Staff

Jim Wambach

Executive Director

As Executive Director, Jim is responsible for guiding the overall growth and strategic development of Children Rising’s contributions to closing the achievement gap in urban public schools. He draws on his 35 years of corporate and nonprofit executive leadership experience, and a passion for helping to change the trajectory of young lives through improved education and enhanced community support.

Jim, like everyone at Children Rising, begins every day knowing there are so many of our children and youth at a personal crossroad of promise and risk – smart and eager to learn, yet trying desperately to escape the cycle of poverty, education inequality and social injustice surrounding them. He is grateful for the opportunity to combine his passion for helping underserved children and youth with his years of successful business experience so Children Rising might empower as many of these children as possible.

Jim is from Cincinnati, Ohio and graduated from The Ohio State University. He moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest in 2001 and is married with 4 children and 6 grandchildren.

Chelsea Boniak

Director of Development and Finance

As Director of Development and Finance, Chelsea works to ensure the Children Rising programs are fully funded to provide as many children as possible with life changing support from the community. Chelsea has been with Children Rising since its early years and has truly been part of the fabric of the organization. In 2003 she contributed as an administrative assistant, which evolved over time to include event planning, fundraising, grant writing, donor cultivation, finance and human resources. Chelsea earned her sociology degree from UCLA, and is passionate about supporting the community by providing opportunities to invest in children and youth. She was raised, educated and still lives in Oakland with her husband and two young children.

Jeannette Brantley

Succeeding by Reading

Associate Program Coordinator

As a Reading Clinic Coordinator in the Succeeding by Reading program, Jeannette is responsible for coordinating and hosting four weekly reading clinics at school sites with the OUSD. Jeannette draws on the skills gained from 25 plus years of a career in social service work and 15 years in secondary education, both of which serve her well in her current position a Reading Clinic Coordinator with SbR. With a social work major with a minor in education, Jeannette's working life has been in the non-profit sector, working primarily with marginalized communities before transitioning into education. When not working at one of her school sites as a SbR coordinator, Jeannette is an elder in her church and enjoys spending time with her church family and hiking some of the beautiful Bay Area hiking trails with friends, and spending time with her two beautiful granddaughters.

Lavender Briscoe

Office Manager

As Office Manager, Lavender is responsible for facilitating and enhancing Children Rising’s organizational ability to accomplish its mission. Lavender maintains a well-organized back office and provides administrative support to Children Rising departments, including programs, volunteer resources, finance and development, community outreach, and operations.

Lavender is a native of Oakland. Having spent her K-8 years in under-resourced Oakland schools, she understands firsthand the challenges financial insecurity has on children’s learning outcomes. She is eager to contribute to ensuring that students in Oakland's most underserved communities have an equitable opportunity to succeed in school.

Lavender recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, earning a bachelor of art in Media Studies with a concentration in media law and policy and a minor in public policy. Through her coursework and participation in campus organizations—including the Black Pre-Law Society—she has passionately pursued racial justice and educational policy. Before Children Rising, Lavender worked as a Legal Assistant at a family and immigration law firm in San Francisco.

When she’s not working, she can be found reading a novel, spending time with her partner and two adorable kittens, Bella and Coca, or visiting the amazing restaurants the Bay Area has to offer.

Rebecca Buckley

Succeeding by Reading

Program Director

As director of Succeeding by Reading, Rebecca shares the wonder of reading with struggling children in East Bay public schools most impacted by poverty and violence. Rebecca earned a bachelor of art in linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master’s Degree in English/TESL from San Francisco State University. With a heart for serving others, she spent 20 years teaching English to international students at California State University East Bay and St. Mary's College of California, in addition to staff positions at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. Discerning a call to pastoral ministry, Rebecca completed her master of divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2008 and is currently part-time pastor at Ocean Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.    Rebecca knows that one-to-one relationships are the key to helping students who are substantially below grade level. Drawing on her teaching experience and her ability to galvanize volunteers from all walks of life, she has elevated the Succeeding by Reading program and helped change the academic trajectory for thousands of children.   Rebecca grew up in Mountain View and has two adult daughters, Melissa and Christina. In her spare time, she enjoys puns, poetry, puzzles, and waltzing with newborns.

