Staff, Board and Instructors


PRESIDENT, Betty Prezzy Bryant
VICE PRESIDENT, Jennifer Waddell
TREASURER, Jonathan Bagby
SECRETARY, Isabel Espinoza
Sonia Amorim
Elizabeth Blanchard
Latasha Casterlow-Lalla
Victoria Fernandez
Mike Jones
Pastor Ronald Thompson

Are you looking for a unique leadership opportunity? Are you interested in using your talents such as strategic thinking, fundraising, financial forecasting, marketing or project management towards a worthy cause? Are you committed to the Institute of Music for Children’s mission?

The Institute of Music for Children Board of Trustees is committed to using the arts to provide youth with skills that are needed to succeed in life. We are protectors and stewards of the mission promise, and are seeking others who are willing to use their resources, connections and expertise to help further our mission. The expected time commitment is a minimum of seven hours per month.

Ideal candidates for board membership may be:

  • Energetic and entrepreneurial people, who are not already overextended with other commitments, eager to put their enthusiasm to work for our children.
  • Community leaders and philanthropists willing to engage their peers and advocate for arts education.
  • Business, finance, legal and governmental professionals who can assist in navigating the landscape of policy development, funding and legislation.
  • Leaders at within our community or partner agencies such as parenting, education, child and youth services and other community-based organizations.
  • Scholars/academics who want to put their expertise to work in the community.
  • Friends and family members of Institute students and others who have a demonstrated talent, joy and energy in chairing successful fundraising events and promotions.

Characteristics of an ideal board member:

  • Passionate about the cause and comfortable representing the Institute at events
  • Eager to participate and be actively engaged with fellow board members and at meetings
  • Dedicated to a three-year term 
  • Willing to serve on committees
  • Able to give above average financially
  • Possess a strong desire for stewardship to others
  • Supportive to fellow board and committee members, but comfortable expressing their own opinion

For more information, click here for the full job description.
For general inquiries about board membership, please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you feel that you would be a great fit for the board of trustees and are ready to apply for this rewarding and challenging experience, please click here to begin your board membership application.

Still want to get involved but not quite ready for board membership yet?
If you have a passion and commitment for our mission and respect the group decision-making process, please consider joining a committee to see if board service appeals to you.



Alysia Souder, Executive Director has over 20 years of experience in arts education. As a teaching artist, she has worked for organizations across New Jersey including Arts Horizons, Playwrights Theatre, Papermill Playhouse and the NJ Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) teaching acting and playwriting. She is passionate about the role the arts should play in young people's growth and development and bringing the arts to under-served youth has been central to her work.

Actively involved in the development of arts education on a statewide level, Ms. Souder serves as the Chair of the Newark Arts Education Roundtable, and was the co-chair of the 2014 Creative Elizabeth: Call to Collaboration initiative. Ms. Souder is also an international presenter, having been featured at education conferences in Guatemala, Germany and South Africa. In 2013 she was a finalist NJ Emerging Leader finalist, presented by Fairleigh Dickenson University’s Center for Excellence and the Center for Non Profits.

Ena Gomez, Assistant Director has been with the Institute since 2010 and has 8 Summer Camp t-shirts to prove it. Working in community advocacy since 1997, Ena has a wealth of experience in problem solving and relationship building. She brings those skills to her work at the Institute, as well as her love of art and arts education, holding a BA in Art History and Global Studies from Montclair State University. 

Jennifer North, Development Director has 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector with expertise in fund development, communications, strategic planning, and operational management for organizations addressing a range of critical community issues. Her interest in youth development extends beyond the work day, when Jennifer is engaged in political work and advocacy around education equity and criminal justice reform. She is currently on the Youth Justice Governing Board of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Prior to her work at the Institute, Jennifer spent 8 years as Vice President of Beyond Celiac, a national patient advocacy organization. She holds a Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in Drawing and Painting from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and has engaged in graduate study in Adult and Organizational Development at Temple University.

Kristin Schwartz, Systems and Programs Administrator joined the team in mid 2018.  Prior to her work at the Institute, Kristin ran her own business as an Intuitive Virtual Assistant where she held space for clients and their visions as well as supported their ongoing administrative needs.  For 14 years, Kristin worked in the culinary industry, first as a Pastry Cook, then as a Pastry Chef, and then in backend house management.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers as well as a Grand Diploma in Pastry Arts from the French Culinary Institute (now known as the International Culinary Center) in New York City.  Kristin's husband, Ian, is a long-time guitar and piano teacher at the Institute where he enjoys frequent duets with their daughter, Leena, an Institute student.  They live in downtown Jersey City with their pup Sammie, and Kristin's favorite pastime is running, her most recent accomplisment being a Full Marathon.

