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Who We Are

Our Mission.

Upward Community is committed to developing emotionally healthy children, teens and young adults. We empower youth by creating safe spaces dedicated to fostering connections and building resilience, while supporting parents and educators as they navigate the challenges of raising children into healthy adults.

Rachel Karesh, LCSW

Executive Director

Rachel Karesh holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. She has worked and excelled in social work for nearly two decades. Some of those experiences include working as a social worker in a therapeutic post high school program for at-risk teens, providing mental health support and mentorship at Meor HaTorah Seminary in Israel, working as a school social worker at Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School, and working as the camp social worker at Moshava Wild Rose.

Rachel served as the Clinical Director at Upward Community for over 10 years. During that time, she was instrumental in the building and opening of the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center and was responsible for all assessments, counseling, and crisis intervention of the referred teens.

Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of Upward Community where she is responsible for designing, developing and implementing strategic planning for the organization. She manages staff relationships, community outreach, program development and collaboration with the Board of Directors; all in an effort to help even more families reach new heights.

Rabbi Yechiel Bresler, LPC

Assistant Director

Rabbi Bresler brings a wealth of expertise and dedication to the field of community development and mental health. As a clinician with Upward since 2019, he has consistently demonstrated a profound commitment to fostering positive change within communities and has honed his skills in providing empathetic and effective counseling, earning the trust and respect of clients and colleagues alike.

Rabbi Bresler holds the degree of Semicha from Yeshiva University and has spent much of his career implementing innovative approaches to address the diverse needs of communities. This academic foundation, coupled with his extensive background in education, has positioned him as a dynamic leader with the ability to create positive social change through therapeutic interventions, educational initiatives, Upward’s Mental Health Matters Podcast, and community-based programs.

In his role of Assistant Director at Upward Community, Rabbi Bresler plays a pivotal role in shaping the organization’s strategic vision and overseeing the implementation of programs aimed at uplifting communities. His leadership is characterized by a collaborative spirit, a dedication to excellence, and an unwavering belief in the transformative power of community engagement. Rabbi Bresler joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center at Upward in 2019.

Avery Amster

Director of Development

Avery joined Upward in 2023 with a strong background in non-profit development, having most recently served as a Development Associate at Hebrew Theological College. In his previous role, Avery worked to both engage new donors, maintain relationships with past ones and assisted in running a capital campaign. Additionally, He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from HTC.

At Upward Community, Avery is tasked with creating and maintaining relationships with all donors and partners and oversees the financial strategy of Upward while ensuring that the organization is able to continue to provide robust mental health programming.

Aimee Shemano-Krupp

Director of Operations

Aimee Shemano-Krupp has a Bachelor’s Degree from Tulane University and majored in English and Jewish Studies. She spent twelve years as owner and operator of a children’s Designer Consignment store in Highland Park. She also served as the Chicago-North Shore Hadassah Vice President of Philanthropy and was Co-Leader of their Building Hadassah Communities Cohort program. Aimee was also a member of Hadassah’s National Young Women’s Leadership Cabinet Cohort in 2020. Since 2018, Aimee has been Upward’s Director of Operations. Aimee runs all of Upward’s behind the scenes business including running our offices, event planning, medical billing, accounting, and working with Donors. Aimee’s dog Auggie is the office dog and Upward Communities unofficial mascot. Auggie brings smiles to all of our client’s faces and is even helping some clients (and their parents) get over their fear of animals.

Debbie Wilensky

Front Desk Coordinator Administrative Assistant

Debbie became a valuable member of Upward Community in 2023, bringing with her a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Kansas. With a rich background as a travel agent spanning 17 years, she has transformed her passion for travel into creating unforgettable experiences for others.

In her role at Upward, Debbie serves as the warm and welcoming face at the front door. Beyond being the friendly point of contact, she takes on crucial responsibilities, including scheduling clinicians and clients, ensuring the office is well-equipped, and overseeing the seamless functioning of day-to-day operations.

Rachel Zimmerman, LCPC

Trauma Consultant

Rachel Zimmerman holds a Master’s Degree from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Rachel has a background in cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma work, and EMDR. She is a dynamic presenter on boundaries, abuse prevention and healthy relationships. In addition to her work at Upward, Rachel works with a variety of issues in her private practice including body image, depression and anxiety. She is also a kallah teacher for Daughters of Israel. Rachel joined Upward in 2022 as our Trauma Consultant.

Nesanel Siegal, MS Clinical Psychology

Abuse Prevention & Intervention Specialist

Nesanel Siegal holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School and is currently pursuing his doctorate. With a background in working with children and adolescents in a school setting and catering to a diverse clientele in private practice, Nesanel brings a wealth of experience to his professional journey.

