Meet the Team
Get to know the staff, board and advisors of Yoga Foster.
FOUNDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Nicole felt compelled to start Yoga Foster after her experience as a volunteer yoga instructor in schools. Realizing first-hand the lack of accessibility to physical activity, she started training public school teachers tools for effective yoga in the classroom. She’s since left behind a career in tech to bring Yoga Foster to scale, relying on her background in both mobile and web development and yoga training and teaching. She's a 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, a TEDx speaker, and has been featured in SELF, Paper, and Wanderlust.
DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
Originally from NYC, Melissa grew up in the public school system, and experienced firsthand the often lack of space for play and connection to self. She was fortunate enough to have yoga as a part of her family culture, and started practicing at an early age. This inspired her to study yoga more deeply in her 20s and begin teaching kids. Having taught kids yoga in all sorts of spaces, her favorite environment is in schools – in their daily habitat. Melissa strongly believes in adapting yoga to the individual and their environment, so that it can be a normalized part of their day and feel really accessible to them. Her yoga teaching background is diverse, with training in various therapeutic traditions, prenatal, kids, and trauma. Melissa also holds a Master of Public Health in Health Policy, which fuels her passion to serve causes that are making positive changes in population health.
DIRECTOR OF BOARD RELATIONS
Lauren has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 15 years and believes deeply in the power of yoga in schools. Movement has always been her outlet, beginning at 5 years old. Lauren holds a BFA in Modern Dance, having found yoga during her dance career to care for body and find her center. Shortly after completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training, she began teaching yoga in New York City preschools, and has seen firsthand the impact it has within today’s classrooms and communities.
She went on to work for Wanderlust and gained rich experience in the wellness industry during her time there, developing their Human Resources and Tour Management departments. In addition, she lead the recruiting and management of the community non profit partners in each event city across 30 nationwide events as well as developed national non profit relationships that raised funds for childhood hunger. Lauren also lead the social and sustainability efforts within Wanderlust, championing the B Corp certification and assessment process.
INSTRUCTOR / GUIDE
Emily has been involved in children’s lives from the very beginning of her career. She started as a teacher’s assistant and soon realized her passion for the working in a classroom environment. Emily obtained her 200-hour yoga teaching certification in Iyengar Yoga in 2017. Shortly after receiving her certification, Emily put all of her efforts into teaching kids yoga. Emily created the first kid’s yoga class at Stephensen Elementary School in Mountain Home Air Force Base, allowing military families to participate in this new and exciting opportunity.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Bethany received her Ph.D. in psychology in 2008 from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Most of her research and teaching focuses on positive psychology, which emphasizes the development of human strength and potential. Bethany has worked in the corporate world and in academia, and has also spent several years as an independent entrepreneur. Most recently, she spent two years as a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, where she studied the effects of yoga in school settings.
BOARD AND ADVISORS
When she's not traveling, reading or playing blackjack, Abena Agyemang plays command center for all Families for Excellent Schools' partners, focusing on lifting charter school caps and mobilizing nearly 60,000 people for education rallies over the year. Access to a good education and a healthy lifestyle is personal for her, she once commuted three hours daily to school because of the lack of quality options in her neighborhood. Prior to her current role as National Director of School Partnerships at Families for Excellent Schools, Abena worked at Hyde Leadership Charter School while completing her master’s degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. Before then, she lived in Spain and worked for the Ministry of Education in Madrid.
Johannah has spent her career working to improve educational opportunities for all students, regardless of zip code or ability. A former middle school math teacher, she is currently the Associate Dean for Innovation, Policy & Research at Bank Street College of Education, where she leads a team incubating innovations in teaching and learning with the core aim of improving education to build a stronger democratic society. Previously, she served as Chief Executive Officer of Special Education for the NYC Department of Education, where she led a citywide reform effort to promote access and inclusion for students with disabilities. Johannah began her yoga practice many years ago seeking both exercise and stress relief, though she was most impacted by the yoga philosophy of mindfulness. She is a 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher and is in the midst of completing her apprenticeship to become a 500 Hour RYT.
Rachel Gwynne is a native New Yorker who has spent the last 16 years working as a Human Resources executive in a number of global organizations. She is passionate about yoga, surfing and skiing. Rachel holds a Bachelors degree from the University of Connecticut, a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and an Advanced Diploma in Coaching from NYU.
As a researcher with expertise in emotional intelligence, I value both evidence and emotions. As a yogi, I integrate body and mind through yoga practice. Through consulting, I am better able to integrate my professional and personal learning in the service of others.As an undergraduate, I created a personalized program of study combining psychology, education, and policy at Duke University (BA). I continued with interdisciplinary studies for my doctorate at the University of Virginia (PhD). My Yale postdoctoral fellowship expanded my school-based experience by implementing and studying RULER, an approach to teaching emotional intelligence. As research faculty at NYU and Yale University, I honed my research skills and connected research to practice and policy with an emotional intelligence focus.
Jess is an expert in the development and implementation of physical activity programs in schools. Formerly a middle school health education teacher, she has since worked as a Health Education Curriculum Specialist at the Department of Education, and helped revise and develop the National Health Education Standards in 2007. She's currently Director of Cairn Consulting, a US CDC/DASH trainer for the Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT), School Health Index, MMWRs CDCs School Health Guidelines tool, a Let’s Move Active Schools PAL, and a content expert on a select advisory board for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. On August 31, 2013, Jess completed a life goal of bicycling solo across the United States in 90 days and while doing so raised $23,000 for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to fight childhood obesity.
Lauren is a clinical psychologist, author, yoga instructor and mindfulness coach. Her children’s mindfulness book, Visiting Feelings, won the 2013 Mom’s Choice Gold and 2014 Nautilus Silver Awards. She consults to schools and parents on how mind-body practices can help youth learn to self-regulate, and developed the GAB (Grounded & Balanced) Group for Teen Girls. She is the Haiti Project Coordinator for Go Give Yoga.
Kelli is an educator in the field of children's yoga and mindfulness. She teaches at Girls Prep Bronx Elementary in NYC where yoga and mindfulness are embraced as a school wide content area. She recently made a short film, Aliza and the Mind Jar to show the impact of school wide yoga and mindfulness programming on children and families.
Ben works with corporations to maximize their level of pro bono and skilled volunteerism to support schools and nonprofits across the country, helping them use technology more effectively and inspire the next generation STEM professionals. He enjoys being a volunteer mentor and Young Executive board member at iMentor and serves on the board of The Animation Project. Residing in Brooklyn, NY, Ben is an avid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. He graduated with a BA in History and Political Science from the University of Delaware.
Sandhya believes that participatory design, cross-sector convergence and digital media are critical elements in the shift towards a market-driven global development paradigm. For over 20 years, Sandhya has advised donor agencies, NGOs and corporations on the design, management and evaluation of global development programs and partnerships. Most recently, as a senior advisor at USAID, she co-founded two global public-private partnerships, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) and mPowering Frontline Health Workers.Sandhya is the founder of impactXdesign, a strategy consulting firm working with mission-driven organizations.
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