings this passion and her experience working within Philadelphia public schools to her role as a Program Fellow with Spark.
Jessica joins the Spark team as Head of Development and Communications, helping the organization advance its mission through nationwide revenue generation and brand awareness strategies. With over 15 years of nonprofit experience, Jessica is passionate about creating equitable opportunities for today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders and breaking down community silos that act as barriers to success. Jessica’s early career began as the Clinical Director of programs working with formerly homeless adults addressing mental health issues and most recently as External Relations Director of a youth organization leading fundraising and communications initiatives and implementing organization-wide strategic plans. Jessica has a BA in Psychology and Criminology from the University of Maryland, and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University’s Teachers College. Outside of work, you can find Jessica out and about in New York City and talking about her super cute dog, Zimmie.
Jazmine Sanders is the new program fellow, she is currently finishing her B.A in Communication from Loyola University Chicago. She has a strong passion to empower young people of color to reach beyond the daily barriers and help them use their communities as support. Before joining Spark she worked at City Year Chicago as a team leader, where she was a support system for students to realize their full potential and plans to continue within Spark.
Jasmine graduated from the University of Richmond in 2014 with Bachelor's degree in American Studies. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Public Administration at DePaul University. Jasmine started off as an elementary school teacher and transitioned into a behavior interventionist role. Jasmine's love for youth carries on in an outside of the school as she has serves as youth service leader at church and youth program committee chair with her sorority. She believes all students can reach their full potential with the proper resources and a spirit of resilience and grit.
Nicole is a New York native, who came to San Francisco in July of 2018 after graduating from Binghamton University with her B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature. She will also complete her M.A. in Public Administration in December 2018. Nicole has worked in development in a variety of capacities, including fundraising for her alma mater. She hopes to one day attend law school and continue working to promote a more equitable society.
Valeria Gómez graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) with a B.A. in Latin American Latino Studies and English Literature. She is passionate about education and the advancement of students from underrepresented communities in higher education, and it has translated into her participation in student mentoring, teaching, and youth development programming. While at UCSC, Valeria worked with the Chicano Latino Resource Center, a cultural retention center that served as a hub of organized activity that supports student transition, retention, and academic advancement in higher education. Her role in a student retention resource center allowed her to gain an increasing awareness of social, economic, and cultural realities of differing student populations to better promote youth development. She is very excited to apply what she has learned in her previous endeavors to Spark’s program and looks forward to helping middle school students in their career exploration.
Yozaima Escobar is a Mexican-American graduate from University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology. Combined with her personal and academic awareness, she holds herself accountable to actively investing into positive social change. Eager to make the world a better place, she began her non-profit experience in 2016 when she worked to ban plastic bags from California. Her role as an afterschool tutor served as a catalyst to invest into the future by providing opportunities for low socio-economic students. Working as a Program Fellow for Spark, Yozaima is excited to come back home and empower youth in hopes of creating a self-sustaining community.
Courtney began her career in the higher education sector in University Advancement and has experience in strategic fundraising, community engagement, donor relations, and marketing. Through her continued service within the Chicago community, Courtney is passionate about helping youth achieve their dreams and have the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. Prior to joining Spark, Courtney was with University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Business Administration where she led the strategic vision for the college’s donor relations program in order to build long-term donor engagement. Courtney holds a Masters of Marketing from the Liautaud Graduate School of Business at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communications from Butler University. Also, she volunteers her time as a member of the Board of Directors for Butler University.
Katey manages Spark’s fundraising and donor management process and creates branding and marketing initiatives to raise awareness about Spark for the national team. Katey started her career at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France and worked at Chicago Community Loan Fund, as well as at Chapman and Cutler, LLP (a Spark Corporate Partner). Throughout her career, Katey has managed a number of communications plans, including: redesigning an entire corporate website, planning and managing a social media campaign at a large international forum, and creating and designing high level external collateral pieces for a variety of clients. From a young age Katey recognized the importance of education and has worked in a variety of roles with children, including after school programs, summer camps and teaching swim lessons. Katey, a proud Chicago resident, received her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Carroll University in Wisconsin and her Master’s in Global Communication and International Development from the American University of Paris, in Paris, France.
