Monica Spear, Executive Director
Monica Spear, Executive Director

Monica has dedicated her professional life to empowering young people and brings a wealth of executive experience to her position as SVUDL's leader.  After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, Monica began her career of more than 20 years with Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara.  In her 12 years as Executive Director there, she grew the organization into a $3 million per year powerhouse with a staff of 100 employees, serving over 1,500 girls per year. 

Monica's experience, passion, and professional integrity have earned her wide recognition as a nonprofit leader.  This includes being chosen by the Pacific Coast Business Times as a "Top Leader in Non-Profits" eight out of nine years from 2006 to 2014 and being selected as a "Local Hero" by The Santa Barbara Independent. 

Monica brings the vision, dedication, and innovation necessary to broaden and deepen the scope of the vital work and meaningful mission of SVUDL, ensuring every student may benefit from the life-changing experiences SVUDL affords them.

Kaine Cherry, Head Coach
Kaine Cherry, Head Coach

Kaine is an experienced debate professional with a proven track record. A two time NDT Octafinalist and CEDA Semifinalist, Kaine debated for five years at the University of Oklahoma, receiving multiple speaker awards and placing in deep elimination rounds of national tournaments. Kaine worked as the assistant debate coach at the University of Southern California for two seasons, helping the team achieve a First Round at large bid to the NDT. He has also worked at debate institutes including the Julia Burke Debate Institute hosted by the Bay Area Urban Debate League and the Xylum Debate Institute, helping students across the country achieve competitive and academic success. He excels in nurturing interest and excitement among new debaters, creating an educational environment that helps them build skills and find voice while prioritizing empathy and patience.

Berenice Delgado, Head Coach
Berenice Delgado, Head Coach

A self-described “reluctant debater,” Berenice joined the debate team at CSU Fullerton at the urging of her Argumentation professor. She didn’t enjoy public speaking and wasn’t confident in her ability to speak persuasively, but hoped debate would give her a leg up when she pursued her dream of applying to law school. She quickly found a passion for forensics and credits debate for helping her build connections between academia and activism and for helping her find the power of her voice.

Diligent practice earned her a spot on the Varsity team in only her second year, and she and her partner qualified for the National Debate Tournament, the most prestigious and oldest intercollegiate policy debate event in the country. They were the first all-Latina team to attend that tournament, earning spots two years in a row.  As she worked towards her B.A., which she eventually earned cum laude, Berenice continued rising through the ranks in debate. She soon moved moving into teaching positions including SVUDL’s own inaugural Summer Institute in 2015 and at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Debate League Summer Institute, where she designed and led a lab targeting young women of color. Her rich history includes teaching debate, public speaking, argumentation, and English to students as young as 4th grade, all the way through high school.

Berenice is thrilled to join SVUDL to take on the challenges of connecting teaching and activism through debate and building empowering academic environments that help students see their power to give back and reshape the future. 

Janet Escobedo, Head Coach
Janet Escobedo, Head Coach

Janet holds the perspective and insight of a debater who grew up in the UDL network. She began her debate career with the Milwaukee UDL and credits LaTonya Starks, former Director there, as a mentor and role model. “(LaTonya) was a go-getter- she went above and beyond for her debaters, took extra time to coach us when it came to nationals, and used her connections to help some of her debaters, including me, to receive scholarships to great debate camps across the nation. I have worked to become someone like her and pay it forward.”

Janet just completed her undergraduate studies at Georgia State University, earning a BA in Political Science/International Affairs with a Minor in Urban Education. She worked with the Atlanta UDL from 2010- 2017 as an instructor at their weekly Debate Centers and a Lab Leader in their summer program. She also served as a Lab Leader with her “alma mater" UDL through the Milwaukee Debate Institute, and worked with high school debaters from across the US through the Emory National Debate Institute. Just before joining SVUDL, she was working with students whose behavior had been identified as disruptive or inappropriate, helping them learn to manage conflicts and interact positively with peers and adults. Her passion for and deep knowledge of debate and experience in supporting youth are strong additions to SVUDL. 

