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 has more than 20 years of experience creating and leading organizations that focus on ensuring equity in justice for court-involved youth. She has a Master’s 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 has strong roots within exalt, having served previously as Director of Programs and External Relations from 2010-2013; Board Member from 2013-2015 and former Board Chair. 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 Bank Street was expanded in 2015, to redesign the program for Leadership in Community-Based Organizations.
As she leads exalt through its’ inaugural scaling initiative, Gisele is poised to position the organization to become a thought leader and use our compelling data to prove that our most marginalized young people have an important place in our society.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 101
Brian Lewis | Deputy Director of Programs
Brian Lewis is a passionate critical pedagogue and systems-change leader with more than 10 years of experience in education and youth development.
He is thrilled to serve as the Deputy Director of Programs at exalt. In his current role, he leads the programmatic aspects of growth for the organization including increasing youth served, internship development, referral partnerships, oversight of curriculum and development of teachers, program coordinators and effectiveness of youth retention, alumni engagement and court advocacy. Since joining exalt in 2014, he has convened several symposiums on youth justice, bringing together leaders from government, non-profits, universities and local communities.
He is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU, New School and John Jay College, where he teaches courses that explore the topics of mass incarceration, youth development, human services, non-profit management, civic engagement and the arts. Prior to joining exalt, he worked with high-need high school students on Chicago's west and south-sides. There, as a teaching artist and community advocate, he successfully led participatory action research initiatives, oral history projects and sculpture installations that focused on conflict resolution and community building.
Brian has completed Columbia Business School's Developing Leaders Program for Non-Profit Professionals and the New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows Program at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College. He holds a B.A in Education Studies and Literature from The New School and an M.A. in Urban Education from the CUNY Graduate Center.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 107
Jenny Tolan | Deputy Director for Strategic Growth
Jenny Tolan joined exalt in fall 2018 to lead the business side of the organization’s growth. Jenny has devoted her career to global education and business for nearly 15 years. She started at the Global Fund for Children in Washington, DC and Mumbai, India, supporting NGOs serving children worldwide. Next, Jenny served as an economic development volunteer for the Peace Corps in Costa Rica where she spearheaded the $150,000 reconstruction of the town's main bridge. After that, Jenny returned to her home city of New York and taught 5th grade math with Teach for America at KIPP AMP charter school in Brooklyn.
Jenny next pivoted into the socially responsible business world, leading tri-state sales for IceStone, LLC, a green manufacturing business in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After completing her MBA, Jenny joined Google in Mountain View, California. From 2014 to 2018, Jenny led Product Marketing for Google for Education, building the Chromebook for Schools business worldwide. In this role, Jenny led product launches and crafted messaging, branding, media and web for Google for Education, technology used by 80 million students and teachers globally.
Jenny has a BA in International Relations and Spanish from Stanford and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Before joining staff, she served on exalt’s board as Chair of the Fundraising Committee.
Angie Carpio | Director of Operations & Strategic Advancement
Angie Carpio is a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform, dedicated to ending mass incarceration and improving the outcomes of those who have been impacted by the justice system. She is excited to be back at exalt, having started her career in youth justice with the organization in 2012 as a Program Assistant and leaving as a Partnership Manager. Prior to her return to exalt, Angie worked at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, where her portfolio included Raise the Age implementation, School Climate and Safety initiatives, and closing Rikers Island. She is poised to support exalt’s growth with her approach to change-making through policy reform and strengthening the work of community-based organizations.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a Masters of Science in Nonprofit Management and Social Policy from the New School, and has completed the New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows Program at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 110
Mai Brand | Associate Director of Development
Mai Brand joined exalt to lead the organization's fundraising and partnership work supporting exalt's plan to scale and triple the number of court-involved youth served across New York City and beyond. Mai is passionate about utilizing her voice, experiences, and skills to level the playing field through fostering meaningful relationships, dialogues, and understanding across sectors to challenge injustices.
