YESS Staff

Carlo KriekelsCo-founder and Executive Director, JD, LL.M.

Carlo was born in Belgium and is a first-generation American Citizen. He holds two law degrees (a J.D. from Belgium and a LL.M from Germany) and is proficient in six languages, including Spanish. After completing an intensive four-year training program in emotional intelligence coaching, Carlo taught leadership and emotional intelligence skills to business leaders in Europe and the United States for many years.  In 2001, he co-founded the, Denver based educational nonprofit, YESS Institute in order to bring the benefits of emotional intelligence skills to at-risk youth, rolemodels and the agencies that serve youth.

YESS has facilitated 45 peer mentoring programs since 2003 and currently serves 600 students daily. As the YESS Institute’s co-founder, Carlo has trained over 4,000 youth and role models at national, regional, and local conferences and workshops, including at MENTOR’s National Mentoring Symposium in DC.  Since 2006, he has been an active member of the Denver Youth Mentoring Collaborative’s (YMC) training committee and co-chaired the YMC in 2009-10. He has been one of the key leaders in the creation of the Colorado Mentoring Partnership.  Carlo has served on both The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Committee (2009-2015) and The Denver Foundation’s Education Committee (2012-2014). In partnership with the Denver Office of the Independent Monitor, Carlo is one of lead curriculum developers of the Forums: “Youth Outreach Project – Bridging the Gap: Cops and Kids”.  Carlo is the author of the audio course and ebook: “The 9 Key Components of Peer Mentoring.” He received the 2011 “Heavy Lifting Award” from the Denver Mayor’s Office for Education and Children for his efforts to improve the lives of youth in Denver. In addition, Carlo accepted the 2016 My Brother’s Keeper Award from Mayor Michael Hancock and the City and County of Denver for work with young men of color on behalf of the YESS Institute. Carlo lives in Denver with his wife, two sons and their Wheaten Terrier. In his free time he enjoys cycling over and across the Colorado Rockies.

Jamie Miller, Development Associate

Jamie moved several times across the state of Georgia before settling in Athens. There she graduated from North Oconee High School, going forward to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, with a minor in English, at the University of Georgia. Following graduation, Jamie dedicated herself to the Athens’ community by working and volunteering at the Interfaith Hospitality Center for families experiencing homelessness. She’s worked in several mental health day-clinics leading groups on psycho-education. Concurrent with her work at the YESS Institute, she is pursuing a Masters degree in Counseling at the University of Northern Colorado. She is passionate about creating opportunities for at-risk youth while expanding multicultural awareness through public-private partnerships. Jamie enjoys spending time skiing in the mountains and kayaking on the rivers; as well as quieter activities such as painting, spending time with her cat- Boba Catt- and board games. Jamie was drawn to the YESS team with appreciation of the Institute’s effective social and emotional skills training within schools; she believes that education should be holistically structured to address all aspects of personal and professional development- rather than only provide lessons with traditional content. She understands that social and emotional balance are essential to a person’s well being, especially during grade school. Jamie joined YESS in 2017, and will be focusing on the YESS Institute’s development needs.

Emily Webster, College Navigator, High School Team Lead

Emily is thrilled to be serving YESS students as the College Navigator. She previously worked as a therapeutic wilderness counselor, group treatment coordinator, teacher, a farm hand and YESS Program Manager at West High School. Emily enjoys helping youth realize and fulfill their potential and find their unique path to success. She’s looking forward to re-connecting with former YESS Mentors and Mentees! In her free time, Emily loves camping, cooking southern food, and spending quality time with Chompers and Penguin.


