Our Team

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The Spark Team

We are a passionate, innovative and collaborative team focused on celebrating students and promoting possibility.

Robin M. Keefe
Lance Russell
Judy Spangler
Maya Jones

Robin M. Keefe
Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director: Spark in the Bay

Robin M. Keefe was the founder and President of BookEnds. Through her passionate and focused leadership, Robin developed a community of people to grow BookEnds as a distinguished Los Angeles leader in introducing children to philanthropy as they worked to fill the barren bookshelves in their neighborhood schools and youth organizations. More than one million children learned the power of community service through the donation of over three million books to create nearly 700 libraries throughout Los Angeles.

BookEnds’ programs were successfully transitioned into three nonprofit organizations in 2015 to drive scale and economy in support of the national initiative for sustainable nonprofit organizations.

Robin then assumed the position of Interim CEO for The Beauty Bus Foundation and then for Karma Rescue, tasked with reorganizing these emerging nonprofit organizations to position them for strength and scale in the delivery of their missions.

Robin’s early career was in the real estate development and finance field, including industrial brokerage, corporate site acquisition for a national bank and a national restaurant chain and commercial real estate development. But she found a growing passion for philanthropy and children as she served on numerous community boards of directors. Robin joined these passions in 1998 with the founding of BookEnds.

Robin continues to focus her passion on the development of our youth in community service.  She is an active participant and guest lecturer at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Policy and Pepperdine University’s School of Business and Communication, engaging students in entrepreneurial nonprofit leadership. Robin has served on the boards of directors of 14 diverse nonprofit organizations.

Among her numerous honors is her most cherished:  “The Angel Award for Service” presented to Robin by Oprah Winfrey.

Robin graduated from California State University Northridge with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration, Finance and a minor in Art History.  Robin joined Spark in the Bay Area as Executive Director in 2018.

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Lance Russell
Chief Financial Officer, Executive Director: Spark Chicago

Lance brings a unique set of entrepreneurial, educational and non-profit experiences to Spark Chicago. Most recently, Lance served as the board chair and CEO of Chicago Tech Academy, a STEM-focused contract high school. Under his leadership ChiTech created the first school-based internship program in Chicago Public Schools, increased both its freshman-on-track and high school graduation rates by over 25%, and grew freshmen enrollment by over 60%. Before transitioning to the non-profit sector, Lance spent 20+ years in the technology sector, including co-founding and growing PointBridge into one of the leading Microsoft consulting firms in the country. He is a board member at Cara Chicago, a graduate of Indiana University, and the son of two retired middle-school teachers.

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Judy Spangler
Interim Executive Director

Judy’s personal mission to level the playing field for children and youth has made a
tremendous impact on our communities for the past 30 years. Her extensive experience
in capacity building, innovative program development, and training facilitation have been
recognized nationally.

In over 20 years in leadership roles in the Big Brothers Big Sisters network, Judy was
instrumental in increasing mentoring capacity from 2600 to 4300 children served. One
of her most notable achievements is collaborating with other leadership team members
to develop, introduce, and grow the Beyond School Walls mentoring program. Since its
inception, Beyond School Walls has become a national model for BBBS for fundraising
and serving more children in a career-focused and impactful way.

Judy is a recognized expert on child safety and mentoring children of prisoners. She
has traveled across the country speaking on child safety and is regularly consulted for
her guidance in these areas. Judy believes strongly in the value of mentoring and has a wealth of knowledge to share on this topic. She facilitates engaging training sessions on it, has appeared on television and radio programs to discuss it, and in 2015, she spearheaded the launch of Mentor Independence Region, an affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, and peer support to over 135 community-based youth mentoring
organizations throughout Eastern PA.

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Maya Jones
Program Fellow

A dedicated restorative justice practitioner, before coming to Spark Maya worked as a restorative justice coordinator at an elementary school on Chicago’s South Side. Her work with youth is guided by her commitment to equity and empathy, a belief in the unique power that youth hold and a desire walk alongside them as they figure out how to harness it.  She looks forward to bringing her dedication to community and relationships as units of action to Spark and meeting some amazing youth in return. Maya graduated from the University of Chicago in 2019 with a B.A. in Public Policy, specializing in Social Welfare. In her free time Maya is an enthusiastic knitter, a cross-genre reader and a cat-less cat lover.

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JJ McNeal
Damontay Folwer-Thomas
Sheyla Uzquiano
Tanvi Dharap

JJ McNeal
Program Fellow

JJ (he/they) is the newest program fellow to join the Spark team in Chicago. After serving as an education specialist for the Office of Equity at Northwestern University in 2018, JJ was inspired to make the shift into similar independent education consulting. They’ve provided professional development in justice oriented curriculum design and instruction, as well as tailored support for team and organizational culture. 

Most recently, they were a program manager for the Woods Fund youth-led racial justice institute. JJ is looking forward to the opportunity to facilitate with middle school students again, after a few years focusing on high school youth and the adults who partner with them.

They have been in the Chicago education landscape for 8 years, and are now pursing an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. After Spark, JJ plans to return to instructional coaching with a refreshed perspective on engaging middle school students in virtual learning spaces.

