Fun Fact: Jill can sing a mean karaoke.
Jill taught in Chicago and New York City public schools for 13 years and was a Mikva teacher for much of that time. She has a Masters in Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been a professional developer, curriculum writer, educational consultant, and instructional coach. At Mikva, Jill is part of the national team, overseeing partner sites, curriculum development, and teacher professional learning.
Fun Fact: Brian is a lifelong White Sox fan.
Brian leads the Mikva Challenge with the vision of bringing civic empowerment and political participation to all young people, especially low-income youth of color who are often left out of the democratic process. Coming from a family that was very civically engaged, Brian understood early in life the transformative impacts of learning civics by doing it. His experience as a youth worker on the West Side of Chicago reinforced for him the critical need for authentic youth voice and youth activism in low income communities and under resourced schools.
In 17 years of leadership, Brian has helped grow Mikva Challenge from a handful of schools to one that now engages over 15,000 youth annually in action civics programs in over 400 schools around the country. Brian coined the term “Action Civics” in 2007 to describe the Mikva Challenge process of teaching civics via authentic experiences in the democratic process. He actively partners with numerous civic engagement organizations and leaders to build a movement around energizing youth civic engagement and bringing Action Civics to youth around the country. Currently, Brian is spearheading the expansion of Mikva’s unique model of action civics in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, and helping build action civics strategies and programs in cities around the country.
Fun Fact: Kayla is a sucker for all things medieval fantasy.
As an inner-city kid and the eldest of seven, Kayla developed a passion for positive youth development at a young age. Prior to Mikva, she spent several years working with youth through various educational programs and was also involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for which she became a trained support group facilitator. Kayla holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her role as executive assistant, she provides administrative oversight and project support to the National team.
Fun Fact: Camille tried sky diving and loved it!
Camille joined Mikva Challenge as our Operations Director after 15 years of experience in accounting and change management. Prior to Mikva, Camille worked as a senior accountant at a private accounting firm and has also served as the VP of Finance and Administration at Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Camille earned her BS in Finance from Northeastern Illinois University and is passionate about helping young people succeed.
Fun Fact: Mia can cut up a pineapple in less than a minute!
In 2013, Mia began her work at Mikva Challenge facilitating youth counsels and supporting teachers in Chicago. Now on the National team, she runs Soapbox Nation and orchestrates youth public speaking events throughout the country, as well as providing instructional support to educators. Mia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis, and loves using her creativity to support young people, teachers and schools in creating opportunities for youth to take authentic, informed action on community issues.
Fun Fact: Catalina volunteers rescuing, adopting and training retired racing greyhounds and Spanish galgos.
Catalina joined the staff at Mikva in April of 2011. She oversees operations at Mikva with extensive background and focus on finance, accounting, human resources, information technology, and administration. She has over fifteen years of executive leadership experience in not for profit organizations including healthcare and education. Additionally, she worked in the private sector for eleven years in General Management and Business Operations.
Fun Fact: Tyler is halfway to his goal of visiting every major league baseball stadium.
Tyler joined the operations team at Mikva Challenge in the summer of 2019 and brings ten years of experience in nonprofit management and operations. Previously, he has worked for organizations focused on empowering youth voices through arts education in Washington DC and Chicago. His unique experience in the nonprofit world also includes retail management and theatre production. Tyler is a Northwestern University alum and is excited to continue supporting the voices of young people through his work at Mikva Challenge.
Fun Fact: veronica is an artist, avid reader and bibliophile, a collector and lover of books.
veronica joined Mikva Challenge, June 2018, as the Director of Youth Support Services. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa (BA, Speech and Hearing Sciences; MA, Social Foundations of Education), and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MAATC, Art Therapy and Counseling, and MFAW, Writing).
From the margins to the center . . . veronica’s work exists at the intersection of mental health counseling, expressive therapies, positive youth development, womanism/Black feminism, restorative practices, and pedagogy of the oppressed. At the intersection, she centers healing & restoration, cultural humility, harm reduction, and the breadth of social & transformative justice.
Fun Fact: Crystal studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain her Junior year in College at Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona.
Crystal has been working as a summer intern with the Mikva Challenge Operations and Development teams since she graduated high school in 2014. After graduating from from Saint Xavier University in 2017 with a degree in Business Administration she is now a permanent member of our Operations team. Crystal is passionate about social justice and loves to work for a place that impacts the community and city she loves.
Fun Fact: Mary’s parents were jazz musicians.
Mary joined Mikva Challenge in early 2018. As Mikva’s Chief Development Officer, she serves as the key strategist for maintaining, developing, and implementing support for the organization through increased philanthropy and promoting a strong public image. She supports fundraising and communications that align with the organization’s local and national growth, ensuring that Mikva’s story and mission are promoted in ways that maximize resources to support the organization’s mission and goals in the short and long term. Mary brings to this position over 20 years experience in strategic partnerships; fundraising and sponsorships; marketing, branding, public relations, and communications; and project and people management.
