Summer Search

Bay Area


360 22nd Street, Suite 305
Oakland, CA 94612 MAP

T (415) 362-0500

159 H Street 
Petaluma, CA 94952 MAP

T (707) 763-2001

Latest News AND EVENTS

Reflecting on the Power of Summer Experiences

It’s hard to believe that summer has come to an end, and with it, our second annual Summer Experience Challenge. Last week, our community completed the Summer Experience Challenge with a roaring success, raising $129,000 and unlocking our $100,000 matching gift. As we close the Summer Experience Challenge, we know that this is the perfect time to reflect on why we believe these trips are so powerful. Read more to learn how Summer Search alumna, Shirley Duong, incorporates lessons from her summer trips into her work twenty years later.


The Adventure Continues: A Note From Shirley

"My name is Shirley, and I am a Summer Search alum. I started my Summer Search journey twenty years ago in 1999! Today, I’m writing to share how my Summer Search experience connects to my work as an educator.

My parents are Vietnamese refugees who came to this country in the late seventies. During their childhoods, my father attended school until third grade, while my mother did not attend school at all, even though she wanted to. I was born in San Francisco, and I am one of six children who grew up in a family without many resources. My parents were busy navigating a new country, language, and culture while raising a family. They taught me that the opportunity to go to school would create new possibilities for me and my siblings.

During my sophomore year of high school, I was connected with Summer Search. The program provided full scholarships for me to attend a wilderness program in Costa Rica with Onshore Offshore Expeditions and to live with a host family in Japan with The Experiment in International Living. I also received mentoring from Katherine Kennedy and Linda Mornell.

My experience with Summer Search showed me the power of connection and community to transform what I thought was possible for myself and others. My weekly calls with my mentors not only prepared me for my summer trips but also helped me process events at home and school. I experienced what it was like to share my thoughts and feelings and to ask for help when needed rather than thinking, “I have to do it on my own,” and “I can only rely on myself.” Interestingly, when I learned about the larger Summer Search community of supporters, staff, and alumni rallying for me and other Summer Search students, I didn't feel so alone and scared. Rather, I felt uplifted and encouraged.

During my trip to Costa Rica, each long day of hiking ended with a group reflection. This group reflection directed my attention to the purpose of the trip, which was achieving an outrageous goal together. At the end of each day of our hike, someone in our group posed a focusing question to the group. These questions provoked reflection and sharing, which gave us the opportunity to talk through and give meaning to our experience.

Over the last twelve years, I have used my work as a teacher to provide opportunities for my students to reflect on their learning experiences with others so that they can talk through and give meaning to their experiences, which cements their learning and understanding.

This school year, I started a new role at Visitacion Valley Elementary School. Visitacion Valley Elementary School is a Title 1 school. That means that 85% of our students come from low-income families. As an Instructional Coach and Reading Intervention Teacher, I serve as an instructional leader, coach teachers, and provide early reading intervention in grades K-2. I am excited about my new roles because I will join a team of administrators and teachers in a shared mission to close the opportunity gap and provide all children with a high-quality education.

My early experience as a Summer Search student—when I experienced the power of community to uplift others—solidified for me that relationships and reflection are at the heart of my work. Thank you, Summer Search community!"

Making Summer Transformative – A Mentor’s Perspective

Summer isn't only an exciting time for our students, but also for our staff! We sat down with a few members of our Summer Search Bay Area team to learn what goes into preparing for a summer experience, and what makes these trips truly transformative for our young people.

In our conversation, we explore how mentors and summer programs staff work together to equip students with agency, efficacy, and a sense of expansiveness from the moment they join Summer Search and through the years of mentorship that follow. Read more to see powerful examples of each and learn how Summer Search’s mentoring supports our students in integrating these profound experiences into their lives. Read more»

Broadening Perspectives with Deer Hill Expeditions

School is out, summer is here, and Summer Searchers across the Bay Area are packing their bags for a season of adventure. Over the next three months, they will go on trips that will impact their self-perception, their belief in their own agency, and their sense of purpose for years to come. These transformations don’t happen in a vacuum, though. We are privileged to work alongside dozens of partners around the world that help us steward our students’ growth. For our next story in the Summer Experience Challenge, we’re excited to introduce you to one of our longstanding summer experience partners: Deer Hill Expeditions.


Join Us on the Course! 

In the video, we journey to the mountains of Colorado to see firsthand why our partnership with Deer Hill is so powerful. Press play to meet Bay Area students and mentors, the Deer Hill expedition guides, and leaders from the Navajo Nation that our students partnered with during their course.

These trips are only possible with your support. You can empower a Summer Searcher directly by donating toward the Summer Experience Challenge. Thanks to supporters like you, we are well on our way to reaching our $100,000 matching challenge by September. Please consider giving our students a vote of confidence by clicking this link  to donate and entering “Summer Match” into the comments section so that gift will be matched dollar for dollar! 