Mai began her career working as a Community Service Coordinator at Loyola University Maryland, where she connected students and staff to volunteer and advocacy projects. Mai went on to work for Equal Justice Works, a national nonprofit supporting public interest attorneys. As the Fellowships and Development Specialist, she led key fundraising projects, including an annual gala that raised $3 million. Next, Mai worked for Food & Friends, where she developed and implemented strategies to raise corporate and foundation funding for meals and nutrition programs supporting critically ill children and adults. Mai joined Eskolta in a manager capacity after spending one year working, volunteering, and traveling in Southeast Asia. At Eskolta she led the organization's nascent development work, and successfully developed a new pipeline of individual, corporate, and foundation funders, and launched the organization's inaugural annual gala and year-end campaign. Mai holds a B.A. in Global Studies and Business from Loyola University Maryland.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 117
Nadya Encarnacion | Associate Director of Programs
Nadya Encarnacion hails from New York City and is passionate about NYC young people maximizing their purpose and potential. She began her journey in youth development in 2005 serving at-risk youth in Washington Heights and has since transitioned into juvenile justice when she joined the exalt team in 2011. She is proud to serve as exalt's Associate Director of Programs overseeing and supporting their referral process in addition to leading, serving and guiding Program Coordinators that play pivotal roles in the development of exalt's young leaders. Nadya is also an actress, with roles in television, film and voiceover. Nadya obtained her B.A. from Fairfield University, M.A. from Manhattan College and is a graduate of The American Musical & Dramatic Academy, and has completed the New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows Program at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 106
Alex Griffith | Associate Director of Court Partnerships and Strategy
Alex currently develops relationships with key stakeholders across New York City's youth-justice system to increase internship opportunities available for court-involved teenagers. He also provides training and support to teachers on staff and facilitates the organization's core-curriculum to program participants. Alex joined exalt in 2013 after completing a year long fellowship through the Pinkerton Foundation and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Prior to joining exalt, Alex's professional experience includes working in the Kings County Criminal Court with Judge Geraldine Pickett, the Urban Male Initiative at John Jay College, and the Domestic Violence Unit at the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. In 2013, Alex acquired his Bachelor's degree in English from John Jay College and is currently in the Executive Education Program at Columbia Business School.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 109
Yvonne Eseonu | Lead Teacher
Yvonne Eseonu is a community builder who has had over 6 years of experience fostering spaces for people to thrive and understand their value and worth. She strongly believes that when people, especially the youth, are reminded of their value and are given the opportunity to explore their potential, transformation can truly begin to occur. She has worked with various youth centered organizations including Girls Inc. NYC, working to facilitate programming and develop pro-girl curriculum. She is also the founder of a community-based initiative that seeks to engage people who are specifically struggling with homelessness with the truth that they are known. She received her bachelors degree in sociology at Emory University with a minor in African American Studies. Her interests include hosting small dinners and watching and playing basketball.
office: 347-621-6100 ext: 102
Camila Diaz | Lead Teacher
Camila Diaz is a certified Mindfulness and Yoga Teacher and a Peace and Social Justice Educator who has more than 10 years of experience implementing peace-building strategies and trauma sensitive mindfullness for at-risk communities in her country Colombia, and recently in New York City. Camila is committed to creating spaces for people to discover their inner resources, build resilience, and heal. In her work, she is passionate about connecting self-care practices, peace education, and social justice. She believes that when people are reminded of their self-worth and are given a space to be curious about it, building peace from the inside-out is possible. This is the first step for becoming agents for social change.
Outside of her work at exalt, she is a teacher at Lineage Project, an organization in NYC that teaches mindfulness practices to young people navigating incarceration, homelessness, school suspension, and academic challenges. She is also the Director for Breathe International in the US, an international NGO that seeks to establish mindfulness as a peacebuilding and social justice strategy for diverse groups worldwide. She holds a Master’s Degree in Peace Education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
office: 347-621-6100 ext: 116
Eleazar Adjehoun | Partnership Development and Internship Liaison
Eleazar Adjehoun is an advocate for access, with a devotion to the development and success of New York City’s most under-recognized youth. He believes experiential education is paramount in linking theory to practice, and seeks to equip exalt’s youth with continued access to various experiences and opportunities that support their efforts to change their lives and the communities they belong to. Eleazar joined the exalt team as a Program Coordinator in the Fall of 2017 after graduating from DePauw University as a Posse Scholar with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Peace & Conflict Analysis. Prior to joining exalt, he first explored his affinity for service in an Emergency Room as a Bonner Scholar Intern at the Putnam County Hospital in Greencastle, Indiana. When closer to home, he swapped his scrubs for a helmet and harness, and spent his Summers working as an Experiential Education Facilitator at the Princeton Blairstown Center (PBC). PBC is an outdoor experiential education center that aims to empower young people, primarily from under-resourced communities, to strengthen their social-emotional skills through experiential, environmental, and adventure-based programming. Ultimately, Eleazar’s calling came when he discovered he could combine his affinity for holistic healthcare with his youth development experiences to advocate for others.
office: 347-621-6100 ext. 105
Rafelina Contreras | Program Coordinator
Rafelina Contreras is pleased to join exalt as a Program Coordinator. Rafelina graduated from Rutgers University with a double major in Psychology and Sociology and a minor in Criminology. Prior to joining exalt, Rafelina was a Case Manager for the Aegis Domestic Violence Program at an emergency crisis shelter. Through a Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) approach, she promoted safety, support, and empowerment to positively impact the lives of domestic violence survivors and their children in both an individual and group setting. Through offering crisis intervention and emotional support to survivors of domestic violence, Rafelina found a passion to help the youth struggling with the many challenges they were experiencing. She is determined to help transform the lives of youth at exalt through cultivating their leadership skills and promoting self-sufficiency.
office: 347-621-6100 ex: 108
Rosana Hanif | Program Coordinator
Rosana Hanif graduates from the John Jay Honors Program with a major in Law & Society and minor in Anthropology this year. She is both an advocate and an academic, is on the Dean’s List, is a member of the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society as well as the Sigma Alpha Pi society. Rosana has received both the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women Summer Scholar Fellowship and the National Engaged Leader Award.
