Executive Director, CFRE
Jennifer Litton Singer cofounded The Friendship Club with Mary Collier in 1995, before smartphones, social media and some of the struggles of today. But many of the challenges of three decades ago – such as poverty and social isolation – remain. Just as society has changed, The Friendship Club has evolved into Bright Futures for Youth with the merger with NEO (New Events and Opportunities) in 2020 and the creation of SAFE (Stability, Access Foundation, Empowerment), a program that helps youth experiencing housing instability. Bright Futures for Youth assists several hundred children and young adults every year, and was named Nonprofit of the Year for the 1st District of California in 2022. Jennifer, with the direction of the Board and the help of staff, has overseen the fast-paced growth of Bright Futures for Youth, which offers everything from after-school programs and life-skills classes to safety-net services such as healthy meals, clothes and housing. The nonprofit also ensures youth have access to health care and counseling – and even assists with applications for college, financial aid and scholarships. “The stories and challenges are just so overwhelming,” Jennifer says. But “after seeing these challenges knowing I could play some role in alleviating some of them, how could I not do this work? I continue to be inspired by the professional teams and volunteers we have built. They work tirelessly to ensure youth have access to a positive environment, relationships and experiences. We know that this helps youth build resiliency and thrive.” Jennifer received a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Colorado at Boulder and has studied nonprofit administration in a master’s degree program at the University of San Francisco. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and is a Board member of the Nevada County Community Foundation and the Nevada County Continuum of Care. She was the founding board president of Sierra Harvest and is a current Board Chair of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, an organization that helps nonprofits. She also serves as the Nevada City School District Board President. Away from work, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family, their two Aussies, yoga and being involved in the community.
Dena Valin Malakian
Associate Director, Ed.D
Dena Valin Malakian has been instrumental in the expansion of The Friendship Club to become Bright Futures for Youth and evolve into a much-larger organization in recent years. Dena joined The Friendship Club as Associate Director in 2013, when the after-school program focused solely on helping girls and young women, from building character and teaching them life skills to opening the door to endless opportunities through education and training. When The Friendship Club merged with NEO in 2020, the newly named Bright Futures for Youth expanded to include boys and young men – and added more programs, services and team members. With more than two decades of experience developing programs to support youth and leading organizations, Dena has embraced the challenge and plays a major role in Bright Futures for Youth’s success – and its mission of helping children and young adults.She wants “youth to feel accepted and loved for who they are, wherever they are so they can have a positive self-image and treat themselves and others with kindness and respect.” Prior to BFFY, Dena served as Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County and North Lake Tahoe from 2004 to 2013. She has a doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of California, Irvine. She also has a masters degree in Social Ecology. She earned two bachelors degrees from the University of California, Santa Cruz – in Anthropology and Psychology. Dena is a Nevada County native who returned after grad school. She enjoys hiking, live music performances and traveling.
Christian “Cash” Beall
SAFE Program Manager
Christian “Cash” Beall has found his passion, bringing light, compassion and much-needed services to youth experiencing homelessness in Nevada County. As SAFE Program Manager, Cash has been integral in the development of the first-of-its-kind program in the county that serves children and young adults experiencing homelessness. More than 150 youth have been assisted since the program started in 2019. Cash, who experienced homelessness as a young adult, connects effectively with youth seeking assistance from the SAFE program. “I was inspired by the vision for the SAFE program,” he says. “The goal of creating a shelter for minors and transitional-aged youth was something that I felt our community truly needed.” He was most recently a Crisis Specialist with Auburn Counseling/Odyssey House, and has several years of experience with nonprofit organizations with social service efforts. Cash earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. “This is the job that I was supposed to do when I grew up,” he says. “I’m grateful to be here at the beginning (of the SAFE program).” Cash and his wife moved to Nevada County in 2007. The couple have a son and daughter. Away from work, he enjoys playing the guitar, a passion he picked up in recent years, skiing and soccer.