Fun Fact: At the age of 7, Karla was already lobbying with her mom for bilingual education.
Karla’s passion for social justice and youth voice began when as a teen she met with her alderman to express the need for affordable housing in her quickly changing neighborhood and was part of a group of young people fighting for passage of the Dream Act. At Mikva, Karla runs the Issues to Action program. She hopes to create a space where young people know their voice matters and leave feeling empowered.
Fun Fact: Juleny speaks three languages and has visited eight countries (and counting).
Juleny joined Mikva Challenge in May 2018 as the Juvenile Justice Council Manager. She is born and raised in the southwest side of Chicago and began engaging in community work during high school. Juleny received her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology from Loyola University Chicago and completed her Master of Education degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As an undergraduate student, she interned for the Cook County Probation Department and the Juvenile Intervention and Support Center. Juleny’s excited to support young people in their growth and development as catalysts for equitable change.
Fun Fact: Larry is a classically trained cellist of 10 years
Larry Dean is a graduate from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies. Larry has worked in various community organizations such as Chicago Votes, where he and a group of 15 organizers complete a mass voter registration drive, mobilizing 15,000 new voters in the city of Chicago. He has also been a longterm organizer of Black Youth Project 100 where he has worked on the Fight for 15 campaign, the Erase the Gang Database campaign and the Black Land and Liberation movement. Larry has also worked in Chicago Public Schools instituting restorative justice policies as a fellow for the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and transformation. He has a passion for black queer feminist politics and social work. He has participated in south side stories creating digital stories around the experience of black gay men on the southside of Chicago. He has also traveled to South Africa to do research around whiteness and the racial politics of the post-apartheid era. He currently works as the Youth Safety Advisory Council Manager at Mikva Challenge.
Fun Fact: Jamie lived in a tukul for a year in South Sudan.
Jamie joined Mikva Challenge as our Director of Institutional Giving after working for the past seven years in East Africa managing programs and donor partnerships for international nonprofits in Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan. Jamie holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Claremont McKenna College and a Master’s Degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh. A native of Chicago, Jamie is passionate about social justice. She is excited to continue Mikva Challenge’s mission to empower youth to change the world around them to promote a more just and equitable society.
Fun Fact: James has his own back to school event that helps distribute backpacks and school supplies to kids in his neighborhood.
James is a Mikva alumnus and is extremely passionate about sharing his life experiences to empower young men and women. He started working with young people in his high schools years through a basketball coaching program and has since expanded on his youth work portfolio by being a coach and a mentor at Windy City Hoops. At Mikva, he started out with facilitating the Peace and Leadership Council at Fenger and Hope high schools and is now the Director for the Juvenile Justice Council.
Fun Fact: Meghan loves photographing everything from the national parks to her friends’ and cousins’ kids.
Meghan came to Mikva in 2010 following previous work as a children’s librarian, a teacher, and a field organizer during the 2008 presidential campaign. Having been transformed by her own campaign experiences, she loves encouraging and empowering youth to become active participants in elections (much earlier than she did). As the Elections in Action program director, she works with Chicago area teachers and campaign staff to create opportunities for Mikva youth to gain hands-on experience with electoral politics.
Fun Fact: Verneé loves musicals! In fact, when she was a high school junior, she played Sandy in her school’s production of “Grease.”
Verneé joined Mikva Challenge in April 2018. As Mikva’s Chief Program Officer, she oversees all of Mikva’s school based and direct service youth programs. Verneé brings to this position over 20 years experience in the education and nonprofit sectors, including 3 years as a 7th grade social studies teacher in CPS. She’s excited to be in this role to support youth advocacy and encourage young people to use skills learned at Mikva as they pursue their post-secondary options. Verneé holds a Bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. At the University of Chicago, she was a recipient of the McCormick-Tribune Fellowship in Urban and Community Leadership.
Fun Fact: Monica has a collection of over 4,000 Lisa Frank stickers.
Monica brings 10 years of youth leadership development and facilitation experience as the Director of the Student Advisory and Aldermanic Youth Councils. Prior to working at Mikva Challenge, she organized service learning initiatives and student activism events at Chicago Public Schools, while supporting the Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement. Monica is passionate about empowering youth to use their voice to create real change in the city of Chicago.
Fun Fact: While Michelle's musical tastes are eccentric to say the least, there will always be a special place in her heart for 80's hair metal music - especially Def Leppard.
As the CEO of Mikva’s Illinois Chapter, Michelle brings with her over 20 years of experience in youth development. Having worked as a teacher at an alternative high school in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community, Michelle saw first hand how disempowerment and marginalization affects many youth of color – often leading youth to engage in risky choices that can impact their lives. The alternative high school taught Michelle the power of engagement and self-actualization and how respecting youth, their ideas and their voices is not only transformational for the youth involved, but also for all those around them. She brings this passion for youth voice and empowerment to Mikva Challenge. Michelle firmly believes that youth – once empowered and civically engaged – can change the landscape of Chicago and the nation.
