Staff

Leadership Team

Michael Griffith

Executive Director

Michael Griffith

About Michael

Michael Griffith has close to 20 years’ experience as an educator and nonprofit leader. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas and a Master of Education degree from Texas State University, Michael started his career as an elementary teacher, honing his skills in teaching, learning, curriculum development, and student assessment. He earned distinctions for his teaching and took on leadership roles as a mentor teacher and team leader. He supported students in and out of the classroom to fulfill their potential, and envisioned a future career as a school and district administrator. After nearly a decade of leadership inside the school system, Michael was introduced to Breakthrough. Upon learning about Breakthrough and the transformational support the organization gives to students from sixth grade through college, Michael was hooked. He joined the organization as the Director of Programs in 2008. During his six-year tenure as Director of Programs, Michael managed a three-fold increase in students served, the organization’s first expansion to Manor ISD, the buildout of its college completion programs, and the creation of the a customized Salesforce database to monitor the progress of students on their path to college graduation. In 2011, Michael was honored by Bank of America with the distinction of Emerging Leader. In 2014, Michael took on the mantle of Executive Director at Breakthrough. Since that time, he has supported Breakthrough as it has expanded extensively to serve more students in multiple school districts in Central Texas. Michael has expertise in educational best practices, partnership development, research and reporting, project planning, and organizational leadership. Michael is a founding member of the Austin College Access Network and is widely respected in the Central Texas nonprofit community.

Grace Holland

Chief Development Officer

Grace Holland

About Grace

Prior to joining Breakthrough Central Texas in 2014, Grace spent 15 years in fund development, communications and non-profit management. After earning her BA in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin, she launched her non-profit career at CASA of Travis County. Over the course of her career, Grace has secured millions of dollars in philanthropic giving that has translated into protection for hundreds of abused and neglected children and provided thousands of low-income families access to quality childcare, college educations, and compassionate, end-of-life care. Before coming to Breakthrough, Grace served as Director of Development at Hospice Austin for eight years, doubling the organization’s annual revenue. It was during this time that she also served on the founding committee of I Live Here, I Give Here and subsequently led Hospice Austin to city-wide recognition for most dollars raised via the launch of Amplify Austin’s Day of Giving. Grace served on the Trinity Child Development

Center Board of Directors, securing the organization’s first-ever development director; helped plant the first racially-diverse congregation of the Presbyterian Church USA, and was honored as CASA Angel of the Year. Grace is a proud alumna of Leadership Austin Emerge (2007) and Essentials (2017), AISD UpClose Leadership Class (2016) and an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. As Chief Development Officer at Breakthrough, Grace leads a team of talented development and communication professionals and volunteers to secure the ever-increasing philanthropic support needed to fund Breakthrough’s expansion efforts to help more students across Central Texas pursue their college dreams. Since joining Breakthrough in 2014, annual revenue has increased by 70%. Grace is passionate about the power of education to break the cycle of generation poverty and the transformational impact a single individual can have on another’s life through philanthropy. Grace is the proud and harried mother of twin five-year olds who bring joy, humor and humility to her daily life.

Donnie Spier

Chief Operations Officer

About Donnie

Donnie has over 14 years of nonprofit experience focused in administration and financial and operational management. Donnie’s other specialties include contract/grant management, financial forecasting, and financial reporting. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Donnie most recently served as Chief Financial Officer at Any Baby Can of Austin.

Sarah Perry

Chief Program Officer

Sarah Perry

About Sarah

Sarah Perry has over 10 years of experience in education from classroom teaching, to student advising, and community outreach. She is a first generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree from American University in Washington D.C and brings enthusiasm for empowering young people and lifelong learning to the role. Prior to joining the Breakthrough team she spent several years living and teaching in Spain.

Abby Ames

Chief Program Officer
Breakthrough Central Texas Chief Program Officer Abby Ames

About Abby

 Abby Ames holds a Master’s degree in Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is a certified K-12 school counselor. Before coming to Breakthrough, Abby worked in public and private educational settings as well as nonprofit organizations in Ecuador, Boston, and Costa Rica. She also served as a Breakthrough Summer Teacher in Raliegh, NC. 

