OUR TEAM

The truth is, our team is made of rare individuals who have chosen to make a difference by helping others. Love that.

Our activity based trainers (ABTs) are certified through the NeuroRecovery Training Institute (www.neurorti.com) and have received extensive training through the NeuroRecovery Network and Dr. Susan Harkema, the world’s leading expert in Neurological Rehab. You will not find a better staff in the world, you are in great hands!



JOEL WENGER

DIRECTOR AND HEAD TRAINER

As Director of NextStep, Joel is responsible for administering, overseeing, and modifying NextStep's fitness, health, and wellness programs. Joel has been an invaluable member of NextStep since the day we opened our doors to the public in June 2008.  Joel has held every position within the organization associated with the treatment of clients and now leads the Los Angeles staff and oversees all of our facilities across the country to ensure the quality of NextStep's programs.

With more than 8 years of experience working with neurological conditions, Joel is a leader in the field of neurological rehab and fitness. He has trained therapist from around the world and acts as one of the lead trainers in the annual NeuroRecovery Network National Summit held at Frazier Rehab in Louisville. KY. Joel completed his continued education from the NeuroRecovery Training institute.  NeuroRTI is a post professional education company dedicated to the promotion and delivery of evidence-based practice through transformational education efforts, with an emphasis on recovery. Joel is a NeuroRTI Certified Team and Lead Instructor. He has also been extensively trained for 8 years by Susan Harkema, PhD and Andrea Behrman, PT, PhD, the world's leading experts in cutting-edge neurological rehab, research, and activity based therapy.

Joel is highly skilled and has the ability to provide care to a full spectrum of clients with neurologic injuries or conditions. His strong base of knowledge of evidence-based practice and preventative and rehabilitative neurologic therapy techniques allows NextStep clients to maximize their recovery.

Prior to NextStep, Joel worked for the Ballys Corporation as a Personal Trainer while attending Fullerton College where he played 2 years of Collegiate Baseball. While working toward a career in Law enforcement, his schooling at West Coast EMT led him to seek employment in a related field.  

Joel is a proud husband and father of three and in his free time, he enjoys finger painting and mud wrestling. 

Fun Fact: Joel is often mistaken for Channing Tatum and happens to have dance moves just like him.


JILL YI

BUSINESS MANAGER

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Jill has a diverse background in operations including administration and accounting with over 18 years of experience in leadership roles.  In that time, Jill has worked closely with many levels of management in a variety of industries to include finance, manufacturing, retail, HR consulting services, and nonprofit.  In her leadership capacity Jill has played a key role in implementing process improvements and efficiencies with a keen eye for quality control.  Jill’s natural ability to manage multiple projects allows her to direct all aspects of the fundraising events for NextStep. 

Jill is constantly humbled by the extreme hard work and dedication of both the clients we serve as well as the staff she closely works with.  She is proud to be a part of such a meaningful organization with an equally meaningful mission statement.  In what little down time she has, Jill enjoys exploring her creative side by indulging in Korean calligraphy and reading books on Philosophy and Theology. 


DAVID MERIN

SENIOR TRAINER and NRN DATA MANAGER

As Supervisor and Senior Trainer at NextStep, David helps to lead and train NextStep's staff. David also leads the Functional Electrical Stimulation program and Data Committee. David has six years of experience as an activity-based therapist working with neurological conditions. 

David completed his continued education through the NeuroRecovery Training Institute and prior to NextStep, David was an activity-based trainer at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia. Magee Rehabilitation offers one of the nation's leading hospital based rehabilitation programs for people with spinal cord injuries. At Magee, David gained a in-depth understanding of state-of-the-art assistive and therapeutic technology and interventions including; locomotor training, activity based therapy, and functional electrical stimulation.

He has been a part of the NextStep team since 2014 and is thrilled to be part of an organization that is revolutionizing paralysis recovery and is making an impact in people’s health and recovery.

In 2010, David graduated from Temple University where he earned a B.S in Kinesiology. He also played Defensive Back for the Temple Owls. 

In his free time, he enjoys talking about the Eagles, playing video games as the Eagles, and listening to Eagles radio.

Fun Fact: David recently won the championship of the LA SportsNet Flag Football league.


GARRET WRIGHT

LEAD ACTIVITY BASED TRAINER 

As an Activity-Based Trainer at NextStep, Garrett has adapted over 8 years of health, wellness, and fitness experience into training those with Spinal Cord Injury and various neurological conditions. 

Garrett is an NCCA accredited Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise and since working for NextStep has received advanced education from the NeuroRecovery Training Institute. His NeuroRTI training includes Activity-Based Therapies, Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation, Locomotor Training, Functional Electrical Stimulation, and Evidence-Based practices at Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, KY and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. He is also a member of the NeuroRecovery Networks education committee which is establishing an online and hands on platform for community fitness and wellness centers training new staff members. 

Garrett continues his education through UCLA Extensions Kinesiology and Exercise Science certificate program, the NeuroRecovery Training Institute, and the American College of Sports Medicine. 

Pior to NextStep Garrett worked in his home town Tucson, AZ as a full time Fitness and Dance instructor with internationally renowned Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa training a variety of populations from professional athletes, various celebrity clientele, to older active and sedentary adults. He was also very active in his local community teaching and donating dance, fitness, and Zumba classes for local events and non-profit organizations. Garrett worked to create multiple projects that gave local artists and business's a platform showcasing their talents and products to their community with all proceeds going back to the artists and business owners.

