Let’s clear the air – Steve Gross stayed back in kindergarten. They said that he just didn’t know how to play right! Armed with boundless energy, a mischievous sense of humor, and creative (bordering on reckless) impulsivity, Steve gave all of his childhood teachers a run for their money. Luckily for him, Steve found salvation through play. In 1989, Steve founded Project Joy to help children overcome poverty, violence and illness through the power of play. A pioneer in utilizing exuberant, joyful and loving play to help children heal from the devastating impact of trauma, Gross is committed to the healthy development of children facing life's most difficult circumstances. Says Gross, "Children need food and water to survive, but to truly live, they’ve gotta play."
Born and raised in New York City, Rolland is the 3rd of 5 children and always had someone to play with. Growing up, some of his favorite games included Monopoly, baseball, and riding his bike. He attended Brown University and earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, Rolland taught at the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center. Afterwards, he earned his master’s degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He then joined Jumpstart for Young Children for four years, an early education nonprofit helping kids develop the language and literacy skills they need to be successful in school. Rolland enjoys cooking, snowboarding, and playing the cello in his spare time. He joined Project Joy/Playmakers in December 2008.
Emily grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota, where she loved climbing trees and keeping up with three older siblings. She attended college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, earned a B.S. in Psychology, and rowed Crew. Emily pursued graduate school at Boston University for Counseling & Sport Psychology, believing that teams and sports can make the world a happier place! She worked for the next eight years at the Academy of Physical and Social Development, facilitating activity-based social skills groups for children, a youth-sports program, and individual counseling. Emily also coached Strength & Conditioning at Harvard part-time during all those years, and lately she’s known to run and lift weights like it’s her very playful job. She joined Project Joy/Playmakers in September 2009.
Jim frequently ate cold meals growing up since he had difficulty leaving off play to answer the dinner bell. He still has a hard time leaving balls un-bounced. Jim has been an award-winning college teacher, a consultant specializing in leadership development, and the Director of Communications for The Life is good Company. As the Foundation’s Communications Director, Jim is responsible for rich, ongoing communications with its many stakeholders and partners. He served on the Foundation’s board from 2006-2010 and is passionately committed to fulfilling its vision and mission. Jim loves to play with words in his free time, run around twice a week chasing a Frisbee, teach and coach, and shake his head daily in wonder and gratitude for the four critters who call him dad.
Ant Toombs has been part of the Life is good Playmakers/Project Joy since 2004. He is the Director of Community Playmaking and a Community Counselor Advocate. Ant joined forces with the Playmakers to be part of making urban Boston a more safe and playful place for children to grow. Growing up in Orchard Park Housing Development in the 1980s, he understands firsthand how difficult it can be for some children to tap into their creativity and joy when living in toxic environments. As a lead trainer with the Playmakers, he reminds adults that we need to fight hard to make sure that children, regardless of the obstacles they face, are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Ben grew up on the coast of Maine. He likes lobster. He is the eldest of four brothers. He spent much of his childhood playing team sports – soccer, basketball, and baseball. Also, being fortunate to have the beauty of Maine’s wilderness right outside his front door, Ben could be found searching for the next great tree fort or jumping in the family canoe and paddling around Frenchman’s Bay. Nowadays, this “urban lumberjack” can be found exploring the forest of Boston high rises. He loves staying active, searching for new restaurants, and most importantly, spending time with his family and friends. Did we mention he likes lobster (yeah we are sick of hearing him brag about Maine’s finest export, too)?
The youngest of three girls, Lillian was born and raised in Boston. Close family ties kept her local during college – she attended Boston University’s School of Management where she majored in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing. Though she is one of the newest members of the Kids Foundation crew, Lillian's no stranger to Life is good. Her LIG career began back in ’06, as a Marketing Intern, which led to a job as Retail Supervisor at LIG's flagship store. Most recently, Lillian was part of the company’s Global team, managing Canadian retail accounts. Now as the Executive Assistant of Playmaking, she’s ready to take on the day-to-day tasks and anything else the Playmakers throw her way!
Years ago, Becky met Steve Gross and became an early version of a Playmaker. Leaving to pursue graduate education, she kept the smiles, laughter, and perseverance of children near to her heart as she completed degrees in Social Psychology (MSc, London School of Economics) and Clinical Psychology (Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago). As Director of Playmakers Research and Evaluation, Becky focuses on documenting the impact of the Playmakers’ work and the importance of play in the wake of trauma. Not only does her research communicate the strength of our program, it also helps to improve our work and to inspire new ways for individuals and organizations to create engaging, empowering, loving, and joyful experiences for children and their caregivers.
