The YESS Team

We are a Family of Care, Communication, Connection, Empowerment, and Transparency

Carlo Kriekels, Co-founder and Executive Director

“The YESS Institute is a community of staff, volunteers and board members who seek to embody the YESS equity guidelines of Care, Communication, Connection, Empowerment, and Transparency.” 

Carlo Kriekels, co-founder

Meet the YESS Staff

Carlo Kriekels, Co-Founder & Executive Director

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. 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.  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, role models and the agencies that serve youth. He is one of the key leaders in the creation of the Mentor Colorado and serves on their Advisory Board.  Carlo 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”. 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 – MBK25 – 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.

Contact: carlo@yessinstitute.org

John Withaar, Chief Operating Officer

Contact: john@yessinstitute.org

Vince Trujillo, Director of Programs

Vince is a Colorado native and grew up in North Denver. Before joining YESS in 2017, Vince spent over nine years teaching and mentoring youth in DPS in character, life skills, and leadership at Colorado UpLift, and four years working as a special education paraprofessional in DPS before that. He also has a background in helping people find jobs, food service, summer camps, and case managing. Vince has been married to his wife Veronica for almost 18 years now. They have two kids, Aviana who is 8 and Deigo less than a year old.

Contact: vince@yessinstitute.org

Alex Rodriguez, Director of Training and Curriculum Development

Contact: lex@yessinstitute.org

Dino Abeyta, Family Advocate

As the YESS Family Advocate, Dino serves the communities of West Leadership Academy and North High School. Dino Abeyta is a Colorado native, born and raised in Denver. He has over 20 years of counseling  experience.  He has worked with at risk youth in a psychiatric  In-Patient setting, Department of Youth Corrections and Denver Parks & Recreation. Dino has been married to his wife Sonya for 28 years. They have 3 daughters Vanessa, Ashleigh and Cassidy and 6 grandchildren.

Contact: dino@yessinstitute.org

Seantay Patterson, Program Manager

Seantay Patterson graduated from Adams State University with a Bachelors degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Seantay also earned an Associates Degree in Applied Science from Aurora Community College. After graduating from Adams State University, Seantay started off her professional career at the University of Colorado (Anschutz Medical Campus). At the University of Colorado (CU), Seantay conducted human clinical research with the IMAGE research group. Seantay also reviewed recombinant DNA and select toxin protocols for CU’s Institutional Biosafety Committee. Due to her strong science background, Seantay has worked in the educational field. Seantay has done tutoring work with Club-Z Tutoring and taught the sixth grade as a mentor and instructor at Roca Fuerte Academy. In addition, Seantay has taught science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at the Boy Scouts of America. Seantay has also worked for Believe to Achieve as a program supervisor and program specialist. The students that Seantay worked with through Believe to Achieve were from the Adams 14 school district in Commerce City, CO. Seantay describes herself as a big kid. She loves spending time with her dad, going hiking, and taking afternoon naps on the weekend.

Contact: seantay@yessinstitute.org

James Victor Silva, Program Manager

James Victor Silva was born and raised in Denver, Colorado with deep cultural and historical roots within the mestizo Hispano people of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. He is a graduate of Adams City High School and the University of Colorado Boulder. He holds undergraduate degrees in Political Science and English Literature-Creative Writing, as well as a Minor in the Study and Practice of Leadership as a scholar of the President’s Leadership Class of CU Boulder.

He has worked in politics, publishing, and education through roles within the 2008 Obama for America presidential campaign, the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network of New York City, the Ricardo Flores Magón Academy and the Pre-Collegiate Development Program at CU Boulder.

Through his professional experience he has served in various leadership roles in schools, on scholarship boards, and social justice organizations; all with a primary focus on advocating for underrepresented communities and our diverse Latinx cultures . He views himself as a lifelong educator, advocate for underrepresented students and their families. He enjoys gardening, creative writing, reading, and traveling for the enjoyment of better understanding human history and what it may mean to be a part of the human story.

Contact: james@yessinstitute.org

Dartagnan Davon, Program Manager

Dartagnan Davon (Formally, Dartanyon Crockett) is originally from Cleveland OH. In 2010, Dartagnan moved to Colorado Springs to pursue an athletic career in the sport of judo. After retiring from judo, Dartagnan earned his BS from MSU Denver in Community Enrichment and Restorative Practice with a minor in Social Work.   

While in school, Dartagnan started a career in social services and education. For one year, Dartagnan worked as a program lead for Discovery Link, a before and after school care program at Park Hill Elementary. Dartagnan has also worked as an educator for Spring Creek Academy and at Ranch Creek Elementary.  

Soon after Dartagnan was offered the opportunity as the YESS Program Manager for Hodgkins Leadership Academy. At HLA, Dartagnan leads his classroom with a restorative approach, a practitioner’s mindset and compassionate leadership skills. 

Contact: dartagnan@yessinstitute.org

Cheyenne Maestas, Program Manager

Cheyenne is a Colorado Native who grew up in the Sunnyside Neighborhood in North Denver. She is a North High School Alumni and has a deep connection to the community. Before coming to YESS, Cheyenne worked in a Title 1 Jeffco Public School for 6 years, assisting with student and family needs. Outside of work, Cheyenne enjoys playing volleyball, watching comedy movies, and playing card games. Her passion for positively impacting youth has led her to YESS where she continues to make a difference.

