About Us

Our Project Board

Shayna Friedman

Shayna Friedman joined The Efshar Project board in the spring of 2020. She has worked in the field of Jewish education for over 20 years. Shayna currently serves as director of admission at Denver Jewish Day School overseeing the school’s recruitment and retention of families and administering the school’s financial aid program. She has worked in synagogues, camps, central agencies, and JCC’s serving learners of all ages from early childhood to adults. Shayna is passionate about inviting learners to find their connection to Judaism. She holds a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Shayna Friedman

Director of admission at Denver Jewish Day School

Karla Hanlon

Karla Hanlon

COO, Rocky Mountain Public Media

Karla Hanlon

Karla Hanlon has been a financial and operational leader with nonprofit organizations in Colorado for over a decade, after gaining experience from the public accounting and for-profit sectors.  She currently serves as the COO for Rocky Mountain Public Media (home of RMPBS, KUVO Jazz, and THE DROP), where she focuses on driving financial sustainability and efficient, adaptive operations.  Karla’s approach to financial and operational strategies is grounded in values-based decision making and a dedication to serving communities.  Previously, Karla served as the CFO/COO and Interim CEO for Jewish Community Centers of Denver and the VP of Finance and Operations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado.  She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Accountancy from Northern Illinois University and received her CPA certification from the State of Illinois.  Karla resides in the Central Park neighborhood with her husband (Sean) and three children (Emma – 18, Jacob – 15, and Olivia – 11).

Shere Kahn

Shere Kahn is currently principal of her own consulting firm, S.S.Kahn Consulting, L.L.C. which includes grant-related support for private family foundations, project management, and a broad range of grant writing. She was one of three founders of the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, the precursor to The Efshar Project. Shere held multiple leadership positions for more than twenty years at JEWISHcolorado with a focus on project management, planning and grant making. She also held senior management positions at the City of Aurora, City of Thornton, and the Regional Transportation District. Shere has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver with an emphasis in community organization and social planning. She and her husband enjoy time with their family at their mountain cabin near Lyons, Colorado.

Shere Kahn​

Principal, S.S.Kahn Consulting, L.L.C.

Rabbi Avraham Mintz

CEO, Chabad Jewish Center

Rabbi Avraham Mintz

Rabbi Avraham Mintz is a renowned communal leader and spiritual guide. Born in Brooklyn, NY, he studied in prestigious Rabbinical Colleges in Israel and Los Angeles before receiving his Rabbinical Ordination with honors.

Rabbi Mintz moved to Colorado in 2003 and established the Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver which quickly grew into one of the largest Jewish Centers of its kind in the area where he serves as CEO and Rabbi. He oversees The Garden School, Camp Gan Izzy, Chabad Hebrew School and the Jewish Learning Institute which attracts hundreds of families from all backgrounds and affiliations. Rabbi Mintz lives in Lone Tree, CO with his wife Hindy and their children.

Cassandra O’Neill

Cassandra O’Neill is the Chair of the Governance Committee of The Efshar Project. She has been a consultant since 2000 and has worked with over 200 organizations to increase impact.  She is co-author of Five Elements of Collective Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals (2017 Redleaf Press) Certified in Conversational Intelligence for Coaches and Appreciative Living Coaching. She has a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Rutgers University and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from UC Berkeley.

Cassandra O’Neill​

Chair of the Governance Committee

Sheila Purdin

Director of Early Childhood Education at Temple Sinai in Denver

Sheila Purdin​

Sheila Purdin began her career in early education thirty years ago in her native Seattle, WA. She is currently the Director of Early Childhood Education at Temple Sinai in Denver, CO. She was previously the director of two Reform synagogue early childhood centers in Atlanta, GA. During her twenty years in Atlanta she was an active member of the Jewish Early Childhood Council of Atlanta, having served as co-chair and chairing the Kallah planning committee, and sat on the board of PJ Library Atlanta. She participated in the URJ Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Center Community of Practice and is a First 36 Fellow. Sheila has been a member of Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism since 2008 and currently serves as their VP of Marketing. She lives in Denver with her hamster, Princess Lightening Bolt, and has two adult children who are pretty fantastic.

Josh Rifkin

Josh Rifkin has been an early childhood educator at the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center for 11 years. In his current role as a Nature and Technology specialist, he nurtures and encourages the relationship between young children and the natural and technology worlds with the hopes of inspiring the next generation of stewards. 

Josh believes in cultivating educational cultures that value mentorship programs and ongoing professional development for early childhood professionals. His newest professional adventure is taking part in a pilot career mentorship program sponsored by the Efshar Project. Josh lives in Denver with his wife Elinor, who is also an early childhood educator, and their young children.

