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.

Sarah (Clark) Staal, Program Director

Sarah is from Denver, CO where she grew up and spent all of her life. Sarah received a B.A in Communications from the University of Denver.  After college she joined the Colorado Mentors on the Move AmeriCorps Program where she completed one year of services to reduce the educational and basic needs barriers for homeless students. She served homeless children and families providing them with basic need supplies, mentoring, tutoring, and assisted parents with resource information. Before joining the YESS Institute in August 2011, Sarah worked for Westminster Public Schools’ Homeless Service Program for seven years. She worked with at-risk families and youth helping them to remove the educational barriers that prevent them from having a successful school experience. She worked with families and youth providing them with comprehensive support services to break the cycle of poverty. As Program Director, Sarah oversees the YESS Programs in Denver, Westminster, and Adams 14 School Districts.

Lisa Howell, Office Manager

Lisa joined the YESS Institute in December of 2016.  She has roots and beginnings in the South, but has been living the Colorado life for 26 years.  With a degree in Recreation Management and Outdoor Recreation, she graduated from UNC in 1995. Lisa has worked for youth in positions with the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Ken-Caryl Ranch Metropolitan District, and both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of Colorado. She has a deep love for youth programming, volunteer management, and the Colorado outdoors. Lisa resides in Centennial with husband Brandon, their two children, and Joy, the golden retriever.  You can find her hiking, backpacking, scrap booking, and cooking during her free time.

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.

Abraham Céspedes, Program Manager at West High School

Abraham Cespedes was born and raised in New York City. As Abe approached his senior year of high school, he unknowingly strove to find a new life style which differed from the hustle and bustle of inner city life. He decided he would move to his parents’ country of origin, the Dominican Republic, to start a new chapter in his life. He entered into the medical program at Pontificia Universitaria Catolica Madre y Maestra. Returning to NYC a couple of years later he restarted his education in the field of Biology. After graduating, Abe became a Miami Teaching Fellow in Florida. He taught in Miami for 3 non-consecutive years. During a summer cross-country road trip he landed in Denver and fell in love with the nature of Colorado and the people living in Denver. He eventually moved to Denver and taught science at North High School for another three years. After working with the amazing staff, administration, and student body at NHS he realized that his ability to teach social-emotional life skills through science had expanded. He joined the staff of the YESS Institute as a Program Manager at West High School in 2015 to focus on this skill and change the trajectory of students’ lives.

Mariah Salyer, Program Manager at Adams City High School

Mariah Salyer was born in Oregon and attended high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she fell in love with the desert and mountain landscapes of the southwest. Mariah moved to Denver in 2015 after she graduated from Hampshire College with an interdisciplinary degree in developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience and public health. Before joining YESS Mariah was an AmeriCorps member with Colorado Youth for a Change, where she did dropout prevention and student advocacy work at Adams City High School. Prior to moving to Denver, Mariah spent four years working in early childhood education as a teaching assistant in an infant classroom. Mariah loves backpacking, mountaineering and rafting, and she has spent the last several summers leading backcountry courses for high school students in the mountains and on the rivers of the southwest. Mariah is excited to return to Adams City High School in this new capacity with YESS.

Sara Sankovich, Program Manager at Scott Carpenter Middle School

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.

Tracie Benitez, Program Manager at North High School

Tracie Benitez, MNM, is a Colorado native. She grew up in Brighton and moved out of Colorado in 2005. Before joining the YESS Institute in 2014, Tracie attended New Mexico State University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. After graduating in 2009, Tracie taught English in South Korea from 2010 to 2013. In 2013 Tracie became a content Manager for a Korean education company, building curriculum for primary schools based on phonemics. Tracie decided to return to her home state and finish her master’s degree. She graduated with a Master in Nonprofit Management in 2014 from Regis University.  Tracie has experience working with students of different nationalities, ages, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds. She is excited to return to her home country and  build relationships with the youth and their support systems.

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.

 Morgain Sanchez, Program Manager at Lake Middle School

Morgain is from Denver, CO, where she graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. She has been a teacher in Denver Public Schools for 15 years, the 2016-17 school year will be her second at Lake Middle School and her first as the school’s YESS Program Manager. Morgain has two children, Agustin who is 15 and a baseball player at North High School, and Kiely, who is 12 and a budding chef. In her free time, Morgain enjoys traveling and hiking with her family. As Program Manager at Lake Middle School, Morgain is excited to teach the YESS curriculum and continue to make a difference in the lives of Denver students!

Emily Webster, College Navigator

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.

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.