The Pennsylvania Afterschool Ambassadors Program is designed to establish a coalition of leaders throughout Pennsylvania who possess the necessary knowledge and experience to champion and advocate for high-quality out-of-school time (OST) programs.

Meet our 2023-2024 Ambassadors!

headshot. Cera Alber

Cera Alber

Program and Outreach Director
Green Trees Early Learning Center, Inc.
Milford

Cera Alber is a program and outreach director for Green Trees Early Learning Center, Inc. in Milford, PA. She has worked in the field of early childhood education for the past 10 years in a non-profit learning setting. She is an educator member on the Commission for Professional Excellence in Early Childhood Education, a member of the Advisory Council for the Pennsylvania Statewide Family Engagement Leadership Collaborative, and a Standardized Professional Development Instructor through the Pennsylvania Key. Cera specializes in family engagement, community outreach and programming in the classroom that supports child and family social and emotional growth and development. She received her Bachelor of Science in art education with pre-K-12 certification in August 2013 and a Master of Art in art administration with a concentration on non-profit organizations in 2014. She also holds a Pennsylvania Director’s Credential and Pennsylvania Professional Development Instructor Certification.

Some of Cera’s professional highlights include receiving the Pennsylvania Equity in Early Childhood Champion Gold Level for her organization, the Harkin on Wellness Award, and presenting to the Pennsylvania Farm to School Network. She is also involved with Girl Scouts Heart of Pennsylvania and GAIT Equine Assisted Therapy. Cera believes that “high-quality OST time programs are necessary for the growth and development of children and communities. These programs provide safe spaces for youth to engage in diverse learning experiences and valuable programs.” Cera’s greatest takeaway from the PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassador experience was meeting other amazing OST program professionals and learning ways to engage with policymakers and advocate for OST. She also learned strategies to obtain program funding and bring additional activities and engagement to the children in our rural environment.

headshot. Claudia Aust

Claudia Aust

Senior Association Director of Youth Programs
Greater Brandywine YMCA
West Chester

Claudia Aust began her career in education teaching with the Upper Darby School District and as a director of education for Sylvan Learning Centers before finding her home with the Greater Philadelphia YMCA. Claudia served both early learning programs and before- and after school programs, camp and teen programing. After 14 years Ms. Aust was pleased to accept a position supporting the Greater Brandywine YMCA. Since 2021 with the Greater Brandywine YMCA, as a director of youth programs, Ms. Aust opened two new school district programs and she supports 24 Pennsylvania State licensed program sites.

Claudia truly found her passion when she began advocating for increased support for afterschool programs with legislators, advocacy groups and peers. Her most rewarding experience was hosting Governor Josh Shapiro at the YMCA Early Learning Center in Berwyn just this year. During that visit, not only was there time to network with other professionals and policy makers to advocate for increased support for afterschool programming, but also there was time to speak directly with Governor Shapiro. Claudia Aust used her training as an ambassador and her experience during that visit, to effectively communicate the needs of afterschool programing and how passing a budget that supports afterschool programing, would benefit the commonwealth on multiple levels.

headshot. Melvina Banti

Melvina Banti

Director of OST and Youth Programs
Episcopal Community Services
Philadelphia

Melvina S. Banti is a proud Philadelphia native with nearly 20 years of supervision and program management experience. She takes pride in her work as she strives to implement robust professional development opportunities, results-oriented coaching, policy and procedure enforcement, and project facilitation in the non-profit sector. Melvina holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English education with a minor in Spanish from Lincoln University, a Master of Arts degree in English from Middlebury College, and a Master of Science degree in non-profit management from Eastern University. Melvina is a National Afterschool Matters Fellow for the 2017-2019 cohort, a World Coach Institute Certified Professional Coach, and a member of the 2024 Forum of Executive Women’s Mentoring Program.

Melvina is the Episcopal Community Services’ Director of OST and Youth programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Melvina helped start and manage six academic supportive access centers across Philadelphia. She has participated in grant writing efforts and re-application to existing funding sources, which has landed continuous funding for OST. She has participated in developing OST logic models to ensure alignment with the organization’s strategy goals, mission, and values.

Melvina believes “OST programs are important for children, youth, and communities because children stay engaged in robust activities and are supervised by caring adults, which allows parents to work and take a few hours to practice self-care.” Melvina’s greatest takeaway from the Afterschool Ambassador experience was that work-life integration is attainable for OST professionals. APA mental health policies are necessary and relevant to the OST sector. Melvina joined PSAYDN’s Afterschool Ambassador cohort to connect with Pennsylvania leaders who possess the knowledge and experience to champion and advocate for high-quality out-of-school time (OST) programs and enhance this transformational work.