A Chicago native, Lucy moved to the Bay Area to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Throughout her four years at Cal, she worked closely with the Youth Support Program, an organization that builds one-on-one mentoring relationships between UCB and Willard Middle School students. While at YSP, her eyes were opened to the multitude of opportunities mentoring introduces not only to the students being mentored, but for mentors as well. She is passionate about bridging gaps between geographically near, yet culturally disparate, communities, and believes strongly that increasing exposure and familiarity within diverse spaces is critical to promote social change. So, when an opportunity at Spark popped up on her computer screen, she knew this was the place she wanted to be!
Hannah graduated from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College with a B.S. in Human and Organizational Development. She moved to Chicago with one goal in mind: tackling inequality in education. Serving as a Math Tutoring Fellow with SAGA Innovations, Hannah saw the impact one-on-one relationships can have on students' lives. After working with high schoolers at Wendell Phillips Academy and seeing their lack of opportunities, she is excited to be able to show Middle Schoolers their potential through Spark and watch them succeed in high school and beyond!
Lea graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she studied Business Marketing. She found her passion for working with middle school students while serving for City Year Chicago as a tutor and mentor in a seventh and eighth math classroom in Englewood. Her time spent with students at Stagg Elementary helped her realize the lack of knowledge about opportunities available to black and brown communities in Chicago. She joined Spark to help bridge the gap and help students see their possibilities.
Sam is an East Coast native, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and began her career as an AmeriCorps Urban Education fellow in New York City. Then she packed her bags and shipped off to the Bay Area where she worked as an Account Coordinator at a PR agency, honing her skills as a communicator, problem-solver and corporate partner liaison. Her experience with youth spans tutoring, after school program instruction and teaching yoga. She’s passionate about the power of education and relationship-building to bridge communities. She’s eager to spread her zest for social equity to the West Coast and to Spark stakeholders.
Amanda has broad experience tutoring, teaching and developing curriculum. After graduating from Tufts University with degrees in Spanish and English literature, she taught 7th grade English and social studies at KIPP Bayview Academy in San Francisco. Amanda comes to Spark from Saddleback Community College where she led faculty in the design and implementation of academic programming made to meet the needs of all learners. At Spark, Amanda is thrilled to support the success of middle school students as they transition to high school.
Jeanette joins Spark with a proven record in fundraising, program development, and advocacy and with a passion for social change. In her most recent role as Executive Director of Citizen Schools Illinois, Jeanette strengthened programs and expanded partnerships aimed at closing the achievement and opportunity gaps. Prior to her time with Citizen Schools, Jeanette served in progressive leadership roles at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, overseeing over a grant portfolio of over $20M and serving as the key architect and driver of the United Way Neighborhood Network Initiative, a model for advancing community-level change in some of the most challenged communities in the Chicago region. Prior to joining United Way, Jeanette dedicated over ten years of her career to addressing issues of sexual violence; leading Illinois’ largest rape crisis program, which provided services to over 100,000 individuals each year. She has served as Board Chair of the Illinois Coalition against Sexual Assault and Vice-Chair of the National Board of YWCA USA. She is also a member of the Women United Giving Circle at the Chicago Foundation for Women. Jeanette studied Clinical Psychology at Case Western Reserve University and completed her undergraduate degree at Binghamton University. A native New Yorker, Jeanette currently resides in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park with her son and daughter.
Ashley began her career in the private sector when she was selected as one of 15 individuals to participate in a two-year management development program at Kraft Foods. After four years gaining expertise in sales, customer service, consumer analytics and category management, Ashley acted on her long-standing passion for educational access and equity and pursued a full-time career in education. Prior to joining Spark, Ashley was with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) where she led the successful launch of Mentoring the Next Generation, a district-wide initiative that paired more than 500 kindergarten and eighth grade students with caring adult mentors. Most recently, she served as Special Projects Manager at The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund) where she was responsible for collaborating with CPS leadership to support principal talent management and developing the strategy to support fundraising efforts for the next phase of The Fund’s work. Ashley holds a Masters of Education in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Vassar College. She is also a Surge Fellow and was part of the inaugural Education Pioneers Yearlong Fellowship.