Daniel Medina, Program Director at Lincoln High School – Contracted

Daniel dropped out of Lincoln High School as a freshman, became gang-involved and ran away from home. He was married by age 18 and by 30 he had six children. He eventually turned his life around, completed his GED, started his own construction company and volunteered as a sports coach. In 1999, Lincoln High School, struggling to reduce gang activity, asked him become the school’s community / attendance liaison and a coach. Daniel searched the streets to bring the non-attending kids back to school, placed negative peer leaders in small alternative schools and increased parent involvement. His hands-on model combined with the street-credibility earned as a result of his background has helped him connect with and help turn around many “lost kids”. In 2006, the YESS Institute piloted its peer-mentoring model at Lincoln HS with Dan Medina serving as the School Liaison for the program. Dan worked closely with the YESS Institute to create the current blueprint for the YESS Mentoring program; he is responsible for attendance strategies such as our log sheet, home visit policy and mentee/parent attendance contract.

Vince Trujillo, Program Manager at North High School

Vince Trujillo is a Colorado native and grew up in North Denver. Before joining the YESS Institute in 2017, Vince spent over nine years teaching and mentoring youth in DPS in character, life skills, and leadership at Colorado UpLift.  Before joining UpLift, Vince spent four years working as a special education paraprofessional in DPS.  He also has a background in helping people find jobs, food service, summer camps, and case managing.  Away from work you can find Vince spending time with his wife and child.  Vince’s hobbies include sports, catching up on his favorite shows, reading, traveling, and volunteering. Vince has experience working with students of different ages, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds. He is the YESS Program Manager at North High School and works to build relationships with the youth, inspiring them to achieve their dreams.

Ben Sothmann, Program Manager at West Leadership Academy

Ben was born and raised in Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University in 2010. He started his teaching career after college by completing his TEFL certification and teaching English in South Korea. After his time abroad, Ben moved to Denver in 2013 and finished his master’s degree and teacher training from the University of Northern Colorado. Since his time at UNC, Ben has worked with children and young adults in a wide variety of disciplines including academic skill development, English language acquisition, post-secondary access and peer mentoring. Ben is the YESS Program Manager at West Leadership Academy and is happy to support an organization dedicated to empowering youth within the community.

Erica Castro, Program Manager at Adams City High School

Erica Castro was born in Fort Worth, Texas and attended both high school and college in Denton, Texas. She graduated with her Bachelors degree in Art Education, where she completed University of North Texas’ secondary education program as well as student teaching. After graduating, she traveled with her dad to 12 countries where her love for different cultures and nature grew. When she returned she was inspired by her experiences abroad to move to Colorado. It is here in the colorful state that she found the true happiness and peace that only the mountains can bring. In her spare time you can find her camping, snowboarding, rock climbing, kayaking, or playing under the sun with her dogs. Before joining YESS, Erica was an Americorps member with Colorado Youth for a Change, where she did dropout prevention and student advocacy work at Adams City High School. Erica is now the Program Manager at Adams City High School, and is happy to be working within the same community.

Alejandro Jimenez, Program Manager at Westminster High School

Alejandro Jimenez is a first generation college graduate and  immigrant from Colima, Mexico. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, he has been in the metro area for 8 years working with youth and empowering them to be successful–on their own terms and whatever “success” means to them. Outside of YESS, Alejandro is a spokenword poet, TEDx speaker, avid distance runner, and gardener. Mountains, healthy Mexican food, rivers/lakes and Banda make him feel at home. As the Program Manager at Westminster High School, he strives to empower students, learn from students, and laugh as much as possible. He had perfect attendance in the 8th grade.

Sara Sankovich, Program Manager at Scott Carpenter Middle School, Middle School Team Lead

Sara was born and raised in Ohio, where she studied music education at Bowling Green State University. After graduating, she taught general music and reading to elementary and middle school students. While there, she created several curricula, including the course of study for low-level readers in grades 6-8. In 2011, she moved to Thornton and continued educating kids of all ages about personal financial literacy. As Program Manager at  Scott Carpenter Middle School, Sara is looking forward to facilitating The YESS Institute’s curriculum and focusing on providing meaningful learning opportunities to the students there.

