Who We Are

Our Staff


Vanessa Weiner


With a practice that started in adolescence, Vanessa Weiner is passionate about sharing mindfulness with people of all ages. She founded the organization in 2012 initially to serve our next generation. Now in its 8th year, she and her team have worked with over 7,000 students in a unique school-based social and emotional learning program, the first of its kind in RI. Evolving to best serve the needs of the community, Vanessa and her team expanded the mission of the organization in 2015 to bring these trainings and practice opportunities to an increasing number of adults in the workplace and community groups - facilitating classes so that people of all ages can become more empowered, resilient and self-aware. Vanessa authored a chapter in the recently published book, “Teaching Mindfulness Skills to Kids and Teens”, and is a contributing author for “Best Practices for Yoga in Schools”. She has presented locally at the Rhode Island Business Group on Health Wellness Breakfast, Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance conference, Rhode Island Occupational Therapists Association conference, the Social Enterprise Ecosystem for Economic Development Summit, and is a regular guest lecturer at Brown and Rhode Island College. Nationally, she has spoken at the National Kids Yoga Conference and the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference. She can also be found creating in the kitchen or hanging out with her greatest teachers, her husband and two children. Vanessa is grateful to be able to facilitate instruction through a wide variety of techniques with different groups of kids and adults every day, and continues to be amazed at just how transformational these practices can be.


Shannon Smith


Shannon is a native Nebraskan who grew up with a daily reminder to stop and notice the little things, and to treat others the way you want to be treated. When Shannon started her own yoga and mindfulness practice 10 years ago, she quickly realized that they enhance and reinforce her personal beliefs about how we look at the world, how we treat others, or how we approach new situations. Passionate about teaching mindfulness, she is energized, motivated, and inspired by her students. There is nothing like teaching a child how to be in charge of their own feelings, how to be less reactive, and how to foster mindful behaviors and actions! Shannon has 17 years of classroom teaching experience; a degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction. As the School Integration Specialist, Shannon gets to work closely with the Resilient Kids instructors, with the schools, and the students. Shannon looks at life as a learning opportunity and is always eager to expand her knowledge and understanding. She has completed a variety of workshops and trainings on mindfulness and contemplative teaching and learning (Mindful Schools, Little Flower Yoga, Still Quiet Place, Creative Relaxation). Each of these opportunities has helped Shannon develop into the person she is today.


Valerie Nunes-Danca

Massachusetts native Valerie has been working with youth since she started babysitting at age twelve. Her work with youth has continued throughout high school and college, with jobs in childcare, camp, and instructing dance. In 2016, Val graduated from Rhode Island College with a B.A. in Youth Development and a concentration in psychology and communications. She especially enjoyed the opportunities she had to work with individual students during some of her courses, helping them to feel success in their work. Valerie also instructs barre classes for adults, teaches dance classes to children ages 18 months-18 years, and nannies for various families in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Kerry Berthelot


Kerry brings 13 years of classroom experience working as an elementary teacher and is inspired to do this work to equip her students with a set of basic life skills that will help them focus better, manage stress, self regulate, and increase their compassion and empathy toward others. With this skill set in place to handle the ever-increasing pressure and demands being put on them academically, socially, and in their extra curricular activities, she is certain mindfulness and increased resilience will continue to positively influence their well-being throughout life.

Kerry received a BA in Elementary Education from Plymouth State University, with a minor in health. She holds a current, RI teaching certificate, and was awarded the Sallie Mae First Year Teacher award. As a lifelong learner herself, she continues to grow and develop her own mindfulness practice. Most recently she completed the Deep Play for Kids (LLC) Foundations teacher training.

Outside of the classroom, Kerry loves to spend time with her husband, Rich and their two boys, Luke and Cooper. She also recently became a certified Pet Partners (LLC) therapy team with her rescue dog, Finley. She enjoys spending time outside exploring and is passionate about photography.

