Laura Talmus

Executive Director and Co-founder

Laura Talmus founded Beyond Differences® along with her husband, Averell “Ace” Smith, following the unexpected death of their daughter Lili Rachel Smith in October 2009.

Laura has run the day-to-day operations of Beyond Differences® as a volunteer since its founding and was hired by the Board of Directors as its first Executive Director in August 2015. With over thirty-five years’ experience in running and consulting to non- profit organizations, she is passionate about bringing awareness to the issue of adolescent social isolation. Ace and Laura have a 30-year-old son, Abram. They live in Marin County. Contact Laura at

This is an image of Tracy Amiral smiling at the camera.

Tracy Amiral

Director of Finance and Operations

Tracy Amiral comes to Beyond Differences® with over 30 years of experience in successful high-growth organizations in the for-profit world and most recently in nonprofits, where she specialized in Finance and Operations.

She was one of four founders and CFO of Athleta, which grew into a nationally known brand. After, she acquired a distressed company and was able to turn it around, with a great team. When it was sold, she was then able to focus her attention on working for non-profits, which was always a career goal of hers.

Most recently she was Director of Finance at two nonprofits where she was able to successfully assist in the development of the department, team, and financial reporting of the organization.

Tracy is married with 2 sons, and had 4  foster children for over 9 years. Her oldest son is transgender and just won the Diversity in Business Award for the North Bay. So the mission of Beyond Differences resonates with her in so many of her experiences and it is an honor to work with Beyond Differences.

Contact Tracy at

Alyssa Ching

Director of National Programs

Alyssa Ching has spent the last decade transforming the education and nonprofit sectors. While earning her M.Ed from Long Island University, she worked as a high school SPED teacher before becoming an instructional coach, account manager, and curriculum developer. For the NYC Department of Edu, Girls Who Code, and other nonprofits, she has created vibrant student learning experiences, helped educators hone their craft, and led an organization through a DEI strategic plan, resulting in employee-led affinity groups and more equitable work policies.

To be the Director of National Programs is a full-circle moment for Alyssa. In one of her first jobs after college, she tutored students at another Bay Area-based SEL organization. She hopes to continue amplifying teachers’ brilliance and equipping students with the skills to authentically live their lives out loud.

Outside of work, Alyssa loves playing with her two rescue dogs, skateboarding, and making Filipino-inspired desserts. She is the proud daughter of immigrants who taught her the values of integrity and kindness, always asking her warmly: “Did you eat yet?”

Contact Alyssa at

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Taylor Fisher

Nonprofit Accounting and Operations Associate

Taylor Fisher brings over 10 years of accounting experience to Beyond Differences. Taylor began working in the non-profit world right out of college, as the Operations Coordinator at the Mid-Michigan Childrens Museum. She continued her non-profit journey at Alton Little Theater, working as their Business Manager.

The Know Your Classmates® (KYC) program speaks to Taylor’s soul. She remembers the anxiety-filled days of middle school and knows firsthand how isolating those years can feel. She is thrilled to be working alongside the team at Beyond Differences to “create cultures of belonging for everyone.” 

Taylor graduated from Georgia Southwestern State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing. When she’s not working, Taylor enjoys hiking with her husband and tending to her bees and garden.

Contact Taylor at

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Professional Development Program Manager

Born and raised on Miwok land in the tiny gold rush town of Knights Ferry, California, Frederick’s hopes and dreams span the globe. They hold Bachelors of Arts degrees in Spanish, Women’s Studies, and Linguistics from San Diego State University, and a Master of Arts degree in Gender & Peacebuilding from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. They earned their certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from American Cultural Association Language Schools in Antalya, Turkey, their certification in Volunteer Management from Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, and their certification in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Practitioners from the Sarah Jane Academy.