Rosana is an advocate for reentry, social justice, and first discovered her passion for youth justice while in her Pinkerton Community Undergraduate Fellowship. Rosana fulfilled her fellowship here at exalt as a junior program coordinator. Through this role, she conducted intake, assisted with class and internship placements, and facilitated one-on-ones with youth to support their academic, personal, and professional development.
Before coming to exalt, Rosana interned at John Jay’s Prisoner Reentry Institute where she supported the smooth functioning of the program. She collaborated with staff members on workshops, academic advisement caseload, student outreach, and strategic planning for the academic calendar. During her time at PRI, Rosana also developed a quarterly newsletter, Our Voice, which was written for, by, and about College Initiatives and Prison-to-College Pipeline students. Our Voice features student spotlights, current affairs, events, poems, stories, and community news, in an effort to build community across John Jay’s student body while also highlighting student successes’ for the wider public.
office: 347-621-6100 ex: 104
Kymáre Hutchinson | Program Coordinator
Kymáre Hutchinson is a Licensed Master Social Worker with a passion for criminal justice reform and positive youth development. Kymáre joined during summer 2019 as a Program Coordinator.
Kymáre first discovered her passion for criminal justice reform and youth development while obtaining her BA in Deviant Behavior and Social Control at John Jay College. This led to an opportunity to work with young people involved in the criminal justice system as an intern at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES) within their Court Employment Program. Kymáre was further inspired by this experience and went on to obtain her MSW at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and was able to get more experience within the criminal justice field as a Court Liaison Specialist at CASES working to connect adults facing jail time with services.
Kymáre also brings experience working with young people encouraging community involvement and doing coalition work to improve the treatment of incarcerated individuals and their families.
office: 347-621-6100 ex: 103
Ikim Powell | Co-Facilitator
Ikim Powell is an ambassador for maximizing one’s educational and personal progression. Formerly, he was a participant of exalt and is a recent college graduate of CUNY - College of Staten Island, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in English: Writing and African Diaspora Studies. During his undergraduate term, he studied abroad, partaking in the subjects of British Children’s Literature in London, England; Ethnobotany and Pedology in Morocco, Africa; Art and Design in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Sichuan, China.
He has worked as a mentor and tutor in NYCDOE and CUNY, and later worked with adults as an Instructor at the CUNY Continuing Education and Professional Development Center helping them improve their literacy and GED/TASC certifications. His goal is to help young people maximize their potential and ultimately dictate their destiny.
April Navarro | Administrative Assistant
April Navarro graduated from Northwestern University with a major in Latina/o Studies and Social Policy, focusing on Education Policy and Ethnic Studies. Before exalt she cofounded the Borders and Identities Research Collaborative, a Youth Participatory Action Research Project which used critical pedagogy, culturally relevant pedagogy, and traditional/non-traditional research methodology to create actionable research projects centering issues facing Chicagoland youth. Working with a spectrum of education spaces from preschools, alternative and ‘traditional’ high schools, and college courses at Stateville Prison, April is committed to educational access with a critical, culturally relevant, justice-oriented, and humanizing lens. Joining exalt in the summer of 2019, April is pleased to help in the efforts to combat the school to prison-pipeline and cultivate a space of love and opportunity for young people.
office: 347-621-6100 ex: 115
Jolanda Porter | Consultant
Jolanda is a nonprofit management consultant based in New York City and specializes in data management, outcome evaluation, analytics and visual marketing. With over a decade of experience in direct service and leadership positions, Jolanda is uniquely prepared to understand the nuances and needs of nonprofits and their use of data to propel their missions forward. Jolanda is an advocate of educational equity and believes in leveling the playing field for underserved youth through technology and mentorship, and looks to work with nonprofits and businesses that align with these interests. Jolanda holds a Masters of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) from New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business and Bachelors degrees in Clinical Psychology and Music Theory from Tufts University.
Prior to exalt, Jolanda has contributed her talents to a myriad of nonprofits including UC Berkeley's Leveling Playing Field Institute, West End Boys and Girls Club, HarlemRBI, and C.A.S.E.S.
Jolanda is also a Senior Consultant at roundCorner.
Jennifer Manley | Consultant
Jennifer Manley is a public affairs and government relations consultant based in New York City and specializing in non-for-profit management, lobbying and development. Her experience in New York City Government dates to the Michael Bloomberg Mayoral Administration. She also spent several years heading in-house external relations for one of busiest public library system in the country- Queens. Jennifer joins her colleagues at Prime Strategies (www.prime-strategies.com) in representing non-for-profit and corporate clients nationally at the Federal, local State and City level. Together, the Prime team has raised hundreds millions of dollars and effected positive policy changes for clients to meet and exceed their strategic goals. Jennifer is particularly interested in social justice and cultural causes, serves on the board of a library advocacy organization, and proudly calls Brooklyn home.
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