AmeriCorps Staff 2018-19
Eric Abrams is the Chief Inclusion Officer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and formerly served as Diversity Director at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Born in Berkeley, Abrams spent his childhood in the Bay Area and Chicago before matriculating at Stanford, where he majored in political science and drama and served on the student senate as well as acting in and directing a number of student theatrical productions. As a graduate student at UCLA, Abrams studied political science, as well as being elected Secretary of the Black Graduate Student Association. He has served as Director of Admissions at Pitzer College, Berkeley Law, and the Stanford MBA Admission Office, where he worked to increase diversity and enrollment of traditionally underrepresented groups. Abrams has led workshops on topics such as public speaking for admissions professionals, outreach to students from underrepresented communities, and working with student groups, and he is member of the Finalist Selection Committee for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Program. Eric lives in Oakland with his wife and two teenage sons. He is a huge sports fan, a beginning motorcyclist, and an avid barbecue pitmaster.
Colleen Quinn Amster is a writer and editor from Boca Raton, Florida who earned degrees in English literature and Spanish from Middlebury College and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Colleen worked as a reporter and assistant editor at New York Magazine and moved to San Francisco to work as an associate editor at Mother Jones. Colleen now lives in San Francisco with her husband, John, and their three children, Finn, Aidan, and Curran. She has served on the boards of several San Francisco philanthropic organizations, including Children of Shelters and the National Charity League.
Joya Banerjee, Vice Chair, is a Program Officer at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, a private family foundation based in San Francisco, where she oversees a grant portfolio that advances the sustainable management of California’s water resources. Prior to joining the foundation, Joya was an attorney at Latham & Watkins and worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office. Joya graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, and she received a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School. She lives in San Francisco.
Barb Bersche is a partner and the former president of McSweeney’s Publishing, as well as a founding board member of 826 Valencia and the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. On her own time, Barb has been a designer (with a Grammy-nominated box set called Alan Lomax in Haiti), and a New York Times best-selling children’s book author, as well as a consultant to other creative agencies and nonprofits. She is also a member of the Marin County Search and Rescue/Mountain Rescue team.
Lisa Brown is an illustrator, author, designer, and cartoonist. Her award-winning picture books for children include The Airport Book, Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, and The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket. Her writing and illustration has been published in a variety of publications, including NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney’s, Lucky Peach, and The New York Times. She has been joyfully involved in 826 Valencia since its founding; as a donor, field trip illustrator and leader, workshop instructor, and publication contributor. Lisa teaches in the Illustration Department of the California College of the Arts. She received a BA in Humanities from Wesleyan University and an MS in Communications Design from Pratt Institute in New York City.
Alex Lerner, Treasurer, is a partner of Indaba Capital, an investment firm based in San Francisco. Alex originally joined Indaba at the time of the fund’s launch in 2011 and rejoined in 2014 after earning his MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He began his career in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Lazard Ltd following forays in journalism and publishing at Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Alex also received a B.A. in English from Stanford University.
Jim Lesser, Board Chair, is one of the few Executive Creative Directors in the advertising industry to become the President and CEO of a major agency network office. In the eighteen years he’s been at BBDO San Francisco, the office has gone from five employees to more than 100 and helped BBDO win the 2015 U.S. Agency of the Year Award. Jim began his career as the receptionist at a New York agency before being promoted to copywriter. As a result, he believes a great idea can and often will come from anywhere. Jim has served on the Boards of BBDO New York and Dwell Magazine and is currently serving as Board Chair at 826 Valencia. Jim is a passionate outdoorsman who spends as much time as possible hiking with his wife and two sons.
Julia leads the Impact Advisory practice at Jordan Park, a multi-family office based in San Francisco, whose mission is to help clients enhance their lives and legacies. Prior to joining Jordan Park, Julia was a Vice President at Goldman Sachs, where she worked from 2014 to 2017. Previously, Julia spent a decade in the nonprofit sector where she developed expertise in strategic planning, program evaluation, human capital management, and fundraising through her work at several leading organizations, including Summer Search and Citizen Schools. Julia currently serves on the board of 826 Valencia because she believes in the power of mentoring and self-expression as ways to cultivate young leaders. She also volunteers on advisory councils for several community foundations in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a mentor at Rewriting the Code. Julia received her BA with High Honors from Wesleyan University and her MBA from Cornell University, where she was a Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow and an Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellow.
Enikia Ford Morthel is an urban educator with over 15 years of experience serving the Bay Area’s most historically underserved communities. She is currently the Asst. Superintendent for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Bayview/Potrero Hill communities, as part of a collaborative team created to transform San Francisco’s lowest-performing schools. Prior to this appointment, she facilitated the turnaround of underperforming schools and incubation of new schools in some of the Bay Area’s highest-need neighborhoods. Enikia sees education as an act of social justice and is committed to the transformation of our educational system to be more responsive, relevant, and revolutionary in the lives of the children who need it most. Outside of her day job, Enikia continues to engage and empower communities of color. She advances these efforts in her role as professor/Senior Lecturer of Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. She has consulted for companies like ETS, LeapFrog, and a number of Bay Area CBOs, and partnered with Seneca Family of Agencies as a lead developer of the All-In Partnership, which has transformed Special Education and Response to Intervention in many schools serving communities of increased trauma. She serves on a number of boards and is excited to share her passion and experience in support of the vision of 826 Valencia. Originally from Los Angeles, Enikia is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She holds a Master’s degree in Education. Although she enjoys the ‘heart work’ that consumes much of her days, her most rewarding role has been that of mother and wife. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, William, and two children—Jayvyn (14) and Samaiya (5).
Dave Pell spends the first half of each day writing the NextDraft newsletter and iOS app where he covers the day’s most fascinating news. The newsletter is syndicated by Time. During the second half of his day, he is the managing partner of Arba Group, a family-owned company that invests in early stage Internet startups. Dave has deep experience in education, having taught high school in Brooklyn and Boston. He has degrees from UC Berkeley and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dave lives in Marin with his wife and two young children, Herschel and Octavia.
Joe Vasquez is the Manager of Partnerships & Strategy at Runway. Joe is an iOS developer and early co-founder of StartX, an accelerator for Stanford entrepreneurs. Prior to joining Runway, Joe taught at the Kauffman Fellows Academy and was a Data Analyst Fellow at LocoMotive Labs. Joe started his career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and spent two years teaching bilingual math with Teach For America. Joe holds a BS in Atmosphere & Energy Engineering from Stanford University.
Rachel Swain Yeaman is a writer, communications consultant, and long-time advocate for social justice and civil rights. Over the course of many years, Rachel conceived and directed winning media and communications campaigns for many national and regional advocacy organizations, including the ACLU. She has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Breast Cancer Fund and Children’s Day School, where she chaired the capital campaign that enabled the purchase and construction of a new independent, progressive middle school in the heart of San Francisco. Rachel holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is thrilled to bring her passion for social justice and children’s writing to the board of 826.