Leadership Team

Jacob Gardenswartz

Founder and Executive Director

Jacob is 20 years old and a Master's of Public Administration student at 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, California Congresswoman Susan Davis and 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 involvement in performance, Jacob is very interested in media and politics. His writing has been published in the Washington Post, San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego City Beat, Penn Political Review, and on various online blogs.  In the political sphere, Jacob has interned at the National Headquarters of the ACLU in New York City and with the Brookings Institution, and currently assists NBC News/MNSBC with their election coverage.

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 help just one student feel more comfortable in school, then we have changed the world for the better.”

Allison Gardenswartz

Director of Educational Programming; Board Chair

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.

Larissa Garcia

Director of Program Development

Larissa is 20 years old pursuing 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.

Danny Helms

Director of Outreach and ImpACTivism

Danny is 19 year old and a rising junior at the University of Southern California pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the School of Dramatic Arts and a minor in Screenwriting from the 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.