Who We Are

Breakthrough Central Texas is committed to a policy of equal treatment and opportunity in every aspect of its relations with its applicants, staff members, and families, without regard to race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, military status, pregnancy, or parenthood. People of diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

Join Our Team


Michael Griffith

Executive Director

Michael Griffith
About Michael
Michael Griffith has 20 years of 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 a classroom 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.

Michael joined Breakthrough 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 expansions in Manor ISD and Austin ISD, the buildout of its college completion programs, and the creation of 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 role 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 and at colleges and universities across the country. Michael has expertise in educational best practices, partnership development, research and reporting, project planning, strategy formation, organizational leadership, and nonprofit governance. Michael is a founding member of the Austin College Access Network and is widely respected in the Central Texas nonprofit community.

Kendra Strange

Chief Schools Officer

Michael Griffith
About Kendra
Kendra believes all students have the potential to succeed and she has made it her mission to ensure students have access to the support and resources necessary to maximize their potential. With over 15 years of experience in college access space, Kendra is a first-generation student with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology/Criminology from Kansas State University. Kendra has experience with federal trio programs, college admissions and served as the inaugural College-Bound Advisor for Young Women’s Leadership Academy at Fort Worth ISD. Kendra built the college-bound program and helped students amass more than $60 Million in scholarships and she can also boast 100% college acceptance for every graduating senior since 2016. Kendra supported young women in grades 6 -12 and continued to walk with them through college completion and into their careers. Kendra is dedicated to improving systems to support students and believes that given the right resources, support, and environment ALL students have the potential to achieve post-secondary success.

Zakiyyah Kareem

Chief Student Support Officer

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.

Donnie Spier

Chief Operations Officer

Michael Griffith
About Donnie
Donnie has over 20 years of nonprofit experience focused on 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.

Leslie Tucker

 Chief Program Officer

About Leslie
Leslie Tucker 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.

Andrea Harper

Chief Strategy Officer

Michael Griffith
About Andrea
Andrea holds her Master’s Degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was honored to be selected as an Urban Scholars Fellow. Andrea has been a middle school and high school classroom teacher, both in U.S. public schools as well as in Mexico City. She brings with her experience in curriculum design and evaluation, data collection and analysis, and family engagement. Andrea first joined the Breakthrough team in 2009 and feels lucky every day to work alongside incredible Breakthrough students.

Holly Wissmann

Chief Development & Communications Officer

Holly Wissmann
About Holly

As a career fundraiser, nonprofit leader, and philanthropist, Holly finds joy in building authentic connections between people and organizations that inspire generosity, fuel impact, and create change. Having benefited from philanthropy and experienced the transformative impact of higher education on her own family, Holly is grateful for the opportunity to pay forward those gifts every day at Breakthrough. She first joined the Breakthrough team in 2013 and has served in multiple roles, helping to grow the individual giving program from $500,000 to $3.5 million annually. In her current role as Chief Development & Communications Officer, Holly provides vision and direction for Breakthrough’s fundraising and communications strategy, resourcing our partnership with nearly 3,000 students on their path to becoming first-generation college graduates. Trusting, long-term relationships are critical to the success and sustainability of both fundraising and student services at Breakthrough, and that human connection is what has kept her in the profession for more than 17 years. 

Before joining the Breakthrough family, Holly served as the Associate Director of Development for ZACH Theatre, where she was on the team responsible for the Topfer Theatre Capital Campaign. A proud graduate of The University of Texas at Austin and Terry Scholar alumna, she holds a BBA in Marketing and BA in Theatre and Dance. Holly is a longtime, active member and volunteer for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and currently serves as Immediate Past President for the Greater Austin Chapter, as well as a board member for the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Austin. In her personal time, she is involved with East Austin-based, AZTLAN Dance Company, her artistic home for 18 years, and loves spending time with her partner, Fabian, and their fur and reptile babies, Xochi, Xico, and Ivan.  


