Brian Brady, President
Fun Fact: Brian is a lifelong White Sox fan.
Brian leads the Mikva Challenge with the vision of bringing civic empowerment and political participation to all young people, especially low-income youth of color who are often left out of the democratic process. Coming from a family that was very civically engaged, Brian understood early in life the transformative impacts of learning civics by doing it. His experience as a youth worker on the West Side of Chicago reinforced for him the critical need for authentic youth voice and youth activism in our public schools.
In 14 years of leadership, Brian has helped grow the organization from an all-volunteer operation that served 120 students in 8 schools to one that now engages over 6,000 youth annually from 120 Chicago area schools. Currently, he’s spearheading the replication of Mikva’s unique model of action civics in LA and Washington, DC, and hopes to one day see an education and political system that engages young people in concrete decision making on the national, state, and community levels.
Michelle Morales, Chief Executive Officer
Fun Fact: While Michelle's musical tastes are eccentric to say the least, there will always be a special place in her heart for 80's hair metal music - especially Def Leppard.
Coming in as the new Executive Officer for Mikva's Chicago office, Michelle brings with her over 18 years of experience in youth development. Having worked as a teacher at an alternative high school in Chicago's Humboldt Park community, Michelle saw first hand how disempowerment and marginalization affects many youth of color - often leading youth to engage in risky choices that can impact their lives. The alternative high school taught Michelle the power of engagement and self-actualization and how respecting youth, their ideas and their voices is not only transformational for the youth involved, but also for all those around them. She brings this passion for youth voice and empowerment to Mikva Challenge. Michelle firmly believes that youth - once empowered and civically engaged can change the landscape of Chicago and the nation.
Michelle has extensive experience specifically working with non-profit, community-based organizations that impact communities of color in the Chicago area and is still involved in community organizing in the Humbodlt Park neighborhood. She is also a fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago.
Jill Bass, Chief Educational Officer
Fun Fact: Jill can sing a mean karaoke.
Jill taught in Chicago and New York City public schools for 13 years and was a Mikva teacher for much of that time. She has a Masters in Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been a professional developer, curriculum writer, educational consultant, and instructional coach. At Mikva, Jill directs the Center for Action Civics, overseeing curriculum development, teacher training, and the marketing of Action Civics philosophy in Chicago and beyond.
Karla Morin Castilla, Democracy in Action Director
Fun Fact: Karla is a crafter: she likes drawing, creating miniature polymer clay creations, baking cute fondant cupcakes, and sewing tiny outfits for her niece’s Barbies!
At the age of 7 Karla was already lobbying for bilingual education with her mom. As a teen she met with her alderman to express the need for affordable housing in her quickly changing neighborhood and was part of a group of young people fighting for passage of the Dream Act. At Mikva, Karla runs the Annual Project Soapbox public speaking competition, directs the ASM Youth Council, and supports teachers participating in the Democracy in Action program. She hopes to create a space where young people know their voice matters and leave feeling empowered.
Quabeeny Daniels, Student Leadership Coordinator
Fun Fact: Quabeeny was the student representative on his high school LSC, representing over 500 students.
Quabeeny was born and raised on the Southwest side of Chicago. He first learned about community organizing in 7th grade through the Southwest Youth Collaborative (SWYC), where he participated in their juvenile justice and education rights campaigns. As a youth organizer, he delivered speeches, facilitated meetings, fundraised, and collaborated with fellow youth leaders. Quabeeny is also a Mikva alumnus: he served as a Mikva-trained student election judge and worked on action civics projects as a student at Gage Park HS. He is proud to continue his Mikva work this year as a Public Ally, facilitating the Peace and Leadership Council program at three CPS middle schools.
James Fields, Student Leadership Coordinator
Fun Fact: James has his own back to school event that helps distribute backpacks and school supplies to kids in his neighborhood.
James is a Mikva alumnus and is extremely passionate about sharing his life experiences to empower young men and women. He started working with young people in his high schools years through a basketball coaching program and has since expanded on his youth work portfolio by being a coach and a mentor at Windy City Hoops. At Mikva, he facilitates a Peace and Leadership Council at Fenger and Hope high schools.
Meghan Goldenstein, Senior Program Director
Fun Fact: Meghan loves photographing everything from the national parks to her friends’ and cousins’ kids.
Meghan came to Mikva in 2010 following previous work as a children’s librarian, a teacher, and a field organizer during the 2008 presidential campaign. Having been transformed by her own campaign experiences, she loves encouraging and empowering youth to become active participants in elections (much earlier than she did). As the Elections in Action program director, she works with Chicago area teachers and campaign staff to create opportunities for Mikva youth to gain hands-on experience with electoral politics.
