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Meet the Cradle to Career Backbone Team
Associate Vice President, Community Development
Melissa Hernandez, Ph.D. is the Associate Vice President of the Cradle to Career Partnership at the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. Dr. Hernandez leads C2C in aligning organizations and individuals to change systems and improve educational outcomes for over 11,000 youth in Pima County. Additionally, Hernandez teaches college courses, is a For a Brighter Future Foundation member, serves as a board member for her son’s Scout Troop, and is a Soroptimist board member. Dr. Hernandez enjoys working locally and nationally to dismantle barriers to success across the education continuum. Hernandez holds a doctorate from the University of Arizona and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Northern Arizona University. Dr. Hernandez enjoys attending her son’s club soccer games, Saturday night gatherings with family, and hiking.
Senior Director, Data and Impact
Kassondra Silva is the Senior Director, Data and Impact for the Cradle to Career Partnership. In this role, she collaborates with key stakeholders and partners to use data to inform strategies that improve educational outcomes and facilitates data sharing across C2C. She also supports the work of C2C Change Networks providing technical assistance, data visualization, and analysis to assist with continuous improvement. Prior to joining the team, she was a Research Analyst for several research projects focusing on children’s socio-emotional development and academic achievement at Arizona State University. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Family Studies and Human Development from the University of Arizona and a Master’s of Science in Family and Human Development from Arizona State University. Kassondra is a Tuson native who enjoys spending time with her large family, cooking, and working on puzzles.
Amber Schlak is the Program Director with the Cradle to Career Partnership. Amber oversees all programming within C2C and works with leadership to develop strategies and partnerships that result in changing community conditions. She also works directly with fifteen educator teams across multiple school districts in the Leaders in Literacy Program. Prior to joining C2C, Amber was an elementary school teacher for 21 years. She specialized primarily in early childhood education, English language development, and reading intervention. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Master of Education in Early Childhood with a Reading Endorsement from Northern Arizona University. Amber is an advocate and dedicated supporter for high-quality education, early intervention, inquiry thinking, positive classroom environments, and data-driven results to improve outcomes. She is the proud mother of three who all attend Arizona universities. This Tucson native enjoys reading, being outdoors, spending time with her family, making jewelry, and playing with her dog Daisy.
Miles is the Program Manager with the Cradle to Career Partnership overseeing the Empowering STEM Innovators space. He is leading C2C’s new program for middle-grade youth, Up and Atom, to help create STEM pathways for future innovators in Pima County . Miles comes to us with experience in the K-12 education system as well as experience with AmeriCorps, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Liberty Center for Language and Learning. Miles is a Tucson native with a BA in Elementary Education with an English Second Language Emphasis. He enjoys reading, writing, and hiking.
Laura Haferkamp is the Data Manager with the Cradle to Career Partnership. She is crafting a database to make all C2C’s collected information more insightful and accessible for staff. She also supports Kassondra in interpreting data and creating visuals for all C2C programs. She joined C2C to use her technical skills to help improve education in her community, and she loves the warm workplace culture that United Way cultivates.
Laura is a Tucson native with a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Arizona. Her professional background prior to C2C has primarily been with AmeriCorps. She has two cats, several houseplants, and a few house spiders. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, gardening, reading, solving puzzles, spending time with her kitties, and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Paul Braden (They/Them) is a Program Manager with the Cradle to Career (C2C) Partnership. They focus on the Thriving Futures area of the C2C Partnership serving Opportunity Youth aged 16-24 that are currently not in school and are unemployed. Paul works with the Youth on the Rise Community Collaborative as well as the United Youth Leadership Council to provide tools, skills, and connections to Opportunity Youth, to help give them every opportunity to succeed. Paul has worked in Youth and Community Development since 2015, supporting youth in a variety of fields ranging from different forms of education to community awareness and event planning. Paul is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ Community and works to create safe and equitable spaces. They claim the title of former Rock Star and have played bass guitar and several other instruments for 20 years. They enjoy exploring the beautiful nature that surrounds Tucson, finding some live music to dance to, lounging with their cats, and having game nights with their friends.
Chyna Davis is a Team Member with the Cradle to Career Partnership. She is currently working on the Math Perceptions and Experiences project, which seeks to learn about the experiences and barriers that students, educators, and parents have encountered in high school and post-secondary level math classes. In addition to her work at C2C, she also works as a bookkeeper at Tucson Foundations, where she handles a wide range of financial record-keeping and administrative tasks. She is a Tucson native, graduated from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in Linguistics, and studied abroad in Taiwan while teaching English as a Second Language. She enjoys traveling for good food, studying foreign languages and cultures, and going on early morning walks if the weather is nice.
Collective Impact Specialist
Through the AmeriCorps Public Allies Program, Gabe Mendoza has joined the Cradle to Career Partnership as the team’s Collective Impact Specialist, assisting in the development and implementation of the Essential Skills Workshops in Pima County. Growing up between Sonora Mexico and the south side of Tucson, Gabe has dedicated his time to training mixed martial arts, volleyball, and health coaching. Completing his Fitness and Wellness Specialist Certificate via Pima Community College, and a Business Management Certification at The University of Arizona, Gabe hopes to open his own non-profit recreation center here in Pima County for youth. Through United Way, Gabe hopes to build capacity in existing workforce development opportunity youth programs and become a leader for equitable change.
Kristin is the part-time Team Member responsible for identifying, researching, tracking, editing and overall management of grants for Cradle to Career. Although she is a native of Palo Alto, CA, that was only the beginning of her journey. She went up to Oregon State for two years, then down to Lima, Peru for nine months, and graduated from the University of Redlands with a BA in English Lit and History, whereupon she married and went to NY for a year, Paris another year, London for two, and Brussels for four. Arriving back in the States she quickly became an insurance underwriter and then Risk Manager, ultimately a Senior Vice President for a major NY Bank. She comes to C2C with broad corporate management skills and has served on many Boards of Directors. She is excited to lend her experience with C2C and its growing grants’ management.