Development & Operations

Audrey Brandl

Operations Manager

Audrey Brandl

About Audrey

Audrey holds Bachelor degrees in Communication and Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following graduation, she served as a Teach For America Charter Corps member in San Antonio, Texas, teaching 8th grade US History and ELA at her placement school for three years, in addition to working at the Office of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as an Education Policy Intern.  Since moving to Austin, Audrey has taught at KIPP, and served on the Administrative/Instructional Team at Austin Achieve Public Schools, and has held positions as Lead Teacher at Sylvan Learning Center and Assistant Camp Coordinator at Thinkery.  Joining the Breakthrough team as Operations Manager in September 2015, Audrey brings her passion for educational equality, and has a vested interest in closing the achievement gap – starting right here in Central Texas.

Issa Galvan

Communications Manager

Issa Galvan

About Issa

Issa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from St. Edward’s University, and Master’s Degree in Mass Communication, with a focus in Latinos & Media, from Texas State University. She brings several years of experience in nonprofit communications and graphic design through the implementation of internal and external integrated campaigns and strategic communications, and has contributed to assisting clients get the critical resources they need to live productive and secure lives. As a Latina and first-generation college graduate, Issa is passionate about strengthening minority communities and breaking down cultural and financial barriers that impede on the success of minority youth.

Kate Garrett

Director of Annual & Corporate Giving

Kate Garrett

About Kate

Kate Garrett joined Breakthrough in 2016, bringing more than 10 years of event management and development experience to her position as Breakthrough’s Director of Annual & Corporate Giving.  Prior to joining the Breakthrough team, Kate served as the Director of Corporate Engagement and Events for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas where she worked as a member of the development team to effectively triple event and corporate revenue in five years.  Kate is passionate about educational equality and committed to raising funds on behalf of underserved youth in Central Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

Sara Holliday

Director of Institutional Giving

Sara Holliday

About Sara

Sara Holliday holds a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Hollins University and a Master’s degree in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College. She has worked as an editor for Pearson Education and has volunteered extensively in the areas of literacy and education, serving as a literacy coach, tutor, and writing workshop assistant. Sara currently serves on the board of the Grant Professionals Association, supporting the advancement of the grant writing profession. She is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Riena Long

Operations Associate

Riena Long

About Riena

Riena holds a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Asian American students from the University of Texas at Austin. She has dedicated her professional interest towards service work and helping provide resources to underserved communities, empowering individuals to advocate for themselves and their communities. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Riena served with AmeriCorps Keep Austin Housed, and went on to manage the largest food pantry in the Austin areas, Micah 6 of Austin, for several years.

Emma Roddy

Development Associate

Emma Roddy

About Emma

Emma graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre in 2015. She comes to Breakthrough by way of New York City, where she worked in development for a Manhattan-based theatre. A New Braunfels native, Emma is committed to serving the Central Texas community and its students.

Jené Shepherd

Grants & Annual Giving Coordinator

Jene Shepherd

About Jené

Jené joined Breakthrough in January 2016 after working in development at the YMCA, Girl’s Empowerment Network and most recently the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. She graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor’s degree in Government, and is currently pursuing her M.A. in Mass Communication – Strategic Communication at Texas State University. Jené is passionate about education equity, girl empowerment, and Beyoncé.

 

 

 

Holly Wissmann

Director of Donor Relations & Major Gifts

Holly Wissmann

About Holly

Holly Wissmann joined the Breakthrough team in 2013 and currently serves as the Director of Donor Relations & Major Gifts. Having experienced the transformative impact of higher education on her own family, Holly is honored to serve on a team that is partnering with students and families to realize their college dreams. After earning her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Dance from The University of Texas at Austin, Holly discovered her passion for development and philanthropy. She brings more than 10 years of donor-centered fundraising and communications experience and previously served as the Associate Director of Development for ZACH Theatre, where she was on the team responsible for the Topfer Theatre Capital Campaign. Holly is a Terry Foundation alumna, graduate of the Leadership Austin Emerge Class of 2013, active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Austin Chapter, and co-chair of AFP’s 2017 Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon. In her spare time, she performs with East Austin-based, AZTLAN Dance Company, her artistic home for 12 years, and loves spending time with her partner, Fabian, and their fur babies, Xochi and Simon.

Programs

Zakiyyah Kareem

Director of Programs

Zakiyyah Kareem

About Zakiyyah

Zakiyyah has dedicated her professional career to empowering young people to make a positive impact on their communities through education and service. Prior to joining Breakthrough Austin, Zakiyyah spent ten years supporting and facilitating professional development in service-learning for K-12 teachers and students in Texas. She has led programs and policy initiatives at the Region XIV Education Service Center and the Texas Education Agency. In 2006, Zakiyyah directed IT Girl, a nationally recognized informal STEM education program for high school girls that integrated technology and community service. Zakiyyah joined Breakthrough in 2011. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and is completing her Masters in Counseling at St. Edward’s University.