Michelle Monroe

 Director of Development

Michael Griffith
About Michelle
Michelle is a Houston native, an Iowa State University alum, and a firm believer in the generational impact of post-secondary education. Her early career included roles in the education space both in the classroom and alongside schools through programming partnerships. More recently, Michelle served as the Interim Executive Director at Amaanah Refugee Services and Executive Director at the Abundant Life Foundation, where she was responsible for fundraising. During that time, she also obtained a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at Rice University. Breakthrough’s programmatic approach and core beliefs drew Michelle to this role, and she is grateful to work toward educational equity alongside our community and stakeholders.

Rosa Jaramillo

Development Associate

Michael Griffith
About Rosa
Rosa graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a minor in Legal Studies from UTSA. A first gen high school and a college grad, she really loved Breakthrough’s mission of supporting students to become the first in their families to go to college. She participated as a summer teaching fellow, and then an AmeriCorps member, giving back and servicing the school district she attended. She is honored to continue with Breakthrough and is excited to contribute again to her community through her work. In her free time, she loves live music, reality TV, painting, traveling with friends, hanging out with her friends and family, and most importantly, spending time with her dog.

Kelly Wisniewski

Development Manager

About Kelly

Kelly is a Texas State alum with a degree in Geography & History. Her background has been youth-centered since her early career as an afterschool program director and later a program manager for a mentoring program. She’s also worked as a child advocate for children in foster care and directed charitable giving for a media group. Most recently, she supported volunteers and planned fundraising campaigns as the Communications and Engagement Manager at Partnerships for Children. Kelly is passionate about education equity and excited to be working alongside the Breakthrough community.

Kate Garrett

Director of Corporate Partnerships

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.

Meredith Morrow

Associate Director of Grant Partnerships

Michael Griffith
About Meredith

Meredith Ware Morrow, Ph.D. has more than twelve years of experience in grant writing and fundraising in Central Texas. Prior to joining the team at Breakthrough Central Texas, Meredith served as the Foundation and Corporate Relations Manager for Meals on Wheels Central Texas (MOWCTX), where she worked on their fundraising team for more than eight years to raise support for homebound seniors. Before joining the fundraising team at MOWCTX in 2014, she served the Institutional Gifts Manager at Austin Opera for more than three years. Meredith graduated from Texas Tech University with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Fine Arts Administration and a Master of Music degree. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Houston. Meredith is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Austin Chapter, and the Austin-Central Texas Chapter of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA).

Laura Bahamonde

BIN Program Manager

Michael Griffith
About Laura

will be updated soon!

Kimberly Strenk

Director of Philanthropy

About Kimberly

As the director of philanthropy at Breakthrough Central Texas, Kimberly brings a unique and varied background in both the nonprofit and private sectors. As a development and marketing leader, Kimberly’s focus is on driving systems level, positive, and progressive social change. Her background, specific to education, includes her recent role as chief of growth and impact for a start-up educational game company addressing disparities in literacy outcomes. Prior to this as senior director of partnership development for a social justice organization, her work focused on dismantling racism in education systems. 

However, it was her tenure as a major gifts officer for a national nonprofit organization in the disability space, where she discovered her love for engagement fundraising. In the private sector, she was a public relations executive for companies including Williams Sonoma and Nordstrom. She was also the founder and principal at two start-up PR and marketing agencies. Her personal journey as a woman of multiple, marginalized and layered identities, overcoming internalized mental barriers has been core to her life’s journey focused on equity and access.

A former West Coast native, she lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, three teen daughters, and two vertically challenged doxie pups, Ollie and Lola. In her free time, Kimberly is a competitive runner, avid hiker, and prolific reader. 

Issa Galvan

Associate Director of Communications

Issa Galvan
About Issa
Issa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from St. Edward’s University, and a 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.

Karen Arredondo

Communications & Community Engagement Coordinator

About Karen

Karen is a proud first-generation college graduate from Austin, Texas. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with a minor in Social Work from Texas State University – San Marcos. As a Breakthrough Central Texas Alumna, Karen is thrilled to give back to her community. With a passion for creativity and branding, Karen excels as a communications professional. She loves crafting engaging content! Karen’s dedication to her role ensures that our organization’s message resonates authentically with our audience.