With gratitude,
Kristine Leja
Summer Search Bay Area  Executive Director 

Summer Search College Success students and corporate volunteers at the “Dare to Lead” Conference

Announcing the Summer Experience Challenge

Summer Search Bay Area is thrilled to announce our second annual Summer Experience Challenge! Through this campaign, we have the opportunity to raise $100,000 to support our students on their wilderness and international summer experiences. And check this out: thanks to Summer Search supporters, Susan and David Tunnell, all donations toward the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar! Learn more about the Summer Experience Challenge from Bay Area Executive Director, Kristine Leja.


Join the Adventure 

A few weeks ago, I returned home from a long day spent alongside several dozen Summer Search students. My feet were tired, my shoulders ached, and – despite my best efforts – I was more than a little sunburned. Mostly though, I felt wonderstruck and grateful beyond words.

I had just completed one of Summer Search’s community hikes at Wildcat Canyon in Richmond. These hikes serve as a chance for our new Summer Search class of sophomores to prepare for their upcoming wilderness trips alongside their mentors and older Summer Searchers. For some of the participants, this was their first hike ever! Many were skeptical about the experience. Would they have fun? Would they make it to the top? Would they fit in with their team? Thinking back to my own high school experience, I could empathize with their questions.

In the face of changing expectations, steep ascents, and shade-less stretches, these young people surprised me each step of the way. When they were tempted to stop, they voiced their needs, caught their breath, and took the next step. When they took the lead, they stopped for their respective groups and cheered on their new friends. As we drew closer toward the summit, I offered to pause with a sophomore who was drooping under her pack. She looked up at me, shook her head, and declared: “I just made it up that last hill; I can handle this.” Thirty minutes later, the student stepped onto the summit where her team awaited her with open arms.

To the Summer Search community: thank you. Because of your support, over 300 students will spend the coming months discovering their strengths, developing lasting relationships, and cultivating values that will impact their lives long after they return home. The journey has just begun.

I want to invite you to join the adventure this summer. As of this week, we are commencing our second annual Summer Experience Challenge. Through this campaign, we aim to raise $100,000 to support our students on their wilderness and international summer experiences. Thanks to Summer Search supporters, Susan and David Tunnell, all donations toward the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar!

So, stay tuned! Each month, we will post stories that give a glimpse into the staying power of these experiences in our students’ lives. You’ll meet the Summer Searchers, see the places, and engage with the people behind the key moments. Together, we will empower the next generation of leaders.

So, what do you say? Challenge accepted?

With gratitude,
Kristine Leja
Executive Director, Bay Area

Summer Search College Success students and corporate volunteers at the “Dare to Lead” Conference

Activating Our Network

As an organization, we are fortunate to be part of a strong and impactful community – a network of our remarkable students and alumni, and our generous partners and supporters. We’re always looking for ways to activate that network and bring these groups together.

At last month’s Summer Search Bay Area Gala, we hosted a special pre-gala networking reception for our alumni and corporate partners. This was a great opportunity to connect Summer Searchers and our supporters. Read more»

BA-Networking-CoverSummer Search alumni networking with staff from our corporate partners.



Kristine Leja
Bay Area Executive Director

Read full biography 

John Brennan, Summer Search Bay Area Board Chair



SiMone Andrade

College Access Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Dreaming of a world robust with educational and social equity, SiMone has devoted her experiences to working with youth.

Her journey started as a first-generation college student at UC Berkeley where she graduated with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Global Poverty and Practice. Motivated to serve, she spent several years working in public schools in the Bay Area in various capacities and a time abroad in a school in Venezuela. While she wore many hats at her schools, the majority of her work included providing resources and believing in her first-generation students to see post-secondary education as a viable and successful option.

Being continually inspired by her students and with a desire to work even more intentionally with these resilient young people, SiMone is enthusiastic to be here at Summer Search as a Program Associate.

Most of her time is spent traveling around the larger Bay Area catching up with friends and around Sacramento where she cherishes time with her family and dogs. After a brief lapse in competitive dance, SiMone is also looking into rekindling her passion out on the dance floor. 

Jason Baker

Program Coordinator

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Jason is a committed youth worker who possesses a proven ability to challenge young people to think about their values and attitude in order to develop, achieve and manage their behavior. 

A first generation college graduate, Jason received his B.A. from California State University East Bay with a degree in sociology and served as recovery counselor at Thunder Road. Jason brings an understanding of the needs of young people to his role as Program Associate and is eager to help our students raise their aspirations. Jason currently resides in Oakland where he went to Skyline high school. Jason connects with summer search because he is also a first generation graduate.

Currently a resident of Oakland, Jason was a former athlete at Skyline high school and in college, and he enjoys running and weightlifting in his spare time. 



