meet rsyp staff:
Ananda Timpane, Executive Director
Ananda is Executive Director at Railroad Street Youth Project (RSYP). Ananda grew up in South County, attending the Stockbridge Plain School, the Great Barrington Steiner School and Hawthorne Valley High School in Ghent. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2002 and is a Masters candidate in the Social Justice Education Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. From 2004-2009, as an Outreach Educator at the Berkshire Violence Prevention Center, Ananda worked with South County youth to prevent sexual harassment, relationship and sexual violence. While at UMass Amherst, Ananda was the Education and Prevention Specialist at the Center for Women and community where she taught and supervised their Educator Advocate program until 2012. In her current role at RSYP, Ananda continues to support youth with the behind the scenes work it takes to run a small youth organization day-to-day. When she is not at RSYP, Ananda hangs out with her dog, Stella, reads, and keeps tabs on current pop culture trends with a healthy dose of TV watching.
Jocelyn Vassos, Apprenticeship & Mentoring Director
Jocelyn was born and raised in the Berkshires, graduated from Monument and has spent a lot of time hanging out on Railroad Street. After high school she left town for college, then came back to the Berkshires, then left again, then came back, left again and now back again (for good)! During her time away she worked at Academy of Swift River as a residential counselor and alumni counselor. Six years ago she decided to take a turn in her career and pursue a long-time passion of photography and went back to school to become a professional photographer. As serendipity would have it, at the same time Jocelyn was planning her move back to the Berkshires, Railroad Street Youth Project was hiring. Understanding first hand some of the struggles that Berkshire living presents for youth, Jocelyn was thrilled at the opportunity to be an advocate for the youth of Berkshire county. She has been with RSYP for 2 ½ years and some of her favorite moments have been impromptu games of Apples to Apples, spray painting leaves and playing Dance-Dance Revolution (to name a few).
LJ Amsterdam, Interim Director of Empowerment
LJ is a community organizer and youth worker who is supporting RSYP as Interim Director of Empowerment. Originally from NYC, and a longtime Brooklyn resident, LJ now lives in Millerton, NY and is a staff member of The Watershed Center, an education and retreat center for change-makers and social justice activists. Her academic background is in Ethnomusicology and African-American Studies and she holds a B.A. and M.A. from Columbia University, where she wrote her master’s thesis on Indigenous hip hop artists, movement building, and love as political power. She has worked in community-based organizations, in NYC public schools, and on a music repatriation project with members of the Native Village of Barrow, AK. As an organizer, she is active in movements for housing rights, decolonization, and the decriminalization of youth. She currently facilitates youth-powered media and political projects. LJ loves dancing, boxing, watching documentary shorts, listening to heavy metal, learning to play the guitar, geeking out over maps, and doing the Harper’s Index.
Luisa Leija, Deputy Director
Luisa is a California Native- born and raised in THE BAY where she made her mark in the Non-Profit and Youth Development fields. In Oakland, Luisa worked with Bay Area Community Resources as a site-based After School Coordinator and a regional After School Programs Manager. In these two roles, she led the strategic design and implementation of new out-of-school time programs for youth, K-12. Luisa has also worked as a Teaching Artist, Teacher Coach, and Director of Programs with Streetside Stories, in San Francisco. Aside from that, her work as a community organizer has led her to gather people of all ages around traditional Mexica & Native American rituals to connect with teachings that have been suppressed over generations of conquest and colonization in the Americas. In her spare time she writes, trains for ½ marathons, learns about nutrition, TCM, practices yoga, watches movies, holds women’s circles, rides her bike through the rolling Berkshire Hills, and looks for pretty much anything to be fascinated about.
Leandro (Leo) Rosa, Counselor
Leo was born and raised in NYC to Dominican parents. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Physical Therapy from Springfield College and completely changed careers obtaining a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Hunter College in NYC. While at Springfield, Leo was the president of the Student Society for Cultural Diversity and comes to RSYP with over 11 years of experience in Social Justice and Social Work. Leo is also on the Board of Multicultural BRIDGE, works at Eagleton School and continually works on spreading himself thin. In his spare time, Leo loves to read, dance Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and eat food from all over the world. He is continually adjusting from “city-life” to “country living” in the Berkshires.
Luiza Trabka, YOB & Drop-in Coordinator
Luiza is the Youth Operational Board and Drop-In Center Coordinator. She was born in New York City but raised in Berkshire County. After attending two years at Monument Mountain High School she attended four years at Bard College at Simon’s Rock where she studied Cross-Cultural Relations. During her senior year at Simon’s Rock Luiza served as an intern at RSYP helping to organize community events. That internship was her introduction to youth development work and it opened a world of possibilities. As she takes on her new responsibilities, Luiza hopes to continue to provide the support for local youth to make informed decisions about their lives, and to take complete control of their lives. In her free time Luiza loves to spend time milking cows, making art, dancing, and learning as many skills as possible that might come in handy during the Apocalypse. Her life-long goal is to be a Youth Empowerment Cowgirl.
Jamie Harary, Communications Coordinator
Jamie is a Massachusetts native who grew up outside Boston, moved to the Pioneer Valley to attend UMass Amherst, and has now trekked even further west, into the mountains to work at Railroad Street. Jamie studied psychology at UMass and went on to participate in fiction and poetry workshops at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She has since worked for Grub Street, a literary non-profit in Boston, and Harvard University’s Hillel as their Development Assistant. She joins the team as RSYP’s Communications Coordinator, here to spread the word about the great things local youth are accomplishing in Berkshire County. In her free time, Jamie writes, reads, and watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Sonam Choedon, Mentoring Coordinator
Sonam is a graduate of Middlebury College with a degree in International and Global Studies. During her time at Middlebury she studied abroad in Argentina and Brazil, participated in a group mentoring program and was an active member of the South Asian dance group. She was born in Nepal to Tibetan parents, grew up in Queens, NY and is a proud New Yorker. She comes to RSYP having interned with various nonprofit and governmental organizations in New York City and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is excited to spend her year of service at the Railroad Street Youth Project, getting to know the youth of the community and helping to strengthen the mentoring program. Outside of work, she loves learning new languages, reading about Tibetan history, watching Bollywood movies and eating spicy food. Sonam is extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with such inspiring people and is looking forward to learning from them.
Caitlin Hugel, Jobs and Careers Coordinator, MPF
Caitlin is the current Americorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow at RSYP. Originally from Gloucester, MA, Caitlin loves her new home in the Berkshires and life “over the bridge.” Caitlin graduated from Emerson College in Boston, MA with a BA in Theatre Education and summa cum laude honors. She has also attended university in Ireland and the Netherlands. In the past, Caitlin has been a student, a director, an actress, a museum educator, a secretary, a teacher, a bartender, a backpacker, a Peace Corps trainee, and now, an Americorps Volunteer. She looks forward to helping RSYP’s constituents navigate their own professional goals. In her spare time, Caitlin pines for Ireland, goes on frequent Netflix binges, sings in her car, talks people’s ears off, is learning ukulele, and tries to say “yes” to new adventures and experiences!
Stella, Puppy in Residence
Stella joined the RSYP team as the Puppy in Residence this past summer at 10 weeks old. She is currently attending Real Life Obedience School in Egremont, MA, while completing her on the job residency. Stella works directly with youth and staff to bring laughter and fun to the Drop-in Center and conduct outreach to youth around town. In her time off, Stella enjoys hanging out at the dog park, long walks and playing tug with just about anyone.