President and CEO
John Valverde is the President and CEO of YouthBuild USA. He joined YouthBuild in 2017 after decades of work as an advocate for creating access to opportunity and removing barriers for formerly incarcerated and low-income people.
John began working with imprisoned individuals in 1992 to ensure access to HIV/AIDS counseling, high school equivalency instruction, alternatives to violence programs, and college education. In 1995, responding to the gap created by the elimination of TAP and Pell funding for people in prison, he led an initiative to develop and deliver a college-level certificate program, the Certificate in Ministry and Human Services. Today called Rising Hope, this program continues in several New York State prisons. In 1998, he co-founded Hudson Link for Higher Education, the first privately funded accredited college program in New York’s prisons. More than 450 students in prison have graduated from Hudson Link, which has grown to serve five prisons with six college partners.
In 2009, John worked with a team at the Osborne Association to create New York City’s first green jobs training program exclusively for people with criminal records. As Osborne’s Executive Vice President, John launched, managed, and led programs including children, youth, and family services; substance abuse treatment; workforce development; community benefit projects; financial literacy; health and wellness services; housing; alternatives to incarceration; mentoring and leadership development; and social enterprises. John has led teams that offer multiple evidence-based interventions, with a trauma-informed approach, to distinct populations that range from very young children to the elderly.
As a steady and persistent advocate for creating access, John has worked with city, state, and federal agencies to develop and operate proven job readiness and placement programs. He forged Osborne’s first relationships with labor unions and has served on the Board of Pathways to Apprenticeship that supports individuals from traditionally underserved communities gain access to apprenticeship programs.
John often serves as a keynote speaker at important and related events to share his personal story of transformation and second chances. As a young man who was incarcerated at 21, John’s work to accept responsibility for his actions and commit to making amends started him on a journey of redemption that allowed him to imagine and build a new future. Though he was incarcerated for almost 16 years, John is now recognized as a proven leader and example for people affected by the criminal justice system. John’s personal and professional life embodies the work of YouthBuild and is a powerful representation of its mission. He is the proud recipient of the 2018 Brian S. Fischer Achievement Award from Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. This award is presented annually to a formerly incarcerated leader who has made an impact by advocating for positive change in the world.
John is a graduate of Aspen Institute’s Sector Skills Academy and a 2018 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow. John received his Master of Professional Studies in Urban Ministry from the New York Theological Seminary and holds a Bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Mercy College.
Chief Strategy Officer
President, YouthBuild International
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Program Officer
Chief of Staff
Tim Cross is President of YouthBuild International. He joined YouthBuild USA in 1996 and has held several positions including Vice President of Field Services and Chief Operating Officer.
For the last 20 years, Tim has worked in the field of youth and community development across various roles. He was the Country Coordinator of the Civil Society Development program, helping to organize two national support organizations providing a range of training and technical assistance to the emerging non-profit sectors in Poland and Hungary.
Tim also served as a consultant to the ImagineNations Group, International Youth Foundation, the World Bank and Open Society Institute on international initiatives focused on youth engagement, training, and employment. He directed the ROCA youth center in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a comprehensive youth development program and was executive director of Youth As Resources in Boston. Tim was the lead organizer of efforts that led to the founding of YouthBuild Boston, the first YouthBuild program outside of East Harlem, New York. He has also worked as a foundation program officer focused on refugee and immigrant development efforts, and has consulted for several international grant making organizations seeking to build the capacity of youth workers.
Tim received his Master’s degree from Harvard University.
Michael Brotchner is the Chief Strategy Officer at YouthBuild USA, overseeing its Development, Communications, Data Services, and Digital Information Systems departments. He is also responsible for leading the implementation of the organization’s five-year strategic plan. Additionally, Michael helps lead the development of strategic partnerships with companies and other nonprofit organizations.
Michael brings over two decades of experience in the nonprofit sector to the organization. Prior to joining YouthBuild USA, Michael served as a program officer at the Schultz Family Foundation, where he worked with organizations serving opportunity youth and led the Foundation’s work on addressing homelessness. From 2011 to 2015, Michael was the executive director of Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), a nonprofit addressing economic and environmental issues in the South Bronx — and throughout New York City – with a combination of workforce development, social enterprise, and community greening programs. At SSBx, Michael negotiated the organization’s combination with The HOPE Program, a Brooklyn-based workforce development organization.
