For formal key staff bios, click here.

Jennifer Mitchell

Jennifer Mitchell

Executive Director

I have been working in the field of workforce development for over 2 decades and I love it!  Before entering the field, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bluefields, Nicaragua for 2 1/2 years. I have a Masters of Public Administration from Columbia University and a BA in Sociology and Environmental Policy from Binghamton University. I am on the board of the NYCETC and active member of the PTA. I married my high school sweetheart and we have two boys.


Jhanay abrams

Manager of Individual Giving and Special Events  

I am thrilled be a part of the HOPE family! I look forward to applying my development, events and marketing experience to help make a difference in the lives of our students and graduates.  I have my Masters in Public Administration from Pace University and a BS in Marketing from Central Connecticut State University. When I’m not at HOPE, I enjoy spending time with family, playing basketball and cooking.


Ejaz Adams

Digital Literacy Instructor

I have been working technology & support for more than a decade. My special interest is in technology and its effect on academic performance. I am an adjunct professor at CUNY School of Professional Studies, NYC College of Technology, and a Technology Instructor at BMCC. I hold an MS in Information Systems from Pace University and a BA in Statistics & Applied Psychology. If I find free time, I enjoy travel and photography with my family.


Desma Bidjou-Kerekes

Human Resources Administrator  


Danielle Boyce

Work Readiness Instructor  

I have a heart for maximizing the potential of others. It is my life mission to show up in each moment as authentic and as compassionate as I can. My role as Workforce Readiness Instructor supports this mission. I believe that’s the way to give myself and others the freedom and support to be the best version of themselves. I am actively pursuing a degree in Business Marketing, and I take special interest in International Business Affairs & Finance. In my spare time, I write music, read and engage in artistic expression. I enjoy being in nature, staying active, and making the most out of every moment of my life.



Chief Development and Evaluation Officer

I believe in the power of storytelling, so I love working with graduates to share their stories of personal transformation. I have been working in Development at HOPE since 2011. I have an MPA from Baruch College and a BA in French. I serve on the board of College and Community Fellowship and as a volunteer for New Sanctuary Coalition. In the summer, you can catch me walking into the office in my bicycle helmet.


kenneth brown



Danny Castro

Employment Specialist

I proudly help create positive changes in the community I was born and raised in. I am a graduate of the SSBx green collar training. Now I help connect future graduates to gainful employment opportunities. When I am not in the office, you can find me expressing myself musically through live performances, or indulging in my love for tranquility and nature by camping and hiking mountains.


Alexander Davis

Retention Associate

I am a proud true New Yorker (born and raised). My passion is helping individuals with overcoming their barriers and achieving their goals. I obtained my BA in Communications from Virginia Union University. The HOPE Program allows me to continue my passion and be a part of an amazing team that prepares members of our communities with the skills and development to enter/re-enter the workforce.

Reggie Dawsom


Work Readiness Instructor

I am very pleased and proud when a student lands employment. I am a proud graduate of Howard University. I play and teach chess, a wonderful way to impart strategy, problem solving, and creative thinking in adversarial situations. An avid reader, I average two books a month - one fiction and one non-fiction. I am the product of great parents. I continue to learn from them.


Ivan Diaz

CoolRoofs Crew Co-Supervisor


Suveyda Dumanli

Clinical Admissions Coordinator

As an immigrant who is familiar with the various challenges of New York City, I am more than thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome individuals who walk through our doors to build sustainable futures. My passion for serving our community and helping people is what brought me to where I am today. I joined HOPE in 2018 as a graduate Mental Health Counseling intern and I am honored to be part of the team. I hold an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling from Long Island University and a B.A. in Psychology from Pace University. In my spare time, I enjoy riding my bike and exploring nature.


Work Readiness Instructor

I am a compassionate person by nature, so it is only fitting that I would be drawn to the field of Human Services.  I possess a degree from The Metropolitan College of New York in human services and over a decade of experience in the field. I am honored to be a part of the HOPE team. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling to sunny locales with my wife for kayaking and zip lining, reading sci-fi and praying for a New York Knicks championship!

David Flemming


Technology Instructor

During a 30 year career in music, I performed and produced albums, singles and television and radio broadcast commercials. I have been HOPE’s Technology Instructor since 2011, providing the technical skills necessary for finding work, applying for work, and for the modern workplace. I have always been an athlete, with a particular focus in my “older years” on the all-consuming game of golf on public courses throughout the region.

Elyssa Gersen-Thurman

Elyssa Gersen

Director of Work Readiness and Work Wellness Services

I have been working in the field of counseling and vocational rehabilitation since 1991. I am a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I love my job at HOPE, especially teaching Work Wellness to our students. I also enjoy spending time with my husband and our son, seeing films, studying French, and traveling. 



Finance Associate

As a New York City native and a product of Mexican immigrant parents, I am grateful to be pursuing a career in Finance that is driven by social justice and community betterment. I have a passion for process and solutions driven work, and a keen interest in ethics and honesty in finance and accounting. I am analytical and meticulous, and am excited to bring these skills to the non profit sector. I graduated from Pace University with a degree in Finance in 2016, and have practiced TaeKwonDo for 15 years.