Mayotis Cephas

Path2Math

Clinic Coodinator

As Path2Math Clinic Coordinator, Mayotis is part of the team that oversees the tutor-friendly (presently) online curriculum that guides students to proficiency in the six strands of mathematics. Though she has retired from the classroom after 30 + years of instruction, teaching remains her passion. It is a privilege that she does not take lightly. Mayotis received her bachelor’s degree from Alderson-Broaddus College, then went on to earn a master’s in education from the University of Pittsburgh. Her great joy is seeing the a-ha moment for students. For 27 years, she taught at primary and intermediate levels with the Oakland Catholic Diocese. Even as she was planning her retirement, she knew she wanted to stay connected to educating youth. Children Rising provides that link between her love of teaching and the opportunity to point students toward success in math.

Michelle Hutcherson

Path2Math

Program Manager

As the Program Director for the Path2Math program, Michelle’s infectious enthusiasm is perfectly suited for helping children become excited about math. In addition to making one on one connections with students and delivering high-quality, student centered programing, she supports and trains the many volunteer tutors and mentors. Prior to joining Children Rising, Michelle worked for Padilla & Associates, Inc. as a public/private industry business support services consultant, and before that the San Diego School Unified School District and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Project as a consultant to Caltrans. Michelle is married with 4 children and 5 grandchildren, and her favorite thing to do is spend time with her family, watching movies and playing games. Michelle does this work because she has always enjoyed working with kids and would like nothing more than to see them become empowered through learning.

Steve Nation

Path2Math

Clinic Coodinator

As a Path to Math Clinic Coordinator, Steven supports and schedules teachers, volunteer tutors, and parents to guide underperforming students to proficiency in foundational math skills. His 14+ years as a small business owner has sharpened his leadership abilities, and over 30 years of servicing in the nonprofit sector has softened his heart. He believes that every ‘at-risk’ child becomes an ‘at-promise’ child when connected with a caring and committed community. Steven’s care and concern for children may be a result of not having grandchildren of his own. A fact which he and his wife of 38 years remind their adult children of every chance they get.

Brenda Paulin

Succeeding by Reading

Associate Program Coordinator

As an Associate Program Coordinator for Succeeding by Reading Program, Brenda is committed to closing the academic achievement gap by assisting tutors in providing one-on-one personal reading instruction to individual students.

Brenda joined Children Rising in 2010 as a volunteer reading tutor before joining the staff. She had enjoyed a successful federal career as a Human Resources Director, and was drawn to Children Rising because of its mission to give hope to at-promise students in East Bay schools, and her desire to give back for the many blessings she has received. She studied English and Business Administration at Howard University and the University of Maryland’s University College.

Brenda lives in San Leandro with her husband, is the mother of 2 and the grandmother of 5.

Eric Steckel

Communications Director

As Communications Director, Eric is passionate about increasing community awareness of the educational inequity within our education system, and providing children a fairer chance to succeed in school ... and in life. With a wealth of experience in both traditional and digital communications, he was appointed communications director after a long period of volunteering and mentoring youth at Children Rising. Keenly aware of the power of one-on-one relationships, Eric enjoys serving in an organization where relationships make a profound difference in tutoring kids in reading and math. By getting off of the sideline and taking part, he is able to share stories of progress and hope. Eric is a graduate of Bucknell University and holds a Master’s Degree in Communication from the American University in Washington, DC. He is married with two children, and when he’s not handling communications duties, you will likely find Eric running his favorite East Bay trails or coaching youth soccer.