Cassidy’s passions for education and building community connections drew her to Spark. She earned her Teacher’s Certification and BA in History from Dickinson College before teaching Social Studies to ninth grade students in Carlisle, PA. Prior to joining Spark, she served two years as an AmeriCorps Member with City Year Philadelphia. In her roles with City Year, she mentored middle school students and planned large-scale school beautification volunteer events across the city.
Jim leads the design and implementation of Spark’s Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program. With more than 10 years of experience in the education sector and a passion for creating diverse partnerships that provide excellent educational opportunities for students, Jim drives program quality, innovation, operations and scalability across the organization. Previously Spark's Executive Director in Philadelphia, Jim grew Spark's impact in the region and managed relationships with key stakeholders, from corporate and community organizations to partnering schools. Prior to Spark, Jim worked as the Director of Corps Learning and Development for City Year Philadelphia. A native of Atlanta and graduate of Williams College, Jim worked at Wesleyan University and Hartford City Mission before completing his master's degree in Non-Profit Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.
A South Bronx native and graduate of Haverford College in the Greater Philadelphia area, Heather commits to program excellence! Her own experience having strong mentors open doors to a top-notch education experience inspired her to dedicate her career to helping youth realize their full potential. Prior to joining Spark, Heather honed her skills in education, volunteer management, and strategic partnerships through service with City Year Greater Philadelphia and AmeriCorps VISTA, and through helping Community Partnership School advance its mission to provide a high quality education to children in North Philadelphia. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering, cooking, doing yoga, and working not to injure herself while running!
A results-driven community leader with a proven track record, Deirdre works to grow support for Spark in Philadelphia, oversees program execution and expands regional partnerships. Deirdre is familiar with the education and mentoring sectors having spent more than six years in a variety of roles with Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA. Her background directly supporting children and mentors, as well as building corporate and school partnerships, provides a solid foundation for her career evolution into development, events and annual giving. Deirdre also served as Program Director at Great Dames, Inc. and obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Pennsylvania State University. With a passion for people, process and organizational growth, Deirdre will help Spark create sustainable impact in the Philadelphia region.
An Illinois native and College of Wooster graduate, Jordan ensures strong implementation of the Spark Program at our Philadelphia partner schools. Prior to coming to Spark, Jordan developed his passion for empowering youth through his service as a City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps member. He served as a student tutor and team leader over a period of two years. While working within Philadelphia schools through his service, Jordan observed first-hand the importance of both project-based and social-emotional learning for middle school students. In his free time he enjoys running, playing violin, and watching the Chicago Cubs.
Phil began his career in Chicago’s education sector at Kelvyn Park High School as a Math Tutoring Fellow. His time spent at KP inspired Phil to join Spark as a Program Coordinator in 2015 to support the youth of Chicago in realizing their potential, and to engage more people in the education of the city’s youth. He now leads as Program Director. Phil holds a B.A. in Sociology from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and is a native of Buffalo, New York.
Monica Peralta is a first generation college graduate from California State University, Long Beach. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Chicano/a Latino/a Studies and Human Development in 2016. As a member of the Chicano and Latino Studies Student Association at CSULB, Monica became involved in volunteering to provide bilingual tours to Spanish speaking parents and students. The approach to establishing rapport with students was to simply talk about the experiences as a first generation college student. For many of those students, being able to identify with a college student that came from a similar background as them was inspirational. These experiences sparked Monica’s passion to give back to her community. At Spark she is looking forward to continuing that passion. Her goal is to continue her Masters in Education and become a college career counselor. Her long term goal is to become the superintendent of Compton school district.
