About the Team

TRF Staff

Michael Jascz, Executive DirectorMichael Jascz, Executive Director

Michael Jascz is the Founder and Executive Director of The Relationship Foundation, an educational initiative on the forefront of a unique approach to Social and Emotional Learning with proven results. For over 14 years, Michael has dedicated himself to helping people build healthy and meaningful relationships. Michael has developed a groundbreaking program entitled “Healthy Relationships 101,” which has been introduced in New York City high schools since 2007.

Before working in the school setting, Michael studied the work of leading relationship authors and lecturers — Harville Hendrix and Marshall Rosenberg — whose work inspired the Healthy Relationships 101 curriculum and guidebook. He has given numerous relationship presentations and seminars throughout the United States and Europe, and he maintains a private coaching practice. Michael holds a degree in political science and anthropology from the honors program at Ohio State University.

dean whiteford trfDean Whiteford, Development Consultant

Dean Whiteford is a business development executive with over 30 years of experience in the design, implementation, and leadership of Business Development and Marketing programs and strategies.  

Dean is a native of Perth, Australia, and spent over 20 years in business development roles with “Big 4” consulting firms Deloitte and PwC in the US, Hong Kong, and Japan. Dean has a Bachelor of Business Degree from Curtin University in Australia, and is a CPA and Fellow of CPA Australia.

derrick edwards trfDerrick Edwards, Senior Instructor

Derrick Edwards is an instructor for the Relationship Foundation. A jack of many trades Derrick has worked as a paraprofessional with an Autistic child, as a substitute teacher for the Department of Education for several years, a tutor, and NYC tour guide. Derrick holds a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Derrick has seen the power of bringing people together and this curriculum has helped enlighten him on humanity’s common bonds.

akhmose ari trfAkhmose Ari, Senior Instructor

Akhmose Ari-Hotep comes to The Relationship Foundation in the natural order of things. A native of Newark, NJ and a graduate of Rutgers University-Newark where he studied African American & African Studies and Women Studies. He is the Founding Director of BelleButton9, LLC (Self Empowerment Skills Through Nature). He has chosen to align his professional endeavors with TRF to further the organization’s growth. He identifies TRF as the best outlet of continuing his passion and purpose for empowering youth.

rebecca lefton trfRebecca Lefton, Strategic Consultant

Rebecca Lefton is a Strategic Consultant with more than a dozen years of experience working with non-profits and B-corporations in program management, policy development, advocacy, communications, and coalition building at the local, national, and international levels. During her career in Washington D.C., Ms. Lefton served as Director of Policy and Research at Climate Advisers where she directed the firm’s global advocacy initiatives and gender equality practice. Previously, Rebecca was a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress where she represented the organization at global climate and sustainability negotiations, including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development. She has established a volume of work on the nexus between poverty, gender quality, climate and energy and has been quoted in The Washington Post and The Guardian. Rebecca holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in public policy from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

nya gregor fleron trfNya Fleron, Web Master & IT Consultant

Nya Gregor Fleron grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark and has since made her home in New York City. For the past 13 years, she has run a web and graphic design business with an international clientele - Vidya Design. She works primarily with smaller companies and can take care of most of their marketing needs, including general IT support, software training, newsletter, and other promotional marketing and web design and maintenance. She is also the author of the self-help book Staying Happy and the novel Kali’s Gift. Besides making websites and writing books, her primary purpose and commitment in life is to spread joy and love, by adding a smile or a laugh to someone’s day.

Karen Torbjornsen, Consultant

After moving to New York City from the Berkshires, where she co-founded a theater ensemble for young actors at Shakespeare & Company, Karen has worked closely with diverse populations in all five boroughs for over fifteen years. In addition to her work as a theater director with teen actors, she has been a teacher and counselor for elementary, middle, high school and GED students in both traditional schools and transitional housing settings. As part of a DoE Professional Development series for teachers, administrators, guidance staff, parents and students, Karen designed and facilitated workshops around self-care, crisis management, and skills for psychological recovery.

TRF Board Members

  • David Fishelson


    David J. Fishelson is a producer, playwright, and director for film, theatre, and television. He was the lead producer of Golda's Balcony, the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history (2003–05), and is the founder/producer of Manhattan Ensemble Theatre ("MET"), an award-winning Off-Broadway theatre company. His films have been broadcast on PBS, exhibited theatrically, and presented nationally and internationally. 

  • Sylvia Schwartz


    Sylvia Schwartz is a seasoned marketing professional who has applied her skills in assisting leading financial institutions in New York (CitiBank, BNYMellon, Smith Barney, TIAA) achieve their goals. She has served on the boards of the Hoboken Historical Museum and the Mile Square Theatre.

  • Dr. Ron Gentile



    Dr. Gentile is a Professor of Ophthalmology. He serves as a Director at Ocular Trauma Service, and Surgeon Director at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEEI). Some of his trials have resulted in the newest therapies used today that save the vision of thousands of patients worldwide. He has lead humanitarian missions (operationrestorevision) to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

  • Brian Dworkin 


    Board Member

    Brian is the Director of the Domestic Violence and Family Law Advocacy Project and Lawyer with the Queens Legal Services.

  • Gayla Thompson


    Board Member

    Gayla Thompson is a Leadership and Instructional Coach for principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders through the City University of New York Affinity Group. She is a former NYC Principal and assisted with the development of the Healthy Relationships 101 Curriculum and guidebook. 

  • Latoya Attis 


    Board Member

    Latoya Attis is an Academic Advising Administrator and Adjunct Faculty at Iona

    College. She teaches General Psychology I & II, Substance Abuse Treatment

    and Referral Methods, Drug and Alcohol Counseling, and co-teaches Seminars for Academic Success for probationary students. She holds an M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy and an M.S. in Early Childhood Education and Teaching Students with Disabilities from Mercy College.

  • Jessica Klein

    PhD, MSW, M.Ed.

    Board Member

    Jessica Klein is an Adelphi University (AU) Associate professor of sociology/criminal justice. She is the author of The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools (NYU Press: 2012). She incorporates Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication in her work. She is also the co-author of the Healthy Relationships 101 Curriculum.

  • Melissa Sadin 

    PhD., M.Ed. 

    Board Member

    Melissa is a published author and education consultant.  She holds two Masters Degrees and a Doctorate degree in developmental trauma in schools.  She is an advocate for Trauma-Informed schools and has produced numerous webinars on the topic. She has served as an administrator in elementary schools and an alternative school for behaviorally challenged children in grades K-12. She is the director of the Attachment and Trauma Network.