Garrett has been with NextStep since early 2016 and couldn't be more grateful for being apart of the family. He is determined to integrate his experience, knowledge, and philosophies to neurological rehabilitation and fitness.   

Fun Fact: Garrett owns a sailboat in King Harbor Marina


DIEU DANG

Activity Based Trainer

Dieu Dang’s commitment in the rehabilitative world originated 8 years ago at CSULA where he volunteered, worked, and trained students in the Mobility Rehab Center leading the Locomotor Laboratory team (Body Weight Suspended Treadmill Training).

Graduating at CSULA with a B.S. in Kinesiology: Rehabilitation and Therapeutic exercise and Psychology minor in 2011, Dieu flourished as an insightful trainer after working as physical/occupational/hand therapy aide, activities aide at an Acute Nursing Facility, and floor supervisor at the campus’ Student Union gym.

Dieu joined in 2014 where he also became Neurorti certified in locomotor and functional electronic stimulation along with his pre existing certification from ACSM (CIFT). Dieu’s plethora of perspectives from his numerous rehabilitative field allows him to understand clients introspectively, making him crucially versatile in assisting Nextstep’ full time staff. Being a team player, Dieu strives to consciously assist all staff members and clients when possible. Even if he is part time, Dieu exemplifies full time commitment to both the Nextstep and rehabilitative committee.

 Fun Fact: Enjoys talking philosophy 


MICHAEL TORRIJOS

 Activity Based Trainer 

Michael is certified as a Cardio Code Sport Science Instructor Certified, Boxing Coach, and has a PT in Musculoskeletal Corrective Exercise. Prior to NextStep, Michael had four years of experience working as an aide at a Women's PT clinic and a Women's Health clinic and a Chiropractic Clinic. He also worked as a caregiver for developmentally disabled patients for 3 years. Michael’s work mainly focused on assuring proper biomechanics for all types of musculoskeletal injuries and minor soft tissue mobilizations. Michael Earned a B.S. degree in Kinesiology from California State University of Fullerton in 2014. He also was part of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club at CSUF.Michael continued his education through Los Angeles Movement Specialists and completed a cardiovascular physiology course and earned his Cardio Code Sports Science Concepts Instructor certification. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music and hanging out with his pets at home.

Fun fact: Michael is currently coaching novice level boxing and kickboxing on CoachUp.


ANTHONY PROANO 

Activity Based Trainer

As an activity-based trainer at NextStep, Anthony facilitates guided exercise including both strength and cardiovascular training. Anthony assists with Locomotor Training, while also educating and supporting clients with the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) and Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES). 

Having joined our team in February 2016, Anthony is excited to be a part of NextStep and the Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network.Their knowledge of activity-based training principles and techniques allows us as trainers to access an abundance of evidence-based research and information from top professionals in the field of neurological recovery. Anthony knows that the ability to help people get better is a privilege and is always willing to give everything to people who want to give everything with him. 

Prior to working at NextStep, Anthony worked at the Nevada Neurohealth Center and Bilingual Behavioral Services in Las Vegas, Nevada. There he worked with varying populations using treatment modalities such as Biofeedback, Neurofeedback, and Heart Rate Variability to help teach self-regulation of the mind. The objective of these therapies is to stabilize the Central Nervous System allowing it to work efficiently. When the brain is in a balanced and healthy state is able to perform more optimally, resulting in better mood, heightened awareness, higher retention of information, lessening of anxieties, and improved learning capacity due to a more focused, clear, and calm mind. 

In 2015, Anthony graduated from the University of Nevada Las Vegas with a B.S. in Kinesiology. Anthony is happy to call the place he was born and raised, Los Angeles, home once again. Anthony enjoys playing basketball and soccer in his free time. 

Fun Fact: Anthony is expecting his first child, a baby girl, later this year. 

RICO RIVAS

ACTIVITY BASED TRAINER

As a bilingual (Spanish) activity-based trainer at NextStep, Rico facilitates guided exercise including both strength and cardiovascular training. Rico assists with Locomotor Training, while also educating and supporting clients with the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) and Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES). Having joined our team in June 2016, Rico is excited to be a part of NextStep and knows that the ability to help people get better is a privilege and is always willing to give everything to people who want to give everything with him. 
In 2015, Rico graduated from the South Bay Massage College in Manhattan Beach and is a certified massage therapist. Rico truly enjoys the field of bodywork and is currently studying to become a Doctor of Chiropractic.

Fun Fact: Rico in Spanish means, “Rich” or “Delicious.”


JORGE HERNANDEZ

ACTIVITY BASED TRAINER

Jorge Hernandez graduated from Cal State LA in June, 2016 with a B.S. in Kinesiology: Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Exercise. Jorge worked as a trainer in the Mobility Rehab Center at Cal State LA creating individualized rehabilitation-training programs composed of flexibility, functional mobility, strength training, range of motion as well as balance and coordination for clients. Jorge also volunteered with the locomotor training team for more than 2 years.  He is currently volunteering with the University’s Athletic training department and administering various modalities to injured players during their rehabilitations process. Jorge is looking forward to becoming a certified personal trainer by ACSM and pursuing other ACSM certifications. His educational goal is to attend physical therapy school and practice physical therapy in the future. Jorge is excited to work at NextStep and continue learning and improving his knowledge in the field of rehabilitation.  

Fun facts: He is an avid soccer player and also DJs in his free time!