Meet the Staff

Catherine HokeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1

Founder & CEO

Catherine Hoke

Founder & CEO

Catherine started Defy in 2010 after founding and leading the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a nonprofit organization that serves men throughout the Texas prison system. At PEP, Catherine developed the vision, recruited and worked closely with the Governing Board and three Local and National Advisory Boards to execute the vision, led a staff of 25, raised a $2.5 million privately funded budget, taught PEP’s curriculum to men in prison, oversaw all activities with the prison system, and served as an advocate to external constituents. Under Catherine’s leadership, PEP was recognized for its innovation and results by NBC Nightly News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, National Public Radio, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Deal Maker Magazine.

Prior to PEP, Catherine built a network of more than 4,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs during her career in venture capital and private equity. She sourced $32 million in equity investments in three technology deals at Summit Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based firm. Catherine then served as Director of Investment Development at American Securities Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration from University of California, Berkeley.

A three-time marathon runner, college rugby player and varsity rower, and California State Women’s Wrestling Champion, Catherine still loves training and competing in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. As a French Canadian-born daughter of an entrepreneurial immigrant, Catherine was an ESL student and appreciates good grammar. She’s surprisingly domesticated and feels the need to regularly experiment in the kitchen.

John GarofoloDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


John Garofolo

Chief Financial Officer

John received a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Bucknell University and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. John has been a CPA since 1992.

For 10+ years, John worked at Ernst & Young as a Senior Accountant and Manager in the Management Consulting Practice; and at IBM, Global Services as a Senior Manager in the Global Strategy & Design Practice.

Most recently, John has served as a Senior Executive Consultant at Shepherd Partners, Inc., a turnaround and financial advisory firm. While at Shepherd, John served as an interim CFO in a variety of settings; his areas of expertise include financial transformation, turnaround/restructuring advisory, capital sourcing, and M & Advisory services.

Andrew GlazierDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Andrew Glazier

Chief Program Officer

Andrew received his Bachelor’s in International Relations from Pomona College, and his MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Prior to joining Defy, Andrew worked at City Year Los Angeles for nearly 8 years in a variety of roles. Andrew started at City Year LA serving as their Government Relations Director, developing and managing local and statewide government relations strategy and training for 150 corps members and 28 staff. Upon promotion, additional roles included serving as City Year LA’s Chief of Staff, Managing Director Program Service and Managing Director Impact and Strategy.

Most recently, Andrew served as City Year LA’s Senior Managing Director, where he provided cross-departmental leadership, led City Year’s organizational growth strategy, oversaw the Government Relations Department, built strategic partnerships with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and sourced funds from and supported cultivation of foundation and corporate donors.

Charles HokeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Charles Hoke

Chief Development Officer

Charles oversees all of Defy’s outward-facing initiatives and programs, including fundraising, volunteer and donor relations, and strategic growth initiatives. He develops strategy and infrastructure, and is building a team of charismatic go-getters who love to rep Defy.

After obtaining his MBA from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!), Charles arrived in New York to work in financial services. He started his career as a High Yield Research Analyst and later worked in High Yield Sales & Trading. Charles served as one of Defy’s most active volunteers until 2014 when he left finance behind to join the Defy Ventures staff. His passion for problem-solving, underdogs, and fighting injustice attracted him to the opportunity to help redeem one of America’s highest failure rate industries. It also attracted him to the woman he married: Defy’s founder and CEO, Catherine Hoke.

Marina ThompsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Marina Thompson

Chief People Officer

Marina leads recruitment and culture initiatives for Defy. Most recently, Marina served as Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Lantern Community Services. While at Lantern, Marina managed recruitment efforts for 15 Supportive Housing sites, professional development trainings and had oversight of engagement and employment practices. Prior to Lantern, Marina served as Executive Deputy Director of Workforce Innovation at New York City’s Children’s Services (ACS), with a focus on recruitment, retention and developing formal pathways from school to work in the field of Human Services. Her twenty-year career in Recruitment, Human Resources, Employee Engagement and Executive Coaching also includes positions at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and consulting roles for IT and Property Management firms. Marina received her B.A. from William Smith College, additionally she has completed coursework in Social Work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School and holds a certificate in Coaching For Improved Work Performance from Fordham University.
Sarah BedyDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Sarah Bedy

Prison Program Manager, Southern California

Sarah received her Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Michigan and went on to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy at George Mason University.

Sarah began her career as a community organizer in Toledo, Ohio where she recruited and trained diverse stakeholders to identify community problems and advocate for solutions. Sarah has worked as a Membership Manager at a national fair lending coalition, and most recently designed and managed a program to strengthen the parliament and political parties of Macedonia, while serving as Program Manager, Central & Eastern Europe at the National Democratic Institute in Washington, D.C.

