Our Team

Leslie Jacobs


Leslie Jacobs is a former insurance executive who has been engaged in education reform for more than thirty years. A native of New Orleans, she began as a business partner with an elementary school, served as an elected member of the New Orleans School Board, and twelve years on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Leslie is considered the architect of Louisiana’s accountability reform, was instrumental in the creation the Recovery School District and has been very involved in efforts to build successful schools in New Orleans post-Katrina.

Leslie is the former chairman of Greater New Orleans, Inc and is the founder 504ward, an initiative focused on retaining young talent in New Orleans. Leslie has received numerous honors, including being named by Forbes as one of seven people who “demonstrate the leadership and commitment we need to ensure all children get an excellent education” and as 2011 co-New Orleanian of the Year by Gambit magazine. She was also named one of the Top 100 Female Insurance Executives by Business Insurance.

Candice Black

Manager of Operations

Candice Black serves as the Manager of Operations for Educate Now!, overseeing daily operations, finances, special events, and a host of other key projects. Candice is a seasoned executive assistant with over 25 years of experience. Having held positions in a variety of business fields, she is able to tailor her skills to meet the needs of a wide array of tasks. In addition to working with the Educate Now! team, Candice also assists The New Orleans Startup Fund, which provides investment capital and mentorship to early-stage companies in the Greater New Orleans region.

Melissa Ehlinger

Managing Director, Industry Engagement

Melissa Ehlinger leads the employer engagement strategy for YouthForce NOLA, a collaborative effort housed at Educate Now! that is focused on ensuring that every high school student will have access to the information, training, and experiences necessary to succeed in college and career.

Prior to joining Educate Now!, Melissa served as the Senior Vice President for Strategy and Business Development at the New Orleans Business Alliance, New Orleans’ official economic development organization. During her tenure at the Business Alliance, Melissa served as the Interim President & CEO and was an integral part of crafting the organization’s overall economic development strategy. She also oversaw day-to-day business attraction and retention functions, as well as the organization’s research department. Her previous experience includes work with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, where she worked as a Project Manager in residential and commercial corridor redevelopment. Melissa previously served as an Attorney with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

A native New Orleanian, Melissa holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Texas at Austin, Phi Beta Kappa; a JD from The George Washington University; and a Masters in Urban Planning from the University of New Orleans. Melissa was awarded UNO’s College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumna Award in 2016 and serves on the Board of the Good Work Network.

Cheyenne Ellis

Program Manager

Cheyenne Ellis serves as Program Manager for YouthForce NOLA, focusing primarily on growing YouthForce NOLA’s Internship program. Previously, Cheyenne was a senior associate with the New Orleans Business Alliance, where she lead YouthForce NOLA’s inaugural internship pilot. Prior to working and living in New Orleans, she worked in Copenhagen, Denmark, to develop the Global Economics Program at DIS, and has also worked on cases of international parental child abduction in the Office of Children’s Issues at the US Department of State in Washington, DC. Cheyenne is a native of Dallas, Texas and completed her BS in Public Policy, Economics, and Human Rights from Southern Methodist University. She is a certified yoga teacher and enjoys teaching yoga, doing yoga, and exploring all things New Orleans in her spare time.

Carlin Jacobs

Director of School Support

As Director of School Support, Carlin Jacobs manages YouthForce NOLA’s partnerships with local high schools. Before joining Educate Now!, Carlin worked for eight years at Algiers Technology Academy (ATA), a unique high school that combines a solid education in core subjects with career pathways in digital media and software development to prepare students for college and the workplace. He served for three years as ATA’s Vice Principal. Carlin was also a teacher and the school’s technology coordinator for many years. Prior to his work at ATA, he taught Graphic Design as an Instructor at Southern University A&M College in Baton Rouge. Carlin graduated from the University of New Orleans with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications.

Cate Swinburn

Vice President of Programs

Cate Swinburn leads Educate Now!’s efforts to lead and support systemwide programmatic initiatives that reimagine the traditional school district. Cate began her career in education fifteen-plus years ago as a first grade teacher. Prior to coming on as Vice President of Programs, Cate worked as a consultant to Educate Now!, developing our two signature programmatic initiatives: YouthForce NOLA and Personalized Learning. Other consulting work included consultation with Relay Graduate School of Education to inspire and prepare non-education major college undergraduates to become teachers, and with the Recovery School District and New Schools for New Orleans to develop a citywide blueprint for high quality special education services. Prior to independent consulting, Cate served as the Chief of Data and Accountability with DC Public Schools, President and Executive Director of DC Public Education Fund, and Portfolio Director for The Fund for Public Schools in New York City, as well as teaching for five years in rural and urban Texas.

Cate holds a Master of Public Administration from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, where she was a Dean’s Scholar, and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish. Cate is an alumnus of both Teach For America and Education Pioneers.

Mary Welcome

Program Coordinator

Mary Welcome serves as Program Coordinator for YouthForce NOLA. Previously, Mary was a Student Life Mentor and the College Completion Coordinator at College Track New Orleans, where she developed strong relationships with high school students. These students helped her to realize that education is where she needs to be.

Mary received her BA in Psychology from the Illustrious, Spelman College, and shortly after, she moved back to her hometown of New Orleans. She has a passion for mentoring young ladies and for being an integral supporter of the action plan(s) to improve urban schools, especially those in New Orleans.