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Staff & Board Directors


Josephine DiCesare, MA

Executive Director

Josephine DiCesare, Executive Director, joined Youth Crossroads in May 2021. With a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and a Bachelor’s in Sociology from Northeastern Illinois University, she has spent the last 17 years dedicated to the non-profit sector. This includes working with the homeless population at Pilsen’s former San Jose Obrero Mission and with performing arts and education at Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. Bilingual in Spanish and Italian, Josephine has an extensive background in non-profit management, major event planning, strategic planning, and budgeting.  Josephine is a proven professional with a record of accomplishment, including increasing resources for organizations.  She has a passion for mission-driven work and looks forward to supporting youth and their families in Berwyn, Cicero and surrounding communities.

Norman Alexandroff, BA

Marketing and Development Coordinator

Norman is Marketing and Fundraising Coordinator for Youth Crossroads. Previously, he was the founding president of the Berwyn Public Art Initiative, which used the arts to create a healthier, more inclusive, and culturally vibrant community. He also helped create the Wabash Arts Corridor, which transformed Chicago’s South Loop from an island of urban forlorn into a destination neighborhood. Norman has extensive experience in marketing and fundraising, having started the offices of Media Relations, Publications, Student Communications, and Business and Community Partnerships at Columbia College Chicago, as well as the Chicago Center for Arts Policy. Norman has lived in Berwyn for nearly 20 years and is committed to strengthening the social and economic fabric of the city.

Vanessa Cervantes

Human Resources / Administrative Assistant

Vanessa grew up in Berwyn and is a graduate of the local school districts. She obtained her Bachelors in Teaching and Learning from the University of Houston where she lived for five years. There she worked as a licensed teacher in the state of Texas. Vanessa is thrilled to be back in her hometown and is ready to serve the community that she loves. She spent her high school years as part of the Youth Leadership Program at Youth Crossroads so she is delighted to become part of the team and help the organization in every way that she can. She has a passion for service work, helping others learn and grow, and building positive relationships with community members.  

Josh Harris, BA

Data Specialist

Joshua Harris is a Data Specialist at Youth Crossroads. He obtained his Bachelors Degree in Business Administration from Benedictine University in 2022. He is looking forward to helping and improving a community similar to his, with knowledge from his studies. He also aims to make technology easier for his staff to use.


Michelle Desideri, MA, LCPC, CCTP

Director of Counseling Services

Michelle is a former resident of Cicero and graduate of the local school districts. She obtained her Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Lewis University, is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the State of Illinois and most recently a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She has 30 years of experience, specializing in the areas of youth, family and trauma. Michelle currently oversees all Counseling Services at Youth Crossroads, including the Counseling Training Program.

Tayra Romo, MA, LCPC

Associate Director of Counseling Services

Tayra received her Bachelors in Sociology from NPU Chicago (2008). She worked for JCFS as a Respite Worker (2008-2013), provided services to children with disabilities ages 2-16 yrs. Tayra worked for CPS for 6 years in ECE, supported low-income families. Graduated from Concordia University with a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Completed internship at Youth Crossroads (2017-18), provided counseling services at Morton West High School. Joined us during internship as a crisis counselor. She is passionate and excited to continue working with youth here at Youth Crossroads.

Katrina Diaz, MSW, SBC

Freedom Middle School Counselor

Katrina received her Degree in Bachelor of Social Work in 2019 and she received her Master’s in Social Work in 2020. She now works as a Youth Developmental Specialist at Youth Crossroads. Katrina comes with a wealth of experience in the private and non-profit world, partnering with grassroots organizations to bring awareness of social issues to her community in La Villita and advocating for families of undocumented citizens.

Having been part of a youth program herself and a volunteer in her community since a young age, Katrina is devoted to utilizing her experiences to serve, mentor, and inspire youth through life’s challenges. She lives in Cicero with her 9-year-old daughter and their two cats.

Morgan Eslinger, MA

Community Based Counselor

Morgan received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from North Central College. She worked as a Registered Behavior Technician where she provided therapy for children and adolescents on the Autism spectrum. This is when her passion for working with youth was solidified. She went on to pursue her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration on children and adolescents at Lewis University.

Morgan did her internship at Youth Crossroads at Morton West High School and is now the Youth Development Counselor. Morgan has a passion for fostering youth development and for working with individuals and their families to provide the best level of support.

