Photo Credit: Desirea Still

Photo Credit: Desirea Still

Since she was 22, years old, Mnikesa has known that she is racing against the clock.  It was at that time--2 months before her college graduation-- that she received her diagnosis. Her illness, anti-synthetase syndrome, is an autoimmune disease related to scleroderma. It is rare, aggressive and progressive, so little is known about how to successfully treat patients who suffer from this often fatal sickness.  

She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from Southern Methodist University ('01) in Dallas, Texas.  She is a proud a recipient of the Distinguished Alumnae Award of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas ('97) and is among the 5th generation of educators in her family.  If you ask her, she will tell you that teaching runs in her veins.  Living with disease is the reason that in June of 2015, after 14 years as a middle school English teacher, she had to medically retire.  She left a career in the classroom that was award-winning including Beginning Teacher of the Year (2003), Teacher of the Year Finalist (2006), several subsequent Teacher of the Year nominations, the New Haven TAPS Award, and most importantly to her, the trust and respect of her students.

She is the founder and director of BalletHaven, a dance training program for middle school girls in the Fair Haven neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut, that has earned the esteem, attention and respect of the community and media since its founding in 2011.

She is recently married to a Yale Divinity School alumnus, Life and Leadership Coach, former Executive Director of Coaching for Social Change, and brilliant software engineer, Justin Haaheim.  Together, they plan to shake life up...for as many breaths as they are blessed to take.