Brian TonFounder and Executive Director
Brian, the founder of Illumination Institute, has practiced mindfulness for more than 20 years, and is passionate about helping others cultivate their own practice to achieve peace and happiness. He has experienced a wide range of cultures and professions, and found that cultivating a sense of awareness and presence would benefit his quality of life in any set of circumstances. For the past 15 years, Brian has worked with families, individuals and businesses to prevent and resolve conflict as an estate planning and business attorney. He found that wealth and success do not always bring happiness into people’s lives, and that even the wealthiest people struggled with stress and unhappiness. Born in Vietnam, Brian has practiced mindfulness techniques from a wide range of cultures, including Qi Gong and Tai Chi, nonreligious meditative practices of ancient Chinese tradition. Brian has completed the Mindfulness Fundamentals for teachers and Mindful Educator Essentials training through Mindful Schools, and the Mindful Educator Retreat through Peace in Schools. He has also participated in the Resilient Mindful Learner Summer Institute workshop put on by the Center for Healthy Kids and Schools at the Orange County Department of Education. Brian completed his Juris Doctor at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law. He later earned an M.B.A. at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club.
Alexandra RiveraCo-Founder & Program Director
Alexandra (Allie) has worked in education for almost ten years in a wide range of schools and has made a variety of meditation and mindfulness practices a part of her life for the last 15 years. Her experience as a behavioral therapist for children on the Autism Spectrum and an elementary school teacher has shown her that children of all ages and backgrounds suffer from widespread social and emotional turmoil. Anxiety, stress and depression plague the daily lives of schoolchildren and teens, affecting their academic performance and their overall wellbeing. Allie began implementing relaxation and mindfulness practices into her own lesson plans and quickly noticed the positive effects they had on her students’ attention spans and moods- and even on her own teaching practices! After partnering with Brian, she developed original awareness practices designed specifically for educational environments. Allie has completed the Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials training programs through Mindful Schools. Allie received her BA from Loyola Marymount University, where she became well-versed in Ignatian contemplation, guided imagery, and Taizé prayer. She received her MA and Elementary Teaching Credential from California State University Long Beach. In addition to her work with the Illumination Institute, Allie teaches full-time at an elementary school in Orange County.
Michelle PhetsomphouDirector of Development
Michelle learned about the benefits of mindfulness firsthand while working as a tutor for students on academic probation. She discovered that what these students really lacked was stress management techniques rather than academic ability. Michelle began to start each tutoring session by allowing students to talk about their insecurities and concerns. She then began taking a non-traditional approach to tutoring by reminding the students of the importance of relaxing, clearing their minds and simplifying their tasks. Michelle was able to apply these same basic principles when working as a caretaker for a young girl with special needs. Michelle soon discovered that not only did children benefit from mindfulness practices, but she did as well. Michelle is thrilled to be involved in Illumination Institute’s vision of helping others develop techniques for greater self-awareness and focus. Born and raised in Denmark, Michelle earned her B.A. in English and Intercultural Communication from the Brigham Young University of Hawaii, where she also worked as an instructor of English.
Liz learned about mindfulness in 2011 when she watched a documentary called The Dhamma Brothers about a psychotherapist who teaches inmates at a high-security prison how to meditate. As a certified ESL instructor, she has lived in different countries teaching English language skills to adults, teens and children, including Vietnam, Spain and Oman. While spending time in Southeast Asia, she studied meditation in the tradition of Buddhism at a monastery in Thailand and quickly noticed the positive effects on her ability to focus, sense of inner calm and overall happiness. Armed with a background in writing and marketing, she joined Illumination Institute to help teach others about the benefits of self-awareness. Liz earned her B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine.
Iyesha FergusonDevelopment Associate
Iyesha is new to mindfulness, but has avidly practiced meditation and purposeful relaxation for years. She is passionate about mental health, breaking the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and creating a safe space that motivates, challenges, and supports students. She is thrilled to be learning more about the positive effects of mindfulness and has started to implement the practices into her own life, which she believes has made her more relaxed and patient overall. Iyesha graduated from Whittier College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and is pursuing her Master’s in English at California State University, Long Beach. She plans to obtain her Ph.D. in English Literature, specializing in Medieval and Renaissance Literature to teach literature at the college level.