Deeply committed to social justice with over 20 years of experience in community organizing, Frederick’s professional expertise lies at the intersection of LGBTQIA+ rights, reproductive justice, domestic violence, and strategic nonviolent action. They’re excited to help make middle school a better place in honor of their (fat, queer, nerdy and neurodivergent) inner child. When they’re not volunteering they love to read, write, eat, learn new languages, dance, and gaze lovingly at the sky. Frederick is relatively new to mindfulness and meditation, but acknowledges the practices as integral to their dedication to anti-racism. They consider themself a semi-professional booper of snoots, and yes, they would love to see a picture of your furbaby!

Contact Frederick at

Jewel Frost

Jewel Frost

Administrative Coordinator

Jewel was born and raised in the East Bay California, and is now currently based in Las Vegas.

Jewel has worked in the nonprofit field of serving youth for more than 15 years.  In 2013 she gained her certification in Substance Abuse Counseling and ABA Therapy, to continue to work towards her passion of youth development.

Over the years, Jewel’s background has allowed her the experiences in the After-School field as a site Coordinator/Supervisor for the last 6 years. Working over multiple sites within Oakland Unified School District.  As well as combining her Substance Abuse and Case Management working with youth in the Bayview Hunters Point district in San Francisco.

Beyond Differences mission speaks to Jewel the most because its program’s are designed to create a sense of belonging for youth, to help support in eliminating feeling isolated in their classrooms and schools.

Jewel has a strong passion for youth development and is fulfilled in any position that offers this mission and values in their work.

In Jewel’s spare time she loves to read, go to the movies, travel to different countries,or event planning for various family and friends.  She also enjoys family time with all of her nieces!

Contact Jewel at

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Dabney Ingram

Research and Program Evaluation Consultant

Dr. Ingram has over twenty years of experience in education, primarily guiding organizations through the research and evaluation process, from conceptualization to completion. Much of her work focuses on youth and community development, particularly how to support belonging, healthy child and adolescent development, and social justice. Dabney also brings strategic management and program development expertise as co-founder of ScreenSense, a non-profit that empowers families to develop a healthy relationship with technology.

Prior to starting her own consulting business in 2012, Dabney held research and consulting positions at organizations such as The McKenzie Group (Washington, DC), The Centre for Educational Research (at the London School of Economics), and The John W. Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities (at Stanford University). Since 2012, she has mainly consulted to school districts, local government departments and non-profit organizations.

Dabney earned her Ph.D. in Education at Stanford University, M.S. in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics, and B.A. from Amherst College. Dabney lives in Marin County with her husband and three children.

Photograph of Simran Kumar the Beyond Differences National Programs Associate

Simran Kumar

National Programs Associate

Born and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco, Simran Kumar is passionate about creating sustainable systems and bridging the educational and social divide for youth.  Her journey in nonprofits began early, engaging with a number of organizations centered on youth development including Boys and Girls Club, Big Sister Big Brother, Mission Bit, and Youth Art Exchange. Simran’s formative years nurtured her dedication to community impact, resulting in pursuits like entrepreneurship with MEDA SF, where she is dedicated to empowering South Asian artisans and women-led communities, enabling them to attain financial independence, and protect their cultural heritage, which has historically been subject to theft and exploitation. She pursued studies in Economics and Global Management to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior and societal dynamics.

From school days to community encounters, Simran has witnessed the detrimental impact of social isolation and exclusion. Known for her resourcefulness, creativity, strong determination, and dependability, Simran is excited to continue building her career while solving an important issue.

Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her Olde English Bulldogge on the beautiful Marin County trails!

Contact Simran at

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Alina Leonardo

Salesforce Administrator

Alina Leonardo discovered her passion for data in Salesforce Administration after years of experience in law, operations, and the corporate world, including at Bloomberg L.P. in New York City and with various nonprofit organizations. Alina holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Rutgers University and went on to attend Rutgers Law School. 

A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, Alina immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 to be with her father. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, 2 little monsters, and a hamster and likes to read if she can ever find the time. Alina is dedicated to ending social isolation both because of her own experiences growing up, and because of the isolation her son faces due to the public’s general lack of awareness around autism. For her, making sense of the world through data and creating belonging go hand-in-hand.

