2023 Fall Conference Presenters

KEYNOTE - Perrin Chick, Project manager & coach at ACRES

Perrin’s passion for amplifying youth voices and her love of after school educators is known across the country.

For years Perrin has been leading the ACRES project and connecting with educators and mentoring coaches. The ACRES project and Perrin’s personal vision statement relate to these principles: “When we connect and we reflect on our practice and with others in the after school community, we improve our confidence and skills in facilitating STEM.”  “STEM is everywhere.” AND “The questions we ask matter when it comes to understanding youth’s thinking.” 


Perrin started working on this National Science Foundation grant through Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance in 2016. The ACRES Project  works to connect out-of-school providers to STEM resources through hands-on and minds- on, in-person and more importantly virtual professional development. Perrin began her career as a classroom teacher. She facilitated her 6th grade math and science classes through a mix of outdoor exploration, community service efforts and lots and lots of experimentation.  Perrin took a leap of faith after teaching and pursued her childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist by serving as the Education Director of a Marine Science Museum located on NH’s coastline. Perrin has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Conservation. Perrin’s Master of Education degree is from the University of New Hampshire, where she focused her efforts on integrating technology into informal education.


Cadence Pentheny (they/them) is Triangle Community Center’s passionate Community Education Manager, with a demonstrated commitment to supporting and advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community primarily through training and education. They hold a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and a Graduate Certificate in Human Sexuality. In their free time they enjoy thrifting, making art, writing, reading, listening to podcasts, and fussing over their plants.

Ayana Melvan

Ayana Melvan is the Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships for Mission Programs at Mystic Aquarium. Ayana is responsible for cultivating strategic partnerships that will substantially grow Mission Programs reach, revenue, and impact with a strong focus on environmental justice and racial equity. Ayana Melvan came from the United Way of Rhode Island. Ayana has worked in the field of youth development and education for over 20 years in several capacities, including most recently heading up the Youth Development work at United Way, and leading the Rhode Island Afterschool Network, with a heavy focus on environmental justice with a racial equity lens. Ayana has led work with local and statewide initiatives including the Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston on ending racism and helping the City of Cranston create more equitable opportunities for youth and families. She has also led the work on eliminating the school to prison pipeline in Rhode Island for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) youth with national and local entities. Ayana has worked as a partner with Mystic Aquarium for over a decade in Connecticut and Rhode Island to help bring conservation-focused STEM education opportunities to lower income and BIPOC youth in out-of-school time. In her spare time, Ayana enjoys hanging out with her family at the beach, pool side, or outdoors and loves living in Westerly, RI. She spends most of her free time with her husband Mark, father Dwight, and two beautiful and amazing children Phoenix and Kingston along with Percy and Pippin’ the furbabies of the house.

Charlene Voyce

Charlene has spent her career championing the inclusion of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in all spaces where children live, learn and play. Most recently, she served as the Director of Out-of-School Time Initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence where she designed curricula and professional development resources that build the SEL skills of young people and the adults who work with them. Prior to that, she served as project director for a series of studies on the impact of SEL programming on behavior, health, and academic outcomes. Currently, she focuses on developing resources and professional learning opportunities for youth development professionals. In addition to her SEL work, she is an advocate for individuals with disabilities in medical, school, workforce, and community settings.

Armela Toro Waters

Armela (Mela) Toro Waters, MS, MAIOP, is an Emotional Intelligence facilitator, coach, educator and organizational design consultant who focuses in integrating emotional intelligence to creating inclusive cultures in arts organizations and schools. Mela has experience working in CT schools since 2005, including After School Care, Preschool, K-8 and higher education. She is a certified coach from New York University. Mela holds Master’s degrees in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Instructional Design. Currently Mela serves as the Director of Product and Training at Accordant Advisors, where she consults, coaches, and creates tools and processes, including the Accordant Advisors Inclusion Index. In the past year, she was a fellow at Creating Inclusive Effective Organizations (CEIO) in New Haven and taught Mindfulness at Friends Center for Children. Previously, Mela oversaw training and coaching at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, bringing social emotional learning skills to over 4000 schools nationally and internationally. Mela enjoys podcasts, creative writing, dance, and fun times with her family.

Dr Hedi

Dr. Heidi Gold is a scientist dedicated to the education of young children in science. She is a leader in building alliances to help alleviate the socio-economic opportunity gap. Thirty years ago, she developed and founded Little Scientists®, a hands-on, minds-on science curriculum program. In 2017, motivated by a serious disparity in educational resources available to all students, she founded a non-profit organization, Great Science for All (GSFA). The goal of GSFA is to provide science educational opportunities for challenged socio-economic communities and children in grades Pre-K through 8th grade. The organization looks to close the achievement gap and provide future career opportunities for these children in the Innovation – Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine(I-STEM) fields. Over the years, she has had many different roles in the field of Science, these include researcher, instructor, teacher, adjunct professor, keynote speaker and numerous consulting engagements to corporations, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. She has authored scientific articles in Science, PNAS, and Cell, and created 450 manuals for teaching hands-on, minds-on, inquiry and practice-based science to students from Pre-K to 8th Grade. She developed Making Science Make Sense kits for Bayer Pharmaceutical Company and authored five elementary school science books published by McGraw-Hill. A highlight in Dr. Heidi’s early career, was being part of a scientific research team, whose discoveries lead to a Nobel Prize in chemistry for her thesis advisor, Dr. Sidney Altman at Yale University. Dr. Heidi received her undergraduate A.B. degree cum laude, in Biochemistry, from, Cornell University and her graduate degrees in Biology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, from, Yale University. When Heidi is not working, she loves spending time with her husband Jay and their 3 children. She enjoys nature, sailing, swimming, skiing, photography, computer coding, and playing bridge.