Ashley Verinsky

Succeeding By Reading

Associate Program Coordinator

As an Associate Program Coordinator, Ashley manages and supports tutors at Succeeding by Reading clinics at multiple elementary school sites and assists with database management for the program. She earned a credential and Master's Degree in Mild/Moderate Special Education from USF in 2005 and started volunteering with Children Rising in 2011 after teaching students with diverse needs for over 10 years.  Ashley is passionate about teaching kids to read and enjoys watching them make consistent progress in their carefully designed, one-on-one tutoring sessions. In her spare time, Ashley likes spending time with her family, supporting children in foster care, and getting outdoors as much as possible.

Margena Wade-Green

CareerBridge and Path2Math

Director

As the CareerBridge and Path2Math Program Director, Margena spends much of her time in program and curriculum development, as well as supporting her students and volunteers. With a passion for serving children and youth in her community, Margena started with Children Rising as a volunteer, and brings over 25 years of community outreach and service to students in various capacities.

Margena’s ability to make connections and solve problems with compassion has served her well during her 14-years as community and educational outreach manager at CalTrans. Looking for ways to help kids excel and gain meaningful academic and career opportunities, she coordinated early CareerBridge internship opportunities at CalTrans and BART that continue to this day.

Margena is an Oakland native, and is married to Donovan Green, has 3 children, 8 grandchildren and 2 granddogs.

Pia Dandan

Succeeding by Reading Program Manager

As the Program Manager for Succeeding by Reading, Pia is a tutoring Clinic Coordinator at school sites and provides vital program management support.

Before joining Children Rising, Pia had fourteen years of experience in early childhood education and worked in various Catholic Schools and Head Start programs as a Preschool teacher and Preschool Director. She majored in Human Development at California State University East Bay, completed her master’s degree in Human Development specializing in Administration and Human Services in Pacific Oaks, and earned her Child Development director permit.

One of her favorite parts of being a preschool teacher is starting with circle time to captivate the children into learning their letters using zoo phonics and reading their favorite books. During the summer breaks, she tutored students between the ages of four and six to prepare them for the next school year. Pia is passionate about closing the educational gap and improving children's self-confidence as they learn more.

Pia grew up in Manila and moved to the East Bay in 2001 with her mom and six siblings. In her spare time, she volunteers at senior centers or San Jose Airport with her dog Charlie and plans a road trip once a month with her converted camper van.

Tai Dillard

FamilyBridge Program Director

Tai Dillard joined Children Rising as program director of our all-new FamilyBridge program. She brings to our community over 12 years of experience advocating for families and children. As a developmental specialist in Frisco, TX, she assessed children from birth to three years old for developmental delays and helped families navigate early intervention services.

Like all of the Children Rising family, she is gratified to experience children light up academically. For several years, Tai served as a math tutor in underserved areas of Cobb County, Ga. She delights in the activation of potential as children gain confidence in literacy and numeracy and aspire to academic goals that once seemed elusive.

Tai, a native of Columbus, OH, earned a B.A. in Foreign Languages and Economics from Auburn University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Sophia Hutson Wambach

Manager of Volunteer Resources

As Manager of Volunteer Resources, Sophia is responsible for recruiting and welcoming the caring volunteers that come to serve children in our Oakland schools. She collaborates closely with Children Rising program directors to ensure they have appropriate levels of volunteer staffing to support literacy and numeracy learning for the kids. Before joining the Children Rising staff, Sophia volunteered since January 2020 as a Development Associate, a Volunteer Management Associate, and a CareerBridge Mentor.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in Administrative Management and has over 30 years of experience in administration and operations management, human resources and staff management, and budget planning.

In her free time, Sophia teaches Haiku poetry. She applies her artistic passion to creating beautiful cards for fundraising events and nonprofit organizations like Meals on Wheels. Her handmade cards provide joy and inspiration to homebound seniors, especially during these trying times.