Elvira Marin

Volunteer Coordinator

Elvira Marin

About Elvira

Elvira is a first-generation college graduate from Sam Houston State University, a native Texan, and a daughter of immigrants. Her passion for changing the world brought her to Breakthrough in 2016 where she recruits, trains, and places volunteers as the Volunteer Coordinator. A native Spanish speaker, Elvira holds a professional background in entrepreneurship, event planning, and customer service. Currently serving on the Directors of Volunteers in Austin Board, Elvira absolutely loves her role and is eager to foster a robust Breakthrough volunteer pool to help our fantastic students. A former rollergirl with Texas Roller Derby, popcorn lover, knitting hobbyist, cat cuddler, and video game and sci-fi enthusiast, she always has a story to tell or knowledge to share. Feel free to reach out to her anytime to learn more about Breakthrough, volunteering, or problem solving!

 

 

 

 

Manor Program

Dorothy Vasquez

Associate Director of Programs

Dorothy Vasquez

About Dorothy

Dorothy Vasquez has a history of working with at-risk youth in and around, the Austin area. She was born and raised in East Austin and lucky enough to participate in the Young Scientist program at Zavala Elementary, that later led to magnet feeder schools until college. Dorothy holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Texas Lutheran University and a Master’s in Organizational and HR Development from Abilene Christian University. Before coming to Breakthrough, Dorothy initiated her career at AISD and later held multiple positions at the Boys & Girls Club of Austin. She is a strong supporter of Youth Program Quality (YPQ) and has experience as a Quality Coach.

Leslie Perkins

Associate Director of Programs

Leslie Perkins

About Leslie

Leslie Perkins is a proud graduate of Huston-Tillotson College with a bachelor’s degree in Education. She has been a child advocate and teacher in the East Austin and Manor communities for over 15 years. Leslie is honored to be a catalyst in making “firsts and lasts” – Breakthrough’s work consists of making first generation college students that will be the last in their families to navigate the higher education system alone. Her commitment to the community exemplifies her belief that our children’s education is the most valuable investment we can make.

Krystal Cantú Cossey

Program Coordinator

Krystal Cantú Cossey

About Krystal

Krystal holds a Bachelor’s degree in Bilingual Education from St. Edward’s University. She brings experience through a career in Youth Development, Advocacy and Leadership. Before coming to Breakthrough, Krystal spent more than 12 years working with Austin ISD and The Boys and Girls in Austin, with the common goal of providing an opportunity where one can improve their lives, while also improving their community.

Sol Córdova

Program Coordinator

Sol Cordova

About Sol

Sol earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from St. Edwards University. For the past five years, she has served in several academic advisory roles within educational institutions across Austin, including the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium, St. Edwards University and Concordia University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts degree in Professional Counseling at Texas State University and is dedicated to empowering first generation students to overcome academic obstacles while also helping them through the mental health realities that come with being the first in their family to attend and graduate from college.

Alyssa Clark

Program Coordinator

Alyssa Clark

About Alyssa

Alyssa graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a double major in International Studies and Political Science with a concentration in Education Policy. She comes to Breakthrough Central Texas after serving three years with LearningWorks, a Breakthrough Collaborative site in Minneapolis, and an additional three years as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classroom teacher in Texas. She is excited to work with Breakthrough High School students, day-in and day-out to realize their full potential on their path to college.

Sherwin Calderon

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Sherwin Calderon

About Sherwin

Sherwin graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in Government and minors in Italian Language and Education. Through his enrollment with the UTeach Urban Teachers program he is a certified teacher – Social Studies Composite (7th-12th). He is a former two-time Breakthrough Summer Teacher and now AmeriCorps member on the Manor Middle School Team. Sherwin enjoys discovering new food spots, playing basketball, and valuing the diverse linguistic and cultural resources students bring into the classroom.

Crystal Rodriguez

AmeriCorps Member

Breakthrough Central Texas AmeriCorps Member Crystal Rodriguez

About Crystal

Crystal is a first year AmeriCorps member with Breakthrough Austin and works on the Manor Middle school team.  She is a graduate of Texas State University and holds a BFA in Photography and a minor in Psychology.  She shares a passion for the arts and education and is an advocate for the integration of art in mental health settings. Crystal plans on attending graduate school to become a licensed art therapist.

