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Sarajane Blair is currently entering her last semester of a Masters in Public Administration from the Fels Institute of Government. As she transitions out of graduate school she is simultaneously transitioning into a permanent role at Mt. Airy USA, a community development corporation in northwest Philadelphia.
Before returning to school, Sarajane worked in the field of adult education. She entered the field by chance through her placement as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Prishtina, Kosovo. After her year in Kosovo, she returned to the US and moved to New York City. As happens in NYC, she worked many odd jobs, including being a production assistant on a music video and working craft services for 30 Rock, until she found work in the adult education world. Sarajane worked as the in-house education coordinator and a case manager for the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans, based in Astoria, and then moved on to become the Adult Basic Education (ABE) Center Coordinator for Literacy Partners, Inc. in Harlem. While working with her 100+ ABE students, Sarajane began thinking about the broader systemic issues contributing to a society with 30 million adults reading below a 5th grade level.
Seeing this as a thread through all of her work in adult education Sarajane decided she wanted to learn about both the policy creation and policy implementation that perpetuate these issues. That decision, on top of a cultural shift at Literacy Partners, solidified her decision to apply to graduate programs in public administration. After accepting a spot at Fels, Sarajane thought she had made a big mistake, moving from NYC to Philadelphia. Luckily, after a month or so, she realized just how much she liked Philadelphia and hasn’t looked back since.
While originally hailing from Central Pennsylvania, Anna first came to the Philadelphia region to pursue her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Arcadia University. With a passion for helping others, Anna began her work in the nonprofit sector serving as Programs Administrator for BuildaBridge International, an arts education and intervention nonprofit headquartered in Philadelphia. In this role, Anna oversaw organizational operations, assisted with communications and development, and coordinated an annual training conference.
Anna is currently a Member Engagement Specialist with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, managing engagement plans and overall membership of several hundred businesses and nonprofits in the Greater Philadelphia region. She is also currently working towards a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership from La Salle University. A foodie at heart, Anna enjoys continuing her exploration of Philadelphia and seeking out new and exciting restaurants in the city.
Katie arrived in Philadelphia in 2011 after attending college in Washington, DC to study Sociology. Originally from Allentown, PA, she completed several internships there dedicated to creating sustainable, small-scale economic development through the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street program and the City of Allentown's Department of Community and Economic Development.
Passionate about building an environmentally sustainable future, she is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden dedicated to the beauty and value of native plants and to protecting the habitats that sustain them. In 2014 she founded SPOKE magazine in order to more closely examine the policy and planning around Philadelphia's most sustainable and equitable transit option: the humble bicycle. She continues to create events for the magazine. Katie lives close enough to the Italian Market for a trip to the open-air stalls to be part of her daily routine.
Anjali Chainani is a teacher and an advocate for developing a culture of health for individuals and families that address physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. She currently is a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and will serve as the Director of Policy for Mayor Jim Kenney beginning in January 2016. Anjali formerly served as the Director of Legislation and Special Events for Philadelphia’s 3rd District City Councilwoman, Jannie L. Blackwell. While at City Council, Anjali collaborated with local and state actors to raise awareness on legislative and community development projects in Philadelphia neighborhoods. Anjali also served as the liaison for the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs for six years. During this time, Anjali organized and represented Philadelphia in Osun State, Nigeria for a trade mission, and in Bahia, Brazil for an international women’s conference on health and education.In 2012, Anjali and her family adopted a plant-based lifestyle and transformed their relationship to food, family, and health. Anjali is currently involved in teaching individuals and families how to incorporate more plant-based options through raw food demonstrations. In 2013, Anjali received the University of Pennsylvania’s Women of Color Award for her dedication to community service. Anjali was recognized by Philadelphia Moxie Women in 2013 and received the Next Generation of Leadership and Rising Star Award.Anjali received her bachelor degree in social administration from Temple University. She received a double master in public health and in social work also from Temple University. Anjali is currently a doctoral student in health policy at the Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Anjali is a first generation United States citizen born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Anjali’s parents are from Mumbai and New Delhi, India and migrated to the United States in 1980. Anjali’s favorite hobbies include cycling, hiking, and traveling.
