PROGRAM WEEKEND OVERVIEW
POSITIONALITY + COMMUNITY
STORYTELLING + NARRATIVE
Meet your podmates
Alex (she/they) currently lives in Richmond, VA. She is a Community Organizer for REPRO Rising VA. They are excited to make new connections and co-conspire with a diverse group of likeminded folks in new spaces. Fun fact: Alex is a flow artist and used to be part of a performance group doing fire spinning gigs all over RVA including the VA State Fair, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, the Science Museum of VA and more! She also loves music and has been going to live concerts and music festivals since they were around 12 years old.
Antonia (ella/she) is a proud domestic worker and loves domestic work. She has worked as a domestic worker since the age of 15 and came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago while working as a domestic worker for a diplomat family. It was her own experiences of abuse and the lack of protections that she saw in the domestic work industry that led her to become an organizer of domestic workers in 2000. She began organizing domestic workers at CASA Maryland, an NDWA affiliate, and participated in the founding of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007 as a representative of CASA. For 5 years she was the North American representative to the International Domestic Workers Federation and in 2017, she helped found the DMV Chapter of NDWA, where she is currently one of its Co-Directors.
Camila (she/her) lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She is a first-generation Venezuelan immigrant and recently a naturalized US citizen. Camila works in local government and previously on political campaigns. She started her work in childcare and the service industry, and she uses this background to inform her advocacy and frame her thinking. Camila is the eldest sister with two brothers
She is passionate about helping others up the proverbial ladder and lowering the barrier to entry into politics and advocacy work. She always strives to educate others so they can feel empowered when entering spaces that may not be built for them and be more effective in their work.
Camila is excited to focus on the ways we can strengthen and continue to build strong communities. She is excited to connect with fellow progressives and work on coalition building and creating productive conversations.
A fun fact about Camila is that she has an expansive collection of fun earrings.
Celeste (she/her) is from and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia. Celeste graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2021 and has served as a Virginia Management Fellow for the state government since. She loves the premise of VAPLP and is excited to meet and learn from everyone! Celeste is also excited to touch on the areas of focus: positionality + community, storytelling + narrative, grassroots organizing, and community-centric fundraising. A fun fact about her is that she has multiple gold medals in grappling and judo.
Cheyenne (they/any) lives in Richmond, Virginia. They are a food access enthusiast, farmer, and seed saver. Cheyenne is black and indigenous (Munsee Delaware Nation). They are passionate about farming for food justice and to fulfill their responsibility to the seeds that have fed and healed their people for generations. Cheyenne is into literature, art, and being outdoors. They are excited to meet, learn, and grow with other Virginian activists and expand their knowledge base especially in their areas of growth. Cheyenne has been to 25 out of the 41 VA state parks, 10 of them in a 10 day road trip!
Emily (she/her) resides in Richmond, on occupied Powhatan land. She is an abolitionist, a convener, and an agitator. Her professional role is Policy Analyst at Voices for Virginia’s Children, where her work is centered in uplifting the voices of young people and funneling the strength of those collective voices towards deep, structural changes. Emily believes that our shared liberation and collective healing is of the greatest importance, and she is excited to be in community with other folx working towards achieving those goals through advocacy, civic engagement, grassroots organizing, and community healing. Fun fact about Emily, she studied French for 12 years (it was her minor in college) and during undergrad she lived in Québec and attended Université Laval for a summer.
Hyacinth Bellerose (they/them) is a queer community organizer from Harrisonburg, Virginia. They are the founder and director of Friendly City Safe Space an LGBTQ+ safe space and community center in downtown Harrisonburg. They are passionate about the work of liberation, disrupting the gender binary, and unpacking the impact of white supremacy in their body and work. Hyacinth is particularly excited about building a community of progressive leaders in Virginia with VAPLP and the opportunity to engage in mentorship with other queer leaders in the state. A fun fact about them is that they have written a fantasy novel and regularly lead games of Dungeons and Dragons from their home!
Kajsa (she/her) is a northern Virginia native, but has recently moved to Richmond where she works at the Virginia Poverty Law Center as an Outreach Coordinator. Kajsa is really excited to meet her cohort and learn about the work they’re doing all across the state. Her fun fact is that she is a (distant) relative of Stevie Wonder!
