Mindy Binderman is the founding Executive Director of GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. Mindy leads GEEARS’ efforts to inspire and provide leadership for a statewide movement on early learning and healthy development for children ages birth to five. Mindy serves as GEEARS’ lead advocate, fundraiser, and spokesperson. She partners with the Board of Directors on strategic planning and works to strengthen relationships with community partners. Through her leadership, GEEARS has worked to preserve and strengthen the Georgia Pre-K program; expanded access to affordable, high-quality child care; lifted up the importance of early childhood mental health; partnered with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning to support the establishment of a star rated quality system of child care in Georgia, and supported the passage of the state’s first paid parental leave law. In addition, GEEARS has established a P3 Leaders’ Fellowship, invested millions of dollars in capital funds and scholarships for child care in the City of Atlanta through its PAACT initiative, and distributed over 100,000 free children’s books through the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club which it leads.
Mindy has had an extensive career in advocacy and government relations for nonprofits and corporations in Maryland and Georgia. She served as Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs for the Baltimore Jewish Council and as Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Maryland before establishing her own successful lobbying firm based in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1999.
Prior to coming to GEEARS, Mindy served as the Advocacy Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children from 2007-2010. Mindy is a member of the Leadership Atlanta class of 2012. She chaired the Governance Council of North Springs Charter High School from 2015-17 and is the current Chair of Grants for the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta. She is a board member of the Georgia WIN List and the Jewish Community Relations Council, and she serves on the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, the Get Georgia Reading Cabinet and the Learn 4 Life Leadership Council. Mindy has previously served on the boards of directors of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, Georgians for a Healthy Future, the Marcus Jewish Community Center, and Voices for Georgia’s Children.
Mindy has received numerous community awards, including being named one of the Top Women in Maryland by the Maryland Daily Record, the Shero Award by the National Council of Jewish Women, the Ambassador Award by Premier Academy, and the Mark O’Connell Community Impact Award Tocqueville Society of the United Way of Greater Atlanta.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Mindy received her BA from Newcomb College, Tulane University, and her JD from the American University’s Washington College of Law. Mindy is married to Warren Binderman and has 3 children.
Dawan is a Georgia native who is passionate about enhancing the processes of education and early learning. As the PAACT Community Outreach Manager, builds and leads groups of advocates for early education. Dawan comes to GEEARS after 12 years in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) where he served as a Certified Spanish Interpreter and Bilingual Community Liaison. Dawan enjoys using his Spanish not only as an interpreter but also as a teacher.
Improving parent engagement and community involvement are just a few influencers that drive Dawan towards success. He is the proud father of three children: two daughters and one son.
Starting his career as an early elementary teacher in NYC and abroad, Greg has been passionate about early education for over a decade. Building from his B.A. in American Studies from Amherst College, Greg earned his M.Ed. from Hunter College School of Education while teaching in a Brooklyn public elementary school, before teaching again overseas in Hangzhou, China. Previous to working with GEEARS, he was involved in expanding families’ access to Pre-K in New York City through the Pre-K For All initiative, and consulted school districts on their master planning and educational environment design.
Greg is now focused on developing leadership across systems that impact early learning so young children, their families, and their educators all have the best experiences possible in these critical first years.
A native of Houston TX, raised in Maryland, Ethel is a 2004 graduate of Strayer University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Networking. She has over 20 years of experience as an Administrative Professional working mostly in the non-profit sector. She specializes in administrative support services, project management, and program and event coordination. She has received formal training in the art of Ballet, Modern, Jazz, and African dance at various schools. She served for 15 years as the coordinator of the dance ministry at Fort Foote Baptist church in Fort Washington, MD. In 2008, she coordinated the dance component of the “Write the Vision Conference” in Washington DC. Ethel has written and directed two plays, “Got Issues” and “The Man in the Mirror”, which demanded two performances each.
Lisa serves as GEEARS Director of Special Projects and Partnerships. As such, she will manage the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club program, bus tour, and other partnership activities.
She is on the Board of the Atlanta Speech School, is the President of the North Atlanta High School Foundation for Atlanta Public Schools (APS), and has spent many years supporting early childhood and public education through her work in APS schools and other community endeavors. Lisa has served on the Prevent Child Abuse Georgia Advisory Board, co-president of Sutton Middle School PTA, president of Sarah Smith Education Foundation, sponsorship co-chair for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Hope & Will Ball, the Women’s Community Leadership Alliance, and on the boards of Atlanta Children’s Shelter, Trees Atlanta, her Local APS School Council, and most recently, Livable Buckhead. She is a member of the Junior League of Atlanta, of which she was president in 2011-2012. Prior to GEEARS, Dwyer managed project operations for Constella Group, a contractor for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Gbemi, who spent part of her childhood in Nigeria, holds a freshly minted Master of Public Health in Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences from Emory University. She comes to GEEARS from Resilient Georgia, where she was a health education analyst. An avid reader of historical fiction, murder mysteries, and classic children’s books, Gbemi moved to Georgia from Milwaukee in 2020. She’s been getting to know her new home state on foot, both running in nature and hiking the trails in places like Providence Canyon and the Len Foote Hike Inn.
Hanah Goldberg, Ph.D. Director of Research & Policy
Hanah directs research and policy initiatives for GEEARS. A passionate advocate for young children and their families, Hanah brings to GEEARS a range of early childhood and research experience, having worked with students in clinical settings and as an elementary educator. Her research experience spans a number of areas, including early language and literacy development, school readiness, program evaluation and fidelity, and health literacy. In addition to her responsibilities at GEEARS, Hanah teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology, education, and child development.
