Leadership Team

Zuhirah Khaldun-Diarra

Zuhirah Khaldun-Diarra / Vice President, Marketing, Communications & Brand

Zuhirah is a strategic communications leader with experience at national and international nonprofit and mission-driven organizations.  She comes to Jumpstart from UNICEF USA where for four years she led multi-channel and digitally-led brand campaigns to increase support for UNICEF’s global humanitarian work in the United States. Her proven expertise in brand, integrated campaigns, digital marketing, social media, media relations, partnerships, entertainment marketing, and award-winning content development has driven transformational impact, narrative change, and organizational growth over the course of her career. Zuhirah began her career in the music industry transfixed by the growing influence of Hip-Hop culture in the mid-1990’s and what it could do to lift the voices of underserved and marginalized communities. After graduating college, Zuhirah’s first job was as a tour publicist for The Roots at Geffen Records. She says this is where she earned her media and communications stripes and where she learned how to craft a narrative and tell a story, uplifting hidden narratives and eventually becoming publicist for Jay-Z as well as Ja Rule, Method Man, Redman, De La Soul, and DMX, among others. Zuhirah was also part of the team that revived a bankrupt Converse brand leading to a sale to Nike and 2400% return for investors before turning to nonprofit communications through a consultancy with the historic civil rights organization, the National Urban League. During what turned into an 8-year tenure at the National Urban League, Zuhirah led and provided strategic direction and management of the organization’s integrated brand marketing and communications initiatives and multi-city events including: Put Our Children 1st education advocacy program with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as managing the Leagues’ marketing of the first ever Red Nose Day in the United States. Zuhirah has lived in New York City, Bermuda, Tanzania, and The Netherlands where she received an MA in Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam. Zuhirah also holds a BA in Economics from Barnard College, Columbia University. Zuhirah currently resides in New York’s Upper Hudson Valley with her husband and two daughters and will every so often pull out her vinyl for a nostalgic DJ set.
Alexandria Mauristhene

Alexandria “Alex” Mauristhene / Vice President, People & Culture

Alexandria “Alex” Mauristhene is a New England transplant, where she has lived for the last fifteen years with her family. Prior to that, she lived throughout the United States including abroad, first as a military brat, and later as a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force. During her time in active duty, she was directly responsible for personnel actions supporting military members and their families domestic and abroad. She served honorably and earned multiple commendation and achievement medals for outstanding dedicated service. She started her post-military career in the education space where she served in mission-driven K-12 settings, private and charter, as well as workforce education. Most recently, she worked for an international organization focused on ending poverty. While there she served as an integral lead for transformation and was the inaugural business partner for the organization. She had the privilege to build out the team while pivoting to meet the needs of the workforce domestically and abroad during COVID. Additionally, she worked closely with the Unions to ensure staff engagement and collaboration through collective bargaining agreements. Alex is joining Jumpstart with nearly fifteen years of experience as a dedicated human resource professional. She has led and served on multiple teams in government as well as non-profit sector, where she successfully led multiple HR functions including recruiting, training, and development, supporting employee relations, and building strong and inclusive workplace cultures. She most enjoyed the building strong working relationships to ensure strong processes and programs to support organizational strategy and alignment. She is looking forward to bringing her experiences, knowledge, abilities, and skills to Jumpstart, working collaboratively to develop human capacity strategies, initiatives, and innovation to supporting workforce development and organizational development. Alex believes strongly in the power of early education and is committed to supporting ways to amplify and elevate this critical work for the next generation. Alex holds a Bachelor of Science from Bethune-Cookman University and a Masters of Science in Organizational and Human Resource Development from Abilene Christian University.
Denise Nelson

Denise Nelson / Vice President, Development

Denise worked at Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF) a nonprofit and microlender working to create an inclusive, healthy financial system that supports the nation’s small business owners-especially entrepreneurs of color and women- by connecting them to affordable capital, educational resources, coaching, and networks. Here she worked a development team responsible for the organization’s  $150MM Equity Campaign and $45MM Small Business Relief Fund and developed an initiative focused on support of Black entrepreneurs and managed two donor affinity networks and AOF’s Southern California Regional Board.

She’s also worked at CLARE|MATRIX, a Southern California based addiction treatment center and at a NYC based advocacy and social service agency, FPWA (formerly Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies).

Prior to joining FPWA, Nelson led the development efforts for two leading educational organizations, Eagle Academy Foundation and PENCIL, and served as Associate Vice President of Major Gifts at United Way of New York City. She also served at Habitat for Humanity in New York City.  She currently serves on Facing History’s Los Angeles Advisory Board and was a member of the AFP-NYC Board until 2020.