From 2007 to 2011, he served as the executive director of Generation Rwanda (now known as Kepler), an organization dedicated to helping orphans and other socially vulnerable young people in Rwanda pursue a university education and become Rwanda’s future leaders. He has also served as the director of development for the Fund for Public Schools in New York City, and the director of development for Fair Trade USA. He has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits, including Root Capital, which provides affordable financial services to small and medium-sized enterprises operating in environmentally sensitive areas of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Michael received an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He holds a bachelor’s degree with high honors from Wesleyan University.
Shauna-Lee Ruglass is the Chief of Staff at YouthBuild USA. She brings a systems-based, culturally competent, and trauma-informed perspective to the leadership team. As chief of staff, she provides project management, strategic planning and implementation support for key organizational initiatives, as well as supporting the CEO. She also leads alumni services and engagement efforts to increase connection with our network of more than 180,000 YouthBuild students worldwide.
With over ten years of nonprofit administration experience, Shauna-Lee has spent the majority of her professional career working to bring evidence-based interventions and programming to marginalized communities and individuals in need. She has been part of the YouthBuild USA team since 2007, when she began as an administrative assistant. Since then, her roles have included manager of YouthBuild USA’s Speakers Bureau, executive assistant to the CEO, and special projects manager to the CEO.
Shauna received a master’s degree in clinical social work from Simmons College, now named Simmons University. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Howard University as well as certificates in personal development coaching from CaPP Institute and urban leadership from Simmons College.
Gina Plata is the chief program officer at YouthBuild USA. She is responsible for the overall performance and effectiveness of YouthBuild USA’s 233 domestic programs, focusing on program leadership and management along with partnerships and organizational strengthening.
She brings over twenty years of nonprofit management experience and a career dedicated to helping individuals break through cycles of poverty and oppression to advance equality. This includes program design and evaluation, workforce development, community development, and diversity, equity and inclusion work.
Before joining YouthBuild USA, Gina served as the education and training director at Just-A-Start in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was responsible for the oversight of numerous government contracts, led employer engagement efforts, engaged with philanthropy and fundraising, and led efforts in strategic revitalizations of programs and organizational development. She was also the adult basic education director of the Jackson Mann Community Center in Allston, Massachusetts. Previous posts include employment services director for Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia; education director at Concilio Hispano; and community interpreter services program manager for Catholic Charities’ refugee and immigration program.
Gina received a master’s degree in leadership and nonprofit management from Northeastern University. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Universidad Iberoamericana.
Ophelia Liu is the chief financial officer at YouthBuild USA. In this role, she oversees the finance department, ensuring the organization’s fiscal discipline, financial reporting, planning and analysis, and grant control and statutory compliance.
With over 15 years of experience, her leadership background spans multinational, publicly listed companies. She provided leadership in finance and administration for Jardine Engineering’s Far East headquarters and for Meidensha’s four regional offices in China. An ISO certified lead auditor, she served as an implementation committee systems member during Jardine’s transition from Jardine Engineering Management Information System (JEMIS) to JD Edwards. More recently, she served as the director of finance and administration at a nonprofit organization, Quincy Asian Resources, Inc. (QARI), where she oversaw the budget and state and private grants, managed various accounts, fundraised, conducted community outreach, and worked directly with the treasurer of the board and CEO. She has been part of the YouthBuild USA team since 2018, when she began as the financial grant manager and accounting specialist and was later promoted to assistant controller. During her tenure at YouthBuild USA, her leadership has been integral to advancing the organization’s financial stability.
Ophelia received a master’s in professional accounting from the Open University of Hong Kong. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business studies from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from Quincy College. She is a Designated Federal Grant Manager certified by the Department of Justice.
The Board consists of individuals with relevant expertise in the fields of public policy, research, financial management, law, advocacy, nonprofit management, corporate management, housing, youth development, and community economic development. It includes four graduates of YouthBuild programs.
Roy Priest is a principal owner of Community Development Concepts, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to providing unique and creative solutions to a full range of community and economic development challenges facing communities, government, and nonprofit organizations. The firm offers strategic interventions, situation analysis, planning and program development in real estate development and finance, risk management analysis, organization and human capital development.
Prior to joining his current firm, Roy served a seven-year tenure as the President and CEO of the National Congress for Community Economic Development. As Chief Executive of the nation’s trade association representing more than 4,300 community development corporations (CDCs) nationwide, Roy demonstrated innovative, effective strategies designed to foster growth and prosperity in America’s economically distressed communities as well as a thorough knowledge of the programs, procedures, funding criteria, policy shapers and community leaders in the federal, state, local, philanthropic, and economic development arenas.
