Beaches Emerging Leadership Program


What is the Beaches Emerging Leadership Program?

The Beaches Emerging Leaders Program will kick off in January 2024 for employees of nonprofit organizations that live, work, or serve the Beaches community (Mayport to Ponte Vedra).

This program, designed for individuals working in the nonprofit sector with an interest in leading a nonprofit organization, will:

  • Identify and support emerging nonprofit leaders of diverse backgrounds working or living at the Beaches;
  • Allow emerging nonprofit leaders a venue to network and build relationships with their peers;
  • Develop the leadership skills and abilities of emerging nonprofit leaders;
  • Create intergenerational mentoring opportunities; and
  • Equip the Beaches-area nonprofit sector with nonprofit leadership as current leadership retires.

Meet the 2024 Beaches Emerging Leaders Program Cohort

Amarilis is the Director of Legal Immigration Services of the Catholic Charities Bureau. Amarilis grew up in Cuba and earned her bachelor’s degree in law from the UHO, University of Holguin. 

Upon arrival in the US, Amarilis became a certified Paralegal through the National Association of Legal Assistants, NALA, becoming part of the almost 7 thousand certified paralegals in the United States. Amarilis is also a Florida Registered Paralegal with the Florida Bar since 2023. 

 Amarilis started her professional nonprofit career in December of 2018 when she began working for the Catholic Charities Bureau of Jacksonville as an Immigration Counselor, assisting thousands of individuals and families in their immigration journey in the United States.  After this, in 2021, she had a baby, and she became a full-time mom. She dedicated herself for almost 2 years to her kid, while at the same time, she participated in numerous training and conferences necessary for her continuous legal education to maintain her legal certification. Amarilis re- joined the Catholic Charities Bureau of Jacksonville in November 2023 as the Director of the Legal Immigration Services where she continues to provide high quality legal services to the least favored individuals of our community

Eugene “Trey” Ford III currently serves as the Farmers Market Coordinator at Eartha’s Farm & Market, a Clara White Mission initiative, as well as one of five Supervisors of the Duval Soil & Water Conservation District. He graduated from Paxon School for Advanced Studies in 2005 and went on to study at University of Florida, and earning a B.S. in Agricultural Operations Management. In his spare time most of his entrepreneurial endeavors revolve around bringing people together through film experiences with his film programming company “Black Films Matter”. He is a “girl dad” to two extremely intelligent and beautiful girls, Savannah (10) and Layla (5), and of course, a plant dad. 

Hailing from Tampa, FL, Jake Torrens is a US Army Veteran and a seasoned marketing professional dedicated to holistic well-being. With a Master’s degree in Marketing Intelligence and Strategy from the University of Colorado, Jake brings a wealth of strategic insights to his role as the Program Manager for North Florida at Yoga 4 Change. His expertise is not just limited to marketing; he also excels in program management, ensuring the successful delivery of Yoga 4 Change's initiatives across the region. 

 Jake's journey is profoundly personal and professional. Embracing yoga as a transformative force in his own life, he found a deep alignment with Yoga 4 Change's mission. This connection drives him to seamlessly blend his marketing acumen with mindful practices, enhancing the organization's outreach and impact. His commitment to diversity and inclusivity is evident in his tailored yoga programs, which cater to diverse populations, including incarcerated individuals and veterans. 

London Shell is the Director of Business Administration at Mission House. Originally from Breckenridge, Colorado; London attended Colorado State University and graduated with a Bachelors in Economics: Business Administration Concentration, with a Certificate in Music Business. While working on his undergraduate degree, he also worked for student-run radio on campus, 90.5 KCSU, as their Development Director. Where for two years he managed to raise the standard of annual donations and expanded the reach of the station’s semesterly fundraising event, ‘DJ-Athon’. During this time, London also partnered with a local music studio called Acoustic Ranch Recording Studio and interned for a small music nonprofit, Off the Hook Arts. Now in Jacksonville Beach full-time, London aims to use his nonprofit, business, and finance experience to help Mission House grow from within, helping those facing homelessness in the beaches communities. 

Martha Gerding is the Associate Director of Beaches Fine Arts Series, a 501c-3 nonprofit beaches organization begun in 1972 that presents a free annual series of concerts along with associated educational outreach programs at no cost to schools.  She has worked at BFAS for 14 years, and prior to that, worked in the banking and mortgage banking fields for over 20 years.  She is proud to work for an organization that adheres to its mission by presenting stellar programming to the public at no cost so that all may attend, thus improving quality of life for all residents.    

