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Randall Vair, Grants Associate

Randall Vair is the Grants Associate for CCF, responsible for institutional fundraising. He has a long professional commitment to underserved individuals and marginalized communities across New York City. Randall began his professional career as a grass-roots organizer in Albany and NYC, working on clean water, utility reform and economic justice campaigns. He also served with a number of organizations in the elderly services sector, directing a grassroots campaign to secure $2 million in state funding for programs assisting homebound elderly persons and managing a city-wide training program for professional and family caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease. Randall’s previous development work includes supporting criminal justice-involved young people and adults at CASES and Exodus Transitional Community. He received a B.S. from the State University of New York, and volunteers for a range of community-betterment projects in his home neighborhood of Woodside, Queens.

April Smith, THRIVE Technical Assistance Coordinator

April Smith is our THRIVE Program Coordinator.   April has worked in higher education for the past 12 years. She has a Master of Science in College Student Personnel & Administration and is completing her doctorate in Educational Leadership with a concentration in higher education.  April is a qualitative researcher, who studies the impact higher education has on formerly incarcerated women.  One of April’s favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela which states, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world (Nelson Mandela).”  She believes this quote inspires her vision to aid in others’ informed success through continued education. 

Jordyn Rosenthal, Senior Associate of Policy & Advocacy

Jordyn Rosenthal, Senior Associate of Policy & Advocacy

Jordyn Rosenthal is the Senior Associate of Policy & Advocacy at College & Community Fellowship. She received her Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Policy and Administration from the University of Washington and has previously worked in a variety of policy advocacy settings including; United Way of King County, the New York based think tank the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, and the BOOM!Health harm reduction center in the South Bronx. Jordyn loves connecting with people and believes that everyone has a story that the world needs to hear. At CCF, she is dedicated to supporting and empowering women to use their voice to advocate for the changes they want to see in their communities.

Senator Schatz Reintroduces Bill to Reverse Clinton-Era “Mistake”

Press Release

February 14, 2018

Today, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) reintroduced a criminal justice reform bill, which would restore higher educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals. The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act of 2018 proposes the reversal of a Clinton-era “tough on crime” initiative which barred incarcerated individuals from receiving Pell Grants in 1994. In 2015, Pres. Bill Clinton stated that the 1994 bill was a mistake and that it “worsened the nation’s criminal justice system.”
In 2016, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell Program which restored Pell Grant funding to a portion of incarcerated individuals. Under this pilot program, 67 schools across the country worked with more than 100 correctional facilities to enroll approximately 12,000 students in federal and state prisons. Each site boasts its own curriculum, with courses leading to a certificate or associate’s degree from a community college or a bachelor’s degree from a public or private four-year school.
Like previous Pell Grant funding, the $30 million invested in the pilot program has not taken away funds from other Pell Grant recipients. In fact, this portion comes to less than 1 percent of the $28 billion annual Pell spending. If passed, the REAL Act would officially restore Pell Grant eligibility to all incarcerated individuals, providing the funding universities need to reinstate educational programs within every facility.
Providing incarcerated individuals with access to higher education has several common-sense rewards, such as decreased reliance on public assistance, increased employment rates, elevated quality of life for children and communities, and a significant drop in recidivism. Children are at a higher risk of living in poverty if their parents are incarcerated; however, when parents participate in postsecondary education, there is an increased likelihood that their children will attend college.
 A 2012 report from the RAND Corporation found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to recidivate than those who did not. Furthermore, the researchers noted that for every dollar invested in correctional educational programming yielded a $4-$5 return from savings produced by reduced re-incarceration costs.
“If passed, the REAL Act would permanently reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students across the country, and provide fair access to an education for all incarcerated individuals,” said Vivian Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship.  “Given the fact that 95 percent of those in prison will one day be released, it makes sense that we want returning citizens to be as equipped as possible for the often tumultuous, and stigmatized road of reentry.”
“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, our taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” said Senator Schatz. “The REAL Act would restore a program we know already works and give people a real chance to rebuild their lives.”
“The importance of the REAL Act lies in the opportunities that it will open for formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, a population that faces enormous constraints and constant barriers to social mobility,” said Ivelisse Gilestra, Policy Assistant for CCF. “By providing access to education for people with criminal justice involvement we are reversing the socio-economic imbalance that keeps them stagnant in a system currently designed to exclude.”
For more information or to schedule an interview with CCF staff, please contact Blaire Perel at or 646-380-7783.
College & Community Fellowship (CCF) is a non-profit dedicated to helping women with criminal convictions earn college degrees so that they, their families, and their communities can thrive. CCF supports students until graduation day and beyond, providing academic support, career coaching, financial development, and much more. We approach systemic change through our national advocacy and technical assistance programs. 


