Board of Directors
Antwan A. Turpeau is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of SYSEA. Antwan is no stranger to struggles. His mother’s diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia and her battle with domestic violence caused her to abandon Antwan and his sister at the ages of 10 and 3 years old. As a result, Antwan and his younger sister became wards of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. His living arrangements varied from relatives, foster homes, and group homes.
While attending one of the most dangerous and under-privileged high schools in Chicago his sophomore year, Antwan experienced another life changing moment. His brother and good friends were shot multiple times after walking Antwan to the train station in the Englewood neighborhood. After having to adjust and re-adjust to different home environments, battles with illegal substances as a teen, and engaging in gang and criminal activities for survival, Antwan made the decision to want a better life. With that decision and support from mentors and family he was able to achieve accomplishments beyond his wildest dreams. Antwan attended Elmhurst College and participated on various athletic teams. College was by no means easy, but he was able to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. His degree allowed him to quickly gain employment by one of the largest child welfare organizations in the country. He managed a psychiatric hospital and residential treatment center for boys and girls for four years. Within that time he transitioned from in-patient services to community based work. At a very prestigious organization, Antwan learned the “three prong” approach to effectively address, change, and empower the community. The Chicago Area Project taught Antwan the importance of providing direct service, advocacy, and community organization. At this organization he managed several state funded programs, organized community events, developed programs, and engaged in grant writing and fund raising. Antwan is now a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago School of Social Work. He has received specific training in Leadership and Development in Social Service agencies. Antwan believes that one must use their life struggles as a motivation to succeed, a drive that he hopes to instill in SYESA youth.
Thu serves as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). In this capacity she provides ongoing liaison efforts involving FNS organizational responsibilities that may have impact on other USDA mission areas, federal agencies or outside groups. She also plans and conducts special projects at the request of the Administrator and Chief of Staff. Prior to joining FNS in 2010, Thu served as Chief of Strategic Partnerships and Information and Special Assistant to the Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS). In this role, Thu was charged with forwarding numerous strategic initiatives for the Director, including IDCFS’ role in combating human trafficking, the strengthening families initiative, the regional and statewide youth advisory boards, child welfare immigration policy, early learning initiative, and the trauma informed related initiative. She previously worked as Senior Policy Associate for the Illinois Governor’s Office of New Americans Policy and Advocacy, managing a process to create immigration integration policy changes amongst a collection of key state agencies. After graduate school at Loyola University’s School of Social work in 2004, Thu worked as a clinician at the University of Chicago Hospitals Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department where she counseled at risk youth, earning her license in clinical social work over time. Thu has volunteered and engaged with various organizations. She currently serving on the board for Discover Aviation Now (DAN); she served as a strategic advisor to the Illinois Vietnamese Student Union; she served as board member for the Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago; she was a participant and/or board member for the Leadership Center for Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Human Services, and the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center. Prior to graduate school and after her undergraduate work at Calvin College, Thu worked as a community organizer in southern California, developing programs with a Latino community outside of Buena Park. She was the recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Health Fellowship in 2004 and served as a Mentor for Fellows in subsequent years.
With seven years of experience in the field of mental health and consulting, Beth DeNicolo brings considerable expertise, many valuable contacts and experience to her position as fundraising chairperson at SYESA. Notable is her involvement in various charities and the American Psychological Association. Beth holds a Bachelor Degree in Spanish and Psychology from Castleton College and a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Cliff is a distinguished business man with an amazing passion for struggling youth. He recently sold a printing business in which he owned for over 40 years and started a non-for-profit organization called College Bound Opportunities. This organization offers one on one coaching and mentoring to high school students to help them prepare for college and beyond. He has been married for over 44 years, and has 3 children who have blessed Cliff and his wife with 6 grandchildren! He currently resides in Lincolnshire, IL where Cliff possesses ownership in a Fulfillment company. He has played an integral roll in the inception and continuing growth of SYESA.
Dr. Gwen Martin
Dr. Gwen Martin is a Clinician currently residing in Indianapolis, IN. She holds a BA in psychology, an MA in mental health counseling, an EDS in psychology, and a PhD in psychology. She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has worked with at-risk youth for the past 14 years, and specialized in developmental disabilities for the past ten. She is the coordinator of the Autism Behavioral Program for Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis, IN. Prior to moving to IN, she was the Clinical Director for the Southeast Regional Autism Center in Columbus, GA. Dr. Martin has conducted numerous training courses and seminars across the United States. In addition Gwen has participated in various research projects including her most recent, where she participated as a reviewer for the National Standards Project facilitated by the National Autism Center/May Institute. SYESA is blessed to have such a polished individual such as Gwen in a leadership roll.