Elena Espinoza Gearheart

Director of Talent

Michael Griffith
About Elena
Elena has spent most of her career partnering with executive leadership to recruit, retain, and develop their talent needs. She has extensive experience working with education reform organizations and non-profits in an operations and human resources capacity. Elena received a Master of Arts in Human Dimensions of Organizations and a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin and is a Society of Human Resource Management – Senior Certified Professional. /p>

Matt Gray

REDI Manager

Elvira Marin
About Matt

Matt has a B.A. in English from Florida A&M University and brings a wealth of REDI experience from developing a DEI curriculum within his Ethnic Studies classroom at Austin Achieve High School, founding community support groups like Black Professionals of Austin Achieve (BPAA), to creating adult professional development sessions rooted in DEI in the form of literary series surrounding antiracist texts.

In his role as REDI Manager, Matt combines his background and experience in DEI with his background as a Google Certified Project Manager and Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Master to lead projects and initiatives rooted in DEI, framed in Agile principles, and implemented with a people-centric approach. All of this is in service to change the organization’s psychology around how we work with and for people. 

When Matt isn’t working on REDI initiatives, you can find him hiking trails on the Greenbelt or rock climbing at a local bouldering gym.   

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.

Rebecca Brown

Talent Recruiter & Coordinator

Elvira Marin
About Rebecca

Rebecca’s journey started at Georgia State University and it has allowed her to gain insights into student support from various lenses – as a student assistant, teaching assistant, interim career counselor, employer relations specialist, and recruiter. Additionally, she honed her talent sourcing skills with Meta, an opportunity that brought her to Austin. With experience across talent sourcing, career services, academic departments, and working directly with students, Rebecca brings valuable insight to our recruiting efforts

Alicia Ford

Operations Manager

Elvira Marin
About Alicia

Alicia is a first-generation college graduate and brings more than 13 years of nonprofit experience. Alicia most recently served as the Program Director for 4H Capital where she managed their AmeriCorps program. 4H Capital is a partner organization with AmeriCorps Central Texas, and Alicia served as the liaison for 4H Capital. Alicia also brings experience from her time as a Club Director at the Boys & Girls Club.

LaToya Sales

Associate Director of AmeriCorps

Elvira Marin
About LaToya

LaToya is an educator and enthusiast of all matters of policy and government. She is a graduate of Spelman College, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science and Tulane University Law School.  LaToya mixes her love for educational equity and students with teaching and changing policy through different fellowships and working within the community.  Her passion is empowering others through teaching, volunteering and philanthropy.  LaToya wants her philanthropic endeavors to grow each year, ultimately establishing a private family foundation, concentrating on issues affecting women and girls.


Will Davies

Associate Director of Policy & Data

Holly Wissmann
About Will
Will is responsible for the execution of Breakthrough’s research and advocacy activities focused on improving postsecondary access and success for young Texans across the institutional and local, state, and federal policymaking domains and leads the collection, management, and analysis of data to evaluate and improve outcomes and strategy. Originally from Boston, Will earned a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Boston University then spent the next four years teaching English as a foreign language in South America. After returning from abroad, he worked five years as a (Spanish/English) bilingual elementary classroom teacher and three as a campus literacy specialist in Central Texas public schools while earning a M. Ed. in Education Policy and Planning from the University of Texas at Austin where he is currently a doctoral student. Will’s academic research has often focused on the sociopolitical context of bilingual education, especially the rapid discursive shift around and expansion of dual language education and its implications for the access and experience of minoritized students and families. He is also a research analyst and program evaluator for Building a Green Texas: Activating a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders, an initiative that partners the University of Texas system, Texas school districts, sustainability professionals, municipal governments, and community-based organizations to strengthen climate resiliency through the development of green building pipelines and active environmental education opportunities for high school-aged youth from the communities most impacted by climate change and least represented in green careers. Will loves to spend as much of his free time as possible outdoors hanging out, hiking, cooking, biking, swimming, camping, or playing sports with family and friends.

Amely Vela

Data Analyst

Kate Garrett
About Amely
Amely holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science from Texas A&M University with a minor in Spanish. As a first-generation college graduate, Amely is a proud Breakthrough Alumna and former 9th grade Breakthrough Summer Teaching Fellow. After graduation, Amely returned to Austin and became a nutrition educator for Travis County. In 2017, Amely 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, helping Del Valle students on their path to college.