Hanah received her B.A. in Psychology and Educational Studies from Emory University. She earned her M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, both from Georgia State University.
A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hanah lives in the Grant Park area of Atlanta with her husband and two children.
Shawnell Johnson serves as the PAACT Director. As PAACT Director, Shawnell is responsible for building strong backbone functions, including developing the PAACT board, strengthening partnerships with implementation partners, community stakeholders and public officials, raising private and public funds to help implement the recommendations, and identifying best practices for implementation.
As a former early childhood educator with extensive experience in public policy, Shawnell started her career teaching as a Pre-Kindergarten teacher at a child care program in Atlanta and became the center’s Curriculum Director, where she provided instructional support to teachers and helped the center achieve national accreditation.
After gaining direct knowledge and experience in the child care field, she moved into state government. She has spent over a decade at the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) as the Director of Program Administration of the Child Care and Parent Services (CAPS) program, where she lead the operation of a comprehensive system of child care financial assistance and services for families who experience low incomes. She has experience with delivering training and providing technical assistance to child care providers and families. She has served on numerous committees and worked collaboratively with other state agencies, professional associations, and stakeholders to support quality improvement efforts for child care providers to become Quality Rated and improve access for families. Supporting families and child care providers has been an integral part of her career.
Shawnell has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Administration from Fisk University and a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Mercer University. She is a member of the Junior League of Atlanta, where she is on the Community Council as a Committee Chair, partnering with a local community organization serving children and families who are experiencing homelessness. Shawnell enjoys volunteering and spending time with her family. Shawnell and her husband William have two young children, Savannah, who is six years old, and Everleigh, who is one year old.
Elizabeth Lenhard came to GEEARS after a long career as a freelance writer. She’s been a journalist and restaurant critic (most notably for Chicago magazine and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and has written more than 50 books for children and young adults. She’s also been an author escort for children’s authors. Her through-line, in other words, is children. That’s what led her to GEEARS. As Staff Writer, Elizabeth is our storyteller, showing us the families, activists, legislators, businesses, and board members that drive GEEARS’ mission.
In her spare time, Elizabeth continues to write children’s fiction, bakes the best chocolate chip cookies, and reads many, many novels. She lives in Decatur with her husband, Paul, teen daughters Mira and Tali, and a tiny mutt named Maisy.
Caitlyn Sanders supports GEEARS’ research and evaluation efforts, including parent and provider focus groups, surveys, interviews, and grant and program evaluations.
Having worked in Gwinnett County as both a behavior support specialist and a teacher for children with autism and intellectual disabilities, Caitlyn brings a wealth of experience in special education and teacher leadership to our policy work. She recently completed a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Georgia, commuting from her home in Decatur, which she shares with partner William and their two dogs. She cares deeply about ensuring equitable experiences and outcomes for Georgia’s youngest children and those who teach and support them.
A graduate of Clark Atlanta University with a B.A. Degree in Business Administration, Colette serves as the Office Manager for GEEARS. The Administrative Professional brings with her 20+ years’ experience from the private sector, government and non-profit industries. She specializes in organization and administrative support services, project management, program and event coordinating. With her highly effective management and broad range of skills, Colette’s mission is to assist GEEARS in operating more effectively and efficiently while simultaneously increasing their productivity.
In addition, she uses her skills as a Clutter Consultant. Cleaning clutter is a process of assessing all the things in your environment in terms of the practical purposes that they serve. Many people are looking for a lasting change in their relationship to their physical environment that leads to greater effectiveness, productivity, spontaneity, creativity, fulfillment, and peace of mind in their lives. Colette enjoys sharing how you can transform your ways with clutter so your environment can nurture and support you on an ongoing basis.
The Atlanta native and mother of two adult sons is also a professional singer who enhanced her vocal talents and training under Andrew Terry, an Alumnus of the New England Conservatory and The Julliard School of Music. With this extraordinary gift of vocal abilities and a passion for performing; organizations locally and abroad enjoy the motivated energy and inspirational uplift they receive when Colette sings. When she’s not singing or volunteering, her favorite pastime is reading a good book; she spends the rest of her time enjoying her grandchildren.
Callan Wells leads GEEARS’ health policy work, with a specific focus on growing the infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) system of care in Georgia. Callan serves on the exploratory board for the Georgia Association of Infant Mental Health: Birth to Five (GA-AIMH) and the IECMH task force convened by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), where she chairs the Workforce Development Workgroup. Additionally, she co-leads the Interagency Directors Team’s Prevention and Early Intervention Workgroup. In 2019, Callan worked with state leaders in the Georgia House of Representatives on the Infant-Toddler Social-Emotional Health Study Committee.
Before joining GEEARS, Callan worked for Georgia Legal Services Program, where she ran a project helping rural Georgia families access health care and other supports. She earned her B.A. from Agnes Scott College and an M.S. in the Social Foundations of Education and a graduate certificate in Public Health, both from Georgia State University.
Callan lives in Grant Park with her husband Nick and their cat Claude.
Senior Policy Manager for Early Childhood Education
Jessica Woltjen Senior Policy Manager for Early Childhood Education
Jessica is passionate about ensuring that Georgia’s youngest learners are provided with a strong foundation that sets them up for success in college, career, and life. Prior to joining GEEARS in March 2019, Jessica worked at Voices for Georgia’s Children (Voices) and the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network (GSAN) for four years on early childhood and afterschool initiatives. Jessica has participated in the White-Riley-Peterson Fellowship and the Southern Education Leadership Initiative. Previously, Jessica interned at the Public Schools Forum of North Carolina and the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. Jessica earned her Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jessica lives in Decatur with her cat, Emma, and enjoys crafting, dancing, and volunteering for various causes.