Kelly (she/her) is a resident of Petersburg Virginia. She so loves living here and being apart of a thriving community. Kelly is the Program Manager assisting Community Health Workers (CHW) with the Institute for Public Health Innovation. She has been driving community connections through an interpersonal approach to networking, resource allocations and identifying proactive partnerships statewide. She is excited to learn, grow and expand how she shows up and being thoughtful to others’ thoughts and ideas. Kelly has done tandem sky diving.
Kirndeep (she/her) is currently based in Lorton, VA, but she routinely refers to herself as a COVID-displaced person since before the pandemic, she was living in New York City, finishing her master’s degree at the intersection of politics, education, and sustainability.
For the past three years, Kirndeep has been working as a sustainability consultant, where she works to advocate for just and equitable sustainable strategies. Her background before joining the environmental movement was in education and workforce development, and she is most excited to reconnect with community-based solutions through the VAPLP program.
She loves to travel and learn about different cultures through food and language. She has been able to study 5 languages over the years and hopes to pick a few more in the future!
Luis (he/him) is originally from Lima, Peru, and currently resides in Reston. As a Board Certified Public Health Specialist and Licensed Physician in Peru, his professional focus is on serving underserved communities and the youth population. In his current role as a Community Organizer for Opportunity Neighborhoods Herndon, he is actively working towards this goal.
VAPLP has captured his interest as it presents an opportunity to enhance his leadership skills and access tools that will allow him to better serve his community. Moreover, Luis looks forward to connecting and learning from other leaders in Virginia.
Fun fact, Luis runs a YouTube channel with his girlfriend that focuses on Korean culture and our experiences living in DMV as an international couple. Don’t forget to like, leave a comment, and subscribe!
MeShawn (they/them) currently resides in Harrisonburg, Va but is originally from Richmond, Va. They are an LGBTQ advocate and organizer, especially for youth, through a number of different organizations in their community. MeShawn is super excited to be joining a group of leaders who share a common interest in liberation work. They are looking forward to learning, networking, and growing throughout this experience!
Fun fact: Their first time ever flying was to Accra, Ghana!
Shemika (she/her) lives in Leesburg, Virginia with her wonderful spouse Shannon. She is an USAF veteran, turned full-time college student studying Social Justice and Human Rights at George Mason University. A fun fact about Shemika is that she has lived in 5 different countries and visited over 15 in the last 20 years.
Sophia (she/her) lives in Richmond, VA. She has a bubbly personality. She is excited about this new experiences loves video games.
Triston (he/him) lives in Herndon, Virginia (Fairfax County). He is a commercial litigation and pro bono federal appeals attorney at Blank Rome LLP. Triston is a former federal judicial law clerk to the Honorable James M. Munley of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and an appellate judicial law clerk to the Honorable Jack A. Panella of the Pennsylvania Superior Court. He previously served as an adjunct professor of law for legal writing at his alma mater, the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University. He also served as a legal writing instructor for the Council on Legal Education Opportunity’s (“CLEO”) six-week Summer Institute, a pre-law program and a national nonprofit organization founded in 1968 designed to expand opportunities for minority and low-income students to attend law school.
During law school, Triston served as the president of the Dickinson Law Moot Court Board and was a founder of Dickinson Law’s O’Savio Moot Court Competition. He also served as team captain of Dickinson Law’s National Trial Team, and received multiple academic scholarships and awards, including the CALI Excellence for the Future Award in Intellectual Property Law.
He is a die hard NBA fan. He loves to run. He loves cooking for family and friends. Triston is big on style and fashion, and has recently developed a love for suit shopping.
Triston is excited to create a community and develop relationships with other individuals who want to make the world a better place. He is also excited to learn as much as he can from community leaders and those who have come before him. He is still figuring out the best way he can best contribute to society with his background and credentials. Triston is looking forward to joining VAPLP and having this organization be a part of his journey.
Fun fact, his cousin was Bob Marley’s manager. Triston’s dad is the muffin man.
Meet the MENTORS
Policy & Legislative Counsel | ACLU of Virginia
Mentorship means many different things to me, but what I most resonate with is guidance. For folks (in particular young and newer folks)interested in advocacy, it can be daunting and feel inaccessible. As a mentor, I hope to share my knowledge and experience in community involved and centered advocacy.
