At Friends Center, our staff is diverse, dedicated and committed to working together to provide high-quality care for the children and families in our program. Our team includes our director, Allyx Schiavone, who brings years of experience and a Bank Street College education; seasoned teachers exemplifying best practices and championing each child’s development; energetic interns sharing their enthusiasm and perspectives; knowledgeable administrators adeptly maintaining our day-to-day operation; and compassionate professionals skillfully leading our emotional wellbeing program. We love our team and think you will too!
Amanda has been working with Friend Center’s I/T teams since 2014. She came to FCfC after graduating from Hamden Transitions Academy at Southern Connecticut State University. She is an accomplished equestrian and a 22-year member of the High Hopes Training Academy in Old Lyme. The beginning of the school year is most exciting for Amanda, as she loves seeing all the new faces and getting to know the children. Art projects are a favorite activity, and she is looking forward to continuing her collaboration with teachers in planning art curriculum.
Rondraya Barron had the pleasure of being raised in both Jamaica and America. The passing of a young sibling in Jamaica has inspired and motivated Rondraya to pursue a career involving working with children. Currently residing in Bridgeport CT, Rondraya attended Bullard Havens Technical High-school taking up the Early Childcare Education trade. There Rondraya had her first interaction working with children in a classroom, gaining experience and developing a passion to help and put a smile on children’s and their families faces. Rondraya previously worked at Bright Horizons of Orange starting as a center support then becoming a toddler teacher. Wanting to reinforce her commitment to early childcare education she took a course earning her CDA(the Child Development Associate) credentials while working at BH. Recently Rondraya has worked as a paraprofessional with special needs children in public schools in the Bridgeport, Ansonia area. Building positive relationships with children, families and staff along with being open to new opportunities has resulted in Rondraya a part of the FCfC family.
Amanda comes to Friends Center with 14 years of experience in the early childhood field. She has spent her time as both a head teacher in a preschool classroom and assistant director. Amanda has her Associates in Early Childhood Education, her head teacher certificate, and is currently working towards her Bachelors in Child Development. Amanda’s passion for connecting with children and their families is what drives her and she is thrilled to be joining Friends Center.
La’Shelle is currently attending the University of New Haven for her master’s degree in Forensic Technology. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of New Haven in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology and hopes to one day have a rehabilitation facility for children. She is originally from Maplewood, New Jersey where she began working with school age children at the South Mountain YMCA beginning at age 15. Through her experiences and growth at the YMCA with summer camps, she has developed an excitement to venture into early childhood care. She loves music, singing and going to the beach. She is ecstatic to be a part of the FCfC community and hopes to gain further experience with children!
Kristen Calderon lives in New Haven and has a certificate from Gateway Community College in Community Health Work. She has several years of experience in a daycare setting, as well as working as a caseworker at a local non-profit. Kristen’s job as a caseworker inspired her to obtain her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education which she is still working towards. She strongly believes that strengthening our community and assisting vulnerable populations must start with children in these first few crucial years of their lives. She first discovered Friends Center as a parent 4 years ago, and was impressed with the focus on the whole child and emergent curriculum. Kristen has been working as a substitute and classroom support in all the classrooms since March 2018. During her free time, Kristen enjoys being in nature, spending time with her son, and playing with their pets. She feels very honored to be able to continue to get to know the friends at FCFC.
Christian was raised in NY and attended Dutchess Community College and later Stony Brook University before taking time off to work. He recently spent three months abroad teaching English to children in France which he found very rewarding. He is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at Gateway Community College and hopefully UCONN. His hobbies include: foreign languages (He speaks French and is learning Dutch); crocheting; meditation; being outdoors; and volleyball. Christian currently lives in New Haven.
Zane Carey has experience working with children ages 2-5 in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Stowe, Vermont. He has his bachelor’s in Urban and Community Studies and Masters in Public Administration with a focus in Education Policy, both from UCONN. He has experience in trauma informed education as well as emergent learning curriculum. His favorite activity is to sing and dance with the children. In his free time he likes to knit, swim, and do aerial yoga. Zane is very excited to join the Friends Center community.