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Casey Mancl

Director of National Fundraising and External Affairs

Casey Mancl is an experienced development director who comes to Beyond Differences with over 15 years of experience in raising funding and awareness for the important missions of non-profit organizations. Prior to Beyond Differences, she was responsible for fundraising and organizing key events for the American Heart Association. In a volunteer capacity, Casey has served on the Board of Directors for Belvedere Hawthorne Nursery Schools as well as in various roles for the Foundation for Reed Schools.

Casey grew up as an “Air Force Brat” and lived in six different cities by middle school. She is no stranger to eating alone, which drew her to Beyond Differences. She is excited to bring her passion and vast fundraising knowledge and background to Beyond Differences and to support and empower educators and youth around the nation to end social isolation within their schools.

Casey graduated from the University of San Diego with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She lives in Marin County with her husband, 3 kids, 2 cats and a dog.

Contact Casey at

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Sally Matsuishi

Director of National Youth Programs

With over 20 years of nationally recognized work in education, Sally is honored to pay forward the compassion of those who came before her by serving the youth of Beyond Differences®.

After earning her MFA from the USC School of Film and Television, Sally began her career producing anti-racist educational programming. Wanting to be on the front lines of the fight for educational equity, Sally founded Next Generation Scholars. As its Executive Director, she created pathways for first generation college students into higher education, wrote anti-racist curriculum and created a BIPOC teacher training academy. Sally has also built mentorship programs and created community engagement programs that empower students to uplift their communities. Her programs have become models for education justice organizations and schools across the country.

Sally is the proud descendant of Japanese Concentration Camp survivors, fruit packers, and social justice activists. She and her daughter live in the Bay Area where they love watching Bong Joon-ho movies, eating burritos from Taqueria San Jose and taking selfies with their two small dogs and one large cat.

Contact Sally M at


Photograph of Simran Kumar the Beyond Differences National Programs Associate

Lisette Ostrander, PhD

Director of Education Programs

Lisette brings 15+ years of experience as an educator, researcher, bully prevention trainer, program director, and social and emotional development leader. She thrives on building strategic partnerships and creating curricula and experiential learning activities that empower youth and support social and emotional development.

 In the Fall of 2020, Beyond Differences® created The National Innovative Educators cohort, a year-round professional development program that supports educators and SEL influencers by raising mental health and SEL awareness knowledge and building student leadership to end social isolation. Lisette designed and launched this National Program. In partnership with mental health practitioners, community-based experts in social justice, and diversity and inclusion experts, Lisette provides educators with support, practical strategies, and tools.

In 2016, Lisette completed her Ph.D. in Education, specializing in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Her research explored how a Bay Area educational non-profits’ summer enrichment program for pre-K to 4th-grade students integrated social and emotional learning competencies into instructional activities.

Contact Lisette at

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Ankoor Patel

National Youth Programs Associate

Raised in Vallejo, California, Ankoor Patel is committed to Bay Area education equity for marginalized youth. After earning a degree in Sociology and in Film with a minor in Art History at Vassar College, Ankoor has supported and designed free education programs at Performing Arts Workshop and, most recently, at SFFILM as Education Program Manager.

Ankoor brings a breadth of experience and expertise to Beyond Differences, from designing curriculum for K-12 students to overseeing education justice initiatives for over 4 years.

Outside of work, Ankoor loves exploring the ever-growing Bay Area food scene and strength training with friends.

Photograph of Taylor FIsher

Regina Rolland

Development Associate

Regina comes to Beyond Differences with over 15 years experience in planning and executing a variety of events. Her passion for fundraising stems from working with non-profit organizations on their fundraising auctions and seeing their mission continue through these efforts. Prior to Beyond Differences, she chaired principal events on the Board of Directors at the Kenwood Education Foundation. Regina worked on the Development team at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley where she was responsible for fundraising and organizing events, major gifts, annual giving, database management and marketing. In a freelancing capacity, Regina has worked on auction and gala registration teams for non-profit organizations throughout the Bay Area benefiting, Beyond Differences, Roots of Peace, Make A Wish Foundation and Adopt A Family of Marin.