As a volunteer, Sarah has coordinated an after-school program for homeless teenagers and mentored a teen in the foster care system.

Kerri BeersDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Kerri Beers

Senior Director, Marketing & Communications

Kerri received a Bachelor’s in English and Communications from James Madison University, with concentrations in Writing and Journalism.

Kerri has over 20 years of experience in marketing and communications working at startups, large corporations, and fast-growing small businesses. Most recently, she was Director of Marketing at Techstars, a startup accelerator and venture capital firm. Prior to Techstars, Kerri ran her own marketing consulting firm where she provided strategic guidance to CXOs on marketing, communications, and public relations.

As a ghostwriter for CEOs, her work has been published in Fast Company, Huffington Post,, GOOD magazine, and several other publications.

Sarah BinionDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Sarah Binion

Director, Monitoring & Evaluation

Sarah received a Bachelor’s in Mass Communication and a Master’s in International Studies from Texas State University and is finishing her Ph.D. in International Development at Tulane University.

Sarah brings to Defy 9+ years of experience that includes qualitative & quantitative research design and analysis, curriculum design, and program implementation and management. Most recently, Sarah served as a Social Impact Evaluation & Strategy Consultant for Fathom, as Board President for Crime Prevention Institute (CPI), and as an Adjunct Professor at Austin Community College. Recent projects included supervising a diverse and global team of 10 to implement and facilitate the traveler experience onshore in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, as well as implementing the first ever formal CPI strategy planning session that resulted in a three-year strategic plan for growth and diversification.

Jeremy BoumanDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Jeremy Bouman

VP, Chapter Programs

Jeremy grew up in Queens, NY and later in northern New Jersey. Because he holds a deep faith in individuals’ abilities to transform their lives, each step of Jeremy’s career advanced his capacity to empower those seeking to reinvent themselves.

He arrives at Defy from Creighton University in Omaha. In his nearly seven years at Creighton, he oversaw a staff of 28 development professionals who secured in excess of $15 million annually from prominent philanthropists in Nebraska and around the US. His service to faith-based higher education includes work as Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska. He served in fundraising capacities for the ELCA Foundation in Delaware and Maryland, as well as Lutheran Social Services of New York.

Prior to joining the nonprofit sector, Jeremy was partner and vice president of New York Telecom and Senior Account Executive of Cortel Business Systems. His entrepreneurial background in the private sector and subsequent 15 years committed to serving marginalized and vulnerable people drew him to Defy’s innovative mission. He has also served as a board member for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – Mid America Chapter.

Jeremy earned a bachelor of arts degree with an emphasis in journalism from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, and a master of science in leadership from Creighton University.

Paul BourqueDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Paul Bourque

Prison Program Assistant, Tri-State Area

Paul received a Bachelor’s in Architectural Engineering from Wentworth Institute of Technology and an MBA from American Intercontinental University.

For 14+ years, Paul served as a Drill Sergeant in the United States Army, where he developed and conducted training outlines and sessions, mentored and advised Iraqi leadership, and provided technical and tactical training to two Iraqi companies for combat operations. Paul was awarded two Bronze Star Medals for his heroic achievements during his time in Iraq.

Paul’s most recent experience includes serving as a Correctional Officer for the Connecticut Department of Corrections, where he spent several years at York Correctional Institution (York). While at York, Paul oversaw systems that ensured the health and safety of staff and incarcerated people, managed records for all equipment and supplies, and assisted in the development and operation of specialized correctional housing units.

Elisa BrookeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Elisa Brooke

Executive Relations Manager, Southern California

Elisa is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Communications at California State, Northridge.

She has worked as an Office Manager both for a Los Angeles M.D. and for the Malibu Chamber of Commerce. In these roles, Elisa represented the Chamber on numerous community boards and coordinated projects with Malibu City Hall. Additionally, Elisa played a key role in the successful launch of a new office and implemented programs and policies addressing: training, compensation, and new hire orientation.

While at Capstone Turbine, Elisa served as a Communications and Process Specialist, where she created an online training program for 95+ global client corporations. She also managed all internal communications, created marketing collateral and managed an employee volunteer program.