Jan Childs is an assistant teacher at Friends Center with more than 30 years of experience with infants and toddlers. Jan cared for children in her own home daycare for 27 years before she joined the Friends Center team in 2015. She is married and has two adult children, a son Cory and a daughter Abby. In her free time, she enjoys losing herself in a great book!
Marilyn DeJesus joins us as a graduate from Gateway Community College with an associates degree in Early Childhood Education and five years at a NAEYC Accredited center. Her passion of caring for children started in her high school years as a volunteer in a home daycare and then becoming a nanny for children with whom she still has a loving relationship with. Marilyn attained experience and knowledge through internships at Gateway Community College and Yale New Haven Hospital and volunteering as the Female leader at YoungLife New Haven. Marilyn spent a year in La Romana, Dominican Republic teaching English to various age groups all the while extending help through a local organization that provides food and medical services to impoverishment communities. She recently became married and has a son. During her free time she enjoys Zumba, water sports, and traveling back to the Dominican Republic as often as possible.
Val Denny is the head teacher in Pod 5, she has been a part of the Friends Center community since 2013. Val has attended Charter Oak college for early childhood education, and has been working in the early childhood education field for over 20 years. She was inspired to open and operate her own home daycare for 15 years. Her passion in teaching young children is evident, in her calm and nurturing interactions with children. Through research, Val discovered the benefits of incorporating American Sign Language in the classroom environment. She is certified in ASL and her goal is to become a certified interpreter in ASL.
Val is delighted to be in Pod 5, where she continues to help our youngest friends at Friends Center flourish!
Katherine Flores received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Charter Oak State College in 2016 and has since accumulated six years of experience. During her childhood, Katherine lived with her mother and father in Honduras, and at 11 years old, moved to Connecticut. Coming from a foreign country, she developed a sense of community appreciation for education. Her experience began as a volunteer at her younger brother’s preschool, St. Francis and St. Rose of Lima. Her bilingual skills and her natural gifts for teaching earned her a promotion as an assistant teacher. In 2015, Katherine began her work at Friends Center for Children as a headteacher. Throughout her time at FCfC, Katherine has proven to be an efficient worker and determined to do her part in serving her community, all while developing a more deep-rooted passion for teaching. In 2020, Katherine is eager to expand her role in supporting her community further as site director for FCfC’s Blake St. location. Throughout her time at FCfC, Katherine shares with us her love of books, her love for her family, and her uplifting, humorous personality.
Marianne came to Friends Center through her co-op role for her oldest granddaughter in 2009. She continued doing co-op for the next four years and then became a full-time employee when the program expanded in 2013. During the past seven years of working at Friends Center, Marianne has been involved with administrative support, admissions, office management and many financial responsibilities of the center. With a background in real estate and administrative service, Marianne brings a wide variety of skills to the administrative team. She is best known for her knitting projects and her love of her grandchildren. Marianne is excited to watch Friends Center continue to grow and see many more families experience the exceptional program where both her grandchildren thrived.
Samantha Holman is a passionate and enthusiastic early childhood educator with five years experience in both public and private school settings. Samantha is committed to implementing Reggio Emilia and Montessori techniques and methods in the classroom to allow for the magic of student-lead-exploration to ignite a passion for lifelong learning. Samantha earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Albertus Magnus College and is currently a candidate in the Master of Early Childhood Education program at The University of Hartford.
Samantha is a New Haven native with a passion for baking, poetry and modern art. Her biggest joys include cheering on her niece at dance competitions and watching her nephews play hockey and baseball. She is thrilled to join the Friends Center for Children and to give back to the city she calls home.
Cynthia Howard has been caring for young children in her community since the age of thirteen. When it came time to enter college, early childhood education was a clear path. Her classes at Gateway Community College have deepened her commitment to the field. She feels passionate about the many ways children learn and can be supported in their development. She wanted to find a program that valued learning through play, as well as one that emphasized the importance of respect and inclusion, and found that at Friends Center. She is excited to be part of this community and looks forward to opportunities to expand her knowledge and grow as an educator.