Board

Jonathan Becker

Chair

Jonathan joined the Children Rising board in 2019, driven by his passion and belief that all children should be given a fair chance of success - and it starts with equal education. He is frustrated by how society continues to under-invest in our children’s education and recently served as precinct captain for a ballot measure to renew his town’s parcel tax, and as treasurer for another measure to issue bonds for school renovations (both won). Jonathan earned a BA, Political Science from Yale University and an MBA, Organizational Behavior from UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business. He is founder and Principle at This Team Works, a management-consulting firm.

Henrietta Fabio

Vice Chair

Henrietta is a native Oaklander and a graduate of Castlemont High School. After serving 4 years in the Air Force National Guard, she worked for 30 years in the insurance industry before transitioning to financial planning with Mass Mutual Financial Services. Now retired, Henrietta has devoted her time and energy volunteering to improve Oakland neighborhoods. She served as President of MacArthur Heights Home Owners Association, Neighborhood Watch Block Captain, Youth Minister at St. Louis Bertrand Church, and a member of Oakland Community Organization. Henrietta joined the Children Rising board of directors in 2021 with a shared belief that we are indeed a community called by God to work for the health, welfare, and prosperity of Oakland.

Meca Youngblood

Secretary

Meca was introduced to Children Rising in 2017 when she hosted CareerBridge interns at Caltrans. She believes in the power of community and has a strong desire to make the world around her a better place. Seeking an opportunity to be more involved, she joined the Children Rising board in 2021. Meca studied Communications at California State University Sacramento. She is the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for Caltrans Bay Area, where she has served since 1996, and a group fitness instructor at Bladium Sports and Fitness Club. When she can find some leisure time, she enjoys golfing and wine tasting.

Chris Nichols

Treasurer

Chris joined the Children Rising board in 2020 after being a financial supporter for two years and learning about the organization’s mission and plans to support substantially larger numbers of vulnerable East Bay children. Chris brings to Children Rising his more than 30 years of business experience including sales, executive management and management consulting. Chris earned his M.A from University of California, Los Angeles and is currently Information Management Practice Director at Unify Consulting.

Roma Groves-Waters

Member

Roma joined the Children Rising board in July 2020 after nearly a decade of working alongside our team. As a dedicated educator since 1996, she has been committed to improving the lives of the children of Oakland. In 2009, she was appointed principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. She has been an outspoken proponent for our neighborhood schools, rallying the community to partner in support of the children. In Children Rising she recognized a community partner that could support her goals for the school with its literacy, library and STEAM programs. In 2018, she helped lead the development of Path2Math, Children Rising’s numeracy program, which is the first of its kind in the Oakland Unified School District. Roma earned her Bachelor of Science, English Language and Literature Letters from Grambling State University, and her MA, Education from University of California (Berkeley). Married with two adult step kids and two  grandsons, she is a true southerner at heart. Roma is known for her cooking and entertaining "Louisiana style," and her gumbo is excellent. You can frequently catch Roma and her husband Keith sitting on a dock or pier fishing.

Steve Rowell

Secretary

Steve is an attorney who lives in Oakland with his wife, Phyllis. He is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He currently specializes in public sector labor and employment law at the law firm of Sloan, Sakai, Yeung & Wong, LLP in Berkeley. Steve is a strong supporter of public education and is proud that both of his adult children are products of Oakland public schools. He is a member of several legal and charitable organizations and, in his free time, is an avid bicyclist, runner and hiker.

Gary Sanders

Member

Gary has had a passion for supporting children and youth in the East Bay for many years. He has coached youth sports teams, served as an advisor to Eagle Scout candidates with Boy Scouts of America and is a member of Junior Achievement of Northern California. Gary’s greatest joy is working with youth and supporting programs that support youth. He brings his love of children and 30 years of professional business development experience to the Children Rising board as Children Rising expands its ability to serve a greater number of vulnerable children in the area. Gary has a law degree from Washburn University and is a certified court mediator. He and his wife Janet have 3 sons and have been active members of the East Bay community for 30 years.

