We are a passionate, innovative and collaborative team focused on celebrating students and promoting possibility.
Yuletpsi grew up in the community of South Gate and went on to University of California, Los Angeles to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Chicana and Chicano Studies and Education. She started to work with Title I schools during her first year through UCLA’s Unicamp, a volunteer based organization that takes student from Los Angeles to a week long sleep away camp in Big Bear. She then started to work with Early Academic Outreach Program, a college readiness program for partnered LAUSD schools. After she graduated from UCLA, she went on to serve as a proud City Year Americorps Member in the community of Watts. She was inspired by these experiences to go on to graduate school to receive a Master of Arts in School Counseling with PPS Credential from Loyola Marymount University as well as work with Spark as a Program Fellow. Yuletpsi aspires to be a school counselor in her community.
Desiree Martinez is a proud native from South Central Los Angeles and a first generation college graduate from UCLA. Upon experiencing the lack of representation of students of color at UCLA, she began to advocate for education reform in order to fight for the empty seats in higher education that her classmates didn't have the opportunity to fill. As a member of Students For Education Reform, she gained exposure to grassroots organizing. Her experiences in her community propelled her to work in social justice education advocacy work. As a Spark Program Fellow, Desiree continues her passion in closing the achievement gap. Her goal is to one day work for the CA Department of Education to improve the quality of education for all students.
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.
Tuyen brings a deep passion for working with youth in the education field that spans tutoring, teaching STEM, after school program instruction and summer program leadership. Tuyen graduated from UC Berkeley and while she's proud of her academic accomplishments, she's most proud of her experience working with communities to improve educational access. Tuyen was immediately drawn to Spark and the program's ability to leverage mentoring for career exploration.
Joe believes that the future is built by young dreamers expanding our idea of what is possible. He has partnered with youth to rehabilitate forests in Michigan, experience summer camp in Kentucky, improve literacy in Kenya and teach English in Mexico. Joe joined Spark through the New Sector Alliance Residency in Social Enterprise Fellowship and holds a B.S. in Sustainable Business from Aquinas College, located in his native state of Michigan.
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.
Sahrish graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Communications and minor in Near Eastern Studies. While in school, Sahrish was a Jumpstart corps member, where she discovered her passion for education. Upon graduating, she joined a two-year teaching fellowship with Citizen Schools Illinois and worked as a second-shift ELA teacher for middle school students on the South Side of Chicago. Sahrish is excited to join the Spark team and help empower students to succeed through skill-building mentorships!
Ashli’s eagerness to close the achievement and opportunity gap for students began early as a college student through research and volunteering. A native of Michigan, Ashli served as a mentor and tutor providing ACT preparation and college access guidance to high school students in the Metro Detroit area. After completing her undergraduate studies, Ashli served as an AmeriCorps VISTA for a nonprofit organization where she wrote grants for academic enrichment programs and provided program support. Ashli is excited to join Spark Chicago as Development Coordinator and enthusiastic to continue motivating students through workplace-based mentoring opportunities. Ashli graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW).
Danielle graduated from Northwestern University where she studied Social Policy and Civic Engagement. During her time at Northwestern, she became hooked on hands-on learning models through working with a few organizations including 826CHI, an expeditionary learning school in Humboldt Park, and of course, as a 2012 summer intern at Spark! She returns to Spark after a year-long fellowship in New York City where she taught high school algebra and geometry with the nonprofit, Blue Engine. Danielle gets really excited about asset-based community development, running, youth empowerment, big cities, NPR and Wisconsin (her home state). She couldn’t be more excited to be a back in Chicago as a full-time member of the Spark team.
Phil began his career in Chicago’s education sector at Kelvyn Park High School as a Math Tutoring Fellow, then as a SAGA Innovations Leadership Fellow. In these roles he tutored math and helped new tutors find success in educating as well as mentoring. His time spent at Kelvyn Park inspired Phil to join Spark to help the youth of Chicago realize their potential, as well as to engage more people in the education of the city’s youth. Phil holds a B.A. in Sociology from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and is a native of Buffalo, New York.
