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 meaningful relationships as a coach and a teacher. Michael and the staff have developed a groundbreaking program entitled “Healthy Relationships 101,” which has been implemented 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 he maintains a private coaching practice. Michael holds a degree in political science and anthropology from the honors program at Ohio State University.

Cicely GutierrezCicely Gutierrez, Managing Director

Cicely has always had a passion for children, education, as well as physical and mental health. She is a certified birth doula and a childbirth educator, as well as a photographer specializing in birth photography. Through birthwork she learned about racial disparites in healthcare and the unusually high mortality rate of women of color when giving birth. She has 13 years of financial experience and four years of experience in non-profit database and gifts management. Her previous jobs include the well known Make-A-Wish Foundation of America working as a Major Gifts Officer. When she is not fine-tuning databases and perfecting processes for The Relationship Foundation, she enjoys spending time with her two boys and her husband in Northern Arizona. You will often find her camping, reading, and painting in her free time.

Mary-Louise Hildebrandt, Associate Director

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. 


Annie Daly, Research Assistant Annie Daley2

Annie Daly is a recent graduate of Marist College, where she received her B.A. in Psychology. Her focus is on early childhood trauma and she has experience working both in research and clinical settings with children and adolescents. Annie is passionate about the importance of empathetic communication for fostering genuine connection and understanding and developing meaningful relationships. She is very excited to be a member of The Relationship Foundation and to be contributing to their work of implementing trauma-informed education and social and emotional learning in schools.


Isabel LausIsabel Laus, Research and Administrative Intern

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 Intern

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 Intern

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.



Uthgenannt Alanna HeadshotAlanna Uthgenannt, Summer 2020 Intern

Alanna is a senior at Wellesley College studying Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies. When she isn’t studying the intersections of politics, gender, and other marginalized identities, Alanna enjoys being on the Varsity Crew team and volunteering with the Ministrare Council surrounding issues of food insecurity, homelessness, harm reduction, and healthcare. Her current research concerns examining the culture of restaurant work and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on service industry employees through an intersectional feminist lens. Alanna’s past experience in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) D-lab and her work in Oyugis, Kenya with the Society Empowerment Program (SEP) has prepared her for educational workshop programming and curriculum development. As a student of testimony and the politics of the #MeToo Movement, Alanna is thrilled to take part in The Relationship Foundation’s Trauma-Informed Education programming and contribute to making the Social and Emotional Learning more available in schools.

Sam Rigotti, Grants Analystimg 1234

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.



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.