Staff and Consultants
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 email@example.com.
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 Alyssac@beyonddifferences.org
Finance, HR, and Operations Manager
Laurel Druke comes to Beyond Differences® with over six years in international education where she specialized in serving students learning English and creating a sense of belonging for those new to the American culture.
As a student and professional at Dominican University of CA, she worked to extend the student community to include the ELS international students. With her dynamic personality and background, Laurel brings a new energy to the team.
With a double bachelor’s degree in Business/Accounting and Political Science from Dominican University of CA and a master’s in Public Administration from University of San Francisco, she hopes her work through Beyond Differences® will make diverse changes in social justice in the world. Laurel was awarded the Nonprofit Accounting Professionals Certification in February 2021.
Contact Laurel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewel has worked in the field of serving youth for more than 10 years. Over the years she has worked in afterschool programs as an instructional aid and has climbed all the way up to holding the role as a site coordinator for multiple sites at a time.
Jewel has also been able to gain experience in the fields of substance abuse counseling with youth as well as ABA Therapy. Jewel has a strong passion for youth development and is fulfilled in any position that offers this mission and values in their work.
Contact Jewel at jewelfrost@beyonddifferences.
National Teen Board Program Coordinator
Reina comes to Beyond Differences® with a strong background working with marginalized communities and youth, and stellar administrative skills. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Reina grew up with her mother, a hard-working immigrant from Honduras, and her brother. With her father in and out of her life, and her mother working twelve-hour days, Reina and her brother experienced social isolation firsthand.
After witnessing her family grapple with addiction and mental health disorders, Reina dedicated herself to advocating for treatment and prevention, promoting good mental health, especially in marginalized and BIPOC communities.
Reina received her BA in Psychology at UC Santa Cruz and is now pursuing a Masters in Public Health at the University of San Francisco.
Contact Reina at reinagaraysolis@
Professional Development Program Developer
For over 15 years Nina has worked in Early Childhood education in instruction, administration, family outreach and workforce development. She began her journey teaching preschool while getting an undergraduate degree from University of California Santa Cruz.
After years in the Bay Area she helped to rebuild a small rural PreK – 5 program in Chile where she specialized in bilingual education. Upon her return she continued as a bilingual educator and earned a Masters in Education Leadership from Mills College where she focused her research on trauma-informed practice, culturally responsive leadership, and analysis of global education systems. She moved from private school environments to Head Start in 2018 where she oversaw education, mental health and special needs programs and personnel in East Oakland.
Recently she has been focused on building emergent curriculum and is passionate about continuing to work with teaching staff around reflective practice and co-regulation in the classroom. She is thrilled to join the Beyond Differences® staff in helping children, families and staff establish a sense of ground and belonging in these trying times.
Contact Nina at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com
Administrative, Data and Communications Manager
Karina Parada comes to Beyond Differences® with 8 years of administrative experience. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a BA in History. The focus of her education was the analysis of the development of the working-class women during the first Industrial Revolution, through the eyes of literary writers during that time. Karina believes that historically underrepresented groups are still struggling for equality and educational equity, but through study and good-works, every act of kindness builds to close those social gaps.
In 2017, Karina and a small group of individuals started their own budding nonprofit, Love Is, that helps connect low-income and isolated senior citizens to community members for companionship and get-togethers during the holiday season. Karina is very passionate about the betterment of her community and is excited to pass on the Beyond Differences® message of ending social isolation to schools, parents, and local leaders in Solano County.
Contact Karina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Thornton. Ed.D
Professional Development Manager, Dallas
Kimberly brings 22 years of experience in professional development training and classroom instructional coaching to Beyond Differences®.During her tenure as a McGraw-Hill Education Professional Learning Consultant, Kimberly collaborated with Abt Associates, Chicago Public Schools, and the University of Iowa to investigate teacher implementation fidelity and student growth through literacy programs. Among Kimberly’s responsibilities were coordination and collaboration on logistical aspects such as training facilities, training needs, training schedules, curriculum delivery processes, and training outcomes. The training and mentoring of thousands of classroom teachers and administrators nationally and internationally, has established her as a professional learning expert.