Lauren Urbanski

AmeriCorps Member

Lauren Urbanski

About Lauren

Lauren attended The Ohio State University in 2011-12 and graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in May 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in sport management and a minor in Leadership Studies. Upon graduation, she accepted a position as a Youth Development Program Assistant with USA Basketball after interning for a year, where she helped to manage USA Basketball’s member management system for youth organizations and youth coaches, the USA Basketball Youth Open Court program and youth email campaigns.

Northeast Program

Cristian Villalobos

Associate Director of Programs

Cristian Villalobos

About Cristian

Cristian Villalobos holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. His teaching experience prior to Breakthrough includes a charter school in rural Colorado, community education center in New York, and an Austin public middle school. Christian appreciates Breakthrough’s recognition of issues both inside and outside the classroom as contributing to educational inequity, and is passionate about serving first-generation college goers.

Tiffany Chao

Program Coordinator

Tiffany Chao

About Tiffany

Tiffany holds a Bachelor’s in Business Honors and Plan II Honors from the University of Texas at Austin. An Austin Native, she served as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow, where she discovered her passion for working directly with teacher. Before coming Breakthrough, Tiffany served as an educator in the San Antonio area teaching math and coaching tennis to high school students for three years, through Teach For America. She is passionate about our mission and is excited to continue her work with students at Breakthrough Central Texas.

Brittney Demars

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Brittany Demars

About Brittney

Brittney holds a Bachelor’s in English Literature and a minor in Spanish from the University of North Texas. She’s passionate about youth education and development, and has served in various educational positions in Texas, as an after-school tutor and summer mentor in Texas. Brittney is currently serving as an AmeriCorps Member at Breakthrough Central Texas, after having served two summers as an ELA Middle School Summer Teacher at Breakthrough. Brittney is a part of our Northeast Austin middle school team, which works directly with our Breakthrough students in various middle schools throughout the northeast areas Austin.

Erin Gentry

Program Coordinator

Erin Gentry

About Erin

Erin brings more than a decade of experience in non-profit youth work and program design, project management, teaching at the college level, and management for small non-profits. A first-generation college graduate, Erin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from St. Edward’s University, in Austin, TX, and a master’s degree in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. A native Mexican raised in the United States, Erin is thrilled to be working with bilingual and Spanish-speaking families and students. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, rowing on Lady Bird Lake, co-running a non-profit art space, and listening to music.

South/Central Program

Ivanna Crippa

Associate Director of Programs

Ivanna Crippa

About Ivanna

Ivanna studied at The University of Texas at Austin and graduated with degrees in Psychology and Latin American Studies. Her desire to empower underrepresented youth led her to join the Advise Texas College Advising Corps. During her first year of service, Ivanna returned to her hometown and served Pasadena High School. Last year, Ivanna served Akins High School in Austin, where she had another rewarding year with students in the Austin community.

Christi Almeida

Associate Director of Programs

Christi Almeida

About Christi

Christi joined Breakthrough Austin in August of 2011 as an AmeriCorps Member. Over the last five years, she has been working to grow and develop Breakthrough’s middle school programs. Christi is a proud first-generation college graduate and first-generation American like many of the students she works with. Before working for Breakthrough, Christi received a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Spanish from the University Of Idaho. Go Vandals!

Alicia Flores

Program Coordinator

Alicia Flores

About Alicia

Austin native and first generation college graduate, Alicia Flores holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology from Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi. Alicia has been with Breakthrough for 15 years, as a proud Breakthrough Austin graduate, former back-to-back Breakthrough Teaching Fellow and a previous two-time AmeriCorps Member, and now staff. Alicia is passionate about Breakthrough’s mission and deeply understands the power of the program, and is excited to give back to the program that has made a difference in her life.

Randall Ischy

Program Coordinator

Breakthrough Central Texas Program Coordinator Randall Ischy

About Randall

Randall earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and English from Sam Houston State University, worked in business management, and then rediscovered his passion for education by obtaining his alternative education certification. He taught Spanish for 2 years at Manor High School, where he served as an innovative teacher leader, training teachers on the implementation of technology in the classroom and presenting at various tech conferences, including SXSWEdu, Google Summit, AIE, and TCEA. He served as a STEM Instructional Coach for our Manor summer program before becoming a full-time Breakthrough staff member. As a first-gen college student himself, Randall has brought a passion for equity, strong relationship building practices, classroom teacher expertise, and management practices.

