Oakland Leaf was founded in 2001 by a collective of East Oakland educators intent on empowering youth voice. At the time, Oakland was experiencing a surge in crime and violence, the country was about to enter a war, and many kids in Oakland didn’t have an outlet or a platform to examine and express their fears and anxieties, their hopes and dreams. Oakland Leaf’s first program was the All Oakland Youth Talent Show. Over more than two decades, we have evolved into a youth development leader in afterschool and summer programming.
OAKLAND LEAF STAFF
Melissa Mendez Ochoa, Executive Director
Melissa grew up in Napa Valley and made the move to the East Bay when she decided to attend the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a minor in Education and in 2020, Melissa earned her Masters in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. As an undergraduate she became involved with many different organizations targeted to change the educational system and help students of color reach higher education. Upon graduating from UC Berkeley, Melissa decided to stay in the East Bay and began working with Oakland Leaf. As an Administrative Assistant and later HR and Finance Director, she developed the infrastructure and direction of the organization and programs. Melissa planned and hosted Oakland Leaf’s 12th and 13th Annual All Oakland Youth Talent Showcase. In the of Spring of 2019, Melissa became Oakland Leaf’s Executive Director. In her free time, Melissa is in active alumna of TRENZA UC Berkeley and an avid sports fan of the Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants, and San Francisco Niners.
Sara Rousseve, People and Culture Manager
Sara comes from a family of educators, artists and social service professionals. Being the oldest of three, she spent many days in her backyard creating spaces for curiosity and play for her siblings. These early experiences planted the seeds for her lifelong love of learning and teaching. Sara earned a BA in Liberal Studies with a minor in Theatre Arts from Loyola Marymount University. Upon graduation, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where she worked as a middle school After-School Program Assistant in an environment that centered social justice, creative expression and social-emotional development. This experience motivated her to earn her MA in Education, with an emphasis in Cognitive Development and Arts Integration, at UC Berkeley. Since 2006, she has been working with youth and families in the Bay Area as a teacher, reading intervention specialist, literacy coach, and consultant with children who have learning challenges. She is a proud mother of her daughter Mayla, and adores the time she gets to be a “kid” again with her, whether in the form of an impromptu dance party or pretending to be talking dragons while on a local hike.
Kamilah Henderson, Finance and Operations Manager
Kamilah grew up in Hayward and Oakland, CA and earned a B.A. in Education Studies and a minor in Sports and Recreation Management from Ashford University. After 10 years of working with youth in schools and in educational programs, Kamilah decided to earn a M.A. in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction from Ashford University. Her experience in education and youth work drives her passion for Oakland Leaf’s community impact. As a parent, and former after-school instructor, she knows how much families rely on quality out-of-school time programming. When she’s not at work, Kamilah enjoys road trips, beach days, and studying music.
Isabel Gonzalez, Director of Community Programs
Before transitioning into her current role, Isa served as the Program Manager at one of Oakland Leaf’s afterschool programs. As a minority in Oakland she has been labeled as a female who is statistically designed to fail, and lives in a city labeled as a “malignant place.” But Isa refused to let others define her, and always was eager to realize her dreams. Isa discovered her passion for equity in education and Feminism through an Oakland Leaf critical media afterschool program. In 2011, she attended the University of California Santa Cruz as an undergraduate scholar and in 2015 received her Bachelor’s degree in Feminist Studies. Isa is a life-long learner and is passionate about sharing her knowledge with those who surround her. At Oakland Leaf, Isa continues her mission of providing youth with the resources that they might not be able to attain elsewhere, and gives them the tools to be active agents of change in our communities.
Audacious Wilson, Director of Afterschool Programs
Audacious has over 15 years of experience in nonprofit program development, creative arts, and social justice work. She has a Bachelor in Sociology from Rust College and Master of Fine Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from Mills College. As an educator, writer, and program director, Audacious has provided services and leadership for programs of Girls Inc. of Alameda County, Oakland School for the Arts (named Greater Bay Area Teacher of the Year, 2016), Mills College and, most recently, the YMCA of the East Bay. In her role with the YMCA, Audacious led the daily operation and success of six Before and After School Programs in the West Contra Costa School District. Audacious fosters a creative educational, team building, hands-on, and visionary approach to leadership and learning. In her spare time, Audacious enjoys spending time with her family, watching basketball, reading poetry, jamming out to some good music and catching a sale at Nike Town.
Samantha Liapes, Development Director
For nearly a decade, Samantha served as the Development and Communications Director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, a leadership development and community organizing institution focused on education equity. Before working at Coleman, Samantha was the founding Director of a national alliance of progressive youth and student organizations working to build power in communities of color. Early in her nonprofit career, Samantha served in several staff leadership positions at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, including Project Director of both Bay Area PoliceWatch and NYC PoliceWatch and National Development Director. As an independent fundraising and communications consultant and a certified co-active and somatic coach, Samantha has provided capacity building and leadership development support to dozens of nonprofit organizations and leaders. She has also served on several volunteer committees that helped to launch housing justice, immigration rights, and other social change organizations. Samantha is the mother of twins who teach her daily lessons about what it means to live life courageously and unselfconsciously, and to feel (and in their case, loudly express) all the feelings.