Scott ChamberlainDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Scott Chamberlain

Volunteer Relations Assistant, Northern California

Scott received a Bachelor’s in Sociology and History from Boston College. Upon completion of his studies, Scott served as a project manager and implementation consultant for two years at Epic Systems in Verona, Wisconsin. While at Epic, Scott traveled throughout the country to manage and consult on hospital installation projects. Scott oversaw the day-to-day management of technical support analysts, the design of facility-wide workflows and hospital policy, and the allocation of installation budgets.
Rudo ChaseDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Rudo Chase


Rudo Chase was born in Georgetown, Guyana and lives in Newark, NJ. He joined Defy as an EIT in 2015 and completed the program as the first-place winner of our Brown Belt competition in June of 2016. Rudo has been volunteering with Defy ever since and is looking forward to providing support to our EITs and guiding them along their entrepreneurial journey. He runs his own property management business in Newark and is passionate about real estate, helping others, and spending time with his three children.
Stephanie CharbonneauDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Stephanie Charbonneau

Prison Program Associate

Stephanie received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice/Forensic Science and a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from California State University, Stanislaus. She is now finishing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Palo Alto University.

Stephanie brings to Defy over seven years of experience, which includes curriculum development and instruction, quantitative and qualitative methodology, grant writing, and report design.

Most recently, Stephanie served as Outreach/Prison Coordinator for Alternatives to Violence and Senior Research Associate for San Joaquin Community Data Co-Op. As Outreach/Prison Coordinator, Stephanie worked closely with other prison facilitators to develop an agenda for a workshop exploring alternatives to violence. As Senior Research Associate, she focused on data analysis, report writing, and report presentations.

Kim CrainDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Kim Crain

Senior Director of Human Resources

Kim received a Bachelor’s in Art History from Arizona State University and holds a SHRM-SCP senior HR certification.

Kim brings over 20 years of HR experience to Defy with leadership roles in for-profit, not-for-profit, and HR consulting.

Most recently, Kim grew and led the HR department at CafeMedia, a high-growth digital media company. Prior to joining CafeMedia, she was a senior consultant with RealHR Solutions providing management-level HR support to businesses and not-for-profits in New York City. She has held senior HR positions at Public Health Solutions and Full Moon Interactive and started her career at ADP.

Will CunninghamDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Will Cunningham

Grant Writer

Will received a B.A. in English from Wofford College, an M.A. in English from the University of Alabama, and a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Kansas.

At KU, Will specialized in African American and Southern Literature, has published articles in multiple peer-reviewed journals, and presented research at numerous regional and national conferences. Will has taught over 20 University-level classes, with experience in research design and analysis, grant writing, curriculum development and implementation, editing, and writing tutoring.

Also at KU, he served as a Project Manager and Lead Grant Writer on several National Endowment for the Humanities grants for the Project on the History of Black Writing, a research center at KU committed to literary recovery work in black studies, public literacy, and innovative scholarship. As HBW’s newest board member, he will continue assisting with research initiatives in the applied humanities.

Arnette DunnDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Arnette Dunn

Prison Program Associate

Arnette received a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development and Family Studies from California State University, Long Beach and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California.

Arnette brings to Defy seven years of counseling experience, which includes serving as a Clinical Therapist at the Riverside County Department of Mental Health and as a Clinical Social Worker at California State Prison, Corcoran. Most recently, Arnette served as Mental Health Supervisor at Keeping Youth Journeying Onward (KYJO). Her responsibilities included staff supervision, crisis intervention training, and quarterly reporting on department outcomes.

Mariah DickinsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Mariah Dickinson

Executive Communications Director

Mariah received her Bachelor’s in International Relations from American University.

Following graduation, Mariah spent two years with Teach For America, as a special education teacher on the Texas-Mexico border.

At the nonprofit education start-up, The Future Project, Mariah served as DC Deputy Director, co-leading the first operating year, planning and executing 5 major events, creating a national system to track program progress and assisting with the grant process.

Most recently, while serving as a Senior Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, Mariah managed tasks and project execution for the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); managing relations with Department of Defense, industry, and academia.

Veronica EnsignDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Veronica Ensign

Executive Director, Bay Area

Veronica is responsible for advancing Defy’s mission and impact in the Bay Area. Having spent her entire career in social change – working on issues spanning from community-driven economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa to reforming the U.S. education system – Veronica is committed to creating a better, more just world by fighting for racial, economic, and social equity. Before Defy, Veronica served as Chief Development Officer at Oakland-based Pivot Learning, the largest and most experienced nonprofit technical assistance provider to school districts in California. There she led the development team to double and then triple fundraising revenue. She also founded a nonprofit organization that partners with rural communities in Kenya and Rwanda to kick-start development projects that are identified, designed, and owned by the people they serve. Veronica received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of San Diego and a Master’s in International Development from Tulane University.
Chris FaganDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Chris Fagan

Recruitment Associate

Chris received his Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Buffalo and a Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership from Fordham University.
While in college, Chris was an HR Intern at the City of Buffalo City Hall, and the Mercantile Adjustment Bureau.
At NYU’s Silver School of Social Work Chris worked as a Research Assistant, coordinating outreach and conducting interviews to gather and report relevant data.
Most recently, Chris worked for Henry Street Settlement where he began as an Employment Coordinator, assisting participants with job readiness skills while developing relationships with employers, attending career fairs and hosting recruiting events. Later, Chris became the organization’s first Coordinator of College Success. There, he focused on screening, matching and on-boarding students and employees, attaining 15 placements per quarter among 18-24 year-old clients.
Chinue ForemanDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Chinue Foreman

Volunteer Relations Manager, Tri-State

Chinue received her Bachelor’s in History from Barnard College.

