A graduate of Howard University with a background in Communications. Decota was born and raised in the Bronx by way of Jamaica. Hailing from a single parent home and growing up in one of the most disenfranchised communities in New York City, Decota has experienced the affects of living and surviving in an under served community. Working with students that look like her and live in the same area she grew up in brings joy to Decota’s heart knowing she can share her experience with others. It is for this very reason she BUILDS. Combining nine years of experience in communications in the entertainment, arts, and lifestyle space and five years in community engagement. Decota joined the BUILD NYC team as its Community Engagement Manager, and is now the Director of Strategic Partnerships, NYC . In her spare time she enjoys listening to music, grounding, traveling and experiencing all the world has to offer. She would ultimately like to create safe spaces for students in under-resourced communities to fully exercise their potential and be given the same opportunities as their counterparts.
Residing in Harlem, New York by way of Benin, West Africa. Justin Lokossou has spent the majority of his life in the service to students. As a curriculum designer, educator, academic advisor, and fencing instructor, Justin has worked with students from grades K through 12, and has since focused his passion towards working with high school students. He enjoys long walks on the beach, riding his bicycle, judo, lying about enjoying walks on the beach (he and sand do not get along, the sand knows what it did), and writing amusing biographies about himself. This is amusing bio #8. Justin hopes to bring his love of writing, poetry, fantasy fiction, music and comic culture into designing an engaging curriculum for BUILD that will help students not only see themselves in their lesson, but fulfill and exceed their own expectations of how great they can become.
Kenya is a dynamic community organizer and youth developer committed to the transformation and upliftment of youth, young adults and their families. She currently serves as Program Director with BUILD NYC. Prior to build, Kenya spent over a decade with University Settlement, a nonprofit that provides services throughout University Settlement.
As Community School Director, Kenya led a team of professionals in planning and implementing enrichment programs for youth, young adults and families, building relationships with stakeholders in the community, and raising funding to sustain and propel youth development forward.
Kenya holds a B.A. in psychology from Barnard College, a Masters of Social Work from Hunter College.
Maria Raftelis has more than a decade of fundraising experience in education. Before joining BUILD, Maria served as Associate Director of Foundation Relations at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. In this role, she oversaw fundraising for the Center of Radiological Research (CRR) and worked with medical faculty across the College to raise funds for research. Prior to Columbia University, Maria served as Grant Writer at the City College Fund, the fundraising organization of the City College of New York (CCNY). During my nine year tenure at the City College Fund, Maria expanded the College’s portfolio of institutional donors to double institutional giving.
Maria resides in the Bronx with her husband and son. A graduate of the New York City public school system, Maria believed every student should have access to an excellent education that inspires them to dream and achieve their full potential.
Maria holds a Bachelor’s degree in Individualized Studies from New York University and a Master’s degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago.
Naya Samuel is a native New Yorker, experienced community organizer, and writer. She joins the Build NYC team with over a decade of experience working across performing arts and digital media industries, including positions at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Intercept, Field of Vision, TOPIC Studios, and more. She’s regularly contributed to Sports Illustrated via Empower Onyx, covering the stories of Black women in sports. She manages the community music collective CORPUS Family, focusing on free community programming, youth initiatives, local artist support, and overall fundraising, through the lens of music education in NYC.
She works with a vested interest in the intersections of Black culture and liberation locally and globally; hyper-local community organizing and amplifying the next generation of New Yorkers; and emergent strategies that mobilize and empower marginalized groups, especially Black femmes, and trans and queer youth. She’s excited to join BUILD to provide tangible access and resources, help young people re-imagine and refine their skill sets; and create truly intersectional, intentional spaces for young folks to foster their communities. She also loves traveling, reading, cooking Trinidadian food, and spending time with her dog Roti.
Pam has spent the majority of her career in the financial services sector where she worked at a range of boutique and bulge bracket firms including Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Mogavero, Lee. Her diverse experience encompasses investment banking, institutional sales and marketing. She has always been passionate about educational equity and child and family welfare and has served as a mentor and nonprofit board member for over twenty years. In 2017, Pam joined the BUILD NYC team where she is responsible for all fundraising activities. Pam graduated from the University of Virginia with Highest Distinction and received her MBA from Columbia Business School.
Sarah Malonda was born and raised in Queens, New York, and was the daughter of Indonesian immigrants. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with a degree in Political Science. She’s interested in local politics and community organizing — and has been participating in outreach events like getting people registered to vote, informing folks about upcoming elections, and visiting local businesses to pass out PPE and other resources. She is committed to helping under-resourced communities such as her own and she is a strong advocate of student engagement in school, so she truly believes in the work BUILD NYC is doing.
Timothy Ruffin joins the BUILD NYC team after years of classroom and curriculum writing experience at the high school, college and non-profit levels. As an entrepreneur and educator himself, Timothy believes that success in the 21st century will be achieved by those students who have learned the essential skills to develop their own businesses, while constantly pursuing academic achievement because they will be able to adapt to life’s challenges regardless of any societal issues. As a person who was able to overcome the many pitfalls of growing up in an underserved community, Timothy is committed to ensuring that every BUILD student has the opportunity to grow, prosper and make systemic changes in their communities. Timothy holds a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in African American history and two master’s degrees, one in the social sciences and the other in education.
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