Susana is from the San Francisco Bay Area. She received a B.A. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. At Harvard she studied child development, trauma, and prevention and intervention programs for preschoolers, and worked as a Pair Play Therapist with children who were struggling with social and emotional issues. After graduating, Susana worked for Habitot Children’s Museum, and in 2009 she and the Habitot staff worked with the Playmakers to launch the first Preschool Playmaker training in the Bay Area. As a Playmaker Trainer, she is excited to spread joy and playfulness to teachers and children by offering local Playmaker trainings, facilitating monthly Community of Playfulness meetings, and leading Powerplay groups with preschoolers.
Emily grew up in a creative, artistic, and musical family and still loves to make music and play outside. She studied Psychobiology in college and Child Life in graduate school because she is fascinated with the mind-body connection and the changes that occur with stress or trauma. Since 1998 she has been playing and creating art with children in hospitals. When children are recovering from surgery or fighting a life-threatening illness, play is just as important as the medication they are receiving. She loves her work with the Playmakers, especially encouraging other child-invested people to utilize play to empower, inspire and create a safe space for children to learn and grow.
Dwayne graduated from UMass Boston with a bachelor’s degree in Social Justice and a master’s in Education. He worked as a preschool teacher at a Head Start program for five years and has been a teacher for Boston Public Schools for six years. He believes the current educational mentality is too narrowly focused on teaching children to read, write, add, and subtract, without the necessary attention on helping them enjoy their early classroom experiences, engage in their learning, and become emotionally ready to take on the challenges that life will present. He is committed to ensuring that all kids are provided with the skills necessary to succeed. He has applied Playmaker methods in his classroom every day since ___ and assists Playmaker trainings throughout the year.
She goes by Ellen, Peace Gal and Playful Yogi. She has been practicing yoga since 2005 and practicing playfulness all her life – both on and off the parachute. By day you'll find her managing projects at Facing History and Ourselves, and by weekend you’ll find her playing her favorite games with some of her favorite people. Ellen moved to Boston in 2009 after getting a master's degree in Peace Education and was thrilled to meet a team of people who both shared and cultivated her vision for a truly transformative approach to education. She began assisting in Playmaker trainings in 2010. Ellen lives in Somerville with her husband. She loves taking Sunday morning walks with her dog, drinking chai and eating cheese.
Born in Camp Perrin, high Delmas, Jean Gershon is the youngest in a family of five children. Being the youngest of his siblings, he was always loved and protected by them. Other than these, he had many other friends to play with and loved playing soccer and basketball. His biggest dream was to win a World Cup with Haiti. He attended the Faculty of Humanities at the State University of Haiti, where he studied social work. He taught French and Haitian in several schools around Port-au-Prince, including the Special Academic Institution of Ananda Marga and Yves Albert Boucher College. After that, he worked at AMURT Haiti - an NGO that responds to emergencies and provides local development and education - as a trainer and then as project manager in projects for education and child protection. While at AMURT Haiti, he completed a one-year training in project management and management of NGOs in PAOD University. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. In his spare time he loves to do yoga and meditation, watch television, read and especially write songs and poetry. He is married and has one son.
Obencian was born in Port-au-Prince where he spent his entire life. As a child, he loved playing soccer and marbles and other traditional Haitian games. He attended successively the Learning Center of St. Martin where he earned a degree in Building Construction, Papaye Peasant Movement, where he completed his training in community leadership, and PAOD University, where he received a degree in project management and technical development. He worked at AMURT Haiti - an NGO that responds to emergencies and provides local development and education - for seven years and held the positions of supervisor, trainer, community organizer and program coordinator. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. He is married and the father of two daughters. In his spare time he likes to dance and enjoys roots music, Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall and more. He is a lover of gadgets.
James is the eldest son of a family of three children and has always had someone to play with. As a child, his greatest passion was music and sports. With his friends he enjoyed interpreting popular songs of the time, and so he discovered his talent as an artist. In his teenage years he completed his classical studies in the United States after which he decided to become a professional musician and singer. He has performed in several musical groups including Yizrael, which he founded and has worked as a band leader and composer. He worked in the United States at ET & T in the department of telemarketing and AMURT Haiti as a cultural trainer. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011 and has continued his singing career. In his spare time he enjoys playing music, enjoying nature, watching documentaries and contributing to community activities.
