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Opening Plenary
9:30 - 9:40 AM

Schedule & Agenda

9:00 - 9:30 AM

MENTORing Mingle

Grab your drink of choice and head to the chat to meet and mingle with fellow attendees!

9:30 - 10:15 AM

Morning Keynote Plenary
Presented by: Brenda Jimenez (MENTOR New York)
Sonia Manzano (actress, author, and screenwriter) &
Janai Gilkes (NYC Department for the Aging)

10:15 - 10:25 AM


10:25 - 11:25 AM

Workshop - Building an Expertise Ecosystem
Presented by: Alisa France-Hazle (ELVYN TREE)

Entering into a new role, switching to a new company, or being promoted to an elevated position is never easy. The learning curve can be overwhelming for mentees, leaving them feeling out of depth. The key lies in shifting the focus from what they don't know to recognizing and leveraging what they do know. Let's zero in on mentees' strengths—both tangible and transferable.

A very helpful tool we’ll explore to help mentees map all their skills and strengths into one place is an “Expertise Ecosystem”. Mentors will gain insights on discussing mentees' skills and strengths, whether aligned with professional goals or personal attributes, to clearly define their expertise. Going a step further, we'll explore how this understanding can help mentees combat imposter syndrome. Mentors will walk away feeling equipped to coach their mentees through their personal and professional journey, centering their authentic selves in the process.

Workshop - Let's Talk About It: Coming Together for Youth Mental Health
Presented by: Sandra Nanita and Jessica Brady (The Opportunity Network)

In this workshop, we'll collectively reimagine ways to prioritize the emotional and mental well-being of the communities we support, especially young people from historically and systematically marginalized communities. We'll explore practices that center self-care and community care across group settings, 1:1 advising sessions, and in stand-alone resources. Participants will engage in a mix of individual reflection and small group peer conversations to advance our collective efforts to promote wellness in our communities.

11:25 - 11:35 AM


11:35 AM - 12:20 PM

I am? Exploring the Impact of Identity Development on Success
Dr. Rolanda L. Ward (Niagara University), Altagracia Montilla (A.M. Consulting), Dr. María Isabel Villegas (New York City Department of Education)

Join Dr. Rolanda Ward, Dr. María Villegas, and Altagracia Montilla in a dynamic discussion on infusing culturally relevant curriculums and supports to build identity. Discover how this approach strengthens and propels desired outcomes for young people, including increased confidence, reduced internalizing symptoms, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors—goals central to mentoring programs.

12:20 - 12:30 PM


12:30 - 1:30 PM

Workshop - Cultivating “Maroon Space” for Authentic Youth Empowerment & Liberation
Presented by: Tasha Grant (Maroon Theatre Project)

Explore the profound impact of fostering authentic and affirming spaces for youth in our collective pursuit of liberation. Recognizing the pivotal role youth workers can play in nurturing critical consciousness, especially for multi-marginalized youth navigating a world that challenges their calls for resistance, this session invites participants to delve into the concept of "maroon space"—an emancipated sanctuary where young people boldly confront, analyze, and challenge oppressive systems.

Inspired by our ancestors who sought liberation in physical and spiritual spaces free from oppression, we examine the contemporary relevance of cultivating “maroon space” in today's politically challenging environment for marginalized youth. Participants will gain insights into the profound impact of critical consciousness on young peoples' self-perception, liberation practices, and overall survival in spaces where they are not always seen for who they truly are. Together, we will move beyond the notions of safe and brave spaces to embrace the transformative and radical realm of “maroon space”, emphasizing relationship-building, centering youth voice, truth-telling, power-sharing, trust, and integrity. Join us in the essential work of elevating your understanding and practice to create environments where youth can thrive authentically in their pursuit of empowerment and liberation.

Workshop - From the Performative to the Transformative: Creating Space for Authentic Youth-Adult Partnerships
Presented by: Cecily Mitchell-Harper (Student Success Network)

In his keynote address at the 2021 Reimagining the Future of Afterschool Conference, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, youth educator and scholar, posed the following question, “How can our youth work shift our society from trauma to transformation?” Dr. Ginwright’s question invites us to critically reflect on how we can best partner with young people, particularly those who are most oppressed and marginalized, on the journey towards a more equitable and sustainable future. Additionally, his question is a call to action to transform our existing relationships with young people from performative and transactional to authentic and equitable.

