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YouthCARE's Year-Round Staff

Willie Dean, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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Willie Dean joined YouthCARE as Executive Director in March 2015. He was previously Executive Director of KFAI, a Twin Cities nonprofit radio station. Willie also served 35 years in senior positions with YMCAs in Memphis, Tenn., Fort Worth, Tex., St. Louis, Mo., Omaha, Neb., Cleveland, Ohio, and Arlington, Tex. He also served on the staff of the YMCA of the USA (based in Minneapolis), where he provided support to 700 YMCAs in 18 states. Willie has a passion for working with urban youth to help them succeed and for creating communities that value diversity and inclusion. Willie has an M.B.A. from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Sarah Gerdes
Operations Manager

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Sarah began her involvement with YouthCARE as a Camp Counselor in 2007. She returned in 2012 to serve as the YouthLEAD Director and later the Young Women's Mentoring Program Director. Sarah currently holds the role of YouthCARE's Operations Manager. Prior to working at YouthCARE, she danced as member of Ragamala Dance Company, worked for the Council on International Educational Exchange in Thailand, and spent two years as an AmeriCorps Volunteer for Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE) Inc. Sarah holds B.A. degrees from St. Catherine University in Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity and Oral Communications. She is trainned as a Youth Program Quality External Assessor and Coach. In her spare time she enjoys organizing other people's stuff, facilitating groups, and teaching Bharatanatyam dance.

Isiah Jones
Camp Sunrise Director

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Isiah grew up in north Minneapolis and attended high school in Hopkins, MN. Before being promoted to the Camp Director position, Isiah worked at Camp Sunrise as the Assistant Director, Program Coordinator and Head Counselor. He also supervises the Youth Advisory Council, social and recreational events during the school year, and camper recruitment.

Nardos Tesfalidet
Community Programs Director

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Nardos has been involved with YouthCARE since 2010 when she was hired as a Camp Recruiter. Since then, she has been a Community Service (CS) Stars Crew Leader and an active volunteer with YouthCARE. After graduating from St. Olaf College, she worked with College Possible as a Junior Coach at Humboldt High School and a Special Education Paraprofessional at Community of Peace Academy. Nardos also has a Master's degree in Social Work with a focus in Program Development, Policy and Administration from Augsburg College. She oversees YouthLEAD, Young Women's Mentoring Program, CS Stars, and 21st Century CCLC.

Sue Wagner Sue (Brague) Wagner
Coordinator of Development and Marketing

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Sue began her connection with YouthCARE as a camper at Camp Sunrise in 1980. She went on to be a junior counselor in 1982 and assistant counselor in 1983 and 1984. Following her graduation from Minnesota State University-Moorhead in mass communications, Sue worked for 10 years in college athletics communications at Ferris State University (Big Rapids, Mich.) and at the Mid-American Conference office (Toledo, Ohio). She then served as a communications and technology consultant for several non-profit organizations in Ohio while rearing her children. Sue joins the YouthCARE staff after working for an independent Montessori school in Toledo as the technology teacher and, most recently, as the communications coordinator. Sue enjoys learning new technology, knitting, canoeing, camping, and just being outdoors.

Benjamin Curtis
Camp Sunrise Assistant Director

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Benjamin was born and raised in small town Clio, MI. He double majored in Political Science and Sociology at Saginaw Valley State University in Saginaw, MI. After graduation, he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the United Way of Genesee County in Flint, MI where we worked to improve educational outcomes for students at Brownell-Holmes STEM Academy. Following his year of service, Benjamin decided he wanted a taste of big city life, so he moved to St. Paul to serve as VISTA Leader for the St. Paul VISTA Cohort, where he supported VISTA members serving to close the education gap in the Twin Cities. He discovered youth work to be a true passion, so he accepted the position of Assistant Director for Camp Sunrise. In his free time, Benjamin enjoys working out at the Y, disc golf, road tripping, and being outdoors.

