Jonathan John


Executive Director & Founder

Jonathan has over a decade of leadership experience working in youth development programs and has developed a strong passion and desire towards serving underprivileged and marginalized young populations. He believes remarkable results can be achieved when underserved populations are provided meaningful, supportive and life changing programming opportunities. Jonathan also believes in the importance of collaborative community support and has a keen interest in engaging with stakeholders across a variety of sectors. 

Valerie Maltais, PMP


Chairperson, Board of Directors

Valerie has extensive experience as an environmental earth scientist, having coordinated numerous Corporate Social Responsibility and environmental programs in Canada and the US. Valerie is also an avid community volunteer and has served in a variety of capacities with multiple organizations including, Toronto & Region Conservation; the Toronto Street Needs Assessment; as a crisis support volunteer providing support & assistance to individuals suffering a crisis; and as an advisory member for community health improvement. Valerie has a keen interest in ensuring young people have enriching and positive life experiences that will ensure their future success. 

Heather Townsend, MA


Vice Chairperson, Board of Directors

Heather has an academic background in humanities, holding a Master’s Degree in Criminology from the University of Toronto, and professional experience in hospitality and management. She has a variety of interests including youth criminal justice, human rights, discrimination, and evolving privacy rights in the digital age. Heather constantly seeks to learn from peers and mentors from different backgrounds to build a more open-minded, cohesive community. She is a believer in widening opportunities for all and thinks youth especially can benefit from programming, mentorship, and broader compassionate networks. Heather is excited about assisting in an organization dedicated to supporting marginalized youth in achieving their goals and pursuing their interests.. 

Patrick Lee


Treasurer, Board of Directors

Patrick has immense experience with policy and governance work especially within the youth development sector. Specifically, Patrick has been involved with analyzing the educational system and how it impacts the success rate of marginalized youth; and in turn how this affects students entering into post-secondary institutions. Patrick also brings with him a wide array of experience from within the financial sector, having served in a variety of capacities.  Patrick is excited and eager to continue serving the community and providing positive support to marginalized and at-risk young people. 

Nisha Mendonca



Nisha has a background in psychology, human resources and has most recently

worked in the field of Diversity and Inclusion doing extensive sociological research relating to equity initiatives for women and underrepresented minorities in Canada. She has spent several years working with marginalized sections of the population including youth, women, children and the elderly at international

social service organizations in Dubai, Canada, Peru, Argentina and India. Nisha is a trained and experienced crisis centre Helpline responder and believes in the importance of affirmation and encouragement to build confidence

in young people, something that has personally helped her in the past. She is keen to work on core issues that affect growth opportunities for young people and help provide them with the resources and support they need to succeed in their life journeys.

Christine Goodwin-De Faria, PhD



Christine’s academic and professional background is in the area of youth justice. She previously worked in a youth custody facility and as a youth diversion coordinator. Christine completed her undergraduate and Master’s Degree in Child and Youth Studies, and holds a PhD in Policy Studies.  Her dissertation research examined the experiences of Indigenous youth at a unique Indigenous focused youth court, and during diversion. Christine currently teaches university courses pertaining to child rights and social justice. Christine is passionate about providing support and advocacy for youth, and is excited to be involved with Youth Rising Above.

Omar Lujan, PhD



Omar is a social scientist and an educator who specializes in community development and the civic participation of traditionally marginalized populations. Omar has ample experience working with young people and studying the services available to immigrant youth. Omar’s desire to work with youth at risk comes from his own experience growing up as a young immigrant in Toronto and from his deep conviction in the capacity of young people to overcome barriers and to flourish as creative individuals. It is this conviction in the potential of youth at risk that inspired Omar to join the board of Youth Rising Above. Omar has a multidisciplinary academic background and holds a PhD in Policy Studies from Ryerson University. Omar sees his work as a professor with university and college students as part of his commitment in trying to support young people to find their own path of success. 

Nisha Thomas, MSW, RSW


Advisory Member 

Nisha has significant and diverse experience within the social work sector. Nisha possesses a high level of academic, clinical and community based experiences serving a variety of populations. Nisha's practice is informed by an anti-oppressive, ecological/systems perspective, strength-based, client-centred, trauma-informed approach. Nisha has a well-informed belief in the importance of clinical, therapeutic settings in transforming the lives of marginalized populations; along with a genuine desire to serve young people. 


Christian Dinelli


Program Coordinator

Christian has spent several years working within the local community serving marginalized and at-risk populations. His experience includes working with a number of large scale social service organizations in capacities that include case management, counselling, intake and program support. Christian also brings with him years of business experience, having served in operational and sales capacities in the past. Christian believes in the importance of transforming marginalized young people through meaningful and engaging initiatives that support their continued growth. He is especially interested in group programming and the positive attributes it can instil within participants. 

Zara Magalhaes


Community Events Coordinator

Zara has been working in the service sector for several years now, and truly enjoys working with marginalized populations. Zara has a keen interest in bringing together various community stakeholders to support the diverse needs of our youth demographic, wether it be through resources, skills, volunteer support and so much more. Zara believes that  youth at-risk need to be equipped with the necessary foundational resources to propel their lives forward into successful independent living. Zara is excited to support our young people gain access to meaningful and life impacting resources that will ensure their positive and continuous growth. 