Nicholas Miller, LSW

School-Based Counselor

Nicholas Miller is a resident of Berwyn and attended Northeastern Illinois University. He received his Bachelor of Social Work (2018) and interned for Youth Development. Then, Nicholas continued his education at Northeastern and earned his Master of Social Work (2019). He returned and completed his internship at Youth Crossroads to provide school-based counseling services to students at Heritage Middle School.

He is dedicated and ready to provide exemplary services to his community. Nicholas will continue to provide support and services to students at Heritage Middle School and families in the community. 

Natalie Palm, MA, LPC

School-Based Counselor

Natalie graduated from Lewis University in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Secondary Education. Natalie continued at Lewis University for graduate school, earning a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a child/adolescent concentration in August 2021.

Natalie interned for Youth Crossroads at Morton East High School during the 2020-2021 school year and is now a school-based counselor at Morton Alternative High School. Natalie is passionate about learning how trauma-informed and restorative practices can have a positive impact on youth in the community. 

Kelsie Conway, MSW, LCSW

 Morton West High School Counselor

Kelsie obtained both her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, and Masters of Social Work from Dominican University. While receiving her masters degree Kelsie interned at Youth Crossroads (2017-2018), providing counseling services at Morton West. Kelsie also has experience in medical social work, providing care and services to patients and their families. Upon graduation with her MSW, Kelsie accepted a job with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Where she provided crisis intervention services, and individual and family therapy to youth in crisis within the northwest side of Chicago. Kelsie is passionate to continue her work with youth and families. She is now excited to be back with Youth Crossroads and is the School Based Counselor at Lincoln Middle School.

Monica Escarpita, MA

Community Based Counselor

Monica obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from Northeastern Illinois University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Criminal Justice. She received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Concordia University, Chicago in August of 2022. Monica interned with Youth Crossroads as a School-based Counseling Intern at Lincoln Middle School, Berwyn during the 2021-2022 school year working with students from diverse backgrounds providing individual and group counseling services. She has over 7 years of experience as a licensed K-12 Substitute Teacher providing education to classrooms and personalized instruction and support for students with Individualized Education Plans. She also has experience as a Co-Director of a Youth Ministry for children 3-14 years old and co-leading parenting classes. She is passionate and dedicated to serving the adolescents and families within her community. Monica is currently a Community Counselor with Youth Crossroads providing counseling services and psychoeducation to students and families within the Berwyn/Cicero and surrounding areas.

Diana Villalobos, BS, MS

Community Based Counselor

Diana graduated in 2020 with her Bachelors degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a major in Community/Clinical Psychology and minor in Leadership Studies. She went on to obtain her Master’s degree in Psychology: Clinical Counseling at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, graduating June 2022. During her time here, Diana interned at Ascension Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, working with groups of adolescents in the partial hospitalization program. She is passionate in working with adolescents as it is a crucial age group in developing identity. Diana is excited to continue to work with youth and families, while working towards full licensure and further developing her clinical skill.

Cristina Robles, MSW

School-Based Counselor at Morton Freshman Center

Cristina received her bachelor’s degree, double major, in Criminal, Law, and Justice and Sociology from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2016. She went on to pursue her master’s degree in Social Work from the University Of Illinois at Chicago. Cristina is fluent in Spanish. Cristina did her internship at Youth Crossroads at Morton Freshman Center and is now school-based counselor. Cristina grew up in Cicero and graduated from Morton East High School, and wanted to serve and help the same community she grew up in. She is passionate to continue her work with youth and families in the community.

April Valenzuela, MA

Lincoln Middle School Counselor

April received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Ambrose University in 2018. During her time at St. Ambrose she worked at Project Renewal and interned at Rick’s House of Hope. Two nonprofits in the Quad Cities that provided after school programming and counseling services to low SES families. It was through these experiences where April became passionate about working with youth and their families. April then went on to pursue her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in counseling at Roosevelt University. While completing her master’s program April completed her practicum at SGA Youth and Family Services where she was a school based counseling intern. April is currently the Lincoln Middle School Based Counselor, where she is excited to continue providing counseling services to youth and their families.