Gillian Byerly

Executive Director
Girls on the Run Mid State PA
Enola

Gillian Byerly is a native of England who spent 10 years living and working in Southeast Asia. She holds a master’s in Chinese studies from the University of London. She is a Girls on the Run National Coach Training Certified Facilitator and holds a strengths-based management certificate from Temple University. Gillian is a member of the Leadership Harrisburg Program Committee and Harrisburg Chamber Business Women Committee. Gillian is the Executive Director of Girls on the Run Mid State PA. GOTR Mid State PA inspires girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident and supports holistic health outcomes for girls in 3rd through 8th grades, providing evidence-based out-of-school-time programs to more than 2,500 girls each year.

Gillian began volunteering for Girls on the Run in 2013 and a year later was appointed executive director. At that time, Girls on the Run served girls in Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Gillian has led the organization’s growth and merger with two neighboring GOTR councils, expanding programming to 21 counties throughout north and south-central PA. Gillian has prioritized exploring motivators and barriers to BIPOC volunteerism. She worked to ensure that GOTR participants see themselves reflected in the mentors leading their teams.

Gillian feels “OST programs are important because they help working parents, provide enriching opportunities that schools cannot provide, connect youth to their community, and provide environments for youth to learn in different ways than the classroom.” Gillian’s biggest takeaway from the Afterschool Ambassador program was that organizational pain points are ongoing and should be expected when changing or expanding programming. She also enjoyed connecting with OST professionals from across the state. In her spare time, Gillian enjoys spending time with her children, two cats, and dog. She is also an avid pickleball player!

Cori Edwards

Rapid Response Specialist
Erie County
Erie

Cori Edwards is currently the rapid response specialist for Erie County. Prior to this, she was most recently the executive program manager at The Youth Leadership Institute of Erie. She began her career in education as a family-based licensed child care provider. In the following years, Cori expanded her education and experience by obtaining three teaching certifications and earning a master’s degree in education from Gannon University. After teaching in classrooms ranging from PreK through high school, she found her home in the out-of-school-time world. Cori spent over a decade as the child care director at multiple YMCA locations while simultaneously working as a professional development specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition and as a Director Mentor for the Pennsylvania Key.

Cori’s professional work inspired her to advocate for needed change in the education and child care sectors. She was among the first family child care providers to join the Childcare Providers United Union in 2006. Partnership for change continued with the Erie County Policy and Planning Council and as the coordinator for the Northwestern PA’s Lead Agency for Youth Service America National Days of Service. Recently appointed as an Afterschool Ambassador with the support of PSAYDN, Cori established the Erie, PA, Lights on Afterschool Committee, furthering her mission to enhance youth services and education opportunities.

headshot kashif henderson

Kashif Henderson

Executive Director
Neighborhood Learning Alliance
Pittsburgh

Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA) where Kashif Henderson is executive director focuses on expanding educational opportunities for underserved students in the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Currently, he is leading an initiative to expand career-connected learning opportunities for students as early as kindergarten through high school graduation by collaborating with local schools, businesses, government agencies, and university partners. Previously, Kashif served as the K-12 gifted and talented coordinator for Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) where he was responsible for implementing equitable learning opportunities and establishing systems for academic success. He oversaw compliance and policy for the state of Pennsylvania’s second largest gifted education program and ensured equitable access for non-gifted students to rigorous and advanced level courses.

Equity, educational justice and access are at the forefront of Kashif’s work; he increased opportunities for marginalized students to enroll in gifted, honors, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced Placement programs. Kashif was with the district since 2009 where he taught high school and middle school social studies. While at PPS, Kashif established a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science (CS) to expand CS courses, served as a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s Counselor Advisory Board, and was a team member for the University of Pittsburgh’s NSF INCLUDES grant to diversify access to STEM fields, and participated in Pennsylvania’s Department of Education Building Equity-Inclusion-Belonging in the Neighborhood — Logic Model Workgroup.

In addition to being a PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassador, he is also a member of Pennsylvania’s Educator Diversity Consortium Working Group, and the College Board’s Dream Deferred Committee. He is a recipient of the United Way’s “Be There” award (2014) and State Representative Jake Wheatley’s Certificate of Appreciation (2015).