Fun Fact: Mark's apartment serves as the setting for one scene in the TV series Shameless.
Mark joined Mikva Challenge in 2018 as its data and stewardship coordinator, after several years in the nonprofit sector. As an Air Force ‘brat,’ Mark moved between several states and countries for most of his life before moving to the Midwest for college. After graduating from Knox College with a degree in International Relations, Mark spent 2 years of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, at locations in Galesburg, IL and Chicago, IL. During that time he gained experience organizing student interest groups, building and running volunteer service programs, implementing systems change, and leveraging data. Mark is passionate about civic engagement and he is excited to continue learning more about and getting more involved in Chicago and the work at Mikva Challenge.
Fun Fact: Lakesha is a lover of 90s R&B and Rap Music and knows way too many old school songs that were made before she was born.
Lakesha Nelson is the Director of Donor Relations. She’s charged with managing the cultivation and services received by individual supporters of Mikva Challenge. She earned her BA from Clark Atlanta University with a concentration in Public Relations in Atlanta, GA. Her background ranges from internal and external client services through programs and fundraising with several non-profit organizations in Chicago. She joined Mikva Challenge in October of 2018 after honing her development skills with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, After School Matters, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. As a young child, Lakesha recalls her father telling her “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Working to amplify youth voice with Mikva Challenge, truly brings that home for her.
Fun Fact: Jaz's hairstyle was inspired by Rogue from X-Men.
Jazmin is rooted in Chicago, born and raised in Gage Park. She prefers to pronounce her name in Spanish, “yahzmeen,” so she goes by Yaz. As a Neighborhood Leadership Initiative Coordinator, Yaz empowers young people to take pride in their community, vocalize their own narratives, and lead positive change. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in sociology from Pomona College in Southern California where she organized with women of color to hold the institution accountable to its mission of “diversity and inclusion”. Yaz plans to continue fighting for equity and transparency, particularly by working with young people to help develop their goals. She envisions a Chicago where decision makers take youth concerns seriously.
Fun Fact: Ken builds and salvages computers in his spare time.
Ken comes to Mikva Challenge with a convergent media background and has served over seven years in the Navy as a Logistics Specialist. He’s an alumnus of the Democracy in Action curriculum and helped win a grant for an anti-violence campaign at his school. Ken cares most about issues facing low-income communities, and has participated in community campaigns that have targeted education issues, the environment, and housing. He now works with Mikva teachers to provide opportunities for students to experience the exciting demands of political campaigns and to create change in their communities through project based learning.
Fun Fact: Chelsea is into vintage reproduction dresses and can often be found at local vintage dress meetups.
Chelsea joined Mikva Challenge in July 2018 to manage the Teen Health Council (THC). THC advises the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Health Department of CPS on issues related to teen mental and physical health. Chelsea holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Russian studies from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master’s Degree in Museum and Exhibition Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, she received the Social Justice award from her graduate program. A Chicago native, she has always worked with youth in the city in one capacity or another and is excited to work every day helping to amplify teen voices.
Fun Fact: Barbara once interviewed one-on-one with Mayor Richard M. Daley for an open Aldermanic position in the First Ward. Even though she didn’t get appointed as Alderwoman, watching the mayor take notes while she talked was a great consolation prize.
Barbara joined the Chicago Mikva team in July 2019 as the Director of Evaluations and Data. Her role is to ensure the organization captures and maintains data that reflects the amazing work we do, setting and adhering to goals while engaging in continuous quality improvement. She is deeply inspired by the work of Jane Addams, and joined AmeriCorps after college to carry on Addams’ work in the modern day. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, Barbara was stationed in the immigrant port of entry neighborhood in which she grew up. Her experiences there solidified her passion for striving for social justice, and recognizing the power of all voices in a community. To date, her nearly two-decade nonprofit career includes work with youth, immigrants, domestic violence survivors, job seekers, and mature workers, all of whom have stories and voices integral to the Chicago tapestry.
Fun Fact: Kristen loves to travel and has road tripped to 41 states.
Kristen comes to Mikva with a background in political organizing in her home state of Wisconsin and in supporting Diverse Learners and counseling first generation college students in Chicago. She joined Mikva in February of 2018 as C3 Manager, which is a perfect blend of her interests in supporting young people plan for their future and empowering them to use their voice to advocate for change in their communities. She runs the Mikva Summer Fellows internship program and supports students on CYCs in developing and executing postsecondary plans.
Fun Fact: Marie's personal mission is to become the human version of IMDB. Feel free to throw some movie trivia questions at her at any time, she loves the practice!
