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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.
Dreaming of a world robust with educational and social equity, SiMone has devoted her experiences to working with youth.
Her journey started as a first-generation college student at UC Berkeley where she graduated with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Global Poverty and Practice. Motivated to serve, she spent several years working in public schools in the Bay Area in various capacities and a time abroad in a school in Venezuela. While she wore many hats at her schools, the majority of her work included providing resources and believing in her first-generation students to see post-secondary education as a viable and successful option.
Being continually inspired by her students and with a desire to work even more intentionally with these resilient young people, SiMone is enthusiastic to be here at Summer Search as a Program Associate.
Most of her time is spent traveling around the larger Bay Area catching up with friends and around Sacramento where she cherishes time with her family and dogs. After a brief lapse in competitive dance, SiMone is also looking into rekindling her passion out on the dance floor.
Jason is a committed youth worker who possesses a proven ability to challenge young people to think about their values and attitude in order to develop, achieve and manage their behavior.
A first generation college graduate, Jason received his B.A. from California State University East Bay with a degree in sociology and served as recovery counselor at Thunder Road. Jason brings an understanding of the needs of young people to his role as Program Associate and is eager to help our students raise their aspirations. Jason currently resides in Oakland where he went to Skyline high school. Jason connects with summer search because he is also a first generation graduate.
Currently a resident of Oakland, Jason was a former athlete at Skyline high school and in college, and he enjoys running and weightlifting in his spare time.
Julia is passionate about “getting curious” and believes in the power of learning about ourselves through shared experience. This is at the root of her life-long fascination with all things science. She’s also interested in understanding the correlation between personal and global health and has, consequently, spent her career focused on personal wellness and youth development. This is why the work she does at Summer Search is aligned and meaningful for her.
Before Summer Search Julia spent over a decade teaching pre-K through 8th grade Science, Health and Physical Education. In her summers she was a Camp Director for an innovation camp that encouraged growth through collaboration, failing and fun. In both of these venues she sharpened her leadership skills, empathy and deepened her understanding for how to truly support others.
Julia graduated with a BS in Biology from Cal Poly Pomona. When she isn’t steeped in mentor calls she enjoys tending the fig tree, exploring the oceans from behind a scuba mask, singing a capella with her Monday night chorus, and eating good Oakland food.
Donaciano was born in Michoacan, Mexico and came to the United States when he was two months old. He was raised in a small town in Sonoma County, where his father worked as a farm worker and his mother as a maid. Raised on the belief that higher education was not only a possibility but an expectation, his status of being an undocumented student did not deter him from pursuing a four-year degree. He graduated from Windsor High School in 2006, and went on to attend Sacramento State University where he doubled majored in Sociology and Ethnic Studies; he now pursues a Masters in Higher Education Leadership there. He feels grateful for the various mentors who guided him throughout his educational career and provided him with a sense of empowerment and motivation.
Donaciano is a keen social advocate, and brings to our team broad experience from his prior work in community organizing and student support within institutions of higher education. His passion to serve others is what propels him at Summer Search. As an alumni of the Summer Search North Bay program, he is aware of the challenges of being a low-income, first generation student. He is proud to come back full circle and work for Summer Search at the office that provided him the support and motivation to succeed, not only in high school, but in life.
““We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers
For several years Noemi worked at the Chico State campus for the First-Year Experience Program where she mentored incoming students and helped them make a successful transition to college life- emphasizing academic and civic engagement, as well as social well-being. She was and continues to be driven by the desire to challenge our educational system to address systemic racism, oppression, and high DFW rates regarding students of historically marginalized communities. Noemi is excited to continue her work at Summer Search with students and their plans regarding post-secondary education.
When not working, Noemi enjoys taking her dog to explore new parks, watching movies with her dog, or eating delicious foods.”
Laura is motivated by her belief in the power of young people to change the world when they have access to the tools and mentors to support them. Laura brings a decade of experience supporting nonprofits in education and youth development. Most recently, she served as the Director of Individual Giving and Events at City Year Jacksonville.