She and her husband, Mike, are proud parents and step-parents to a blended brood of four young adults. She is passionate about singing and has sung in the Cathedral Choir of St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, for over 30 years.  She enjoys road cycling, step aerobics, volunteering, supporting charities, and balancing her support of her beloved FSU Seminoles with her support of the Gators of UF, as theirs is a divided household.  Martha is honored to have been selected for the Beaches Emerging Leaders Program, and looks forward to an exciting 2024 because of it. 

Nicole Hawkins is a Nonprofit Development professional with over 14 years of experience. She has a passion for community building and bringing like-minded individuals together to create meaningful change and promote equity.  

Nicole grew up in Virginia and earned her Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Virginia Tech (go Hokies!). She has since devoted her career to the nonprofit sector to help families overcome struggle and break the cycle of poverty with organizations such as the West Seattle Food Bank, United Way of King County, and now as the Director of Development at Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry (BEAM).  

Nicole has become fully immersed in the Beaches community since moving to Florida in 2019 and enjoys spending time with her kids and dogs camping, at the beach and enjoying live music. She currently serves on the Board of Directors at Neptune Beach Elementary. 

Nikki Thompson has served as Program Manager for the Mayor’s Youth at Work Partnership at Goodwill Industries of North Florida since its inception in Summer of 21. As Program Manager, and most recently Senior Manager of Internships, she works to develop and strengthen relationships between students and employers and helps to ensure student success through training and work experience. Her background includes post-secondary research and years of social services experience. She is committed to seeing the internship programs within Goodwill expand to offer workforce training and first time work opportunities to all students within the 14 county area it serves

Sarah Jared is a nonprofit professional who first connected with mission-driven organizations as a teenager in Wilmington, Delaware. Volunteering was a regular part of her life through her high school's Z and Key Clubs, and she continued to pursue volunteer opportunities while earning a Bachelor of Architecture degree at Virginia Tech. After graduation, she began her career as a project manager for a small architecture firm in Wilmington and connected with the local Habitat for Humanity through her employer. 

In 2008, inspired by Habitat's work and hoping to expand her knowledge of construction, Sarah accepted a position as a Construction Crew Leader at Beaches Habitat for Humanity through the AmeriCorps program. The experience deepened her respect for the mission and changed the course of Sarah's career. She officially joined Beaches Habitat's staff as the Volunteer Coordinator in 2009 and, for more than a decade, has brought her commitment, love of learning, and eye for detail to Beaches Habitat's work. 

Sarah's personal and professional lives also intertwined during her tenure – she met her now-husband, Josh, while they both served as AmeriCorps members. They continue to work together on staff at Beaches Habitat for Humanity, raising their two "Habi-tots" to follow in their footsteps of service and community building. 

Silvia Romero has over 20 years of professional experience in education and administration through the Arts. 

After graduating from UNF, a nomination for an internship at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens brought a new opportunity. Years later, Silvia embraced her role as the Associate Director of Education and spearheaded the largest education initiative - an endowed program serving thousands of underserved students and their families, funded by the J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Foundation. 

After starting a family, Silvia went back into the classroom at the Dubow preschool with her child and worked as a Montessori guide for 6 years where she also taught Art and Spanish.  She and her family moved to Seattle, Washington, where she became the Arts Education Manager at Shorelake Arts, a non - profit arts organization. She was the keynote speaker at the annual gala and fundraising event at Listen and Talk, a specialized preschool for students who are deaf. She is a mom, a Notary Public, an avid crocheter, and a mixed media artist. 

Silvia is currently the Director of Programs at First Coast Cultural Center in Ponte Vedra Beach. 

Past Participants have said:


"This program gave real-life perspective of what it takes to be a CEO – the good, bad, and ugly. It also made me reflect on my current needs that need to be addressed and strengthened to be a better CEO in the future.”


"The most important take away for me was the ability to understand "myself" as a leader and the knowledge I got to make changes that would strengthen my relationships with my team members and executive team. I hope that by incorporating some of the things I learned I become more confident and effective to move up the ladder soon.”

Generously sponsored by