CASE Manager, SAFE Program
Kaitlin Bisdee is committed to bringing more awareness to the “invisible issue” of youth homelessness in Nevada County, as many children and young adults couch surf or sleep in vehicles. As a Case Manager for the SAFE program, she knows youth experiencing homelessness is a hard-to-see but increasing problem. “I wanted to work with youth … because I noted the gap in housing resources and services available,” says Kaitlin, who was most recently a caseworker for the Allegheny County Office of Children Youth and Families in Pittsburgh, PA. Western Pennsylvania or western Nevada County, the challenges of helping youth experiencing homelessness are similar. Kaitlin was attracted to SAFE because of how the program empowers and supports youth dealing with housing instability, and helps them live independently. Kaitlin graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh, and has completed trainings and earned certifications for child welfare education to understanding drug and alcohol relapse. She also has experience in helping youth apply for and receive safety-net services. Away from work, Kaitlin – a newcomer to Nevada County – enjoys reading, playing and exploring nature with her toddler daughter.
Major Gifts Officer
As a native and longtime resident of Nevada County, Sienna Crawford wants to grow the mission of Bright Futures for Youth. Sienna, Major Gifts Officer for Bright Futures for Youth, has extensive experience as a leader of organizations, including most recently Executive Director of Social Impact Partners of Sacramento, a nonprofit that supports other nonprofits in the region. She has a background in managing accounts, organizations and donor portfolios – all skills that will help Bright Futures for Youth attract more donations. Sienna earned a master’s degree in Leadership and Change Management and a Bachelor in Science in Management and Organizational Behavior, both from the University of San Francisco. Sienna wants to “see our community gain awareness for this organization and the impact it has” on hundreds of youth every month. It’s a community that Sienna knows well. Sienna enjoys getting together with numerous family members – including six cousins – and lifelong friends living in Nevada County. She also likes hikes along the Yuba River and exploring new food and wines.
NEO Program Director
Halli Ellis-Edwards is a community leader and visionary committed to children and young adults in Nevada County. She cofounded NEO (New Events & Opportunities) in 2008, a grassroots organization that serves hundreds of youth every month, from offering after-school programs to organizing weekend get-togethers. From ensuring a comfortable and welcoming environment to impromptu music jam sessions, NEO has become the go-to place for youth. The Friendship Club and NEO merged in 2020, establishing the much-larger and multifaceted Bright Futures for Youth. “I care deeply about youth and want them to feel safe, loved and accepted for who they are,” says Halli, who continues to oversees NEO. “I’m passionate about providing a space for them in the community where they aren’t afraid to let loose and have fun, and therefore can try new things, make mistakes, learn, grow and thrive.” Before NEO, Halli was a Site Supervisor for the Grass Valley School District and a Camp Counselor for The G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) Summer Youth Academy in Nevada City. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Away from work, Halli enjoys spending time with her husband and son, Finnegan. She likes to dance, play and have adventures with her family. She also embraces do-it-yourself projects, planning parties and spending time in nature.
Case Manager, SAFE Program
With a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a focus on human trafficking and more than three years of social-service work, Kendra Hill has the experience and energy as a Case Manager for the SAFE program. Kendra was most recently a Peer Case Manager for the Turning Point Community Program that is contracted with Nevada County Behavioral Health. She was also a Case Manager and Temporary Coordinator for the Youth Service Bureau in Eureka. “After moving back to Nevada County, I knew I wanted to work for a program that is helping youth in our community,” says Kendra, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State University in spring 2019. She is a graduate of Nevada High School and Sierra College. “I feel passionate about helping to inspire youth and families to recognize their strength and power to live, learn, socialize and work in their community.” Kendra leads by example, with a long list of community service efforts in Nevada County and in other regions. Kendra’s most recent positions and her volunteer efforts “shed a light on the lack of services and support for our youth,” especially those experiencing homelessness, an increasing but often-overlooked issue in rural communities. Away from work, Kendra enjoys spending time on her property with her boyfriend, their dog – and a collection of farm animals, including chickens, lambs and sheep. Kendra keeps busy with home-improvement projects, but when she gets a few free moments, she likes arts and crafts and embracing nature.
