Core Team

Meet the Core Team

Mukilan Muthukumar

Mukilan (he/him) is a senior at Hunter College High School. He joined YVote in the Summer 2021 Changemaker's Institute in the climate justice action group. Since then, he has worked on projects such as the NYC Youth Agenda focusing on the environment and civic education policy recommendations. He also has worked this year to craft and conduct workshops with Community Board members across the city to address youth participation on community boards. Thanks to YVote, he attended the National History Academy in the Summer of 2022, a four-week residential history program based outside of Washington DC. Mukilan has been a facilitator for YVote since the inaugural Democracy Camp in the summer of 2022. He is interested in politics, economics, and history, and hopes to pursue law beyond high school.

Katie Bates
Director, Strategy & Growth

Katie's (she/her) passion for youth civic participation stems from her years spent as a high school social studies teacher, especially teaching Government during the 2016 election. She earned her undergraduate degree in Social Studies Secondary Education at Butler University and her master’s degree in Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. A pandemic-related postponement of her NYC move allowed her to work for her county’s local election board during the 2020 election, experiencing election processes and voting from a new perspective. Since moving to New York, Katie has worked in communications, development, and strategy for multiple non-profits including America’s Promise Alliance and Chalkbeat. In her free time, Katie enjoys visiting new-to-her movie theaters and spending time with her dog, Wally.

LaTroya Lovell
Director of Youth Research

LaTroya Lovell (she/her) is a writer and researcher from Harlem, New York. She graduated summa Cum Laude from The New School, with a major in literature with a psychology/gender studies concentration. She is currently a student at CUNY School of Professional Studies, in the Youth Studies Master program. She has 10 years of experience working with youth of all ages in New York City through various youth engagement organizations, public, and private schools. Most of her writing falls into the brackets of poetry, personal narrative, and critical essay; focusing on race issues, black voice & black experience, gender and sexuality issues, sociological critique, and literary review. Outside of writing, LaTroya is passionate about research, with a special focus on qualitative participatory initiatives. She is an advocate for civic engagement, restorative justice; and the social and economic restructuring of minority communities through research that supports and creates actionable systematic change.

Liana Reyes

Hi, my name is Liana Reyes (she/her), and I’m a senior at Energy Tech High School I would like to pursue a major in STEM, hopefully on a pre-med track. I’m passionate about advocating for racial inequities in the healthcare system and want to be a part of future discoveries in sciences that I can serve back to my community. I’m happy to be one of the co-facilitators this year, as it gives me the opportunity to help other high schoolers find their voice in advocacy. This program has taught me how I can be an advocate in school but also in non-traditional environments, like scientific laboratories. Even though I’m not eligible to vote yet, through YVote, I know I will be fully prepared and informed to cast my ballot this upcoming election!

Elisa Mateo-Saja
Associate Director, Partnerships & Growth

Elisa (she/her/ella) is dedicated to community organizing and is committed to doing her part in protecting and improving democracy. Elisa most recently worked in community engagement for NYC Kids RISE but has experience in impact investing and electoral research as well. Elisa's previous work has amplified her passion for raising the voices of underserved communities, particularly youth and Latinx folks. She studied at Macaulay Honors College at John Jay College of Criminal Justice- graduating summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Economics in 2021. Her undergraduate studies allowed her to explore electoral politics in the US, specifically through her capstone project on Partisan Realignment Theory and the involvement of grassroots organizations. In her free time, Elisa loves exploring her (new) neighborhood with her dog Cyrus and trying new restaurants.