Alex Kennedy, Director of Programs
Alex Kennedy, Director of Programs

Like many, Alex discovered her intellectual vitality and her voice through debate.  As a high school student in Oakland, CA, debate topics grounded in ethics, international relations, and criminal justice sparked interests that ultimately became Alex’s academic, and later, professional focus.  While in high school, she was LD Debate Squad Captain, Speech & Debate Team President, and twice qualified to the Tournament of Champions; she continued her debate career by later serving as Head Debate Coach for Palo Alto High School. Alex earned her BA from Stanford University, where she majored in Political Science.

Alex credits debate topics about social and juvenile justice for her interest in and commitment to learning about the intersection of adolescent development and public policy.  Her experience as a litigation assistant at a public interest law firm even further deepened Alex's dedication to helping empower communities whose voices are often dismissed or drowned out. She is excited to continue in that work with SVUDL, using debate as an opportunity for young people to both expand their areas of expertise, and to find and develop a sense of an individual voice and an authentic self.

Jimi Morales, Head Coach
Jimi Morales, Head Coach

Jimi’s life changed in 7th grade when he discovered debate. Previously bored in school and plagued by a stutter, debate helped him find a smooth, fluent, confident voice and an appealing challenge. He won many awards in his debate career, including placing in the top 21 of LD at the 2005 NFL nationals. Jimi earned his BA from Williams College in 2012 and was awarded the Williams/Sloane Coffin Passionate Public Speaking Prize for Social Justice during his time there. As a first-generation student on a full scholarship he found the critical thinking and writing skills he built through debate were invaluable to his success.

Jimi has consistently worked to help youth build skills and unlock their potential through debate, working at the Tabor Academy Summer Program, Niskayuna High School, and as a private debate coach. He is thrilled toreturn to the speech and debate community in a role that allows him to support and nurture urban debaters base whose backgrounds are similar to his own.  

Mary Manasan, Administrative & Operations Manager
Mary Manasan, Administrative & Operations Manager

Mary, a self-described natural planner, comes to SVUDL with 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Those 15 years included 13 years in management, where she relished the challenge of overseeing staff, guest interaction, and sales in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. Her move to the nonprofit sector was motivated by a desire to give back, and her administrative and operations experience are strong additions to the SVUDL team.

Mary grew up in the Bay Area. An introvert, she highly values having enough confidence in your own voice to speak up. She is inspired by the way SVUDL leverages youth voice, helping young people do more than sit on the sidelines and watch. Mary is also currently studying Business Administration. When she’s not studying or changing young lives by working behind the scenes at SVUDL, Mary enjoys cooking and going on day trips with her fiancé and their dog Milo. 

Destiny Anderson, Alumni Intern
Destiny Anderson, Alumni Intern

Destiny recently graduated from Oak Grove High School, where she was Founding Captain of the SVUDL-supported Debate team. She had an illustrious career as a SVUDL debater: she was a founding member of the Women's Association, was one of six young women to argue privacy vs. security in front of sitting Federal judges in the HPE Moot Court, and she earned multiple awards at SVUDL Tournaments. 

Destiny is a participant in the Legal Career Mentor program and is currently attending SJSU, where she's majoring in Psychology. She plans to pursue a legal career helping families who have experienced domestic violence. 

Brandon Montes, Alumni Intern
Brandon Montes, Alumni Intern

As founding captain of the Overfelt High debate team, Brandon helped grow one of the flagship programs in SVUDL. With guidance and support from coach Mark Wightman and league staff, he helped lead the Overfelt Royal Debaters to stand their ground and make a name for themselves. The team offered Brandon a chance to expanded his skills as well as being able to give back and offer his support to the next generation of SVUDL debaters.

As an intern, Brandon pursues his passion for coaching and helping novices and new recruits become strong leaders and skilled debaters. He currently attends De Anza Community College and plans to transfer next year, balancing his interests in political science and communications. Over the long term, Brandon plans to give back to his community as a politician or public servant.