Joe Weston, Program Manager at Ranum Middle School

Joe was born and raised in Massachusetts. He graduated from Suffolk University in 2012 with a degree in Business Management. Before joining YESS, Joe worked at the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Boston as the Director of Sports and Fitness. While there, he partnered with New Balance to ensure members were eating healthy and being active for at least 60 minutes a day by creating a variety of curricula focused on fitness and nutrition. Joe is thankful to work at an organization focused on building relationships with youth and giving them the tools they need to succeed. Although Boston was home for so long, he is excited to live in Colorado and have a positive impact on the community.

 Blair Garnett, Program Manager at Shaw Heights Middle School

Blair Garnett is a North Carolina native and a first generation American by way of Brazil. Blair graduated from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina in 2010 with degrees in History and Creative Writing in addition to an Honor’s degree. After college Blair joined the Peace Corps and served in the educational sector of a flagship program in rural Ethiopia, where she built youth development clubs, a summer camp, and founded a special needs program. Blair eventually settled in Denver after returning from Ethiopia, and prior to joining the YESS Institute she worked as a reading intervention specialist with Reading Partners Colorado at Ashley Elementary in east Colfax. Blair hails from a large family and loves connecting people to affect change. She has been an avid and competitive equestrian her whole life, having earned an NCAA scholarship, and still has a horse in North Carolina; she also has 10 year old black lab, and spends her free time hiking and trail running with her dog in the mountains. Blair is thrilled to join the YESS team for the 2016 school year at Shaw Heights Middle School.

Breanne Goldman, Instructional Design Manager

Breanne’s teaching philosophy is to inspire students to invest in their own education and learn about themselves, their world, and their places in it. An educator since 2002, Breanne has taught in inner cities, high performing suburbs, private tutoring centers, and was an editor of the National Geographic Edge literacy workbook. Throughout her teaching career, Breanne earned numerous research and teaching awards, including a Fulbright Scholarship to Russia, and has served on multiple curriculum and instructional leadership teams. She was a founding teacher of the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello, where she co-designed the curriculum and taught anthropology, geography, literacy, and life skills. Breanne holds technical certificates in Fashion Design and Business, a BA in History, Russian Minor and a Master’s in Secondary Education with endorsements in History, English, Health, and Family/Consumer Sciences. Outside of YESS, Breanne is a hot yoga instructor, a women’s sustainable clothing designer under her own label, IXOYA, and geeks out at sewing conventions and textile trade shows. Her mission is to approach everything and everyone with humor and humility: the recipe for success in life.

Diane Bassett, Ph.D. – Instructional Coach

Diane is a Professor Emerita in the School of Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado. She has taught general and special education in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions, and in both public and private schools. Dr. Bassett is the co-author of four books that center on student self-determination, effective services for students with mild/moderate disabilities, and efficacy-based transition practices. She is a past President of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) and is also honored to have received the prestigious Oliver P. Kolstoe award from DCDT for her work in transition. At UNC, she has been awarded the Provost’s Award for Excellent Teaching in Graduate Education, the College of Education Outstanding Scholar Award, and the Outstanding Service Award, among others. Dr. Bassett’s professional interests include working with adolescents and adults of all abilities, student empowerment, school reform, and program development. Her personal interests include travel, skiing, biking, reading great literature, and digging in the dirt. Dr. Bassett has taken a hiatus from the board and has joined the YESS team as a consultant. She will provide her expertise in instructional coaching and train the program managers in the best teaching practices.

Becky Kelleman – Data & Research Manager

Becky is passionate about helping others. She has devoted the past 10 years in nonprofit organizations implementing and improving programs designed to better the community. Through this work, Becky has sharpened her skills in research, evaluation, facilitation, and training. Becky continues to use her skills to help nonprofits become more effective and to maximize their goals. Becky has completed a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and French from the College of New Jersey, a Master of Public Policy focused on Education and Labor from Rutgers University and is currently attending the University of Denver, Morgridge College of Education’s Research Methods and Statistics Graduate Program.