Assistant Dance Instructor (Alumna)
College Access Facilitator
Adventure Learning Facilitator
Instructor, Summer Academy (Alumna)
Instructor, Adventure Learning, Sexual & Reproductive Health, Self-defense (Alumna)
Instructor, Peer Educators (Alumna)
Instructor, College-Prep (Alumna)
Lead Dance Instructor
Annel Leerdam joined Next Level Dancers at age 11 and has attended ever since. She soon discovered that she definitely wanted to pursue dance as a lifetime career, and started to train seriously; she has been performing with NLD’s elite traveling team four over four years. Annel graduated from the Theatre Arts Production Company School (Tapco) where she attended 6th-12th grades. She majored in dance, but got a glimpse of visual art, set design, acting and music. She is now a full time student at Borough of Manhattan Community College pursuing her Associate’s Degree. Annel’s dedication, commitment, talent and leadership skills motivated Lead Instructor Mickey Sakai to guide her into professional classes, encourage her to choreograph pieces for NLD (as a student) and finally apply for the Assistant Instructor position when it opened up. Annel looks forward to teaching and mentoring girls just like her.
Born and raised in the South Bronx, Rakeesha often performed dances, songs and put on plays with friends for annual fundraisers, showcases and other competitions. She would use her artistic talents as a form of self-expression. It was then that Rakeesha knew that whatever she did in life had to have a creative element to it. She received her B.S in Communication Arts with a concentration in Advertising, Marketing, Television and Radio from St. John’s University. From 2004-2012, Rakeesha worked with the Program for Girls and Young Women, first part-time as a facilitator for the Project VIP (drama), later also facilitating several classes including Music (Singing), health classes, and GROWN, a creative expression class that allowed girls and young women share their voice through creative writing. In search for something more, after being challenged by a student for college assistance, Rakeesha decided to move into the College Access and Success field. Over her six years in College Access and Success, Rakeesha focused on assisting those with a High School Equivalency Diploma, Transfer High School Diploma and those with a system involvement (ie. Foster Care, Juvenile Justice or Homelessness) in getting into college. She has done several workshops and sat in on panels to lend her expertise. In 2017 Rakeesha got her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Northeastern University. She plans to keep growing into higher levels leadership roles and to eventually start her own nonprofit in the Arts and Education. In the meantime, we are thrilled to have her back on staff leading College Access!
Monica, a Bronx native and an avid nature lover, returns to the programs at NSA as the lead facilitator of Girls Encourage, where she applies her numerous years of outdoor education experience. Monica holds a B.A. in English Literature and a Master of Social Work from Lehman College. Monica is also currently pursuing her Master of Early Childhood Education. Monica’s facilitating experiences stem from over 20 years working in outdoor education programs in Connecticut and New York. Her passion and empathic abilities are mirrored from her full time job as an elementary school teacher and social worker. Monica’s mix of humor, positive energy, and tough love motivates the program’s participants to set attainable goals and step outside of their comfort zones.
Joy holds a BFA from NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing, with additional concentration in Theater in the Community. As a teaching artist working for Children & The Classics, Joy began implementing Project V.I.P. at New Settlement in 1997. During that time, she developed the basic methodology for Project V.I.P. (dramatic writing and performance) for girls; directed shows for CBO-based after-school programs in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; led city-wide training workshops in arts and literacy through Partnership for After-School Education; and provided technical assistance and consultation to over 30 partner agencies conducting arts and literacy projects. In 2004, Joy went to work full-time for New Settlement, launching an expanded Program for Girls and Young Women that built upon the success of Project V.I.P. with added programming to address sexual and reproductive health, leadership development, college preparedness and more. She coordinates partnerships that supplement the program design, and guides the development and training of a diverse and dedicated staff with whom it is her sincere pleasure to work. Joy is especially proud these days that more than half of the current program staff are former program participants.