Within the context of youth mentoring programs, the buzz around transforming engagement with young people is palpable, fueled by a desire to do things differently. However, programs are
facing the hard reality that authentically partnering with youth is complex, challenging, and messy—and rushing into action without sufficient reflection can inadvertently perpetuate existing inequities.

During this session, we'll utilize the lenses of Transformative SEL and Relational Authenticity to explore the challenges and opportunities that exist in authentically partnering with young people. Participants will be invited to approach this work with a continuous improvement lens, ensuring learned strategies align with the specific context of developing and sustaining these partnerships. 

1:30 - 2:00 PM


Enjoy $25 off your order, courtesy of Postmates.

2:00 - 2:45 PM

Youth Panel
Presented by: Joie Golomb (MENTOR New York)
With: Michael Brisbane (Children's Arts and Science Workshops), Malik Sowe, Lapray Hunt, and Malik Mason 

Join Michael Brisbane, Director of Programs at Children's Arts and Science Workshops, and young people from Bronx River Community Center as they discuss their experiences taking part in the intergenerational initiative, My New York Story.

2:45 - 3:00 PM


Speaker Bios

Sonia Manzano

Sonia Manzano is an acclaimed actress, author, and screenwriter. She is the creator of the hit PBS Kid's show Alma's Way, renowned for her iconic role as "Maria" on Sesame Street, along with authoring several engaging YA novels and children's picture books.

Manzano was raised in the South Bronx where her involvement in the arts was inspired by teachers who encouraged her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. She was accepted there and began her career as an actress. A scholarship took her to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and in her junior year, she came to New York to star in the original production of the off-Broadway show Godspell. Within a year, Manzano joined the production of Sesame Street, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series. She was thrilled to help write the storyline for “Maria’s” marriage and birth of “Maria’s” baby, played for a while by Manzano’s real-life daughter Gabriela.

Manzano has performed on the New York stage in the critically acclaimed theater pieces The Vagina Monologues, The Exonerated, Love Loss, and What I Wore. Her movies include Deathwish, Follow That Bird, and Elmo in Grouchland. She is an advisor for the literary NY Institution Symphony Space and is often a reader for Selected Shorts and their adult literacy program All-Write.

Manzano has written for the Peabody Award-winning children’s series, Little Bill, as well as a parenting column for the Sesame Workshop website called Talking Out Loud. Her children’s book, No Dogs Allowed!, was published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in 2004. In 2005, General Mills, selected No Dogs Allowed! for their "Spoonfuls of Stories" series. Over one million copies of No Dogs Allowed! were given away in cereal boxes courtesy of General Mills. No Dogs Allowed! has since been turned into a children’s musical, with productions at the Actor’s Playhouse in Coral Gables, Florida, and the Atlantic Theater in New York.

Manzano's second book, A Box Full Of Kittens, was published in 2007. Her first young adult novel entitled The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, published by Scholastic, was a Pura Belpre Honor. Other books include the memoir Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, and Miracle on 133rd Street. Manzano donated her services to the Bronx Children’s Museum by writing the picture book, The Lowdown on the Highbridge, and has volunteered for the Bronx River Alliance. She enjoys traveling the country, giving comedic speeches with substance.

Alisa France-Hazle

As Founder and Principal Consultant/Coach of ELVYN TREE Coaching & Consulting, Alisa France-Hazle partners with BIPOC professionals and the organizations that need them, to maximize their capacity for leadership with social justice at its core.


Alisa is a space curator, maximizer, and creative idea generator. With over 10 years of non-profit experience, Alisa has worked in a coaching and counseling capacity—both internally and externally—around professional development, management, and anti-racism and anti-oppression. She has appeared at various speaking engagements and conferences discussing equity, inclusion, and social justice in nonprofit management, organizational leadership, and youth development. Alisa holds a Master of Arts in Education Policy from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a minor in African American studies, from Howard University.

Tasha Grant

Tasha Grant (she/they) is a Black queer and non-binary social justice educator, applied theatre practitioner, youth and cultural worker hailing from Newark, New Jersey. With a wealth of experience in education, activism, youth development, and the arts, Tasha has served as a facilitator, devised theatre director, teaching artist, high school teacher, and college professor.

