exalt is staffed by a cohesive team of senior teachers and program coordinators who strive to provide participants with the best educational experience they’ve had, both inside the classroom and out. Our program coordinators conduct introductory interviews with youth who’ve been referred to the program, building an initial relationship of trust, and continue to serve as participants’ liaisons with the justice system, school teachers, family members and more. Our senior teachers lead pre-internship preparation and post-internship classes, working with program coordinators to address each participant’s unique needs. Together, they build discipline and accountability while recognizing and validating participants’ experiences, cultures, skills and interests.

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 DJs 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.

email: giselecastro@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8101


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 degrees in Clinical Psychology and Music Theory from Tufts University, and is currently pursuing her Masters in Business Analytics at NYU Stern School of Business.

email: jolandaporter@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8107 


brian lewis
Senior Teacher | Manager of 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.

email: brianlewis@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8104


alex griffith
Senior Program Coordinator 

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.

email: alexgriffith@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8682



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.

email: melissabautista@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8105


crystal deleon
Internship Development 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 YouthShe holds a BAS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology from the State University of New York’s University at Albany.

email: crystaldeleon@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8108


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.

email: nadyaencarnacion@exaltyouth.org
office: 347-381-8106