Maria_CFR Pic

Maria Bessette

Mindfulness has been a cornerstone of Maria’s life since early childhood, when her parents introduced her to mindful movement and body awareness through yoga. Having had difficult middle and high school experiences, Maria is happy to share the lifelong practice of mindfulness with youth who are inevitably enduring struggles of their own.
Maria is a New Hampshire native, where she began her work with youth as a babysitter and camp counselor. In 2017, she earned her B.A. in Psychology from Stonehill College, and over the years has gained much experience working with children of all ages in school and clinical settings. Two of her most constructive experiences were serving as a Milieu Therapist at Bradley Hospital’s program for OCD and anxiety, and working with teens on the Autism spectrum at the Groden Center.
Maria is a committed teacher and student of yoga, and has maintained a consistent practice for 9 years. She earned her 200-hr certification from Providence Power Yoga and has additional certifications in Yin yoga through Emily Peterson and yoga for kids through “Kid Asana” training with Dawn Keighley. Maria sees mindful movement as the opportunity to become curious and cultivate playful observation toward the unique physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual landscapes within each of us— no matter what stage of life a practitioner is in. She is particularly inspired by children’s ability to freely and open-heartedly access these subtle layers of self and others. Maria truly believes that mindfulness is a key ingredient in creating a more compassionate, kind, and just world. She is grateful for the opportunity to teach these practices to the kids who will change and build our society.

Chrissy Collins


Chrissy has been working in Early Intervention for 25 years. Beginning her human service career at Bradley Hospital, Chrissy worked with special needs children as a Milieu Therapist. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Rhode Island College. Chrissy then began helping families and finds it rewarding to offer nonjudgmental support for parents to better understand their children. She says her greatest teachers have been her spouse and two children. Chrissy has had her own yoga and mindfulness practice for 13 years; and in 2016, she completed the Little Flower Yoga Teacher Training.  Chrissy’s philosophy is that happy and confident parents have the strongest influence on raising well-adjusted children. She says confidence is the key to parenting and her goal is to provide concrete solutions to common parenting problems.   

Steve DeCollibus Bio Picture

Steve DeCollibus


Steve has spent the last eight years facilitating the Prison Mindfulness Institute’s, Path of Freedom curriculum at the ACI. After watching David Row’s TED Talk, “Lessons from Death Row” Steve realized that while the prison work he does is of benefit to the men he works with, many of them would not be in prison had they been exposed to mindfulness strategies earlier in their lives. Mr. Rows talk solidifies his desire to bring mindfulness and resiliency to kids.

He has been a quahoger, high school teacher and advertising executive, for the last twenty years he had been Director of Marketing and Communications for a global electronics manufacturing firm. His mindfulness practice developed during his many business trips to Asia specifically; China, Japan and Singapore. His daughter Marisa, a student and former Center for Resilience instructor introduced Steve to the program and Vanessa, the rest as they say is history.


Sarah Dwyer


Driven by the quote “be who you needed when you were younger,” Sarah Dwyer has taught yoga and mindfulness to kids and teens through the YWCA, YMCA, after-school programs, and nannying. She studied at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where she received a 200hr Yoga Teacher Certification and Kripalu Yoga in Schools teaching certification. Sarah has additional certifications in Deep Play for Kids, LLC, Zumba Fitness, and Zumbini. As a dancer, Sarah came to her own mindfulness practice through movement - using music and dance as a form of moving meditation and then developing a regular yoga practice while obtaining her BFA in writing at Emerson College. As a result, Sarah loves to incorporate movement and music as she teaches mindfulness to all ages. Sarah strives to empower adolescents to connect to their own body, mind and spirit, and to create an intention each student can bring with them out into the world.

Anne Geertman Bio Pic

Anne Geertman


The desire to work with children began very early for Anne. When she was ten years old, she started organizing summer programs for children in her neighborhood.  Since then, she has worked as an educator in many different roles: conversational English teacher, K-2 part-time teacher, docent for The Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s AINA in Schools program (a farm to school initiative that connects children to their local land, waters, and food with the goal of growing a healthier Hawaii). She also started Little Sprouts, a home-based learning center with a focus on providing a fun, safe place where children could cultivate a community of mindful learners who have a strong set of social emotional skills.

Anne has lived and worked in many places: Seoul, London, New York, San Francisco, the Netherlands, North Shore of Oahu, and Rhode Island. She believes this curiosity in exploring the world has provided her with resiliency to adapt quickly and thrive in each new environment.  She is an advocate in the gun violence prevention movement as a legislative lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.  Anne recently relocated from Hawaii to Rhode Island after 18 years with her husband and two sons. She enjoys traveling, cooking, and playing tennis. 

Nicole Grace Bio Pic

Nicole Grace


Nicole has always been a strong believer in the power of mindfulness and importance of personal empowerment!  She also believes being mindful can come in a variety of practices and forms.  Exercise, yoga, meditation, enjoying nature and crafting are a few ways that she has found work for her and practices daily.

