exalt is staffed by a cohesive team of educators who strive to provide participants with the best educational experience they’ve had, both inside the classroom and out.
We are a team of highly analytical and intellectual thinkers who can assess the multifaceted needs of our program participants, with a nimble and innovative approach to the challenges they face. We are passionate and dynamic in our approach, yet grounded in our cultural competence and clear communication skills. We leverage creativity from our former and current professional pursuits: from singers to actors to painters to authors, we see our creativity as essential to effectively engaging the youth we serve and helping them channel their own creative energy toward developing a positive future.
Gisele Castro | Executive Director
Gisele is a senior executive manager with more than 17 years of practical experience creating new initiatives and enhancing operations for organizations.
She has a Master of Public Administration and Non-Profit Management from Pace University, and graduated as a member of the Pi Alpha Alpha National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration. She studied at the graduate level at Oxford University where she researched U.S. vs. U.K. juvenile justice systems. Gisele also completed an Executive Management program at Columbia University at the Institute for Non-Profit Management. In addition, she has extensive experience in organizational development, consulting, and training.
Gisele has strong roots within exalt, having served previously as Director of Programs and External Relations from 2010-2013; Board Member from 2013-2015 and Board Chair from 2015 until July 5th 2016 when she was appointed Interim Executive Director. She has a wealth of knowledge and demonstrated experience in youth serving organization. She also worked at The Animation Project and her core focus was establishing the first Art Therapy based that utilizes animation as the therapeutic modality. She was also the Director at CASES, Family Court division and was instrumental in redesigning the program model and structure.
Gisele has taught courses on leadership development at Bank Street College and advises students in the Master’s in Education and Leadership in Community – Based Learning program. Her role at the college was expanded in 2015 to redesign and expand the program in Leadership in Community-Based Organizations, which will be implemented in 2017.
Jolanda Porter | Deputy Director
Jolanda's passion for youth development blossomed through her studies at Tufts University where she explored the impact of social and cultural identity on the academic success of Black and Latino young men. Her findings inspired her to design a course called “Ethnic Minds” that she was invited to teach at UC Berkeley through the Level Playing Field Institute’s SMASH Academy following her graduation in 2006. Since then, Jolanda has spent nearly a decade in direct service roles at the West End House Boys & Girls Club in Boston, where she designed the program, M.E.M.O.(Molding Educators Through Mentorship Opportunities); HarlemRBI; exalt from 2008-2010; and CASES (the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services). Since returning to exalt in 2012, Jolanda piloted the organization’s current performance evaluation processes and helped to increase program outcomes and retention. During her directorship, she is positioned to use her leadership and youth development experiences to continue to strengthen the organization’s data and evaluation systems, improve program fidelity, and ultimately expand exalt’s mission, impact, and reach by making their progressive model accessible to young people at all stages of justice involvement. Jolanda holds a Masters Degree in Business Analytics from New York University Stern School of Business and degrees in Clinical Psychology and Music Theory from Tufts University.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 3
Mirjam Grunenfelder-Reig | Director of Development
Mirjam Grünenfelder-Reig, joined exalt as Director of Development in May 2017 from the NYC Mayor’s Office, where she implemented and eventually expanded new access to justice programming for immigrant youth at NYC public schools. Prior to working in city government, Mirjam planned large scale community outreach efforts reaching thousands of immigrant New Yorkers a year while managing grant and funding cycles for The Legal Aid Society and New York Legal Assistance Group, two of the leading non-profit legal service agencies in NYC. As a graduate student at New York University, she studied comparative and international education with a focus on emergency responses for refugee children and cross-cultural pedagogical approaches. Mirjam’s academic exposure to the inequitable ties and parallels between the U.S. education and prison systems began while studying as an undergraduate at Bard College, where she attended courses and conferencing led by members of Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). Upon graduation and after completing an internship in Moscow, Russia, Mirjam returned to the United States and joined The Fortune Society, where she worked closely with thought-leaders in youth development, mental health access, and court advocacy. Originally from Switzerland, she is fluent in German and Spanish and is conversational in French and Russian. Mirjam is thrilled to be applying her skills in communication, evaluation, event coordination, and development planning to promote exalt’s award-winning models so that more court-involved youth can benefit from life changing opportunities.