Monica Gutierrez, Citywide Youth Council Director
Fun Fact: Monica has a collection of over 4,000 Lisa Frank stickers
Monica brings 10 years of youth leadership development and facilitation experience as the Director of the Student Advisory and Aldermanic Youth Councils. Prior to working at Mikva Challenge, she organized service learning initiatives and student activism events at Chicago Public Schools, while supporting the Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement. Monica is passionate about empowering youth to use their voice to create real change in the city of Chicago.
Erika Harano, Center for Action Civics Manager
Fun Fact: Erika likes to go bouldering and make screen prints.
Erika is passionate about the intersections of youth voice, human-centered design, community problem-solving, and digital media. She has facilitated Peace and Leadership Councils at Perspectives Middle School, Wells Community Academy, and Tilden Career and Community Academy. Currently, Erika manages the Center for Action Civics, where she helps design and implement meaningful, engaging experiences for action civics educators and practitioners.
Rocío Herrera, Operations Director
Fun Fact: Rocio did a night snorkel at a coral reef in Belize.
Having grown up in a small town in Mexico, Rocio believes the most effective way to create change in our communities is by educating the public about government and the role they play in it. She is invested in Mikva’s mission of developing youth to informed and active leaders. In her capacity as the Operations Coordinator, Rocio is instrumental in the day to day processes and financial management of the agency. Rocio earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from National Louis University and has been at Mikva since 2009.
Justine Hipsky, Program Director, Mikva Challenge DC
Fun Fact: Justine caught a ride in a flower delivery van when running late once. It was the second day of grad school.
With a background in political science and education, Justine believes that a more just society will arrive when all people have equal access to the political sphere. For this reason, she is interested in education equality, youth civic engagement, and all other aspects of social justice. Justine is a first-generation college student, and was first inspired by people power during her undergraduate studies when she worked with refugees on issues of border politics in Latin America. In her three years as a US Government teacher in Washington, DC, her efforts revolved around teaching students to use their knowledge of history, civics, and personal life experience as tools for change. She is excited to continue Mikva Challenge DC’s mission by supporting teachers and students in their work to organize and bring youth voice to the forefront of local decision making. Justine is an alumna of the University of Florida, and holds degrees in both Political Science and Secondary Social Studies Education.
Ayeshia Johnson-Garrett, Senior Program Director
Fun Fact: Ayeshia lived in San Francisco when a major earthquake interrupted the 1989 World Series.
Ayeshia brings to Mikva seven years of professional outreach and community organizing experience. She is committed to the education and empowerment of low-income Chicago youth, and has done extensive work in the field of youth development. Ayeshia's special areas of expertise include generating and implementing strategies that enhance school and community engagement.
Machee Kelly, Program Assistant, Mikva Challenge DC
Fun Fact: Machee enjoys creating art and event planning in her spare time, especially kids birthday parties.
Machee is a native Washingtonian who both graduated from and worked for DC Public Schools. For five years she worked with students with special needs as well as at risk youth. During that time, she developed a love for helping young people discover their individual passions. While Machee’s professional experience is in education, she pursued Fine Art and Graphic Design in college. Oftentimes she used art as a liaison to keep students motivated. During summer she’s taught art and design classes to children in local summer programs. With her background in youth, art, and education, Machee is enthused to contribute her experience and skills to take the Mikva DC team to new heights.
Lisa Kim, Citywide Youth Council Director
Fun Fact: Lisa is more into tarot cards than she should be.
With a background in art, design, and education, Lisa is interested in how multi-media tools can be used to empower communities to make change. As Mikva's Youth Commission Director, Lisa works with diverse young Chicagoans to involve youth voice to the City's decision-making process. Previous to coming to Mikva, Lisa has done scientific communications with dinosaurs, taught comics
Emma Kornfeld, Senior Program Director
Fun Fact: Emma's middle name is Edenpeace.
Emma has held a number of roles during her six year tenure with Mikva Challenge -- from directing the Democracy in Action program to consulting on the organization's national expansion. She recently completed her Masters degree in Social Work at the University of Michigan and has returned to the organization to direct the Juvenile Justice Council and the Aurora Youth Changemakers Initiative.
Ramya Kumaran, Evaluation Manager
Fun Fact: Ramya’s hometown is the Pumpkin Capital of the world.
Ramya joined Mikva Challenge in 2014 and comes to the agency with a background in education, community development, and sustainability. She is passionate about access to opportunity, breaking down barriers for access, and connecting others with alternative and traditional pathways. In her graduate work, she looked at the utilization of new media by youth participants in Mikva Challenge’s Citywide Youth Councils and whether it is a feasible pathway for civic engagement. At Mikva, she assists with writing grants and partners with staff in assessing and sharing programmatic impacts. Ramya is an alum of City Year and Americorps and holds a Master’s degree in Political Science and Community Development from Illinois State University.
