Meet Our Team









Mentor Leaders are at North, West Leadership Academy, Lincoln, Adams City, and Westminster High Schools

YESS Mentor Leaders support our classrooms by coordinating and managing the students involved in the program.  A Mentor Leader embodies the YESS Mentoring philosophy within the school and helps engage students in the curriculum. They are responsible for supporting the Program Manager each week to build momentum and structure within the group. They use their leadership skills to hold all of the mentors accountable, and provide stability in the community.

Stay tuned as the 2019-2020 YESS Program Managers are getting to know the students, Mentor leaders will be voted on soon!



Carlo Kriekels

Co-founder and Executive Director, JD, LL.M.
Read Carlo's Bio
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.

Sara Sankovich

Human Resources and Programs Director
Read Sara's Bio
Sara has been with YESS since 2014; first as the Program Manager of Scott Carpenter Middle School, and now as the guide for all of our programs. She seeks to implement best education practices, intersectional-multiculturalism, and foster the YESS community

Jamie Miller

Director of Administration
Read Jamie's Bio
Jamie has worn many hats at YESS since becoming office manager in 2016. She is currently working towards a LMFT license, and strives to incorporate the best mental health practices into YESS.

Saira Ali

Post-Secondary Success Director
Read Saira's Bio
Saira was born in Pakistan, but grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She moved to Denver, Colorado in 2015. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in International Area Studies and Political Science from the University of Oklahoma. She went on to earn her Master of Education in Community Development and Action from Vanderbilt University. Saira has held multiple roles in the non-profit world including development, fundraising, volunteer management, and most recently leading a mentoring program in local underserved high schools.  Saira is dedicated to social justice and leading social change. She recognizes the shortcomings in our education systems and is excited to focus on college access and educational equity in her role as Director of Post-Secondary Success.

Hannah Reed

Development Coordinator
Read Hannah's Bio
Originally from Wisconsin, Hannah moved to Colorado in 2017 and joined YESS as the Development Coordinator in 2019. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire with a Bachelor’s in English and Sociology, a degree inspired by her work promoting child literacy with Crow and Lakota Sioux Native American communities. After moving to Denver, she began volunteering with the organization HeadCount to encourage youth voice in politics. On the weekend you can catch her hiking some of her favorite local spots at Mt. Falcon or Eldorado Springs!

Breanne Goldman

Curriculum Designer
Read Breanne's Bio
A professional educator since 2002, Breanne has taught in underserved communities, 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.

Vince Trujillo

Program Manager of North High School
Read Vince's Bio
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.

Dartanyon Crockett

Program Manager of Ranum Middle School
Read Dartanyon's Bio

Dartanyon Crockett was born in inner-city Cleveland, OH. Raised in a neighborhood filled with consistent violence, Dartanyon managed to maintain unconditional compassion toward others. In high school he crossed paths with a young man by the name of Leroy Sutton who shared this virtue. The power and beauty of their friendship managed to resonate across the world, thanks to the help of ESPN producer, Lisa Fenn. Who eventually became a part of their unlikely family.
The airing of their 2009 documentary “Carry On” aided Dartanyon in pursuing a career as a U.S. Paralympian in the sport of judo. As a Paralympic athlete Dartanyon also began to build a career in inspirational speaking. Dartanyon’s speaking career has led him to pursue knowledge and insight from the fields of social work, sociology, as well as education.
While stepping in to his new career as a sociologist, serving as a Program Manager for YESS, Dartanyon has grown to become an expert in the area of recovery and resilience. Dartanyon addresses these concepts by generalizing knowledge from his lived international experience as an athlete, coach and speaker and his sociological and trauma informed research

James Victor Silva

Program Manager of Westminster High School
Read James' Bio
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

Carlos Villagrana

Program Manager of West Leadership Academy
Read Carlos' Bio
Carlos Villagrana-Juarez was born and raised in Denver’s Westside. He is an alumni of West High School and a 1st generation Mexican-American graduate of the University of Denver and is also a product of the YESS Institute. His undergraduate degree was in Political Science and Gender and Women Studies. Carlos’s undergraduate career revolved around college access for DPS seniors who were getting ready to move on to the next chapter of their lives. The scholarship program called the Volunteers in Partnership program (VIP) and many other pre-collegiate programs through DU is the reason why Carlos has found a passion in educating the next generation of leaders in his Denver community. Through this program, he was able to reach students in ways that impacted and empowered youth in DPS. The goal has been and always will be to empower youth and to encourage them to be the best version of themselves in whatever they do. Carlos was able to teach at his former high school and coaching his former team, the West High Cowboys Football team. He enjoys walking his dog/son, Gordo and spending time with his family. He’s excited to make the full circle by returning to YESS as a Program Manager in his alma mater.

Erica Castro

Program Manager of Adams City High School
Read Erica's Bio
Erica Castro grew up and attended college in Texas. She graduated with her Bachelors degree in Art Education, and 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; and was inspired by her experiences abroad to move to Colorado. 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.

Alex Rodriguez

Program Manager of Scott Carpenter Middle School
Read Alex's Bio
Alex graduated with a degree in Urban Sociology & Community Studies in California. For the past ten years, she has worked for various youth development organizations, school districts, and educational programs. She spent the last four years with the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club working as an Art Director. Alex believes to her core that adversity builds character and has developed a toolbox of skills to help youth find ways to thrive, be creative, and build empowering communities. She creates a safe space for her students by creating a place to explore their own story, share their successes and form new bonds. To further build strong relationships, she strives to be open to tough communication, restorative practices, and conflict resolution.