Dedicated to exploring the intersectionality of spirituality and psychology, this distinctive focus serves as a focal point in his research initiatives and shapes his therapeutic approach. Nesanel joined Upward in 2023 and is dedicated to developing resources and protocols for supporting victims of sexual abuse. Leveraging his expertise, he addresses the unique needs of the community with a focused and compassionate approach.

Clinical Staff

Shuli Tsadok, LCSW

Clinical Director

Shuli Tsadok received her Master’s in Social Work from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. She completed her first year of her internship training in Israel and her second year as an intern at Upward Community. Under the guidance of Upward Community, she worked as a clinician at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School and Ida Crown Jewish Academy where she provided individual counseling and educational programming for students. From there, Shuli continued working at Ida Crown Jewish Academy as the school social worker for seven years. Shuli worked with students on an individual basis and taught the Barry and Harriet Ray Step Up to Healthy Living Curriculum. Shuli rejoined Upward in July 2017 as a clinician at the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center. In July 2020, Shuli took on her role as full time Clinical Director.


Lynn Shyman
Lynn Shyman, LCSW

Clinical Supervisor

Lynn is a Psychotherapist with certification in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She was formerly the Director of Counseling Services in the Skokie Center of Jewish Child and Family Services where she provided clinical supervision, staff training and administrative oversight. Lynn also works with children and families in the midst of divorce and other family challenges. As a trained divorce mediator, Lynn has been a referring member of the Mediation Council of Illinois. Lynn started working in the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center as Clinical Supervisor in August 2020.

Lea Dugan, LCSW

Coordinator of Pediatric Mental Health Department, Child and Family Therapist

Lea Dugan joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in February of 2022, and serves as Coordinator of the Pediatric Mental Health Department and supervises clinicians in working with young children. Lea has experience working with children, families and communities around the world for over 20 years. She has lived and worked in Argentina, Israel, Iowa and Chicago. As a result of Lea’s success and passion as a preschool teacher, she later earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Erikson Institute, specializing in a developmental psychology approach with an emphasis on the child in its environment. Lea is trained in (CPP) Child Parent Psychotherapy, and incorporates elements of play, sand art therapy, and bibliotherapy when working with her clients.

Julia Parnes, LSW

Clinician, Intake Coordinator

Julia holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, showcasing a commitment to academic excellence. Since joining Upward in July of 2023, Julia serves as clinician and intake coordinator, bringing a wealth of experience and expertise to her role.

With a proven track record of contributing to the well-being of children and adolescents in various settings, including residential facilities, schools, and camps, Julia demonstrates a depth of expertise in her field.

Utilizing a strengths-based methodology, Julia empowers her clients to enhance their relationships both with others and themselves. Her commitment to innovative therapeutic practices is evidenced by her incorporation of expressive arts therapy, made possible through a generous grant from the Ralla Klepak Foundation for Education in the Performing Arts.

In her role as a clinician at the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center, Julia continues to exemplify a dedication to providing high-quality, compassionate care. Her multifaceted background, paired with ongoing professional development, positions her as a valuable asset to our team and an advocate for the well-being of our community. Julia joined Upward in 2023.

Malka Bender, LSW


Malka Bender is a licensed social worker holding a Master’s degree in Social Work from the esteemed Wurzweiler School of Social Work. With specialized training in the treatment of complex trauma, Malka employs clinical approaches such as Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), Attachment-Based Therapy, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Currently pursuing certification in Clinical Hypnotherapy, she demonstrates a commitment to expanding her clinical expertise.

Passionate about exploring the intricate relationship between the mind, body, brain, and behavior, Malka advocates for a mindfulness and strengths-based approach in her client support. Her primary focus areas encompass anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and trauma-based needs. Fluent in Yiddish, Malka brings a diverse skill set to her practice. Malka joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2023.

Michal Cohen
Michal Cohen, LCSW


Michal Cohen earned her Master’s in Social Work from Loyola University. As an experienced clinician, Mrs. Cohen has helped countless individuals discover better paths in their relationship struggles and in dealing with mood disorders, anxiety and OCD. In addition to her work as a therapist, Mrs. Cohen spent 30 years teaching brides through the Daughters of Israel program. She also serves as the Rebbetzin at Congregation Adas Yeshurun, where she has been for the past 30 years. In addition to running her own private practice, Mrs. Cohen devotes one day a week to clients at the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center since 2021.

Rivkie Greenland, LPC


Rivkie Greenland is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2022. Rivkie is trained in CBT and IFS and uses a multidisciplinary approach in her clinical work.

With an extensive 25-year background in mentoring high school teenagers and young adults through NCSY and in teaching and counseling brides and young married women in the specialized area of Taharas Hamishpacha and healthy relationship building, Rivkie brings a wealth of experience to her professional practice.

