About the Team

TRF Staff

Michael Jascz, Executive Director

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Michael Jascz is the founder of The Relationship Foundation, an educational initiative at the forefront of a unique approach to Social and Emotional Learning with proven results. For 20 years, Michael has dedicated himself to helping people build healthy and thriving relationships as a coach and an instructor.  Doing this work has helped him to face his childhood trauma and ensuing anxiety and depression. His greatest hope is that getting this work out widespread will support educators in creating a safe space for children of all ages in every school in the nation. The drive to bring this work to the public has been a deliverance for him. Michael and the TRF staff have developed a groundbreaking program “Healthy Relationships 101,” which has been introduced in New York City high schools since 2007.

Michael studied the work of leading educators such as Jim Sporleder and relationship authors and lecturers —Marshall Rosenberg, and Harville Hendrix— whose work inspired the Healthy Relationships 101 curriculum and guidebook. He has given numerous relationship presentations and seminars throughout the United States, and coaching couples and singles. Michael holds a degree in political science and anthropology from the honors program at Ohio State University.

Cicely GutierrezCicely Gutierrez, Managing Director

Cicely has long had a passion for children, education, as well as physical and mental health. She is a Certified Birth and Bereavement Doula and a childbirth educator. Through birthwork she learned about racial disparites in healthcare and the unusually high mortality rate of women of color when giving birth. She lives on the border of the largest Native American Tribe in the United States (the Navajo/Diné people) and has seen firsthand the effects of discrimination and poverty on the reservation. She has 17 year of administrative experience, 13 years of financial experience, and four years of experience in non-profit databases, donor relations, and gifts management. Her previous positions include the well known Make-A-Wish Foundation of America working as a Major Gifts Officer. She is very excited to be a part of TRF as it reaches more people and helps them learn relationship skills.  Her motto in life is "When You Know Better, You Do Better."

Isabel LausIsabel Laus, Research and Administrative Assistant

Isabel is a sophomore at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College and is majoring in Psychology. As a strong advocate for mental and emotional well-being, she has volunteered and worked in various organizations that aim to better the lives of those around them, developing the passion as well as the skills to pursue a career in such fields. She is the treasurer of Hunter College’s Filipino Cultural Club, POH, and wishes to further her interests in developmental psychology and emotional intelligence. Isabel wishes to make a difference with The Relationship Foundation and to create a cultural evolution that fosters healthier relationships with both themselves and others.

CasiCasi Riegle, Research and Administrative Assistant

Casi has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Point Park University. She's passionate about child development and empathy, taking after her two older sisters who are both social workers. She hopes to go back to school for her Masters in Public Administration and she's excited to work with The Relationship Foundation to help implement Trauma-Informed education and the skillsets to form respectful relationships.

Jenilee 1Jenilee Melendez, Grants and Research Assistant 

Jenilee  is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University with a bachelors in Forensic Psychology and a minor in Criminal Justice. She’s passionate about mindfulness and holistic health and the effects they can have in healing individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives. She’s excited about the work The Relationship Foundation is doing to ensure our children develop into the best versions of themselves which can ultimately positively impact our ever changing society.



Imani Whaley, Grants and Research Assistant                              IMG-0303.JPG

Imani has always been passionate about the overall well-being of children. She studied psychology during her undergraduate career in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the mind, and how certain events in a person’s life can shape who they become.  Her dedication to not only children’s growth in academia, but all aspects of their lives pushes her to learn more about mental/behavioral health. Imani aspires to carry out work that takes a holistic approach which would benefit our youth.  As a member of The Relationship Foundation, she hopes to do just that by helping the youth to address internal conflicts and cultivate positive relationships with others. 


Pic for Bio 1Sophie Roth, Grants and Research Assistant 

Sophie is excited to be working at The Relationship Foundation because of her interest in improving relationships. Currently, she is finishing her Master’s degree at the California Institute of Integral Studies where she majors in Expressive Art Therapy. She understands that healthy relationships are important because they offer support, love, and respect. Her favorite courses include themes of positivity, creativity, and hope and those have inspired her to go into the field of therapy. She hopes to combine her interests in Expressive Art Therapy with her work at The Relationship Foundation because she also knows that the arts can have positive effects on others. Her dream is to have her own practice one day. Sophie received her BA from Goucher College in Maryland where she majored in Women’s Studies and unofficially minored in Psychology. After she graduated, she worked as the Marketing Intern and Local Voices Bookstore (pop up) Manager at the theater her father, Ari Roth runs called Mosaic Theater Company of DC. She also did some freelance jobs on the side. She decided to switch gears a couple of years ago and go to graduate school. This was the next step on her path to creating a life she’s always dreamed of. Next, she plans to finish graduate school and become a Marriage and Family Therapist using Expressive Art Therapy techniques. In the meantime, she wants to focus on having fun, making friends, making art, doing her own self care through equine therapy and creating meaningful work at The Relationship Foundation!