With Regina’s multitude of experience and passion for fundraising she looks forward to supporting Beyond Differences mission to inspire students nationwide to end social isolation and create cultures of belonging for everyone.

Regina received her BA from the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University with an emphasis on humanities. She lives in Sonoma Valley with her husband, two girls, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 4 chickens and 2 ducks.

Contact Regina at

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Janessa Soucy

Partnership Success Coordinator

Janessa Soucy, a former educator with six years of experience in underserved communities, holds a Master of Arts in Education and dual bachelor’s degrees in English and History & Social Sciences. In her second year, she served as the Head of Community and Parent Engagement, initiating a community garden to combat food deserts and securing donations from major brands. Janessa’s dedication to meaningful change extends to her roles as a research assistant, contributing to studies on media representation of terrorist organizations and student discourse.

As a Social Emotional Learning professional development leader, she empowered students to address community issues in senior dissertations. Janessa’s commitment goes beyond academia; she volunteered at the Connecticut Center for Addiction and Recovery, aiding individuals with substance abuse or incarceration backgrounds in resume building and job preparation. A passionate food enthusiast and avid learner, Janessa enjoys exploring culinary arts, snowboarding, traveling, reading, and painting.

Contact Janessa at

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Barbara Zamost

Zamost Public Relations Consultant

Barbara Zamost has developed regional and national publicity programs for a wide range of clients including Guide Dogs for the Blind, Sutter Home Winery, Ghirardelli Square, 7-Eleven,, The San Francisco Recording Academy, The Clorox Company, Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, Warren Miller Entertainment, Noah’s Bagels, Boys & Girls Clubs, and Let the Sunshine In Concert, featuring Sting, Bob Weir and
an all-star line-up.

Zamost was also part of the public relations team on The Bay Lights, the monumental art sculpture on The Bay Bridge.

Zamost has placed clients on national news programs including The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, NPR, CNBC, MSNBC, PBS, and more. Print placements have included AP, USA Today, People, NBC Asian America, Parade, New York Times, TMZ, San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, LA Times and Newsweek.

Zamost is the author of Handstands in the Sand, a children’s book that was published in 1992. She studied literature and contemporary British theatre at University College, Oxford University in England, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Emory University in Atlanta.

Contact Barbara at


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Don Carney

Executive Director, Youth Transforming Justice

Don Carney has led numerous sessions on Restorative Practices for our online learning community & our local Bay Area, Dallas, and NYC communities. Don is an invaluable resource to the Professional Development department and continues to work closely with members of our educator community.

Active in the field of Juvenile Justice for over 45 years, he started his career in 1975 directing group homes and educational services for wards of the court. In 2000, Don became Director of Youth and Family Services for the YMCA, where he recruited and trained mentors, supervised youth on probation at Marin County’s Community School, and during the summers, directed a residential camp for high-risk youth. In 2004, Don established a program that has diverted nearly 1,300 youth from the juvenile justice system through restorative practices and trauma-informed practices.

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Erin Curtin M.Ed

Curriculum Developer, Disability, Accessibility, and Inclusion Consultant

Erin Curtin worked with Beyond Differences National Teen Board to create our featured Disability Visibility curriculum & led sessions in our online learning communityon Redefining Disability. Erin has also advised Beyond Differences on curriculum and internal and external accessibility best practices.

Erin began her career as a special education teacher and quickly realized as a person with a disability, she could not continue to participate in a system that did not honor her disabled identity, but instead, it labeled her and other students who are disabled as broken. She wanted to make an impact in the larger educational system. She earned a Master’s in Learning and Design from Vanderbilt University and is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) through the International Association of Accessibility Professions (IAAP). As a curriculum developer, she creates accessible content while centering student identity and autonomy. Erin’s work informs policies for both students and adults in inclusive spaces.