Case Manager, SAFE Program
A hard-to-pass up opportunity and the chance to help others attracted Nicole Hilton to Bright Futures for Youth. “I wanted to get involved when I learned about the incredible work being done here,” says Nicole, who is working on her master’s degree in social work. “I was impressed by everyone’s genuine enthusiasm for youth advocacy at BFFY. I knew being part of this team would provide me with learning opportunities and support as an MSW student.” Nicole, a Case Manager for the SAFE program, brings more than a decade of experience as an advocate and coordinator for caretakers and children in underserved communities. She is also a consultant and ally for families facing rare diagnoses. Nicole’s bachelor’s degree is in Professional Writing & Family Studies from Brigham Young University. Away from work, she enjoys cooking, hiking and reading.
Community Engagement Manager
After a successful career in the bottom line-focused corporate world, Cindy Hintz wanted to work for a “cause” and help the next generation succeed – and thrive. Cindy joined Bright Futures for Youth (then known as The Friendship Club) as Community Engagement Manager in 2013. A decade later, the organization has more than doubled and expanded to include boys and young men. Cindy manages a more than 100-person volunteer team for Bright Futures for Youth’s three programs – The Friendship Club, NEO and SAFE, a program for young people experiencing housing instability. She recruits, trains and coordinates volunteers and their efforts, critical for the success of each program. The always-changing needs require problem-solving and strategic thinking skills that she developed in the private sector, most recently as Facilities Project Manager for Netflix Inc. in Los Gatos, when the streaming service was expanding at a rapid pace. She was also a Facilities Project Manager for Xilinx Inc. in San Jose. Cindy has almost three decades of experience in everything from budget monitoring and strategic planning to organizational development. “Many volunteers share that they volunteer with us because they had a difficult upbringing and home life, and how they wish an organization like Bright Futures for Youth was around to help them,” she says. “I am so proud that we guide youth to find the resources, connections and support they need to succeed in life.” Away from work, Cindy enjoys spending time with her family, having quiet time and gardening.
Youth Development Assistant, The Friendship Club
Kylie Keeling embraces challenges and the opportunity to help others and expand her skills. Kylie, Youth Development Assistant for The Friendship Club, was born and raised in Nevada County – and is an active member of the arts community and held numerous management-level positions at local businesses. She was most recently with Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City. “This is an entirely new experience for me and I love to push myself and learn new things,” she says. “I love to dedicate myself to the task at hand, and feel like I can bring fresh eyes and creative ideas.” She believes that the health and wellbeing of others, especially youth, starts with the health of the land – and the food it provides. Because of her passion, Kylie is working on earning an associate’s degree in sustainable agriculture from Sierra College in Grass Valley. In her down time, Kylie enjoys reading, painting and enjoying all that nature offers in Nevada County.
Lexi Martin has always been a big fan of Bright Futures for Youth because of the organization’s strong focus on positive youth development. Bright Futures for Youth assists several hundred children and young adults every year. Lexi’s career has been all about helping others, as a Youth Coordinator for Community Beyond Violence, and as a Registered Behavioral Technician with Juvo Behavioral Health. From making the community more aware of domestic violence and sexual assault to developing programs and partnering with other organizations, Lexi is committed to helping youth. She has assisted youth to apply for social-service programs like CalFresh and CalWORKS, and helped callers on the 24-hour crisis hotline. “My goal has been to create a positive influence on youth and support them,” says Lexi, the Friday Night Live Program Coordinator with Bright Futures for Youth. “My favorite part of the day is seeing kids grow and actively choosing to create healthier relationships in their daily lives.” Lexi, a graduate of Forest Lake Christian High School in Auburn, has earned certifications in Crisis Intervention Training and Mental Health First Aid Training. Away from work, Lexi enjoys dancing, music and long walks in nature, which helps clear her mind and connect with the environment.
Youth Development Coordinator, The Friendship Club
Evan fosters relationships with youth in The Friendship Club. She previously worked for the Center for the Arts as their bar manager, where she oversaw up to 40 volunteers at a time. Evan is a certified Doula, providing support and assistance before, during and after childbirth. Her experience working with youth includes serving as a child and adolescent equine riding instructor. She also has experience in the hospitality field. Evan received a California Institute of the Arts degree in Entertainment Technology and Post-production Editing from Santa Monica College.
