meet the staff



    Joshua Velez is also a former Camp Comanche camper and now serves as the Facility Manager at Empower Retreat Center. Joshua and his wife Kasey, along with their two children Jaeylnn and Jordan, live on the property year round.   Joshua is not only a Facility Manager, but also works closely with mentoring campers and junior staff. His contagious smile eases the nerves of new campers and staff. He also helps with sharing his skill sets to teach children in becoming self reliant with light carpentry skills and mechanics. 

    Kasey serves as the Water Front Director and works closely with all staff, campers and retreats, to ensure the general safety while enjoying Empower's aquatic activities at Heart Lake.  You can also find Kasey helping out in the office, kitchen or dining hall.  She has a heart to serve and recruit others to join in our programs.



    Carlos Barahona serves as the worship leader for our organization.  He is the singer and songwriter of You Deserve and continues to encourage our campers and staff with new music each year!  Carlos is originally from Houston, Texas and moved to New York City in 2008 to work with at-risk youth and the marginalized of New York City through St. Paul's House.  Carlos has a Bachelor's in Criminal Psychology and Strategic Intelligence from Liberty University.  He is currently working on his Master's Degree from Messiah College in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.  

    Shandra Barahona is the Executive Director of Empower.  Shandra holds a Bachelor's  of Science  Degree in Social Work from  Nyack College and a Master's of Professional Studies in Urban Ministry from Alliance Theological Seminary.  Shandra grew up as a camper in the Camp Comanche Program since she was five years old.  " I am so grateful for the opportunity to help young people overcome obstacles and life difficulties through the ministry of Empower. I will continue to be relentless in helping them succeed in life through the power of Christ!"

    Carlos and Shandra also work with homeless individuals in the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, New York City with a team of young people who are committing themselves to a career in full time ministry. They also live on camp property.  Their focus is creating relationships within the community and to keep campers and staff connected throughout the school year, providing opportunities for discipleship and mentoring to those they are reaching out to.  

  • Andrew & Melody Cruz


    Andrew Cruz serves as the Internship Director of Empower.  Andrew is currently in the process of setting up the Internship Program and recruiting interns.  The purpose of the program is “to create a serving community of like minded believers that are able to foster and grow the gifts that God has given them to reach the World for Christ.”

    Melody Cruz serves as the Program Director, looking for volunteers to help alongside our staff during retreats, spring enrichment classes, summer camp, and fall follow-through.  Along with her husband and two boys, Nehemiah and Ezra, they want to generate and facilitate programs year round. They  enjoy  getting to know the needs of the neighborhood and becoming integrated with the local community. 

  • Marina Goodwin

    art director

    Marina Goodwin serves as the Art Director, fulfilling the creative needs of Camp Comanche through her skills and experience in illustration and graphic/web design. Her desire is to use art to capture stories and highlights of all programs throughout the ministry, while also creating opportunities for new experiences by using her art to reach the local community.