Tatiana Lakshmanan, Operations Analyst
Fun Fact: Tatiana used to teach English in Korea and loves Korean food!
Tatiana joined Mikva Challenge full time in 2016 after serving as a New Sector Alliance Americorps fellow. She previously completed an Americorps term as a program coordinator for Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters Illinois. Tatiana's professional social sector experience also includes data, technology, informal education, and volunteer management. As an operations analyst, Tatiana applies her passion for systems-level work to daily operations and special projects at Mikva.
Robyn Lingo, Washington DC, Executive Director
Fun Fact: Robyn loves eating at roadside diners, mostly because of the pie!
Robyn brings almost fifteen years of youth empowerment, non-profit management, curriculum development and youth facilitation experience to her role as Executive Director for Mikva Challenge DC. A native of the Washington, DC area, Robyn is passionate about providing authentic spaces for DC youth to investigate, affect and change the world around them. She looks forward to building more opportunities to bring youth voice into local decision making and to highlight young people’s ability to be engaged citizens and community leaders.
Miriam Martinez, Senior Program Director
Fun Fact: Miriam has run three Chicago Marathons for Mikva.
Miriam was born in Mexico City and came to Chicago 25 years ago. She was raised on the north side of Chicago and is a Chicago Public Schools graduate. Because of the impact Mikva had on her life as a young adult, Miriam decided to major in Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to motherhood, Miriam was involved in organizing efforts focused on immigration reform, education funding reform, and women’s rights. She served on the board of directors of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights for seven years. Miriam has been on the Mikva staff since 2003 and is currently Senior Program Director overseeing our Elev8 middle schools Peace and Leadership Program. Miriam is the proud mother of 5-year old Alex.
Sara Martinez, Program Coordinator
Fun Fact: Sara can play more than 5 musical instruments and played Rugby her Junior and Senior year of College.
Sara is a Mikva alumna. During her high school years, she participated in Mikva’s Youth Safety Council and after graduating, she interned with Senator Dick Durbin through Mikva’s SGLI program. Sara has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from DePauw University where she became president of the Committee for Latino Concerns to bring awareness to Latino issues on her campus. As a first generation student, she grew passionate for advocating for first generation high school students and dedicates her extra time to talk to youth about the importance of education. Here at Mikva, she is a fellow and program coordinator and will lead PLC’s in Chicago high schools throughout the fall along with facilitating Mikva's After School Matters Youth Advisory Council.
Sheila McMullin, LA Program Coordinator
Fun Fact: Sheila’s first book of poetry title daughterrarium will be published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center in the spring of 2017!
Sheila joined Action Civics LA in 2016. An enthusiastic supporter of the Mikva mission, she brings to the organization over a decade’s worth of experience in education ranging from after-school creative writing and enrichment programs, to public school and classroom partnership projects, to Teaching English as a Foreign Language. She is a strong believer in and supporter of youth empowerment, literacy advocacy, and community involvement. She is passionate about books and storytelling. She loves to read them, write them, and get them into the hands of others. Even more, she is dedicated to writing and talking story with people from all walks of life to encourage the writing and storytelling process, especially with those who do not consider themselves “writers” or “someone with a story” and those from communities or with perspectives rarely given space to be witnessed.
Ruthie Moore, Citywide Youth Council Director
Fun Fact: Ruthie has never been to a Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant.
With a passion for youth development and empowerment, Ruthie brings over a decade of experience to Mikva. Prior to joining Mikva as the Director of the Chicago Housing Authority’s youth council, she worked extensively with juvenile offenders in a multitude of capacities. Ruthie’s areas of interest include: public health interventions, restorative justice practices and civic engagement techniques.
Joan Ogwumike, Development Coordinator
Fun Fact: Joan lived in The Netherlands at a young age for 5 years, and can only remember how to say Good morning and Good afternoon in Dutch.
Joan comes to Mikva challenge with a Journalism background, and experiences in development and grant administration. With a passion for the concept of funding, Joan researches prospective donors and assists Mikva’s development team in all aspects of funding research and donor relations. Joan holds a Bachelor’s in Mass Communication – Journalism, with a minor in Political Science from Purdue University, and a Master’s in Public Administration from University of Illinois at Springfield.
Josh Prudowsky, Chief Special Projects Officer
Fun Fact: Josh loves airplane food.
Josh comes to Mikva Challenge with a public health background. Born and raised in Chicago, Josh has done electoral and community organizing as well as other work in the public health sector. At Mikva Challenge Josh has the privilege of working with a variety of programs that include the Teen Health Council, Elections, and Democracy in Action. He is always looking to learn something new.
Jorge Pule, Program Manager
Fun Fact: Jorge loves writing poetry.