While in college, Chinue served as a Student Admissions Representative, providing administrative support and coordinating events. She also interned at the Athena Film Festival, managing student outreach, and promoting the Festival via social media engagement.

Most recently, Chinue served as Program and Development Assistant at the John A. Reisenbach Foundation, where her work included: planning and executing social and fundraising events, managing and engaging the Foundation’s social media community, restructuring the donor database and providing high-level administrative support.

Nadine Friedman-RobertsDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Nadine Friedman-Roberts

Volunteer Relations Manager

Nadine is a nonprofit administration scholar specializing in gender equity through an intersectional framework. She holds a Master of Public Administration from Baruch College, where she developed a screenwriting mentorship program for girls in alternative-to-detention programs.

Her writing and video work on gender, race, and pop culture has been published in Salon, Bitch Magazine, Biographile and The Daily Beast. Nadine has also worked with progressive organizations such as Berlin-based Dropping Knowledge and Arts in a Changing America, a national project filling the urgent need to engage, from an arts perspective, the United States’ dramatic demographic transformation. Nadine is currently completing a book of essays and photographic portraits of individuals living with Multiple Sclerosis throughout the United States.

Michelle GarciaDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Michelle Garcia

Family Liaison

For ten years, Michelle worked as an Office Manager for Davilyn Corporation. Her responsibilities included resource allocation, staff training and supervision, implementation of office procedures, and customer support. Most recently, Michelle served as Regional Coordinator for Get On the Bus, an organization that brings children and their caregivers throughout the State of California to visit their mothers and fathers in prison.
Amanda GeierDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Amanda Geier

Executive Assistant in the Office of the CEO

Amanda has over 15 years of experience supporting C-level executives in large, international corporations. Most recently, Amanda worked at Bureau Veritas North America, Inc. where she received five promotions during her 12-year tenure. At Bureau Veritas, Amanda’s positions included serving as a Business Development Associate, and the Executive Assistant to the VP of National Operations. Prior to Bureau Veritas, Amanda spent six years at Subscriber Services Incorporated, where she served as Administrative Assistant, Sales Associate and supervised the Verification Department.
Melissa Gelber-O’DellDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Melissa Gelber-O’Dell

Director, Prison Programs

Originally from New York, Melissa Gelber-O’Dell received her BA from Franklin and Marshall College in Government and Women’s Studies and a Master’s degree from New York University in Social Work and Public Policy. She spent seven years at the Center for Court Innovation working to provide new opportunities to individuals involved in the criminal justice system and increase the efficacy of the judiciary. Most recently, Melissa served as the Program Director of the Community Assessment and Services Center, a large-scale reentry resource hub, assisting clients on probation returning from incarceration. Melissa is also an adjunct lecturer in the MPA program at San Francisco State University and is the Chairwoman of the Board for NYC TOGETHER.

As a criminal justice reform advocate, Melissa is passionate about Defy’s mission. In her role as Director, CEO YNL – California, she works to connect Entrepreneurs-in-Training to Defy’s programming and expand pre-release operations on the West Coast.

Jessica GeorgeDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Jessica George

Executive Relations Manager

Jessica received a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

For 11 years, Jessica worked as a Technical Writer, including contract positions with Ageia, Microsoft, and ACS Government Healthcare Solutions. In 2009, Jessica made a career pivot toward nonprofit program management and development work. In Denver, Jessica served as CSA Regional Manager at Grant Family Farms and Program Director for Veterans to Farmers.

Most recently, Jessica served as Development Director at Open Media Foundation (OMF). At OMF, she developed and executed the annual fundraising plan for the Open Media Project, and cultivated, solicited and stewarded major gifts with individual, foundation, and corporate donors.