Maya Rivarola, LMSW

Program Coordinator

Maya Rivarola

Meet Maya

Maya holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin and is a Licensed Master Social Worker.  Maya has over eight years of experience working with at-risk youth and families for various non-profits including:  Communities In Schools; YMCA of Austin; and Austin Sunshine Camps; and has been using that experience support families and empower Breakthrough students to succeed academically and professionally.  Maya served as a college adviser with Advise TX in Mission, Texas and completed a year of AmeriCorps service at SafePlace.

Abby Morales

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Abby Morales

About Abby

Abby is a fourth time AmeriCorps member, currently serving her second year with Breakthrough Austin. Abby worked with the middle school team last year and has moved up with her 8th graders, now 9th graders, to be a part of the high school team. Abby attended Southwestern University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Feminist Studies. She will be implementing the skills she has learned at Breakthrough to become a Social Worker.

Jess Vanover

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Jess Vanover

About Jess

A first generation college graduate, Jess has a fierce passion for education. She was introduced to Breakthrough through her experience in the UTeach Urban Teachers program at the University of Texas at Austin. Jess participated as a Breakthrough Summer Teaching Fellow, as part of UTeach Urban Teachers in the summer of 2015, and her passion for the program brought her back in summer of 2016. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a minor in Education, Jess continued her journey in education with Breakthrough as a full-time AmeriCorps member, using her experiences as a first generation graduate to connect with students and ensure they have access to the support they need. In her free time, Jess enjoys being outside, bouldering, and calligraphy.

Felicia Monroe

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Felicia Monroe

About Felicia

Felicia holds a Bachelor Degree in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Juvenile Justice from Prairie View A&M University. As a first generation college graduate, Felicia is a proud Breakthrough Austin Graduate. She decided to give back to the Breakthrough community in 2013 and 2014 by becoming a Breakthrough Summer Teaching Fellow. After graduating from college, Felicia joined us as a Full Time AmeriCorps member supporting high school students who are taking the same necessary steps to attend and graduate from a four year college/university. She will implement the professional development she received at Breakthrough to become a Juvenile Supervision Officer.

Claudia Ochoa

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Claudia Ochoa

About Claudia

Claudia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Bilingual Education from Texas State University and is a certified EC-6 Bilingual Education Teacher. As a first-generation college graduate, Claudia is a proud Breakthrough Austin graduate and former two-time Breakthrough Teaching Fellow. In 2016, Claudia decided to give back to the community that paved her path to college, and is currently serving her second year as a full-time AmeriCorps Member at Breakthrough, giving the support that was given to her to high school and college students.

 

 

MANOR MIDDLE SCHOOL & HIGH SCHOOL TEAM

College Completion

Daniel Jackson

Director of College Completion

About Daniel

Daniel holds degrees in Linguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and in School Counseling from New York University. After three years with the Early Academic Outreach Program at the University of California helping first-generation students enter university, Daniel spent eight years as a school counselor between an Early College school in the Bronx, an international school in Mexico City and most recently as the lead counselor at Webb Middle School in Austin.

Constance Carmona

Program Coordinator

About Constance

Constance is a published author and Higher Education specialist, bringing over 10 years of experience. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Art with a Minor in Psychology from St. Edward’s University, a Master’s in Higher Education Student Affairs from Salem State University at Boston, and fellowships at Harvard University. During her last year in Boston, Constance worked with the Harvard College Women’s Center interns to promote equity, diversity, and the advancement of women while supporting the center’s mission to challenge, motivate, and inspire others.

While in Boston, she started a blog that gained a cult following which led her to publish a book about her city adventures. She currently serves as Breakthrough’s Program Coordinator on the College Completion Team, and takes great pride in getting to know her students personally and stopping at nothing to help them reach their full potential in college. In her spare time, Constance is a fitness instructor and writes short stories.

Shayra Madero-Fajardo

College Completion AmeriCorps Leader

Shayra Madero - Fajardo

About Shayra

Shayra holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from St. Edward’s University. As a proud Breakthrough Alumni, Shayra is passionate about empowering first-generation college students and giving them the tools and support they need to achieve their goals. This year, she’s giving back to Breakthrough, serving as an AmeriCorps Leader on the College Completion Team to support students and help them stay on track to college graduates. On her free time, Shayra volunteers as an ESL teacher for a local nonprofit.

Breakthrough Central Texas

180 Grand Ave #1225, Oakland, CA 94612, USA