Summer Search

Bay Area



Students served


Partner schools


Race of students served











Median household income


First-generation college students






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

T (415) 362-0500

159 H Street 
Petaluma, CA 94952 MAP

T (707) 763-2001


2019 Bay Area Gala

On April 10th, the Summer Search community will celebrate the success and achievements of our students and alumni. Be inspired as we reflect on our remarkable students' progress as they make their way to and through college, and go on to thrive in their lives. We hope you'll join us in bringing the Bay Area community together! 

Email for more information or to learn about sponsorship opportunities.

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Latest News

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

Dare to Lead - Annual Career Readiness Conference

Corporate partnerships are important to Summer Search’s success for many reasons, and BlackRock has recently gone above and beyond by financially supporting two of our regions as well as providing volunteer support. On June 24th, BlackRock hosted Summer Search’s “Dare to Lead” Conference in San Francisco, an all-day series of career readiness workshops to support our college students as they prepare for life post-graduation.

“The impact of opportunities like ‘Dare to Lead’ is exponential. No question, a conference like this shows the commitment and partnership of Summer Search and BlackRock. Even more important is the impact it has on each student, their ability improve their circumstances and the world around them,” said David Johnson, Vice President at BlackRock.

The 35 Summer Search Bay Area college students in attendance worked with volunteers on resume reviews, practiced interview skills, created their LinkedIn profiles, and had the opportunity to network with Summer Search alumni and volunteers from other companies like LinkedIn, Google, and AT&T. We are incredibly grateful to our corporate partners like BlackRock for their commitment to Summer Search’s students!

Alexis at his graduation from Vintage High School

Partnering with Google in Innovation

Earlier this summer, Google generously supported Summer Search in leveraging innovation thinking to stretch our creative muscles. Google uses a simple, three-step process to come up with its most innovative ideas and facilitates sessions called Creative Skills for Innovation (CSI) Labs to help other organizations to tackle big, audacious challenges through a robust and interactive design-thinking workshop.

Diane Solinger (Director, Googler Engagement, hosted a CSI Lab for Summer Search to explore how we might increase our impact and expand college access for low income youth in the Bay Area. Specifically, we gathered a group of nearly 25 thought partners – including Summer Search board members, Google representatives, and senior Silicon Valley executives – to brainstorm around the following question:

How might Summer Search share our unique value proposition (aka stand out!) amongst similar youth development NGOs seeking to establish partnerships with Silicon Valley companies, particularly tech?

The group broke up into small teams, each of which (1) interviewed a senior executive in the Silicon Valley/tech space to understand their perspective, (2) generated dozens of ideas in response to the question above, and (3) spent the last portion of the event building out one specific idea. Our Summer Search team then was armed with dozens of ideas to continue the brainstorming back in the office, including a new event idea for the coming year – so stay tuned for more innovation-inspired ideas from Summer Search!


Kristine Leja
Bay Area Executive Director

Read full biography 

John Brennan, Summer Search Bay Area Board Chair



SiMone Andrade

College Access Manager

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 travelling 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

Senior Program Associate

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 in at Skyline high school and in college, and he enjoys running and weightlifting on 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. 

JoniJoni Bissell

College Support Specialist

Joni believes every student deserves not only access to higher education, but also the luxury of choice to reach and surpass the norm of expectations. In order for our future leaders to reflect and instigate a compassionate world, higher education has the utmost urgency. 

The ability and stories of Summer Search students to surprise, inspire and make positive change in this world continue to be Joni’s motivation for her work. She feels fortunate to support hundreds of students in their post-secondary options and assist them through the college process. 

Joni grew up in St Louis, earned a BA in Art History from Wells College and her College Advisor and Career Planning Certification from University of California, Berkeley. 

She is the proud mother of three sons, all college graduates and wonderful, good young men.


Donaciano Botello Torres

School and Community Engagement Coordinator

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.



Yining Chiu

Senior Program Associate

In her work at Summer Search, Yining’s hope is to give as generously as she has been given to. As a young person, she was impacted by dedicated mentors and a vibrant community of supporters who helped her thrive in school and in life. She believes that with nurturing adults who are willing to serve as advocates and role models, young people can transform their challenges into victories.

After an undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley that included dropping out without a home or job and several difficult-but-honest conversations with her college mentor, Yining graduated with her BA in American Studies. Her work has centered around youth development and community empowerment; some of her favorite roles have included serving college students as a campus minister in Berkeley, and supporting economic justice initiatives by equipping transition aged youth to jumpstart careers at Fortune 500 companies. 

Yining is vocal and aggressive in her love for the East Bay, where she, her husband David, and their baby daughter are enriched daily by their amazing community. She still meets with her college mentor.


Irene Cruz

Senior Program Associate

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.  