Born and raised in Kenskoff, Fabiola is the younger of two children. As a child, she was passionate about many traditional Haitian games that are still an integral part of her life. She has degrees in communications and journalism and computer science. She is currently studying law. She worked at AMURT Haiti - an NGO that responds to emergencies and provides local development and education - as a program manager. She joined Gery Jwa/ Playmakers in 2011. Playing remains her favorite hobby.
Born in Gonaives, high in Port-au-Prince, Roudy is the older of two children. He completed his training in "animated radio" at the Institute of Communications and has been trained in first aid and cinematography. He is a black belt in Karate Kyokushinkai style and is a national champion in his class. He worked in radio Arc-en-ciel as host of the show "Hello Young" and as professor of physical education and sport for young people ages 5-16 at the Special Academic Institution of Ananda Marga and the Joint Pandiasou Institution. After the January 12, 2010 earthquake, he joined AMURT Haiti as an instructor in Karate and then as a trainer in a leadership program for young adolescents. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. Roudy is very optimistic. He loves children, music, dance, and nature, and he plans to study psychology.
Born in Bellevue town of Petion-ville, Ysmaille comes from a Christian family of five children. He is the youngest and has always had someone to play with. As a child, his passion was music and soccer. He has professional training in electrical and mechanical welding and is the owner of an electric welding shop. He worked at Business Herald, an aircraft engine production plant, and later at AMURT Haiti as a logistics officer and driver. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. In his spare time he enjoys playing the flute and contributes to community activities to benefit children in his community.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Beatrice is the fourth in a family of nine children. From an early age she had a mad passion for culture, theater, dance, painting and cinema. After her classical studies, she studied Anthropo-Sociology at the Faculty of Ethnology and took courses at the same time in cosmetology and in theater, including at the Centre Petion-Bolivar. She worked for over five years as an audio-visual production manager at Mancuso Productions, assistant to the achievements TELE LAKAY, production manager and casting director to Kharmèliaud Actor's Studio. She also worked as Cultural City Assistant in Port-au-Prince and as Art Chaperone in the Ministry of Culture. After the earthquake of January 12, 2012, she joined the NGO AMURTEL as Project Coordinator of education and protection. She joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. In her spare time she enjoys playing, dancing, reading and meditation.
Mileine was born in North St. Louis where she spent her childhood. She is the second in a family of nine children. Wanting to help improve the educational system of Haiti, she returned to the Montessori Petion-Ville normal school, where she graduated as a teacher. She worked as a teacher at the “Butterflies Light" Kindergarten and at the Special Academic Institution of Ananda Marga. After a long teaching career, she joined AMURT Haiti in 2010 where she worked as a trainer. She joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. She has a daughter, she loves soccer, and in her free time she listens to music and plays with children.
Sergot was born and raised in Delmas where he spent his entire life. He is the fourth in a family of eight children. As a child, he loved playing soccer and dominoes. He spent nearly eight years in a rap group called Universal Rap Stars. For three years he participated in an accelerated training program called FIA - a program offered by the Haitian government to prepare primary school teachers. He worked as a teacher at the Modern Vision College and at the Special Academic Institution of Ananda Marga. After a long teaching career, he joined AMURT Haiti in 2010 where he worked as a trainer. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmaker in 2011. He is married and the father of two children, a boy and a girl. In his spare time he listens to music and enjoys playing with his wife and two children.
Born and raised in Delmas, Steve is the fifth in a family of six children and has always had someone to play with. In his teenage period, he studied vocal and instrumental music at the church where he grew up. He began studying economics but abandoned his studies to devote himself to music. After several follow-up seminars on education and child psychology, he began a career as a music instructor for children. He joined AMURT Haiti in 2010 as a trainer and consultant in cultural music. He joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. He has continued working as a musician and professional singer and has even fulfilled his dream of owning his own recording studio. He is married and the father of two boys. In his spare time he plays music and writes songs.
Marie-Ange was born in Cavaillon. A year after her birth, her mother returned to Port-au-Prince where she continues to live. She is the third in a family of four children and always had someone to play with. She attended Normal School in Delmas where she graduated as a teacher. She worked as a teacher at Babysitters Kindergarden and the Special Academic Institution of Ananda Marga. After a long teaching career, she joined AMURT Haiti in 2010 where she worked as a trainer. She joined Gery Jwa/Playmakers in 2011. She is married and is the mother of a girl and a boy. She loves basketball and in her free time she listens to music and enjoys reading and playing with children.