Melissa is a Founder and the Executive Director of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP). Melissa received her B.A. from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and her M. Ed from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Melissa first came to New Orleans through Teach for America (TFA), spending two years teaching 9th and 10th grade at Booker T. Washington High School. After completing TFA, Melissa self-designed her graduate program to focus her learning on community-based alternatives to incarceration; urban education; and disconnected youth. Melissa returned to New Orleans after Harvard and spent the next three years working with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), helping to reform the state’s juvenile justice system. Knowing firsthand the dearth of services and opportunities available to court-involved youth, in 2004, Melissa and two colleagues started YEP to address the specific needs of these high risk young people. Over the past eleven years, Melissa has grown YEP to be the largest and most comprehensive organization addressing the needs of underserved, court-involved and out-of-school New Orleans youth.
Melissa has garnered local and national recognition for her leadership in the youth development and juvenile justice fields. Melissa currently is a member of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice’s Southeast Regional Advisory Committee; she sits on the New Orleans Crime Coalition and is a co-chair of its Juvenile Justice Subcommittee; and she has a seat on the City Council appointed New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board. Melissa is a member of the NextGen Council, an initiative of Greater New Orleans, Inc.; she was a fellow in the inaugural class of the Norman C. Francis Leadership Institute (2013); and she is a graduate of the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute (2010). Among the accolades she has received, Melissa was recognized as a Zurich Classic Community Impact Awardee (2015); a Young Leadership Council Role Model (2014); the St. Michael’s University School Alumnus of the Year (2014); a City Business Woman of the Year Honoree (2012); the James G Wright McGill Alumnus Awardee (2009); and one of Gambit’s “40 under 40” New Orleanians (2007).