Janice Bethea is our Client Advocate. She specializes in Eviction Prevention, Crisis Intervention, and Entitlement Benefits. With nearly 18 years of experience in the eviction prevention and social service field, Janice has worked with a diverse group of adults, with participant’s ages ranging from 21 to 95. She provides case management services to clients who are at risk of entry into the NYC Shelter System through advocacy, information and referrals. Janice is passionate about her work at The Commons. She’s empowered by the organization’s mission, positively impacting the lives of so many individuals in need of our services. Janice prides herself on exhausting all possible solutions to help her clients accomplish their goals.
Erica Bynum is the Site Director for LACASA at PS84. Erica’s experience working with nonprofits began when she was 14 years old and first applied to SYEP with the help of Strycker’s Bay/LACASA, and she’s been with Strycker’s Bay/LACASA ever since. She has extensive skills working with children and the community at large, and is a great asset to the organization and the families we serve. Erica is a graduate of York Preparatory School and attended Mary Mount Manhattan College. She is trained in RTE, CPR, MATT.
Christine Byrd-Tucker is the Director of Youth Services and has evolved her role within the organization over the last few years. Starting as an AmeriCorps member at The DOME Project, she has had the opportunity to be a part of many of the programs each organization has to offer, and helped in the development and sustainability of each one. Christine has a dual degree in History (with a concentration in US history) and Jewish Studies. Prior to college, she attended Millennium High School, where the focus was on college prep and youth development practices from the YMCA. This gave Christine her first insight into Youth Development and it is why she is so invested in it today.
Rebecca Castka is the Director of Institutional Giving; she is a grant writing and institutional giving professional with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and twelve years of experience in development services to nonprofit organizations. She has a successful track record of securing foundation, corporate, and government funds totaling more than $30 million.
Yanira Gonzalez is the Director of External Communications and has over 15 years of experience in community-based programming, working with diverse audiences in college and career counseling, theme-based afterschool program management, staff development, and special events. She has worked with a wide range of age groups in varying capacities, including teaching girls self defense and preparing women to enter the construction trades. Yanira also holds a position in the Education department at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. There, she assists in the management of stage production and theater administration internships for teens, seminars focused on behind the scenes careers in the arts and entertainment industries for high schools across the city, and creating numerous opportunities for young artists to engage in cultural experiences.
Ramon Vasquez, also known as “Been”, is the Site Director at The Commons, or The De Hostos Community Center. Been was born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1960s at a time when his home, 84th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, was considered one of the most dangerous places to live in New York. Been has seen New York City through the eyes of a child to Dominican immigrants who brought with them the ways and traditions of their homeland. New York City during the 1970s had nothing to offer a young teen in search of an outlet for his artist expression, yet Been found ways to cultivate his art. From graffiti black books, to street murals, clubbing, DJ-ing, T-shirt design, and taking pictures, Been’s artistic talents and expression can now be seen through his photographic lens and writing talents. Author of 3 books, he is working on his fourth book. For years he used his connection to the graffiti and underground arts world to curate a fundraising art auction for Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council. The auctions received support from artists around the world, grossing more than $15,000. Through his work with the Commons, Been has touched the lives of thousands of young people over the last 20 years and inspired many to pick up a camera and document the world around them. Father to a fourteen year old girl, Mya, Been is committed to teaching and mentoring children to look at the world creatively and as independent thinkers.
Ashley Viruet is the Director of Client Advocacy. She provides legal expertise and advocacy for adolescents and young adults in criminal or suspension proceedings. Prior to joining The West Side Commons, her focus was in criminal defense work. She graduated with a dual degree in History and Spanish from the University of Virginia, received her Juris Doctor concentrated in Litigation and Criminal Law and Procedure from The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and is admitted to the New York State Bar.
Menelik Washington is the High School and YPP Program Coordinator at The Commons. Menelik attended Harvard University for 3 years and spent some time working for Prep for Prep before finding his home on the Upper West Side. He cares deeply for the success of everyone that he works with, and is willing to create and adapt to whatever success means for his team and his students.
Kelley Williams is The Executive Director of The West Side Commons. She helped lead the effort to organize the DOME/Strycker’s Bay partnership and co-authored The Commons Concept Paper. Her experience in the youth development field grew from her work as a community and tenant organizer and as a parent in need of affordable quality afterschool programming. Kelley is an alumnus of The DOME Project’s 1978-79 Drop-Out Prevention Program which offered her the opportunity to be paid for the volunteer work she was already doing at Strycker’s Bay, provided she acquired her GED before the program ended. She continued to work with Strycker’s Bay after graduating from the program and became the Executive Director in 1987 at age 25. Kelley went on to create a youth program in 1993, now operating at The Commons as part of its portfolio of programs. She also co-founded The Community Action School (middle school) located in the Joan of Arc School Complex on West 93rd Street. She has a strong background in program development and operations and believes in developing strong long term relationships while helping every child discover their potential.