Josh Rifkin

Josh Rifkin

Early Childhood Educator, Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center

Cathy Rolland

Chair of The Efshar Project

Cathy M. Rolland

Cathy Rolland is the URJ’s Senior Director of Emerging Networks, which includes bringing innovated approaches focused on engaging individuals and families from diverse backgrounds with a focus on families with young children, youth/teens and 20/30s adults. Cathy is also the inaugural president of the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ), an affiliate of the URJ. Cathy recently earned a Master of Arts in Religious Education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She also has a certification in Jewish Early Childhood leadership from Gratz college. Cathy and her husband reside in Denver, CO where she is honored to serve as the chair of the Efshar Project, previously known as the Colorado Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative.

Cantor Elizabeth Sacks

Cantor Elizabeth Sacks is the Senior Cantor at Temple Emanuel. She was ordained as a cantor in 2007 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and holds a B.A. in Jewish Studies and Music from Harvard University. From 2007-2012, Cantor Sacks served as the Associate Cantor at Central Synagogue in New York, focusing on worship, education, and young professional engagement. In addition to her congregational work, Cantor Sacks advises national Reform Movement organizations across the country, chairing and serving on associations for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the American Conference of Cantors, and the Union for Reform Judaism, She is a frequent presenter at conferences and panels on the topic of worship design and ritual innovation. Cantor Sacks is married to Elias Sacks, Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Cantor Sacks, Eli, and their children – Charlie and Tova – live in Denver.

Cantor Elizabeth Sacks

Senior Cantor, Temple Emanuel

Jo Schaalman

Board Member

Jo Schaalman

Jo Schaalman is the CEO, co-founder, and co-author of The Conscious Cleanse and The Conscious Cleanse Cookbook. She was a state champion gymnast and a nationally ranked diver before a bike accident left her seriously injured. Through her own healing, Jo unlocked some universal healing principles that have become foundational to the Conscious Cleanse. Her role at the Conscious Cleanse is to lead the live programs, help develop new content, run daily operations, and lead business development and outreach. Jo studied at the Nutrition Therapy Institute and has been a yoga teacher for more than 15 years. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and two kids.

Jessica Simmons

Jess Simmons is a passionate advocate of early childhood and innovation. Over the course of nearly two decades, Jess has served in a number of leadership roles overseeing growing organizations’ impact and reach by helping organizations build sustainable operations. Currently, Jess serves as a fractional Growth and Partnerships leader for organizations across the country. From starting her career as an experiential educator and classroom teacher to launching and overseeing implementation of complex programs for students and teachers in multiple countries, Jess’ commitment to inclusivity and equity has been at the center of her work. In serving on a number of boards, Jess enjoys giving back, learning from others and is thrilled to support The Efshar Project. In her free time, Jess lives west of Denver and can be found exploring the great outdoors with her children – Ellis, Mazie and Miles, dog and husband, Andy. 

Jessica Simmons

Jessica Simmons

Board Member

Dawn Spector

Dawn Spector

Director of Early Childhood Education and Young Family Programs at Rodef Shalom

Dawn Spector

Dawn Spector, a New York native, attended college in Jerusalem and at Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. where she obtained a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with an emphasis on education. She obtained her Preschool Director’s Certification from Aurora Community College and has been involved with Jewish Education for over 20 years. She loves being able to reach children at a young age and help instill a passion for learning and Judaism that will hopefully last a lifetime. 

As director of Early Childhood Education and Young Family Programs at Rodef Shalom, Dawn’s responsibilities include the ECEC (Early Childhood Education Center), Shabbat, Holiday, and young family programming.

Susie Valdez

Susie Valdez is the Senior Director of Early Childhood Education, Boulder JCC. She grew up in Boulder and attended CSU where she received her degree in Human Development and Family Studies with an emphasis in Education. During her time in Fort Collins, Susie was fortunate enough to work as a parent and family educator for United Way. Since 1988, she has been teaching or directing preschool. She has worked at the Boulder JCC since 2003, first as a teacher and now as the director. Susie feels so fortunate to be a part of such an outstanding program and surrounded by the wonderful teachers who work there.

Susie Valdez

Senior Director, ECE Boulder JCC

Ashleigh Wong-The Efhsar Project

Ashleigh Wong

Board Member

Ashleigh Wong

Ashleigh Wong is a first-year board member with The Efhsar Project and is looking forward to using her fundraising, strategy, and team building skills to serve the Early Childhood Education environment. Ashleigh has spent the past 10 years working for the Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA) and its affiliates, including as the former Development Director at JEWISHcolorado. Ashleigh is currently navigating the world of Early Childhood Education as a full-time parent. She continues to work on behalf of the Jewish community to ensure a vibrant Jewish future in Denver and around the world.  She holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Colorado and lives in Denver with her husband, Seth, and son, Sam (1yr).