Meha Davé

Regional Program Director

Meha is a lifelong learner with a passion for empowering others and building community. Starting during her time as a reproductive health educator for middle school students across L.A., she has focused her career on opportunities to work alongside young people as they explore their own identities, access information and opportunities, and shape their future pathways. She is proud to be part of Summer Search’s multi-dimensional, long-term program that offers opportunities for young people to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, experience new things, and drive their own journeys with the support of talented staff along the way.

Prior to joining the Summer Search team, Meha served as the Founding Chicago Program Director and then National Director of Program Innovation at Spark, a national nonprofit organization focused on supporting students during the middle to high school transition through mentorship, individualized workplace-based learning experiences, and high school exploration. In these roles, she cultivated enduring partnerships with a variety of internal and external stakeholders and built their investment in a collective vision to empower students and create meaningful learning opportunities.

Meha holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. She earned her Masters in Social Work and Masters in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. In her free time, you can find Meha boxing, reading, and convincing friends to join her on little adventures like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Kenyon DeVault

Bay Area Director of Development

Kenyon joined the Summer Search community in January 2014, where 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.

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 is on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, where he’s been a singing member since 2008.



Sakeenah El-Amin

Program Manager

"Young folks carry an unending desire to make the world into what it should be." This is what moves Sakeenah to keep tapping into her highest self.

Sakeenah has worked with students from low-income backgrounds for over 16 years. After graduating from college, she served as the associate director of admissons for a college access program. She later moved on to law school where she studied poverty law and interned at the most well-respected public interest law firm in the country. After realizing that legal remedies were only a temporary solution to larger structural problems, she made the difficult decision to return to her first love, education.  

Since then, Sakeenah has had the privilege of overseeing a special education compliance program, teaching high school students the joys of history, and running a legal education program for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.  

Sakeenah holds a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University (with honors) and a J.D. from Temple Beasley School of Law. When she is not giving students the tools needed to dismantle the system, she is delighting in affairs that she is wholly untrained to do - like college lecturing, publishing short stories and shadow painting.

Gabrielle Esquivel

Senior Program Associate

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

Senior Program Associate

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.


Nicol Gaffney

Summer Programs Manager

Nicol grew up in the mountain town of Murphys, California. In high school he traveled to Mexico to build houses with the families that would live in them – an experience that aligned him with many of Summer Search’s values. 

While earning a BA at UC Santa Cruz, Nicol was an Academic Mentor helping to create turn-arounds with students on the verge of failing out of college. Nicol also worked as a Lead Science Instructor at Galileo Summer Camps, expanding his experiences with youth and solidifying his belief in the power of mentoring. 

After college he lived and taught in Loja, Ecuador, and now Nicol feels he’s found the home he has been searching for at Summer Search.


Bradley Hill

Director of School and Community Engagement

Bradley was born and raised in Atlanta, GA where he cultivated his interest in social justice and education. His passion for equity and developing a critical consciousness for the collective has led him to Summer Search. 

Bradley has worked inside and outside the classroom, applying multicultural pedagogy in his social studies class, improving child welfare at a think-tank in D.C., analyzing policy for low-income job creation at the state capital, and evaluating financial literacy programs. 

He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Georgia and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgia State University.

During his off time, Bradley enjoys being in the garden, hooping on folks on the basketball court, getting his yoga on.


Michal "MJ" Jones

College Success Manager

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 Associate

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. 


Colleen Klus

Director of High School Program, Bay Area

Colleen’s experiences volunteering for Muscular Dystrophy Camp built her awareness of injustice and privilege, and helped her value experiential education. She is committed to striving for collective empowerment through environmental, racial, and social justice.

Colleen received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at Miami University and spent the following two and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia.

Colleen moved to the Bay Area and joined Summer Search where one minute the team is jamming to Janet Jackson and the next minute talking about cultural appropriation. 

She and her husband Justin are dedicated members of the Oakland community. Colleen also spends time cooking, visiting family and friends, singing, and appreciating the beauty of the Bay Area.


Sharon Lebenkoff

Senior Program Associate

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

Bay Area Senior Development Associate

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

Bay Area Foundation & Corporate Relations Officer

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.

Miguel Mendoza

Senior College Access Coordinator

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

Program Manager

Brian believes in the importance of introspection, critical thinking and learning by doing. As a Program Manager, 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.

Lindsey Moriguchi

Associate Director of Development

Lindsey is motivated by her belief that all youth should have the opportunity to know their worth and realize their full potential.

Joining Summer Search in 2010, Lindsey was initially drawn to Summer Search by how its values and mission aligned with her own; however, has stayed because of the people: the powerful and vibrant students and alumni, the committed volunteers and supporters, and the passionate and inspiring staff. Her tenure on both the National and Bay Area Development teams has cultivated a passion for Development and how it can bridge communities, develop empathy, and empower action and advocacy.