Esmeralda Castillo Cobian, Program Manager

I have been teaching for the past three years as a Language Arts teacher. I was born in Mexico but raised in Aurora. I graduated from CU Boulder with my Ethnic Studies and Education degrees. I love to make and drink coffee and want to own a coffee shop one day. I enjoy spending time with my two cats, reading, and being with family.

Contact: esmeralda@yessinstitute.org

Jocelyne Raygoza, Program Manager

Contact: jocelyne@yessinstitute.org

Heather Coulter, Data & Evaluation Manager

Contact: yess.heather@gmail.com

Lydia Vanderberg, Bookkeeper

Contact: lydia@yessinstitute.org

Jenny Washabaugh, Marketing Coordinator

Jenny received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Michigan (2011-2015) before moving to Colorado to attend Graduate School at CU Boulder (2015-2022). Her dissertation research focused on understanding health outcomes for children facing environmental and social disparities. 

With a background in graphic design, visual arts, community outreach, and volunteer work with students with learning differences, she hopes to make important contributions to the YESS Institute and Denver-area communities.

Contact: jenny@yessinstitute.org

Becky Hoffman, Business Development Director

Contact: becky@yessinstitute.org

Christina Simonetti, Fundraiser

Contact: christina@yessinstitute.org

Dan Medina, Program Manager

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.

Contact: daniel_medina@dpsk12.org

Meet the YESS Board

Michael Behrendsen

Mike Behrendsen is Vice President with FirstBank’s Treasury Management Department. His career started in 2013 in Arizona’s East Valley market where he focused largely on commercial lending and business development. Looking for an opportunity to expand his commercial knowledge, he moved to Colorado in 2016 to the Business Banking division where he specializes in business development through treasury management offerings. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business, with concentrations in Communications and International Business, from Arizona State University, he also earned his Certified Treasury Professional designation in 2017.

Rebecca Holmes

Director of Human Resources for the Dumb Friends League. She is recognized as a trusted HR advisor and strategist with demonstrated success developing creative programs to deliver  exceptional organizational performance. Rebecca holds a B.A. Liberal Arts and an M.B.A. from Colorado State University, is a Certified StrengthsFinder Coach (Gallup), and held SPHR certification.

Peter Grady

Peter is married to Eveline Grady, and they have three children together. Their daughter is a Senior and our two boys are a Freshman and 6th grader. Peter works as a Commodity Analyst for Summit Advisory, LLC Arches.

Jay Custard

Jay is a Chief Digital Advisor who works with companies to harness the power of digital technologies to drive meaningful customer experiences. An experienced digital marketing and ecommerce executive, he has worked across multiple disciplines with both large and small companies to enable successful integrated commerce experiences on a global scale. Over the past 15 years, he has been fortunate to serve the customers of Crocs, New Balance, FinishLine, Southeastern Grocers, SimpleEnergy, Mircrosoft, American Expressand Cabela’s with a focus on strategy, user experience, analytics, marketing, merchandising and technology.

Brian Russell

Brian, a Colorado Native, works as a Commercial Banker for BOK Financial. He enjoys building personal relationships, and helping companies achieve their goals by providing unique solutions to complex problems. He attended Baylor University where he studied Finance and Economics. His wife Megan, also a Colorado Native, is a First Grade Teacher in Aurora. He and his wife are active in giving back to the community. They enjoy the great outdoor activities Colorado has to offer, including skiing and hiking, as well as spending time with family and friends

Donna Cash

Donna Cash has more than 20 years management experience in education, non-profit, and corporate
settings. With master’s degrees in both Management and Counseling, Donna’s extensive work in the public and private sectors has endowed her with a comprehensive perspective on achieving program
fidelity while delivering excellent support and guidance and service.
Donna currently is a Global Professional Instructor with Crisis Prevention Institute supporting human service organizations with de-escalation and safety intervention skills for supporting relationships and
behavior management of people we serve. Donna’s pledge to educational equity is rooted in the belief that students deserve the necessary care,
nurturing, and support required to foster success. Donna is excited to join YESS Institute’ Board of Directors to continue to make change happen.

Teresa Klava, Board Chair

Teresa Sena Klava retired in 2020 as Principal of West Leadership Academy, she was responsible for establishing the school and creating the environment that promoted academic excellence leading directly to college and career readiness. Teresa served as an educator and leader in the Denver Public Schools since 1988, holding a variety of positions including Principal, Assistant Principal, mathematics instructional specialist, and teacher. In addition, she taught courses at the university level at the University of Colorado Denver. Teresa earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education with a minor in Bilingual Education at Metropolitan State College, a Master of Arts degree in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Denver. She completed her coursework towards an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership at the University of Denver. Teresa and her husband, Greg, reside in Golden, CO. Together they have raised 4 children and currently enjoy spoiling 8 grandchildren. As a mother and longtime educator, she strongly believes that parents and community are essential partners to ensure student success. Her parents, both retired DPS principals, have inspired her to continually seek opportunities for access and excellence for each and every student.

Connect with our Mission? Join the YESS Team!

Do you have a passion for supporting youth and communities?  

We seek passionate leaders who want to further our mission to bring positive youth development to the community, and to help students find “their Road to Success.” To learn about job opportunities, look us up on Indeed. Our hiring season is typically near the end of the Spring Semester. If you are interested in joining the Board of Directors to gain a voice in the direction of our agency, please contact our Co-Founder and Executive Director, Carlo Kriekels, at 303.674.3532 or carlo@yessinstitute.org

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