Dawnise Kozen

Director of Opportunity Pathways Programs
YWCA Greater Pittsburgh
Opportunity Pathways Programs
Pittsburgh

Dawnise Kozen is the director of opportunity pathways programs at YWCA Greater Pittsburgh. She has worked within the non-profit sector for over 28 years with several family-focused organizations. Dawnise holds a Family Development Credential, a Girls Circle Facilitator Credential, and a Family Excellence Values for Life Micro-Counseling Application and Event Processing Credential. Dawnise’s professional expertise includes networking, stakeholder relationship building, and creating and implementing quality programs. Dawnise is committed to closing the opportunity gap and addressing systemic inequalities among underserved populations throughout the Pittsburgh region. She is committed to justice, equity and inclusion for all young people reaching their life goals.

Dawnise’s work has always been driven by addressing the inequities in resources that support student learning, family development, and quality OST programs within marginalized communities. Her belief in YWCA Greater Pittsburgh’s mission of Empowering Women and Eliminating Racism, especially women and girls of color encourages her to advocate within the communities she serves. Dawnise believes that “every child needs a safe place to come to that helps them reach their full potential. OST spaces foster their interests in different focus areas of our programs, setting youth up for life success.” One takeaway Dawnise had from her PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassador experience was that we need to engage youth voice as we are creating and implementing OST programs. When she is not working Dawnise enjoys reading and spending time with her family and friends.

headshot. Alia Logan Taylor

Alia Logan-Turner

Director of Programs
The Learning Institute of Philadelphia
Philadelphia

Alia Logan, co-founder of The Learning Institute of Philadelphia, a Keystone 4 STAR out-of-school time program and an extension of the Smart Beginnings Early Learning Center, an early learning program located in Philadelphia, PA. The Learning Institute of Philadelphia (L.I.P) has been dedicated to addressing the diverse needs of school-age children since 2012. As director of programs, Alia is committed to crafting dynamic and developmentally appropriate activities that support students and their families. The Learning Institute of Philadelphia serves youth from Kindergarten through 6th grade, aiming to inspire and empower young people through innovative out-of-school activities. Their mission is to equip youth with the tools and confidence needed for success and positive life impact. Alia Logan brings a wealth of advocacy experience to her role, actively participating in initiatives such as PreK for PA, Phila Paid Sick Policy, and Vote for Change, among others. Her recent service as a board member for the Philly Birth Fund underscores her commitment to advancing the welfare of children and families, reflecting her lifelong dedication to their betterment.

Alia believes “OST programs are crucial for youth and communities, providing a haven for youth during non-school hours.” She went on to express that “OST programs support the holistic development of youth by offering opportunities for learning, growth, social interaction, and community engagement. Out-of-school time programs help youth become good citizens by encouraging them to be active members of society.” Alia’s greatest takeaway from this experience is the boost of confidence in advocacy. By acquiring new skills and techniques she strengthened her ability to use her voice and skills to effectively advocate not only for all OST programs. She also learned more about the importance of collaboration and the value of reaching out beyond her program to access resourses and engage with the OST community, which ultimately enhances LIP as well. Alia is committed to creating positive change and opportunities for all children and families served by The Learning Institute of Philadelphia.

Amanda-Masters-headshot

Amanda Masters

Youth Program Manager
The Cooperage Project
Honesdale

Amanda Masters lives with her family in Northeastern PA, where she works at a community-building non-profit, The Cooperage Project. As youth program manager, she has the best job in the world, coordinating a variety of youth-serving programs and providing training for adults working with youth and families. Her many years in the youth development field have included implementing yoga-based SEL + Wellness programs in public schools, K-12; crafting exciting and goofy experiences for middle schoolers at afterschool clubs; hosting teen open mics; mentoring families of young children; and more.

When not designing curricula, doling out snacks, or writing grants, she collaborates with community partners, including schools, government agencies, and human service organizations on advocacy and program development. Amanda holds a masters in applied positive psychology, the science of human flourishing, from the University of Pennsylvania. Her personal and professional efforts center around creating opportunities for belonging and connection for all people.

headshot. Jessica Neely

Jessica Neely

Program Coordinator
Opportunity Pathways Program
YWCA Greater Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh

Jessica Neely is a program coordinator for YWCA Greater Pittsburgh’s Opportunity Pathways Programs. Jessica is a STEM specialist, program coordinator, mentor and youth voice advocate. She enjoys mentoring future educators at local universities. She has worked in Pittsburgh’s non-profit sector for over 10 years with several organizations. Jessica has dual certifications in elementary and special education from Slippery Rock University. After teaching in the classroom, Jessica realized the need for quality after-school programs in the area and shortly after found herself changing career paths to serve youth after the school day ended. Jessica’s OST-related interests and skill sets include incorporating language arts and diverse STEM books into OST programming, working towards racial and social justice, and bringing community partners and families with knowledge for life-sustaining careers.

