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.
As Chief Development Officer, Grace leads a team of talented and caring professionals and volunteers to secure the rapidly increasing support needed to fund Breakthrough’s expansion efforts across Central Texas. Since joining Breakthrough in 2014, annual revenue has doubled from $2million to $4million. Grace is driven by her belief in the power of education to break the cycle of generational poverty and by the transformational impact a single individual can have on another’s life through philanthropy.
Over the course of her career, Grace has led efforts to secure 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 most recently served as Director of Development at Hospice Austin, doubling the organization’s annual philanthropic revenue during her tenure. 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 funds for their first 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 The University of Texas in Austin, Leadership Austin Emerge (2006) and Essential (2017) and the 2016 AISD UpClose Leadership Class. She currently serves as a member of the greater Austin chapter’s Association of Fundraising Professionals Board of Directors.
Grace is the proud and harried mother of twin six-year olds who bring joy, humor and humility to her daily life.
Development, Operations, Community Engagement
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.
Eleanor holds a Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Environmental Studies from Southwestern University. While studying at Southwestern, she joined the Student Philanthropy Council and worked in the office of Annual Giving, both of which sparked her passion for development. In her time as a fundraising professional, Eleanor has supported events with record breaking fundraising, worked closely with volunteer leaders, managed donor databases, and more. When she’s not working, Eleanor enjoys cooking with her friends, playing with her cats Violet, Dude, and Mama Dijon, and swimming in whatever watering hole she can find – no matter how cold!
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>
Policy & Advocacy
Will earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Philosophy from Boston University and a M. Ed. in Education Policy and Planning from the University of Texas at Austin, where he is currently pursuing a PhD in the same department. Following four years teaching English as a foreign language in Europe and South America, he spent five years working as a bilingual elementary classroom teacher and three more as a campus literacy specialist in Central Texas public schools. His personal and professional experiences from more than a decade as an educator in Texas and abroad inform a commitment to culturally responsive pedagogy and curriculum; asset-based, additive, agentic approaches to teaching and learning; and strengthening access to high-quality educational opportunities for all students. In his free time, Will loves to spend time outdoors hiking, biking, camping, or playing sports.
Del Valle Schools
Areli received her degree in Kinesiology at Stephen F. Austin State University. She’s a proud first-generation college graduate, Austinite, and daughter of immigrants. Prior to joining Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Leader, Areli was a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow for three consecutive summers beginning in 2015. She has a passion for both fitness and helping her community by supporting youth to help create first-generation college graduates.
Melanie is a recent graduate from the University of Arkansas where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Melanie served as a Breakthrough AmeriCorps teaching fellow in 2018, solidifying her passions for educational equity and social justice. In her free time, Melanie enjoys spending time outdoors and experimenting in the kitchen. Melanie is overjoyed to be back working as a full-time Americorps member for Breakthrough Central Texas.
Manor Middle Schools
Rosa is a first-generation American and first-generation college graduate from Austin, TX. She graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Legal Studies. Rosa is a former Breakthrough AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, having taught 6th and 8th graders. Having fallen in love with Breakthrough’s mission, Rosa came back to serve as an AmeriCorps member in the same school district she once attended hoping to give back to her community and supporting her students on their path to college.
Anthony Franco first served as a AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow, and is now serving a full year term at Breakthrough/ Anthony is a proud first-generation college graduate, and he recently graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Anthony is excited to work alongside other first-generation college aspirants and help them overcome the barriers he once faced. He was raised in Manor, Texas and is excited to give back to his Manor Breakthrough community and work with the future generation of Manor!
Manor High Schools
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.
Manor New Tech Postsecondary Advising Program
Noe recently graduated in the spring of 2020 from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor’s in Communication Disorders and Sciences. As a first-generation, limited-income college graduate, Noe was able to shape his path towards academia knowing he had a foundation that was able to help me when needed and was able to receive a full ride scholarship. Noe has 4 years of experience working with youth and has worked with first-generation, DACA, and students of color as an after school program coordinator and has enjoyed his time working with students. Noe’s experiences have molded his passion to continue on supporting youth along their journey by bridging resources and providing support in order to make postsecondary education accessible. This will be Noe’s first time as an AmeriCorps member with Breakthrough a part of the Postsecondary Advising Program as an Advisor. He enjoys listening to reggaetón and traveling and is excited to begin this new journey in his life.
