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


Elly is a content strategist, journalist, and writer with a love for youth empowerment, advocacy, culture and media. As SparkAction’s Content and Engagement Strategist, she coordinates content production and partnerships, and manages SparkAction’s social media and newsletter. She 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 the Great British Bake Off show, where everyone is kind to each other and always willing to go easy on biscuit critique.

Caitlin Kawaguchi, Digital Engagement Strategist

CKA 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 jewelry 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. 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. 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. 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.

She plans to double-major in criminology and psychology, and enjoys writing, especially about issues pertaining to the justice system and young people. Danielle ultimately plans on going to graduate school and becoming a family court lawyer. She loves being involved with her community and most recently served with a high school heroes program, where she taught third graders about business and economic literacy.



Timeka Braithwaite, Editorial Intern


Originally from Guyana, Timeka is a college student majoring in business administration with an interest in pre-law. She is inspired to work at SparkAction because she admires the organization's focus on uplifting youth and providing a platform for young people to use their voices for advocacy on issues that impact them. As SparkAction's intern, she focuses on assisting the staff with research, writing and creative projects.




Lesley Quizhpe, Editorial Fellow 

Lesley is a recent graduate from New York University where she majored in Politics, Rights & Development and minored in Latinx Studies. Her academic endeavors have involved research and written works around the Latinx community’s relationship to and role within the United States’ power structures. Lesley is currently a paralegal in the Structured Investments team at JPMorgan.

She is passionate about youth political development, financial literacy, immigration law, LGBTQ politics and advocacy for intersectionally marginalized communities. Lesley enjoys playing competitive soccer, reading memoirs and political works and composes personal essays, poems and other creative works in her spare time. Lesley hopes to pursue a joint J.D./PhD program in a few years and continue her passion for social justice, protest politics, law, finance and social-political identity formations through future academic, experiential and career opportunities.

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."

Janaisa Walker, Youth Voice Editorial Contributor
Janaisa Walker was raised in Brooklyn, New York where she attended Brooklyn Collaborative School and graduated as a Gates Millennium Scholar. In school, she was known for her ability to stay involved as a Wolves Cheerleader, Council Member of the New York City Police Department Youth Council, English Teacher Assistant, Intern at Bernard College, an Outward-Bound Mentor. She is now a junior in The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, where she became a US-UK Fulbright Commissions Summer Participant, she is a Student Conduct Board Member, an intern at the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service , an Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs panelist, and a Higher Education Opportunity Program Ambassador, taking every opportunity to speak with younger, first generation college students offering support and encouragement as they transition from high school to college. Janaisa’s field of study in college is Policy Studies and Public Communications with a concentration is in society and the legal system. 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.
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.