Miriam has a wealth of experience in the fields of education, mental health, and human services. She holds an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from Gateway Community College, as well as a Bachelor and Master Degree in Human Services from Albertus Magnus College. During her time at Clifford Beers Clinic, she gained critical knowledge of infant mental health and the understanding of how effective early intervention can be. This inspired her to seek an opportunity to serve the social/emotional needs of young children.
Miriam has 20 plus years of experience serving children and families throughout New Haven in various capacities. She is committed to providing high-quality services to children and families. As a former FCfC preschool parent, she is intimately familiar with our program. She loves contributing her professional and personal experiences to the position of Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator.
Abigail Kuziel graduated from Gateway Community College in 2016 with her Associates Degree in Human Services. She is currently finishing her Bachelors in Early Childhood Education through Charter Oak State College. She will be beginning her Masters in Social Work. Before joining FCfC, Abigail was an Assistant Teacher for East Haven Public Schools and worked in a PreK classroom. Throughout college, Abigail worked in a toddler classroom for a private educational center. She is passionate about nature-based play and children’s literature. Abigail enjoys hiking, traveling and meditation in her spare time, but enjoys spending time with her two nephews, Bentley and Hunter, most of all.
Valerie Laplume was born in Westerly, Rhode Island but later moved to Groton, Connecticut, where she grew up. Five years ago, she moved to New Haven, CT. She’s grown to love the culture of the city and everything it has to offer. While in high school, Valerie played basketball and was the captain of her school’s field hockey team. She graduated from Gateway Community College with her associates in early childhood education, having taken courses such as “Health and Safety,” “Child, Family, School, and Community,” “Math and Science for Children,” and “Children’s Growth and Development.” These courses have helped to shape and show the love and appreciation she has for early education. While at Gateway, Valerie also took classes for exceptional learners. From these classes, she has learned how to interpret children’s feelings and how to create the positive school environment that children need. She is currently in the process of getting her Bachelors degree at Charter Oak Early Education Center. She loves teaching because she wants to make a difference by giving children a place to feel safe and loved, watch them grow and experience new things. She also can’t wait to share new information that she had learned. In addition, Valerie is also always looking for ways to improve her teaching. Outside of teaching, Valerie enjoys Arts and Crafts, Cooking, and Shopping. When she can, she also loves to spend time with her family, with whom she is very close.
In 2004, Jessica “Jessie” Legere graduated from the University of Connecticut with her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, and again in 2005 with her Master’s degree in Education. From there, she worked as a Kindergarten substitute before becoming a first-grade teacher! However, Jessie soon found out that teaching at the elementary level, while incredibly rewarding, wasn’t her true passion. Teaching preschool, however, was, and it was at that moment in 2006 that she began her journey in the field of early childhood education. Jessie has been both a preschool teacher and program Director, sharing her love for this field with countless fellow educators and families. During these years, she came to realize that what she valued most are programs that celebrate human connection, that support learning through play, creativity, and kindness, and that commit to on-going growth and professional development! Jessie believes in starting each day with positivity and mindfulness, in treating each interaction she has with others with respect and the intention to understand, and in learning something new each day. In her spare time, she enjoys hopping on her bike for a spin class, hiking and being around lots of trees, shopping for anything vintage, listening to music and attending concerts, reading- especially poetry, and spending time with her nephew, Bruin, eating peanut butter and having dance parties.
Sharon Lehr grew up in Branford, and holds a bachelor’s degree in music. She has spent the past ten years working in a variety of general education and music education roles with children and adults of all ages, but has always felt especially drawn to the early childhood years. When she discovered Friends Center for Children, Sharon knew she wanted to be a part of this community, so she volunteered as a music specialist. She is thrilled to be joining the team as support staff.