Jessica graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a B.S. in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology. She discovered her passion for education while serving as a tutor and mentor in a sixth grade classroom for City Year Miami. After graduating from City Year, she served with Public Allies Chicago where she was introduced to Spark. Now, Jessica is excited to work with Spark to inspire Chicago’s youth to continue to broaden their horizons and learn more about their communities.
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.
As the Program Director, Sophia Jimenez leads the team in building strong school partnerships, creating effective strategies for student and family engagement, and piloting a new high school transition program. Sophia has a wealth of experience working with communities to ensure access to high quality resources that create opportunities. A proud native of South Los Angeles and graduate of UCLA, Sophia began her nonprofit career as an AmeriCorps Public Ally fellow, where she worked with families in low-income communities to provide college readiness programs. Sophia later managed programs at the Pueblo del Sol Community Service Center located in Boyle Heights where she helped oversee over 20 youth and family programs. Sophia brings her great energy and passion for service as well as her experience in community and school partnerships, project management, and recruitment. She is excited to bring her passion of social justice and enthusiasm for Spark’s mission to the position of Program Director.
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.
Tariq El-Gabalawy graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2013, where he began working with various on campus organizations to coordinate programs aimed at engaging at-risk students in their education. After graduation, Tariq continued advocating for educational equality by completing a yearlong internship with Spark in Los Angeles. He then joined the Spark team as a full-time Program Coordinator. He hopes to build on his experience working with students, schools and mentors to further disrupt the High School dropout rate within the local communities that Spark serves in Los Angeles.
Cristen's passion for education and her diverse background led her to Spark. Before joining the organization, she led a Chicago Public High School program for seventh and eighth grade students who were accepted into a unique selective enrollment high school program. She previously taught high school math for five years and also worked many years as a consultant. Cristen is excited to use her experiences in developing programs for students in the middle grades, designing curriculum and creating a program for Spark's alumni students. Cristen has a M.Ed. in Secondary Education with an endorsement in Middle School Education from DePaul University and a B.S. in Mathematics, with Minors in Statistics in Actuarial Science from Loyola University.
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.
Heather began her career as a research scientist at the University of Chicago where her work and discoveries made international news. She was also a fellow in the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), which trains graduate-level scientists to integrate a wide range of disciplines into their research. Heather has been passionate about improving education since mentoring middle school girls as a graduate student. After completing her doctorate in evolutionary biology, she then transitioned to Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago. At Outlier, Heather studied the implementation of STEM high schools, the landscape of K12 computer science education in the United States, and also led an evaluation of Code.org’s national offerings. She was also an entrepreneurial lead in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps for Learning program (I-Corps-L), a seven-week entrepreneurial bootcamp for education researchers.
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. Amanda joined the Spark 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 for at-risk populations. 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 Spark Chicago's program team, Amanda joined the National Team as Special Assistant to the CEO in 2014.
Rachelle brings more than 10 years of experience to her role at Spark. Her tenure includes both non-profit and for-profit work with Back on My Feet, Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA, Subaru of America and EwingCole, a national architecture firm. After several years of working with individuals experiencing homelessness, Rachelle is excited to return to a youth-serving organization. Her background includes branding, public relations, event planning, corporate relations and more. Rachelle has presented at the Eastern Communication Association Conference and is a Public Relations Society PepperPot Award recipient. She earned both her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Villanova University and currently resides in Collingswood, NJ.
As the Executive Director of Spark in Los Angeles, Janine Berridge is responsible for managing the regional team, deepening and expanding Spark’s impact with the LA business community and overseeing the strategy and execution of fundraising initiatives. Prior to joining Spark, Janine was a Senior Executive in the Major Partnerships Unit at Plan UK, a leading international child development organization operating in 50 countries. Janine was responsible for securing multi-million dollar donations from Fortune 500 companies, and managing the relationships through multi-year, international development programs. Specializing in business development and cross-sector collaboration, Janine’s passion is to contribute to sustainable social change, working strategically across sectors to maximize partnership impact. Janine holds a BA in Journalism from Cardiff University and a Masters in Public Policy from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Corinne manages a portfolio of Spark’s corporate partners in Los Angeles to ensure mutually beneficial mentorship and partnership experiences. Prior to joining Spark, Corinne worked within publicity and public affairs at Lifetime Television. Throughout her career, Corinne has managed a number of social advocacy campaigns, creatively designed to benefit all parties involved, as well as led publicity campaigns for films, television shows and consumer products. Corinne recognized the importance of mentorship while working at an orphanage in Ecuador and is thrilled to continue motivating students through influential mentorship programs at Spark. Corinne hails from the Pacific Northwest and received her Bachelor’s Degree from Willamette University in Political Science and Theatre.
