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