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About Us

Executive Director

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Ruben Gaona
Executive Director

Ruben Gaona was born in El Paso, Texas and moved to Milwaukee's Southside
at the age of 15. In 2017 Ruben completed 7 years of a 10-year sentence, and in 2019 he founded 2nd Chance Wisconsin and began providing guidance (through motivational speaking) to formerly incarcerated people and others facing barriers. Ruben is a U. S. Navy Veteran, former employee for the Department of Defense (NAVY) and an ex-felon. Ruben is currently a Senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. Ruben's experience working in re-entry with the State of Wisconsin inspired him to co-found The Way Out, where he is currently the COO. Ruben has had the privilege of speaking at several re-entry engagements throughout Wisconsin to discuss the merits of second chance employment. Ruben is also an active advocate of the Ban the Box movement in the United States and has actively advocated on behalf of Expungement Bill SB78.

Our Board

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Eli Rivera

Eli was the first person in his Puerto Rican family, born and raised on the United States mainland. Eli grew up on 32nd Brown, on Milwaukee’s west side, and experienced firsthand extreme gang violence and the onset of the crack cocaine and AIDS epidemics in his neighborhood. These experiences heavily influenced Eli’s life and the subsequent decisions he made that eventually landed him in prison in his late 20s. As an ex-felon, Eli experienced firsthand the challenges associated with seeking employment with a felony conviction. Upon his release in 2000, Eli utilized various leadership positions to mentor and employ formerly incarcerated individuals within the hospitality industry. In 2018 Eli created a pre-shift and training app for the Hospitality Industry. In May of 2020, Eli is a Certified Life Coach and is also Certified in Conscious Leadership.

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Ryan Graham

Ryan Graham was born and raised in in a part of Milwaukee's systemically oppressed "53206". Ryan's seen firsthand the lasting emotional and physical consequences of employment discrimination and poor support services for justice involved persons and their families. Ryan joined The Way Out because he firmly believes that individuals, who truly want better for themselves should be given a 2nd Chance regardless of their past history. Professionally, Ryan is an experienced illuminator with a demonstrated history in product management, entrepreneurship, and leadership, a Google Developer Challenge Scholarship winner and Certified Scrum Product Owner. Ryan graduated from College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University with degrees in computer science and entrepreneurship. Ryan spearheads the development of The Way Out's, My Way Out platform and CRM, while also working as a Tech Consultant for Accenture.

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Nyra Jordan

Nyra Jordan has been with American Family Insurance for over 20 years serving in various leadership roles throughout the organization. Nyra is a social impact investment director at the American Family Institute for
Corporate and Social Impact where she is advancing the creation of economic opportunities for historically overlooked communities including those impacted by incarceration. Nya holds an undergraduate degree in mass communication from UW-Madison and has a master's in criminal justice administration from Valdosta State University. She also has a master's in social innovation and sustainability leadership from Edgewood College. Nyra's goal is to utilize venture capital investment as a vehicle to drive social change while leveraging the thought leadership of innovative community partners.

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Francesca Mayca

Francesca Mayca Wegner (she/her/ella) is HPGM's newest Executive Director. She joined HPGM in April 2021 after serving as senior director of development and communications for Sojourner Family Peace Center. Prior to Sojourner, Francesca served in various roles in Marquette University's advancement department after starting her career in sales with the Milwaukee Bucks. She brings extensive experience building and sustaining strategic relationships with various stakeholders on behalf of nonprofit, higher
education and corporate organizations. Throughout her career, she has championed the intentional creation of spaces where others can bring their whole selves to their work and feel valued. As an extension of her work at HPGM as an advocate and connector Francesca serves on the MATC President's Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as the Marquette University Hispanic-Serving Institution
Advisory Committee. Francesca is passionate about investing in the Greater Milwaukee community
with organizations focused on mentoring, equitable access to education, and animal welfare.

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Peter Welch

Peter has over a decade of public affairs leadership experience in health care, education, entrepreneurship, and non-profit management. His expertise includes strategic planning, organizational growth, non-dues revenue, and partnership development. As the COO of The Welch Group, Peter lobbies, consults on organizational strategy, and oversees operations and business development. Previously, he served as the COO at the state Medical Society, overseeing all aspects of advocacy, membership, and communications. Peter holds a BA from Lawrence University, and a MA from Arizona State University. When he isn't thinking about strategy and politics, Peter enjoys fly fishing, gardening, and running.

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Karen Coy Romano

Growing up in extreme poverty in a Black community with a front row seat to systemic racism, Karen became an activist in the 1960's civil rights movement starting with the open housing marches. She has devoted her life as an ally and activist for racial equity and access, open housing, food security, reducing barriers to employment, ending mass incarceration and stopping police overreach and misconduct. For over 50 years, Karen has served as a nonprofit leader and entrepreneur launching and expanding nonprofit organizations and social justice programs serving marginalized and disenfranchised individuals. Karen is an internationally certified fundraising and communications executive, president of the nonprofit consulting practice, SOLUTIONS UNLIMITED-leadership & transformational change management, and Founder and former
Co-Chair of the Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform, a prior collaborative of over 30 leaders of Black organizations working to end mass incarceration through common-sense solutions to reduce prison admission, ending crimeless revocations, and supporting and expanding programs for successful community reintegration.

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Avelina Poppert

Avelina Poppert works for Waukesha State Bank and currently serves as Vice President - Commercial Banking Officer, with nearly 15 years of financial experience. She has extensive experience in multiple aspects of commercial banking and loan processes, specializing in SBA 7(a) and USDA business and industry financing programs. She enjoys working with small businesses, to provide guidance through their entrepreneurship journey. Avelina actively works in the community she serves. She is currently on the advisory committees for Teens Grow Greens, META House and serves as the current vice chair of the community involvement committee, through EWL - Tempo Milwaukee. 

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Patrick Snyder

Patrick Snyder has tremendous experience running social and for-profit ventures. His largest wins are in the area of organizational GROWTH. At the age of 27 Patrick started, grew and sold Shoreline Magazine.
The publication went from having two to 20 employees in roughly three years with Patrick as Founder and CEO. As Executive Director, He transformed The Illinois Travel and Tourism Association, Visit Illinois, from a 30-member club into a federation of Illinois Tourism Associations with a membership in the 100s-of- thousands while increasing the budget by a factor of 6! Patrick served as Executive Director of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship for 5 years, where he grew reserves from 28K to over 500k during that time! Most recently, Patrick was named Executive Director at BizStarts Milwaukee. BizStarts supports Entrepreneurship in underserved communities and provides education, training, one-on-one coaching and connections to resources. All services are free of charge.