Jaffrey Gotay

Case Manager

Born and raised in the Bronx I did not see many opportunities offered in my community. When I went away to college in Massachusetts, I really began to live outside of my Bronx bubble and realized that there was so much more out there. I got my BA in Sociology from Boston College with the hopes of being able to help others. I worked retail (mostly management) for 10 years. I later transitioned to workforce development where I recruited for many large companies. I have a passion for helping others so becoming a Case Manager for a company like HOPE was the next best step in my career.



Director of Recruitment

After working a variety of roles in nonprofit organizations, I witnessed how injustice manifests itself through poverty. I am honored to be working for HOPE since our graduates are equipped to combat poverty by building sustainable careers. When I'm not working, I enjoy attending concerts to discover new and upcoming artists.


Sandra Grayman

Administrative Coordinator

I am a HOPE graduate. I am a lifelong New Yorker and have spent many years raising my three children in the Bronx. I’m really proud to be part of an organization that promotes the preservation of the Bronx and New York City.  I have learned a lot about the importance in going green (cleaning products, composting and recycling) for sustainability. Singing is one of my greatest passions.

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Craig Gray

Government Grants Assistant

My favorite part of working at The HOPE Program is hearing the bell ring when someone gets a job. Everyone in the office starts clapping and cheering! It’s the best! I enjoy working behind the scenes as part of the finance team because I know the work we are doing supports the programs that make HOPE one of the premier workforce development organizations in New York City. In my free time I love exploring Brooklyn, volunteering, and seeing as much live music as possible.

Shaniqua Greene

Shaniqua Greene

Administrative Coordinator 

I’m a HOPE graduate and I’ve been employed at HOPE since 2008. What I like most about my job is being the first point of contact with applicants because I get to tell them how great HOPE is and how it would benefit them. I love home improvement shows and would love to be an interior designer someday.


Eliana Greenwald

Development Associate

I believe that workforce development is crucial for creating a high quality of life in marginalized communities, so I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to work on HOPE's Development team. I have a BA in Political Science from Emory University in Atlanta, where I grew up. When I'm not in the office, you can find me jogging, enjoying nature, or exploring the city.


Shakira Hart

Employment Specialist

 My passion for education and driving success for those around me have led me to three flourishing years working in Education and Workforce Development. Prior experience has been in Healthcare and the Social Work field. Assisting others has always been a passion of mine as I consider myself as a “Natural Nurturer”. I have two Master’s degrees in Sociology from Brooklyn College and Education Counseling from Manhattan College. I am currently pursuing my Doctorate of Education specializing in Leadership and Management through Capella University. Fun Fact- I taught abroad in China for 1.5 years and speaking conversational Mandarin.


Gentian Haxhillari

Chief Financial and Operating Officer

A strong back office is crucial to the success of any mission driven organization. I take great pleasure in helping strengthen and being part of a growing team of professionals who strive to get ever more New Yorkers into the path to a sustainable career. 

Having been connected with the non-profit world for over a decade, I became a part of HOPE in 2018.  I have an MBA from  Baruch College (CUNY), and a BS in Management Systems Engineering from the Turkish Military Academy. I enjoy running and photography. 


Avalon hoek Spaans

Horticulture Superintendent, Intervine

I am passionate about creating sustainable development through green infrastructure! I love using gardening and horticultural work to connect with local communities and strengthen food security and community resilience. I have a MA in Climate and Society from Columbia University and a BS in Environmental Science and Humanitarian Assistance from the University of Florida (Go Gators!) I am very excited to be apart of the HOPE team and work together to green NYC.

Felicia Jones

Felicia Jones

Work Readiness Instructor

My mom always knew I’d be a teacher someday. My first teaching job was with out of school youth between the ages of 16 and 22. I have a Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice. My favorite things to do are listen to music, dance and try new food dishes.


Kelly LoBianco

Chief Program Officer

For me, working is synonymous with serving my community. I joined HOPE in 2017 after a decade as a public servant. I love that the HOPE team and our programs support New Yorkers in advancing along a career pathway while also contributing to the environmental health and sustainability of our city. I hold a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Studies from Northwestern University. Outside the office, I enjoy running, public radio, horror films, and modern art. 

Sheryl Jones


Senior Employment Specialist

I'm a HOPE graduate and I’ve worked at HOPE since 2002. I’m proud to be a mom and a caregiver. I love giving back, particularly watching clients step out with pride and a smile. I have always enjoyed watching my children learn from my grandmother, their great grandmother who lived to be 103 years old. I love cooking with my children


Chaquana Lyons

Sr. Finance Manager

As a self-driven finance professional, I’m excited about utilizing accounting to help further important causes that I believe in. Having spent four years as an Internal Auditor at two of the Big Four public accounting firms, I decided to follow my passion for community service in the nonprofit sector. After working with a diverse range of NGOs and obtaining an MS in Accounting, I’ve gained valuable experience that I’m using to help better serve my community. When I’m not crunching numbers or streamlining processes, I’m out seeing the world. I’ve traveled to 13 countries (most at least twice!) and look forward to adding more to my list.