Lindsey holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Economy of Industrial Societies from UC Berkeley, a National Parks Annual Pass, and a CA fishing license. You can most likely find her rock climbing, bike camping, baking pies, or volunteering at her local church.

Cristina Perez

Bay Area Director of College Success & Alumni Relations

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 Associate

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.

Natosha Safo

Regional Operations Coordinator

As a product of a bi-cultural marriage and raised by a single mother who grew up in 1960’s Alabama, Natosha has always been curious about and inspired by the strength and resiliency of the human spirit. She grew up in a diverse neighborhood that became home for many political refugee families which heavily informed her passion for finding ways to use education and access to information to promote equity and fairness for communities of color. Organized sports, a great public school system and youth development programs similar to Summer Search were crucial to exposing Natosha to the breadth of possibilities in life beyond the town she lived in her entire life.

Natosha’s professional past includes Peace Corps service, an education nonprofit on Capitol Hill in D.C., legislative and intellectual property law firms and most recently local government. She has primarily worked in program administration and operations roles and is excited about bringing that experience to Summer Search Bay Area.

Natosha holds a B.S. in International Business and Spanish from Georgetown University, an MBA in International Management and Spanish from Thunderbird, School of Global Management (at Arizona State Univ.) and a professional certificate in Human Resources Fundamentals from San Francisco State Univ. In 2018 she will complete a mid- career professional fellowship program in Global Social Impact with MovingWorlds Institute. Natosha enjoys volunteering, travelling, team sports and doing the Monday through Wednesday crossword puzzles in pen. She lives in Oakland with her five houseplants and when she isn’t exploring bay area trails can be found on her sofa in a snuggly blanket engrossed in Golden Girls or Murder She Wrote episodes.

Jocelyn Sanchez

College 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.

On her free time, she enjoys reading, being outdoors or spending time with my friends and family. She also really enjoy spending time in the kitchen practicing her cooking and baking skills… and then eating. Jocelyn also has a dog with whom she and her boyfriend love to play and spend time with.

Fernando Serrato

College Success Manager

Fernando is excited and eager to help Summer Search college students transition and excel in their academic, civic, and social endeavors.

Fernando grew up in Morgan Hill, California. The first in his family to graduate from college, Fernando earned a degree in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. He held various leadership positions while at UCSD, including serving as an academic transition counselor for incoming first-generation students and as president of the Nu chapter of Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Fernando has worked as a senior youth counselor for Horizons Unlimited. At Beyond 12, he helped establish and facilitate summer transition programs at the CCSF Bridge 2 Success and Summer Institute.

Zavi Smith

Senior Program Associate

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.


Xavier Soto

Program Operations Assistant

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.  

Ben Stevens

Program Manager

Ben credits the mentors in his life with helping him to thrive in the face of significant challenges as a young adult. Hailing from England and having traveled extensively, Ben values the growth promoted by experiential learning and cultural immersion. He can’t imagine a better job than sending inspiring young leaders out into the world.

Ben’s higher education, which ranged through the California junior college and public university systems, positions him well to serve our students. Having earned a debt-free, triple honors bachelors from UCLA by working his tail off, Ben now brings the same hard graft and ingenuity to Summer Search. His multi-cultural study of literature helps him relate to the rich stories Summer Searchers represent, as does his prior work and volunteer experience in youth development.

Daishar Young

College Success Coordinator

Daishar attended a higher education conference on college access in 2014 and was asked why he decided to dedicate his career to this field and his reply was simple: “Because I see myself in my students.” Daishar has first-hand experience on what it means to be a first-generation college student of color. Daishar is an Oakland native and is thrilled to be back in Oakland working with Summer Search, an organization that serves students of color and whose mission of providing holistic services aligns with his core values.

Daishar graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013 with a B.A. in Medical and Cultural Anthropology. After graduation Daishar worked at Castlemont High School where he focused on efforts to ensure students received college information before their senior year of high school. Following Castlemont he enrolled in a Master’s program at the University of Michigan. As a recent graduate of University of Michigan, he received his master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy, where he learned how to navigate educational systems that lack resources for our youth.

Daishar comes to Summer Search with strong skills in relationship building and supporting the strengths and needs of first-generation students of color in their post-secondary journeys. Daishar’s approach to working with students is one based on his own experience, mutual respect, building safe space for students and normalizing their experiences, encouraging them through recognizing their strengths, and connecting them to the resources they need to work towards their goals.

Daishar loves hanging out with friends and family, watching and reading marvel comics, dancing, playing basketball, traveling, hiking, trying new foods and going to museums.