Jennifer Karydas

Curriculum & Instruction Specialist
Holly Wissmann
About Jennifer
Jennifer is a first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Sociology from Texas State University-San Marcos and a Master’s in Education in Out of School Time from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Jennifer has spent over a decade as an educator in Austin. Prior to joining the Breakthrough community, Jennifer was an Americorp member with Citizen Schools at Kealing Middle School from 2008-2011 and then taught for 7 years in AISD as a special education teacher. She believes in the transformative power of education and also recognizes the inequity and barriers in place for many learners. She’s excited to work in an organization that supports young people on a very personal and challenging journey, while also collectively working to transform educational systems. When she’s not advising students or managing projects, Jennifer likes to spend time outdoors, give snuggles to her dog and support arts, cultural and LGBTQ+ events here in Austin.

Ja’Near Villines

Director of MS Programs

Holly Wissmann
About Ja’Near
Ja’Near is a first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Huston-Tillotson University and a Master’s in Education in Advanced Literacy from the University of Concordia. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree, Ja’Near spent a year working as a Case Manager for Child Protective Services and then went on to teach middle school English for nearly a decade. While in the classroom, Ja’Near focused on developing the teaching skills that would improve learning for ALL students. This focus led her to spending three summers as an Instructional Coach where she was able to assist Breakthrough Teaching Fellows to develop their own teaching skills. Ja’Near has always enjoyed working with students and is excited to continue that work with Breakthrough Central Texas.


Brittney DeMars

Associate Director of MS Programs

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 has served 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 of Austin.

Odyessey Francis

Program Coordinator

Brittany Demars
About Odyessey

Odyessey Francis is a graduate of Huston-Tillotson University with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Grand Canyon University. She has been in the education field for 11 years working on curriculum and student development. Odyessey is honored to be a member of the Breakthrough team in continuing passion to assist students of all ages towards academic, and career success. Her commitment to the community and students aligns with the belief that with a village our students’ education is limitless.


Alicia Flores

Associate Director of MS Programs

Alicia Flores
About Alicia

Alicia Flores is an Austin Native, with firsthand experience of Austin’s schools. In addition, she is part of Breakthrough’s alumni network, having joined the program as a student in 2003. Alicia rejoins the Breakthrough community, with several years of experience as a full-time educator in the Las Vegas school district. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Alicia is excited to bring her ten-plus years of working with students, inside and outside the classroom, back to her Austin community.


Samuel Cauman

Associate Director of MS Programs

About Sam
Samuel was born and raised in Washington, DC, and has lived in Brazil, Canada, and Japan. He moved to Austin in 2009 and served as a public educator for Manor ISD schools, where he worked as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He believes that relationship building is the key to facilitating learning and loves working directly with students. He enjoys cooking, reading, watching soccer, and spending time with his family.

Ric Almeda

Program Coordinator

Ric Almeda
About Ric
Ric Almeda is the son of 2 immigrant parents and a 1st Generation American Citizen and College Graduate. Ric went to the University of Texas for his undergraduate degree and has a teaching certificate from his time as an educator in Manor from 2013 until joining Breakthrough full-time in 2019. Outside of Breakthrough, Ric is a DJ who has toured over 42 countries and even has his own Day in Austin.


Josh Duty

Associate Director of MS Programs
Dorothy Vasquez
About Josh

Josh is a first-generation college graduate with over fifteen years of experience working to close the opportunity gap for all students through best practices in teaching, learning, and leadership.  Prior to joining Breakthrough he served as a middle school teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal, and principal.  During that time Josh was selected as Teacher of the Year as he supported Decker Middle School in Manor ISD to earn the distinctions of AVID National Demonstration School and Texas School to Watch.   Josh has a passion for designing and developing research-based professional learning and practices that meet the needs of higher education and K-12 students, systems, institutions, districts, and schools.  He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Texas State University.

Lucy Meras-Torres

Program Coordinator
Dorothy Vasquez
About Lucy

Lucy is a native Houstonian who proudly earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Teaching and Learning from the University of Houston. As a first-generation college graduate herself, Lucy knows the value of education and holds tight to the belief that post-secondary education isn’t just about books and grades — post-secondary education serves as a gateway to a more promising financial future. After a few years in the classroom and volunteering to mentor high-school students in higher education, Lucy embraced a full-time opportunity as a Post-Secondary Advisor with Texas A&M University and their partnership with Aldine ISD. Through it all, Lucy carries a resounding belief in the power of supporting first-generation students. She knows that every student, armed with the right tools and unyielding support system, can conquer any challenge and emerge victorious in the realm of post-secondary education.