Brandon Martin

DEEPTHI Katragadda

Salesforce System Administrator

I was born in a small rural village and grew up seeing my family educating people. Since completing my Master of Technology and starting my career as an IT engineer, I have been searching for a challenging role utilizing my technical skills for a meaningful purpose. Finally, I joined HOPE.  I am extremely happy to use my programming and CRM skills to reduce poverty.


Karen-Michelle Mirko

Director of Employment and Graduate Services

Michele Knox

Michele Knox

Brooklyn Program Director

My passion is helping HOPE trainees achieve their goals, and I love watching them celebrate their successes! I have an MBA  in Industrial & Organizational Psychology and a Bachelors of Business Administration, both from Baruch College. I am a former competitive natural bodybuilder, but today my hobby is theater, working as an actor and stage manager whenever I can!


Robert Morales

Facilities and Kitchen Coordinator

 I am a graduate of HOPE’s CoolRoofs program. HOPE changed my life for the better in so many ways. I’ve experienced my own personal challenges in life and HOPE played an important role in my professional development. I am now employed as the Facilities and Kitchen coordinator and enjoy every part of my job, especially connecting with current students and graduates. When I’m not at work I enjoy trying new restaurants throughout NYC .


Linda Nguyen

Director of Digital Literacy

I love what I do at HOPE! The technology space is constantly changing and I am excited to teach these new skills and build our digital training for New Yorkers who come through our doors. As a native New Yorker myself, I am passionate about serving my community and uplifting people through the work that I do. I have a B.A. in Political Science from The City College of New York. When I'm not working, you can find me on a hiking trail or in my kitchen exploring new recipes.


Zakiyah Sayyed

Operations Manager, NYC °CoolRoofs


Tiara Williams

Bronx Program Director

What I love most about workforce development and social service is seeing the progression and accomplishments of people. As a lifelong New Yorker, I've spent a decade providing job and training opportunities to Bronx residents via private, federal and nonprofit programs. I hold a Masters of Public Administration from Metropolitan College of New York and a Bachelors of Arts from Plattsburgh State University. I'm passionate about community organizing, community revitalization and connecting individuals to resources that provide them with access to a sustainable future. 


Patience Oluwole

CoolRoofs Operations Manager

“I am because we are" summarizes my passion for the workforce field. I am a native Bronxite and have seen the impact of lack of opportunities in struggling communities. The South Bronx has so much potential for growth, but its inhabitants need the skills to obtain career advancement. I am grateful to be a part of a team committed to impacting individuals within my community. I graduated from Smith College with a double Bachelors Degree in Government and Cultural Anthropology. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Business Management and Leadership at CUNY School of Professional Studies.


Toby Sheppard Bloch

Chief Venture Officer

I have been taking things apart to see how they work for as long as I can remember. Repairing machines from farm machinery to electronics holds almost endless interest for me. Before joining HOPE /SSBx, I owned and operated a successful general contracting company in NYC. I have a B.A. in History from Reed College, and I am an accredited Green Roof Professional


Aurieona Williams

CoolRoofs Crew Co-Supervisor


Paulette Peters

Transitional Employment Program Assistant

I am a graduate of The HOPE Program which changed my life, I get to experience meeting new people. I am now employed as the CoolRoofs Transitional Employment Program Assistant, which is located in the Bronx. During my spare time, I love volunteering, cooking and singing also, spending time with my family and friends.


Rachel Taylor

Employment Specialist

I started at HOPE in 2016 as graduate Mental Health Counseling intern! I have always wanted to be in a profession were I can make a positive impact on peoples' lives. I have a B.S. in Public Health from SUNY Old Westbury and an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling from Long Island University Brooklyn. I love that my education allows me to get the best of both worlds helping people with their physical and mental health. I am thrilled to be part of an amazing staff where everyone strives to improve the lives of so many people though job readiness training. I also enjoy traveling and spending time with my family.



Development Assistant

I know that I am special and there's no one else out there that's like me... so enjoy! I am a HOPE graduate, recent HSE recipient and now employed as the Development Assistant here at The HOPE Program. My goal is to support others from all walks of life to reach their potential. Finally, it wouldn't hurt to travel to amazing places, continue to meet wonderful people, finish my education and eventually settle down and enjoy the person I have become.


Billy Puma

Admissions Coordinator

For me, giving individuals the tools for positive advancement within their lives is beyond exciting, and here at HOPE, I am honored to assist our students with those tools from the recruitment perspective. I have previously worked as a College Administrative Assistant, providing young adults in a maximum secure facility the opportunity to complete their post-secondary education via Columbia Greene Community College. I have an A.A from Columbia Greene Community College and am currently completing a Bachelors in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 



Mindfulness Educator

I've been working as a Wellness Coach, Therapist, and Educator since 2006 and integrate mindfulness into each of these different roles. I love helping people learn mindfulness tools, to see challenges as opportunities, and to find a place of peace and "okayness" amidst the inevitable stresses of life. I am currently writing and illustrating a children's book about mindfulness just for fun!


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