Roy also completed a 17-year tenure with the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As the director of economic development, he administered and managed HUD’s economic development programs including the $4.6 billion Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG), $3 billion Empowerment Zones, Enterprise Communities, and Renewal Communities Program, $4.6 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), $1B Economic Development Initiative (EDI) Program, $300M Section 108, and $50 billion YouthBuild programs.
Roy began his career in Washington in 1967 working for the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA) as the project director for a large urban renewal project responsible for the development of new and rehabilitated housing, retail space, and community service space. Over the next seven years, he held a myriad of senior management positions that involved the management of major program and policy responsibilities of the RLA.
Throughout his career, Roy has been a visionary and committed ally and leader of the community development movement. He is a member of the Advisory Boards for the Rural Local Initiative Support Corporation and the Boston College center for Corporate Community Relations, a member of the Boards of Directors for the St. Ann’s Fund (Washington Archdiocese), and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and a member of the Board of Overseers of Southern New Hampshire University.
Michele Courton Brown is responsible for identifying and evaluating new business opportunities at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, including acquisitions, strategic alliances and joint ventures that drive competitive advantage, support strategic objectives, and drive profitable growth. She also sources strategic investments for Zaffre Venture Fund.
Michele is Executive Board Member of Quality Interactions, a leading provider of cultural competency training for the healthcare industry that she led as CEO for six years. The company trains healthcare professionals to communicate with and care for diverse patient populations to improve patient experience, health outcomes and financial results. Clients include top tier hospitals and medical schools, and large health plans across the country.
Previously Michele was a Senior Vice President and national practice director for Bank of America’s Philanthropic Management Group, and a Market Director, leading a multi-state team providing client service, fiduciary, administrative, and philanthropic advice to high net-worth individuals, families, foundations, and nonprofit institutions, with combined assets of $6 billion. During her tenure, she successfully sold a private company held in trust for $318 million. Michele was President of the FleetBoston Financial Foundation, which contributed over $25 million annually to charitable organizations. She conceived the bank’s Museums On Us! customer access program, offering free visits to the nation’s leading arts institutions, now celebrating its twentieth year.
Michele holds a BA from Boston University where she is completing a MSci in Health Communications. A frequent speaker on entrepreneurship, health equity and nonprofit board governance, Michele co-authored “Just Money: A Critique of Contemporary American Philanthropy.”
Michele serves on the boards of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, YouthBuild USA, and Health Resources in Action.
Kathy Witsil has had a career with JPM Chase and its heritage organizations for over 20 years. She joined Bank One in 1998 in digital marketing (an emerging area at that time). She is now in CCB Operations with responsibility for Auto Operations and Product Management. Prior to this role, she has held leadership roles in card services, small business banking, and student loans. Kathy also holds seven patents in the areas of data, payment devices, and card design.
Jahi B. Davis, MBA has 21 years of experience as a leader in the field of business, finance and lending. He has served as a bank lender, corporate trainer, and technical assistance expert in the public and private sector, assisting small business owners and charter schools in all five phases of a business.
He has executive leadership experience as a former President and Executive Director of two national nonprofit agencies, and has successfully won local & federal demonstration grants to support entrepreneurial training as a workforce development strategy in the District of Columbia. For adults interested in starting their own business, Jahi has facilitated 12-week training courses in the private sector to provide individuals with the structure and strategies to write a winning business plan.
He has served as a leader of Early Childhood Education Programs for YouthBuild Philadelphia as an AmeriCorps Volunteer, and currently sits on the Board of Directors for YouthBuild USA. Jahi is a Co-Founder of Better Futures and Founder of Davis&Davis Advisors.
Michael Gilligan is the founder of Urban Catalyst, a private equity venture providing growth and transition capital for businesses generating quality jobs for underserved communities. Michael has extensive experience partnering with the management teams of growing businesses on strategy, leadership development and driving strong operating performance. He was a cofounder of Bank of Boston’s captive private equity group and its successor, Heritage Partners, a middle market private equity firm providing transition and growth capital for family- and founder-owned businesses.
Michael is passionate about creating access to opportunity for all, partnering with leading social entrepreneurs committed to new solutions driving impact in poverty alleviation, community development and education reform.
Michael has served as board chair of LIFT, a national nonprofit organization that empowers families to break the cycle of poverty and serves on the boards of New Hope Community Capital, Fare Resources and Ovenly.
Charlotte Golar Richie is an experienced leader and administrator with a background in public service, political activism, and civil rights. She recently completed a public service fellowship at the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy (CWPPP) at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she was recently named as the Center’s Interim Advisory Board Chair.