Laura received a master’s degree in public service from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and a bachelor’s degree international relations, history, and religion from the University of Miami. A native Floridian, Laura enjoys traveling, baking, and exploring her new home in the Bay Area.
Irene’s devotion to social justice and improving the educational opportunities of students of color is deeply rooted from her own experience as a first-generation college student. Her professional and academic interests revolve around exploring how to strengthen the four-year college pathways for students of color, especially for first-generation Latino high school students.
Prior to joining the Summer Search Bay Area team in January 2017, Irene was the graduate intern at the Postsecondary National Policy Institute at Washington D.C and volunteered at The Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College at Columbia University, which provides college preparation workshops for Harlem high school students. Irene worked at a precollege outreach program at CAL and College Track Oakland, and was a LEAD mentor for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute in Santa Clara.
Irene received a master’s degree in education policy from Teachers College, Columbia University, with a concentration in higher education policy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Kenyon joined the Summer Search community in January 2014, where he helps to build the circle of individuals and institutions who invest in our Bay Area students and alumni. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Kenyon has spent his career in nonprofit resource development, leveraging his lifelong propensity for making personal connections in service to his values of social justice and equity. Prior to Summer Search, he held development leadership roles with Jumpstart and Peer Health Exchange.
Kenyon is an enthusiastic alumnus of Macalester College and earned his Master of Nonprofit Administration degree through the University of San Francisco School of Management. He was a singing member, volunteer, and board member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus from 2008-2020 and remains an active member of that community.
Kellyn is both grateful and excited to be part of the Summer Search team here in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is her home and she loves the opportunity to apply her data skills in a nonprofit focused on social good. She has recently earned the first of what she hopes will be many more technical certifications.
Kellyn holds a bachelor’s degree in media arts from Santa Clara University. She has volunteered at public schools in San Francisco and the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Kellyn previously worked for Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco. In her spare time, she volunteers for Inclusive America, a national non-profit focused on achieving more diversity in our federal government.
Kellyn understands the value students gain from having unique and varied experiences from an early age. Unfortunately, she’s also seen the divide between students whose families can afford certain opportunities versus those who can’t, and that inequity only widens over time. Through Summer Search, students gain those experiences, inspiring them to dream about and fulfill futures without limits.
A deep gratitude for the transformative power of mentorship in Alyssa’s own life led her to Summer Search. Witnessing students’ joy, perseverance, and ingenuity as they move into adulthood is a privilege that she is honored to support in her fundraising role.
Before joining Summer Search, Alyssa was the Associate Director of Individual Giving at Center for Youth Wellness, helping to connect the dots between the pervasive impact of childhood trauma and the mental and physical health implications on children, families, and communities. Previously she spent 3 years understanding money movement within Silicon Valley as a Senior Business Development Associate at an ultra-high net worth wealth management group. Having worked in both the private and public sector, Alyssa has never lost sight of her passion for working on high impact issues that intersect public health and social justice. She has held prior positions at Kaiser Permanente, The San Diego Hunger Coalition, and has also been involved with Ninjas For Health, a storytelling and tech startup aiming to modernize public health efforts with an equity focus.
Alyssa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health from San Diego State University and is a rare San Diego native. She is on an endless search for new music, another art museum to peruse, and recently a new bird to spot while walking at Heron’s Head Park.
Gabrielle is motivated by young people and power they possess. High School students are unique because they can create optimism among the jaded while identifying the problems and solutions for their communities. Gabrielle strives to be purposeful in her work while challenging the different ways she can be present in communities.
Gabrielle worked with high school students during her two years with City Year Cleveland. During her time with City Year, she became passionate about equity, especially education equity. She was an advocate for her students in and out of the classroom.