Julia Barbano

Senior Program Associate

Julia is passionate about “getting curious” and believes in the power of learning about ourselves through shared experience. This is at the root of her life-long fascination with all things science. She’s also interested in understanding the correlation between personal and global health and has, consequently, spent her career focused on personal wellness and youth development. This is why the work she does at Summer Search is aligned and meaningful for her.

Before Summer Search Julia spent over a decade teaching pre-K through 8th grade Science, Health and Physical Education. In her summers she was a Camp Director for an innovation camp that encouraged growth through collaboration, failing and fun. In both of these venues she sharpened her leadership skills, empathy and deepened her understanding for how to truly support others.

Julia graduated with a BS in Biology from Cal Poly Pomona. When she isn’t steeped in mentor calls she enjoys tending the fig tree, exploring the oceans from behind a scuba mask, singing a capella with her Monday night chorus, and eating good Oakland food. 


Donaciano Botello Torres

School and Community Engagement Manager

Donaciano was born in Michoacan, Mexico and came to the United States when he was two months old. He was raised in a small town in Sonoma County, where his father worked as a farm worker and his mother as a maid. Raised on the belief that higher education was not only a possibility but an expectation, his status of being an undocumented student did not deter him from pursuing a four-year degree. He graduated from Windsor High School in 2006, and went on to attend Sacramento State University where he doubled majored in Sociology and Ethnic Studies; he now pursues a Masters in Higher Education Leadership there. He feels grateful for the various mentors who guided him throughout his educational career and provided him with a sense of empowerment and motivation.

Donaciano is a keen social advocate, and brings to our team broad experience from his prior work in community organizing and student support within institutions of higher education. His passion to serve others is what propels him at Summer Search. As an alumni of the Summer Search North Bay program, he is aware of the challenges of being a low-income, first generation student. He is proud to come back full circle and work for Summer Search at the office that provided him the support and motivation to succeed, not only in high school, but in life.


Noemi Casillas

College Access Coordinator

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” - Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers

For several years Noemi worked at the Chico State campus for the First-Year Experience Program where she mentored incoming students and helped them make a successful transition to college life- emphasizing academic and civic engagement, as well as social well-being. She was and continues to be driven by the desire to challenge our educational system to address systemic racism, oppression, and high DFW rates regarding students of historically marginalized communities. Noemi is excited to continue her work at Summer Search with students and their plans regarding post-secondary education.

When not working, Noemi enjoys taking her dog to explore new parks, watching movies with her dog, or eating delicious foods.


Laura Crosby

Associate Director of Events

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Laura is motivated by her belief in the power of young people to change the world when they have access to the tools and mentors to support them. Laura brings a decade of experience supporting nonprofits in education and youth development. Most recently, she served as the Director of Individual Giving and Events at City Year Jacksonville.

Laura received a master's degree in public service from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and a bachelor's degree international relations, history, and religion from the University of Miami. A native Floridian, Laura enjoys traveling, baking, and exploring her new home in the Bay Area.


Irene Cruz

Senior Program Associate

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Irene’s devotion to social justice and improving the educational opportunities of students of color is deeply rooted from her own experience as a first-generation college student. Her professional and academic interests revolve around exploring how to strengthen the four-year college pathways for students of color, especially for first-generation Latino high school students.

Prior to joining the Summer Search Bay Area team in January 2017, Irene was the graduate intern at the Postsecondary National Policy Institute at Washington D.C and volunteered at The Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College at Columbia University, which provides college preparation workshops for Harlem high school students. Irene worked at a precollege outreach program at CAL and College Track Oakland, and was a LEAD mentor for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Youth Leadership Institute in Santa Clara.

Irene received a master’s degree in education policy from Teachers College, Columbia University, with a concentration in higher education policy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  

Kenyon DeVault

Director of Development

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Kenyon joined the Summer Search community in January 2014, where he helps to build the circle of individuals and institutions who invest in our Bay Area students and alumni. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Kenyon has spent his career in nonprofit resource development, leveraging his lifelong propensity for making personal connections in service to his values of social justice and equity. Prior to Summer Search, he held development leadership roles with Jumpstart and Peer Health Exchange.

Kenyon is an enthusiastic alumnus of Macalester College and earned his Master of Nonprofit Administration degree through the University of San Francisco School of Management. He was a singing member, volunteer, and board member of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus from 2008-2020 and remains an active member of that community.

Kellyn Dong

Senior Development Associate, Data and Systems

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Kellyn is both grateful and excited to be part of the Summer Search team here in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is her home and she loves the opportunity to apply her data skills in a nonprofit focused on social good. She has recently earned the first of what she hopes will be many more technical certifications.

