Leadership Team

Jacob Gardenswartz
Founder and Executive Director Emeritus

Jacob Gardenswartz received his Master’s of Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. From 2009-2014, he served as the Student Director of the Theater of Peace (TOP), an anti-bullying performance organization he helped to create. For his work with TOP, Jacob won the Prudential Spirit of Leadership Award, Spirit of Community Award, Peter Chortek Leadership Award, Diller Teen Social Entrepreneurship Award, Abercrombie and Fitch Anti-Bullying Scholarship, and the President’s Volunteer Service Award. In addition, Jacob has been personally recognized for his work in the anti-bullying community by the La Mesa, Los Angeles, and San Francisco mayors, Congresswoman Susan Davis, Senator Dianne Feinstein, as well as by President Obama.

Jacob began his stage career at the age of four and has been performing professionally since 2008. He has trained in voice, dance, acting, direction, playwriting, and improvisation, and is an active member of the San Diego and Philadelphia theater communities.

In addition to his performance background, Jacob is very involved in the world of media and politics. His writing and analysis has been featured in Vox, The Washington Post, San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego City Beat, NBC News, and MSNBC.

Above all else, Jacob is most proud of the impact his organization has been able to make in students’ lives, and is so appreciative of his friends and family for their continued support. In his own words, “If we can improve the experience of just one student — make them feel more safe, more comfortable, and more able to advocate for themselves — than we will have changed the world for the better.”

Allison Gardenswartz
Director of Operations and Educational Programming

Allison has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She currently serves as a private consultant, teacher-evaluator, and parent educator throughout San Diego county. Prior to that, Allison was Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School’s Director of Studies, Resource, and Parent Education, and helped to develop curriculum for the San Diego Children’s Museum and programming with the San Diego school districts.

Allison earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs from the George Washington University’s School of Public and International Affairs in Washington, D.C. At the same time, she earned her teaching credential through GW’s School of Education. While living in Atlanta, Georgia, Allison completed graduate coursework specializing in adolescent education and the instruction of fluency in middle-schoolers. In 2011, she completed the Harvard School of Education “Principal’s Institute” in Boston.

Allison has served on various non-profit boards, and currently acts as a mentor for Promises to Kids and a leader of an adolescent book group with Words Alive. She has been married to her husband Dan for 22 years and has three children: Jacob, Sofia, and Ryan. In her spare time, Allison enjoys reading, cooking, tennis, and being an active and involved mom.

Grace Roche
Artistic Director

Grace Roche is 15 and a junior at Helix Charter High School. Her love of musical theater began at the age of 8 when she was cast in CYT’s production of Seussical The Musical. Some of her other favorite roles include Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Urban Discovery Academy), Chimney Sweep and Parasol Lady in Mary Poppins (CYT) and most recently, Carla Understudy and Ensemble in The Highland Players 2018 production of In The Heights. In her free time, Grace enjoys taking vocal lessons, singing, tap dancing with the Helix Tap Club, photography, and spending time with her friends and family. Grace is excited to continue to pursue her love of theatre by being a part of the ImpACT company.

Danny Helms
Director of Outreach and ImpACTivism Emeritus

Danny is 22 year old recently received his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the School of Dramatic Arts and a minor in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. His passion for theatre began at an early age, as he trained voice, dance, and acting with Christian Youth Theatre, San Diego Lyric Opera, and San Diego Ballet. On the La Jolla Playhouse Student Board, he served as the Community Outreach Chairman, where he collaborated with the education and outreach department to help create more opportunities for middle and high school students to experience professional theatre.

At the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, he extensively studied theatre, served as Senior Class President and the Vice Chair of the School Site Council, and an actor in many productions. After graduating, he participated in a year-long immersive program in Paris, France at the American University of Paris where he performed in University productions of Hamlet and Barefoot in the Park.

He served as an assistant editor, and news writer for USC’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Trojan. He has written weekly articles on birth control law, binational policy reform, and incidents of bigotry found within the University. He has also performed and with the USC School of Dramatic Arts, the Musical Theatre Repertory at USC, and assisted professors at the USC College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.

Alexis Neumann
Founding Member and Chief Innovations Officer

Alexis Neumann is a senior at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA double majoring in Music and Comparative History of Ideas, with a minor in Digital Experimental Art and New Media. A passionate artist, performer, and activist, Alexis loves creating interactive research-based installation art. She has been awarded for her work as a researcher and artist in the Mary Gates Honors Scholars Research Program, the Summer Institute In the Arts and Humanities (Seattle, 2016), and the University of Washington Undergraduate Research Conference (Seattle, 2017) as well as others. As a performer she was heavily involved in the San Diego musical theater community performing with the Coronado Playhouse, Neo Opera, Old Globe Honors, as well as many other theater, choral and opera organizations.