Sanda Balaban
Co-Founder and Director

Sanda (she/her) is passionate about helping young people understand their individual and collective power, at and beyond the ballot box. In response to the complex times we're living in, the vulnerability of democracy being demonstrated, and the desire to support young people in being on the front lines of change, she co-founded and directs cross-partisan youth civic engagement venture YVote/ Next Generation Politics, aiming to equip leaders of tomorrow for their roles and responsibilities as citizens shaping a more just world. Sanda has held leadership roles in education and youth development for over 25 years, in the public sector at the New York City Department of Education, in education philanthropy at the Ford Foundation and the Goldman Sachs Foundation, and in nonprofits including Facing History and Ourselves, the Boston Private Industry Council, and The Teachers Network. Sanda is proud to serve on the founding Board of Directors of Generation Vote and The Hope Reichbach Memorial Fund and on the National Reader Advisory Board for Chalkbeat. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Chris-Ann Barnett
Associate Program Director

Chris-Ann Barnett (she/her) graduated cum laude from New York University with a B.A. in Politics and Sociology and is a founding member of YVote. She is passionate about the intersections of identity, advocacy, and political engagement and approaches political engagement from a people-first ideology. During her undergraduate career she completed research on the social interactions of Black students attending predominantly white institutions which became her thesis “Racial Socialization and Spatial Awareness in Black Students”. Her research and passions have informed how she approaches activism and organizing as she emphasizes the need for minority voices and representation across all industries.