Kellyn holds a bachelor’s degree in media arts from Santa Clara University. She has volunteered at public schools in San Francisco and the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Kellyn previously worked for Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco. In her spare time, she volunteers for Inclusive America, a national non-profit focused on achieving more diversity in our federal government.

Kellyn understands the value students gain from having unique and varied experiences from an early age. Unfortunately, she's also seen the divide between students whose families can afford certain opportunities versus those who can’t, and that inequity only widens over time. Through Summer Search, students gain those experiences, inspiring them to dream about and fulfill futures without limits.

AlyssaAlyssa Earley

Individual Giving Officer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

A deep gratitude for the transformative power of mentorship in Alyssa's own life led her to Summer Search. Witnessing students' joy, perseverance, and ingenuity as they move into adulthood is a privilege that she is honored to support in her fundraising role.

Before joining Summer Search, Alyssa was the Associate Director of Individual Giving at Center for Youth Wellness, helping to connect the dots between the pervasive impact of childhood trauma and the mental and physical health implications on children, families, and communities. Previously she spent 3 years understanding money movement within Silicon Valley as a Senior Business Development Associate at an ultra-high net worth wealth management group. Having worked in both the private and public sector, Alyssa has never lost sight of her passion for working on high impact issues that intersect public health and social justice. She has held prior positions at Kaiser Permanente, The San Diego Hunger Coalition, and has also been involved with Ninjas For Health, a storytelling and tech startup aiming to modernize public health efforts with an equity focus.

Alyssa holds a Bachelor's degree in Public Health from San Diego State University and is a rare San Diego native. She is on an endless search for new music, another art museum to peruse, and recently a new bird to spot while walking at Heron's Head Park.

Gabrielle Esquivel

Program Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Gabrielle is motivated by young people and power they possess. High School students are unique because they can create optimism among the jaded while identifying the problems and solutions for their communities. Gabrielle strives to be purposeful in her work while challenging the different ways she can be present in communities.  

Gabrielle worked with high school students during her two years with City Year Cleveland. During her time with City Year, she became passionate about equity, especially education equity. She was an advocate for her students in and out of the classroom. 

Gabrielle holds a BA in Sociology and Ethnic Studies from Bowling Green State University. When she isn’t at Summer Search, Gabrielle travels, spends time with loved ones, and binge watches Netflix. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and enjoys exploring the Bay Area, especially Oakland.

Anceline Anceline Eustache

Program Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Having spent her entire career in youth development, Anceline is driven by the belief that everyone deserves an equal shot at the opportunity to succeed. As the daughter of a first-generation college student and immigrant, Anceline saw the power in receiving a quality education firsthand.  

Prior to working at Summer Search, Anceline worked with adjudicated youth in the Juvenile Justice system. She was drawn to Summer Search for its long-term commitment and willingness to work with students wherever they are at.  She holds a BA in Psychology as well as in French and French Literature, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree.

In her spare time, she loves to hike, draw, travel, and spend time with her partner, family, and friends.


Mira Fielding

Senior Program Associate

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Working with youth from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds is where Mira thrives. She spent 9 years working for a non-profit that exclusively worked with first generation, low income teen girls. It was at this non-profit that Mira discovered her passion for mentoring youth with an intersectional lens and a holistic approach.

She graduated from Sonoma State University (SSU) in 2016 majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies with a concentration in Youth Activism. At SSU Mira saw the direct effects that the heteronormative patriarchal society was having on the students and youth around her. Not one to sit and wait, Mira decided to take action, and after college dedicated her career path to helping create a more inclusive community for marginalized youth. Seeing the importance that higher education can have in an individual’s life, Mira wanted to assist in college access by becoming an admissions counselor at Dominican University of California.

Slowly but surely, Mira found her way back to Summer Search where she had previously been an intern in 2012. She is now a proud Program Associate where she hopes to continue to support students in pursuing their aspirations.
In her spare time Mira enjoys hitting the pavement for social justice movements related to her favorite political issues, playing her ukulele or just sitting around and binge watching a mindless TV show.


Barb Finley

College Access Coordinator

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Barb strongly believes that a diversity of voices and backgrounds enriches the educational experience for all students. Her commitment to improving access to higher education for all students is what drew Barb to Summer Search. She’s excited to work as College Access Coordinator, supporting and empowering students as they navigate the process of planning for post-secondary life.

Barb received her B.A. from Hamilton College and her master’s in Counseling from NYU. She’s worked in college admissions at NYU and Columbia University, advocating for underrepresented students in the admission process. Barb is excited to support Summer Search students as they explore life after high school and be a strong champion for equal access to higher ed for all students.

While not at work, Barb loves to travel, cook, and spend time outdoors. She lives with her husband and two children in Sebastopol.


