Our Staff


Caitlin Johnson, Co-Founder & Managing Editor

A writer and journalist, Caitlin specializes in child and youth issues and the impact of public policy on families and communities. She is a strong believer in the power of creative technologies to engage and move audiences, and to create an authentic platform for youth voice and youth-led movement building. This passion led her to co-found SparkAction.org, a journalism and advocacy platform to mobilize action for and by young people; she serves as its director. 

Caitlin has written for City Limits, Yahoo News, Nation's Cities Weekly, KidsHealth and numerous other outlets, and has been a Casey Journalism Fellow and a John Jay Justice Journalism Fellow. Caitlin has worked as a technical writer and editor in the areas of social policy, the environment, and sustainable development; assisted the Center for Law and Social Policy with its communications strategy and materials as interim director; and written for Sen. Leahy's Displaced Children & Orphans Fund and War Victims Fund. She has also taught English and creative writing to eighth graders in a Washington, DC, public middle school, and organized a nationally competitive youth poetry slam team. Caitlin holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoynes Fellow and received a Poe Fellowship; her fiction has appeared in Five Points, Gargoyle and other journals.

Thaddeus Ferber, Co-Founder

Thaddeus works in bi-partisan fashion to promote evidence-based policies that help communities achieve collective impact for all youth (especially those disconnected from school and work) and that incorporate youth voices. On the federal level, he drafted policy recommendations that were adopted by the White House Task Force for Disadvantaged Youth in the George W. Bush administration, and recommendations that were adopted by the White House Council for Community Solutions in the Obama Administration. He helped to orchestrate National Youth Summits for the George W. Bush and Obama administrations; to craft the Federal Youth Coordination Act, which created an interagency council to align federal efforts for children and youth (signed by President George W. Bush); and to build legislation to create Performance Partnership Pilots, which enable communities to blend fragmented federal programs in innovative ways to help disconnected youth (signed by President Obama).  In partnership with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Gap Inc., Thaddeus launched the Opportunity Youth Network, bringing together the nation’s leading corporations, foundations, nonprofits and young people to reconnect young people who are not in school and not employed. His efforts to promote evidence-based policymaking include leading several learning groups composed of researchers and government officials.  Thaddeus joined the Forum in 1998. Before that, he worked at the President’s Crime Prevention Council during the Clinton administration, the Stanford Center on Adolescence, the John Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities, the HOME Afterschool Project in Alameda, Calif., and ELEM, a nonprofit for runaway, homeless and neglected Israeli and Arab youth. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Youth Development and Policy from Stanford University. His honors include the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship, the Capitol Advantage Civic Award, the Mobilize 08 Award and the Champion of Juvenile Justice Award.

Elly Belle, Content Strategist

ellyElly is a communications strategist and writer with a passion for youth empowerment, advocacy, culture and media. Elly is most passionate about youth development, reproductive health, mental health, advocacy for the LGBTQIA community, immigration, and advocacy for sexual assault survivors—and she's written about all of it and more for outlets like Bust and Teen Vogue. She has worked for organizations focused on social change and human rights such as The Fresh Air Fund, Camino Public Relations, and PEN America. Elly holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Religion from Hofstra University, where she first found and honed her passion for advocacy.

In her spare time, Elly enjoys drinking intense amounts of coffee while attempting to read five books at once, and exploring everything New York City has to offer, including going to spoken word poetry shows, literary events, and museums. She also gets a kick out of cooking new recipes and pretending she's competing on a Food Network show.

Caitlin Kawaguchi, Digital Engagement Strategist

A seasoned social impact and communications strategist, Caitlin leads our work with Opportunity Youth United and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign: Unleashing Limitless Potential. She is passionate about helping organizations drive impact, build community and share their stories. In addition to her work with SparkAction, Caitlin K. is director of marketing & partnerships at Bird + Stone, a socially responsibly jewerly company where "every bracelet and necklace donates to a different cause." She is experienced in operations and strategy, digital marketing, partnership development and program management.

Jamal Stone, Digital Engagement Associate 

With three years of experience in the startup world, Jamal has done a bit of everything, from PR and scripts, to grant writing and features. His writing has appeared in outlets such as Genius, Milk.xyz, and Broad Street Magazine, with a strong focus on how social justice intersects with art. Jamal's advocacy work has led him to assist the UN Capital Defense Fund, Power Shift Network, and SmartPhilm Fest, among many others. As SparkAction's Digital Engagement Associate, Jamal helps strategize and execute on a number of content-driven campaigns, with a focus on equity, opportunity and justice. He is experienced in copywriting, content strategy, social media, and video editing. Jamal holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Virginia Commonwealth University with a minor in Philosophy. 