Kate NguyenKate Nguyen, Grants and Research Intern

Kate is a senior at Wilson High School and hopes to study psychology and political science after graduation. Having seen the lack of education on relationships and mental health in schools, she wants to be able to help other students receive the support they need by building healthy and respectful relationships with their teachers and peers. Kate is excited to help The Relationship Foundation be able to implement their curriculum throughout more schools across the country.


Jack Sandstedt, Research and Technology AssistantJack Sandstedt

Jack is a Junior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is majoring in Neuroscience and Computer Science. He is passionate about understanding the brain and improving the current state of mental health in our world from having seen those that have struggled adapting to today’s society. He has spent time interning in an MRI lab to develop a better understanding of current neuroscience research and the use of technology for future development in the field. Jack is excited to be a part of The Relationship Foundation in order to learn more about the effects of trauma on the brain and behavior, while contributing to the development and expansion of social/emotional education and healthcare.


Isabelle Ortiz
Jessica Frankel
Michael Harkins
Jacqueline Topping

Sam Rigotti, Grants AnalystSam Rigotti

Sam Rigotti has nearly a decade of experience in nonprofit fundraising and is the Senior Manager of Institutional Giving at the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national employment reentry organization. He got his start in the social sector through the AmeriCorps VISTA program and has since secured grant funding to support organizations working in the education, civic engagement, and criminal justice fields. He holds a B.A. from Allegheny College and an M.P.S. from The George Washington University.


Mary-Louise Hildebrandt, Psychology Consultation

Untitled designMary-Louise values kindness, vulnerability, and empathy, all of which are integral aspects of her work and relationships. Mary-Louise has an MS in Clinical and Community Psychology with a dissertation analyzing Empowerment and Inclusion within Universities using de-colonial, feminist, and critical psychology theories. Mary-Louise is dedicated to improving mental health through structural approaches such as community projects and at the institutional level with TRF. She is the author of “Building Resilience through Healthy Relationships,” her first zine, which allows readers to take this work home, and learn how to identify and build resilience to trauma by strengthening relationships. Mary-Louise is a fellow of Women Influencing Systems and History, a fellowship that equips participants to be effective social justice activists through policy reform. Mary-Louise’s goals for the future are to bridge the gaps between trauma research and implementation to build resilience through her current work at TRF as well as education policy reform. Mary-Louise strives to make meaningful connections with herself and others through art, music, and poetry. 

derrick edwards trfDerrick Edwards, Senior Instructor

Derrick is 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. 


Rebecca Lefton, Strategic Consultantrebecca lefton trf

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/Instructor

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.

  • Sam Rigotti


    Board Member

    Sam Rigotti has nearly a decade of experience in nonprofit fundraising and is the Senior Manager of Institutional Giving at the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national employment reentry organization. He holds a B.A. from Allegheny College and an M.P.S. from The George Washington University. He also serves as a Grants Analyst for The Relationship Foundation.

  • Rebecca Lefton


    Board Member

    Rebecca Lefton is a Strategic Consultant with over 10 years of experience working with non-profits and B-corporations in program management, policy development, advocacy, and communications. 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.

  • 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.

  • Sarah Chen
    Board Member

    Sarah is a corporate attorney working at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Since her time at college, she has worked with a number of non-profit organizations in New York City through various public service programs. She also currently serves as an alumni board member of Columbia University's Public Interest Law Foundation, a student led non-profit organization committed to serving the public interest. 
  • Michelle Lin
    Board Member
    Michelle is a California native now living in New York City. She has a wide range of work experience having started with nonprofits, dabbling in brand management, and transitioning to working in operations in the finance industry. Today she works as an economics and statistics consultant at KPMG LLP, focusing her work on data analytics and modeling and its role in strategic and executive decision making.

  • Brooke Arent
    Board Member
    Brooke is a corporate Director of Project Management for a Fortune 100 company. She holds a B.S. from the Ohio State University’s College of Medicine in Health Sciences and has helped numerous non-profits over the last fifteen years within: marketing, branding, feasibility studies, presentations, fundraising and program development. She is deeply passionate about Adverse Childhood Experiences and has created a blog about resiliency to help others overcome traumatic experiences.   
  • Alice Kim
    Board Member
  • Alice Kim is an Executive Director and Head of Investor Relations and Business Development for Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners. Alice is also on the leadership team for Morgan Stanley’s Mindfulness Initiative and a co-founder of Mindful on Wall Street. Alice has been trained by the Flow Research Collective as a peak performance coach, and is passionate about sharing the intersection of optimal performance and mindfulness practices - to provide tools and techniques for professionals to perform in their high intensity roles with greater ease. Alice is also a certified yoga instructor, and teaches at Sky Ting and the Studio, both in New York City.