Darryl Gent, Outreach Coordinator was born in Queens, New York and spent most of his life being raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  Attended Elizabeth High School class of 2002.  At the age of 18, he became a United States Marine and was discharged in 2004.  For the past 10 years, Darryl has been working in a recording studio as an Audio Engineer, where he has had thousands of recording sessions as either the head engineer or assistant engineer.  In 2015, Darryl completed his CDA Certification and has been a Teacher's Assistant at a preschool in Elizabeth, NJ.  He started a podcast network in 2017 where he helps run a live daily talk show on the internet.
Tierney Fitzmartin, Development Associate as a freelance fundraiser for over 15 years, Tierney has worked with nonprofit organizations including NJ Performing Arts Center, Shakespeare Theater of NJ, and Legal Action Center in New York City. Tierney is the former director of a nonprofit theater school in Maplewood, where she oversaw all fundraising and marketing campaigns. Utilizing her NJ theater teaching certification, Tierney launched the theater program for Rafael Hernandez School of the Performing Arts, a K-8 public school in Newark. Serving as a teaching artist, Tierney combines her passion for the arts with the joy of working with children and young adults. She is a graduate New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Christopher Torres, Youth Leader Coordinator and Facilities Manager is an Elizabeth native who has been with the Institute since 2012 as a student, Youth Leader, and now Administrator. Christopher has been a teaching artist with the Institute since 2017, inspiring the world to dance, one student at a time. He has choreographed for competitions and won in categories such as Best Duet, Best Overall Group Dance, and Most Inspiring Solo. He has also taught at colleges and attends dance classes at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City.  Christopher also works on the development side of the Youth Leader Program. Aside from dance, the passion he has to teach has put him in the right position for the Youth Leader Program as the Coordinator. He believes in development training, and curriculums for the Youth Leaders, and being a mentor to them is all included. As part of his role, Christopher is also in charge of maintaining all Institute facilities.
Kierrah Nelson, Assistant Youth Leader Coordinator has been with the Institute since 2012 as a student.  Just from that first year alone she has shown traits of a Youth Leader and was asked to be a part of the program.  She started off as a volunteer and has worked herself up to be the Assistant Youth Leader Coordinator to co-lead and be a mentor/manager for the Youth Leader program.  She has always enjoyed her passion for dance such as Ballet, Pointe & Hip Hop since the age of 5, then later got involved with singing since joining the Institute.  She has enjoyed working alongside many teachers as being their teaching assistant, then began her process as a teacher in training for dance at the Institute.






Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin (self-empowerment speaker/award winning actor, poet /spoken word -recording artist) Via her own production company Talking Poems and Storytelling Productions Gha’il performs her one-woman show throughout the country bringing to light the inner complexities of everyday characters with raw simplicity and humor. From classrooms to college campuses, nightlife venues to art spaces including, Lincoln Center, The Schomberg, The Knitting Factory and Symphony Space of New York, Ghail motivates, uplifts and inspires audiences with words and phrases that stick to your ribs. 

As director and facilitator of various creative workshops and performances, she encourages participants of all ages to “project their inner voices”. Gha’il is both the visual image and voice of spoken word in collaboration with filmmaker Al Santana titled Reparation Blues, (PBS, WLIW). Her voice resonates through radio airwaves with her poem titled, She Got Burned, a PSA promoting domestic violence awareness through Safe Horizons of New York. Her debut CD Spiritual Eclipse/ Sacred Moments on a String of Words is a collage of music and spoken-word, a portrait of self-discovery, self-love and renewal. She is featured on Pete Seeger's 2014 Grammy-nominated album, The Storm King. Gha’il is the recipient of the 2010 Soul Purpose Award, The Ties That Bind Award, The Spirit Award, The Diamond Homer Award and an Audelco Award. She is currently on the public speaking circuit, raising her voice to ignite self-empowerment and creativity.
CLASSES: Acting, Creative Writing

Rhonda Holland received her B.F.A. in dance education from Temple University and is the Assistant Director of Umoja Dance Company. Holland was the Assistant Artistic Director of the Montclair High School Performing Arts Dance Company for two years. In addition to her administrative and performing roles, Holland free-lances as a studio teacher and choreographer while pursuing her modeling and theatre career in the New York / Philadelphia area. She plans to go back to school to complete her minor in sports medicine. Currently, Ms. Holland is the head coach for the Montclair High School Cheerleading squad. Classes: Ballet & Dance Troupe.