Brandon Páez

Program Coordinator
Dorothy Vasquez
About Brandon

Brandon Páez, a first-generation American on a lifelong mission to inspire his community to pursue education. He recently earned his Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction at Boston College and taught for two years, specializing in middle school education in Lawrence, MA, affectionately known as “the city of immigrants.” What he’s most proud of is his hardworking family heritage, and he has ambitious plans to elevate their name. If he could teach the world one thing, it would be his favorite quote: “los buenos somos mas,” serving as a constant reminder that there will always be people in this world to stand alongside you in the good fight.


Curtis Clay

Associate Director of HS Programs

Michael Griffith
About Curtis
Curtis joins Breakthrough after spending seven years teaching and coaching in Austin-area high schools, having made stops at Lake Travis, LBJ, and Navarro (formerly Lanier). He is passionate about the value of education and supporting students to go after their dreams. In 2017, he was recognized as LBJ’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ as a 9th grade English teacher. Curtis is a proud graduate of Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism, his master’s degree in Educational Administration, and where he also played football. Curtis enjoys spending time with his wife (Brittany) and daughter (Norah), watching sports, and attending concerts.

Grecia Lopez

Program Coordinator

About Grecia
Grecia holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology from Texas Tech University. Having served two summers as a Teaching Fellow in 2016-2017 and being a Breakthrough alumna has led Grecia to return to Breakthrough as a full-time AmeriCorps member. Grecia is excited to build relationships and share her experiences with Breakthrough students to help motivate them during their path to college.

Tiffany Hung

Associate Director of HS Programs

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 teachers. Before coming to 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.

Garrett Boyd

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Garrett
Garrett, a New Orleans native, holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Alabama. He discovered his passion for working in education when he served as an ESL translator leading him to a full-time ESL teaching position at Escuela Politécnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador for two years. With a continued joy for teaching, Garrett joined the Teach For America San Antonio 2020 cohort where he served as a 7th Grade English Language Arts teacher. Being a first-generation college graduate himself, Garrett is excited to join the Breakthrough team and advise high school students. Outside of work, Garrett enjoys going to the gym and trying new restaurants. His goals this year include hiking more often and taking dance classes.

Esmeralda Hernandez

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Esme
Esme received both her Bachelor’s degree in English and her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University. She was born and raised in Austin and taught 8th Grade English for two years at Ojeda Middle School. She is an avid gym goer, her current read is Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde, and she is excited to begin this next chapter with the team at Breakthrough Central Texas.

Robert Evans

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Robert

Robert, an Austinite and a member of the Breakthrough alumni network, served as a Breakthrough teaching fellow during the summer of 2019 and as an AmeriCorps leader for the 2022-2023 school year. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from UTSA in 2021 and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Applied Psychology as a student at Texas A&M-Central. Robert’s hobbies include attending live music concerts, practicing yoga, playing chess, and engaging in various sports. He is deeply committed to the cause of equal opportunity and remains dedicated to supporting the Breakthrough student and family communities.


Dorothy Vasquez

Director of Manor & Del Valle HS 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, which 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.

Brevin Fields

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Brevin
Brevin Fields first served with Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Summer Teacher Fellow serving rising high school freshmen at the Manor Site. Brevin is a proud first-generation college graduate and graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor’s in History and a 7th-12th grade teaching certificate. Brevin is honored to now be serving as a Post-Secondary Advisor at Manor New Technology High School where he graduated in 2016. Brevin is grateful to give back to the community and support future scholars in the Manor community! When not working Brevin loves to spend time with his wife, Hannah, family, and friends, and eat good food around Austin!

