Meet Our Team

Vicki Abadesco

(she/her)
Founder & Director of Infinite Possibilities

Vicki abadesco! is an internationally-recognized leader in the field of social-emotional learning, anti-bullying, and creating a more empathy-based world. She brings over 30 years of experience teaching life skills and conflict resolution tools to young people and adults. As an educator, speaker and facilitator, vicki! is known for creating fun, safe, and transformative environments.

She is the author of Free to Be: Untold Stories of Going Beyond Bullying, co-author of Cool Tools for Schools and The Empty Balloon; as well as two activity card decks: Mentor Magic and Leadership: Truth or Dare.

Vicki! is a fellow for the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. She co-founded Soul Shoppe in 2000.

Joseph Savage

(he/him)
Co-Founder

A Co-Founder of Soul Shoppe, Joseph has created and presented award-winning curricula for hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents. As a presenter, Joseph is known for his mastery facilitating safe and fun learning environments where students gain self-esteem, accelerate their learning processes, and where a culture of empathy becomes the norm. He co-authored “Cool Tools For Schools,” an interactive character-education curriculum for teachers, and is currently writing and illustrating a series of children’s books on building character.

Prior to founding Soul Shoppe, Joseph was an elementary school teacher in San Francisco where he perceived the need to teach elementary school students empathy and peace-making skills. Joseph has received numerous accolades including awards from the ACLU, the San Francisco Board of supervisors, and the City of Dublin for his innovative work. In addition to his educational experience he has written, performed, and directed acclaimed theater productions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area

Anthony Jackson

(he/him)
School Care and Facilitator Coordinator

Anthony has worked with youth in many capacities for over 25 years. As a counselor, instructor, and facilitator he has developed and implemented life-changing programs and curricula. Certified in Multicultural Awareness for the Helping Professions, he is adept in resiliency models, VARK learning strategies, generationally relevant material, and cultural sensitivity. it is important to him that diversity and inclusion be part of everyday life. "Soul Shoppe is in alignment with my desire to positively impact the world by embracing our differences and honoring the importance of the empathy and compassion humans need to feel and share in order to have a fun and happy life."

Anthony has worked with thousands of kids faced with common day-to-day challenges as well as those affected by poor economic circumstances. He is an author and activist for Cultural Relativism and liberation. He received a Martin & Malcolm Award for philanthropy.

“If you really knew me you'd know I love animation, art, writing, nature, and anthropology. I love having the opportunity to utilize some of these things I love as the Lead Illustrator for Soul Shoppe workshops. Living in the diversity of the Bay Area, It is important to me that the kids can see themselves in my illustrations and facilitation.”

Arek Bryant

(he/him)
Curriculum Production Manager

Arek began teaching elementary school math while earning his BS in Music Engineering. After returning home to Oakland, he joined a coalition of African-American male educators that formed an alternative school for boys that were not performing well in traditional brick and mortar. Arek’s “off-the-cuff” style of teaching engaged and encouraged his students and proved to be successful, as the majority of his 12th grade students went on to pass their state exams and many went on to college. He believes, “The best learning happens when you are having fun.”  

As program director for the McCullum Youth Court, Arek worked to reduce the recidivism of youth crimes in Oakland and Berkeley. Realizing the problem was not the youth, but their circumstances, he began to have one-on-one relationships with each young person he worked with to influence change in their circumstances. Arek has continued to focus on uplifting and educating youth through teaching, musical mentorships and ministry.

Along with the joy of homeschooling his children, Arek has enjoyed an amazing musical journey. From George Clinton to Teddy Riley to Janet Jackson, Arek has been blessed to work with many truly amazing artist. He currently runs Chamberz Studio (Winner of the “Oakland Soul “Indie Award) and is an On-Air personality for KCBZ Global and KPFA Berkeley.  

Christine Abiba

(she/they)
Administrative Manager

 Christine's previous experiences in caregiving for aging family and community elders fuels their commitment to deepening our relationships across generations. Christine is excited to accompany Soul Shoppe and our younger generations in imagining and creating futures embedded in collective care.

Christine's deep love for asking questions is almost as fervent as their love for dancing. Christine earned a BA in Theology and Religious Studies and recent work involved reducing social isolation for LGBT elders, archiving and printmaking, and collecting oral histories.

Melanie Hopson

(she/her)
Project Director | Goddess of Projects

Melanie has enjoyed a variety of positions in nonprofit organizations, ecumenical settings, school districts, and city government. She has created and hosted numerous conferences, convenings, and resource fairs that put learning resources directly into the hands of parents and youth workers so they will benefit students. 

As a consultant for United Way of the Bay Area, she was the project manager for a collective impact initiative that aims to cut poverty in half in the Bay Area by 2020. She worked with San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth, and their Families supporting city-wide childcare, after-school programming networks, family support programs, and professional development that trained youth workers in how to develop summer programs that would help prevent summer learning loss for students. Melanie collaborated with the Children’s Aid Society to plan and deliver the first west coast conference of resources for the Community School movement. 