Hector Morales is a Peruvian drummer/percussionist, composer, recording artist and educator. He started playing the Cajon (traditional afro-Peruvian percussion instrument) at the age of eight. He began his formal music studies at the National School of Music of Peru. In the year 1999 he traveled to the US to study at the prestigious William Paterson University Jazz Program. Since graduating in 2003, he had continued his music education by studying different drumming traditions from around the world. His credits include performances with some of the masters of the Afro-Peruvian tradition including “Maestro” Carlos Hayre, Marcos Campos, Julio “Chocolate” Algendones, Oliver Lake, Onaje Allan Gumbs and Grammy Awarded bassist Oscar Stagnaro. He has an extensive background as an educator. He is the creator of the innovative interactive music program "The Art of Playing Together". Classes: Piano, Rhythm and Drumming, Drum Kit.

Sheikia S. Norris, lyrically known as Purple Haze…The New Shade of Love, was born in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, The Bronx. She currently resides in Newark, New Jersey. After graduating from Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sheikia bravely manifested dreams into reality by becoming a song writer, recording rap artist and spoken word performer.

Since recording her first rap demo at the age of sixteen, Purple has matured into a bona fide artist and performer. Fearlessly and seemingly without effort, Purple shares her new perspective of exploring the inner core to the outer surface of life. Through her music, she challenges her audience of listeners to do the same. It is Purple’s intention to share her gift with the world and use her music to elevate global consciousness and self-awareness and challenge us all to not only do more, but also BE more.

Purple has painted it purple in Ghana, Egypt, Bermuda, Jacksonville, Maryland, Dallas, Virgina, DC, Charlotte, and the Tri state area including NJPAC’s Planet Hip-Hop3, The Nuyorican Poet’s Café, Solomon’s Porch, The Five Spot, Serengeti Plains, The Blue Note, Mango’s, The Pyramid, Nocturnal Escape’s Soul Release, The Dancing Goat, Twin Touch, MTP Beat Battle, numerous schools, health centers, churches and community events such as Newark’s Case Fire Concert & V Day event @ Joe’s Pub as a member of Toni Blackman’s Free Style Union I Rhyme Like A Girl crew. Recently, Haze performance during the 24 hr Rap-A-thon held at Harlem’s Hip Hop Culture Center was featured on BET’s Black Carpet and Rap City, her true “footage in the making”.
CLASSES: Hip Hop Music and Performance, Creative Writing

Jeanette Catoggio Sack majored in harp at The Juilliard School where she received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1973. Prior to raising a family she was a free-lance harpist performing in orchestras, The New Jersey Symphony, Trenton State College, Westminster College and various local orchestras around the state of NJ. Having held the position of Harp teacher since 2001 at The Institute of Music for Children, she maintains a private teaching practice in harp and piano. In addition to her artistic skills as a harpist she loves to dance Argentine Tango. In keeping up with her steps she enjoys sewing, crafting, reading and gardening and is a proud owner of a Parson JR named Denver. Classes: Piano & Harp.

Ian Schwartz is a lifelong musician and songwriter, and has extensive experience teaching guitar and piano to students age 3 and up as a private music instructor. With 25 years experience in guitar and piano, Ian has studied and performed with several award-winning music artists, and has written and recorded over one hundred songs. He plays and teaches a variety of styles on both the guitar and the piano, from classical to jazz to rock. Ian is patient, friendly, and loves sharing the gift of music, especially with children. Ian was the guitarist in the Princeton University Jazz Ensemble for 3 seasons, was selected from a nationwide pool of musicians to perform at a special music event at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and was the recipient of the New Jersey Governor's Award in Arts Education for the category of Instrumental Music. Classes: Piano & Guitar.

Naja S. Selby has been a proud teacher of acting and public speaking at the Institute of Music for Children for the past four years. A graduate of Arts High in Newark and NYU's Tisch School of the Arts (BFA, Acting), Naja is a well-established actor, poet, and public speaker. She was the 1st place recipient of the Star Ledger Scholarship for the Performing Arts in 2008 and the NJ State Champion for Poetry Out Loud: a National Recitation Contest in 2007. While in high school, she was on Arts High School's award-winning Speech and Debate team, winning numerous awards on the city, state and national level in Declamation, Dramatic Interpretation and Poetry.

Her credits include an off-Broadway run of Electra (Theatre Row Studios) and an international tour of 'da Kink in my Hair (National Black Theater Festival: Winston-Salem, Harbourfronte Centre's Enwave Theatre: Toronto. She works extensively as an actor with Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, touring shows in both states' school systems. In addition, she works with the Experiential Theater Company and has been seen in venues from the Alaska Performing Arts Center to the Children's Theater of Charlotte. Her original poetry has been showcased at Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick and in NYC at Smalls Jazz Club and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
CLASSES: Public Speaking, Acting, Play Production