Dave Sweet

Member

Dave joined the Children Rising board in July 2020, believing that every child deserves access to an excellent education and the support he or she needs to pursue that education. He first became acquainted with Children Rising when he volunteered to be a Math tutor at Emerson Elementary School and continued tutoring the amazing children of Oakland for 3 years. He saw first-hand the impact a caring adult can have on a young child’s confidence and desire to learn, and how a solid foundation for learning during the primary years gave a child a fairer chance of obtaining an excellent education overall.   Dave recently retired from his position as CFO/Managing Director at Sutter Hill Ventures. He earned his Bachelor of Science, Civil Engineering from Stanford University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.  

Jim Wambach

Member

As Executive Director, Jim is responsible for guiding the overall growth and strategic development of Children Rising’s contributions to closing the achievement gap in urban public schools. He draws on his 25 years of corporate and nonprofit executive leadership experience, and a passion for helping to change the trajectory of young lives through improved education and enhanced community support. Jim, like everyone at Children Rising, begins every day knowing there are so many of our children and youth at a personal crossroad of promise and risk – trying desperately to escape the cycle of poverty and violence surrounding them.  He is grateful for the opportunity to combine his passion for helping underserved children and youth with his years of successful business experience so Children Rising might empower as many of these children as possible. Jim is from Ohio and remains a big fan of Ohio State football. He moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest in 2001 and is married with 4 children and 5 grandchildren he can’t believe he is old enough to have…

Abraham Wordsworth

Member

Abraham joined the Children Rising board in 2022, inspired to give back due to his personal experience in the Succeeding by Reading program. After immigrating to the Bay Area from war-torn Liberia at the age of six in 2003, he soon fell under the tutelage of Randy Roth. He is a civil war survivor, a believer, and someone who has seen the transformative power of attention, love, and care. He dreams of giving other children the chance he had. “If every kid had access to that, the world would be a much better place.” Abraham used his experience with Children Rising as a springboard to success. He currently serves as an energetic, innovative, and work-driven Account Executive for Salesforce. You can catch Abraham cheering on the Warriors when he's not in the office. Additionally, he’s an avid runner and stimulates his soul through hiking, meditation, and yoga.

Gabe Togneri

Member

Gabe Togneri joined the Children Rising board in 2023, offering a wealth of experience in both business and nonprofit volunteering. Several years ago, Gabe became focused on the educational disparities that exist in our communities and started volunteering in the Oakland schools. Since 2021, he has been a math tutor with Children Rising. He looks forward to continuing to tutor eager children and contribute his business and leadership skills to help Children Rising grow as an organization and reach more children and families.

Gabe had a long career with PG&E, where he served as Vice President, Investor Relations, and has also spent many years serving organizations and the community. He has served as an elder and deacon at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church, a mentor with East Bay College Fund (Oakland Promise), and a director of Lindsay Wildlife Experience. Gabe is a graduate of the University of California, Davis in Mathematics and earned an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.

In his spare time, Gabe enjoys running, playing piano, gardening, and being a grandparent.

Glynis Mason

Member

Glynis joined the Children Rising board in January 2024 after learning about the organization from another board member. As a career educator, she was very interested in the work Children Rising is doing to empower children in reading and math. Glynis felt confident this was a place where she could bring to bear her energy and passion for supporting all students in their educational journey.

Glynis earned her bachelor's degree in Finance from the University of Illinois and spent 15 years in the financial services industry. After having twin daughters, she took some time off and soon found herself volunteering to help other young children learn to read. Glynis was truly inspired by this experience, returned to school, and earned a special education teaching credential. After ten years in the classroom, she completed a Master's in Educational Leadership and an administrative credential. She is currently an elementary school principal in Fremont.

In her free time, Glynis enjoys attending film festivals, studying Spanish, and spending time with family, friends, and puppies.