As the founding Artistic Director of Maroon Theatre Project, a New Jersey-based social justice theatre program, Tasha is deeply committed to fostering critical consciousness, activism, and healing in youth through the arts. Central to her mission is the uplifting of Black girls, queer, transgender, and gender-expansive youth of color, fostering inclusive environments for those who navigate intersecting layers of marginalization. Tasha redefines the boundaries of theatre-making and education, placing importance on the social-emotional growth of young people, granting them access to both social justice education and political empowerment.

An ardent advocate for equity and justice, Tasha actively challenges anti-Blackness and inequity entrenched within educational, non-profit, and cultural spheres. Beyond her work with Maroon Theatre Project, Tasha recently designed and taught a course called Equity, Justice, and Education in the United States at Drew University. She also serves as an editor for the American Alliance for Theatre & Education’s Youth Theatre Journal and is a member of Gamma Xi Phi, a professional fraternity for artists and creatives. Tasha holds a BA from Utica University in Psychology with a minor in Theatre and an MA in Educational Theatre for Colleges and Communities from New York University. 

Cecily Mitchell-Harper

Cecily is a NYS Licensed Social Worker with a passion and specialty for integrating research into practice, with a particular focus on developing transformative practices and processes to support programs that serve racially marginalized youth and families. She practices with an anti-oppressive, anti-racist, and decolonial lens.

Cecily received her BA in Psychology from Wesleyan University, and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice. As a seasoned Licensed Social Worker, Cecily has extensive experience practicing in various settings, including schools, human service organizations, and research centers. Cecily has clinical experience providing trauma-informed therapeutic services to children and families including those involved in the child-welfare system. Additionally, Cecily has several years of experience providing technical assistance and evaluation expertise to strengthen program capacity and inform programmatic decision-making in youth-serving non-profit organizations, utilizing an anti-oppressive, racial equity lens.

Cecily currently provides professional development training, coaching, and consultation services to youth-serving non-profit organizations. Her areas of expertise include creating healing-centered organizational practices and cultures to support holistic well-being, supporting direct service staff in their own healing from secondary/vicarious trauma, and utilizing a continuous improvement framework to support institutional change. Additionally, Cecily is an active member of the NYS Chapter of NASW, where she serves on the NASW, NYS Revolutionize Leadership Team and provides continuing education and professional development for NYS Social Workers. Furthermore, Cecily has presented at various professional conferences and events, is a Certified Field Instructor for graduate Social Work students, and has received invitations to teach within schools of Social Work including Adelphi University School of Social Work and Mercy University.

Janai Gilkes

Janai Gilkes is the director of the Foster Grandparents Program at the New York City Department for the Aging, where she oversees almost 200 senior citizen volunteers who receive a stipend from AmeriCorps to mentor and tutor children in a variety of educational settings, including public schools, Head Start programs, children’s hospitals, and family courts.

Janai says, “This program taps into the intergenerational need to drive changes and outcomes in the lives of both children and older adults by implementing practices and curricula for how volunteers engage with students—and together, the Foster Grandparent Program is fostering healthy and productive outcomes to bridge the intergenerational divide.”

Jessica Brady

As Associate Director of Partnerships and Community Learning at The Opportunity Network (OppNet), Jessica works alongside the Partnerships team to manage Career Fluency® best practices for OppNet’s partner organizations nationwide, focusing on building institutional capacity among frontline staff and leaders. Additionally, she has presented on OppNet's work as a speaker at numerous conferences, including the National Partnership for Education Access National Conference, National College Access Network National Conference, New York State Association for College Admission Counseling Annual Conference, College Access Consortium of New York convenings, and NYC's Department of Education College Access for All professional development sessions. She previously served as the Career Fluency® Programs Manager and the Communications Coordinator at OppNet. Jessica has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Sandra Nanita

As Associate Director of Partnerships and Wellness, Sandra Nanita supports OppNet’s community and capacity-building Career Fluency® Partnerships program. In this role, Sandra drives educational equity and opportunity for students and communities by way of partnerships with schools and community-based organizations across the country to enhance their postsecondary and career readiness learning. Prior to OppNet, Sandra served as an Assistant Director of Programs at Cool Culture, an Evaluation Consultant for Net Impact NYC and a Youth Group Facilitator for Resilience Advocacy Project.