Jessica believes “OST programming and mentorships can open opportunities for students to find a voice in driving their education. These programs can provide communities with a place for youth to call their own and build community. OST programs also provide a place for young people to express growth in their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. In OST, there is an opportunity to provide opportunities to expose youth to financially sustaining careers including attending and touring local colleges and universities.” Her favorite PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassador experiences included networking with other OST providers and attending the Empower Conference and Afterschool Advocacy Day 2024. Jessica learned that student voices must not be underestimated and that a young person can contribute more than anticipated. When Jessica is not working, she loves to read and travel with her husband.

Mary Pannier

Children and Youth Program Director
South Hills Interfaith Movement
Pittsburgh

Mary Pannier is from Atlanta, GA, but has enjoyed living in many unique and beautiful cities in the United States, such as Boone, NC, Portland, ME, Roanoke, VA, Denver, CO, Pittsburgh, PA, and even abroad, in Honduras and Spain! Mary holds a B.A. in global studies and human rights from Appalachian State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado. Mary is the children and youth director for South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM), a community-based organization in Pittsburgh, PA. SHIM is a secular organization dedicated to serving the diverse needs of all individuals in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, regardless of background. Mary oversees the Children and Youth Department that serves ages 3-18 through preschool, afterschool, and summer camp programming. SHIM’s programs are tailored to be a safe and inclusive environment for all children to grow their academic confidence, build social and emotional abilities and discover their passions and interests. Mary has advanced skills in analyzing data and implementing evidence-based theories, analyzing program impact, and advocating for the students, staff and programs. Mary is a member of the EMBRACE (Engage Members, Bridge Relationships, And Create Enriching Experiences) committee and serves on the alumni board for the University of Colorado.

After working within youth development and non-profits for 10 years, Mary has intentionally dedicated herself to OST and early childhood education. She has seen firsthand the impact of an early start, enriching programs, and supportive adult relationships on children’s development and ultimate success. Mary hopes to bring awareness to the importance of this work. She reflected “many view OST as a supplemental enrichment service or child care, and while it offers both, it’s so much more than that. It’s a critical link for so many students who do not have support systems outside of our programs. I want everyone to understand the value and merit of OST work and be willing to fight for it as we do.” Mary enjoyed connecting with the other Afterschool Ambassadors in the 2023-2034 cohort. She shared “it is a profound feeling to find those who believe in the same mission and choose to fight for the same purpose.” When not working, Mary loves traveling, eating good food, learning languages, and playing with her miniature dachshund, Pablo!

headshot. Amanda Peretin

Amanda Peretin

Children and Youth Program Director
South Hills Interfaith Movement
Sidman

Amanda Peretin is a children and youth program director for the South Hills Interfaith Movement. Amanda holds a bachelor’s in biology and secondary education. She is a PA Certified Biology and General Science teacher and a National Geographic Certified Educator.

Amanda believes that OST programs provide additional “avenues for students to form meaningful connections with supportive adults in their communities.” She shared “OST programs are a great opportunity for students that may struggle in a traditional educational setting to find success and explore their options.” Amanda hopes her afterschool advocacy work will increase opportunities for financial support so OST programs can continue their great work.

Amanda’s greatest takeaway from the PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassador program was that “advocates should always be ready to share information about their work with others. Sharing this knowledge is important because you never know if or how someone can help advance the OST cause. Sharing information creates new opportunities for collaboration.” She also shared that this program helped her see how impactful expanding your network and connecting to others can be for an organization.

Some of Amanda’s interests include integrating STEAM activities into OST programming and implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) practices in OST spaces. She enjoys supporting her local fire department and church. She loves gardening and reading.

Lorraine Shaffer Headshot

Lorraine Shaffer

Executive Director
Kid’s Innovation Playground
Slippery Rock

Lorraine Shaffer is a retired elementary school and computer technology teacher residing in Slippery Rock, PA. She is the founder and executive director of Kid’s Innovation Playground (KiP), a 501c3 non-profit organization with a mission to bridge the educational gap in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) experiences for children PreK-8th grade in rural western Pennsylvania. Through KiP, she has created a much-needed out-of-school time space for children to “try-on” a variety of personal enrichment and career paths. She has found several different award-winning curriculums to help deliver quality STEAM programs.