She has been in the health and wellness industry for over 20 years and is a Certified Professional Life Coach, Fitness Instructor and Children’s Yoga Arts Instructor. She is passionate about sharing her varied knowledge to empower children, teens and adults to care for themselves physically and mentally so they can thrive and live a purposeful and balanced life.

Nicole has a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies/ Health and Human Services from the University of New Hampshire and has over 10 years of sales experience in hospitality, technology and non-profit organizations.

In her downtime, Nicole enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, rescue pup, Bubba, and friends.  She loves being outside as much as possible, no matter the weather, and enjoys hiking and camping especially in the mountains of New Hampshire and out west!


Amber Hanks

Amber grew up in Georgia where she first connected to mindfulness through nature and movement. Hiking, biking and exploring outdoors with her family laid a foundation for lifelong curiosity. She experienced the importance of connecting with others through offering a simple greeting of hello and a smile.
She loves sharing how connecting to our body and mind allows us to know how we feel in the present moment. This is important because with practice, we can choose new ways of moving and thinking which will lead to more positive experiences of connecting to self and others. She believes that this shift has the power to alter our experience of life.
Amber has a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Georgia and a 200 hour R.Y.S certification from Live Love Teach school of yoga.  She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her two daughters, son, two cats, and husband.

Karly Knight Mongeon


Karly is a native Canadian who, from a very young age, has wanted nothing more than to be a teacher. After pursuing a Bachelors in Education at Brock University in Canada, she traveled to Thailand where she taught at The American School of Bangkok for two years. The practices of mindfulness were integrated into the culture of the school and Karly was amazed at how beneficial the practice lended to the positivity, focus, and community of the classroom and school-wide culture. 

Karly quickly immersed herself into learning more about mindfulness through developing a personal practice, attending EARCOS international conferences, becoming certified in Vinyasa yoga and participating in online courses at MindfulSchools. Now settled in New England, Karly is beyond excited to instill a love for learning, self-awareness and personal resilience in children ! As a life long learner herself, Karly is eager to continue to grow and learn to better serve the schools and community! 

Outside of the classroom, Karly enjoy adventuring outdoors and being near the ocean, journaling, spending time with her husband, friends and family, and watching hockey (her favorite sport).

Francesca Raoelison Bio Pic

Francesca Raoelison


Originally from Madagascar, Francesca recently transferred from the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to Brown University. She previously studied Psychology but is currently pursuing a BA in Entrepreneurship and Organizations.

For the past two years, her work as a Sexual Assault Peer Educator at NOVA allowed her to impact more than a thousand students on campus. Through classroom visits, workshops and interactive experiences, she presented material on sexual assault and consent, alcohol and substance abuse, healthy relationships and domestic violence to students.

Francesca is committed to increasing abuse awareness in Madagascar's educational system, especially around emotional abuse through a preventive program that will teach the next generation about emotional awareness, emotional intelligence, self-esteem, healthy relationships, respectful communication, and body safety.  Francesca brings to Rhode Island and the CFR team her knowledge and experience, as both a survivor of abuse and an educator, to help build healthier communities through a trauma-informed practice.

Francesca find Rhode Island very original and calm.  In her free time, she enjoys singing, planning road trips with friends, and being outside.


Sophie Sandweiss


Sophie first discovered Center for Resilience when she came to Brown to study Cognitive Neuroscience and Contemplative Studies. As an Intern, she was interested in the work being done for the students, recognizing the stress of her own secondary school experience and how she was able to manage. As the organization expanded its outreach, Sophie supported curriculum development efforts for the workplace and community programs, as well as writing a number of blogs and grants with her unique ability to articulate heady concepts into relatable language.

Between classes and work with Center for Resilience, Sophie is a Brown Community Meditation Leader and Department Leader for Contemplative Studies. She is also a research assistant heading a qualitative analysis of Qigong, an energy and movement practice as a treatment for cancer-related fatigue. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, rock climbing, and aerial arts.

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 10.41.18 PM

Caylin Yorba-Ruiz


Caylin is a freelance print and digital media artist focused on creating accessible empowerment art for survivors of trauma and individuals focused on mental health and wellbeing. She received a BA in Studio Art and a BA in Media & Cultural Studies from the University of California, Riverside. Caylin continues her advocacy by sharing her artwork as a part-time Etsy seller. She is passionate about creating change within her community through the distribution of free and accessible wellness resources.