John V. Moore is a self-employed marketing communication consultant and a part-time instructor in the Marketing Communication department at Columbia College Chicago. John teaches Integrated Marketing Communication, Introduction to Public Relations and Introduction to Sports Marketing. In his practice as a marketing communication consultant, Mr. Moore has worked with a diverse roster of clients including: Buca di Beppo; University of Chicago Hospitals; The National Coalition Building Institute; Planet Hollywood International; The Center for Community Change; The Green at Grant Park; Chicago’s ESPN RADIO 1000; Ty, creator of the wildly popular Beanie Babies®; The HistoryMakers; Club Macanudo; Citizens for Robin Kelly; Neighbors for Naisy Dolar; and the City of Gary’s Miss USA Host Committee. In 2004 Mr. Moore worked on General Wesley Clark’s presidential campaign as statewide coordinator for Illinois, where he oversaw media relations, fundraising, ballot access and delegate recruitment efforts. Mr. Moore has also served as a Public Relations Manager for Planet Hollywood, handling the publicity, marketing, special event planning and execution for its Chicago, Indianapolis and Gurnee units. While with the company, Mr. Moore also served on the public relations team for its sports themed venture, “Official All-Star Café”. He is a veteran of over 15 Planet Hollywood/Official All-Star Cafe grand opening galas and numerous special events throughout North America. Prior to joining Planet Hollywood Mr. Moore was an account executive at John Iltis Associates (JIA), an advertising and public relations agency specializing in the entertainment industry. Mr. Moore’s clients included Planet Hollywood, Dave & Busters, Columbia Pictures, Gramercy and Castle Rock Entertainment. While at JIA, Mr. Moore had the privilege of being part of the team that introduced the world to the magnificent documentary “Hoop Dreams,” an opportunity that he counts as his most fulfilling professional experience. Mr. Moore received his Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Dayton in 1990. He has served on the board of directors of Inner City Games Chicago, LaSalle Street Foundation and Independent Feature Project Midwest. He is professionally trained to lead cultural diversity/prejudice reduction workshops by the National Coalition Building Institute based in Washington, DC. John’s education and heart for struggling youth has been welcomed with open arms at SYESA.
Luke Gregerson made San Diego Padres history this year by striking out Florida’s Dan Uggla and John Baker. Gregerson’s streak also topped the longest run in the major leagues since the start of last season. The retired hitter streak might place second to the time Gregerson spent April 17 with a young homeless man from Los Angeles. Rashaun Clark has been a member of the youth assistance program run by Gregerson’s foster cousin in Chicago. Gregerson invited Clark into the Padres clubhouse, introduced him to teammates and then talked with Clark on the field after the game. “You never know what can make a difference to someone in need,” said Gregerson, who met with Clark at the request of Antwan Turpeau of Chicago’s SYESA Foundation. Turpeau, who was adopted and raised by Gregerson’s aunt and uncle, started the organization as a hands-on program linking troubled youth with successful adults. “Antwan’s a brilliant, caring and dedicated person,” said Gregerson. “We’re very close. I love what he’s doing. I was one of the first financial contributors. But I got more involved this past off season and want to do more moving forward.” So when Turpeau called Gregerson and told him that Clark would be celebrating his 22nd birthday living on a bus stop in the Los Angeles area, Gregerson got him to San Diego and wished him a happy birthday on the message board at Petco Park. “Rashaun was in the child welfare program in Chicago,” said Turpeau. “He decided to move to Los Angeles several years ago hoping to reunite with his father. It’s gone downhill from there. When Clark and I hooked up again, I asked Luke if he might make contact. Rashaun couldn’t believe we stuck in there with him. I think his visit with Luke was very important to him. I think we can turn this thing around.”
“Anything I can do to help Antwan, I’m there,” said Gregerson. “What he’s doing through SYESA is great stuff. He got the kids to a Blackhawks game this season. He’s very successful and he loves these kids. You should see them around him. They respect him. He gives them hope and a leader.” Luke Gregerson is an integral piece to SYESA and the story of the young boy, Clark, is only one of the many things he has done to make a different to the youth at SYESA.
Michael Simelton is a Chairman and Co-Founder of SYESA. Michael was born to an unprepared teenage mother, in the small, impoverished town of Cairo, IL. Due to numerous unfortunate factors, he and his siblings were reared in emotional turmoil and instability. Through an unwavering faith in God and his placement of positive and influential individuals in key moments in his life, Michael was able to overcome adversity and climb to new heights. In 2003, Michael began speaking to youth about overcoming peer pressure and career development. He has spoke at numerous events pertaining to Child abuse, Youth Graduations/Summits and development. Michael holds an associate degree from Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Illinois, a Bachelors of Science degree from Southeast Missouri State University and a Masters degree in Manufacturing Systems from S.I.U.C. In 2005, the National Science Foundation selected Michael to receive the Bridge to the Doctorate Fellow, a full time fellowship to pursue graduate study. He is a 2010 Exelon Energy for Community Volunteer recipient, SCC Alumni of the Year awardee and ICCTA Distinguished Alumni of the Year nominee. SYESA would not be the organization it is today with out Michael Simelton.