Jessica Ruiz, MA

School Based Counselor

Jessica received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology (2020) and Master of Social Work (2021) from Dominican University. During her time at Dominican University, she interned with Youth Crossroads from 2019-2020 and with UCP Seguin from 2020-2021. Through these experiences her passion for working with youth in a self-rewarding field grew. Upon graduation, Jessica continued to work with UCP Seguin where she provided trauma informed therapy to foster youth.  As of 2022, Jessica is a school-based counselor at Morton West High School where she is excited to continue her trauma informed counseling journey with the youth at west. 


Briani Shorter, MSW

Youth Development Director

Briani Shorter is the Youth Development Programs Director at Youth Crossroads. She received her Bachelor of Social work in 2018 from Western Illinois University. During that school year she completed her undergraduate practicum internship at Youth Crossroads as a Youth Development Intern. Her experience at Youth Crossroads helped her realize her passion for youth development. In 2019, Briani received her Master’s in Social Work from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where her specialization was Organization and Community Practice (OCP). Briani is committed to empowering youth to be engaged and find pride in their community. 

Michelle Bahena, BSW 

Youth Development Program Coordinator

Michelle received her Bachelor’s Degree from Concordia University Chicago in Social Work with a minor in Spanish. She resides in Cicero and was previously working as a preschool teacher in Chicago. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys spending time with her loved ones, cheering for her favorite sports teams, and appreciating all forms of art. Previously working as an intern, Michelle is now the Youth Development Program Coordinator at Youth Crossroads. She is so excited to work with the local youth!

Olivia Paplaczyk, BA

Youth Leadership Program Specialist

Olivia was born and raised in Berwyn and is excited to join the Youth Crossroads team this year. She is currently finishing her last semester to earn a bachelor’s degree and plans on getting a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. In her spare time, she loves to read, go to concerts, and enjoy the outdoors. 

Jacquilyn Frausto, BSW

Youth Development Specialist

Jacquilyn “Jacquie” Frausto received her bachelor’s degree in social work and a dance minor at Western Illinois University in 2019, where she held leadership roles in her sorority, and planned numerous events on social issues. Jacquie grew up in Franklin Park where she developed considerable experience working with youth. Recently, she worked in early childhood education as Lead Teacher for school-age students for a daycare in Berwyn. Now, Jacquie is one of the new Youth Development Specialists at Heritage Middle School for the after-school program YCA. She plans to return to school in Summer 2022 to receive her master’s degree in school social work.

Arafat Olori, BS 

Workforce Development Coordinator

Arafat graduated from Western Illinois University in May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Her two concentrations are Health Policy Administration and Global Health. After years of tutoring students and working with children through programs offered by Upward Bound and David Philemon Ministries International, she is now the Youth Development Specialist at Freedom Middle School. Arafat loves working with youths and is always ready to meet them right where they are at. Arafat enjoys serving at Church on Fire International’s food pantry located in Cicero and giving back to others.

Mercedes Delgado, BSW 

Youth Development Specialist and Program Manager 

Mercedes received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Loyola University in 2022. Previously, she attended Moraine Valley Community College where she received an associate degree and got certified as a nurse’s assistant. A volunteer at her childhood church in Gage Park, Mercedes has always tried to help her community and found her calling in the youth development field.  She currently serves as the Youth Development Specialist at Freedom Middle School.

Stavros Kossenakis, BSW 

Youth Development Specialist

Stavros got is bachelor’s degree in social work from Northeastern Illinois University in 2022. He interned at Youth Crossroads for Youth Development in 2021-2022 and is now Youth Development Specialist at Heritage Middle School. Stavros has volunteered tutoring children for two years and gets tremendous enjoyment supporting youth and helping them navigate through life. He plans to return to school in May 2023 to get a master’s degree in social work. 

Domingo Rueda, BA

Youth Development Specialist

Domingo Rueda Jr. grew up on Chicago’s South Side and graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Criminal justice. Domingo previously served as an intern with another youth program before joining Youth Crossroads in 2022. During his free time, he loves to go to concerts, try new restaurants, as well as just spending time with his family.

Cesar Juarez

Youth Development Specialist

Cesar received his bachelor’s degree in social work in 2022 from Concordia University, while serving as Youth Crossroads intern. Upon graduation, he because a youth development specialist. Cesar loves the energy at Youth Crossroads and the amazing team he works with. He is very passionate in working with youth, particularly helping them build the skills needed to become successful leaders.