Mary GlennDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Mary Glenn

Prison Program Manager, Tri-State Area

Mary received a Bachelor’s in Spanish and Latin American Cultures/Human Rights from Barnard College, Columbia University and a Master’s of Development Practice from the University of California, Berkeley. Upon completion of her undergraduate studies, Mary worked as a Case Manager for AIDS Service Center in New York City. She managed a caseload of 50+ HIV clients, connecting them to medical care, housing, mental health services, and community resources and support. During her studies at Berkeley, Mary worked as a graduate instructor and held two fellowship positions at Pogo Park and Center for Food, Faith, and Justice where she focused on designing and leading community development programming and events around food justice, community health, and youth leadership.
Terrell HallDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Terrell Hall

Post-Release Program Manager, NY

Terrell is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Community Health at CUNY, Hostos. He received CASAC Certification from St. Joseph’s Addiction and Recovery Center, and is certified as an HIV/AIDS Educator by the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York. Terrell received Offender Employment Specialist (OES) Facilitator Training at FCI-Ray Brook.

Terrell created a collaborative youth mentoring program at The Bridge. At Action for a Better Community, he served as a Health Team Member, conducting HIV/AIDS seminars and events. For the New York State Department of Corrections, Terrell facilitated Aggression Replacement Training (ART) and worked at a youth assistance program, where he assisted at-risk adolescents to develop social, communication and other skills and conducted seminars on youth and law, goal setting, and change theory.

Most recently, Terrell served as Outreach Manager at Fair Shake, where he created content for a Reentry packet, managed the organization’s website, and forged community ties on behalf of people with criminal justice involvement.

Jasmine HarrisDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Jasmine Harris

Post-Release Program Manager, Nebraska

Jasmine brings 12+ years of experience to Defy that includes non-profit program management, community engagement, and coalition building. Most recently, Jasmine served as Co-Founder/CEO of WayMaker, LLC, an organization that motivates women and girls to overcome setbacks from being involved in the criminal justice system. She also served as a Health Educator at Creighton University and as Civic Engagement Committee Chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, where she focused on advocacy and awareness around criminal justice issues. Jasmine received a Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Margaret HendersonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Margaret Henderson


Margaret has 10+ years of experience acquiring in-depth practical knowledge of nonprofit accounting principles, operations, and internal controls. Her past experience includes serving as a Database Manager at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado and roles at Crowe Horwath LLP, where she served as Senior Audit Associate and was later promoted to Audit Manager.

Most recently, Margaret served as Controller at Stanley British Primary School. At Stanley, Margaret managed audit preparation, account reconciliation, payroll administration, and preparation of comprehensive financial statements.

Margaret received a Bachelor’s in Marketing and Tourism Management from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Master’s of Accountancy from the University of Denver. Margaret is a Certified Public Accountant in the State of Colorado.

Quan HuynhDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Quan Huynh

Post-Release Program Manager, Southern California

Quan created his first company, Jade Janitors, over the span of four days, six months after he paroled from a life sentence in late 2015. In 2016, he was selected as a Peace Fellow while serving as Team Coordinator with the Alternatives to Violence Project.

Most recently, Quan worked as General Manager at the Monarch 9 Café where he managed day-to-day operations, including managing a staff of 20 employees, and oversight of inventory, finance and marketing; and at Alliance Capital Finance, where he worked as a Loan Mitigation Specialist.

Quan is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Business Administration at California State University, Fullerton. He received certification as an Addiction Specialist I & II from Palos Verde College.

Julie Jackson-ForsbergDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Julie Jackson-Forsberg

Vice President of Learning

Julie Jackson-Forsberg is Defy’s Vice President of Learning. With twenty years’ experience in education, specifically devoted to underdogs, Julie is dedicated to helping people maximize their potential. Her experience is concentrated in instructional program development, curriculum, and data analysis. Prior to joining the Defy team, she served as the Chief Academic Officer of the Public Preparatory Network of charter schools, the founder and Managing Director of Critical Thinking Works, an education consultancy; and the founder and Head of School for Oracle Charter School in Buffalo, New York, a college-preparatory charter high school. Julie has an Executive MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Saunders School of Business; she is a past Fellow of the Peabody Professional Institute in Charter School Leadership at Vanderbilt University; she has completed coursework in Educational Leadership and Administration through George Washington University; MA work in English / Composition Studies through Northeastern University; and a BA in Creative Writing and Chemistry through Hamilton College.
Brittany JohnsonDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Brittany Johnson

Event Planner, Nebraska

Brittany received a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Evangel University. Since completing her studies, Brittany has worked as the Public Relations Director for Evangel University Activities Board and as the Director of PR/Communications for Venel, The Authority in Orthopedic Marketing.

Most recently, Brittany served as Co-Founder/Director of Marketing & Partnerships for Drink Local Think Global, an organization that partners with craft breweries to raise money to provide clean water in developing countries.