Tasheema holds a B.A. in English from Binghamton University (SUNY) with a concentration in Creative Writing, and is currently pursuing her MSW at Lehman College. She is a co-facilitator of multiple programs including Project V.I.P., Girl Talk (leadership development), all of our sexual and reproductive health programming, and the summer Peer Educators program. Since joining our staff in 2005, Tasheema has completed extensive training in youth development, including arts education, gender-equity, youth engagement, financial literacy, college preparedness, self-defense and sexual health education. A native of the Bronx, Tasheema spent three summers during college as a lead facilitator of New Settlement’s intensive Bronx Helper’s Super Summer. Her extensive experience working with girls and boys, teen women and men also includes serving as the site director of the Boys and Girls Club of Binghamton, NY, as a program facilitator in the Broome County YMCA, and as an intern in a public elementary school in Binghamton. Since 2008, Tasheema has served as the program’s liaison with an ever-evolving coalition of Bronx organizations collaborating to support young women’s sexual and reproductive health, She lovingly is referred to as ‘Mom’ by many of our program veterans, for her nurturing, humorous, no-nonsense style of leadership.
Tamia Reyes was a member of the Program for Girls & Young Women’s “fun-size crew,” for years, starting at age 11 – one of several pint-sized young women with powerful personalities. Tamia participated in Project V.I.P and all of our leadership and health programming, and served for four years on the Young Women’s Committee, helping to plan program events and making recommendations for Program Design. Tamia graduated from the High School of Art and design, and is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s at Iona College. Tamia’s positive energy, humor, and insightful, responsible leadership make her an awesome instructor for our Summer Arts and Leadership Academy, and we are so pleased that she is spending another summer working with us!
From age 11-18, Kayla participated in the Program for Girls & Young Women in just about every program component, including Project V.I.P. for which she also served as teen staff several times; our GOAL program, and Next Level Dance. Kayla served on our Young Women’s Committee – a youth steering committee planning events participating in additional leadership training — from age 14 to 21, continuing to be involved after HS graduation and into college. Kayla graduated from Brandeis HS and got her Associates from Bronx Community College, then completed her Bachelor’s degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. While in college, Kayla was hired as adult staff for our summer Academy for two years, before accepting a position with Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center as a Health Education Counselor, working directly with students within their Successfully Transitioning Youth to Adulthood initiative. Kayla now splits her time between a full-time position as BLHC’s Program Manager, Department of Pediatrics, and teaching classes for our program, including health, self-defense, college prep and adventure learning.
Destiny Walker first came into contact with the Program for Girls & Young Women through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), when she selected our Peer Educators program as her work site. Destiny had obtained her GED from Seminole Community College in Sanford, Florida, before moving to New York. She was unsure what direction to take with her life, but liked the idea of working with youth. In summer 2009, Destiny became part of our pilot group of 12 young women who trained as Peer Educators in both sexual health and substance abuse prevention. In a group of peers that bonded closely and showed striking creativity and initiative, Destiny stood out above the rest for her diligence, sensitivity and instincts in planning and leading age appropriate workshops. At the end of that summer Destiny was hired as a junior instructor by New Settlement’s after-school program at PS 64, later promoted to group leader. With the opening of New Settlement’s after-school program at Mount Eden Children’s Academy (MECA x555), Destiny moved into a position as Group Leader there. Since summer of 2010, Destiny has served as an Assistant Facilitator for our Peer Educators program every summer, where she uses her prior experience as a participant and current experience as an after-school teacher to bring useful insights and creative suggestions to each new cadre of young educators in training.
Luisanna Sosa participated in the Program for Girls & Young Women from age 11-18, before graduating from HS and then getting her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and French from SUNY New Paltz. Luisanna was an active member of our Young Women’s steering committee from age 14-18, helping to plan program events, conducting outreach and attending leadership development events. She participated in GOAL, and served as teen staff for Project V.I.P. for multiple semesters, later teaching Project V.I.P. as adult staff during the summer. While enrolled at SUNY New Paltz, Luisanna double majored in communications and French. Luisanna spent a year studying in France, where she developed a taste for travel as well as French cuisine. Post college, Luisanna worked for a year at Public Allies Ameri Corps at Project Renewal. Currently, she holds a full-time position as a College Counselor at Bronx Lab School, while also leading College Prep workshops with our GOAL Program.
Mikala Sakai, also known as “Mickey”, is a native New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx. With a visionary gift of movement, Mickey weaves a story through not only the beat, but through her interpretation of lyrics and the stories they tell. She has always had a passion for teaching and enjoys helping to shape and inspire young dancers that have an interest and passion for dance and the culture. Whether it’s fun, a stress reliever or a professional career choice, she truly believes any kind of progress is a process and that is their story to tell!