Viola Mugumbate


Social Media Coordinator

Viola is a Marketing professional with over 7 years of experience communicating insights and ideas through social media. She believes that every young person deserves an equal opportunity to a healthy life and that we need to be living together, not next to each other. Therefore, she is passionate and committed to giving something back to the community using her knowledge, skills and experiences, to help make life better for vulnerable youth.

Sakshi Khanna


Mentorship Program Coordinator

Sakshi has a background in higher education and valuable experience in career development, leadership, and mentorship. She has held many leadership roles that have allowed her to facilitate workshops, advise and mentor students, and be a part of the programming that goes into creating an inclusive environment, and providing a smoother transition for students that are entering the working world. Having had excellent mentors over the years and having been in mentoring roles herself, Sakshi feels that mentorship is an extremely integral part of the personal, academic, and professional growth of youth, as they kick-start their career journeys. Sakshi is excited to implement and integrate the knowledge and expertise from her work with students to similarly foster inclusiveness, engagement, and learning for youth.

Karen Ngo


Administrative Coordinator

Karen is a design consultant; her work has focused on addressing unemployment in at-risk communities and improving accessibility for underrepresented youth. Her practice mixes strategic foresight with human-centred design to identify unmet needs and to strategically plan sustainable and competitive service opportunities. She has an interest in a more holistic approach to youth development and dreams of a more accessible future for marginalized youth. As she assists with daily operations of the organization, she looks forward to translating challenges into new opportunities and learning and growing with the community and team. 

Brennon Thompson


Partnership Development

Brennon comes from the world of Media, and has a background in youth development from his ongoing involvement as a leader in the Canadian Cadet Organization and the Canadian Armed Forces.  In his professional career; Brennon is an Operations & Development Analyst responsible for the overall training/ process implementation for internal employees across Canada. He’s also a key member of the Diversity and Inclusion committee at Bell Media. Brennon has a strong passion towards Youth Rising Above, as he believes that youth require a solid foundation in order to contribute to society in a positive and impactful way. He's keen on helping ensure that our youth have remarkable experiences and role models to support their future success. 

Philippe Bicos


Digital Media Coordinator 

Philippe has extensive experience with a variety of small and large scale multimedia projects; everything from photography and videography to graphic design. His work has been used for a diverse group of organizations, businesses, individuals and community groups. Many of his digital projects have gone viral across the country due to his impeccable creative design and talent. Philippe also has extensive experience in administrative services and logistics for large scale institutions. Philippe believes in the importance of communicating about the plight of marginalized populations in dynamic, engaging and impactful ways that will not only encourage action but help communicate for those who may often be suppressed. 

Emma Finley


Coordinator, Youth Advisory Committee

Emma has spent several years volunteering with youth in various communities in Toronto, including The Hospital for Sick Kids, Youth Volleyball Organizations, and Ontario Community Living.  She is extremely passionate about being involved in her community and helping to provide opportunities for youth in education, health, and sport. Recently, she has been working with the Toronto Police Services in the Victim Services department where she does crisis counselling to individuals at risk and attends schools to educate youth on the importance of healthy relationships.  Emma believes in encouraging youth to get involved and take on a leadership role, in hopes to provide  increased mentorship opportunities for other youth. 

Jonathan Kallis, MSW, RSW


Program Lead, Youth Advisory Committee

Jonathan is a Social Worker who has more than 5 years of experience working with diverse youth within the non-profit sector and mental health services, including working with youth at-risk through early engagement programs. He has expertise in individual counseling, program development and evaluation, community development, and youth engagement. He is passionate about empowering youth through direct collaboration with young people themselves in order to support with youth development and to also create positive social change. Jonathan is an advocate for creating inclusive and equitable opportunities for young people.

Elena Zammit


Development Coordinator

Elena has both academic and professional experience in psychology - specifically in the areas of mental health awareness and peer youth support. Over the past few years, Elena has focused on her passion of engaging youth in open conversations about mental health - working with wellness centres, promoting mental health resources and mindfulness practices to youth, and researching issues such as social media use on mental well-being. Elena also has extensive experience working with international youth in both a supportive and educational capacity. She is excited to grow and learn with the community and looks forward to fostering growth among the youth, team, and community.

Rebecca Johnson


Coordinator, Peer Support

Rebecca has a diverse background, with experience in various research, leadership, and advocacy-based roles within mental health. She has coupled her passion for working within the community with her interest in youth mental health supports, leading various mental health awareness groups and developing educational workshops. Academically, Rebecca has completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a graduate certificate in mental health and addictions. She is currently studying at the University of Toronto, completing a Master’s Degree in Health Service Research with specializations in health service outcomes and evaluation, and public health policy. Rebecca believes in the importance of providing supportive, empowering, and inclusive spaces for youth to grow and thrive. She is committed to meeting youth where they are and supporting their unique needs through engaging programs and opportunity building.