Jorge comes to Mikva Challenge with a Political Science background and a strong passion for education equality. As a program manager, he works with students in Peace and Leadership Councils to help them become more engaged in their schools, communities, and government. Jorge has worked with non-profits such as Enlace Chicago and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization; this prior work with community organizations has helped him bring a community organizing perspective to his work at Mikva.
Ken Porter, Elections Program Coordinator
Fun Fact: Ken builds and salvages computers in his spare time
Ken comes to Mikva Challenge with a convergent media background and has served over five years in the Navy as a Logistics Specialist. He's an alumnus of the Democracy in Action curriculum, completed two civics fair projects and helped win a grant for an anti-violence campaign at his school. Ken cares most about issues that low-income communities are faced with, and has participated in community campaigns that have targeted housing, the environment, and education issues. He now works with Mikva's Elections in Action program to provide opportunities for students to experience the exciting demands of political campaigns and electoral politics
Kelly Rolf, Chief Development Officer
Fun Fact: Kelly is a native Hoosier and loves John Mellencamp.
Kelly leads Mikva’s Development and Communications team. She enjoys working with Board members, stakeholders, and staff to raise support for Mikva’s high-impact civic leadership and youth voice programs. Beyond her fundraising work she enjoys door-knocking with students on the campaign trail and watching youth leaders in action at the annual Civics Fair and Project Soapbox Public Speaking Competition. Kelly earned a degree in English from Columbia University and worked in the publishing and the nonprofit sectors in New York before joining Mikva in 2008.
Valonda Roberts, College Connections Initiative Program Manager
Fun Fact: Valonda works with young ladies around performing arts and discipleships at her church.
Valonda was born and raised on the Westside of Chicago. She is a proud Mikva alumnus who has participated in countless Mikva programs and events. She is passionate about youth development and empowering youth to take ownership of their dreams. Valonda holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Sociology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and a Master’s Degree from the University of Illinois Springfield in Public Administration. She leads Mikva's College Connections Initiative to support first generation and underserved youth in applying to and staying in college.
Steven Rosado, Senior Program Director
Fun Fact: When he was a teenager, Steven was in a commercial with Michael Jordan.
Steven comes to Mikva Challenge with a background in youth development, education, and college readiness programs. As Teacher Based Program Coordinator, he is working with the Mikva Teen Health Council on the development of student-created health and wellness programs and health and wellness marketing campaigns across a number of CPS schools. He is also serving as a coordinator for the Mikva Student Judge program during the 2014 midterm and 2015 mayoral elections. Steven has worked in youth development and education for the past decade and brings a strong passion to working with young people to Mikva Challenge.
Maliha Sadiq, Communications Director
Fun Fact: Maliha loves to cook REALLY spicy food
Maliha comes to Mikva Challenge with a journalism background and a passion for social justice. As the Communications Director, she manages Mikva’s web and social media presence while also serving as an on-the-ground reporter for programs and documenting powerful youth stories. Maliha has worked in the education sector and the non-profit world both in Pakistan and the United States and brings a global perspective to Mikva’s work and our youth.
Abigail Simon, Democracy in Action Program Coordinator
Fun Fact: Abby has an inexplicable love for cows
With a background in education, Abby comes to Mikva eager to support teachers implementing Mikva curriculum in their classrooms. Abby is committed to being an ally and partner in young people’s efforts to learn about and take action on issues that affect them. For the past two years, she's worked with first-generation youth of color and their families to facilitate their efforts to access higher education. In all of her work, Abby is fervent in her commitment to education as a mode of empowerment and as a way to highlight young people’s brilliance.
Catalina Salley, Chief Operations Officer
Fun Fact: Catalina volunteers rescuing, adopting and training retired racing greyhounds and Spanish galgos.
Catalina joined the staff at Mikva in April of 2011. She oversees operations at Mikva with extensive background and focus on finance, accounting, human resources, information technology, and administration. She has over fifteen years of executive leadership experience in not for profit organizations including healthcare and education. Additionally, she worked in the private sector for eleven years in General Management and Business Operations.
Chanta Williams, Individual Giving Manager
Fun Fact: Chanta is a long time member of the BeyHive and refuses to miss a Beyonce concert!
Chanta comes to Mikva with experience in donor relations, events management, and communications. As Individual Giving Manager she oversees Mikva’s individual giving portfolio and events management. She loves studying trends in charitable giving and is particularly fascinated by the philanthropic behaviors of the millennial generation. She is a Mikva alumna and looks forward to increasing alumni giving. Chanta holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Spelman College.
Adam Zanolini, Institutional Giving Manager
Fun Fact: Adam loves astronomy
Adam Zanolini is the Institutional Giving Manager. Before joining Mikva, Adam administered grants for the University of Chicago and for several performing arts non-profits in New York City and Chicago. He has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and he has earned a doctorate in music with a certificate in Africana studiesat the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.