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Jason Kotas

Program Assistant, Nebraska

Jason was an EIT in Omaha Correctional Center’s first graduating class, where he completed Defy’s “CEO of Your New Life” Program. Jason currently serves as a peer facilitator and is pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Human Services at Metro Community College.

Most recently, Jason worked as a Resident Mentor and Lead Breakfast Cook at the Omaha Correctional Center. Serving in these roles, Jason facilitated small group sessions, assisted with special events and organized inventory.

Ed KressyDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Ed Kressy

Learning Associate

After earning his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of San Francisco, Ed spent five years with a training and consulting company and five years with Genentech. He continued his career as a clinical research professional, working for Stanford University, the University of California at San Francisco, and other organizations. His responsibilities included developing educational materials for doctors and other medical professionals.

As a Defy Ventures EIT, Ed launched a corporate training business that designs and delivers adult learning courses. His clients include Cisco, Decker Communications, Google, Nest, and Slack.

Rebeccah LanniDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Rebeccah Lanni

Post-Release Program Manager

Rebeccah received a Bachelor’s in Psychology with minors in Social Service and Spanish from Knox College. Upon completion of her studies, Rebeccah served two years in AmeriCorps, a national service program, where she developed a passion for the social service field.

Most recently, Rebeccah served as Lead Coordinator for Community Works West, One Family Program. As Lead Coordinator, Rebeccah worked with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, helping them obtain their GED, secure housing, and reconnect with their children through parent-child contact visits.

Lena LedbetterDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Lena Ledbetter

Prison Program Associate

Lena brings 13+ years of professional experience to Defy which includes program management and implementation, case management, curriculum development, and workshop facilitation. Most recently, Lena served as the Adult School Instructor for the Grossmont Union High School District in San Diego. In this role, Lena led various academic and life-skills trainings, including computer literacy, job seeking & employment readiness, parenting skills and anger management, through parent-child contact visits.

Lena received a Bachelor’s Degree in Child & Adolescent Development from California State University at Northridge.

Ping LieuDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Ping Lieu

Prison Program Associate

Ping was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He was recently released after serving 13 years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. While inside he earned an Associate Degree in Business, was certified as a law clerk by the state of California, and hopes to continue his education now that he is released.

Prior to coming to Defy Ventures, Ping worked in product development and marketing, creating campaigns and developing growth strategies in the fitness industry.

Before his release, Ping spent his free time tutoring others for their GEDs, was a Defy EIT at the California City Correctional Facility where he was a semi-finalist in the Business Pitch Competition, and returned as a peer facilitator to guide and support future EITs on their path to entrepreneurial success.

Emiliano LopezDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Emiliano Lopez

Program Associate Trainee

Emiliano is currently a sophomore at Los Angeles Trade Technical College where he studies Visual Communications.

To date, Emiliano’s work experience includes serving as an intern for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and as Co-Facilitator for Grip Training Institute, where he co-facilitates an emotional intelligence curriculum at Avenal State Prison.

Danielle McMorranDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Danielle McMorran

Director of Engagement, Live Events

Danielle facilitates Defy’s in-prison events and focuses on development opportunities nationally.

Prior to joining Defy, Danielle served as Director of Development and Public Relations at the Williamson County CASA, in Franklin, TN, where her work involved fundraising and increasing mission awareness through social and mass media, event planning and public speaking.

Danielle received a BA in Mass Communications and Speech Communications from Ouachita University in Arkansas, and studied for one year at Seinan University in Japan, working as an English teacher for Japanese students and professionals.

Ann Marie MorenoDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Ann Marie Moreno

Prison Program Associate

For 14+ years, Ann Marie has worked as a Curriculum Development Specialist, Office Manager, and as a Case Manager in correctional settings. Most recently, Ann Marie served as a Prison Program Administrator at Pelican Bay State Prison where her responsibilities included case management, community and volunteer relations, data management and workshop facilitation.

Maria MorenoDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Maria Moreno

Prison Program Manager, Nebraska

Maria received her Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Over the past 10 years, Maria has served in a variety of roles in organizations addressing social justice, community development, and community engagement issues.

Most recently, Maria worked as Country Manager & Interim Volunteer Program Manager for the FutureSense Foundation in Cambodia. At FutureSense she managed day-to-day operations including developing sustainable community health and education programs, organizing logistics over 11+ project sites, cultivating strong community relationships, monitoring evaluation of projects, and developing and managing budgets.

Robert OmerDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Robert Omer

Executive Director, Colorado

Robert received a Bachelor’s from Washburn University and a J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, KS. Robert later went on to pursue an MBA in Global Finance and Management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ.