Gabrielle holds a BA in Sociology and Ethnic Studies from Bowling Green State University. When she isn’t at Summer Search, Gabrielle travels, spends time with loved ones, and binge watches Netflix. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and enjoys exploring the Bay Area, especially Oakland.
Having spent her entire career in youth development, Anceline is driven by the belief that everyone deserves an equal shot at the opportunity to succeed. As the daughter of a first-generation college student and immigrant, Anceline saw the power in receiving a quality education firsthand.
Prior to working at Summer Search, Anceline worked with adjudicated youth in the Juvenile Justice system. She was drawn to Summer Search for its long-term commitment and willingness to work with students wherever they are at. She holds a BA in Psychology as well as in French and French Literature, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree.
In her spare time, she loves to hike, draw, travel, and spend time with her partner, family, and friends.
Working with youth from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds is where Mira thrives. She spent 9 years working for a non-profit that exclusively worked with first generation, low income teen girls. It was at this non-profit that Mira discovered her passion for mentoring youth with an intersectional lens and a holistic approach.
She graduated from Sonoma State University (SSU) in 2016 majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies with a concentration in Youth Activism. At SSU Mira saw the direct effects that the heteronormative patriarchal society was having on the students and youth around her. Not one to sit and wait, Mira decided to take action, and after college dedicated her career path to helping create a more inclusive community for marginalized youth. Seeing the importance that higher education can have in an individual’s life, Mira wanted to assist in college access by becoming an admissions counselor at Dominican University of California.
Slowly but surely, Mira found her way back to Summer Search where she had previously been an intern in 2012. She is now a proud Program Associate where she hopes to continue to support students in pursuing their aspirations.
In her spare time Mira enjoys hitting the pavement for social justice movements related to her favorite political issues, playing her ukulele or just sitting around and binge watching a mindless TV show.
Barb strongly believes that a diversity of voices and backgrounds enriches the educational experience for all students. Her commitment to improving access to higher education for all students is what drew Barb to Summer Search. She’s excited to work as College Access Coordinator, supporting and empowering students as they navigate the process of planning for post-secondary life.
Barb received her B.A. from Hamilton College and her master’s in Counseling from NYU. She’s worked in college admissions at NYU and Columbia University, advocating for underrepresented students in the admission process. Barb is excited to support Summer Search students as they explore life after high school and be a strong champion for equal access to higher ed for all students.
While not at work, Barb loves to travel, cook, and spend time outdoors. She lives with her husband and two children in Sebastopol.
Nicol joined the Summer Search Bay Area team as a mentor in 2013. He now leads our Summer Experience programming for students, focusing on creating opportunities where all youth can experience novel outdoor and social environments that excite, empower, and provide ample space for the exploration of self and others. He is a people person, an optimist, and strives to stand for the potential in every situation. Beyond work, he loves to play games inside and outside, cook, build, and garden. Most of all he loves to spend quality time with family and friends and make people feel heard and appreciated.
Michal “MJ” Jones is an educator, lifelong learner, social justice advocate, and poet/writer living and working in Oakland, CA. A committed youth development professional with demonstrated knowledge in multicultural college student development, they join Summer Search eager to learn and support the College Success team. Understanding first hand many of the challenges that marginalized students face on their journey to and through college, MJ is excited to work alongside Summer Search’s mission and values.
Prior to Summer Search, MJ led the East Bay cohort of Coro Northern California’s Exploring Leadership program, and has also coordinated LGBTQ youth programming at Youth Uprising in East Oakland. They gained an MA in Student Development Administration from Seattle University, and a BA in Sociology from Sonoma State University. As a writer, their work has been featured in Foglifter Press, Everyday Feminism, Black Youth Project, Black Girl Dangerous, and The Body Is Not An Apology. They have received fellowships from the VONA/Voices community for writers of color and the Kearny Street Writers Lab.
In their daily life, MJ believes in the power of vulnerability, creativity, artistic expression, and radical imagination to transform individuals and connect community. Their newest and best muse is their soon-to-be toddler, Glory.