Kitchen and Nutrition Program Manager
With a background as a team member at several restaurants and supervisor for a children’s educational and behavioral program, Eric is the perfect fit as the first-ever Kitchen and Nutrition Program Manager for Bright Futures for Youth. Eric joined the organization in fall 2021, and has been making full use of the new, state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. He has much on his plate in the new position, cooking and serving 150-plus meals every week to developing and teaching nutrition education programs for youth. Eric educates children and young adults about the importance of eating healthy and nutritious meals – and how to make them. Of course, he also must be aware of food allergies, gluten-free and vegan diets of youth. It’s a balancing act that Eric mastered while working at several restaurants, including local favorites the Holbrooke Hotel and Tofanelli’s Gold Country Bistro in recent years. He also handles buying and managing food for the organization, coordinating schedules and working with volunteers, and most recently establishing a food pantry for the community. Eric, who has completed numerous finance and accounting and business management classes at Sierra College in Grass Valley, is developing cooking classes for youth and working with local farmers to embrace the farm-to-fork movement in the region.
Aurora oversees the SAFE (Stability, Access, Foundation, Empowerment) program, which provides case management, basic needs, academic, social and emotional support, and life-skills training to youth 10-26 at risk of or experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Aurora graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Community Advocacy and Social Policy from Arizona State University (ASU) and received her Master of Social Work degree from ASU Watts College of Public Service.
Community Outreach Coordinator
Cassie spent many years working in hospitality, moved to investment banking and most recently worked in operations at a boutique architecture firm in Portland, Ore. Cassie also lived in cities throughout the United States and abroad. She returned home to Nevada County in 2016 with a commitment to community, particularly the arts and arts education for young people. Cassie serves on the board of the Nevada County Arts Council. Cassie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in French Literature from San Francisco State University.
Director, Development and Communications
With more than three decades of experience in marketing and public relations for nonprofits and private-sector organizations, Cheryl Rubin has been at the forefront as The Friendship Club evolved into Bright Futures for Youth. Cheryl joined Bright Futures for Youth (then The Friendship Club) in January 2019 as Director of Development and Communications, and has helped the organization educate the community about its mission and the expansion of much-needed services. From being a critical team member on grant proposals to sharing the latest news about Bright Futures for Youth, Cheryl ensures clear and effective messaging related to Bright Futures for Youth. She works closely with community leaders, local media, Bright Futures for Youth Board members and staff. “The Friendship Club’s mission to build a better, stronger foundation for children and young adults in Nevada County attracted me to the organization,” says Cheryl, who was most recently Chief Communications Officer for Western Sierra Medical Clinic, the largest outpatient health provider in Nevada County. “Our accomplishments and life-changing programs are stories that I enjoy sharing with the community. Bright Futures for Youth is a success story in so many ways.” Rubin is the former Vice President of Communications for the California Forest Products Commission and The Forest Foundation in Sacramento, and Public Relations Director for The Heritage Foundation and United Way of America in Washington, D.C. Cheryl, who grew up in New York City and moved to Nevada County more than two decades ago, earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism with a minor in Political Science from the University of Georgia. She was honored as an Outstanding College Athlete of America for her service and ability for tennis, basketball and volleyball. She remains active in athletics, including serving as a tennis instructor.
Youth Support Partner
Bright Futures for Youth volunteer-turned-team member Emmitt Smith is committed to the community and its youth. Emmitt, Youth Support Partner with Bright Futures for Youth, is focused on making the most of the “strengths and skills” of the organization’s three programs – The Friendship Club, NEO and SAFE – and “to expand the reach and quality of the services we provide.” With a background in mental health and more than five years of experience working with children, Emmitt keeps a close watch on the mental wellbeing of youth and intervenes when needed. Emmitt, who has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Baylor University, provides after-school curriculum and plans and leads activities for students participating in Bright Futures for Youth programs. Emmitt, who joined the organization in 2021, also develops one-on-one activities for students who need additional help and provides case management services for at-risk youth, including those who are experiencing housing instability. He was most recently a Direct Service Worker for Triage Auburn Counseling Services. Away from work, Smith enjoys playing games – from board games to role-playing games – that help him connect with family and friends. He also embraces the outdoors, from biking and hiking to camping. Nature is an “integral part of who I am, and a part that I very much enjoy sharing with everyone I meet.”
