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About: About Us

Since 2003, Needham Steps Up (NSU) has helped students overcome institutional and circumstantial barriers that make accessing all that Needham High School has to offer an often insurmountable challenge. 

NSU is entirely funded through generous donations from businesses and members of our community. In addition to one-to-one mentoring, NSU provides equity and enrichment grants, SEL skill development, college application assistance, post- graduation planning, and more. 


deserves to
access the full Needham
High School experience

Mission & History
Students on Staircase


The mission of Needham Steps Up is to empower qualifying students at Needham High School through trusted mentoring relationships that help develop their capabilities and provide access to the resources necessary to successfully navigate high school and achieve their post-secondary goals



Needham Steps Up originated in 2003 under the name Countdown to Success. It was established with a $20,000 grant from the Congregational Church of Needham when four dedicated parents, who lived in Needham public housing, committed to creating a mentoring program for their high school-age children who were underserved as a result of their circumstances. They identified a clear need for tutoring and support, free of charge, to help their kids access the Needham educational experience as expected, and help with the college application process. Their grassroots effort to establish such a program paid off and they launched Countdown to Success as an after school tutoring program.


In 2006, with an additional grant from the church, the program evolved into a comprehensive, one-to-one mentoring program, and was renamed Steps to Success. In 2010, when the funding was due to expire, a group of community members formed Needham Steps Up (NSU) as a fundraising organization to ensure the continuation of Steps to Success. Now located within Needham High School, the program became an essential vehicle for establishing equity for the students enrolled. The relationships and skills students have developed through the program have had a measurable impact on their success in high school and beyond.  In 2014, Steps to Success was renamed Needham Steps Up.


Heather Sweeney, Program Director, Needham Steps Up

Heather Sweeney joined the Needham Public Schools in 2018 as a Spanish teacher at Needham High School. Known for her warmth, effective collaboration skills, instructional expertise, and student-centered approach to teaching, Heather is beloved by colleagues and students alike. 


In her first year as a teacher at NHS, Heather was clear about her commitment to equity and honoring the diverse needs of her students. By the second semester she had committed to mentoring a student in Needham Steps Up and developing a positive, supportive relationship.  Her first mentee graduated from Needham High School last year and is attending the University of Denver to study hospitality management. 


Heather’s focus on supporting Needham students was also highlighted in the spring of 2019 when she was recognized by SEPAC (Needham Special Education Parent Advisory Council) with an award for her dedication to her students. 


We are so fortunate to have Heather take the lead as NSU’s new Program Director. Her focus on equity, dedication to students, and commitment to service are central to her work as an educator and will be at the heart of her work as NSU’s Program Director.


Heather has an undergraduate degree in Political Science, Spanish and Hispanic Studies from Union College and a Master's Degree in Secondary Education from UMass Boston.

Monica Carrillo, Assistant Director

Monica Carrillo joined the Needham Public Schools in 2016 as a Spanish teacher at Needham High School. Monica’s colleagues and students appreciate her contagious enthusiasm and commitment to equity.  Monica is known for her exceptional ability to connect with her students in order to form a positive and inclusive learning community. Prior to teaching, she worked as a financial analyst with supervisory and coaching experience for multinational companies. 


Monica became involved in Needham Steps Up in 2018 when she became a mentor. Over the years, Monica has developed a meaningful relationship with her mentee. Her mentee graduated from Needham High School this past spring and is attending the University of Massachusetts Boston this fall. In addition to Needham Steps up, Monica is involved in the REAL Coalition, as well as the School Site Council. She has also served as a professional mentor to new teachers in the district. 


Monica earned a graduate degree as Certified Public Accountant and a master's degree in Finance from Universidad Anahuac in Mexico. Monica is currently an Administrative Intern in the World Languages Program as part of her Masters program in Educational Leadership at Boston University.

Leadership & Board

board of directors

Jean Baptiste, NSU Alumnus

Dave Berkley, Program Curriculum

Sam Bookston, Technology

Sarah Burns, Equity

Judy Chin, Program Evaluation

Martha Cohen Barrett, Community Partnerships

Ellen Dudley, Fundraising

Dianne Escalante, President

Jodi Feeney, Treasurer

Geri Fox, Program Evaluation

Natalie Gilchrist, Program Curriculum

Michelle Hoffman, Co-President

TBD, Mentor Advisor

Felicia Mathias, Ex Officio

Sarah Mesnik, Community Partnerships

Sandee Molinsky, Clerk

Karen Morales, Marketing

Jennifer Quinn, Program Evaluation

Nicole Sanem, Fundraising

Kiran Smith, Marketing

TBD, Volunteer Engagement

Ronit Velde, Fundraising

Elizabeth Zajac, NHS Liaison



  • Needham Steps Up staff and mentors at Needham High School will receive professional training from Mass Mentoring Partnership to formalize their mentoring of 20 income-eligible high school students.
    — Awarded to Martha Cohen Barrett, Community Member, and Elizabeth C. Zajac, K-12 Director of World Languages.  Click here for more information.

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