“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
Meet the staff of Simply Smiles!
bryan nurnberger, president and founder
Bryan Nurnberger founded Simply Smiles, Inc. in 2003.
Bryan graduated from the University of Colorado in 1999 with a B.A. in history. In the few years after college and before founding Simply Smiles, Bryan worked as a mountain climbing guide, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, lived with monks in Greece, and worked with sugar cane cutters in the Dominican Republic.
In 2013, he was given the Lakota name "Cante Waste Wicasa", which means "Kind Hearted Man."
Bryan lives with his wife, Kristen, and their dog Chip in Southport, CT.
Fun fact: Bryan is an avid, life-long Star Wars fan. He still has his childhood Star Wars pillowcase from when the first movie was released. It's not old, just vintage.
zachary gross, senior program manager
Zach graduated from Fairfield University in 2012 with a B.A. in Spanish and a triple minor in English, environmental studies, and Latin American & Caribbean studies. His first volunteer experience with Simply Smiles was in Oaxaca, Mexico as a high school student; he then returned to Mexico as an intern during his summers in college.
Since joining Simply Smiles full time in 2012, Zach has - among other things - learned how to test fecal samples for intestinal parasites, earned his bus driver's license, and dressed up as Santa Claus for our annual Christmas party on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
"Fun" fact: Zach inexplicably gets called Josh more times than he can count. He would very much like to know why.
gaby chavez hernandez, program manager • oaxaca, mexico
In 2002, at the age of 12, Gaby chose to leave her home in a remote Mexican village to pursue her education. In 2015 she received her B.A. in Business Administration from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut on a Simply Smiles Scholarship. After seven years of living in the United States, Gaby made another monumentous decision: to return to Mexico to manage Simply Smiles programs in Oaxaca.
Gaby is an exceptional individual and an inspiration to the thousands of people with whom she's crossed paths in Mexico, the United States, and beyond.
Fun facts: Gaby is the only person we've ever met who owns no music at all. Not one song. She also makes the most ridiculously amazing guacamole you've ever tasted.
alexandra gross, communications manager
Alex received her B.A. in English/journalism, environmental studies and politics from Fairfield University in 2009, and she holds her M.S. in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College, including the completion of a capstone project on Lakota foodways. Alex joined the Simply Smiles staff in 2014, after many years of working on small, organic farms in Connecticut. She now oversees Simply Smiles communications and lends her expertise to the food, garden, and healthy living programs on the Reservation.
Alex is also a freelance journalist, blogger, amateur photographer specializing in food and agriculture, communications consultant and creator of speakwithyourfood.com.
Fun facts: Alex has two different colored eyes (blue and brown). She also got severe hypothermia while harvesting kale on a farm. These two facts are not related.
marcella gilbert, program manager • cheyenne river reservation
Marcella comes from the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation and resides on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where her relatives live and many of her ancestors are buried. She has always had a passion for fresh nutritious food, which led her to earn a Master of Science in Nutrition from South Dakota State University.
Marcella coordinates Simply Smiles' food, garden, and healthy living initiatives on the Reservation; she focuses on educating her people about healthy eating, as well as the re-introduction and protection of wild native foods.
Marcella has been blessed with three children, two grandchildren, and an always-loving husband, Phillip.
Fun fact: Marcella also has a passion for dancing at powwows in Indian country. She has danced the fancy shawl style since she was a child (in the "tiny tot" category) and continues to compete, even as she enters the golden age category.
Marcella and her mother, activist Madonna Thunder Hawk, are the subjects of the 2018 documentary, Warrior Women - take a look at the trailer:
jasmine martier, volunteer coordinator
Jasmine received her B.A in Applied Anthropology from Bloomsburg University in 2017. Academically, her interests ranged from child development to evolutionary theory. Jasmine spent two summers as a Simply Smiles intern on the Cheyenne River Reservation before joining the team full time in the fall of 2017. She is continuously amazed by the wonderful people, culture, and kiddos both on the Reservation and in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Fun fact: Jasmine enjoys learning about the revolution of punk rock through memoirs and oral history narratives. Patti Smith is her hero.
jessi wilcox, volunteer coordinator for logistics
Jessi serves as the Volunteer Coordinator for Logistics, and she works closely with our volunteer teams and individuals to plan the details of our volunteer experiences. Jessi is continually grateful to be able to work alongside the incredible communities in both Mexico and on the Reservation, and is excited to see what opportunities the future holds.
Jessi graduated with her B.A. in Family Studies and Child Development from the University of New Hampshire in 2016. She has always had a passion for working with kids and started as a volunteer with Simply Smiles 5 years ago. After volunteering, Jessi spent several weeks interning for Simply Smiles. She was then a part of the summer staff on the Reservation before joining the team full time in the fall of 2018.
Fun fact: Jessi is highly skilled in the “shavasana” portion of yoga. In fact, she falls asleep snoring almost every single time.
kristen graves, musician & (un)official first lady of Simply Smiles
Kristen is a singer/songwriter who served as the Connecticut State Troubadour from 2014-2016. Mentioned as "the new generation of folk" by the New York Times, Kristen performs both nationally and internationally.
Kristen made her first volunteer trip to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2001, before there was a Simply Smiles, and met Bryan as a fellow volunteer at the Casa Hogar Children’s Home. They’ve been working together ever since.
Kristen brings her musical talents to project sites in Oaxaca and the Reservation, including running and organizing an annual music camp and recital for kids and adults alike.
Fun fact: Kristen had a pet frog named George, who lived until the age of 26.
2019 Spring Operations Interns
Bella Silva-Lopez, Fairfield University, (Major: Spanish)
Kate Gangemi, Fairfield University (Major: English - Teacher Education)
Meliza Lopez, Sacred Heart University, (Major: Psychology)