Brian Lewis | Director of Programs and Education
Brian Lewis comes to exalt with experience teaching and facilitating in high schools, colleges, city parks, community organizations, and museums. Prior to joining exalt he worked as a Floor Operations Coordinator at the New York Transit Museum. He also taught English Composition and World Literature at Christ the King College Prep High School on the west side of Chicago. After leaving Christ the King, he worked with teenagers and professional artists to produce interdisciplinary art projects addressing topics such as ageism, environmental justice, and oral history as a program facilitator and teaching artist with the Chicago Park District’s TRACE (Teens Re-Imagining Art Community and Environment) program. His passion for critical pedagogy and desire to utilize tools of social justice to engage young people stems from his upbringing on the Southside of Chicago, where he harnessed edutainment to address issues of gang conflict, police harassment, and other social, economic and political concerns in the community, as a performing arts apprentice and youth teaching artist with Kuumba Lynx. He received a B.A from Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts, with a double major in Literature and Education. He also received a M.A with a concentration in Urban Education from the CUNY Graduate Center. In addition to working as a Senior Teacher atexalt, he also is an adjunct professor teaching courses on the Black Arts Movement and Art Making and Civic Engagement at the New School.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 104
Alex Griffith | Senior Teacher and Court Relations Manager
Alex Griffith joined exalt as a Program Coordinator in the summer of 2013. He served as a Pinkerton Community Fellow at exalt for the 2012-2013 academic year during which time he contributed on multiple levels to the organization, including assisting program staff build and manage program cycles. Alex graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in June 2013 with a major in English and a minor in Public Administration. Prior to becoming a Community Fellow, Alex worked as a research assistant and mentor at the Urban Male Initiative at John Jay College providing personal, academic, and professional support to college students, in particular Black and Latino males. He also worked at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and interned with Honorable Judge Geraldine Pickett through the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program. Alex chose exalt for his fellowship placement because of its unique approach to youth justice. He is excited to be a part of the organization.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 109
Ife Adeniyi | Lead Teacher
Keshad Adeniyi is a visionary with a heart for education, advocacy, and activism. In addition to academia he believes that artistic mediums such as poetry, and visual art, are necessary to educate people who come from various walks of life. His thoughts have allowed him to teach others in a number of schools and prisons, both, locally and internationally through organizations that are doing transformational work in incarceral spaces. The Prison Education Project (PEP), The Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI), and Columbia University Rikers Education Program, to name a few. These experiences have offered him the opportunity to travel abroad with PEP Uganda to do similar work in the maximum security prisons in Uganda, Africa. As a native of Watts, CA, Keshad has seen and experienced a lot of turmoil from which he has gained insight and in turn, it has influenced him to take on the moniker, Ife Nira, meaning "love is pain." He is currently studying at New York University, in their American Studies: Social Cultural Analysis Program. He is conducting research on the linkages between slavery and incarceration. His hope is to add to the conversation surrounding abolition, not as getting rid of, but as a starting anew perspective.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 112
Melissa Bautista | Program Coordinator
Melissa joins exalt as a Program Coordinator with an extensive background in the public service sector. Melissa has always been motivated to work in the education sector and is so pleased that she'll be given the chance to impact the lives of young people at exalt. Her experience as a Director of Operations and work in private school administration and admissions will make her an asset to the rigorous intake process at exalt. Melissa has a BS in Rehabilitation Services from Pennsylvania State University and recently earned her MS in Nonprofit Management from the The New School.
Crystal Deleon | Internship Development and Outreach Liaison
Crystal DeLeon began her career in criminal justice advocacy as a Court Representative Intern at the Manhattan START Daytime Custody Program at CASES. The START Daytime Custody Program is a 3-5 day intervention, for adults facing misdemeanor charges in New York County Criminal Court, including those with a history of frequent low-level convictions and behavioral health treatment needs. Crystal remained on a Criminal Justice career path and went on to intern as a Court Clerk to Judge Lisa Sokoloff, at the New York County Criminal Court during her sophomore year in college. Subsequently, she worked as a Child Care staff person at Saint Anne’s Institute, a private, not for profit, secular residential and community based preventive service agency serving girls ages 12-21, and then took on a fulltime position as the Coordinator of Legislative and Community Affairs at the office of NYS Assembly Member Maritza Davila representing Brooklyn’s 53rd Assembly District. Crystal currently serves in the position of Internship Development Liaison at exalt Youth. She holds a BAS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology from the State University of New York’s University at Albany.
Nadya Encarnacion | Program Consultant
Nadya Encarnacion is thrilled to return to exalt as Program Consultant, providing continued support to the core program team and the youth exalt serves. Nadya’s work in youth development transitioned into juvenile justice when she initially joined the exalt team from 2011-2014 becoming the first Senior Program Coordinator. She began her work in youth development at Fresh Youth Initiatives, a growing non profit focusing on community building activities for middle school and high school students in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan as a Group Leader. She continued her work as a Program Coordinator at New Song Learning Partnership in Central Harlem, an after school and teen mentoring program. While being an extremely passionate & dedicated artist her desire will always be in making tangible efforts in impacting the lives of young people. Nadya obtained her B.A. from Fairfield University, M.A. from Manhattan and is a graduate of The American Musical & Dramatic Academy.
Stanley Tillman | Program Coordinator
Stanley joins exalt with a substantial background in youth development. Stanley has always been driven to work with at risk youth, catering to their social and emotional needs. His experience as a Counseling Specialist at SCO Family of Services and experience of being a Residential Assistant for the 1st year students at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury will make him an asset to the rigorous intake process at exalt. Stanley holds a BA in psychology from the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 103