Lorraine is certified to teach Engineering is Elementary®, from the Museum of Science, Boston, to children as well as educators. She teaches children Arts and Bots using Birdbrain Technologies® Hummingbird kit and MakeCode™ block coding, to program lights, servo motors, and sensors and bring their arts and crafts to life. She guides students in green screen video production using DO Ink and WEVIDEO© and has experience with many of the latest educational tech products such as Bee-Bot®, OSMO™, ClassVR® and Ozobot®. Lorraine is also involved in Remake Learning, PAECT, United Way of SWPA Welcome Summer. One of her professional highlights was reaching 2,000 children served through Kid’s Innovation Playground in the past five years.

headshot. Chelsea Smith

Chelsea Smith

Child Care Director
River Valley Regional YMCA-Tioga County
Mansfield

Chelsea Smith is the child care director for the River Valley Regional YMCA-Tioga County Branch in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree from Mansfield University in psychology with a concentration in counseling. Her hobbies include creative writing and karaoke. Chelsea has always wanted to work with youth and has experience working with children from infancy through high school. She strives to make an impact and be a champion for the children in her community. One of the most rewarding aspects of working in the out-of-school time field is the ability to tailor programs to the interests of the youth and provide enriching experiences they enjoy! Chelsea oversees School Age Afterschool and Summer Day Camp programs at the YMCA. As director, Chelsea has helped Tioga County YMCA’s After School program reach a STAR 4 level. She also helped transform her organization’s Summer Day Camp into a multisite camp that serves three times as many campers as when it started.

Chelsea enjoys advocating for OST programs in the community, helping her organization foster a more inclusive climate, and engaging families in SEL skill-building. Her professional expertise includes implementing individualized practices for the children in her care, providing staff with professional development, and creating programs and events to educate and engage whole family systems. She also has experience helping youth involved in the criminal justice system develop positive coping skills. Chelsea believes OST programs are important because “youth are constantly seeking to learn and engage their environments. Out-of-school time programs provide the youth with a safe, educational setting that can nourish their skills and passions.” Chelsea’s takeaways from the Afterschool Ambassador program include the fact that rural communities need additional out-of-school time experiences for youth. She also learned there are hidden opportunities in every community to partner and collaborate with other like-minded individuals to support youth.

headshot. Samantha Sweigert

Samantha Sweigert

Community Impact Director
Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster
Lancaster

Samantha Sweigert has been dedicated to making a positive impact in the lives of young people for over a decade. Currently serving as the community impact director at the Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster, she plays a pivotal role in shaping programs and initiatives that foster growth, learning and opportunity for Lancaster youth. Samantha holds a bachelor’s degree in English education from Millersville University. Samantha serves on the Board of Directors for Ambassadors for Hope, the School District of Lancaster’s Equity Steering Committee, and several other panels and committees involved in city planning. Samantha is passionate about implementing social and emotional learning in OST spaces; family and community engagement in OST; youth voice and advocacy. She is skilled in planning and implementing youth mentoring programs; program assessment and evaluation; grant writing and partnership-building; conflict resolution for adults and youth; and developing and delivering trauma-informed, culturally competent staff trainings.

The PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassador experience showed Samantha additional opportunities in OST and afterschool programs where student voices can be amplified. She also shared that uplifting, recognizing and compensating OST staff as the experts they are leads to positive outcomes for the youth we serve. She looks forward to establishing more program partnerships for her organization that expand opportunities for youth. Samantha is excited about the difference out-of-school time can make in the lives of kids, their families, and the community as a whole and is incredibly proud to be part of the work. Her hobbies include mapping out every local skatepark for our family to visit on the weekends; reading (and occasionally writing) poetry; and singing with her husband in the kitchen after her 5-year-old goes to sleep.

headshot. Dwayne Wiggins

Dwayne Wiggins

Program Director
IGNITE Afterschool Enrichment at Belmont Charter High School
Philadelphia

Dwayne Wiggins, Jr. is the founder of A Human. Being! and is the program director for IGNITE Afterschool Enrichment at Belmont Charter High School. He graduated from Full Sail University, obtaining a B.S. degree in entertainment business and an M.F.A. in creative writing. He is a doctoral student at Capella University, pursuing a Ph.D. in advanced studies in human behavior.

Dwayne is a skilled mindfulness coach, life coach, and producer. Dwayne joined the PSAYDN Afterschool Ambassadors program because of his commitment to developing his leadership skills, he is always seeking innovative ways to support and manage people. He is always ready to learn new things so that he can employ his new knowledge as he responds to his organization’s challenges. Dwayne has implemented programs and strategies within his organization that have yielded remarkable results for participating youth.

headshot. Diamen Green

Diamen Green

Youth Service Coordinator
Housing Opportunities Unlimited
Duquesne

headshot. Jessica Lausch

Jessica Lausch

Vice President of Youth Development
YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh

headshot Marisa White

Marisa White

Founder
Love Lessons
Pittsburgh

Glenn P. Williams

Professor
Harrisburg University Summer Enrichment Robotics Camps
Harrisburg