Vivian D. Nixon is the Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship (CCF), a nonprofit committed to helping formerly incarcerated women earn their college degrees. An alumna of CCF’s program, Nixon advocates nationally for the return of college-level education to our nation’s prisons and is an advocate for formerly incarcerated individuals impacted by mass incarceration. She is a Columbia University Community Scholar and a recipient of the John Jay Medal for Justice, the Ascend Fellowship at the Aspen Institute, and the Soros Justice Fellowship. Nixon received her B.S. from SUNY and is currently a creative non-fiction MFA candidate at Columbia University.
Vivian Nixon has written articles for VICE, HuffPost, and Boston Globe among others. She has appeared on several MSNBC news shows and is a regular speaker on criminal justice reform panels.
Maria Santangelo is the Director of Programs at College & Community Fellowship. Maria is deeply committed to helping adult learners reach their potential. In 2004, Maria and her husband Richard became Peace Corps Volunteers and taught English and Environmental Education to university students in Sichuan, China. After completing her Peace Corps service, Maria became a GED instructor and trainer at the Brevard Correctional Institution in Cocoa, Florida where she prepared her students for their GED examination and trained other instructors. As CCF’s Director of Programs, Maria oversees programs that support women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system from college transition through degree attainment. Maria received her M.A. in Adult Learning and Leadership in May 2012 from Teachers College, Columbia University. Maria’s graduate work focused on the impact of for-profit and noncompetitive not-for-profit institutions and student loan debt on formerly incarcerated college students.
As a lifelong student of language and communication, Melanie Steinhardt builds bridges by focusing on shared values across ideological divides. A love for collaboration and an appreciation of reason guide her efforts. Melanie has worked with the homeless and HIV+ clients enrolled in the Harm Reduction services at Housing Works, Inc., incarcerated men and women participating in the GreenHouse horticultural therapy program on Riker’s Island, and formerly incarcerated community leaders forming the 2015 “Leading with Conviction” cohort at JustLeadershipUSA. At College & Community Fellowship, Melanie oversees all development and communications work, including foundation grants, government grants, individual giving, and fundraising events.
Lettisha Boyd is the Associate Director of Technical Assistance (THRIVE) at College & Community Fellowship. Previously, she was the Academic Counselor at CCF for four years where she supported students through their application and enrollment process, and built strong relationships with various college faculty throughout the New York Metropolitan area. Additionally, she served as CCF’s Community Organizer where she kept students, community partners, and affiliates informed and involved with the organization’s policy campaign to increase access to higher education for criminal justice-involved populations. Her passion for social and criminal justice is fueled by the routine denials of discretionary release to people convicted of first-time violent crimes by the New York State Parole Board. Lettisha is known for her business networking skills; she holds a B.A. from CUNY School of Professional Studies in Communications and Culture, as well as certifications in Human Relations, Paralegal Studies, and Business Management. She is a quasi-credit/debt repair counselor and a trained evidenced-based practitioner.
Jarret Freeman is the Executive Liaison at College & Community Fellowship. Jarret manages external vendor relationships, board meetings, and fiscal management at the organization, acting as an intermediary between the office of the Executive Director and the board, as well as staff and external stakeholders. A student of the world, Jarret came to CCF to give back and be a part of something larger than himself. Jarret holds a B.A. in Political Science from the City University of New York Hunter College and is currently a student at the Bethel Bible Institute. Jarret serves on a number of nonprofit boards, speaks Russian, and is a Representative to the United Nations.
Ivelisse Gilestra is the Program/Policy Assistant at College & Community Fellowship. She holds a BA in Social Work and Sociology from Rutgers University, and received outstanding academic achievement awards. She actively participates as a panelist in discussions related to mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. Ivelisse is an outspoken advocate, highlighting the issues of accessibility to education for criminal justice-involved individuals. She participated in a dialogue with then-U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King, at the Second Chance Pell Convening in 2016. Ivelisse spoke at John Jay College in NYC on the racial policing practices of “stop-and-frisk,” underlining the intersectionality of race, class, and gender. She is committed to ending the normalization of prisons in communities of color, advocating for children at risk of entering prison, and envisioning effective and humane forms of justice.
Angela Diaz is College & Community Fellowship’s Academic Counselor. She has a background in Taxation and Accounting, and previously worked in operations for a transportation services company that provided service for children with special needs. Angela holds a BA in Psychology from Herbert Lehman College, and is passionate about helping students become successful in their career of choice. She enjoys the responsibility of providing educational guidance and assistance to students by creating pathways through college and helping them in choosing appropriate education programs. Angela is currently a Rape Crisis Volunteer Advocate for Bellevue Hospital at NYU Medical Center.
Jacqueline Thompson is the Recruitment, Intake, and Support Coordinator at College & Community Fellowship. She is CCF’s initial point of contact for potential students. As the initial contact, Jacqueline’s responsibilities include developing a good rapport with incoming Fellows, fostering partnerships, and maintaining strong ties with other organizations and agencies in the community. She has a BA in Psychology from The College of New Rochelle that influences her encouraging and empowering approach to advocacy. Jacqueline’s many years of experience as a transitional services worker has afforded her the insight needed to work with disadvantaged populations that are vulnerable to social, economic, and civil barriers.
Wendy Romano is the Program Support and Event Coordinator at College & Community Fellowship. She provides support to the Academic Support Program staff, works closely with all CCF students to ensure they remain informed of all programs and activities offered, and is responsible for all basic operations. Wendy has a strong managerial and customer service background. She became attracted to CCF’s work while attending its annual graduation, where she was moved by a powerful student speech.
Blaire Perel joined College & Community Fellowship as the Communications Associate in August 2017. She works to develop media and communications strategy, craft and edit CCF’s written materials, run CCF’s social media channels, and create content to promote the work of CCF. Previously, Blaire worked as a Communications Coordinator at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. She holds an M.F.A in Writing from the University of Maryland and a B.A. in English Literature from New York University.