About us.
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Our well travelled and highly experienced team make up the fabric of our culture. Find out more about them below
MEET THE TEAM
HEILWIG JONES

HEILWIG JONES

Founder & Director

H oversees all of Kaya’s operations and conduct outreach in the U.S. and globally to secure new affiliations, especially with schools and universities. H set up Kaya in 2008 after her own volunteering experiences and many years of involvement with community projects.

During a late 20’s gap year in 2004, she was fortunate enough to make a last-minute change to her itinerary which resulted in her not being on the beaches of Thailand, as planned, for the Christmas holidays – and instead arrived just 2 days after the world’s deadliest tsunami killed 230,000 people.

She worked for 4 months as part of a group of amazing volunteers in a Thai NGO in the town of Khao Lak – one of Thailand’s worst hit regions. These were the most emotional, memorable, impactful and immersive travel experiences of her life. From her experience, she wanted others to have the chance to do the same, and Kaya was born.

JULIE GRAHAM

JULIE GRAHAM

Programs Director

Julie joined Kaya in November 2016 after having spent over 15 years in the United States. As a native of France, Julie grew up in the French Provence and was bitten by the travel bug from an early age. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, America, Caribbean, Central America and Africa. Cultural exchanges and international development has been her reason to travel. Her travel tip is “Flexibility is key to successful travels! Things always happen when traveling abroad. Whether your flight is delayed or you lose your luggage or you are confused about the way people do things… remember to be flexible and don’t forget to take in the culture and vibe surrounding you. Be flexible and compassionate to the people that are different from you. We are all humans!

LAURA SMITH

LAURA SMITH

University Relations & Group Programs Manager

Laura oversees Kaya’s US university relations and manages customized groups inquiries, proposals and delivery. We treat group programs separately from individual placements as they are so different each time, so Laura is your contact for everything on these, from itineraries to pricing to group invoices. Laura also works with H to get new school affiliations for individual placements for our placements team to sign up!

Laura has recently moved back to the U.S., after 4 years living in South Africa, and is now in our Massacchusets office. Prior to that, she worked at Maryville College’s Study Abroad Office as well as spending time in Mali and Guatemala as part of her experience with Americorps. Laura is a certified yoga instructor and has traveled to over 30 countries!

TOM GORE

TOM GORE

Senior Placement Manager

In Manchester, Tom heads up the placements team, working with all individual participants. Part of the Kaya family for the past 6 years, he sets internal process to ensure that enrollment runs smoothly and participants are all set for departure. Tom also attends UK fairs and ensures we are growing our numbers.

Since the age of 5, Tom dreamt of visiting all the continents before he’s 30 and has 2 years ahead of him to hit Antartica, his last continent on the list. He’s lived in Thailand and the Philippines – where he survived Typhoon Haiyan – and when he’s not traveling, likes cooking, listening to music and running in different parkruns across the UK.

MARTINA FRATERNALI

MARTINA FRATERNALI

Placement Manager

Working with Tom in Manchester, Martina is ready to answer inquiries about your projects. She attends fairs alongside Tom and also manages university relationships with the UK schools and universities.

I am originally from Italy but I lived in 5 countries in the course of the years an traveled to many more across Europe, Asia and Africa. One day I decided I wanted to travel across Asia whilst immersing myself in its culture and people and spontaneously took up a volunteering opportunity in India that turned into a one year job. After that I was yet not done with Asia and I decided to take up a job opportunity in Cambodia for another year. In between I traveled and visited many places in the region.

CHRISTINA PETSAS

CHRISTINA PETSAS

Placement Advisor

Christina is our Ecuador-based placement advisor, working with the UK team. Her focus is on signing up anyone calling in the US time zone. You may hear from her when she has a specific participant interested in your projects and has additional questions.

My obsession with travel started as a nervous college freshman when I decided to study Spanish and volunteer in Guatemala for a summer. From there, short trips, internships and jobs took me through many countries of Europe. As a graduate, I took the skills I learned through short term travel to create a way of life. It’s been the most rewarding challenge to live for almost two years now in South America and be opened up to the beautiful landscapes and cultures of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. 

JENNIFER SHEERAN

JENNIFER SHEERAN

Marketing Co-ordinator

Jen is your go-to-person if you have any news, photos or videos you’d like us to use to promote your projects. Kaya’s in-house social media expert, she keeps us connected on the web and is also our “fun officer”, always developing great ideas we can do together to remain connected as a team across our various locations.

I love to travel and take any opportunity to visit new places and meet new people. I lived in Dubai for five years which allowed me to travel to many countries in Asia before coming back to Manchester two years ago. As an animal lover, I try my best to see some wildlife wherever I go. I especially love penguins and some of my favourite trips have been where I’ve been able to see them in the wild!

SAMANTHA "SAM" LA FRANCE

SAMANTHA "SAM" LA FRANCE

Group Programs Assistant

Sam is based in our Massachusetts office, and is fortunate to call herself a Western Mass native. She caught the travel bug in her early teens with her adventures throughout Europe. While studying for her undergrad, Sam took part in multiple service learning experiences including trips to Nicaragua and Mexico to participate in construction & community education projects. Sam studied abroad in Merida, Mexico at The Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, or UADY, where she was fully immersed in everything that is Mexico! She is currently active in volunteer efforts for a US based non-profit in Veracruz, Mexico, that focuses on micro loan lending and scholarships.

AUREEN MATARO

AUREEN MATARO

Placement Administrator

Based in our Philippines Office, Sheila and Aureen are our eagle-eyed program administrators. Making sure all the participants paperwork is complete, checking that they haven’t booked the wrong flight or have any special needs we need to cater for. You will hear from them as participants prepare to depart, and they’ll check in with you to see how they are getting on!

Mom and green, that basically sums me up! I have not been to other countries yet but I love exploring the island beaches in the Philippines. I’m a registered nurse but have not worked in the hospital but I participate on medical missions when I can.

SHEILA MAY BANEZ

SHEILA MAY BANEZ

Placement Administrator

Sheila has been with Kaya for 4 years, is recently married, and loves anything Korean!

A mom who loves to wander off to places she’s never been to. My family and I are lucky to have the opportunity to travel to some places and this has been a yearly tradition for us. We love to explore and learn new experiences. Travelling has played a big role in keeping our family bonded.

DAMIEN SAMWELL

DAMIEN SAMWELL

Designer & Web Developer

Damien has been providing design and tech support for Kaya for the past 10 years, from its branding through to its website.

Also having travelled extensively, Damien loves visiting new places, whether it’s a new Kaya project location to document, video and photograph, or simply living a digital nomad lifestyle with a new culture and view.

Kaya celebrates its 10 year anniversary

Can has also celebrated its 10th year anniversary which we are all very excited about. Kaya has expanded to provide high quality projects in over 28 countries across 4 continents picking up some awards on the way. It’s a testament to our amazing staff that we have come this far!