Councilman | City of Alexandria
Mentorship means providing guidance/support/insight to another and continuing one’s own journey of learning.
Associate Director of Political Outreach, Mid-Atlantic Region | American Jewish Committee
Mentorship means listening with humility. You are a soundboard, a network source, a confidant and a cheerleader. A mentor is there to show the connections between the dots and help connect a mentees hopes with action.
Mentorship is a reminder that we (organizers, leaders, advocates, etc,) aren’t alone in our work. Sometimes, we have to vent but only a handful of people fully understand the work or we need an objective view to an issue. Mentorship provides that listening ear or objective eye.
Deputy Director of Policy | The Commonwealth Institute
Mentorship is about expanding opportunities and possibilities for an individual. This can be done by meeting folks where they are and providing guidance and encouragement when appropriate in a non-judgemental and trusting environment. Depending on the conversation, I might do more listening than talking and vice-versa.
Entrepreneur & State Delegate
Making room for people on the rise to gain from your leadership or lived experiences.
Helping people build a passion for learning to
Practicing empathy and active listening
Being kind, but with honest feedback
Developing my expertise on a daily basis
Organizing Coordinator | SEIU Virginia 512
Mentorship means relationship-building, collaborating, and sharing ideas.
Advocacy & Engagement Manager | Voices for Virginia’s Children
Mentorship is a mutually agreed upon, complementary relationship (personal and/or professional). To be a mentor is an opportunity to impart all of the wisdom and lessons learned, especially those you wish someone had told you. To be a mentee is to have a resource with lived or living expertise in areas that are also in or are pursuing. I love having mentors that are older, younger, similar, and vastly different from me.
Legislative Coordinator | RISE for Youth
Mentorship allows me to pass on the information, knowledge, time invested in me, amd more to someone else with a shared issue focus
Public Sector, Fairfax County
Mentoring is guiding and giving one resources so they can reach their potential.
Revenue Campaign Manager | The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis
For me, mentorship has always been about being intentional about who is left out of the room, and how we can build a pipeline for more diverse voices to be included. I’ve almost exclusively mentored people of color, queer people, and immigrants to build their leadership skills and no longer be left out to decision making tables.
Business Owner- Richmond Public Schools
It’s an opportunity to build a lasting relationship that can be personal or professional in how it enhances and ignites growth and success. Mentorship and acknowledgement of it is imperative for moving in life. At some point one, is mentored, guided or encouraged to be, learn, grow, or develop. It’s best to know or have a connection that allows the mentorship to sustain its meaning and purpose.
Senior Program Manager | Everybody Votes Campaign
I believe being a mentor is by its very function can profoundly have a positive impact on someones life and career. Mentorship to me, is how I will leave my legacy on this earth. Not by accumulating wealth for the sake of it but pulling the next person up, empowering my community and lifting up the next generation of leaders. For me, a good mentorship relationship requires that my mentee sees me as a value add in their life and career in some way and I in return dedicate myself to constantly being available to them guidance and advice.
Senior Trans Rights Attorney | ACLU of Virginia
Mentorship is intentionally creating a space of trust and honesty, where someone knows they can go for non-judgmental listening, workshopping ideas, and support/resources.
Self Employed/ Empower All, LLC.
I am a Teacher at heart. The opportunity to share our trials and tribulations with someone who has already taken interest in activism is necessary. The ability to mentor or guide someone else through work that has been done helps to move the needle towards solutions and justice.
Meet the VAPLP Team
Elyssa Feder (she/her) is the Executive Director of Rising Organizers and Rising Organizers Action and a Contributing Facilitator (W3) with VAPLP. She has over a decade of experience as an organizer and trainer, and has held roles as the Training Director for EMILY’s List and Deputy Training Director at Priorities USA, the largest Democratic Super PAC. While at EMILY’s List, she created multiple new training programs, including the Ignite Change Fellowship, which trains women from underrepresented communities to increase their presence in political office and grow the pipeline of candidates of color. She co-founded Rising Organizers in 2016 to provide core grassroots organizing skills to emerging activists and organizers. The organization has since gone on to train 3,000 individuals and hold ten intensive community organizing fellowships, with alumni now organizing in states across the country. All told, Elyssa has trained over 10,000 activists, political operatives, and candidates in the pursuit of social justice and civic engagement. In 2020, Elyssa was recognized for her work by being named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 40 Women Under 40. She holds degrees, with honors, from The George Washington University and London School of Economics. Elyssa’s cookie of choice is a snickerdoodle – that chewy goodness full of cinnamon, just right.