Melvin’s journey into higher education began at Los Angeles City College. He then transferred to the University of California, Irvine, where he developed an interest for student services. Upon graduation, he received an Outstanding Contribution to the School of Social Ecology award for his commitment to enhancing the Field Study Program which connects more than 900 students to over 225 community partners annually. Melvin went on to serve as a proud City Year AmeriCorps Member mentoring middle school students in his childhood neighborhood of Westlake, Los Angeles. He then joined City Year’s Civic Engagement Team, and helped execute over 20 large-scale beautification events at different schools throughout the city. Now with Spark, Melvin aims to continue helping students actualize their own potentials.
Sophia Jimenez steps into the Executive Director role after steadily growing as a leader during her 5-year tenure at Spark. She spearheaded Spark's earned revenue strategy, cultivating funding relationships with school partners that account for almost 15 % of Spark in LA's total budget. A natural relationship-builder, Sophia is a trusted and respected figure in the education community as well as with our corporate partners and mentors. Prior to her role as Executive Director, Sophia advanced the region's partnership strategy, managed a successful program team, and elevated engagement efforts with our key stakeholders. Sophia brings her passion for education, social equity, and commitment to connecting diverse communities to her role at Spark.
A first generation college graduate born and raised in Southeast LA, Gilma has seen firsthand how low socioeconomic status affects a person’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. While completing her B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Northridge, she focused her studies in better understanding the different cultural and social factors that affect a person’s development. In the spring of 2015, Gilma began her journey with Spark as a Volunteer Program Intern where she assisted with dispatch logistics. Soon after, she became part of the Spark team again, but this time as an AmeriCorps Vista Public Allies Fellow. Gilma is happy to continue with the Spark team in a full-time role. She is an advocate for higher education and is committed to inspiring youth to realize their full potential, despite whatever obstacles may come their way.
Michael Kolodner spent much of his career designing and managing systems for tracking information. Most recently managing a Salesforce database for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and consulting with a sister organization, Michael has previously designed databases for organizing membership for a co-op swim club to tracking global responses to the 9/11 attacks for the US State Department. Michael earned his BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Amherst College and put that degree to work in the Foreign Service, serving in Sana’a, Yemen and Washington, DC. Michael moved back to his home town of Philadelphia, where he supports the local food movement, and enjoys photography. Michael is a member of Spark's Shared Services Team, based out of Spark’s Philadelphia office.
An Indiana native, Amanda is a graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish with minors in Latino Studies and Western European Studies. A founding member of Spark's Chicago region, Amanda joined the team in 2011 as an Americorps VISTA Outreach Coordinator excited to help bring Spark's unique model of individualized learning to Chicago. Prior to joining Spark Amanda volunteered with several organizations committed to improving educational opportunity. Through her work with these programs, Amanda saw firsthand how critical volunteer involvement is in providing learning opportunities for youth in the community, as well as how one-on-one attention empowered students to achieve. Amanda firmly believes that all students should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and never ceases to be amazed by the incredible work of Spark students as they discover new possibilities for the future. After 3 years on the Chicago program team, Amanda joined the Shared Services team in 2014.
Anna received her undergraduate degree from Scripps College in Environmental Analysis, cum laude, with a concentration in environmental education and policy. During college, she worked at male juvenile detention camps to provide lesson planning and teaching assistance in Earth Science, Nutrition, and Career Pathways. After graduating, she co-directed the Los Angeles office for a nationwide nonprofit focusing on public health and environmental advocacy campaigns. Anna then went on to organize recruitment and strengthen partnerships for Los Angeles’ region of the California Conservation Corps, a youth development program which offers paid opportunities in natural resource management. She developed a strong sense of devotion for the nonprofit sector and connecting youth to meaningful possibilities. As the Los Angeles Corporate Partnerships Lead, Anna supports Spark’s corporate partner portfolio by bringing experience and enthusiasm to fortify and expand partnerships increasing visibility of Spark’s powerful program. When she’s not at work, you can find her rescuing, rehabilitating and fostering dogs.
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