Youth Development Coordinator, NEO
Craig Terry knows the importance of connecting with and providing opportunities for youth, from impromptu performances to skills-training workshops. Craig, Youth Development Coordinator for NEO, has been busy building and developing teams for almost a decade – as a team leader at one of the nation’s largest retailers to a manager for California Organics. He was most recently Prevention Coordinator for Community Beyond Violence. His extensive experience helps Craig develop educational and entertaining programs for youth, who will hopefully encourage others to attend and participate in NEO, especially with the new NEO Youth Center scheduled to open in late-summer 2023. “My goal is for everyone in the community to know who we are and what we do, and get as many youth as possible to come to NEO after school,” says Craig, who had been a NEO volunteer before later joining the program as a team member. Craig, who is studying Psychology at Sierra College in Grass Valley, enjoys playing and listening to music, adventures – from hikes to long walks – and playing video games.
Youth Development Coordinator, The Friendship Club
With a decade of experience working with children and growing up in Nevada County, Marissa embraces her role as Youth Development Coordinator for The Friendship Club. Marissa knows the importance of the program has on girls and young women – and how the organization meets her personal mission of addressing economic and social disparities and ensuring equal opportunities for youth. Marissa joined The Friendship Club in 2022, after earning a bachelor’s degree in Communications from San Francisco State University. The Nevada Union High School graduate has extensive experience as a leader and working with children and young adults since 2014. She was most recently a mental health worker for Mountain Valley Child and Family Services in Nevada City, planning activities and ensuring that residents eat healthy meals, exercise and sleep well. She was previously a camp counselor and lifeguard at a nonprofit summer in New York state between 2014 and 2017. “I didn’t know I would have such a knack” for working with kids, Marissa says. “It’s so important that kids have good role models and people who care and listen (to them). I am passionate about giving kids the resources that can change everything.”
Program Director, The Friendship Club
As a Nevada County native and Friendship Club graduate, Chelsy Warmerdam knows the importance of the after-school and so-much-more program to the community. Chelsy joined the nonprofit in 2016 and has been promoted multiple times and was named Program Director of The Friendship Club in2022. Chelsy has helped The Friendship Club – and Bright Futures for Youth – to expand services and reach more girls and young women in recent years. In addition to earning a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Minor in Child Development from California State University, Chico, Chelsy has extensive experience and training in mental health and drug and alcohol prevention and education. “I have always wanted to be a teacher and inspire the youth in our community to achieve their dreams – because I know they can,” says Chelsy, who has served as a short- and long-term substitute teacher for elementary and middle schools in the community. Chelsy, a Nevada Union High alum, and her husband returned to Nevada County after she graduated from Chico State. The couple built their dream home that they share with their three dogs. When she is away from work, she enjoys camping and adventures in the mountain with her family and friends.
Jodeci “Jo” Watson
Peer Support Specialist, SAFE Program
As a frequent participant and volunteer of Bright Futures for Youth, Jodeci “Jo” Watson knows firsthand the impact of the organization and its three programs. Jo, Peer Support Specialist for the SAFE program, wants to “give back to those in need in the way Bright Futures for Youth has done for me.” As a Youth Advocacy Board member of Bright Futures for Youth, she has handled surveys for the SAFE program and organized the food and hygiene pantry for those experiencing homelessness. And she has assisted with the Veterans Banquet and in many other ways through The Friendship Club, which she was a part of as a student. Jo, who is attending Sierra College in Grass Valley, has real-life experience and shares a similar path with some children and young adults participating in Bright Futures for Youth’s programs. She brings “empathy and an understanding of those we are helping, causing more of a connection having that shared experience in some ways.” Jo is committed to helping young people experiencing homelessness in the SAFE program, but adds that Bright Futures for Youth’s three programs are about teamwork – and working together to help young people. In her free time, Jo enjoys arts and crafts, thrift shopping and nature hikes.