Galilea Mendez, BS

Social Media Manager and Youth Development Specialist

Galilea Mendez grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign in 2022 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Galilea has worked with non profits before and is passionate about working with youth in her communities. Galilea has also worked as a freelance content creator since 2020 and loves creating content that is relevant, engaging, and fun. She is excited to give back to her community and empower its youth! In her free time, Galilea loves spending time with her family, friends, and dog.


Elida Ortiz, BA

Director, Cicero Community Collaborative

Eli recently served as the Parent & Community Liaison at Youth Crossroads. She grew up in Rogers Park and obtained a degree in Applied Sciences from Robert Morris University. Eli has worn many hats to reflect her passion for community work. These include being former Coordinator to the Cicero Community Collaborative – United Way Neighborhood Network; Parent Leader within the Cicero 99 School District; ESL Facilitator at Universidad Popular; Computer Instructor at Corazón Community Services; Ambassador/Coordinator for the NRI, CVPP and Innovations Zones/Escuelita Movil Parent programs. Of the varied experiences, the common thread throughout is the gratification of helping others grow personally and professionally.

Janette Andrade

Community Outreach Coordinator Parent Ambassador Liaison

Janette Andrade received her bachelor’s in criminology and Political Science from UIC in 2019. She was raised and born in the South Side of Chicago and has worked in different communities within the city and outside the city to help promote different resources. Prior to this role, Janette has worked in different campaigns in the state of Illinois and has been actively engaged in her community. She recognizes the importance of bringing resources to the youth in order for them to succeed in life and help create a better future. 


Linda Rios

All Our Kids Network Coordinator: Cicero

Linda is a former 19-year resident of Cicero, IL and graduated from local school districts.  Linda attended UIC majoring in Latin American and Latinos Studies with a minor in Spanish. Her passion for addressing barriers families face is reflected in her 18 years of experience working with children, families, and the community. Trained in collective impact, systems change, strategic planning and facilitation Linda provides the community with the tools needed to identify barriers and create strategies in order to create equitable change. Linda provides families with the tools, resources and information needed for success. 

Michelle N. Ramírez

Family Engage​m​ent Specialist 
All Our Kids Network: Cicero

Michelle Ramírez has been a Cicero community member for 17 years. She obtained her BA from DePaul University in 2017 where she majored in Latin American and Latino Studies and Sociology, and minored in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Resolution. Upon graduation, Michelle started as an Americorps member with the Cicero Community Collaborative (CCC) at Youth Crossroads. She then began as a Case Manager at a local non-profit and became Lead Case Manager leading the Illinois Welcoming Center Program (IWC) as well as Immigrant Family Resource Programs (IFRP) in which she focused in being of support and guidance to families, provided crisis intervention, and translation and interpretation services. Michelle has obtained a Spanish Interpretation training from LARC at the DuPage Federation and loves being able to bridge language barriers allowing families to obtain the services they need. Michelle is also a published author. Her first publication was Libérate: Moments of Strength & Perseverance which published in July 2020 followed by it’s Spanish edition in August 2021. Michelle is also a contributing author for Today’s Inspired Young Latinas Volume III which published in May 2021. In her free time, Michelle enjoys reading, writing, and drinking a lot of hot coffee.. regardless of the weather outside! 


Gilbert Pena (President)

City of Berwyn

Gilbert Pena is a dedicated community member of the City of Berwyn. A longtime resident, he is currently the Administrative Manager for the Office of the Mayor and the Commissioner for the Community Relations Commission. He also served on the board of the Berwyn Development Corporation for 6 years. Gilbert has a demonstrated history of working in the telecommunications field and attended the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UIC. Gilbert is also a United States Marine Corp veteran. Gilbert has served on the Youth Crossroads Board since 2008. He recognizes the important services that Youth Crossroads provides to the community and the impact that positive male role models can have on young men.

Kim Grigsby (Vice President)

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater

Kim Grigsby, nonprofit professional, has been bridging the gap between opportunity and underutilized resources for the past 10 years.  She serves as the development manager for Ensemble Español, where she leads efforts to facilitate philanthropic gifts and grants to advance the mission of the organization. Additionally, Kim is head of strategy for the Chicago Community ToolBank and is one of the founders and advisors of the Marvin L. Winans Educational Foundation as well as an advisor to the From the Bottom Up Foundation.  Prior to working in the non-profit world, Kim served as a litigating attorney, both for the state of South Carolina and in private practice. In her spare time, Kim volunteers with young people and speaks to students on the value of education.