Irene (she/her) serves as the Executive Director of VCET and a Facilitator for VAPLP. Prior to VCET, she served as the Senior Director at Crowdpac, a tech platform focused on combating the influence of big money in politics. Recently, Irene was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the first Korean American woman to serve in the General Assembly. She also serves on the Boards of NAKASEC, the Competitive Commonwealth Fund, and Sister District Project.
Irene is most looking forward to meeting the participants! Hands down, the people of VAPLP is what makes it such an amazing program. Irene, her fiancé, and dog live in the Town of Herndon. In her free time, Irene enjoys… wait what? Free time? What’s that? Fun fact, Irene learned to play the ukulele and bake sourdough during the pandemic.
Isa (she/her) is working with VAPLP as a Program + Operations Associate and is most looking forward to interacting with the pod members and building new relationships. Isa loves to travel and is motivated by building communities everywhere she goes and creating connections through conversation. Isa has taken many different avenues in serving her local, national, and international community through community work, policy research, storytelling and narration, advocacy, training, and education. She is particularly interested in environmental justice and its disproportionate impacts on minoritized communities. Isa has created a Smithsonian Learning Lab on environmental degradation’s impact on Alaska Natives, traveled to Hawai’i to learn about Permaculture and its Indigenous origins, and is a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Isa has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations and minors in Environmental Studies and Philosophy. Isa plans to continue her education by pursuing environmental law and continue serving her community.
Jessica is the co-founder of Groundwork Co-Creative, a social impact consultancy focused on supporting progressive organizations in operationalizing liberation, and a Contributing Facilitator & Curriculum Designer (W4) with VAPLP. With over a decade experience in the nonprofit sector, Jessica supports social justice organizations through grant writing and prospecting, process facilitation, project management, program design, policy advocacy, training, and community organizing. Since Groundwork’s inception in the fall of 2022, Jessica has secured over $5 million in grant funding for Black-led organizations. Jessica also serves on the board of Austin Justice Coalition. Jessica received her Juris Doctorate from University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas, and her bachelors degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Jessica’s love for facilitation comes from her fascination with deconstructing processes to decide what parts are needed and what parts are merely convention. Fun fact, Jessica used to play competitive roller derby internationally with Texas Rollergirls. Jessica grew up in Midlothian, Virginia and deeply misses Strawberry Street Cafe’s cream of crab soup (IYKYK).
John (he/him) currently resides on occupied Monacan and Tutelo land in what is now called Blacksburg in Southwest Virginia, and joined VCET in March 2023 as a Programs + Operations Associate, in which capacity he is so excited to support VAPLP! As a queer Appalachian (a·puh·la·chun), John strives to center connection to place and environment in all that he does. He is active in organizing with displaced peoples, having worked with American Indian and Indigenous communities in the New River Valley and imprisoned persons as a member of the Critical Carceral Studies Lab at Virginia Tech, and hopes to continue growing in this work in the future.
John is invested in supporting leadership growth in others, and most recently worked helming a leadership development program for first-year and transfer students that relies on the Social Change Model and centers leadership as a process of positive change, recognition of relatedness, and connection to community. He is passionate about space- and place-making, leadership, quilts, language studies and etymology, and Mary Oliver poetry. His role models include Miss Piggy (of Muppet fame), Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Winnie the Pooh. Fun fact! John killed a rattlesnake when he was 8 (don’t mess with his cat).
Kristin (she/her/we) resides on occupied Powhatan land in Richmond and graduated from The Great Pod 8 of VAPLP in 2022. She is super excited to join the facilitation team this summer.