In addition to her many professional and academic endeavors, Alexis has managed to balance a full course load, a busy work schedule, as well as being an active voice for the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Chronic Pain/Inflammation community. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a connective tissue auto-immune disorder with symptoms including chronic pain, joint dislocations, and osteoarthritis. She is passionate about aiding and supporting others with invisible illnesses and mental health disorders.

In her spare time, Alexis paints, teaches music classes to local elementary and middle schoolers, explores the intersection between up-and-coming technology and art, and eats a lot of Chipotle. She enjoys spontaneous dance parties with her roommates, a revitalizing Yoga practice, and forever learning how to show Jesus’ grace and love to those around her.

Alexis joined the ImpACT On Stage team in its grass roots when she helped found and originate the organization. She was inspired by the way she could utilize the thing she loved the most to promote open-mindedness, peace, and respect. Today she serves as Chief Innovations Officer as well as an active board member. She feels immensely fortunate to have had a hand in growing the organization — working alongside exceptional human beings, artists, and entrepreneurs — and is so thrilled to see the amazing results that ImpACT continues to generate in the coming years.

Larissa Garcia
Founder Member and Director of Program Development Emeritus

Larissa is 22 years old received a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre with a Minor in Business at Catawba College located in Salisbury, North Carolina. As a result of her own experience being bullied in school, Larissa joined Teen Connection in 2009 in collaboration with Sharla Boggs Mandere which continued to evolve into Theatre of Peace throughout 2014. As an original and active member of Theatre of Peace, Larissa helped write, block, and act in works demonstrating the negative effects of bullying while serving as a role model to help youth overcome such obstacles. As Larissa became more involved with the anti-bullying community, she found passion in helping to reach out and help kids understand, overcome, and prevent bullying. In 2012, Larissa became a member of LifePlay Productions and was part of the original cast “Crossing the Bridge.” The group uses improvisation to help empower youth to make good decisions, feel empathy, embrace acceptance and develop conflict resolution skills.

Beginning at the age of 8, Larissa discovered her passion for theater through school drama and improvisation clubs as well as youth theatre groups such as San Diego Junior Theatre, Actors Conservatory Theatre, American Rose Theatre, and J Company. She has since performed at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe and Lyric Opera San Diego. Larissa has been cast in over 30 productions and has worked with directors such as Carlos Mendoza, Leigh Scarritt, Sean Murray, Javier Velasco and Kristin Brandt to name a few. Whether an actor on stage or behind the scenes as a stage manager working lights and moving set, Larissa recognizes the importance of team building and working together.

Luke Babbitt
Artistic Director Emeritus

Luke joined ImpACT as an actor in 2015 and has loved using his passion for theater to promote ImpACT's mission ever since. He is currently attending Stanford University.

While he was a member of the San Diego theater community, some of his favorite productions included How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Old Globe, 2011-2014), Kurt in Sound of Music (San Diego Musical Theater), Evan in 13: The Musical (CYC), Jack in Into the Woods (Pickwick Players, STAR Repertory Theater), Artful Dodger in Oliver! (PPJT) as well as many productions with the Highland Players.

While attending Helix Charter High School, Luke competed on his school's speech and debate team. Most recently, he placed 2nd in Thematic Interpretation at the 2018 California High School Speech Association (CHSSA) State Championship Tournament. One year prior, he placed 4th in Dramatic Interpretation at the 2017 CHSSA State Tournament. Additionally, he was named 2018 San Diego Imperial Valley Speech League (SDIVSL) Speaker of the Year. He views speech as a platform to advocate for change and speak up about issues that are important to him. In his free time. Luke enjoys playing volleyball and tap dancing. He would like to thank Jacob for giving him this opportunity and for all he does to make our community a better place.

Diana Agostini
Board Member
Kalpana Singh Rhodes
Board Member
Susannah Stern
Board Member

Susannah Stern is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of San Diego. Her research examines the intersections of adolescent development, media use and popular culture. She is particularly interested in how young people explore identity and express themselves in digital spaces. She has published her work in top communication journals and shares her work at academic conferences, youth organization, and with parents, teachers, and the press. At USD, she teaches courses on media and children, teenagers, media uses and effects, and research methods.