Max Miller, Content Production Assistant

Max Miller is primarily a video producer and graphic designer who specializes in 2D digital artwork, video and voiceover projects. He is also interested in content strategy and website and social media metrics. Before heading to college, he served as an intern with SparkAction and he now provides content management and video support to the team, while also working as an independent video and design consultant based in the Washington, DC area.




Danielle Varner, Youth Justice & Opportunity Fellow

Danielle is first-year college student supporting SparkAction on our youth justice and opportunity initiatives. She began working with SparkAction in 2016, through our partnership with the YWCA Brooklyn, and we're pleased she has continued on with us during her transition to college.

From Danielle: “I plan to double-major in criminology and psychology. I enjoy writing, especially when it allows me to bring issues pertaining the justice system and young people to light. I also enjoy helping my fellow students prepare for college. I ultimately plan on going to graduate school and becoming a family court lawyer. I love being involved in my community and being of service to young people. Most recently, I served with a high school heroes program, where I taught third graders about business and economic literacy. I hope to always work with children and youth.”





Zenzele Franklin

ZenZenzele is passionate about access to opportunity, digital equity, and about empowering women and girls. She has served as a  YWLEADer at the YWCA Brooklyn, organized events and safe spaces for young people to discuss racism and other issues that bother them, and spoken on panels with politicians about adversities facing girls of color in the school system. In 2018, she lobbied in Albany to help end the School to Prison Pipeline. She is an alum of the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. She is a rising sophomore Binghamton Advantage student at Binghamton University, majoring in computer science.

From Zenzele: "I am a pretty well-rounded person which comes with being open-minded. One of the goals in my life is being able to make a positive difference in the world. Throughout my first year of college, I felt that declaring a major boxed me in. I was trying to figure out how I could combine my interest in advocacy with my passion for computer science.  Being a Digital Fellow at SparkAction allows me to do just that. I get to put my coding skills to work in a social justice setting, and learn as I work."

Anesu Masube, Policy & Youth Engagement Supports

Anesu recently completed a Masters in Sustainable Development, International Policy and Management at the School for International Training in Washington DC.  As part of his practicum, Anesu served with SparkAction and as a Youth Leadership Coordinator at Plan International USA. He also holds a BSc Honors in Computer Science from the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. Anesu was an Atlas Corps Fellow at the American Express Foundation in Washington, DC and New York and is also an IDEX Global Fellowship Alumni who served in India. Anesu is passionate about technology for development, youth development, communications for change and economic growth for the African continent. He is a the Founder of Opportunities for Zimbabweans, content editor for Leaderstories.org and an active public speaker and podcaster.


Frances Medina, Social Media Consultant
FrancesFrances is a freelance communications consultant who has worked with nonprofits including the National Park Service and the Brooklyn-based Red Hook Initiative. She started as a youth blogger for SparkAction when she was in college at the University of Michigan, and now works with us on our social media and digital engagement, including playing a lead role in our social media strategy and execution support to the Raise the Age New York youth justice reform campaign.


Abeer Pamuk, Atlas Corps Fellow Emeritus
AbeerAbeer served with SparkAction for 18 months and continues to contribute content while enrolled in a Master's program in conflict resolution. A communications specialist from Syria, Abeer earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Aleppo in English literature. In 2013, she joined the communications team in Syria at SOS Children’s Villages, an international nonprofit focused on the comprehensive care of vulnerable children. In Aleppo, one of the areas most affected by the war, Abeer produced human-interest stories that showed the broad impact of the organization’s humanitarian relief program. Before joining SparkAction as our Atlas Corps Fellow, she served as the Crisis and Communications Advisor in Casablanca, Morocco. Abeer has gained valuable experience in war reporting, digital storytelling, media relations, social media strategy and corporate communications. She strongly believes in the power of good communications and storytelling in raising the money needed to support vulnerable communities. Abeer supports communications and social media for our LeaderStories.org initiative, a video storystelling platform to celebrate, connect and inspire social purpose leaders of all ages around the globe.
Janasia Walker, Journalism Fellow

Janaisa Walker, our Journalism Fellow, is currently a sophomore at Syracuse University, the first member of her family to attend college. A talented writer with a passion for justice, Janaisa reports, writes about youth justice and supports our youth-produced content.



Jennifer Wheary, Founder & Co-Editor, First to Finish College
Jennifer is a former senior fellow with the policy organization Demos and writes regularly about education and economic opportunity for a wide variety of national publications. She is founder and co-editor of First to Finish College, a joint Demos-SparkAction media and research project dedicated to supporting first generation college students and the organizations that serve them.

 Prior to joining Demos, Jennifer worked in the academic, nonprofit, and private sectors. She consulted for schools in South America, designed and launched a successful online science journal, co-founded an adult literacy program, helped build a new business division at an Internet startup, and headed interactive research for the largest Spanish-language media company in the U.S. A first-generation college student herself, Jennifer holds a B.S. from Cornell University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.