Amelia Orozco (Secretary)

Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young

Amelia Orozco has been a board director since 2015. Amelia is a litigation paralegal with Hawkins, Parnell & Young, LLP. In addition, Amelia is co-owner of Zarape, LLC, a small business formed by her and two friends to publish books and greeting cards. Amelia holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with concentrations in Political Science, Hispanic Studies and Psychology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and a Master of Arts Degree from DePaul University in Writing and Publishing. She occasionally freelances and also hosts a podcast. Amelia loves the arts and working on social justice causes.

Emily LaFave (Treasurer)

BMO Harris

Emily LaFave is an experienced leveraged finance banker with BMO Capital Markets Corp., a leading, full-service financial services provider and the 8th largest bank in North America. Emily began her career with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey (now Truist Financial) following her graduation from the University of Richmond, where she earned her undergraduate degrees in Business Administration (with a concentration in Finance) and Leadership Studies. When Emily isn’t evaluating capital structures, you’ll find her on an early morning Peloton ride, planning an upcoming trip, or trying a new restaurant with her husband. Emily knows that support for our youth is a key factor to dismantling the institutional disadvantages faced by some of our Chicago neighborhoods. To change the course of the future, we must change the reality of our youth’s lives, and she continues to be excited and encouraged by that very work (like youth development, youth leadership, and crisis intervention) that Youth Crossroads is doing in the Berwyn and Cicero neighborhoods.  

Kathy Benjamin

Villa St. Benedict

Kathy grew up near Berwyn and began her nursing career at MacNeal Hospital employed there for over 30 years. While in the role as Chief Nurse Officer, she joined the Board in 2015 with a desire to give back to the community and help the youth. Kathy has witnessed Youth Crossroads grow and successfully move forward in the mission of making a positive difference in many lives. She has held numerous leadership roles in healthcare and currently serves as a Director at Villa St. Benedict in Lisle Illinois.

Rocio Perez

The Arc of Illinois

Rocio Perez grew up in Chicago and is a long-time resident of Berwyn. She is currently the Assistant Director of the IL Life Span Program at ARC of Illinois. Rocio graduated from UIC with a degree in social work. She enjoys to shop at bookstores and eat popcorn! Rocio joined the Youth Crossroads board because she feels it is important to give back to your community.

Denise Baker

Byline Bank

Denise Baker grew up in Cicero, attended Morton East High School and Morton College. She is currently the Branch Manager at Berwyn Byline Bank and has been in banking since she was 17 years old. Previous to her current position, she worked at LaSalle Bank for over 30 years. Denise first learned about Youth Crossroads at a Kiwanis meeting. In her free time Denise…. She knows how important it is for underserved youth to have access to services provided by Youth Crossroads, as it truly makes a difference to many families.

Nestor Corona

Aspira High School

Néstor Corona was born in Jalisco, Mexico and is a long time Berwyn resident. Previously he taught math at Mirta Ramirez High School in Chicago. He then has held various roles at Aspira Antonia Pantoja High School (APHS) including Dean of Students and Assistant Principal. Currently he is the school principal. Néstor graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a Bachelor’s in Applied Mathematics and Minor in Economics. He also holds a Master’s in Education from Chicago State University and a Master’s in Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. He has danced professionally with the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago and Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. In his spare time, you will find Néstor spending time with his wife and two daughters. As an educator, Néstor has seen the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on students and now, more than ever, youth need the types of services that Youth Crossroads provides. He is excited to support the mission and vision of this organization as it proactively serves and prepares our youth for the future.

David Miranda

WGN and Tribune Media

David Miranda is a bilingual journalist with 20 years of experience. He started his career at the age of 13 at a community radio station of the Boys & Girls Club (Radio Arte 90.5fm) that was eventually bought by the National Museum of Mexican Art. David also works in brand positioning, media relations, event planning and emcee services. If you put him to dance, he won’t say no! After performing with the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago for 19 years, putting on a show becomes second nature. David is currently a producer and report at WGN Radio and serves as an instructional manager at the Illinois Media School. In addition, to helping Illinois Media School as instructional manager. When David is not working, you will find him eating, attending theater shows or catching up with family. David serves on the Necahual Foundation committee, a group that helps orphans in Mexico. David believes youth deserve opportunities in life. It is important to create activities for youth that will motivate them in the long run. Showing young people that it can be done goes a long way, especially when you lead by example.