Nayeli Melchor, Development Operations Manager
Nayeli served Oakland Leaf as the Program Assistant for the ICS/TCN afterschool program for five years before joining the development team. Before joining Oakland Leaf, she worked for several years with Oakland Parks and Recreation, in various youth development roles. Since Nayeli was a young child, she has loved, and been deeply curious about, science, nature, animals, and ecosystems of all kinds. These passions motivated her to get her degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from UC Santa Cruz. In her spare time, Nayeli loves doing arts and crafts and DIY projects, hiking, spending time outdoors, exploring new places, and spending time with her dog (Cookie) and lizard (Diny – short for tiny dinosaur).
Jonathan Higgenbotham, Bret Harte Afterschool Program Manager
Jonathan was born and raised in Oakland. He attended Pine Manor College and entered into the field of education. He is a former Science and PE teacher and greatly enjoys building upon the curiosity and intelligence of young minds. He is also a high school basketball coach and has worked and volunteered with the Black Cowboy Association for about 5 years. He strives to embrace and empower young generations to be the greatest they can be. He is a huge proponent in leading by example as well incorporating as much fun and joy into the work on the daily.
Erika Cardona, Learning Without Limits Afterschool Program Manager
Erika is currently the Site Manager at Learning Without Limits. She has been with the Oakland Leaf as of 2016. Erika has over 10 years’ experience in academic development, programming and implementation in the public sector, particularly in under-served communities. Erika also served as a liaison for non-English speaking families; her responsibilities included assisting with academics, implementing new programs to develop Youth Empowerment, leveraging community relationships, and developing the potential of young people while maintaining and operating an After School Program serving over 160 students daily. Erika continues to pursue her passion, to encourage and support the public by cultivating, welcoming, supporting, and being inclusive to all communities. When she’s away from LWL Erika enjoys reading, taking trips, and spending time with her family.
Matthew Linzner, Love Cultivating Schoolyards Program Manager
Matthew works within Oakland Leaf to develop a team of young people who are literate in earth and bio rhythms through a variety of outdoor, communal, and interpersonal activities. Matthew studied Agroecology and Community Food Systems at the Evergreen State College and began working with Oakland Leaf as an afterschool soccer coach. He has since incorporated a deeper knowledge of health through the Love Cultivating Schoolyards Program. Matthew has worked at a variety of schools in the Fruitvale (elementary to high school) exposing students to the rhythms of nature as they learn about their own bodies and health while cultivating fruits and vegetables at their schools. Through this work, he seeks to develop a network of food producing gardens, cultivated by a team of trained youth, that can act as both an educational tool and as a nutritional resource for our various communities.
Thalia Jauregui, ASCEND Afterschool Program Manager
Thalia is a first generation Chicana and was the first one in her family to graduate high school. She is currently pursuing her BA in Psychology with the ambition to provide youth counseling and support to Oakland youth. Thalia was born and raised in East Oakland and has experienced first hand the struggles of living in a marginalized community, which is what drives her to give back to her community. She believes that Oakland Leaf provides much needed resources for youth that she herself lacked while growing. Thalia has held many roles at Oakland Leaf’s ASCEND program including: Academic Mentor, Instructor Program Assistant, to now Site Manager. She is extremely passionate and invested in her work with youth, and she is energized by helping create critical, social thinkers who are developing into active agents of change in the community.
Isaac Ruelas, EnCompass Afterschool Program Manager
Isaac was born and raised in Oakland and loves giving back to our great city by working with youth and families. He graduated from Patten Academy High School and earned a BA degree in Communication from Patten University. Youth work and community service are both essential to Isaac’s career and personal commitment. He served as a high school leader at Christain Cathedral, worked as a Recreation Recreational Leader at the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Department, and led the Centro Juventud de la Raza as the Center Director. A key part of his role at Centro Juventud de la Raza was partnering with local elementary schools and facilitate engaging after-school programs for the students. Isaac is committed to serving the community and create spaces for Oakland youth and is excited to bring his passion to EnCompass Academy.
Genesis Rodriguez, Roots Program Manager
Genesis earned his Bachelors Degree in Communications from California State University, East Bay. He was raised in Oakland and is extremely proud to work in the community that supported and inspired him to live his life with passion and purpose. Genesis is motivated to help youth in his community develop valuable skills that will help them achieve success in their future and overcome the socioeconomic barriers that they face daily. He is thrilled for the opportunity to lead a brand new high school internship that will instill confidence in the youth of his community. Genesis has a deep knowledge of Oakland Leaf programming- he was an after-school program participant, a Love Cultivating Schoolyards (LCS) intern, an After-School Program Instructor, a Program Assistant for LCS, and is now the Program Manager of Roots.
OAKLAND LEAF BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Gail Camacho, Board-Chair
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Informing Change
Marina Ortega, Secretary
Physician Assistant, UCSF Health
Howard Joyce, Treasurer
Managing Partner, Morgan Hill Partners
Harris Bostic II
Strategic Senior Advisor, Tides
Sourcing Manager, Genentech
Director of Product Marketing, Rally Health
Vice Principal, Mt. Diablo Unified School District
Co Founder, Founders Restaurant Table Group
Retired Medical Doctor, Private Practice
Jose Luis Rodriguez
Project Manager, Growing Together
Board of Trustees, Health Professions Edu Fndn.
Partner at Gibbs Law Group LLP
Retired Clinical Psychologist, Private Practice
User Experience Research Consultant