Northeast Austin Middle Schools
Shana is no stranger to Breakthrough. She comes to us with two summers as a teaching fellow at Saint Paul Central and recently served as the Program Manager for Breakthrough Twin Cities. She also brings proficiency in operations from her experience as the Head of Operations with the United States Army Reserves where one of her duties was maintaining communication and coordinating meetings between sections, leading training, tracking company progress, and maintaining company morale.
Hannah holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Spanish from Tulane University. Having worked with students of different ages and backgrounds, Hannah decided to become an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow with Breakthrough upon graduation. This experience, in combination with her prior work helping launch an education access non-profit, led her to become a full-time AmeriCorps member with Breakthrough.
South/Central Austin Middle Schools
Kathryn graduated from Knox College where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in Social Service. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Kathryn worked to write curriculum and develop programing for children with special needs. An avid traveler, Kathryn used teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) as a way to see the world. She taught in Barcelona, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has over five years of experience teaching ESL and continues to do so in her spare time. She is honored by the opportunity to continue making a difference in the lives of students and families of marginalized communities.
Will Banes was born and raised in London, England. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Princeton University. During his studies, he took particular interest in studying documentary photography. Will joins Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Member on the Central South Austin team. He previously worked as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow in 2018 and as an After School Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough New York last year. He is honored to continue working with Breakthrough students and their families this year.
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.
Austin High Schools
In 2018, David was awarded the OneStar Foundation’s 2018 National Service “Make-A-Difference” Award at the 35th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards. Outside of his work at Breakthrough, David is an assistant football, basketball, and track & field coach to 5th-8th grade students at St. Francis School in north Austin since the fall of 2014.
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.
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!
Ashley was born and raised in Austin, TX and enjoys all activities the city has to offer, such as paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Spanish from Hendrix College, where she was also a captain of the women’s lacrosse team. Ashley previously interned for the Breakthrough summer program while in High School and is excited to now be a full time AmeriCorps Member. As a proud first generation college graduate and Breakthrough alumna, she is eager to be supporting other Breakthrough students on their own journey to further their educational and long term goals.
Ar’Niqua has a passion for making higher education attainable for all (specifically first-generation and students from underserved communities). As a first-generation college student herself, Ar’Niqua quickly realized the importance of having a strong support system to get to and persist through college. Ar’Niqua has a B.S. in Human Development and Family Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin and a M.S. in Victim Services Management from Sam Houston State University. She has worked in higher education in various student support roles for over 6 years.
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.
Marissa Peña is a first-generation college graduate and Breakthrough alumna. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a minor in Spanish from St. Edward’s University. Having had a challenging college experience, Marissa is excited to share that experience with other Breakthrough students and support them as they encounter the many adversities that come with being a first-generation college student.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Shannon graduated from Knox College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s in Spanish Language and Literature. During her undergraduate studies, she worked as a writing tutor in the academic success center on campus. She then took her passion for education and previous experience to Breakthrough to become a Summer AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow before joining the College Completion Team. Shannon enjoys taking long walks and browsing internet memes.
Maya is an native Austinite and proud alum of Sam Houston State University, where she recieved a Bachelor of Science in Food Science & Nutrition. Having graduated in 2018, she is an “almost first-generation” college student whose mom returned to school for her undergrad degree and graduated in 2016. She was a student in College Forward for six years and knew not long after graduation, and a few odd jobs here and there, she wanted to do a term of service for an organization that makes a difference in the community that she grew up in. She worked as a chemistry lab instructor in college and has a great passion for encouraging STEAM learning and careers to underserved youth. Her passion for helping others coupled with her love for knowledge and bettering its accessibility drew her into the direction of Breakthrough. Maya hopes to return to school and earn a Masters in a food science-related field to pursue a research career in food allergens and product development. In her free time, Maya enjoys cooking and baking new recipes for her friends and family, doing puzzles, watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Facetiming her older sister and nephew.
Nico is a graduate from UT with a B.A. in Geography. His professional interests include data analysis, GIS, and cinema studies. Having dabbled in non-profit work in NYC, Nico proudly joins Breakthrough Central Texas to provide support and guidance to his students.