Dan Medina

Program Manager of Abraham Lincoln High School - Contracted
Read Dan's Bio
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.

Rose Leaven

Program Manager of Shaw Heights Middle School
Read Rose's Bio
Rose was born, raised, and attended college in Iowa. She earned her BA in Spanish and Global Studies with an emphasis in peace, conflict, and Human Rights/ Latin America, and a minor in religious studies at the University of Northern Iowa. After college, she started working at a non profit that provides mobile health clinics for migrant farm workers. She then moved to Colorado where she worked for a sexual health clinic in Boulder for 4.5 years. Here, she ran the youth services department, where she taught sexual health in schools and mentored a peer education group. It was in this position she found a passion for working with and being a trusted adult to young people. In her free time she enjoys hiking, spending time with her friends, cooking, doing trivia and petting all the dogs she can.

Michael Norris-Saucedo

Program Manager of Kearney Middle School
Read Michael's Bio
Michael Norris-Saucedo is a lifelong educator. Wherever he worked, he always found himself teaching, whether that was teaching floral craft and knitting at Michael’s Crafts or teaching wilderness and survival skills to middle and high school students at a backpacking camp. He’s been involved in peer mentoring since he was in AVID as a student and, later, as a mentor. He’s got a powerful passion for education and carries that with him into every day.

Dean Abeyta

Family Advocate
Read Dean's Bio
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.

Jessica Highstreet

Program Manager of Adams City Middle School
Read Jessica's Bio
Jessica Highstreet grew up in sunny Florida where she attended Indian River State College, and earned her degree in Exceptional Student Education. She began her career by teaching and tutoring in a variety of settings with a wide-range of age groups. Since moving to Colorado 5 years ago, Jessica has worked as a job coach and benefits coordinator for individuals with developmental disabilities. In her free time, Jessica enjoys attending concerts, taking her dog to the park, and going to karaoke with friends.

Monica Collins

Intern serving North High School and West Leadership Academy
Read Monica's Bio
Monica Collins is a graduate of North High, Class of ’07. She graduated from Regis University with a Bachelor of the Arts in Sociology. She has about 8 years of experience in mental health and case management. Currently, she is a graduate student at Metro University working on Masters in Social Work.

Our Board of Directors

Michael Behrendsen

Board Chair
Read Mike's Bio
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

Read Rebecca's Bio
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

Read Peter's Bio
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.

Colleen Stanley

Read Colleen's Bio
Colleen Stanley is president of SalesLeadership, a sales development firm. Her company provides emotional intelligence, sales and sales leadership training.  She is the author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success.  Colleen is married to Jim and they enjoy hiking, time with friends and learning new “things.”

Jay Custard

Read Jay's Bio
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.

Khadyja Johnson

Read Khadyja's Bio
Khadyja is a Senior IT Manager with Grant Thornton LLP. As a consultant, she specializes in helping companies establish controls and processes to achieve compliance with regulations and /or verify that companies are compliant with regulations. Khadyja has experience in internal and external auditing for public and private companies. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Colorado State University and a Master of Business Administration from St. Cloud State University. Khadyja spends time volunteering with youth organizations through her work and enjoys traveling and hiking Colorado trails.

Eli Santos

Read Eli's Bio
Eli is a Senior Business Relationship Manager and Vice President with SunflowerBank. He has worked in the banking industry for 14 years as a Business Relationship Manager, and assists companies enhance business operations by providing best-in-class banking solutions and providing a relationship based on earned trust. He has specialized expertise working with non-profit, international, contractor, and industrial focused companies. Eli has a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with concentrations in International Studies from Centre, College of Kentucky. Eli was previously a collegiate level football and track coach at Wabash College before venturing into banking and still volunteers as a coach to for the various sports his two boys are involved in. He and his family moved to Colorado in 2015 and stay active as a family with sports and volunteering. Eli recently served as the Fundraising Chair for the WOW! Children’s Museum in Lafayette where he assisted with the strategic vision and growth of the museum as well as enhancing the connection between the organization and the business community.

Brian Russell

Read Brian's Bio
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

Read Donna's Bio

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.

Lisa Brenner Freimann

Read Lisa's Bio
Lisa practiced law for over 20 years, advocating for the rights of others and representing the interests of the people of Colorado as a First Assistant Attorney General for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Emory University and a J.D. from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Lisa is married to Michael, a practicing attorney and colonel in the Colorado Air National Guard and has two teenage sons who attend Denver Public Schools. She loves watching her kids play soccer, hiking, gardening, painting and making pottery.

Kelli Raleigh Deferme

Read Kelli's Bio
Kelli Deferme is a seasoned community engagement professional with progressive experience within public and private sectors. She is a natural problem solver, community builder and advocate. Kelli lives with her husband, Bart, and three daughters in Aurora. When she’s not working or volunteering, you can find her cycling, reading, cooking, or enjoying colorful Colorado with her family.



Our primary focus in all actions taken, policies made, and lessons planned is the welfare of the YESS students, because we envision all our students becoming caring and productive members in their communities.

The YESS staff are our ambassadors to the Denver Metro Area. We seek people 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