Sharon enjoys keeping up with developments in the early childhood education field, and is particularly excited by current research about how infants and young children learn music. She is excited by the Center’s emergent curriculum and seeks to incorporate research-based musical interactions into her day-to-day work with the children.
In her free time, Sharon enjoys singing Sacred Harp music, thrifting, and reading.
Xenia Llamas is a junior at Southern Connecticut State University studying bilingual elementary education. She has been interested in working with children since the very young age of 12, when she started as a helper in a third grade classroom at her local church. Xenia found that working with children was what most fulfilled her life and since then has worked with infants to freshman in high school. She has a strong passion for educating kids and helping them discover the world. Xenia makes sure that she has time for her favorite hobbies; art, music, swimming, and being outdoors. Xenia is thrilled to become a part of the Friends Center for Children team, and to create new memories with everyone!
Therese Luetzgendorf began working for Friends Center in 2013 as an assistant teacher with infants and toddlers. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University and completed her master’s degree in Human Services from Albertus Magnus College in 2016. She then joined the Early Childhood RULER team as a research assistant at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. In 2018 she re-joined Friends Center as one of the Emotional Wellbeing Coordinators. Therese’s passion is to apply innovative and creative ways to support children and connect and build an empathetic community. In her free time, Therese enjoys hiking and traveling.
Puja graduated with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from Naugatuck Valley Community College, and is continuing her early childhood education at Southern Connecticut State University. Puja has a passion and love for working and teaching young children. She has 3 years of experience working with toddlers and preschoolers. In her spare time Puja enjoys yoga, hiking and spending time with her family and friends.
Puja believes, “Teaching kids to count is fine, but to teach kids what counts is best” – bob talbert
Lisa has been in Early Childhood Education for over 12 years. She has her Masters in Education Curriculum and Instruction and was a Head Preschool Teacher for 8 years, working with NAEYC and CT Standards. Lisa also has been a paraprofessional in the public school systems assisting with special needs students, which peaked her interest in working with a school based population. For the last 3 years she worked in the North Branford Public Schools Family Resource Center serving pre-k through grade 6 as a Site Coordinator of the two elementary schools before and after care programs. In these roles her passion is fueled by the students and the unique and innocent way they see the world. As an avid reader she also enjoys spreading that joy with the students by tuning into their interests and providing mindful books and experiences that coincide with their reflections. In her spare time she enjoys quiet early mornings at the beach, mediations, reading, nature based activities, and a devotion to animals especially her Pembroke Welsh Corgi Roody 🙂
Bonnie Muller was raised in a Quaker family in which simplicity, peace, truth, equality, community and stewardship were household words. Following her desire to help create environments where all children have these privileges, she acquired a Bachelor of Arts at Gettysburg College and Master of Social Work degree at the University of Connecticut. After teaching elementary school, she worked briefly at the Gesell Institute of Child Development as a research assistant.
From there she moved into community mental health where she promoted programs for children and families in CT and CA. Returning to CT, she worked as a school social worker until her retirement in 2010.
Active in the New Haven Friends Meeting, Bonnie was familiar with the founding spirit behind FCfC and was asked to serve as Mental Health Consultant when the Center opened. When the Board acquired a grant to hire a social worker as an in-school resource to address Adverse Childhood Experiences, Bonnie became a part-time member of the staff. The FCfC Board adopted the position known as Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator which Bonnie shares with Therese Luetzgendorf. Developing emotional intelligence through establishing healthy classroom climates was a focus of her work in the public schools and continues as she collaborates with children, staff and families. Bonnie also maintains a private practice as a Rubenfeld Synergist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Alexandra Nofi was born in 1986 to an Italian/Igbo father, and Italian/French Canadian mother. She lived the first ten years of her life in Middletown, CT. Alexandra’s childhood was not always easy, especially due to being on the autism spectrum and going undiagnosed until adulthood. During her time in Middletown, Alexandra developed a strong love for visual art.