For 18+ years, Robert served as a business leader working closely with senior executives and boards of directors to implement strategies to build long-term value in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

Most recently, Robert served as Co-Founder of Omer Legal Group, LLC in Frankfurt, Germany and Denver, Colorado. Here he established a full-service consulting firm providing legal and advisory services to individual and corporate clients, specializing in capital development and corporate transactions.

Martha OrtizDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Martha Ortiz

Finance Associate

Martha has served as an Accounting Assistant at The Latin Center and eShave Inc., preparing financial statements and managing A/R analysis, bank reconciliation, corporate tax preparation, and accounting records management. Martha has more than ten years of accounting and administrative experience in for-profit and non-profit organizations. Martha received an Associates Degree in Accounting from LaGuardia Community College and a Bachelors in Public Accounting from Antioquia University.
Erica PieperDefy-Students-1Defy-Students-1


Erica Pieper

Volunteer Relations Manager, Nebraska

Erica received her Bachelor’s in Social Work with a minor in Criminal Justice from Texas Christian University (TCU). She recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master’s in Social Work (MSW).

While pursuing her BA, Erica served as a Jail Advocate for The Net, visiting women in jail, and providing resources such as job training, education, and housing. She also worked as a Research Assistant at TCU’s Department of Social Work, where she performed statistical analysis to determine the effects of supportive housing, and as a Rape Crisis Advocate at The Women’s Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Most recently, Erica served as a Special Victims Counselor at the NY County District Attorney’s Office, where she provided supportive counseling, court accompaniment and case advocacy for victims of violent crime.

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Myron Pierce

Post-Release Program Assistant

Myron received a Bachelor’s in Business Leadership from Grace University. Since completing his undergraduate studies, Myron has worked as a Senior Leader at Passion City Church, and also at Abide/Bridge Church.

Most recently, Myron served as Senior Leader at Mission Church, where he focused on staff development, program management, fundraising, and implementation of new initiatives. 

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Shanda Pierce

Event Planner, Southern California

Shanda has worked as a Marketing and Events Coordinator in Southern California since 2011.
At Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, Shanda managed the planning and production elements for fundraisers, benefit concerts and pop-up events including: Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, The Chautauqua Educational Retreat, and The Power of Pink Benefit Concert.

While at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Shanda was responsible for the creation and execution of all brand management and marketing events including: Homewalk, the Annual Philanthropy Awards, the Annual Tocqueville Gala and LA Youth Vote.

Shanda received her Bachelor’s in Communication and Fine Arts from Loyola Marymount University.

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Jeanette Pineiro

Event Planner, NYC

Originally from New York City, Jeanette graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Development Sociology and Communications. After graduation she spent five years in Miami working for a young event management company where she was responsible for all day-to-day operations and events with local television stations around the country. It was this experience that first sparked her interest in working with start-up companies. Returning to New York City, Jeanette now serves as the Event Planner & Program Assistant managing the implementation of Defy’s in-person, experiential training.
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Stacey Putka

Prison Program Manager, Colorado

Stacey received a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Colorado State University and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Denver. Upon completion of her studies, Stacey transitioned from Clinical Intern to Clinical Therapist at Behavioral Treatment Services. She conducted mental health and substance abuse evaluations and facilitated group and individual therapy to address presenting symptoms, diagnoses, and safety concerns.

Most recently, Stacey served a Clinical Team Lead at the Behavioral Treatment Services. As Clinical Team Lead, Stacey oversaw the delivery and implementation of treatment programs, supervised a five-person clinical therapy team in a men’s community corrections facility, and developed quality partnerships with local DOC, Community Corrections, and other external program resources.

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Reid Ransom

Vice President of Engineering

Reid began his career in the entertainment industry working for shows on MTV and Comedy Central. He went on to edit branded content for The CW/Microsoft, NBC/Walgreens, E!/Volkswagen and many others. He has developed software to improve post-production workflow and deliver video content more efficiently. His apps have been used to back up footage for the BET Awards and rescue corrupt footage for many networks.

Recently he developed a web application that enables major movie studios to manage their content across digital distribution platforms like iTunes and Google Play.

Reid earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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Becky Robinson

People and Culture Associate

Becky received a Bachelor’s in English from Davidson College and is finishing her Master’s in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Since completing her undergraduate studies, Becky has worked as a Summer Staff Coordinator for Frontier Ranch; and at Pioneer Plunge, as a Guide Team Leader and Governing Board Member.

Most recently, Becky served as Area Director for Young Life, a faith-based organization that supports young leaders through mentorship and community programming. As the Area Director, Becky was charged with developing training curriculum for staff and interns, implementing new program initiatives, event execution, and volunteer relations.