Charlotte is a former State Representative, Commissioner for the MA Commission Against Discrimination, Housing Chief and Neighborhood Development Director. In addition to her role with CWPPP, she currently serves on several nonprofit boards and advisory boards (Boston’s Higher Ground, Children’s HealthWatch, the MA Women of Color Coalition, the MA Women’s Political Caucus; Tufts Health Plan Foundation).
Through her board and philanthropic activities, she has worked to improve service delivery in Boston’s underserved neighborhoods, to open doors to politics and government to women and people of color. As YouthBuild USA’s former Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, and as a longtime board member, Charlotte has strongly supported nationwide efforts to promote youth leadership, education and development.
A graduate of Rutgers University, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Suffolk University’s Sawyer School of Management, Charlotte is a former U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer and mother to two adult daughters, who are seeking to effect positive change in their own communities.
Jody Cornish is a Social Impact and Philanthropic Advisor, working at the nexus of social impact strategy, organizational effectiveness and resource aggregation. She currently is the Senior Vice President of Alignment, Innovation and Investment at City Year, focused on clarifying City Year’s multi-year strategy for impact, aligning operations with strategy and ensuring aggregation of resources to support operations and innovation in key areas. Jody also co-leads education thought leadership for City Year.
In addition to her work at City Year and her service on the YouthBuild Board of Trustees, Jody is a Board Member for Next Generation Learning Challenge, Big Picture Learning and Youth OnBoard. Previously, Jody was a Managing Partner with New Profit – a Boston-based venture philanthropy fund. During her time with New Profit, she worked with the senior leadership team and Board of more than 30 nonprofit organizations to optimize their strategies for growth and impact. During her last 5 years at New Profit, she was the Co-Lead for New Profit’s ground-breaking K-12 education fund, Reimagine Learning, which combined work in policy change, investments in leading edge education entrepreneurs, programmatic work in youth voice and in community-informed school change in Essex County and convening and engagement of nearly 1000 education innovators across sectors. This work was featured in a Deloitte whitepaper: Shifting a System: The Reimagine Learning Network and how to tackle persistent problems. Prior to joining New Profit, Jody was the Co-Founder and Lead Strategist for Lodestar International, an international development consultancy focused on supporting cross-sector collaboration to address entrenched economic development challenges in the developing world.
Jody previously worked in strategy execution with leading technology and financial services firms in New York City. She started her career as a Consultant at Monitor Group, where she focused on research-informed growth strategies for start-ups, mergers and companies in transition. Jody’s passion for social impact stems from her own background and her commitment to equity. She is a first-generation college graduate from rural Pennsylvania and knows firsthand the impact that circumstances and luck can have on life trajectories.
As Senior Vice President and General Manager, Strategic Partnerships, Greg Hybl is responsible for strategy and development of American Express’s largest strategic partnerships at an enterprise level. Fusing a small-company entrepreneurial mindset with large company leadership experience, he is responsible for building innovative partnerships and finding new business opportunities and solutions to expand those relationships across American Express. He joined American Express in 2009 and has held a variety of positions increasing in responsibility across their Merchant Services and Commercial Payments businesses.
Greg launched his career in finance at General Electric and then moved into marketing and sales positions at Dell before running Andrew Harper, a private-equity owned luxury travel and publishing business, where he led a critical business transformation. He is a former Board Member of the U.S. Travel Association and United Negro College Fund (UNCF) where he gained a deeper appreciation of the challenges and opportunities related to education equality.
Greg lives with his wife and three children in Summit, New Jersey. He earned a BA in Finance from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas, Austin.
Cliff Johnson recently retired from his position as the Founding Executive Director of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C. In this role, Cliff led NLC’s efforts to help municipal leaders improve outcomes for children, youth and families in their communities. The Institute is works in five core program areas: education and expanded learning, early childhood success; health and wellness; youth and young adult connections; and economic opportunity and financial empowerment. Cliff served as the Institute’s Executive Director for 21 years.
Prior to his time at NLC, Cliff spent three years as a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities working on the development of transitional jobs and other innovative approaches to job creation and welfare‑to‑work strategies. From the mid-1980’s through the mid-1990’s, he served in senior staff positions at the Children’s Defense Fund, including three years as director of CDF’s Programs and Policy Division. Cliff began his career in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also co-authored two books on labor and social policy while serving as a research associate with the late Sar Levitan at George Washington University’s Center for Social Policy Studies.
