We are a passionate, innovative and collaborative team focused on celebrating students and promoting possibility.
Caroline Kim Palacios is a native Angelena and social change sector disruptor committed to promoting agency, equity, and opportunity for all. As a career nonprofit professional, she has successfully led fundraising and program transformations for several L.A.-based organizations. Caroline brings a track record of securing major funding and strategic partnerships for programs that advance juvenile justice reform, healthcare and education access, and immigrant rights campaigns. During her time at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA), she led the creation of the College PAC (Preparation, Access, Completion) program, which expanded the agency’s mentoring model to help first generation college students achieve degree attainment. She also helped build signature programs to improve health outcomes among girls of color, advance policies to support the success of boys and young men of color, and connect youth to workplace mentoring opportunities. Caroline received her Master of Public Administration and Certificate of Public Policy degrees from USC’s Price School and her bachelor's degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College.
Jamaria Williams is currently completing her BBA and MBA through Robert Morris University's dual degree program. Before Spark, she spent three years in the CPS setting, working as a City Year mentor, then Team Leader, as well as a Recess/After School manager at Jordan Elementary School. Jamaria looks forward to continuing to support students of her hometown reach their highest potential by joining the Spark team, as its newest program fellow.
Asha Barnes graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2018 where she studied Anthropology and Africana Studies. Her experience as a CPS student and her year of service with City Year Chicago in Deneen Elementary solidified her need to take action in urban communities regarding youth development, education, urban planning, and environmental psychology. She hopes that Spark will allow her to further impact children of color in Chicago.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 high school diploma assistance and paid working opportunities. She developed a strong sense of devotion for the nonprofit sector and connecting youth to meaningful possibilities. As the Manager of Corporate Partnerships, Anna supports Spark LA'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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