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Gary Community Investments’ Executive Team Welcomes Three Members


JUNE 3, 2020 - Gary Community Investments (GCI), which includes the Piton Foundation, welcomes three new members to its executive team. Joining are Ami Desai as chief operating officer, Chyrise Harris as vice president of communications, and Damion LeeNatali as vice president of strategic philanthropy and policy. In January of this year, Mike Johnston was appointed president and CEO to lead the organization into its next chapter of creating transformative impact for Colorado’s low-income children, families and communities.

"These executive hires represent an astonishing addition of accomplished and diverse talent to the Gary Community Investments (GCI) team” said Gary Community Investments CEO Mike Johnston. Together they have built and led compelling efforts for equity across our state and around the world. They will bring to GCI a deep commitment to serving the Colorado families who need us most, and together with the tremendous team that we already have, will help transform GCI into one of our state's most dynamic forces for social change."

As chief operating officer, Desai will oversee Gary Community Investments’ ongoing business operations, manage external partner relationships and build internal company culture. Desai has extensive experience establishing and operating businesses and nonprofit organizations. She is the owner of Ami Desai & Associates, an executive consulting firm focused on transforming public, private, and international organizations and communities. She has also worked at the Colorado Department of Education, leading the strategic redesign of the Charter School Support Initiative process. Desai is also a published author, the Co-Founder of Hands Over Zambia, an entrepreneurial skills-based training program for secondary school teachers  in Mfuwe, Zambia, and sits on the boards of Dazzle Africa as President and Cube School Denver as Director.

In her role as vice president of communications, Harris will be responsible for developing Gary Community Investments’ internal and external communications strategy.  She joins Gary Community Investments from Brightbeam, (the umbrella organization for the digital platform known as Education Post) where she was the chief communications officer, scaling national strategies to position education activists as influencers of education policy within their communities. Harris is an accomplished brand and communications strategist at the local, national and international level. She has extensive experience in Denver’s K-12 education space, including working in communications for Denver Public Schools and STRIVE Preparatory schools, one of Denver’s largest public charter school networks. Harris is a product of Colorado public schools and believes that every child deserves the opportunity to choose and access an exceptional education that leads to the brightest future. She has a MA in Global Marketing Communications & Advertising from Emerson College and has served as a board member of Aurora Community School.  

As vice president of strategic philanthropy and policy, LeeNatali will lead and manage the organization’s philanthropic investments and policy and advocacy strategies. LeeNatali joins Gary Community Investments from Teach For America Colorado, where he served as executive director. During his tenure, he led the organization through a strategic re-imagination, which quadrupled programmatic effectiveness, launching new market pilots, and partnering with students to conceptually redesign the K-12 education system. Prior to Teach For America, LeeNatali served as chief of staff for Mike Johnston’s Colorado Senate Office, where he contributed to the passage of legislation overhauling Colorado’s school funding system and launched two nonprofits that have since scaled to national footprints. LeeNatali has a law degree from The University of Colorado and has served on the boards of KIPP Colorado, the Turing School of Software & Design, and the Education Committee of the Denver Foundation.

"GCI is built on Sam and Nancy Gary's unique vision that to make lasting social change, we need to use every tool available including nonprofit grants, for-profit investments and public-private partnerships,” Johnston added. “In this moment when many have lost faith that it is still possible for good people to come together and solve our hardest problems, GCI is committed to proving that we can build coalitions of problem solvers from all sectors who will do whatever it takes to ensure every child in Colorado has equal access to opportunity."