Kristin serves as a Contributing Facilitator (W1) with VAPLP. Additionally, she is the Advocacy and Engagement Manager at Voices for Virginia’s Children – a non-partisan advocacy organization that champions public policies and legislation that achieve positive and equitable outcomes for young people. At Voices, Kristin manages and supports Virginia’s Youth in Action, a yearly cohort of young advocates across the Commonwealth learning about Virginia state legislature, storytelling, and advocacy to evoke systems-level change. Prior to working around policy change, Kristin was a crisis and trauma therapist for 2–17-year-olds for almost 7 years and continues to provide therapy as a licensed clinical social worker.
As a facilitator, organizer, and community advocate, Kristin is informed by abolitionist theories, Black feminist and Afrofuturist theories, the Womanist lens, and the Healing-Centered Engagement framework. In her free time, Kristin loves to listen to audiobooks, craft and collage, practice mindfulness, take long meandering walks to nowhere, and indulge in cozy-gaming binges. Fun fact, Kristin is countering her new pandemic social anxiety by taking improv lessons. Yes, AND?!
Nairuti Shastry (she/her) is an educator, engaged scholar, and movement builder working toward racial and economic justice that transcends organizational, cultural, and political borders. She is thrilled to work with VAPLP this summer as a Curriculum Designer because, as a facilitator informed by Freirean pedagogy and a hooksian love ethic, she always enjoys supporting changemakers as they hospice the old and birth the new. When not conspiring with the VCET team, Nairuti works as a social impact consultant, working with teams and communities spanning sectors as diverse as healthcare, education, tech, philanthropy, social services, and international development and finance. Previously, Nairuti served as the Director of Research for Beloved Economies, a story-telling and action initiative demonstrating the power of work to affect economic change. Nairuti has also worked at Johns Hopkins University working to advance place-based community engagement and redistribute capital across historically marginalized communities in Baltimore, but she began her career serving as a Community Impact Fellow at Break Away, promoting quality civic engagement programming to connect campus and community across the States. Nairuti holds a BA in Sociology, French & Francophone Studies, and Public Health from the College of William & Mary and an MBA from LIFT Economy. Fun fact, when living in Baltimore, Nairuti was training to be a real-life Mary Kom at her beloved boxing gym, Corner Team. While the pandemic cut her dreams short, she hopes to rise again, like a Desi fighting phoenix from the ashes of “I’m-not-really-an-athlete-ism”.
Nico (they/them) currently resides on occupied Nacotchatnk land (Washington, DC), and recently joined VCET in January of 2022. As the Leadership Development Manager, they primarily support VAPLP (Facilitator & Curriculum Designer) and the Staff of Color Roundtable. Passionate about social justice, collective liberation, and community solutions, Nico finds home in collective and visionary spaces woven together by queer and trans people.
Nico learned some of their most important political lessons outside the classroom and was first politicized by the work of the Louisville Project in policy debate and their own Filipinx and Puerto Rican diaspora. As a new resident to DC, Nico is starting to get involved in Anakbayan, a movement organization in the US and Philippines; Diverse City Fund, a BIPOC community giving collective; and Stonewall Sports, a LGBTQ+ sports league.
As a facilitator, Nico draws on the teachings of Paulo Freire and bell hooks with a lens of popular education and experiential learning. They are invested in co-creating loving spaces and considers relationships & community to be the basis of their work. Nico’s biggest role models are Gizmo the gremlin, HIM from Powerpuff Girls, and the nerds from nerds candy.
Shani Drake Duncan (she/her) is a Director at New Heights Communications and Contributing Facilitator (W2) with VAPLP. Previously, Shani served as the Director of Marketing & Public Engagement for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. In this role, she led the strategic direction for programming at The Center and headed its marketing efforts. She also served as Campaign Manager for the Center’s Campaign for Equal Dignity, which resulted in thousands of new stakeholders engaging with the Center, tens of thousands of program views, and hundreds of thousands of sponsorship dollars for the organization.. Shani is a career-long marketer, having worked in the music, telecom, and nonprofit industries. In the public sector, Shani has fought for childhood nutrition for kids across the state of Georgia. Shani’s passion is to elevate and amplify the voices of marginalized communities and uplift the work of civil and human rights defenders and advocates. She strives to move people to action to ensure equal dignity for all. Shani is an Atlanta-native who received her B.A. in English from Spelman College and her M.S. in Marketing from Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
Fun Fact: Shani loves to read. However, she has a bad habit of buying new books before finishing all of the books sitting on her shelves. Please don’t judge. 🙂