Nicol Gaffney

Summer Programs Manager

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Nicol joined the Summer Search Bay Area team as a mentor in 2013. He now leads our Summer Experience programming for students, focusing on creating opportunities where all youth can experience novel outdoor and social environments that excite, empower, and provide ample space for the exploration of self and others. He is a people person, an optimist, and strives to stand for the potential in every situation. Beyond work, he loves to play games inside and outside, cook, build, and garden. Most of all he loves to spend quality time with family and friends and make people feel heard and appreciated.


Michal "MJ" Jones

Post-Secondary Success Manager

Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs

Michal “MJ” Jones is an educator, lifelong learner, social justice advocate, and poet/writer living and working in Oakland, CA. A committed youth development professional with demonstrated knowledge in multicultural college student development, they join Summer Search eager to learn and support the College Success team. Understanding first hand many of the challenges that marginalized students face on their journey to and through college, MJ is excited to work alongside Summer Search’s mission and values.

Prior to Summer Search, MJ led the East Bay cohort of Coro Northern California’s Exploring Leadership program, and has also coordinated LGBTQ youth programming at Youth Uprising in East Oakland. They gained an MA in Student Development Administration from Seattle University, and a BA in Sociology from Sonoma State University. As a writer, their work has been featured in Foglifter Press, Everyday Feminism, Black Youth Project, Black Girl Dangerous, and The Body Is Not An Apology. They have received fellowships from the VONA/Voices community for writers of color and the Kearny Street Writers Lab.

In their daily life, MJ believes in the power of vulnerability, creativity, artistic expression, and radical imagination to transform individuals and connect community. Their newest and best muse is their soon-to-be toddler, Glory.


JimmyJimmy Juarez

Program Coordinator

Jimmy believes in the power of creating safe spaces for dialogue through open communication. It is his core belief that “by speaking openly and honestly, we can understand each other. In turn, we create dialogues that others can participate in, and eventually create spaces where we can feel vulnerable but empowered to grow.” 

Jimmy is a Summer Search Alumnus from our former North Bay office and  is a graduate of Colgate University with a degree in Peace and Conflict studies and a minor in Economics.  Jimmy was also one of our Summer Fellows supporting both our College Success and our Finance teams in 2015.

He has a variety of other terrific experience as well, and when not making a difference in his community, Jimmy likes to do anything related to painting, sketching, sculpting and collage. 



Sharon Lebenkoff

Project Coordinator

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Sharon is inspired by the uncanny ability of people both young and old to continually learn, grow, and transform.  She believes that every person has unique and wonderful gifts to offer to the world.  She feels honored and privileged to work with students who are committed to being self-aware, socially responsible leaders. 

Sharon’s professional background includes more than 6 years of experience in youth development and education.  For example, she taught English as a second language in Quito, Ecuador, tutored middle and high school students in New York City, led a community service program for high school students in Otavalo, Ecuador, and taught at an academic summer program at Amherst College.

Sharon has volunteered her time as a workforce development counselor, a mentor for LGBTI refugee youth, and a counselor on a crisis hotline.  She also holds a Master’s degree in Sociology with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of British Columbia.  She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Race and Gender Studies at the University of Richmond.

Born in New York City and raised in the Philadelphia area, Sharon is now happily and proudly at home in Oakland, California.  Some of Sharon’s favorite activities include: eating sushi, riding her bicycle, laughing with friends, practicing yoga, speaking Spanish, and expressing gratitude.


Shelby Lemons

Senior Development Associate

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Growing up, Shelby experienced firsthand the transformative effects of summer experiential learning and mentorship as a camper, counselor, and program director at a youth summer camp; growing and becoming more self-confident after each camp session. She is thrilled to help provide similar opportunities to students at Summer Search, and to be working toward greater equity and social justice in the Bay Area.

Prior to Summer Search, Shelby worked as a development coordinator at Reading Partners and volunteered as a literacy tutor in the Oakland Unified School District. She received a master's degree in public affairs with concentration in nonprofit management from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree in political science, sociology and anthropology, and Spanish from Principia College.

In her free time, Shelby enjoys exploring the Bay Area, hiking new trails, trying new workout classes, and dog-spotting.   

Kara Leslie

Foundation & Corporate Relations Officer

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Kara is motivated to work in service of young people in order to ensure they have equitable access to the opportunities necessary to achieve their personal and professional goals. Kara brings to Summer Search more than six years’ experience supporting nonprofits in fine arts, filmmaking, and education. Most recently, she served as the Associate Director of Institutional Giving at the Center for Youth Wellness, where she leveraged the philanthropy of foundations and corporations to support the advancement of the medical community and broader public in recognizing the effects of exposure to adversity on children’s health.

Kara holds two B.As in Film Studies and Public Relations from Loyola University Chicago and serves on the board of The Women’s Building in San Francisco. She hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, and when not at work, enjoys cooking, traveling, karaoke-ing, and going to the movies.