Cliff’s connection to YouthBuild spans more than 30 years, beginning with a visit to the Youth Action Program in East Harlem. He collaborated with Dorothy Stoneman on the drafting of the original legislation authorizing YouthBuild as a federal program, and he utilized his position at CDF to organize and lobby for its enactment. Cliff has been a member of the YouthBuild USA Board of Directors since the early 1990s.
Sam Ladah began his career pursuing an interest in international human rights law. For the past fifteen years, he has worked in the technology sector, creating new employment opportunities to make the sector more inclusive.
In his current role, Sam is the HR Vice President for IBM’s rapidly growing Cloud business. He recently led the Talent Organization for IBM globally, where he was responsible for all of IBM’s talent acquisition, HR analytics, workforce strategy, professional development and performance management programs.
Sam has held numerous positions with IBM, including a recent two-year assignment in Tokyo as the HR Vice President for IBM Japan. Sam also completed a two-year assignment based in London as the HR Director for IBM’s services business across a dozen European countries. Prior to these international assignments, Sam led due diligence and negotiated the HR terms in more than a dozen IBM acquisitions and divestitures.
Early in his career, Sam practiced law in the areas of insurance defense, criminal defense and commercial litigation. He represented primarily US and European clients and volunteered a significant portion of his time at public interest law firms representing victims of human rights abuses. In transitioning from law to business, Sam worked at software and consumer internet companies in Silicon Valley.
Sam holds a BA in Political Science from the University of California at San Diego, a JD from Emory University School of Law, and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He is a member of the California Bar Association.
Chi Kim is the CEO of Pure Edge, Inc., a private operating foundation dedicated to supporting educators and learners in combating stress and developing social, emotional, and academic learning competencies with an open heart and mind. Prior to joining Pure Edge, Inc., she was a California school superintendent. She also served as a school principal, teacher, and leadership coach as well as a program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She is co-founder of the Teaching Garden program that was adopted by the American Heart Association to support heart health through school gardens.
Chi is a 2018 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow, Board Chair and Trustee of the Great Minds nonprofit board, a member of CASEL Board of Directors, Coalition for Career Development Center, and FECOP Board of Directors. She also sits on the advisory councils of SEL4US, Project Wayfinder, Center for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child, and Family Code Night/MV GATE.
She earned a BA in psychology and a master’s of education from UCLA. She also holds a Tier I administrative services credential from California State University, Dominguez Hills; a Tier II administrative services credential from Loyola Marymount University; XPT Performance Breathing certification; and Oxygen Advantage Functional Breathing certification. She is a mom to three wonderful girls and resides in the greater Boston area.
Pam Mackenzie is a Director at Goulston & Storrs who conducts a broad-based commercial and real estate finance practice representing leading financial institutions and sophisticated borrowers in a wide variety of transactions. Pam has significant experience lending in the retail sector, and in representing letter of credit issuers in tax-exempt industrial bond financings and with loan workouts and restructurings.
Chambers USA recognizes Pam as “one of the team’s key finance practitioners who is extremely client-oriented with good problem-solving and negotiation skills.”
Acquisition finance, secured and unsecured REIT facilities, leveraged cash flow and asset-based loans, investor bridge facilities, credit enhancement bond transactions, debtor-in-possession facilities, intercreditor arrangements, first-lien and second-lien facilities and cross-border transactions are all part of Pam’s experience.
Johnny J. Mack has a distinguished career as Senior Executive in public, private, government, and nonprofit organizations. His professional background includes serving as Senior Executive in healthcare, mortgage banking, manufacturing and wholesale industries. In addition, he has extensive experience in the social change, community development, and international relations fields. Dr. Mack is Principal and Managing Partner of The Jonymak Group, LLC, a global research and consulting firm that works across sectors – private, public, and community – focusing on strategic, advisory, development, and public affairs services to business, government, and nonprofit organizations.
Dr. Mack has also served as the Executive Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and president of the Drum Major Institute, a New York based NGO co-founded by Martin Luther King, III. He founded the National Institute for Community Empowerment, Inc., a national intermediary in the community economic development field and Communities Without Boundaries International, an international peace and development organization.
Dr. Mack’s community and international relations work includes extensive travel throughout the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and South/Southeast Asia, teaching and lecturing on the topics of peace and conflict resolution, civic engagement, nonviolent social change and human development, as well as designing and carrying out comprehensive community building and development programs.