Kimberly’s passion for creating life-changing workshops for transformative learning led her to acquire a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) focused on Adult Learning and Higher Education from Walden University in 2019.
Contact Kimberly at email@example.com
Patricia Espinal Ramos
Youth Programs Intern
Patricia is a creative, proactive, and collaborative communications and media studies student at Dominican University of California with 10 years of public speaking experience focused on using storytelling strategies to advocate for marginalized communities.
As a woman living with a rare genetic condition, Patricia has experienced social isolation firsthand and understands the lasting effects of being alienated by society. Because of this she is passionate about educating others on the importance of inclusion and belonging.
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 and Boys & Girls Clubs.
Through her work with Brazer Communications, 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, and more. Print placements have included USA Today, New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, LA Times, InStyle and Real Simple.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research & 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.
Susan (Su) Yates
Su Yates was born in Buffalo, New York, but ended up spending many years in Hawaii after obtaining a Masters’ degree in Public Health from the University of Hawaii. Prior to that, Ms. Yates had obtained her Bachelors of Science in Community Health Education from Hunter College in Manhattan. Thus began a varied and interesting career in many public health venues – one of the first AIDS outreach workers in the U.S., in the Governor of Hawaii office as Youth Affairs Officer, executive director of a children’s health nonprofit, leader of a rural health network. Prior to that, work in New York City included health education at American Cancer Society, Alan Guttmacher Institute, and Planned Parenthood national headquarters.
Prior to this career, Su was a successful journalist in New York City and Westchester County. At one point, she was a nationally syndicated columnist. In the last eight years, Su has focused on grants writing primarily, and other forms of fundraising. Grants were always a part of her jobs and she worked with all aspects of grant implementation. She performed this work successfully at the Child & Family Service of Hawaii, one of the oldest, largest and most prestigious nonprofit organizations in Hawaii. Most recently, she worked as a grants writer for a network of American Indian clinics in eastern California. She now has her own grants writing business and writes for health, social equity and arts organizations. She also has varied special interests outside of work that include hula and other forms of dance and movement. She has a part-Hawaiian son, aged 28.
Contact Su at email@example.com.
SEL and Mental Health Team Consultants
Genavae Pierre Dixon, LMFT
Genavae Pierre Dixon facilitated October 2020 session: Keeping Ourselves Whole While Supporting Students From A Distance.
Genavae Pierre Dixon is a licensed marriage and family therapist, LMFT who is currently the mental health and wellness coordinator at Gunn High School. 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 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!
Sexual Health Educator
Aza facilitated our March 2021 session: Gender 101 and How to Support Transgender Students
Aza Frias (pronouns they/them) 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 are set to graduate this year with a Masters in Social Work. Aza is genderqueer and Latinx and has been steeped in the LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area since they were a child. Aza is also 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 are aware they have class and light-skin privilege, and that they live on the unceded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone.
Kelli Harding, MD, MHP
Dr. Harding will be leading sessions in the Fall of 2021.
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, in her book: THE RABBIT EFFECT: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness
Special Education Educator
Michael facilitated our December 2020 Brown Bag Session: “Meeting Them Where They Are: Supporting and Connecting with Students with Special Needs”
Michael Lovejoy is a Special Education Teacher at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California. For over 20 years, Michael has experienced the joys of and challenges of working with students with moderate to severe special needs. His aim is to celebrate and champion the genuine spirit and unique brilliance of the individual while fostering and inspiring a caring and supportive community.
Director of Training and Capacity Building at 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 cohorts.
Fong’s expertise resides in program design, staff development, youth development, and specializes in creating interactive visual frameworks for group collaboration and strategic visioning. Fong has over 10 years of working in the non-profit sector, where she served as a direct line staff, Site Coordinator, Program Director, and Curriculum Developer. Fong uses her graphic facilitation skills to lead participants in their process design using creativity to achieve fruitful outcomes. She studied Global Affairs at the University of San Francisco.