A true Midwesterner, Marie hails from the mid-sized city of Madison, WI (about an hour west from the more well known cities of Milwaukee and WI Dells). She’s been working with young people in a official capacity for 8 years. Marie has worked inside and outside schools serving in a variety of roles such as: one-on-one literacy tutor, classroom assistant, after school/summer programs facilitator, assistant director for a summer program, and social studies teacher. She joined the Mikva community because she admires the respect it shows for young people. Marie was happy to be a part of its efforts to place young folks at the forefront of public policy, and its commitment to supporting and empowering them to become advocates and agents of change for their intersecting communities. Her role in this effort will be serving as the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Youth Council Manager.
Fun Fact: Drew watches his favorite movies, A Goofy Movie and The Iron Giant, at least 6 times a year (and you should too).
Drew joined Mikva Challenge in June 2019 as the Neighborhood Leadership Initiative Coordinator for New City. After participating in a youth-centered mentorship program while studying abroad in college, he began to develop a passion for working with young people. Upon graduating from Rutgers University with a BA in Political Science and French, Drew moved to Chicago and began doing youth work professionally in the Austin and Belmont-Cragin neighborhoods. Drew joined Mikva after seeing the ways in which the organization provides a platform for young people to speak on their lived experiences and apply them through civic engagement. As a Georgia native, Drew aims to support the young people of Chicago in whichever ways they feel best fits their vision for the city.
Fun Fact: Justine caught a ride in a flower delivery van when running late once. It was the second day of grad school.
With a background in political science and education, Justine believes that a more just society will arrive when all people have equal access to the political sphere. For this reason, she is interested in education equality, youth civic engagement, and all other aspects of social justice. Justine is a first-generation college student, and was first inspired by people power during her undergraduate studies when she worked with refugees on issues of border politics in Latin America. In her three years as a US Government teacher in Washington, DC, her efforts revolved around teaching students to use their knowledge of history, civics, and personal life experience as tools for change. She is excited to continue Mikva Challenge DC’s mission by supporting teachers and students in their work to organize and bring youth voice to the forefront of local decision making. Justine is an alumna of the University of Florida, and holds degrees in both Political Science and Secondary Social Studies Education.
Fun Fact: Machee enjoys creating art and event planning in her spare time, especially kids birthday parties.
Machee is a native Washingtonian who both graduated from and worked for DC Public Schools. For five years she worked with students with special needs as well as at risk youth. During that time, she developed a love for helping young people discover their individual passions. While Machee’s professional experience is in education, she pursued Fine Art and Graphic Design in college. Oftentimes she used art as a liaison to keep students motivated. During summer she’s taught art and design classes to children in local summer programs. With her background in youth, art, and education, Machee is enthused to contribute her experience and skills to take the Mikva DC team to new heights.
Fun Fact: Robyn loves eating at roadside diners, mostly because of the pie!
Robyn brings almost fifteen years of youth empowerment, non-profit management, curriculum development and youth facilitation experience to her role as Executive Director for Mikva Challenge DC. A native of the Washington, DC area, Robyn is passionate about providing authentic spaces for DC youth to investigate, affect and change the world around them. She looks forward to building more opportunities to bring youth voice into local decision making and to highlight young people’s ability to be engaged citizens and community leaders.
Fun Fact: Voncia loves to bring the fun and joy wherever she goes! Her most joyful moments are having impromptu dance parties in her living room with her two energetic kiddos and hilarious hubby.
Raised by civil rights activists, this Texas native has always been passionate about social justice, equal opportunity, and empowerment of those on the margin. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a double major in Political Science and African American studies, Voncia began her empowerment work as a high school AP Government and African American history teacher for 8 years in Miami. After obtaining her Masters degree in American History, her desire for inspiring young activists in a more impactful and creative way brought her to Washington DC into the nonprofit youth advocacy world in 2013, where she spent 6 years (with The Future Project) as a creative educator outside of the classroom, Dream Director, life coach, master trainer, and designer and facilitator of transformational experiences – all in service of empowering young people to make a difference in their lives and world by living out their purpose, passion, and power. Voncia is excited to bring her passion for politics and social change to her position as Youth Engagement Director in the nation’s capital, where she hopes to ignite the spark of activism in young people across the city to lead the change this country needs!
Fun Fact: Siaira is a big book worm!
Siaira Harris was formed by the artistry and activism of San Francisco, Ca. She began working with youth advocacy organization Youth Making A Change at 15 years old through her work there she served on the Juvenile Justice Committee and was a student leader with Youth Vote; an action civics program in San Francisco. From the Bay Area to New York and now Los Angeles, she has continued working in youth development, while also pursuing a music career.
She is now the Program Coordinator at Action Civics CA and a sexual and reproductive health educator for middle and high school students. Her ultimate goal is to shift paradigms through art and education.