Alexandra’s teaching career began in 2006, during her second semester of college. At the time, she was studying for her two year degree in Fine Art. Alexandra continued pursuing this degree, while also teaching at Gateway Community College’s on-site preschool. She has taught a variety of students over the course of 14 years since then, including children who were refugees, children with special needs, and children who were victims of abuse/neglect. Visual art regularly makes its way into her teaching, because Alexandra believes that it gives children confidence, and the knowledge that their humanity and intelligence are not to be underestimated.
In her spare time, Alexandra enjoys continuing her practice of the Martial Arts. For three years, Alexandra took classes at Middletown Kenpo Karate, led at the time by Lee Lowery. Lee’s mission to provide a safe haven for young children who need to feel confident in themselves, is what Alexandra draws inspiration from when she teaches.
Jenny Perez recently graduated from Albertus Magnus College with a BA in Sociology of Social Work & Social Welfare. Through her internship, Jenny gained experience working with children and helping her students build confidence. Jenny found that she really enjoyed working with children, and taking on the role as a mentor. Jenny is committed to her academic work, and plans to return to school in the future to obtain a Master’s degree, but for now, she plans on gaining more experience and learning more about child development through her work in the classroom. In her free time, Jenny enjoys painting and further developing her creativity through photography. Jenny is excited to join the Friends Center for Children team, and hopes to meet and build a relationship with every single member of the FCfC community!
Keila Perez brings over 10 years of experience in early childhood education to her role as assistant teacher at Friends Center. Her daughter Alexa attended Friends Center for preschool and has moved on to Kindergarten. She was born and raised in New York and attended Borough Manhattan Community College where she graduated with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. During her time in college, she worked for organizations, such as Boys Scouts of America and Children’s Aid, where she developed leadership skills as she helped young adults and young children build character. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood Education. Keila has a passion for children and education, especially the individual learning process of each child.
Paris joined Friends Center’s preschool program as a support teacher in January of 2019. Previously, she worked in early childhood for two years and developed a deep passion for it. Paris enjoys helping children learn in new ways and being a part of breakthroughs in their development. She recently moved back to Connecticut from Ohio, where she started her childcare journey. She has two beautiful children, Londyn and Ryan who keep her on her toes at all times. Ryan attends Friends Center and will be entering our preschool classroom this year.
Lauren Repetsky grew up in a home daycare, and from a young age, knew that she wanted to work with children. Lauren has worked in the child care field for over 7 years, spending the first 5 years in a Montessori school. The day that Lauren started at Montessori is the day that she knew being a teacher was her calling. Lauren graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood from Southern Connecticut State University in December of 2019 and couldn’t be more excited to begin her new journey in the education field. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, yoga, going to the beach, spending time with family and her pets.
Allyx has 29 years of experience in early childhood development and elementary education – as a teacher and administrator in CT and NY. She holds dual Masters’ degrees from Bank Street College of Education in Early Child Development and Elementary Education and a Bachelor’s degree from Union College. A third-generation New Haven native and long-time resident of Fair Haven, Allyx maintains ownership in a New Haven real estate development corporation which she managed from 1998-2009.
Allyx has served as Program Coordinator for New Haven-based Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES); Early Childhood Classroom Observer for Southern Connecticut State University; and Budget Coordinator for the New Haven Board of Education facilitating a $2 million grant. Allyx has taught in NYC, New Haven and Greenwich in several elementary schools and pre-school settings, directed summer camps and written and supervised curriculums at elementary, middle and high school levels with an emphasis on literacy, math, science, and multidisciplinary studies.
Allyx is a founder of the New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD). NH ChILD is a coalition of local and national early childhood proponents that have come together to create a place-based pilot program in New Haven. NH ChILD proposes to revolutionize the early care and education landscape by bringing the community together around a common vision of Ideal Learning with a focus on equity. The goal of NH ChILD is to provide high-quality early care and education experiences for all 15,000 New Haven children ages zero to eight.