Rivkie is well known for her relatable and genuine approach, attention to detail, and commitment to professionalism.

Jenny Hagage, LSW


Jenny earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from Loyola University. Jenny joined Upward Community after years of experience working with children, adolescents and adults at the ARK, Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School, Lubavitch Girls High School and Ida Crown Jewish Academy. Jenny joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2020.

Yechiel Mael, LPC


Yechiel Mael earned his Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology with a Clinical focus from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Following an internship at Youth Crossroads and roles as a Recovery Counselor at Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare and therapist at POP Pediatric Clinic and Brighter Pathways, PLLC, Yechiel brings a wealth of experience to his clients at Upward. His warm personality complements his use of patient-centered and strength-based techniques, tailoring treatments for each client. Additionally, he seamlessly incorporates DBT and CBT methodologies into his compassionate and effective therapeutic approach. Yechiel joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2023.



DJ Shabat earned his Master’s in Clinical Counseling from National Louis University. Prior to that, DJ had obtained his CADC from IAODAPCA in 2018 as well as his AAS in Substance Use Counseling from Oakton Community College. DJ has been working with people suffering from substance use disorder since 2018. He is a proud member of the Recovery Chevra which helps build and grow awareness of substance use in our communities and provide services, including peer supported recovery groups and individual therapy. DJ joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2021.

Yael Sonenthal, LPC


Yael Sonenthal holds a Master’s degree in counseling psychology from North Park University. Yael’s professional journey includes a meaningful internship at Upward Community in 2019, where she started engaging with individual clients. She also contributed her expertise to Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, providing students with individual support, interpersonal skills groups, and educational programming. Yael has assumed supportive roles within residential facilities and worked as a counselor in private practice in both the North Shore and Chicago suburbs. Her dedication and compassionate approach to working with individuals, couples, and families is underscored by a strong belief in her clients’ internal strengths and their capacity to achieve chosen goals. Yael joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2021 as a clinician.

Jordy Stein, M.A.


Jordy Stein is a doctoral candidate at The Chicago School for Professional Psychology with a Masters in Clinical Psychology. He has a zeal for life and is deeply passionate about mental health and dedicated to making a positive impact on a community level. His journey has encompassed diverse experiences in community health programs, including roles at The Chicago Center, Amudim in New York, and Project BUILD in Baltimore. His focus and passion extends to working with families, on a multitude of complex family dynamics and supporting teens and children on issues including but not limited to social difficulties, behavioral issues, anxiety, depression, and Grief. Jordy joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2024 as a clinician.

Aviva Vilenski RN, LPC


Aviva Vilenski comes to Upward Community with 25 years of experience as a nurse in intensive medical units, which has given her a deep understanding and appreciation of the connection between mind and body. She received her Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Yorkville University in New Brunswick, Canada. Aviva is a trauma informed clinician, trained in EMDR and IFS. Aviva believes that no one should have to go through the pain and the struggles of life alone. Aviva joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2022 as a clinician.

Bracha Wolf, LCSW


Bracha earned her masters degree through Wurzweiler school of Social Work. Bracha joined Upward in 2019 as our clinical Intern. She has been working in PHP/IOP level of care at Compass Health Center working with adolescents with mood disorders, complex anxiety and OCD since 2020. She utilizes ACT, CBT, DBT, and ERP (exposure and response prevention) modalities and takes a strengths based approach to help her clients identify the areas that are keeping them stuck and help them move forward. Bracha joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2023.

Ajla Hojic, M.A.

Doctoral Student

Ajla holds a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the same institution, entering her fourth year of training. Her professional journey includes impactful experiences working with young children and adolescents in an inpatient setting, as well as contributing to an outpatient diagnostic and treatment center for children facing developmental and behavioral challenges. Ajla is dedicated to building robust therapeutic relationships with children and their families, emphasizing empathy and understanding, and is committed to delivering culturally responsive and strengths-based care. In her therapeutic approach, she integrates play therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and relational approaches. Ajla joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2023.

Meagan Sodoro, M.A.

Doctoral Student

Meagan is currently a doctoral candidate pursuing her PsyD in Clinical Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Committed to authenticity and creativity, Meagan endeavors to create a secure, inviting, and supportive therapeutic environment for her clients. With a background spanning six years, she has engaged in clinical work with children and adolescents across diverse settings, including psychiatric hospitals, in-home behavioral health services, and outpatient individual and group therapy.

Her clinical focus encompasses various areas, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, trauma, group and family dynamics, communication and relationship building, identity formation, as well as mood and personality disorders. Meagan joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2023.