In addition to holding degrees in business and theology from Oakwood University, Dr. Mack is a Certified Public Accountant and has more than 30 years experience directing program, administration, and financial management systems and operations. His is senior scholar at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Institute, Stanford University. He has served as a Senior Advisor on domestic policy to Search for Common Ground and the Henry Hart Rice Fellow at the School for Conflict Analysis & Resolution at George Mason University in Virginia, where he earned the doctorate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He has advised heads of state, high-profile and high-wealth persons as well as served on many boards, both nonprofit and public companies.
Tulaine Montgomery is an accomplished social entrepreneur, educator, community organizer, and writer. She has played central leadership roles in the launch and expansion of several schools and non-profit organizations domestically and internationally. Tulaine is currently Co-CEO at New Profit, a national venture philathrophy fund that provides growth capital grants and strategic support to social entrepreneurs and their organizations.
Prior to her role at New Profit, Tulaine was Founder and President of New Resource Strategies (NRS), a consulting firm that enables mission-driven organizations to address major operational, fiscal, and strategic challenges. She previously held leadership positions at United Way Massachusetts Bay & Merrimac Valley, Citizen Schools and YouthBuild USA. Tulaine received a master’s degree in public policy from Tufts University and earned her B.A. from Smith College in Northampton, MA. She is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, a Community Enrichment Fellow at Northeastern University, and a Neighborhood Fellow at Tufts University. Tulaine is an accomplished cellist and writer; she has written and produced four original plays.
With a passion for education, advocacy and social entrepreneurship, Ray Mills has focused his professional career on underserved communities. Ray owns and operates several businesses in Georgia, including Mills Media Group and The Mills Academy. The Mills Academy is an early education and daycare center in his hometown of College Park that provides a safe, peaceful and nurturing learning environment for up to 150 children. Currently he is working on plans to open a private, charter elementary school (grades one through five) serving students predominately from distressed and underserved communities with an emphasis on financial literacy.
In 2014, Ray co-founded Run for Justice, an advocacy organization designed to bring attention to the tragic death of Michael Brown. He and Co-Founder Londrelle Hall completed a 21-day, 614-mile running campaign from Atlanta to Ferguson, Missouri, to increase awareness of racial injustice and raise funds in support of Brown’s family. He is also the author of the book Let’s Start a Business, offering insight and experience to both young and older professionals alike.
Ray obtained a GED, pursued a college degree on athletic scholarship at Florida International University, and later studied business administration at Kennesaw State University. He currently lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children.
Antonio Ramirez, Jr. is currently the Co-Founder of United At Peace, Inc. a new local grass root nonprofit dedicated to helping youth, families and the community at large. Prior to starting this new nonprofit in the fall of 2013, he was the Branch Director of the YMCA of Rock River Valley — Community Outreach Branch. He began at the YMCA of Rock River Valley in 2004 as a volunteer to the Black and Latino Achievers Steering Committee, and then became Coordinator for the Black and Latino Achievers in 2006.
Antionio began his career in the human service/community outreach field in 2001 with CCS YouthBuild Rockford, working with opportunity youth looking to gain a GED all while developing leadership, life and job ready skills.
Antonio himself was a participant and graduate of YouthBuild Rockford in 2000, but was accepted as a 1998 East High School graduate to the program. Graduating from the program not only inspired Antonio to become a more productive citizen for his community but also engaged his passion to be actively involved in youth advocacy and community activism nationally for now 16 years. In October 2003 Antionio became the first in the state of Illinois and second in the nation to complete a two-year term as a Youth Development Practitioner Apprentice (YDPA). The YDPA position was created by the U.S. Department of Labor to strengthen and professionalize the field of youth development.
In 2007, Antonio served as the commencement speaker at Rock Valley College’s graduation, as he became the first in his family to attend college and receive an Associate’s Degree. That same year, Antonio was recognized in the first ever, Rockford Chamber of Commerce, 40 Leaders Under 40.
Antonio’s local community involvements include former member of CCS YouthBuild Rockford Board of Directors, previous member of La Voz Latina Board of Directors, and former President to District 205 Bilingual Department Parent Advisory Committee. Currently Ramirez is member of the Coalition of Latino Leaders and has been a long time Alumni advisor and past President to the Association of Latin American Students Club of Rock Valley College.
Antonio’s national involvement includes current member of National YouthBuild USA Board of Directors, along with serving as a 10-year member and former 3 term President of YouthBuild USA’s National Alumni Council.
Aside from organizing conferences, facilitating workshops/trainings, and keynote speaking for schools, organizations, or youth related conferences, Antonio is a devoted loving father and family man.