Anita Li

Program Associate

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Anita was born and raised in San Francisco, and grew up surrounded by cultural influences that have shaped her perspectives and narratives in which she is still currently exploring. Born into a Chinese-Costa-Rican household, Anita speaks both Cantonese and Spanish and is still navigating her identity in these multi-dimensional worlds of the second-generation immigrant experience. On her days off, you can find her hiding away in a coffee shop, on a hiking trail, or simply somewhere connecting with friends over good food and great ideas.

Anita graduated from Lawrence University with a degree in Psychology and Ethnic Studies. She experienced the culture shock in Wisconsin after having grown up in California all her life, but couldn’t have been more grateful for the experience that has led to her broadening her perspectives on race, social constructs, and systems of power. Through her experience there, she especially benefited from finding her own community outside of home, and gaining tools of empowerment and healing that she hopes to bring back to her community here in the bay.

An alum of this program, Anita has seen what the power of self-reflection, the love of a community, and the opportunity to broaden perspectives can do to one’s narrative. She’s extremely grateful that her journey to finding home has led her back to the place where she first learned how it felt to be her most authentic self."

Austin Lim

Austin Lim

Post-Secondary Success Program Associate

Raised in California’s Central Valley, Austin started their college education at Fresno City College. There, a job as a writing tutor sparked their passion for supporting other students and teaching, motivating them to transfer to UC Davis and earn a BA in English. Later, while completing an MA in English at SF State, they coordinated a team of writing tutors in a program designed to support minoritized students. This experience deepened their commitment to countering structural inequalities in higher ed. After a year in academic publishing, Austin is excited to return to working with students, especially in an organization that is dedicated to people’s wellbeing and to equity and justice. 

In their free time, Austin enjoys listening to music, walking, and making various arts and crafts (currently: embroidery). Always an English major at heart, they love reading everything from comic books to histories of race in the US. Austin is continually learning from the work and thinking of abolitionists, anti-capitalists, queer and trans feminists, and Black and Indigenous scholars and activists, all of whom help them imagine steps toward a better world.

Miguel Mendoza

Senior College Access Coordinator

Pronouns: He/Him/His

As a first generation student, Miguel understands how difficult it is to navigate the college application process. He also knows that getting a college degree can change the life of a person and break the cycle of poverty that exist in many of our communities. Those two things motivate Miguel to serve a population that will change our communities. 

Miguel has mostly work in the non-profit sector. One of his most meaningful jobs was working as a College Counselor at Bottom Line (In Boston), an organization that helps low income/first generation students apply to college. This position helped him develop college counseling skills and see the impact of his work in the community. It was Miguel’s first job out of college and he still as passionate about helping students as he was when he started. 

At Summer Search Miguel helps students navigate the college application and financial aid processes. He feels that his contribution is minimal when compared to the help our students receive from the mentors, but it is still a fundamental part of the growth that will help students change and have better lives.

When he is not helping the youth in Oakland, Miguel loves to watch films, especially foreign films. To him, film is a form of entertainment and education, you can learn a lot about a culture by watching a film. He also likes to read books about financial investment, social experiments and history or anything that will keep him entertain. Miguel attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and he majored in Political Science.

Brian Mertens

Director of High School Program

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Brian believes in the importance of introspection, critical thinking and learning by doing. As Director of High School Program, he supports a talented group of mentors in their work with students and helps ensure that the High School Program runs smoothly.

His previous professional experience includes coordinating advocacy projects with youth involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and assisting high school students build their job skills through workshops and internships.

Brian holds a B.A. in Health and Societies from the University of Pennsylvania. He likes to travel, read and spend time with friends.

Cristina Perez

Director of Alumni Relations

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Cristina is a San Francisco native, born to Mexican parents who believe that education leads to personal and professional success. Mentors helped Cristina navigate the worlds of higher education to become the first in her family to graduate from college. Cristina’s experience fueled her passion to increase opportunities for the vibrant voices of first generation students.

Cristina has a BA from University of San Francisco, and a Masters in Social Work from San Jose State. Prior to Summer Search, Cristina worked at La Clinica de la Raza, Instituto Familiar de la Raza and at Santa Clara’s Kaiser Child and Adolescent Department.

Outside of work, Cristina and her husband explore the beautiful gems of the Bay Area with their energetic daughter.

Karen Perez

Program Coordinator

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Karen’s family instilled in her the importance of education from a very young age. She is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her older sister was the first in their family to graduate college, and was and continues to be Karen’s greatest mentor. Having her sister as an example has led Karen to believe in the importance of representation and that it is easier to become what we are able to see. It is because of this that Karen is committed to working with and empowering students of color, first generation, and low-income students like herself.

