Who is YDS?

Meet the team


John Weiss currently serves as Neutral Zone’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.  For nine years he  served as the Executive Director.  John has worked for over 25 years in education and youth development, with a focus on diverse programs, schools and youth populations.  One of his most formative experiences was serving for seven years as the Director of the Adolescent Division at the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, now the Weikart Center for Program Quality.  In that role John helped lead the dissemination of High/Scope’s active and cooperative learning approach for adolescents. He was one of the initial developers of the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA), a validated instrument designed to evaluate the quality of youth programs and identify staff training.

John served as a teacher in the Ypsilanti Schools and as the Middle School Reform Facilitator for Willow Run Community Schools. He also worked as a teacher in the Peace Corps in The Gambia, West Africa. John has lived in Ypsilanti for the past 19 years with his wife Sarah and three children – Myles, Nya and Jerzy.

LoriRoddyLori Roddy is Neutral Zone’s Executive Director.  For eleven years she served as the Associate Executive Director and Program Director providing support to youth-driven arts and leadership programming.  Lori has worked closely to develop the Teen Advisory Council model that engages youth to oversee 20 programs through approving new initiatives, advocacy, fund raising, grant-making, and evaluation.  She was one of the authors of Teen Advisory Council Guide book that is distributed through Neutral Zone and the David P. Weikart Center.   Over the past six years, Lori has supported the design and development of the youth-driven space initiative and offered training and coaching to schools and organizations across Southeast Michigan.

Kelsey Cavanagh-Strong is Neutral Zone’s Youth Driven Spaces manager and also co- advises Neutral Zone’s Teen Advisory Council.  Kelsey previously served for two years as Neutral Zone’s Education Coordinator and advisor of SEED (Students Educating Each other about Diversity). Kelsey was a youth facilitator for SEED from ’04-’07 when it was still run by Ann Arbor Public Schools.  She previously worked at Michigan Works, engaging teens in soft skills development, job resource support and placement opportunities. She has a MSW from the University of Wisconsin with a focus in Alternative Educational Settings.  Kelsey has has received a Trainer of Trainers Youth Work Methods certification from the David P. Weikart Center on Program Quality and is also a trained trainer in Restorative Practices.

Jake Cinti is a MSW candidate at the UM SSW studying Management of Human Services.  He is currently interning at the Neutral Zone, where his trajectory began.  As a teen, he co-facilitated the Teen Advisory Council, served on its Board of Directors, and participated in numerous music programs.  He went on to Study sociology at the University of Michigan, where he became highly involved in the Program on Intergroup Relations as a dialogue facilitator, program manager, consultant, and trainer.  He has since returned to the Neutral Zone as an MSW intern, working primarily with Youth Driven Spaces and co-advising the NZ’s Teen Advisory Council.


Ebere Oparaeke is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor with a B.S. in Women’s Studies.  During her time on campus, she worked as a Diversity Peer Educator through University Housing, served on the executive boards of multiple student organizations, was trained as a birth doula, and conducted research for her senior honor’s thesis on black women and home birth.

Her many years as a summer camp counselor have provided her the skills and knowledge to interact with youth in meaningful and engaging ways.  Ebere participated in and facilitated many discussions on social justice and identity and now strives to create inclusive and supportive environments for marginalized youth in the local area.  In addition to serving as a coach for the YDS team, Ebere also works as an adviser in the Neutral Zone Drop-In program and as a co-adviser to the S.E.E.D. program.

Shiksha Sneha is the YDS intern, along with being a lead teen facilitator and a member of Neutral Zone’s shikshaS.C.O.R.E. program.  Shiksha is also currently serving on the NZ board of directors as a teen cabinet member and has been involved with the Neutral Zone since junior year of high school. Shiksha is currently a senior at Huron High School in Ann Arbor.

Track the invasion

Youth Driven Spaces on the Map

We have partnered with organizations throughout the state of Michigan (and across the nation)! Take a moment to check out this map, and see if you can find the YDS site nearest to you.

Current YDS Sites

All Things Artistic Ministries, Ypsilanti MI
Alternatives for Girls, Detroit MI
Boys Hope Girls Hope, Detroit MI
Brother’s Keeper of Washtenaw County, Ypsilanti MI
Cody Rouge Action Alliance, Detroit MI
Culture Works, Holland MI
Detroit Food Academy, Detroit MI
Detroit HorsePower, Detroit MI
Developing K.I.D.S. , Detroit MI
Eastside Community Network, Detroit MI
Girls Group, Ann Arbor MI
InsideOut Literary Arts,  Detroit MI
MSU Community School of Music, East Lansing MI
Starfish Family Services, Inkster MI
University Prep Cobra Social Justice Team, Detroit MI
Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, Detroit MI
Western Michigan Center for Arts & Technology – Grand Rapids, MI
Wellsspring, Detroit MI
YouthBuild – Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor MI
Youth Development Commission, Detroit MI
Ypsilanti Library, Ypsilanti MI

Past YDS Sites

ACCESS, Dearborn MI
The Aud Youth Complex, Richmond MI
Advocacy Services for Youth, Kalamazoo MI
Beecher High School, Geneese County MI
Benton Harbor High School, Benton Harbor MI
Bloomingdale High School, Bloomingdale MI
The Block, Canton MI
Bright Futures 21st Century Learning Program, Ypsilanti MI
Cody APL High School, Detroit MI
Corner Health, Ypsilanti MI
Clintondale High School, Clintondale MI
EAJ High School, Mt. Morris MI
Eastern High School, Lansing MI
Grizzly Guidance Group – Ypsilanti Community Schools MI
Grandville Arts & Humanities/Cook Art Center, Grand Rapids
Harper Woods High School, Harper Woods MI
Harriet Tubman Center, Detroit
Henry Ford High School, Detroit MI
Kalamazoo County Youth Cabinet, Kalamazoo MI
Marion High School, Marion MI
New Haven High School, New Haven MI
Ludington Art Center, Ludington MI
Osborn High School, Detroit MI
Pershing High School, Detroit MI
Port Huron High School – 21st Century Learning Program, Port Huron MI
River Rouge High School, Detroit MIPontiac Academy, Pontiac MI
REACH Studio Art Center, Lansing, MI
Robichaud High School, Dearborn Heights MI
River Rouge High School, River Rouge MI
RYSE Center, Richmond CA
Southeastern High School, Detroit MI
SWAG – Fitzgerald High School, Warren MI
Quaker Crew – Eastern High School, Lansing MI
Ruth Ellis Center, Detroit MI
Saginaw High School, Saginaw MI
Teen Coalition – West Midland Family Center, Midland MI
Teen HYPE, Detroit MI
VOX, Atlanta GA
Youth on the Move, Atlanta GA

YDS Partners

Part of the content and the YDS model was co-created by our partners:

David P Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality  – The Weikart Center’s mission is to advance the youth development field by positioning point-of-service quality as a powerful public idea. The Center aims to build quality accountability and systems that improve professionals’ skills and change outcome trajectories for youth.


Michigan State University’s Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative – The Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative (CERC) is a unit of Michigan State University’s (MSU) Office of University Outreach and Engagement. CERC acts as a hub for program evaluation activity across MSU, providing training in evaluation and conducting formative and summative evaluations.

S|Y|N Associates  – S|Y|N Associates is a consulting firm dedicated to expanding the frontiers of leadership which helps leaders build more effective organizations.  S|Y|N Associates is led by Stephen Nose, a former Neutral Zone Board Member.