She currently serves as an advisory member of the University of New Haven’s Nonprofit Certificate in Leadership, Innovation and Organizational Sustainability and on the Mayoral Appointed New Haven Early Childhood Council. She is a 2019 recipient of the Southern Black Nurses Association Community Service Award and the 2019 Amity Club Distinguished Italian-American Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also Exchange Magazine’s Master Leader award and the recipient of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marvin Maurer Spotlight Award. She is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and is a former; board member for Connecticut Voices for Children; appointee to the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Reading; and leader of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund Community Leadership Program. She is the mother of two fantastic teenaged children and has a lovely black dog named Blue.
Virginia Sharene has been an assistant teacher at Friends Center since 2015. In August of 2020, Virginia moved into the role of Infant/Toddler Co-Head Teacher. She is a graduate of Gateway Community College, where she earned her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education, earning High Honors in Academic Achievement and induction into Phi Theta Kappa. While attending school, Virginia worked at the Early Learning Center at Gateway as a classroom assistant. Virginia’s love of teaching stems from encouraging her own three children to explore, create and have fun in learning. Virginia enjoys spending time with her husband and children, especially in performing music, culinary arts, games, nature and photography. Virginia is very humbled and proud to be a member of the Friends Center family.
Tanya Shively comes to Friends Center from a diverse international background. Born in Hong Kong, where she received her primary school education, Tanya attended secondary school in England, before settling in the United States as a young adult. She has also lived in Australia and Canada, and feels most at home among an international group. Partially for that reason, she manages a group of au pairs and families in Trumbull, Connecticut, where she resides with her husband and two children. Tanya holds a Bachelor of Music in Composition from the University of the Pacific and a Master of Music from the Hartt School, University of Hartford. Although not actively performing, she stays involved with musical organizations in the area through administration and arranges musical scores on a regular basis. Classical music continues to be her deepest passion. Tanya owned and operated a gourmet sandwich shop and caterer called The Sandwich Maestro that has a classical musical theme located in Stamford for 20 years which she sold in December 2017. She considers herself a foodie. Cooking, entertaining and going to different restaurants are some of her favorite pastimes.
Aundrea attended Temple University where she obtained a bachelor’s in Early and Elementary Education and later earned her master’s in Special Education from Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan. Reflecting on her experiences in middle and high school, as the only or one of a handful of students of color, she published her first book in 2018, learning that even though others may not see our value we have a purpose. Aundrea wrote “For the Quiet Black Girl Trying to Find Her Voice in a Predominately White Space” for little girls like her who needed the reminder that they matter.
Aundrea was a classroom teacher at Rye Country Day School for 12 years — teaching 1st, 3rd, and 4th grade and was the Lower School Diversity Coordinator and a member of the Social Justice Committee. Throughout her teaching career, it has been her mission to not only educate the minds of her students but also enrich their souls. After leaving the classroom she was Director of Admissions for an independent school in Stamford, CT for two years. Aundrea is excited to join the Friends community and work together to liberate and empower families.
Naima Therogood has taught children of different ages from infancy to young adults. She has worked in the classroom as a head teacher for over 15 years. However, she has been in the teaching field for about 20 years. Naima holds a Master’s in Business Administration in Early childhood Education with a concentration in Special Education.
For the past three years she has worked with young and older adults with special needs. She enjoys helping individuals with special needs to accomplish the goals that are set for them individually. Naima finds pleasure in working in a classroom setting with children, as she has learned over the years they are like sponges and absorb so much.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and cooking.
Kristina joined the Friends Center community in August of 2018 and brought with her 10 years of experience working with children ages preschool through 5th grade. Preschool has become her favorite age group to work with because of the ages’ significant potential for growth and development. Kristina holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Education from Southern Connecticut State University.
Kristina loves gardening, cooking with her husband, Michael, and playing with their dogs Poppy, Tasha, Pippa, Rosie, Marley and Taco.
Sarah Wheaton is from Milford, CT and grew up in a home daycare, which was run by her mother. She spent 7 years as a co-owner of the same daycare before moving out of state and taking a job in the security industry. She is so excited to return to childcare, which is her passion. In her free time she enjoys reading, hiking and spending time with family and friends.