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Damontay Folwer-Thomas
Program Fellow

Damontay is a homegrown product of Philadelphia with degrees from both Temple University (B.S.W) and University of Pennsylvania (M.S.W.) in Social Work. As a Philadelphia native, Damontay is looking to use his knowledge and experience within the Philadelphia School District to bring forth meaningful programming efforts to all students involved with Spark. Damontay has an intense passion for student success and student well-being. He has been able hone these skills through a wide-array of roles related to urban education throughout his college tenure. Damontay has become widely known for his ability to quickly build rapport with students and work-alongside stakeholders to frame solutions to communal needs. 
 
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Sheyla Uzquiano
Program Director

Sheyla joins Spark in the Bay with extensive experience supporting families and students in the education space. Most recently, Sheyla worked as a High School Success Advisor with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula in Redwood City. Prior to that Sheyla served as an AmeriCorps member and Team Leader with City Year Los Angeles. Sheyla was born in Bolivia and raised in the Los Angeles area before moving to the Bay Area in 2017. She has a B.A. in Cognitive Psychology from UC Irvine and an M.A. in Secondary Education from Loyola Marymount University. When not working, she enjoys exploring the many different cities and microclimates of the Bay Area, landscape photography, and all things Disney!
 
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Tanvi Dharap
Program Associate

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Tanvi graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a B.A. in Psychology and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies. She has worked with youth ranging in age from two to eighteen as a clinical mental health professional, instructor, and outdoor educator. Her connection with students is deeply grounded in compassion, formed by a commitment to equity, and maintained through genuine and infectious enthusiasm. She is excited to bring her love of mentorship and relationship building to her work with Spark! In her free time, she enjoys singing, exploring and enjoying nature, and befriending neighborhood dogs.
 
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Melissa Elizalde
Lucy Brennan
Michelle Stearn
Hannah Wheeler

Melissa Elizalde
Program Associate

Melissa is an educational equity advocate, teacher, and youth leader whose passion and commitment have led her to Spark. She is a Bay Area native who graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelors of Science in Sociology-Social Services and minors in Education and Psychology. After college she served for two years as an AmeriCorps member developing social emotional and literacy skills amongst at-promise East Oakland students. She looks forward to tapping into the unbridled curiosity, energy, and possibility of Spark students as a Program Associate. 

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Lucy Brennan
Corporate Partnerships Manager

Originally from Chicago, Lucy moved to the Bay Area in 2013 to study Sociology at UC Berkeley. She's worked with students in various capacities since she was a high school student herself, and in college had the incredible opportunity to coordinate after school mentorship programming for middle schoolers. Upon graduating, she was motivated by a goal to provide opportunities for critical relationship building among geographically proximal, yet culturally disparate, groups of people. She is thrilled to have found a position at Spark that allows for this type of hands-on learning. Outside of work she wanders the city, listens to true crime podcasts, and begins (sometimes even finishes) countless art projects.

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Michelle Stearn
Program Lead

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.

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Hannah Wheeler
Corporate Partnerships Coordinator

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!

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Josh Keller
Jazmine Sanders
Isabel Beck-Roe
Natalia Bautista

Josh Keller
Development Director

Josh comes to Spark with nearly a decade of experience in the education and youth development space. He began his career serving two years as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Los Angeles at a middle school in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Josh then joined their development team where he spent three years managing foundation relations and corporate partnerships. A native of Chicago's northern suburbs, Josh then returned home to run Camp for All Kids, a camp scholarship program, where under his leadership the organization increased its students served by 40% over two years and partner camps by 20. Josh most recently worked as a Director of Development at KIPP Chicago Schools.

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Jazmine Sanders
Program Fellow

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.

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Isabel Beck-Roe
Partnership Coordinator

Isabel Beck-Roe is working for Spark as a Quaker Voluntary Service Fellow, having been drawn to Spark for its dedication to empowerment and exploration.  She recently graduated from Macalester College where she studied Geography, Music, and French, and where she also had the opportunity to learn about nonprofit fundraising through her work with the school and other local organizations. Youth programming has also emerged as a priority for Isabel from her work with after-school programs and summer camps.

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Natalia Bautista
, Program Manager in East Palo Alto

Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Natalia Bautista graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She began working in the nonprofit sector soon after graduating and moved to the Bay Area in 2012. Throughout her career as a support counselor, bilingual case manager, and academic advisor, she provided high-school students with academic and social-emotional support to promote a growth mindset and emotional wellbeing. 

In her leisure time, she explores the historical landmarks and colorful neighborhoods of San Francisco with her partner and friends. She enjoys reading psychological books, especially by her favorite researcher, Dr. Philip Zimbardo. She hopes to attend graduate school to further her education in Marriage and Family Therapy and become a role model for other Latinxs. 