Jacqueline Thompson, Recruitment/Intake/Support Coordinator

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, Program Support & Event Coordinator

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. 

Lettisha Boyd, Associate Director of Technical Assistance

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.  

Ivelisse Gilestra, Community Organizer

Ivelisse Gilestra, Community Organizer

Ivelisse Gilestra is the Community Organizer 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.

Maria Santangelo, Director of Programs

Maria Santangelo, Director of Programs

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.

Melanie Steinhardt, Director of Development & Communications

Melanie Steinhardt, Director of Development & Communications

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.

Contact Melanie at for media requests.

Angela Diaz, Academic Counselor

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.

Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director

Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director

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.


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Vivian Nixon

VictoriaJacksonPhoto_VNixon6505 (2)Vivian Nixon has been on the CCF Board of Directors  since 2003. A CCF Fellow once herself, Vivian is now the Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship (CCF), an organization committed to removing individual and structural barriers to higher education for women with criminal record histories and their families. She identifies her most valued and life-changing experience as the time she spent as a peer educator in the adult basic education program at Albion State Correctional Facility in New York. Rev. Nixon is ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) and currently serves as an associate minister at Mt. Zion AMEC in New York City.  She is currently a Columbia University Community Scholar and has received multiple honors and awards including the John Jay Medal for Justice, the Ascend Fellowship at the Aspen Institute, the Soros Justice Fellowship, the Petra Foundation Fellowship.  Her leadership activities include co-founding the Education Inside Out Coalition (EIO), a collaborative effort to increase access to higher education for justice involved students and serving on the Advisory Board of JustLeadershipUSA. Rev. Nixon holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the State University of New York Empire College.

Rashida Richardson

Rashida Richardson is the Director of Policy Research at the AI Now Institute at New York University, where she designs, implements, and coordinates the Institute’s research strategy and initiatives on the topics of law, policy, and civil rights. Prior to joining AI Now, Rashida worked at the New York Civil Liberties Union (the New York State affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union), the Center for HIV Law and Policy, HIP Investor and Facebook Inc. Rashida also serves on the Advisory Board for Northeastern University’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project. She holds a BA with Honors from Wesleyan University and a JD from Northeastern University School of Law.

Yolanda Johnson Peterkin

Yolanda Johnson Peterkin has been a CCF Board Member since 2014.  Yolanda is a CCF alumnae who remains very active in its Theater for Social Chance (TSC) program. She is currently the Chief of Housing Community Activities for the Family Services Department at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). She formerly worked as the Director of Program Operations for Reentry Services at the Women’s Prison Association. In April 2011, she received the Distinguished Leadership award from the NAACP-NYCHA branch for her relentless hard work and passion for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Mrs. Johnson-Peterkin received her MSW from Hunter College in 2004, and is an active alumna of CCF. She has performed with TSC at Rikers Island, Riverside Church, The New School, Columbia University, Lycoming College, and Talking Transition, among other venues.

Marie Hoguet

Marie Hoguet has been a CCF Board Member since 2014.  She currently works as the Director of Organizational Capacity & Effectiveness, Division of Instructional & Information Technology.  She engages and supports government and non-profit organizations in organization development, learning, and change efforts for improved organizational culture and impact. Her work includes process consultation, change management, and staff development.

Bridget Williams

bridgetBridget Williams recently joined Food52 as COO, an ecommerce and content lifestyle company. Her career has spanned from the first digital department of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to New York Times Digital, to tech start ups, and Business Insider where she ran business development and international expansion.  She lives in Brooklyn with her one son and stalks her other college son on various social networks.  She is an avid cyclist, skier, cook, newshound, and social justice warrior.

Barat Dickman

Barat Dickman has been a CCF Board Member since 2014.  He is Vice President and General Manager of WestCon. Barat is a results-driven senior executive with 20 years experience driving improved business performance through large scale transformation in the technology industry.

Liza K. Eaton

Liza Eaton is the Director of On Air Talent Development and Recruitment at NBC News. Since 2010, Liza has recruited reporters, anchors, contributors and analysts to both NBC and MSNBC. Most recently, Liza’s work centers on managing the primary News Political Analysts for this past election cycle, and she continues to manage the analysts for all breaking news events. Liza also manages an early career initiative called the News Associates Program, which brings producers to the Network and MSNBC to launch their careers. Prior to her time at NBC, Liza worked at Citigroup in Capital Markets Recruiting Department. She graduated Cum Laude from Barnard with a B.A, in English in 2007. Liza also holds an M.A. in Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Her interdisciplinary thesis “Food for Every Mind: Education Reform in Northern Ireland 1947-1972” earned a distinction.