Contact Erin at

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Genavae Pierre Dixon, LMFT

Mental Health and Wellness Supervisor, Palo Alto School District

Genavae Pierre Dixon facilitated sessions & created content on tools to assess student well-being and support for our Nashville, Aurora, and Phoenix educator communities.

Genavae is a licensed marriage and family therapist, LMFT, and currently serves as the Mental Health and Wellness Supervisor at Palo Alto School District. She received her Master’s in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, from University of San Francisco, and completed her BA at the University of California, Riverside in Psychology.

Genavae specializes in trauma-focused CBT practices, client-centered care, and motivational interviewing, having worked in community mental health settings since 2015. Her previous placements were at Bill Wilson Center, Community Solutions, Unity Care, and CASSY (counseling and support services for youth), where she gained experience working with children, adolescents, families, couples, and adults. Genavae’s greatest goal is to reduce mental health stigma, increase access to care, and better the lives of children and families in her community!

Contact Genavae at

Aza Frias

Aza Frias

Mental Health Educator & Consultant

Aza Frias has led numerous sessions for our NYC educator community and online learning community on Gender Identity & How to Support Transgender Students, facilitated a session for our National Teen Board, and helped to create our Know Your Classmates: Diverse Expressions of Gender Lesson.

Aza has been learning about and teaching others how to support the transgender community for many years. They’ve worked in the mental health field since 2014 and hold a Master’s in Social Work from UC Berkeley. Aza is genderqueer and Latinx and has been steeped in the LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area since they were a child. Aza is a trained sexual health educator and has personal and professional experience supporting folks with disabilities. Aza seeks to always address internalized biases and wishes to acknowledge that they have class and light-skin privilege and live on the unceded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone.

Contact Aza at

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Kelli Harding, MD, MHP

Physician, Author, Speaker, & Co-Founder Our Kind of Club

Dr. Harding led a series of sessions for Beyond Differences on the effects of loneliness and depression and the healing power of kindness, and worked closely with the Professional Development team to design sessions for our Nashville, Aurora, and Phoenix educator communities.

Dr. Harding is a Columbia University-trained board-certified psychiatrist. She is based in New York City and specializes in the interplay between mental and physical health. She writes about how groundbreaking new research shows that love, friendship, community, life’s purpose, and our environment can have a greater impact on our health than anything that happens in the doctor’s office. Learn more about her paradigm-shifting research in her book, The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness

Contact Dr. Harding at

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Dr. Lanette Jimmerson, PhD

CEO & Founder of Literate Self

Dr. Lanette Jimerson facilitated a series of sessions for our Marin County (California) local educator community and advised the Professional Development Department on designing transformational trainings.

Founder and CEO of The Literate Self, Dr. Jimerson has over 20 years of experience helping equity-minded leaders bring forth their ideas through writing. Prior to launching The Literate Self, Lanette served as a professor, researcher, and educator. Within these roles she identified and implemented strategies that support adult learners in leveraging the power of their everyday literacy practices to achieve academic and financial success.

Lanette has facilitated writing workshops to support workforce development for corporate and nonprofit organizations such as Cook Biotech, Elev8te, Aspire Public Schools, and San Francisco Unified School District. She has developed curricula for UC Berkeley, The Literacy Design Collaborative, and Hidden Genius Project.

Lanette earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Fong Marcolongo

Vice President of Youth Development and Education Initiatives, Be The Change Consulting

Fong Marcolongo facilitated our November 2020 session: “How to Cultivate an Anti-racist Classroom” and worked closely with our Director of Education to develop the initial program design of our local educator communities.

Fong (she/her/hers) is a bridge-builder, community capacity builder, and youth development advocate dedicated to supporting communities of color to lead their own transformations. Her expertise resides in the design/implementation of experiential human-centered learning, culturally competent youth leadership development, positive youth development trainings, experiential curriculum development and collaborative team management. She specializes in creating interactive visual frameworks for group collaboration and strategic visioning. Fong has over 15 years of working in the non-profit sector. Her passion is to support the youth development and education field to build the capacities of their leaders.