Karen graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. While at Stanford she primarily worked at the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse (SARA) Education & Response. Her work with SARA has given her experience in leading conversations around topics such as gender, sexuality, race, income status, immigration status, and religion. Karen looks forward to facilitating conversations of identity with her students and learning from them as much as possible. Karen also spent time working with Generation Teach, an education non-profit organization, where she further developed her love and commitment to working with students.

During her free time Karen enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, reading, watching TV, listening to music, and exploring all that the Bay Area has to offer.

Jocelyn Sanchez

Post-Secondary Success Coordinator

Jocelyn is committed to serving underprivileged youth and seeing them soar to reach their dreams. Being a first-generation college graduate in her family with a Masters in school counseling, she encourages her students to challenge themselves while providing support along the way. 

She joined Summer Search in the beginning of 2015 as a program associate. She excited to begin the college process with her caseload of seniors and looks forward to explore all the opportunities that await them.  After finishing graduate school in NYC, Jocelyn moved to Seattle for two years where she worked as a high school counselor. It was there that she learned about Summer Search while mentors were conducting interviews at the school. Jocelyn was inspired by the kind of work Summer Search does with their student’s and knew that was the route she wanted to take for her own career path.

In her free time, she enjoys reading, being outdoors and spending time with my friends and family. She also really enjoys spending time in the kitchen practicing her cooking and baking skills… and then eating. 

Fernando Serrato

College Success Manager

Fernando has had the pleasure of working with hundreds of college students during his seven years at Summer Search! He is excited and eager to help young adults transition after high school and excel in their academic, professional, and social endeavors.

Fernando grew up in Morgan Hill, California. The first in his family to graduate from college, he values the relationships and opportunities that have shaped his journey. He believes in the power of storytelling and the strength in community. Fernando earned a degree in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. He is passionate about engaging young people in career exploration and connecting them to local internships and employment opportunities. Outside of work, he enjoys time with his daughter and family/friends and appreciates the outdoors, food, music, and art.

Zavi Smith

Program Manager

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Zavi attended camp for the first time when she was ten years old. That one week made her feel more capable, confident, and connected than she had ever felt, and she knew that she wanted to do work that would help other kids feel the same. Zavi began her service career in elementary school, as a Kindergarten Mentor and AAA School Safety Monitor.

Now, she is an educator who thrives on a mix of mentoring, facilitating, and project management. Zavi helps youth do their best, whether that means finishing a 10 mile hike, improving grades, or finding their voices. She has ten years’ of experience in youth service and programming. Before coming to Summer Search she worked for The Mosaic Project, Naturebridge Yosemite, The YMCA, and Girl Scouts of Greater LA. 

Zavi is from Southern California where she grew up reading, rollerblading, and going to concerts. She also enjoys board games, and making costumes, nail art, and piñatas.


Carly Solberg

Program Associate

Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs, She/Her/Hers

While pursuing their Women’s and Gender Studies undergraduate degree at Sonoma State University (SSU), Carly worked at SSU’s Cultural Center, tutored at the Writing Center, trained Peer Mentors, and led gender and sexuality trainings for students, staff, and community members. As an out and visible trans student at SSU, Carly found themself advocating for resources and support for queer and transgender students in order to make the college experience more equitable for underserved students.  Carly founded and facilitated the Trans and Gender-Questioning Support Group at Sonoma State and taught a course she created entitled “Trans Lives in the New Millennium”, which focused on the ways 21st Century transgender visibility in the United States creates a dichotomy between positive representation and rising levels of gendered violence against trans people. Carly had students reflect on the messages they received about transgender people, and the deeply held beliefs they had about gender, race, and class.                                                                                                                   
 As a queer trans professional, Carly centers people with intersecting marginalized identities and experiences in their work. Having conversations about oppression and liberation and watching moments of deep connection happen for youth inspires Carly. As a Program Associate, she engages students in conversations about their identities and goals, helps them process the impacts of historical and institutional inequities, and encourages them to recognize their potential and resilience. Carly loves listening to her students, offering advice when appropriate, and hyping them up for all the incredible things they accomplish every day.                                     
Carly enjoys finger-tapping to music as if she actually knows how to play the drums, is a big fan of cats, and thoroughly appreciates eating large amounts of sourdough toast in late hours of the night.   



Xavier Soto

Program Operations Associate

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Change inspires Xavier and keeps him motivated to engage in difficult conversations about racial and social justice. Not all change is good, but he believes change is the only constant and strives to change things including himself for the better.

At Summer Search, a lot of his work manifests behind the scenes: from getting materials and resources for events, to making sure the office and staff have what they need to succeed. He oftentimes will be the first person you see entering the office, so be sure to say hello! He went to Oakland Public Schools and always enjoys hearing updates from students on teachers and what changes are happening and comparing his high school experience to current students.

