Our Leadership Staff
Chief Executive Officer
Elissa Vanaver, a long-time newspaper editor and media executive, joined the Breakthrough Miami staff in 2011 as Director of Strategic Development, after several years as Founding Board Chair and Board Member. Before joining the staff, Elissa was Vice President of Human Resources and Assistant to the Publisher for the Miami Herald Media Company. She directed several of The Herald’s signature programs, including the Silver Knight Awards, the Herald Charities’ WishBook and Operation Helping Hands. Prior to 2002, Elissa was Managing Editor in The Miami Herald newsroom, where she was part of a Herald team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. Elissa holds a Bachelor’s degree with High Distinction from the University of Virginia, and a Master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and has a certificate from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management’s Advanced Executive Program.
Director of Education
Wayne Neunie has dedicated his career to working with youth. He attended Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, KY, on an athletic scholarship. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services. He received his Master of Science in Administration and a Specialist in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. Wayne has been an administrator in the Broward County school system and he was the Principal for Touchdowns4life Charter School for five years. He has been a member of various boards and currently serves on the Education Advisory Board for the City of Fort Lauderdale. Wayne is a native of London, England, and immigrated to Florida when he was 13. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. He was awarded a certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding and Dedicated Services to the Citizens of Broward County, by the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Broward County, Florida.
Associate Director, Development & Community Relations
Galia Pennekamp, a Miami native and educator has spent her career educating and supporting Miami-Dade county’s youth. Galia was Parenting Director for Informed Families, a Miami-Dade public school teacher, a Reading Plus trainer, and an early-intervention teacher at the University of Miami’s Debbie School. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Guilford College and a Master of Science in Special Education from the University of Miami. Galia also supports numerous community organizations, including The Junior League of Miami, The Women’s Fund, American Red Cross, Miami Children’s Hospital, Adrienne Arsht Center, Miami Project, Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, and St Hugh Catholic Church.
Ariel Edwards, Senior Site Director
Breakthrough Miami College Bound Program for High School
Ariel is a graduate of Miami Central Senior High and Florida State University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Business. She started her educational career in 2005 as a Language Arts teacher in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and has been with Breakthrough Miami since 2009. Ariel received her Masters of Science degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University Fischler School of Education.
Dwanita Fields, Senior Site Director
Breakthrough Miami at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart
Dwanita joined the Breakthrough Miami staff in 2010, but her involvement with the program goes back two decades, when she entered the program as a Breakthrough middle school student in 1993. Inspired by her student experience, she returned a to teach Mathematics as a high-school intern in the summer of 1999. After graduating from Ransom Everglades in 2000, she attended Howard University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Radiation Therapy. When she relocated to Miami in 2006, she worked for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, teaching math at Highland Oaks Middle School, while obtaining a Master’s of International Business Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She was Associate Site Director at Breakthrough Miami’s Ransom Everglades campus before moving to Carrollton.
Lauren Kellner, Senior Site Director
Breakthrough Miami at Ransom Everglades School
Lauren joined the Breakthrough Miami team in 2007. Prior to that, she worked for Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a special education and gifted teacher at F. S. Tucker Elementary.. Lauren graduated from the University of Miami, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree and a Master’s of Education in Special Education and Reading.
Ebony Rhodes, Senior Site Director
Breakthrough Miami at Palmer Trinity School
Ebony graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Miami in 2009, with her Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies. She was honored with the Ramon M. Lemos award for Excellence in Philosophy for graduating at the top of her class. Ebony joined the Breakthrough Miami team in 2011 as Associate Site Director for the first-of-its kind, all-girl site at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart.
Jamael Stewart, Senior Site Director
Breakthrough Miami at Miami Country Day School
Jamael joined Breakthrough Miami in 2007. He attended Bethune- Cookman College in Daytona Beach, FL on an academic/athletic scholarship. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Educational Studies in the spring of 2005. He is the co-founder of Prep and Sports Inc, a non-profit organization in Delray Beach that mentors young men in the classroom and on the playing field. Jamael was assistant director with South Florida Summerbridge at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton before coming to Breakthrough Miami.