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Carrie Simon

National Business Development Director

Carrie received a Bachelor’s from UC Santa Barbara and a Master’s of International Affairs from Columbia University.

Carrie’s career in the for-profit world included serving as a Partner at MKP Capital Management and founding Washington Wine 9, a concierge service focused on travel to Washington State’s wine country. In 2007, Carrie founded IR2 Inc., a fundraising and communications strategy firm. She later worked as Director of Business Development at BBR Partners, where she was charged with new business development strategy and enhancing systems and infrastructure.

Most recently, Carrie served as Director of Business Development at Farmland LP, a sustainable agriculture impact investment fund. At Farmland, Carrie identified potential high net worth and institutional investors and managed fundraising from prospect contact to close of investments. Additionally, she developed and executed unique events on farm properties for current and future investors.

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Sean Volin

Director, Program Operations

Sean has more than 15 years of experience and leadership and has globally led implementation and management of Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Operation solutions requiring collaboration of multiple factories, configuration centers, third party suppliers and various stakeholders. Sean’s experience spans demand planning, supply planning, fulfillment, logistics, sales and operations, planning systems technology, financial planning as well successfully developing and leading cross-functional teams.
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Jason Wang

Executive Relations Manager

A former DEFY EIT and 2 time start-up founder, Jason joins Defy with experience in business development, management consulting and product/relationship management. In 2009, Jason Founded and served as CEO of Wang Innovations, designing 3-D computer simulation models, developing client sales strategies and supporting the design and implementation of statewide juvenile justice policy in Texas. Jason went on to work at Ericsson as a Business Analyst and Project Manager.

Most recently, Jason was Founder & CEO of Byte Size Moments, in Dallas, Texas, where he expanded service offerings to 2,600 e-commerce sites, engaging 7 million customers annually.

Jason received both a Master’s in International Business and an MBA from the University of Texas.

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Elizabeth Weinberg

Senior Director, Donor and Volunteer Engagement

Elizabeth is an expert in fundraising, marketing, management, and volunteer engagement. Organizations that have benefited from her expertise include the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, City Harvest, Inc., the Environmental Defense Fund, and Turnaround for Children, Inc.

Elizabeth is devoted to improving the lives of economically disadvantaged men, woman, and children, and to ending racism and sexism.

She holds a B.A. from the University of California, Irvine and an M.P.A. from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. She is a board member at L.A.C.E.R. Afterschool Programs.

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Amanda Wiggans

Event Planner

Amanda received a Bachelor’s in History with a minor in Economics from Middlebury College. In addition to her studies, Amanda served as Senior Fellow for Middlebury Programs on Creativity and Innovation, where she coordinated programs and competitions that focused on fostering creativity and entrepreneurship among students and co-chaired three annual TEDxMiddlebury events.

Most recently, Amanda worked as Program Associate at The Aspen Institute. Focusing primarily on the planning of The Aspen Ideas Festival, Amanda’s primary role was to manage speaker logistics prior to and during the Festival, hire and supervise summer interns, assist with sponsor management, and coordinate the Festival workshops.



Catherine Hoke

Founder & CEO

Catherine started Defy in 2010 after founding and leading the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a nonprofit organization that serves men throughout the Texas prison system. At PEP, Catherine developed the vision, recruited and worked closely with the Governing Board and three Local and National Advisory Boards to execute the vision, led a staff of 25, raised a $2.5 million privately funded budget, taught PEP’s curriculum to men in prison, oversaw all activities with the prison system, and served as an advocate to external constituents. Under Catherine’s leadership, PEP was recognized for its innovation and results by NBC Nightly News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, National Public Radio, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Deal Maker Magazine.

Prior to PEP, Catherine built a network of more than 4,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs during her career in venture capital and private equity. She sourced $32 million in equity investments in three technology deals at Summit Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based firm. Catherine then served as Director of Investment Development at American Securities Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration from University of California, Berkeley.

A three-time marathon runner, college rugby player and varsity rower, and California State Women’s Wrestling Champion, Catherine still loves training and competing in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. As a French Canadian-born daughter of an entrepreneurial immigrant, Catherine was an ESL student and appreciates good grammar. She’s surprisingly domesticated and feels the need to regularly experiment in the kitchen.

The diverse team that powers Defy brings a variety of expertise to the organization, from entrepreneurship to technology to nonprofit program management. Defy is a lean, results-driven institution with a team who’s committed to and passionate about our mission. A specialized roster of consultants compliments our small full-time staff and collaborates with us to create transformational opportunities. We work exceptionally hard, play whenever we can, and, above all, value the heart behind the Entrepreneurs-in-Training, volunteers, and supporters who share in our mission.