Ben is excited to work with the passionate team at Spark to help create a dynamic Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program that not only provides opportunities for our students to create their own future, but to create a positive and rewarding experience for mentors. Ben's background is in community economic development with the Peace Corps and, most recently, as the manager of mentor program at BUILD Boston. Ben is thrilled to be working with Spark as the organization continues to grow and make a lasting impact on hundreds of lives in the Bay Area.
With an educational background in diverse school settings, Mary brings a wide scope of experience in academic support, student services, and school and community partnerships. She began her career in education as an intervention teacher, where she provided supplemental classroom instruction to support underperforming students in their individualized academic growth. Mary later transitioned to school counseling, supporting students’ social and emotional development in addition to their academic achievement, specifically focusing on equitable access to education and student groups underrepresented in higher education. Mary looks forward to combining her experience in education with her passion for social justice and inclusivity to drive her work as a relentless advocate for all students. Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from DePauw University and a Master of Science in School Counseling from Butler University.
Before joining Spark, Francis Kevers spent over six years at C2 Education, a nationwide tutoring and college prep program, where she focused on building strong program teams and driving growth through operational excellence and student results. As a certified college counselor, Francis loved helping hundreds of students expand their college admissions potential. Francis also guided students in career exploration by drawing from her experience in education management and finance. Francis holds a Bachelor of Science from MIT and a M.B.A. from INSEAD, and she has been on the MIT Educational Council since 2012.
As a California native, Alex is dedicated to ensuring strong implementation of Spark Bay Area partner schools and companies. Alex holds a BA from the University of Chicago. Living in the South Side of Chicago, he was struck by the socioeconomic disparities of surrounding neighborhoods and made it his mission to empower youth from underserved communities with access to educational and professional opportunities. Previously, Alex worked in the State Senate office of Illinois’ 13th District, where President Obama began his political career; as well as with MetroSquash, a nonprofit that engages underserved Chicago youth using squash and academics as tools to foster college-readiness. Alex has also worked at Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit that promotes youth civics and political engagement, and taught high school math in Chicago Public Schools, with a Fellowship from Match Education.
Kevin made his way to Spark after honing his communications and project management skills at two startups: Mission Asset Fund, an economic development nonprofit with a fin-tech twist, and Cribspot, a Y Combinator company that helps renters find housing. His experience ranges from independently spearheading a full overhaul of Cribspot’s web content to managing a team of seven to develop MAF’s 2015 annual report. He recently completed the New Sector RISE Fellowship, an AmeriCorps program designed to cultivate a new generation of nonprofit leaders. With his command of language and knack for storytelling, Kevin lends a fresh voice to Spark’s development team during this exciting time of growth.
A San Francisco native, Angela brings a diverse breadth of experience in the areas of sales development, client relationship building, program management and business operations. Prior to joining Spark, Angela was an Assistant Director at C2 Education, where she individualized strategic roadmaps for K-12 students to help them reach their academic goals, cultivated long-term relationships with families and tutors, and established high-impact partnerships with local schools. As an advocate for youth development and learning, Angela was previously also a grant writer for a nonprofit called City Youth Now, and volunteered as a GED tutor for teens who were in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. She is excited to be part of the Spark team. Angela holds BAs in Politics and Legal Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Dave brings to Spark more than 15 years of diverse and extensive experience in people management and operations with such companies as Netflix, Inte Q and Avatar Solutions. A true champion of his coworkers and their respective talents, Dave excels at communicating effectively with all levels of an organization - building trust and commitment as well as driving operational efficiency, job satisfaction and productivity that are natural outcomes of a connected and engaged team. As a leader, Dave is most proud of his work strategizing, collaborating and enabling others to succeed and thrive in their careers. Dave holds a B.A. in English Composition from DePauw University and is a Certified Professional with the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).
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 Coordinator, 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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