Founding Contributors

Andrea Gabor
Founding Team Member
Andrea is a journalism professor at Baruch College/CUNY and the author of four books, including The Man Who Discovered Quality (Times Books 1990) about W. Edwards Deming, the acclaimed systems thinker and management expert, and the upcoming After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform (New Press 2018.) Gabor spent over two decades as a business writer; she worked as a staff writer and editor at Business Week and U.S. News and World Report and has freelanced for a range of publications, including The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Smithsonian Magazine and Fortune. At Baruch College, she founded the journalism department’s Cuba travel program in 2015, and has been a long-time faculty advisor for the school’s award-winning student publication Dollars & Sense. From 2008 to 2010, Gabor served on the New York State Department of Education committee charged with revamping the English Language Arts standards.
Andy Snyder
Founding Facilitator
Andy Snyder grew up in Sarasota County, Florida, where he helped to create a youth-run youth center, wrote a history of the local school desegregation struggles, and got a Master’s degree in education. After moving up to NYC he has worked for 16 years in two progressive small public schools – teaching students and himself to think creatively and critically about themselves and shared predicaments. During leisure time in Brooklyn he reads, sails, and plays the cello. Andy is a National Board Certified teacher.
Ann Weiner In Memory
Founding Team Member
Ann Wiener had been a New York City educator since 1985. In 1990, she founded Crossroads School, a public Harlem middle school, and led it until 2005 when she joined the New School Initiative to create and support new NYC public schools. She also worked as a leadership coach at the NYC Leadership Academy until 2016. Ann worked as an educational consultant and is a trustee of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and Amber Charter School.
Elizabeth Stein Gray
Founding Facilitator
Liz has been teaching English in New York City public schools since 2008. She began her career in an alternative school in southeast Brooklyn; in 2013, she transitioned to the NYC iSchool, an innovative high school in Soho, where she gets to help students hold poetry readings, publish literary magazines, create the yearbook, and develop political action campaigns. She is herself a proud graduate of New York City Public Schools, from PS 175 in Queens, all the way through Hunter and Brooklyn Colleges. Liz believes public education is the foundation of a healthy democracy, and is committed to helping her students become good citizens and smart voters, capable of navigating the increasingly complex political landscape. Liz lives in Brooklyn with her husband, also a public schoolteacher, and enjoys exploring the city in search of new running paths, delicious food, beautiful art, and places to relax with a good book.
Gordon Skinner
Founding Videographer
Gordon Skinner is the C.E.O/Executive Producer of Lost Innocents, LLC/Running Dialogue Communications, a New York-based multimedia company. Once a Lincoln Center Institute artist-in-residence fellow, he has produced and directed highly acclaimed documentary film projects, including: Cornelia Street Café: The Whole World Passes Through; The Kuna Indians; Sitting in the Fire: Profiles of the Peacemakers (executive produced by Sam Pollard and Albert Maysles); and Strategic Omissions: The True Health Effects of 9/11 (Albert Maysles, executive producer). His recent documentary film Lost Innocents: Child Soldiers At War (Reason Films/Good Magazine) was chosen for the Tribeca Film Institute’s All Access Program for films in production and IFP Project Involve, where Skinner was a fellow. Skinner’s other producing credits include projects for MTV, Fuji TV, TV-Japan, ESPN, Third Element, and Sony Music. He was the supervising producer for Scientific Machine, an in-house production unit of Fox Television, where he oversaw acquisitions of new releases and scripts. His current feature-length documentary is on dialysis and related health access issues in the United States.
Jade Nicolette Harriell Arrindell
Founding Facilitator
Jade is a native of our nation’s capital who is dedicated to problem-solving socio-economic obstacles that urban youth face. In addition to her work with YVote, most recently, Jade has been consulting as both Trainer and Project Associate with Border Crossers, an anti-racism organization dedicated to disrupting institutional, interpersonal, and internalized racism within schools and other educational environments. She also advocates for youth voice and civic engagement as part-time facilitator with Coro Leadership Center’s Youth Leadership Academy. Previously, Jade joined Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School as the founding English teacher during the 2012-2013 school year, founding Special Education teacher during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, and Assistant College Placement Coordinator from 2015-2016. She is a graduate of Temple University where she earned undergraduate majors in English and African American Studies, as well as a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction Technology Education and a teaching certification in Secondary English Education.
Justin Cohen
Justin is a writer, storyteller, activist, and nonprofit executive. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Education Week, Education Next, The Huffington Post, Bright, Fusion, Chalkbeat, and other publications. In 2015 he was a writer in residence at the Carey Institute for the Global Good. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a fellow of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, and, working with a group of “co-conspirators,” helped to found WE ARE Educators for Justice, which organizes white folks to do the hard work of dismantling racism. Until 2015 he was president of Boston-based education nonprofit Mass Insight Education, where we helped cities and states around the country rethink serving their most vulnerable children and communities. Before that he worked in the District of Columbia Public Schools and was on the education policy committee for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. He serves as board chairman for Students for Education Reform, on the advisory board of Ed Build, and as an organizer with Racial Justice BK. He got his B.A. in cognitive science from Yale.
Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark
Founding Team Member
Marilyn is Professor Emerita of Accountancy, Baruch College – City University of New York. She chaired the American Accounting Association’s Public Interest Section and served on several of its committees. She was also a member of the Board of Directors and of the Advisory Board of Accountants for the Public Interest, Washington DC. As an avocation, Marilyn worked as a radio producer and co-host for nearly three decades, first on the weekly program on business issues, “Econo-News,” and then, from 1995 to 2014, on “Beyond the Pale: Jewish Culture and Politics,” both on WBAI. Active in her community as well, Marilyn is the co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (established in 1990) and for many years was co-chair of its board. She served on the board of directors of the American Israeli Civil Liberties Coalition (l990-1995), on the Middle East Task Force of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (l991-1995), and on the board of directors of the National Women’s Education Fund, Washington DC (l975-l987).
Melody Benitez
Co-Founder and Lead Facilitator
Michelle Fine
Patron Saint and Summer Site Host 2017 & 2018
Michelle is Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center. A social psychologist, her primary research interest is the study of social injustice: when injustice is perceived or appears simply fair or deserved, when it is resisted, and how it is negotiated by those who pay the most serious price for social inequities. She studies these issues in her work with public high schools, prisons, and youth in urban communities, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Her research is typically participatory, with youth and/or activists, drawing from feminist, critical race, and other critical theories.
Steven Pacheco
Founding Facilitator
Steven is a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Sociology. Growing up in the Highbridge section of The Bronx, social injustices have always been within arm’s reach in his everyday life. With this sort of upbringing, his desire and passion to combat these inequities emerged. He can be found doing activist work with various grass-root organizations to fight against the oppression of the masses. Aside from working in conjunction with various grass-root organizations, Steven enjoys writing songs and poetry. Music is equally as important to him as his social service endeavors, and so he also works to develop talent and propel these acts to reach the next level. Steven plays the role of mentor to youth and his peers looking to exceed the limits set before them.