Nichelle Harris is the CEO and Principal Education Consultant for Ten Speed Consulting. Nichelle uses her 30+ years of expertise within informal education programs to advise and coach OST educators, administrators, and classroom teachers to meet the increasingly complex demands of the youth we all serve. Nichelle encourages the nurturing of positive workplace culture and a positive growth mindset in professional practice to increase outcomes for children. She is the past chair and past Executive Director of the Ohio Afterschool Network, a Leadership Ohio Fellow, a past C.S. Mott Foundation White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellow, a National Afterschool Association Emotional Intelligence Fellow and has chaired several national leadership committees for the Out-of-School-Time field. Harris is also a seasoned national presenter on building collaborations and adult learning strategies. Harris holds a BS in Education from the Ohio State University.


Recognizing that children need balance and focus in their lives, Lani Rosen-Gallagher (M.Ed., RYT 200, RCYT) first incorporated yoga into her daily schedule while teaching first grade in Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY over 20 years ago. Dozens of kid’s yoga and mindfulness trainings later, she created Full of Joy Yoga & Mindful Yoga Breaks and set out on the path of bringing yoga to kids into their school day. She has taught thousands of children in preschools, public schools, yoga studios, libraries and events from the Bay Area to New Haven, CT where she is currently located. Training others to teach yoga to children is one of Lani’s passions, as she realizes she can reach many more children by sharing her skills and talents with other adults. Since 2006, she has organized and led her Full of Joy Yoga Kids Yoga Teacher Trainings for parents, teachers, and yogis all over the country. She created the Mindful Yoga Breaks curriculum along with the Anchor Breath poster & Mindful Yoga Breaks Card deck which she has been teaching in schools all over CT since 2015. She also facilitates The Mindful Yoga Breaks Workshop in conferences & schools in person as well as online. Her main goal has been to get yoga & mindfulness into every school! In 2021, Lani published a book called “Yoga Games for Kids.”


Marcela holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and a Licentiate Degree in
English and Portuguese Language and Literature with a concentration on
Bilingualism. She has been in the early education field for almost 15 years,
having worked with Early Childhood and Elementary Education in bilingual and
international schools both in Brazil and in the United States, and provided
support and mentorship for families and educators in different settings.
With a passion for child development and family relations, Marcela believes that
by connecting with children through love and compassion we can build strong
relationships and teach valuable life skills, which she strives to do as a teacher
and a parent.
Currently, Marcela is a certified teacher and parent educator by the Positive
Discipline Association and is also an active member of her community as
Region 5’s Parent Ambassador for the OEC’s Parent Cabinet Initiative.

Richardson Training and Consulting, LLC was founded by Taiwan D. Richardson. Tai, a native of New Haven, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with a Minor in Communication. He has over twenty-three years of experience in social justice, criminal justice, mental health, workshop facilitation, college, and career prep. Through his personal and professional experience, Tai seeks to “Engage Hearts, Inform Minds, Encourage Action and Inspire Excellence” for individuals to identify their unique skills and talents to achieve the goals that they have established for themselves.


Ashton joined the Network in April 2023. She is a former 21st CCLC and State After School Grant Program Director with extensive experience working with out-of-school time programs to develop strategies to promote positive learning climates and support all learners’ social and emotional well-being.  Her most recent work was adapting a free Social and Emotional Learning approach specifically for out-of-school time programs. She hopes to continue strengthening and prioritizing SEL skills, trauma-informed practices, and emotional well-being in Connecticut.  Ashton received her graduate certification from the University of New Haven and her Bachelor of Science from Southern Connecticut State University. She is active on the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber Foundation board and a volunteer coordinator with the Postpartum Support International Connecticut. Ashton enjoys DIY home and craft projects, food, wine, and spending time with her family of three.

Kathy Wilby has worked in the field of early care and education for many years and in every setting from licensed family, child care center, and after school programs. She has been trained in the many tools used for quality improvement in each of these settings. A partial list includes the ECERS-R (Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, ASQ (After School Quality), and the BAS (Business Administration Scale – Family Child Care. She was an online instructor at Charter State College for ten years and now works with 211 Child Care as an Early Childhood Specialist.

LaToya Fernandez

Aa a Mother, educator, and activist, LaToya Fernandez dedicates her career to equity and justice. As an award-winning author, educator and administrator LaToya paved the way for reform in many spaces. As a state delegate representing her assembly district in San Jose California LaToya Founded “Afro Upris” which became an established partner with voting power on the Democratic Central committee. As the Founder and President Latoya utilized this space to educate, empower and support Black and Latinx leaders who had political aspirations. As an advocate for young people, LaToya founded YouthHype, a community-based organization focused on empowering youth from marginalized communities. This group led youth voices on commissions and committees on a number of issues including affirmative action, juvenile justice reform and the LGBTQ youth housing crisis. June 19th is declared YouthHype Day in Santa Clara California as a way to honor the 8 years of social justice change made by LaToya and her students. LaToya’s leadership was called to action by the Mayor of San Jose California where she led and co-created with youth; boards and committees that helped to reimagine a more equitable city. Some of these boards included: Re imagining public safety, community interview processes for Police Chief selection, Re imagining Equity in Transportation and restorative justice in education. LaToya has received congressional recognition for her community service, she has been awarded by the California State Assembly and members of the Senate as an Education Leader, she has been awarded by the Santa Clara County Commission on The Status of Women as a “community champion” and in her exit from California was recognized and awarded as one of “Silicon Valley’s Most Influential Women”. LaToya returned to Connecticut about two years ago and hit the ground running taking on restorative justice training within the juvenile and child welfare. system. LaToya is the first Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer in the City of Norwalk and continues to facilitate training around the state.