Ashley C. Williams

Ashley C. Williams / Vice President of Programs

Ashley C. Williams, Ed.D. is the Vice President of Programs where she leads the organization’s workforce strategy to expand the pipeline of qualified, diverse talent pursuing careers in early education. Dr. Williams lends decades of experience to her role as her work over the years is situated in the nexus of early learning, family engagement, higher education, and policy with a specific focus on early educators. She has worked in several roles in early care and education, including serving as a Jumpstart Corps Member and team leader where she started her ECE journey. She continued on to become a preschool teacher, Head Start center director, and early childhood teacher educator at the undergraduate and master’s levels at SF State. She is the former Associate Director of EDvance and served as the Senior Quality and Workforce Analyst for the San Francisco Office of Early Care and Education. Prior to returning to Jumpstart as a part of the organization’s leadership team, Dr. Williams was the Director of California Policy and Educator Engagement Programs for the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. Her professional work extends internationally as she co-led a study abroad service-learning program in ECE settings in South Africa and New Zealand. Dr. Williams is also a Policy Fellow at the National Black Child Development Institute. Overall, Dr. Williams’ daily work is rooted in contributing to early learning systems in ways that explicitly reveal, dissolve, and resolve systemic inequities that cause harm to children, families, and the educators that work with them- especially when they are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Dr. Williams earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership at SF State where she also earned her B.A. in Child and Adolescent Development and an M.A.Ed. with an emphasis on Early Childhood Education.
Jamella Lee

Jamella Lee / Chief People Officer

Jamella deeply believes in Jumpstart’s vision that “every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.” As Chief People Officer, she provides human capital leadership to align Jumpstart’s strategic priorities with the necessary people capabilities to deliver on the organization’s mission, business objectives, values, and people-centered culture so that Jumpstart can build a more equitable education system for young children. With Jumpstart Jamella returned to her roots in national service. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, where she also minored in business. After graduating from Cornell, she deferred pursuing her master's in education at Harvard to serve as a corps member and service leader at City Year of Columbus. From there, while earning her master’s at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she worked as an elementary school teacher at King Elementary School in Cambridge, MA; worked as a facilitator in the Harvard Summer Literacy Institute; and as a literacy teacher at the Dorchester Neighborhood Charter School. Upon graduating, at the behest of former President Clinton and President Nelson Mandela, she moved to South Africa to manage the Clinton Democracy Fellowship at City Year, helping to lead that organization’s first international expansion initiative. After several years in South Africa, Jamella returned to the United States to work as a vice president of communications and professional development for the Ohio Charter School Association and vice president of development and special initiatives at Concept Schools in Chicago. In 2010, Jamella earned a Juris Doctor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, a program for which she was the Katherine C. Jones Scholarship recipient and was also awarded the Marsha Schermer Scholarship by the Columbus Bar Foundation. While in law school, Jamella worked as a two-year summer associate at the law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP, and taught in the Ohio Law & Leadership Institute, a program developed to provide an opportunity for high school students from underserved communities to learn skills that may help them become lawyers and leaders in their communities. At graduation, Jamella was awarded the Harry S. and Georgina Lett Memorial Award for outstanding service to the Moritz College of Law. A recipient of numerous other awards, Jamella has also been awarded the Compaq Leadership Award, an award honoring alumni of City Year who have distinguished themselves through continued civic leadership and commitment to service. After law school, Jamella joined the Taft School faculty serving as chair of the Global Studies and Service Department and dean of Global and Diversity Education. In collaboration with Waterbury partners and colleagues, she created the Center for Global Leadership and Service, an "action tank" developed though the Edward E. Ford Foundation Educational Leadership Grant initiative and subsequent matching donations. Since 2018 she has served as Jumpstart’s VP of People and Culture. In August of 2021, Jamella was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker as a member of the Board of Early Education and Care.
Jessica Lazzara

Jessica Lazzara / Vice President of Education & Research

Jess joined the staff at Jumpstart in 2000, but her Jumpstart journey began prior to that. While attending Wheelock College, she saw a yellow flyer for Jumpstart on a bulletin board and immediately knew she wanted to be a part of this work. She joined Jumpstart as a college student volunteer and, eventually, a team leader serving at Head Start classrooms in Boston for three years. Jess has held many roles at Jumpstart. She also worked as field staff, directly recruiting, training, and coaching college students in Boston. She then moved into a regional program director role, where her focus was on supporting staff in the field. She also successfully grew Jumpstart’s impact in Boston through various partnerships and innovations. For the last 14 years, Jess has been a part of the national education and research team, landing in her current role as vice president in 2012. In this role, Jess is dedicated to using research, best practices, and field feedback to inform Jumpstart’s current and future programming. She loves working with others to conceptualize and develop new and innovative models. Jess lives in Woburn, Massachusetts with her husband and young son.
Karina Kidder

Karina Kidder / Vice President of Operations

Karina Kidder, Vice President of Program Operations, joined Jumpstart in 2003 and has over 18 years of experience in the non-profit sector leading and motivating teams working toward creating social change. As Vice President of Program Operations, Karina is responsible for overseeing program implementation across the organization, strategic growth efforts, and managing the systems and infrastructure for future growth. She is also responsible for overseeing the national operations and business technology departments. Karina is deeply passionate about equal access to high quality education. Prior to Jumpstart, Karina worked for a Los Angeles based non-profit, Los Angeles Team Mentoring, running after-school programs for middle school students in the LA Unified School District. She has been with Jumpstart for over fifteen years and has held numerous positions over her tenure, ranging from working directly with members in the field as a site manager to Executive Director for Jumpstart Chicago to Vice President of Program Operations. Karina has been dedicated to supporting the implementation of Jumpstart programs across the country and has supported organizational growth activities, helping to expand current programs and bringing new partnerships to the Jumpstart network. Karina earned her B.A. from Occidental College in Los Angeles and a MBA from Ohio University. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and her faithful canine companion.

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