Millie Hernandez
Young Women's Mentoring Program Coordinator – Little Earth of United Tribes

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Millie Hernandez started at YouthCARE in 2001 as a Youth Mentor in the Young Women’s Mentoring Program. She continued to gain experience working at YouthCARE and held positions as an administrative assistant, office manager, head camp counselor, and a program coordinator. Outside YouthCARE, Millie also served the Little Earth of United Tribes as a Community Coordinator through Hennepin County and as a Program Lead with the Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities. Millie has recently returned again to YouthCARE to continue her career in youth development as the Young Women's Mentoring Program Coordinator – Little Earth. In her free time, Millie enjoys spending time with family, attending a variety of community events, and watching documentary films.

Cheyanna Hurd
YouthLEAD Program Specialist - Minneapolis

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Cheyanna Hurd started with YouthCARE in 2016. She was born and raised in the suburbs of Robbinsdale. Prior to working at YouthCARE she was the Administrative Assistant at the Minneapolis American Indian Center and Camp Fire MN as a Club Leader for kids k-5. She has her Associates Degree in Human Service from Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She always knew she wanted to work with people, particularly youth, to encourage empowerment and leadership. In her free time she enjoys playing and talking about sports, spending time with her family, and seeing the world as much as she can! She has a quote that she stands by and encourages others to hear the words, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi.

Da'Shaunte' Marshall
YouthLEAD Program Specialist - St. Paul

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Da’Shaunté Marshall grew up in North Minneapolis in a family which included eight siblings and his mother. He has been involved with YouthCARE since 2006, he started off as a camper and started climbing the leadership ladder. Da’Shaunté has held numerous positions with YouthCARE/Camp Sunrise including being a Junior Counselor, Youth Program Assistant, Assistant Counselor, Head Counselor, Assistant Trail And Equipment Manager and Trail And Equipment Manager at Camp Sunrise. He also worked as a Community Service Star (CS Star) Crew Member and Assistant Crew Leader with the YouthLEAD Program. Da’Shaunté loves the work he does, and also being around youth and being an adult male role model to the youth as well. Additionally, he attended Adult Education School where he received his G.E.D. Da’Shaunte’ is now working with the YouthLEAD program the Program Specialist for St. Paul youth.

Gary Smith
YouthLEAD Program Specialist - Little Earth of United Tribes

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Gary began working at YouthCARE in March of 2016. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and received a BA in Art from the University of Minnesota in 2015. During his youth, he graduated from Heart of The Earth Survival School in 2001- a school focused on teaching Indigenous cultures and language. That experience in high school inspired him to pursue work with native youth in the Twin Cities. He is interested in youth development and inspiring youth to pursue education through activities and cultural experiences. He also holds degrees from Anoka Ramsey Community College and Fon Du Lac Tribal & Community College. During his free time, he enjoys shooting pool, spending time with family, and watching movies. 

 

Samantha Vang
Young Women's Mentoring Program Coordinator - McDonough Homes

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Samantha joined YouthCARE in the spring of 2016. She was born and raised in St. Paul, MN and attended St. Cloud State University, where she received her B.S. in Community Psychology. Previous to joining YouthCARE, she worked with other non-profit organizations, like the Boys & Girls Club of Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities. Samantha has had a strong passion to work with youth from a young age, as her dream job was to become a teacher. Her aspiration is to help youths discover their full potential by providing them with support, a safe environment, and positivity. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her loved ones, watching movies, journaling, trying out new restaurants, and exploring the many hidden gems and attractions of the Twin Cities.

Kou Xiong
YouthLEAD Program Specialist - McDonough Homes

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Kou Xiong became involved with YouthCARE in 2003 as a camper attending Camp Sunrise. Growing up in the organization’s leadership ladder he held various roles within the organization throughout the years and rejoined the YouthCARE family in the summer of 2013. Kou attended Gustavus Adolphus College pursuing a degree in Sociology/Anthropology. Prior to rejoining YouthCARE, Kou served as an Americorps Promise Fellow with Eco Education serving young people and educators through innovative, culturally-relevant programs that empower young people to improve the health of the environment and their communities. He is interested in exploring the relationships between community development, racial equality, cultural diversity, environmental issues, and education. During his free time he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, relaxing with his dog, spending time outside, watching movies, cooking home cooked meals, and just stopping to enjoy the little things in life.