OUR TEAM

Choose a Category below to see team members across all locations

Kristine Leja

Bay Area Executive Director

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers Kristine Leja has over 15 years of experience...

 

Kristine Leja

Position: Bay Area Executive Director

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Kristine Leja has over 15 years of experience in fundraising, communications and non-profit management. She has held leadership positions at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, Edgewood Center for Children in Families and Westside Community Mental Health Services. Most recently she served as the Chief Development Officer and Interim CEO at Habitat Greater SF.

She has been a speaker/presenter at the Commonwealth Club, Foundation Center, NTEN, the Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals on the topics of non-profit management, marketing and fundraising. A native of Chicago, Ms. Leja holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts and Sciences from the University of Illinois and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is also an advisory panel member of the International Rogare Fundraising Think Tank out of Plymouth University and has served on the board of Voice of Witness for the last six years.

John Brennan

Bay Area Board Chair

 

John Brennan

Position: Bay Area Board Chair

Hermese Velasquez

Boston Executive Director

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers A native of Belize, Central America and a...

 

Hermese Velasquez

Position: Boston Executive Director
Email: HVelasquez@summersearch.org

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

A native of Belize, Central America and a first-generation college graduate, Hermese has firsthand experience with the game changing power of education. Hermese’s long-standing commitment to Summer Search spans multiple roles, including participant during her high school years, Alumni Board Chair, and member of the Summer Search Boston Board of Directors. It is Hermese’s delight and Summer Search’s great fortune to have her add staff member to that list, stepping into the role of Boston Executive Director in December 2016.

Before joining the Summer Search staff, Hermese was a results-oriented Project Manager in the travel industry. She has provided project management over several top priority initiatives and enterprise wide implementations, cultivating her skills in data analysis, risk assessment, communication, relationship building, and change management, vital talents for a non-profit leader. While her professional experience is heavy in the project management capacity, her volunteer experience has been dominated by Summer Search! Though Hermese’s after work haven is now her full-time gig, she continues to volunteer as a coach for adults reentering college.

During the warmer months, Hermese enjoys daily 5Ks while listening to Beyoncé and Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits! She also loves to travel and has visited at least 1 new country a year for the past 5 years; with 5 continents, down and 2 more to go! Hermese and her family live in Boston.

Jeff Dorigan

Boston Board Chair

 

Jeff Dorigan

Position: Boston Board Chair
Professional Title: Senior Vice President, Brown Brothers Harriman

Peter Retzlaff

New York City Executive Director

Pronouns: He/Him/His Following a number of years running his own...

 

Peter Retzlaff

Position: New York City Executive Director
Email: pretzlaff@summersearch.org

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Following a number of years running his own business, Peter began his journey in the nonprofit sector after deciding he wanted to do work with a more permanent impact on the world around him. Now, more than a decade into his career in youth development, Peter is motivated by the trajectory shift that can occur in a young person’s life as a result of intentional, high quality programming. The belief that the most profound impact of this work is that the benefits will continue to reveal themselves over years, lifetimes and even generations of families is a critical driver to what we get to do in this field.

Prior to Summer Search Peter led Community for Youth, a life-skills and mentoring program in Seattle where he lived for many years. In Seattle Peter also did extensive work with Youth Development Executives of King County, The Weikert Center’s Youth Program Quality Assessment tool, and Washington State Mentors Quality Mentoring Assessment Pathway Taskforce all of which worked to elevate the impact of mentoring young people. That work, seeing the incredible results that uncommonly intentional and professionalized mentoring yield, elevated the type of program that he wanted to work with. A move back home to the east coast brought him eagerly to Summer Search NYC.

Peter’s commitment to social justice extends beyond the workplace to a number of Boards and other volunteer opportunities including Fremont Community Therapy Project, Providence Hospitality House and work in King County Jail and Monroe State Prison. Now in NJ/NY after more than 20 years out west, Peter is looking forward to getting re-engaged in the local community. And in the days between there is always more live music to check out, more books to read, and more movies to see.

Graves Tompkins

Chair, NYC Board

 

Graves Tompkins

Position: Chair, NYC Board

Sylvia Watts McKinney

Philadelphia Executive Director

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers Sylvia is motivated by the belief that all...

 

Sylvia Watts McKinney

Position: Philadelphia Executive Director
Email: smckinney@summersearch.org

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Sylvia is motivated by the belief that all youth should have access to college regardless of their zip code, and is excited to serve this mission as the Executive Director of the Summer Search Philadelphia office.

Prior to joining Summer Search, Sylvia built an exemplary career in education and entrepreneurship. Sylvia started her real estate career with a start-up company, Taylor Properties, where she successfully negotiated and finalized construction, permanent and equity loans with private banks and government agencies to build and sell affordable, fee simple housing as well as commercial properties.

As Executive Director of the Museum of Afro American History in Boston and the Philadelphia chapter of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, she provided leadership on key strategic plans and implemented fundraising programs with staff and stakeholders, collaborated with the members of the media to promote the missions of these organizations, resulting in various articles, live television coverage and the creation of videos/films.

While as the director of the MAAH, the late Senator Edward Kennedy introduced her to First Lady Hilary Clinton. Senator Kennedy also invited her to witness the late President Nelson Mandela be presented with a Congressional Gold Medal from President Bill Clinton. These profound experiences re-ignited her passion to work for organizations to alleviate poverty in this country.

Sylvia holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of South Carolina and Masters of City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her hobbies include travel, biking, golfing, and reading tons of comic books, especially the Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur series!

Pamela Lehrer

Philadelphia Board Chair

 

Pamela Lehrer

Position: Philadelphia Board Chair

Melanie Lyons

Seattle Executive Director

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers Melanie began mentoring and investing in the power...

 

Melanie Lyons

Position: Seattle Executive Director
Email: mlyons@summersearch.org

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Melanie began mentoring and investing in the power of young people when she was in her teens and has never looked back. Over the last 14 years Melanie has been working in nonprofit organizations that support young people to use their power, potential and talent in personal, local and global leadership.

Melanie received her BA and subsequently, a Masters in Social Work and Masters in Public Administration – all at the University of Washington.

She craves outdoor adventures and can often be seen on her light green bicycle named Sweet Pea. She has made a fun-filled and friend-filled home with her partner Tina and her beloved puggle Theo. She will forever be a double Husky – go UCONN and UW!

Erik Toth

Seattle Board Chair

 

Erik Toth

Position: Seattle Board Chair