National Leadership 

Elissa Vanaver, Chief Executive Officer

Elissa Vanaver became the CEO of the Breakthrough Collaborative in 2017, after more than a decade of leading growth at the Collaborative’s Miami affiliate. At Breakthrough Miami, her roles included volunteer, founding board chair, director of strategic development, and CEO. In spring 2018, Elissa was a judge for the New York Life Foundation’s Excellence in Summer Learning Awards. Before joining Breakthrough, Elissa was an award-winning newspaper editor and media executive, holding a variety of positions, including managing editor, vice president of human resources and chief of staff for The Miami Herald, which publishes in English and Spanish. Her 25-year journalism career also included management, editing and news-writing at the Dallas Times Herald and the San Jose Mercury News.

Rachel Martinez de Canada, Chief People & Program Officer

Rachel Martinez de Canada brings extensive recruiting, admissions, and outreach experience to Breakthrough Collaborative. Prior to joining Breakthrough, she worked as the associate director of admissions at the University of Minnesota Law School where she was responsible for recruitment, administered the school’s scholarship program, and designed a summer admissions preparation program for underrepresented students. Rachel also worked in undergraduate admissions where she served as the Chicano/Latino outreach coordinator and admissions counselor and has also worked in corporate recruiting. A proud Gopher, Rachel graduated from the University of Minnesota with Distinction with a B.A. in sociology and Chicano studies. Outside of the office, Rachel spends her time with her husband and young daughters.

Nicole Noga, Managing Director of Operations

Nicole Noga joined Breakthrough Collaborative with a background in psychological research and lab management. At The University of Chicago, she assisted in conducting a randomized clinical trial of eating disorder treatments as well as several studies examining the effects of psychoactive drugs. Originally from the Chicago area, she earned her A.B. in psychology from The University of Chicago and was a “Graduate-Student-at-Large” at The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

Rolando Rodriguez, Director of National Philanthropy

Rolando Damian Rodriguez has been leading fundraising campaigns for over 30 years. As President/CEO of the Jackson Memorial Foundation, Rolando established the most successful public hospital foundation in the country, raising over $200 million for programs. As the founder of the International Kids Fund, Rolando led global fundraising programs that raised millions for seriously ill children. Most recently, Rolando led the creation of the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Miami Foundation, leading to double-digit fundraising growth. Rolando holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in community psychology and has served in various leadership roles with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

National Staff

Jonathan Appleby, Recruitment Manager

Jonathan joins Breakthrough from his most recent position at New Door Ventures in San Francisco where he helped to execute a workforce development program for underserved transitional age youth by partnering with over a hundred businesses to provide a variety of professional experiences. There, he served on the Youth Development team as a Specialist and was responsible for developing case plans, tracking participants for success in the workplace as well as continuing to make gains in education and preparing for post-secondary success. Jonathan has also spent significant time in business partnerships outreach, cultivating relationships and working to retain current partners throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has served as the Youth Director at Grace Fellowship Community Church for nine years and has partnered with several homeless outreach efforts in the San Francisco area. Jonathan also taught at San Quentin Penitentiary for several semesters and has long had a concern for addressing the gaps in diversity, equity and inclusion that exist in education and the contemporary workforce. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two sons, and enjoys reading, coaching baseball and getting out into the abundant natural world of the surrounding area.

Claire Contonente, Administrative Associate


Claire joins Breakthrough as a recent graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles. There, she majored in English and worked in institutional advancement. An East Bay Area native, she is excited to be back home and helping ensure that every student has the support network and the opportunity to attend college and achieve their goals. When she is not at work, you can likely find Claire reading, hiking, or hanging out with her cat. She hopes to one day become a high school English teacher, encouraging students to love literature and grammar!

Phyllis Elick, Director of High School and College Bound Programming

Phyllis comes to the national office after nearly seven years of experience at Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia facilitating high-school programming and college counseling. Phyllis has extensive experience in student service as well as program development. She has been a teacher in an independent school and worked with other college access organizations serving under-resourced schools and students in the Philadelphia area. Phyllis has her BA from Smith College and her MS Ed. in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania.


