Meet the Team

Fez Zafar PictureFez Zafar, Executive Director

Fez Zafar is the founder of the American Iftar Dinner movement. As sophomore class president at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, Fez is also the founder of a 501(c)3 public foundation called ‘Site for Smiles and Smarts’, an organization that maintains the mission of providing education and healthcare for poor and orphaned children living around the world. Along with fundraising, Fez works to spread his message of unity and tolerance through filmmaking, and was invited to the White House by President Obama in 2016 to screen his short film, ‘Road to Unity’. Alongside the White House, Fez has had his projects screened across the world, from Times Square to theatres in Paris, France. In his free time, Fez enjoys practicing with his swim team, playing the piano, and spending time with friends and family.

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Anna Van Heukelom, Director of National Outreach

Anna Van Heukelom is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, where she serves as president of the Young Feminists Club, and leads events that empower women with a voice in her community. As a student leader, Anna has worked to spread environmental awareness in her school, and has organized multiple walkouts in the March for Our Lives movement. An innovative thinker, Anna works to mix social activism with business, in order to build incentives for corporations to contribute to a better world. Anna is also a member of the National Honor Society chapter at her school, and in her free time she enjoys practicing yoga and spending time with her dog.

JJ Kapur.jpgJJ Kapur, Co-Director of Local Outreach

JJ Kapur is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. JJ was recently named the 2017 Original Oratory National Champion at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, the most prestigious high school speech and debate competition in the nation. JJ’s victory caps off a string of high profile awards, including first-place finishes at the Tournament of Champions, Emory University, and Harvard University tournaments. As a Sikh, JJ’s desire to share his community’s story led him to found the Iowa Sikh Turbanators, a youth-led community service group focused on “turban-ating” the negative stigma surrounding Sikhism. JJ continues to participate in interfaith work within his community, and his work in advocating for Sikh civil liberties has earned him the Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student Award and ACLU Youth Advocacy Award.

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Amy Johnson, Co-Director of Local Outreach

Amy Johnson is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, and acts as a student advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, the March For Our Lives movement, and for women’s rights. As a camp counselor at Wesley Woods, Amy spends her time working with inner-city children and the elderly disabled, an experience that has helped broaden her view when it comes to social reform. Amy is also a member of Students for American Progress, and in her free time she enjoys practicing with her school’s synchronized swim team, for which she serves as president.

Aarushi Dervesh, Director of Diversity

Aarushi Dervesh is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she serves as president of the Des Moines Student to Student STEM Speaker Series (DMS5). As the leader of DMS5, Aarushi works to encourage students of all backgrounds, particularly women, to get involved in the STEM field. When she isn’t sharing her love of science with others, Aarushi enjoys participating in social activism, volunteering at animal shelters, and reading. 

Jerry JonesJerry Jones, Director of Political Inclusion

Jerry Jones is a senior at East High School in Des Moines, Iowa, and founder of the Young Republicans of Iowa. As a conservative, Jerry actively participates in peaceful political discourse in forums at his school and throughout the community. In doing so, Jerry has established himself as a vocal student leader in the Iowa political sphere, and plans to run for office when he is older. Jerry was also recently named a finalist in the state Know Your Constitution Program, and in his free time he enjoys playing tennis, reading books on philosophy, and debating politics with Robert Nishimwe.

Leigh Carlson, Director of Universities

Leigh Carlson is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. Leigh spends much of her time volunteering in the local community, doing her part to make the world a better place. Leigh is also an avid traveler, having visited regions across the nation; in her travels, Leigh enjoys gathering the stories of Americans from all walks of life. In her words, these “stories open our lives to a new perspective, impacting the decisions we make for the better.”

Noah Percy, Director of Communications

Noah Percy is student body president at Norwalk High School in Norwalk, Iowa. As a leader in Iowa Students United, a group of activists advocating for legislative gun reform, Noah is also an entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Coeur Bread, a Des Moines-area bakery that currently employs five workers and maintains its own commercial baking facility. As a student advisor to his district superintendent, Noah has helped implement a district rebranding alongside student voice initiatives, empowering his fellow peers to let their ideas be heard.

Isabella O’Connor, Co-Director of Media Outreach 

Isabella O’Connor is a junior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. As a student activist, Isabella has worked on numerous campaigns in the political sphere, gaining experience that has inspired her to run for office someday. As founder and president of her school’s Young Democrats club, Isabella maintains the mission of educating students about the issues that matter, and spreading awareness about how they can make a difference through the power of voting. While serving as a page in the Iowa Senate, Isabella has also been a community organizer of peaceful protests and marches across Des Moines, and she believes that by making your voice heard, anything is possible. Through her activism, Isabella has been awarded with the Rotary Youth Leadership Award. In her free time, Isabella enjoys spending time with her baby sister, playing with her dogs, and reading up on the latest in Washington.

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Robert Nishimwe, Co-Director of Media Outreach

Robert Nishimwe is a senior at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, and serves as a student member on the Iowa State Board of Education. As an Iowa delegate in the United States Senate Youth Program, Robert has proven that he is a true representative of his community. At North, Robert is currently president of his school’s chapter of the National Honor Society and the founder of his school’s Community of Racial Equity club. Robert’s work in youth activism has garnered widespread recognition, from the Billy Michal Student Leadership Award to the Porter Dimery, Sr., Youth Human Rights Award. In his free time, Robert enjoys watching superhero films with friends, and debating politics with Jerry Jones.

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Omar Mustafa, Co-Director of Digital Strategy

Omar Mustafa is a sophomore at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, where he serves as vice-president of the World Cultures Club. As a representative of Valley’s student government, Omar leads multiple school charities that benefit others in his community; through charity work, Omar is able to act as an advocate of higher quality education for impoverished children in Iowa. He is also a member of his school’s swim and soccer teams. In his free time, Omar enjoys spending time with friends and family, as well as reading the news.

FullSizeRender.jpgAlejandro Zarate, Co-Director of Digital Strategy

Alejandro Zarate is the student body president at East High School in Des Moines, Iowa. As a student leader, Alejandro is head of the school pep club, treasurer of his local chapter of the National Honor Society, and president of the Upward Bound initiative, a program that helps students prepare for college. Alejandro regularly volunteers at his local hospital, and in his free time he enjoys running and motivating others to take action in response to the issues that face our nation today.