Sara Kanowitz

Clinical Intern, Coordinator of Marketing

Sara Kanowitz is working toward a Master’s degree in Social Work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
Her warm, positive and outgoing personality makes her the perfect fit for Upward. In addition to her role as a clinician, Sara also oversees and implements Upward’s marketing strategy. Sara joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2021.

Lizzie Janssen

Clinical Intern

Lizzie is a current Master’s student at Lesley University pursuing a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, with a concentration in Dance/Movement Therapy. Lizzie also teaches Judaic Studies at Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. Lizzie’s experience comes from many years working in informal education and medical settings such as Camp Stone and Shaare Zedek Hospital.

Lizzie joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2022 as part of a generous grant from the Ralla Klepak Foundation for Education in the Performing Arts. She is excited to explore the ways Movement Therapy and the arts can heal trauma and allow children to form healthy attachments and relationships.

Yonatan Vinnik

Clinical Intern

Yonatan Vinnik is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. With a robust background in community engagement, Yontanan dedicates part of his time working alongside the academic support staff at Fasman Yeshiva High School. He is enthusiastic about furthering his training while contributing to the team at Upward and is gaining valuable experience working with the Greater Chicago community. Yonatan joined the Mozes and Helen Stern Upward Counseling Center in 2023.

Enrichment Staff

Rivkah Efron

Director of Girls Prevention and Enrichment

Rivkah Efron is the radiant force behind girls enrichment and prevention programs at Upward Community since 2012. With an infectious enthusiasm, a light that never dims, and a smile that can brighten any room, Rivkah embodies the spirit of excitement and dedication in all that she does.

As the Director of Prevention and Enrichment for girls, Rivkah oversees a spectrum of transformative initiatives. Her leadership is instrumental in crafting dynamic programs such as our Annual High School Girls Retreat, Upward Expeditions Camp, girls’ middle and high school weekly LevelUp Lounge—including her sought after Thursday night cholent tradition. However, it’s the High School Girls Basketball League where Rivkah truly shines, fostering a love for the game and instilling confidence in girls of all ages across Chicago. Rivkah’s boundless energy and wholehearted commitment are palpable in every aspect of her work. She is not just a director; she is a ball of energy, and her heart is all in it. Loved by girls of all ages in every school across Chicago, Rivkah has created a legacy of joy and empowerment. While Rivkah has worked for Upward since 2012, she came to us full time starting in 2023.

Rabbi Ari Scher

Director of Boys Prevention and Enrichment

Rabbi Scher serves as the Director of Enrichment and Prevention for Boys at Upward Community. He demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the development and implementation of innovative programs that elevate the educational experience for children. His creativity and visionary leadership is instrumental in the execution of dynamic initiatives such as Upward Expeditions Camp, boys middle and high school weekly LevelUp Lounge programming, and the popular High School Boys Basketball League.

Rabbi Scher began his career as an educator at Rochelle Zelle High and then went on to teach at Yeshivat Hakotel in Israel. His passion for fostering a holistic learning environment led him to Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, where he served as the guidance counselor and Director of Students for the boys’ division. Rabbi Scher joined Upward in 2022.

Yamin Elkaim

Boys Enrichment Coordinator

Yamin Elkaim serves as Upward’s Boys Enrichment Coordinator for the Prevention and Enrichment program. With a background encompassing substantial experience in fostering youth development, he previously held roles at JCC Apachi Day Camp and at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School. Since joining Upward, Yamin has been instrumental in overseeing the daily operations of Upward Expedition Camp, LevelUp Lounge, High School Boys Basketball, and Upward Recess Programming. Moreover, he has actively collaborated with community organizations, aligning Upward with initiatives to enhance recreational and educational offerings for middle and high school boys in the local community. Yamin’s affable demeanor and innovative approach contribute significantly to the effectiveness of Upward’s prevention and enrichment team. Yamin joined Upward in 2022.

Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

Coordinator of Level Up Lounge for High School Boys

Rabbi Silverman received his Master’s in Education from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to that, he studied at Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, the Mir Yeshiva and Lakewood Yeshiva. Rabbi Silverman is currently working as a 12th Grade Rebbe at Fasman Yeshiva High School. His charismatic personality, love of teaching and sports makes him a sought after rebbe by all of his students. Rabbi Silverman joined Upward Community as the Boys Lounge Coordinator in 2021.

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Upward Community Interns

Upward Community is proud to offer an internship program for those pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work or Mental Health Services. Our interns are placed in a variety of local schools to help the guidance staff and be an extra resource for the students. In the past, interns have joined us from schools such as Loyola, Wurzweiler, University of Illinois and more. The interns facilitate workshops and see children individually in the schools, as well as receive high quality training and supervision at the Upward Community office. Please contact us to apply.