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Gabriella Baxter
Claire Newfeld
McKenzie McFee
Akua Maat

Gabriella Baxter
Development and Operations Manager

Gabriella Baxter, a Bay Area native, graduated from San Francisco State University in 2015 with a degree in Anthropology. Gabriella completed her last year of undergrad in Sweden at Linneaus University studying Global Studies and Peace and Development. Prior to Spark, Gabriella has worked with youth through AmeriCorps as an Education Advocate for foster youth and out of home probation in San Francisco and as a Community Youth and Gender Empowerment Volunteer in Peace Corps, Fiji. Gabriella began as a Program Manager with Spark, managing their San Francisco school and corporate partners and has newly transitioned into the role of Development and Operations Manager for Spark in the Bay Outside of work, Gabriella enjoys traveling nationally and internationally, taking her dog on whatever adventure she can.

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Claire Newfeld
, Fellow

Originally from Tempe, Arizona, Claire graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in Philosophy in May 2019 and joins Spark as a Program Fellow during her gap year between college and law school. Her professional mission is "to enact the greatest change through its most fundamental catalysts," and this mission has guided her through various positions with non-profit organizations such as Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona and Amnesty International. She believes that education is one of those fundamental catalysts for change and is excited to pursue educational equity and enrichment through her work with Spark. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, art museums, traveling, and spending time with loved ones.  
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McKenzie McFee
Volunteer Manager

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. 

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Akua Maat
Program Manager

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.

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Board Members

Executive Board
AJ Gandhi, Chief Growth Officer, Marin Equity Partners Alan Braverman, Founder & CEO, Textline Britton Picciolini, Google for Education Carolyn Jones, Perkins Bass Elementary School Charles Calloway, Chapman & Cutler LLP Christopher Rosenbleeth, Chair, Real Estate and Partner, Real Estate and Finance, Stradley Ronon David Furlin, U.S. Trust Garen Corbett, Co-Board Chair; Director, California Health Benefits Review Program, University of California Griffin Gordon, Oasis Financial Jeffrey Ryan, Senior Vice President of Professional Operations and Business Development, Cancer Treatment Centers of America - Eastern Regional Medical Center Jessica Mulholland, Chief Financial Officer, Exude Inc. Jonathan Brown, JPMorgan Chase Kalpana Chandrasekhar, Operations and Customer Focused Advisor Karen Davis, Tyson Foods Inc. Katherine Patch, BlackRock Krystin Hernandez, McDonald's Corporation Melissa Govette, Vice President, Commercial Real Estate, M&T Bank Moni Pawlowski, McKinsey & Company MR Macgill, President, MRM Consulting Nan Guo, Vice President of Engineering, Zendesk Nayan Shah, Deloitte Paul Melchiorre, Chief Revenue Officer, Anaplan Renee Mendez, EY Sam Pambah, KPMG LLP Sara Wasserteil, Cara Chicago Susan Salop, Global Sales and Operations Executive Tamara Roberts, Gogo Commercial Air Tiffany Bristol, Google Valerie Brown, Senior Counsel, Holland & Knight LLP
Advisory Board
Abraham El, Chair Emeritus: Staff Engineer, Pennoni Associates Alison Rikson, Board Chair: Senior Manager, Audit & Assurance Learning, Deloitte & Touche LLP Allison Toussaint, Schneider Andrew Covarrubias, Associate Release Manager, Salesforce Annie Fisher, Senior Program Manager, Capital One Anslem Gardner, Genesys Works Anthony Overstreet, Product Specialist, Facebook Ashley Quintana, Public Policy Manager, Facebook, Spark Alumna Atul Deshmukh, Senior Manager, Solution Delivery, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates Blair Sucher, ExecOnline Bunny Tucker, Intern Architect, DIGSAU Collin Starkweather, Charles River Associates Daniel Kogan, KPMG Gianna Tripodi-Bhise, Board Vice Chair, Director, Foundation & Corporate Relations, WHYY Hattie Winter, West Monroe Partners Jamye LambornDesigner, Gensler Jasmine ShahProduct Manager, VMware Jessica De Leon, Senior Manager, HR, Salesforce Jessie Schreier, Bain & Company Kai Lee, Associate - Customer Solutions, KPMG Kelly SalanceCSR Program and Content Manager, Zendesk Kristina Choo, IBM Michael Davis, Information Security Risk Manager, Wipfli LLP Nicole Bruno, Development Manager, Bring Change to Mind Nicole LeBlanc, Lead UX Writer, Lyft Odette Go, VP and Treasurer, Lam Research Paul Warkins, EY Robert Nieves, Operations Manager, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Sara Ridenour, Associate Principal, Ballinger Teresa Lopez, Content Strategy Lead, SEER Interactive
Board of Directors
Alicia Winckler, CEO, The Golden Apple Foundation Ben Rowe, Board Treasurer; Managing Partner, KHP Capital Partners Britton Picciolini, Google for Education Charles Calloway, Chapman & Cutler LLP Garen Corbett, Co-Board Chair; Director, California Health Benefits Review Program, University of California Griffin Gordon, Oasis Financial Maureen Lang, Co-Board Chair; SVO, Lee Hecht Harrison MR Macgill, President, MRM Consulting Renee Mendez, EY Valerie Brown, Senior Counsel, Holland & Knight LLP

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