In the past Xavier worked for and with many of our partners from Environmental Traveling Companions, Outward Bound California, and other outdoor education focused organizations in the Bay Area. In fact, when working at Outward Bound Xavier also worked with Summer Search sophomores and helped them get on their trips! Xavier went to college in Kalamazoo, Michigan, however he did not complete his degree. The school at the time wasn’t a great fit and wasn’t responding to his needs as a low-income student of color.

When he’s not working you can find him playing competitive and co-operative board games with housemates, having in-depth discussions about current events, brainstorming actions for combating white supremacy, camping and hiking, and trying to seem cool to his 14-year-old little sister.  

Morgan StanbackXavier

Program Associate

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Morgan is extremely passionate about helping young people from underserved communities figure out their paths in life through engaging in dynamic conversations and providing a space for deep reflection.

Having lived in Northern California her whole life, Morgan moved across the country to attend McDaniel College, a liberal arts college, in Maryland. At McDaniel, she was a dedicated member of the ESL club where she tutored community members in English. She was also a part of the first Cohort of Global Fellows, a group that strived to incorporate global learning and citizenship into their academic experience. She earned her BA in Spanish at McDaniel and has had the opportunity to live in multiple Spanish-speaking countries. After working extensively in different realms of education in the U.S. and abroad, Morgan found her true calling in mentoring students at Summer Search.

When she isn't mentoring, Morgan can be found reading a book, learning a new language, or spending time with her family.  

Jen TribbetJen

Program Associate

Jen is compelled to do work that inspires authenticity and understanding to promote shared wellbeing. As someone who has had nonprofits play a major role in developing the values they hold nearest, Jen is thrilled to be in the position to be a part of facilitating the growth of the young people of today who will be the adults of tomorrow.

After finishing a BA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies from The College of Wooster Jen started working with young people as a College Persistence Coordinator at East Bay College Fund. Following working at East Bay College Fund Jen took a short break from structured office work to pursue the arts, which eventually landed him at YR Media. At YR Media Jen assisted in teaching high schoolers various aspects of media, from digital art to journalism. Having felt very accomplished as a journalist, from working with NPR to winning the Excellence in Multimedia Award from the NLGJA, Jen also felt the pressure of consistently churning out quality stories was getting to be a bit much, but wanted to hold on to the energy that young people were optimistically bringing to the work environment. The goal of working with young people to shape the future is ultimately what brought Jen to Summer Search and what inspires Jen to do the best work on their behalf.

In Jen’s spare time he likes to listen to music of various genre’s, listen to podcasts, watch anime, cook and sew.

Adrian VegaAdrian

College Success Associate

Pronouns: He/Him/His, They/Them/Theirs

Adrian believes in the power and potential of young people.

Originally from Point Reyes, CA Adrian was first exposed to the power of mentoring through summer camps where his counselors helped him learn what it means to love and accept oneself. Since then Adrian has been working to find more ways to help build the strength of young people everywhere.

Adrian is a first-generation, low-income (FLI) graduate from Stanford University, where they earned a B.A. in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with a minor in Communication. At Stanford, Adrian was a part of the Public Service Honors Society and helped pioneer Beyond Sex Ed, a speaker series designed to support new undergraduate students navigating the complex territory of sexuality and establish a campus culture that promotes healthy, empowered and consensual relationships. Additionally, while at Stanford, Adrian worked in undergraduate admission, student engagement, residential education, and academic advising.

Previously, Adrian interned at The Trevor Project (the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 25), as well as GLAAD (a leading media monitoring organization seeking to rewrite the script for LGBTQ acceptance and cultural change) where he helped expand their successful Youth Engagement program.

When Adrian isn’t working with post-secondary Summer Searchers, you can find them pushing the boundaries of breakfast bagels, spending time with his family, or searching their local public library for new YA books.


Javier Villafuerte

Post-Secondary Access Coordinator

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Having grown up in Whittier and Anaheim, California, Javier is a first-gen student whose life experiences has propelled him to work with and advocate for youth. He started his post-secondary journey at Orange Coast College, a community college in Costa Mesa, CA. At OCC, he was able to gain the skills and knowledge to transfer to a 4-year institution after a few years. He then received a BA in English at UC Berkeley where he was involved on campus with organizations that focused on equity and inclusion as well as youth outreach and support. He is currently completing his MA in Comparative Literature at SF State and has worked as a tutor and teaching assistant there as well.

Javier learned and received support from amazing mentors and counselors throughout his own post-secondary experience and wishes to continue that work for future generations. He seeks to support other first-gen and low-income students to have access to as much information about post-secondary life as possible. He is also an outspoken advocate for the importance and value of community colleges.

In his free time, Javier enjoys playing new and old Pokémon video games, spending time with his family and friends, learning new languages, and reading a variety of books from different genres including YA, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Historical Fiction.

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Supporting Young People to Thrive.