As a trained spiritual director, Melanie thrives on quiet, contemplative time, and schedules quarterly silent retreats to re-charge her batteries, making her more likely to practice empathy while moving projects forward when working with Soul Shoppe. 

Paul Himmelstein

(he/him)
Development Coordinator | Wizard of Abundance

Paul sees a path to society’s biggest solutions through heartfelt connections and authentic communication. He brings the various perspectives of refugee casework, sustainable agriculture, face-to-face fundraising, political organizing, and most recently teaching in Oakland Unified School District to his work.

On a personal level, Paul has continued to challenge his inherited ideologies around privilege and masculinity, a painful and illuminative journey which he hopes to model for others.

Rhyan Ramirez

(he/him)
Big-Hearted Facilitator

Rhyan has over 15 years of experience working with teens in his community in many capacities from peer and young adult leader, to youth minister. He is also a youth motivational speaker, working to help teens understand the value of having healthy relationships in their lives.

Rhyan combines his personal experiences with his passion for helping kids have healthy relationships with their friends, parents, relatives and with themselves. “Aim for the Heart and the Head will follow,” he says. “I consider myself to be a heart first person allowing me to connect with the hearts of my students before their minds. I believe that our heart muscle should be just as strong as our brain muscle.

Shawn Mountcastle

(she/her)
Finance Director | Ambassador of Random Magical Things

Shawn is a burnt out poet and painter-turned-entrepreneur who has worked in publishing, healthcare, insurance and tech industries.  She has interfaced with startups, early stage ventures, and nonprofit organizations throughout her career. She has a particular interest in organizational development, focusing on business growth and change strategy as a means to create equitable and just work environments. 

Seemingly random events of life and career led her to Soul Shoppe at the end of 2016. “It has been personally transformative to be part of this community of changemakers and to play a part in bringing these fundamental skills to children.” She wishes that Soul Shoppe had been part of her elementary school experience. 

Shawn holds a master’s degree in Social and Clinical Psychology and is a certified facilitator for both Appreciative Inquiry and The Human Element organizational development systems. 

On the side, she is obsessed with bringing a vegan food product to market.

Bettina Francisco

(she/her)
Big-Hearted Facilitator

Bettina Francisco’s love for cultivating connections and expanding the hearts of the next generation developed ever since she was starting her journey as a youth community organizer herself. She found that one of the ways to move towards freedom for her people was through cultivating authentic connection & love. On that journey, she was honored to work closely with youth of color at multiple organizations such as WestBay Pilipinx Center and United Playaz in San Francisco, CA. She also served as an ethnic studies teacher at Balboa High School as well. She is now excited to bring this love for connecting and expanding hearts through facilitating.

One of the other ways Bettina Francisco cultivates her love for connecting is through being a full-time recording artist/rapper/magazine designer & creator. She has dropped her first EP project called “2 Feed the Soul” which focused on making songs that fed her soul. 6 months later, she published a magazine that was an extension of her EP called “Soul Fed” that dives deep into the stories behind her lyrics and how her relationship with rapping/ hip-hop music created a deep space of healing for her. She uses her music as a means for healing, connecting, and growing love as well.

Randy Fortes

(he/him)
Big-Hearted Facilitator

Randy has been working with youth for over 15 years. He has been a Soul Shoppe facilitator for the past five years and a facilitator coach for two. Randy brings his roots as an entertainer into the room, using his talents as a poet, singer, rapper and break-dancer to engage with students. He is committed to being a role model for young people, creating a safe space to express themselves, and modeling how to bring heart into every interaction.

From 2006 to 2014, he facilitated workshops for high schools through Challenge Day.

Dara Ackerman

(she/her)
Big-Hearted Facilitator

Dara grew up performing in music, theater and dance. She also played the role of peacemaker quite a bit between friends and family members, but had trouble speaking up for herself. All of this informs her theatrical facilitation style, and why she loves to help cultivate empathy, allyship, and communication skills in young people.

“I love this work. The incredibly insightful content, the amazingly fun yet surprisingly deep facilitation style we are trained in...As I empower students to become leaders in caring and love for each other, I become increasingly empowered in my own life.”

In her mid-20s Dara moved to India to study meditation and do service work in the Tibetan exile community. While studying with the Dalai Lama, her heart caught fire with a desire for peace in the world. When she moved back to the Bay and discovered Soul Shoppe, she learned she could channel this fire into training thousands of young people to be Peacemakers in their own schools, at home, and beyond.

“I feel so lucky to have found my way here. Honestly, this is the work of my heart and fills me with happiness beyond description every day. I like to write songs about it all too...and, I can be found performing in a wild art-nerd-rock band on the weekends.”