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Ruben Gaona

Co-founder, COO

Ruben Gaona was born in El Paso, Texas and moved to Milwaukee’s Southside at the age of 15. In 2017 Ruben completed 7 years of a 10-year sentence. Ruben worked as a reentry specialist with the State of Wisconsin for almost 2 years and in 2019 he founded 2ndChanceWisconsin and began providing guidance (through motivational speaking) to formerly incarcerated people and others facing barriers.  Ruben is a U. S. Navy Veteran, former employee for the Department of Defense (NAVY) and an ex-felon and is currently a Senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Helen Bader School of Social Welfare.  Ruben has had the privilege of speaking at several re-entry engagements throughout Wisconsin to discuss the merits of The Way Out (and its anticipated anti-recidivism impact).

Starla Thompson

Partner, CLO

Starla Thompson, of the Forest County Potawatomi and Santa Ynez Chumash Nations, is an accomplished educator, speaker, and inspirational leader. Starla was born and raised in Chicago and then relocated to Milwaukee. Starla has spent most of her adult life serving communities through leadership development and Native American cultural awareness and education. Starla's life mission "to effectuate positive change, provide a voice, and expand justice for vulnerable populations" inspired and led her to The Way Out. Starla has spent most of her adult life serving communities through leadership development, education, and providing Native American cultural awareness. Starla’s nationally recognized personal development and professional succession program, catapults participants to the next stage of their careers and lives. Starla is currently completing her MBA studies at UW-Eau Claire.

Ryan Graham

Partner, PM

Ryan Graham was born and raised in in a part of Milwaukee's systemically oppressed “53206”. Ryan’s seen firsthand the lasting emotional and physical consequences of employment discrimination and poor support services for justice involved persons and their families. Ryan joined The Way Out because he firmly believes that individuals, who truly want better for themselves, should be given a 2nd Chance regardless of their past history. Professionally, Ryan is an experienced illuminator with a demonstrated history in product management, entrepreneurship, and leadership, a Google Developer Challenge Scholarship winner and Certified Scrum Product Owner- studying computer science, communication, and entrepreneurship. Ryan is a Senior at the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University.

Eli Rivera

Co-founder, CEO

Eli was the first person of his Puerto Rican family, born and raised on the United States mainland. Eli grew up on 32nd Brown, on Milwaukee’s westside and experienced firsthand extreme gang violence and the onset of the crack cocaine and AIDS epidemics in his neighborhood. These experiences heavily influenced Eli’s life and the subsequent decisions he made that eventually landed him in prison in his late 20’s. As an ex-felon, Eli experienced firsthand the challenges associated with seeking employment with a felony conviction. Upon his release in 2000, Eli utilized various leadership positions to mentor and employ formerly incarcerated individuals within the hospitality industry. In 2018 Eli created a pre-shift and training app for the Hospitality Industry. In May of 2020, Eli is a Certified Life Coach and is also Certified in Conscious Leadership.