Tomas Garza

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Tomas
Tomas is a first-generation college graduate from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a dual minor in Sociology and Spanish, along with a Master of Education in Student Services in Higher Education from the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). A native of Edcouch, Texas, he is a native Spanish speaker, a former Dell Scholar, and was raised in a migrant family. His education career began at UTSA part-time as a Captionist/Transcriptionist in Student Disability Services, providing real-time transcription services for deaf/hard of hearing students in the classroom, which he later pursued full-time for 2 ½ years. He also worked as a Graduate Assistant at UIW in his first semester of Graduate School, supporting high school students in the San Antonio region with their goal of attending college. Tomas also has prior experience in financial aid from The University of Texas at Austin as a Financial Aid Officer and academic success/student retention from St. Edward’s University as a Success Coach. He is excited to serve as a valuable resource for Breakthrough students and families.

Giovanna Perez

Student Advisor

Michael Griffith
About Giovanna

Bio coming soon..

Matt Gonzales-Earhart

Associate Director of Manor HS Programs

About Matt
A first-generation college graduate from small-town Missourah, Matt received his undergraduate degree from the University of Central Missouri in 2004 and a Master’s in Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017. Matt brings over 16 years of experience in public schools in a variety of roles; social studies teacher, AVID coordinator, instructional coach, school administrator, and was named Austin ISD Teacher of the Year in 2012. Matt has a history of supporting first-generation college students and is happiest when hangin’ with his family, Kat and Beto.


Chanelle McFarland

Associate Director of HS Programs
Dorothy Vasquez
About Chanelle

Joining the BreakThrough CTX Del Valle High School team as the Associate Director from Chicago, IL, Chanelle holds a Bachelor’s in Sports Administration from Southern Illinois University, class of 2013. With an 8-year background in non-profit youth development work, she takes pleasure in being part of the growth journey with communities and students. Her ability to foster relationships and build trust with students and families through active listening, compassion, challenging, and being her authentic self greatly contributes to making the BreakThrough mission achievable. When she’s not working closely with students to help them reach the next level, Chanelle indulges in her love for sports, music, and plants.

Angel Arreola

Program Coordinator

Randall Ischy
About Angel
Angel is joining Breakthrough after 5 years of being an educator and coach at Del Valle High School and Cedar Creek High School. He has taught physics, biology, forensic science, and chemistry. Additionally, Angel has coached football, basketball, and track. He is originally from Center Point, Texas and graduated with a class of 48 classmates and then from The University of Texas at Austin as a first generation student. There he met his wife Kristin and they live in East Austin with their dog Jimothy and sweet baby boy Luciano “Luca” who is five months old. He enjoys playing video games, reading, and playing basketball and golf.

Jess Pena

Student Advising & Program Coordinator
Dorothy Vasquez
About Jess

bio in the making..

Laura Palomares

Program Coordinator
Dorothy Vasquez
About Laura

Laura was raised in Idaho and moved to Texas in 2019 to join Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow, where she worked closely with the Austin ISD High School team. Laura is a proud first-generation college graduate herself from the University of Idaho. She holds two bachelor’s degrees in International Studies and Spanish. Laura is passionate about giving back to her community and motivating other first-generation college students. Si Se Puede! Go Vandals!

Johana Ortiz Suchil

High School Advisor
Dorothy Vasquez
About Johana

bio in the making…

Christina Hillard

High School Advisor
Dorothy Vasquez
About Christina

First-Gen UT Austin Grad 2022 BA Sociology Minor Education Psychology.

Christina Hillard is a dedicated advocate and catalyst for positive change in the realm of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). With a deep passion for creating meaningful connections within communities, Christina’s journey is driven by her unwavering belief in the power of inclusivity to transform lives. As a community connector, Christina’s innate ability to forge bonds has led to the creation of bridges between individuals of diverse backgrounds. Her empathetic approach and open-hearted attitude have made her an approachable figure for those seeking to engage in conversations about social issues. Christina’s commitment to fostering a sense of belonging has helped diverse groups come together, transcending barriers and creating environments where everyone’s voice is valued. In her free time, Christina indulges in her passions for reading, writing, and the arts, finding inspiration in the world around her. She believes that personal growth is a lifelong journey, and she consistently seeks out new ways to expand her horizons.