Rolanda L. Ward

Dr. Rolanda L. Ward has been an associate professor at Niagara University since 2015. In August 2017, she was named endowed faculty director of Niagara University’s Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission. Dr. Ward earned her doctorate in social work and sociology, a master's in divinity, and a master's in social work from Boston University.

As a macro-trained practitioner and a research scholar, she has been the lead investigator or research associate on a number of studies focusing on society's most vulnerable, underserved, proven-risk, and oppressed populations and communities. In addition, Dr. Ward has led projects in communities and within organizations that shift status quo outcomes. These days, she is particularly interested in working with school districts and non-profits to produce measurable outcomes for key demographics. Dr. Ward is a strategic planner, relentless advocate, and community learner. She is a content expert in child welfare, equitable practices for educational systems, health equity, criminal justice, and civic engagement. 


Dr. Ward is also a member of the board of directors at MENTOR New York, The Aquarium of Niagara Falls, Community Missions, Inc., The Education Collaborative of WNY, and Catholic Health Systems. Dr. Ward co-led the university’s Identifying and Dismantling Racial Injustice Task Force and Niagara Falls Social Justice Commission Employment Subcommittee. As a teacher-scholar, Dr. Ward is committed to helping students and community members identify social injustices that warrant real solutions.

Altagracia Montilla

Altagracia Montilla was born and raised in the South Bronx, New York City. She credits her brilliant, vibrant, resilient, and spirited community for the power that she wields in the world. She is an unapologetically queer woman of color. Her life and her work have always been about being a challenger of status quos and oppressive systems. After spending over a decade helping mission-driven organizations better align with their values, Altagracia founded A.M. Consulting based on this truth:

“It is not the lack of ideas, talent, or resources that hinder organizational success, but rather the absence of brave cultures that encourage collaboration, creativity, and thriving team members.”

Altagracia is the founder and CEO of A.M. Consulting, where she supports mission-driven organizations to become the change that they want to see in the world. Altagracia’s firm is at the forefront of a movement toward better-connected workplaces that center humanity. She works with over 50 holistic practitioners to help organizations facilitate the important and nuanced conversations needed to fulfill their missions and achieve their goals. Altagracia is also the founder of Freedom Readers Book Club, the world's only virtual book club connecting individuals across the globe committed to social justice, creating a space for transformative community healing. Some of her community work includes sitting on the Board of the YWCA- Princeton and being the Board Chair of the NYC arts education organization, Spark House. Altagracia’s personal mission is to support others in unleashing the power within to create positive change.

Michael Brisbane

Michael Brisbane, affectionately known to many as "Coach Mike", serves as the Director of Programs at Children's Arts and Science Workshops and is deeply rooted in the vibrant community of Bronx River Community Center. MENTOR New York's collaboration with Coach Mike and the young people he works with daily—some of whom will join our youth panel—started during an intergenerational mentoring initiative called "My New York Story." In partnership with the Bronx River Senior Center, the program was designed to bridge generational divides, challenge ageism, and foster meaningful connections between young people and older adults in the community.

In addition to being a facilitator of "My New York Story," Michael was Head Coach for the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) program, Friday Night Lights, as well as a mentor to youth taking part in the Young Men's Initiative.

Dr. María Isabel Villegas

Dr. María Isabel Villegas has been a systems-level leader for 16 years dedicated to providing equitable learning opportunities for marginalized communities. As a social justice leader, she believes that educators have a moral responsibility to create conditions that empower all children to realize their full potential.

Her transformational journey has contributed to the intentionality behind leadership practices that seek to unveil the prevailing societal injustices through comprehensive professional as well as educational experiences. As such, research-based practices have been used to elevate the work of internalizing the lived experiences of educators and their inherent personal biases to unpack their impact on children and the implementation of comprehensive culturally responsive teaching and learning.

Ultimately, this work has influenced the design of socially just curricula inclusive of identity, diversity, justice, and action that delves into exposing children to the history behind their cultures to ensure that they see the potential within themselves despite the oppressive forces that influence their achievement. The progression and implementation of interdisciplinary curriculum has provided the landscape for scholars to excel academically and socially, while nurturing the voices they so aptly use to convey their knowledge of society. Consequently, the goal of overcoming societal dilemmas by strategically dismantling the status quo remains at the core of Dr. Villegas’ work as a leader within the realm of education.

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