Holly Havelka, Salesforce Administrator

Holly Havelka joins Breakthrough Collaborative with a strong background in education, business, and technology. Holly started her career as a middle school language arts teacher. Holly connected her passion for education and technology when she co-founded MusicMuse, an online learning site for musicians. She then transitioned back into public service by taking a position at the Department of Veterans Affairs. During her time with the VA, she helped to modernize the organization by working with the SalesForce deployment team. Holly then went on to work for a SalesForce Strategic Alliance Partner, where she obtained multiple SalesForce certifications. Holly attended Kent State University to receive her Bachelors of Science in Education, specializing in Mathematics and Language Arts. Holly lives in Northeastern Ohio with her husband and daughter.


Scott Justus, CVA, Fundraising Development Manager

Scott Justus moved to San Francisco from Dallas, TX in June of 1999.  He studied PR/marketing at West Texas A&M and graduated with a degree in activism and social change from New College of California. Passionate about social justice and impactful change, the Bay Area was a natural fit. Currently tasked with the development and community engagement effort at the Breakthrough Collaborative, Scott has spent the last 13 years working in non-profit marketing and development, over 23 years in special events, and is a Certified Volunteer Administrator. He also serves as the board secretary and chairs the Fund Development Committee for PRC, a $27M social service agency in San Francisco, leads the organization of the Arroyo Viejo Neighborhood Association, and volunteers as a big for Big Brothers Big Sisters East Bay chapter. Scott and his husband Michael have two dogs and call East Oakland home. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, music, tennis, and the abundance of amazing food in the Bay Area.

JB Lei, Recruitment & Alumni Associate

JB is a graduate of Colgate University where she majored in English Literature. Before joining Breakthrough Collaborative, JB worked as a paralegal at an immigration law firm and account executive/legal recruiter in San Francisco. In her spare time, she enjoys writing letters and practicing calligraphy. She is excited to bring her skills to the education field and give back to the community!  

Hanna Levin, Manager of Impact and Evaluation

Hanna Levin joins Breakthrough from Blue Engine, one of Breakthrough’s pipeline partners, where she taught high school geometry in the South Bronx. As a Blue Engine teacher, Hanna worked in a multiple-educator classroom model that relied on daily metric data to orient instructional decisions. This model spurred Hanna’s interest in other innovative education organizations. Prior to teaching, Hanna served as a New Sector Alliance Summer Fellow in the Bay Area, and held internships with the U.S. Department of Education and The After-School Corporation (TASC). She holds a B.A. in sociology from Pomona College.

Jacob Speedy, Salesforce Analyst

Photo & bio to come.

Meredith Zackey, Senior Director of Programs

Meredith Zackey joins Breakthrough Collaborative with nearly ten years of experience in the education field. She brings her experience as program director for Breakthrough Manchester in New Hampshire and her work with Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia as a dean of students, program assistant, and dean of faculty to her new role. Outside of Breakthrough, Meredith served two years as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Greater Philadelphia and supported the Principal Effectiveness Team at DCPS. She holds an M.P.P. in public policy from Georgetown University and currently resides in Philadelphia.

Breakthrough Birmingham 

Mariohn Michel, Executive Director, Breakthrough Birmingham

Mariohn joins Breakthrough Birmingham after four years of experience in the South Bronx as a K-8 data analyst, testing and program coordinator, and Social Studies department chair at a K-12 school. Dissecting the story told by assessment data was a stepping stone for her to find creative solutions to classroom differentiation, curriculum design and execution, and programming efficacy. Through Teach for America, she was also a Social Studies teacher at a high school in rural Alabama, which fostered her love of the state and its unique culture. Mariohn graduated magna cum laude from Florida International University with a B.S. in Secondary Social Studies Education.