Randall Ischy

Associate Director of Advising

Randall Ischy
About Randall

Randall has a passion for equity, building strong relationships, and fostering a deep sense of community. He has over 20 years of experience in management and education, and he brings his knowledge, compassion, and enthusiasm to serve our Breakthrough students and families. As a first-generation Latino college graduate from Sam Houston State University, Randall infuses his work with his interests in mental health, DEI, and healthy masculinity to provide a holistic approach to serving our community.

Jarvier Peeples

High School Advisor

Randall Ischy
About Jarvier

bio in the works!


Arelis Palacios

Director of College & Career Success
Dorothy Vasquez
About Arelis
Originally from Miami, Florida, Arelis has focused on the intersections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and K-16 educational policies and has worked vigorously to help universities implement their own policies to promote diversity, access, and inclusion for undocumented youth. She is presently a doctoral student in the Curriculum & Instruction program at the University of Texas at Austin, and holds a M.S. in Higher Education Administration and a B.A. in English Literature from Florida State University.

Eni Coker

Program Coordinator


Dorothy Vasquez
About Eni

Eniitan “Eni” Coker, a proud Nigerian-American, began her academic journey in the vibrant state of Georgia, where she was raised. However, for the past few years, Texas has been her cherished home. Eni’s educational path led her from the University of Georgia to the University of Tennessee, where she is pursuing a Master of Science in Social Work. With nearly a decade of experience in youth and community development, Eni’s work is deeply rooted in her belief in investing in young adults and building stronger communities. Her diverse background and experiences bring a unique perspective to her current role as an advisor with the College and Career Success Team.

Erin Gentry

Trades, Vocations, Licensures and Certificates (TVLC) Specialist


Randall Ischy
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.

Carly Boal

Program Coordinator

Randall Ischy
About Carly
Carly Boal, a native New Englander, joins us after 6 years of serving Austin Community College students as an ACC staff member in multiple positions, such as enrollment advising and most recently, academic advising. Prior to working with Austin Community College, Carly served as an AmeriCorps member at 2 different educational non-profits, City Year Miami and College Forward, which brought her to Austin. Carly holds a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and English from the University of Maine and is excited to begin working with Breakthrough’s ACC students!

Christi Almeida

Director of College Access

Christi Almeida
About Christi

Christi is a proud first-generation college graduate, an alumni of the University of Idaho. Go Vandals! She is also first-generation American & daughter of Mexican immigrants, like many of the students she supports. Christi joined Breakthrough in August of 2011 as an AmeriCorps Member. Over the last years, she has been working to grow and develop Breakthrough’s programs and services. She is a champion of student access and success. As Director of College Access, Christi is dedicated to supervising and supporting a team of staff supporting hundreds as they transition from secondary schools into postsecondary education. 

David Porter

Program Coordinator

Christi Almeida
About David
David M. Porter IV is a native Austinite who was raised in education. With his mother having worked in AISD as a teacher and counselor for 30 years and his father being very active in the Austin community through various organizations that work with youth in low-income communities, it only made sense for David to follow the path of education. He started his post-secondary career at the University of Houston to study biomedical engineering but found his love for the field of education and transferred to The University of Texas at Austin where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Learning and Development with a specialization in Youth and Social Services and a minor in English. David’s career with Breakthrough started immediately after his college graduation as an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow, where he found his love to support students to find and achieve their post-secondary goals.

Claudia Ochoa

Program Coordinator

Randall Ischy
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.

Berenice Soto

Program Coordinator

Christi Almeida
About Berenice

Bernice Soto is a program coordinator and community builder who has over 8 years of experience mentoring and coaching Latinx college students to impact their campuses and communities. This last year she was also a part of building a Fellowship Program for young adults leading social justice work and also was a research assistant for a focus group on Latinx millennial mental health practices. She just moved to Austin from San Diego, California a little over a month ago and is pursuing a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. She likes walks, puppies, lattes, plants, thrifting and Bad Bunny and is really excited to get to support college students in the CTX area alongside the broader BT staff!



Breakthrough is a non-profit organization with the mission of providing a path through college for first-generation college graduates. Beginning in sixth grade, AmeriCorps members provide essential support to students who are on this path. Members provide mentoring, academic support, coaching, program planning, and implementation, and other activities to contribute to the success of Breakthrough students. Members will receive extensive training in a variety of areas to prepare them for a rewarding and successful placement with Breakthrough.