Dana D’Orazio has focused her career on making positive impacts in education both in the classroom as well as in the policy sector. Dana earned a Bachelor of Arts from Villanova University and a Master of Public Affairs degree from the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs, at the University of Texas at Austin. Dana also studied film in Austin while earning her Master of Public Affairs. Dana is currently the Program Manager of Postsecondary Education at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families, working on the national level to promote best practices and convene key leaders around postsecondary efforts. She is also an adjunct instructor at Drexel University where she teaches civic engagement. Prior to this Dana served as Director of National Strategy & Operations at a start-up nonprofit,The Graduate! Network, where she managed and built scaling infrastructure around 10+ national sites. Dana also staffed and oversaw Mayor Michael Nutter's Council for College and Career Success, a multi-sector collaborative and strategic partnership, and was the Policy and Governance Associate at the Philadelphia Youth Network. Her professional and academic background is in advocacy, policy, film and education. Dana also serves on the Executive Committee of Philly CORE leaders, a collaboration of young educators, leaders and entrepreneurs in Philadelphia.
Lauren Footman, is from Yeadon, PA, and currently works in Learning and Development at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2014, with a bachelor's degree in English, and double minors in Political Science and Africana Studies. While at Bryn Mawr College, she chartered a College Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; serving as President until she graduated. Lauren was also a coordinator for Bryn Mawr’s affinity organizations, where she created and facilitated workshops, to further develop student leadership. Upon graduation, she received the Thomas Prize for Diversity, which recognizes students with a demonstrated lifelong commitment to learning around diversity, advocacy for inclusion, and the ability to inspire others to action. Since graduation, Lauren has continued her advocacy work, and serves as the President of the NAACP PA State Conference Youth and College Division. In this role, she is tasked with implementing the national organization’s agenda in Pennsylvania, through grassroots organizing, direct action, and workshops. She also ensures PA Youth & College units remain compliant with State and National guidelines, and creates initiatives to specifically address the civil rights concerns of Pennsylvania residents. Additionally, she serves as a Gun Violence Prevention Regional Organizer for Generation Progress, a subsidiary of the Center for American Progress. In this role, she advocates for common sense gun laws, through workshops and direct action. Besides advocacy work, Lauren is still very involved with her undergraduate institution. She and a fellow alumna, have created a mentoring initiative, Bryn Mawr Students Committed to Opportunities Progress and Empowerment (SCOPE). The group’s objective is to enhance Bryn Mawr’s current initiatives that support students of the African and Latin@ Diasporas, and aid in retention of students of color.Lauren remains committed to advocating for marginalized populations, and is always looking for ways to strategically create change in her community.
Keola Harrington is a financial counselor that specializes in eliminating the financial barriers for low income communities. At the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) - a joint initiative between the Mayor’s office of Community Empowerment & Opportunity and Clarifi, she provides free one on one financial counseling in all areas of consumer finance including budgeting, asset building, credit repair, debt reduction, student loans, identity theft and bankruptcy. Since 2013 she and her team have served more than 8,500 clients, completed 18,371 counseling sessions, increased client’s savings by $852,000 and reduced debt by $7.1 million. Prior to joining Clarifi she served as a Corps Member at City Year Philadelphia teaching algebra at West Philadelphia High School. After her experience at City Year, Keola completed a second year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA as a Financial Educator and VITA Tax Preparer at PathWays PA. Keola’s passion for financial literacy has led her work to be featured in Yahoo Finance, Nasdaq, CreditCards.com and The Philadelphia Citizen. She is a Board Member of the City Year Philadelphia Alumni Chapter, Ride Indego brand ambassador and a Founding Member of the Compassion Center for Financial Empowerment.
Deanna currently works as a business analyst at Independence Blue Cross in the Risk Analytics department, providing project management and provider outreach support to improve health outcomes, risk score accuracy and communication with providers for their Medicare and Commercial Exchange members. Prior to her current role, Deanna served as an Administrative Fellow at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in a two year post-Masters rotational program providing leadership development in healthcare management. In addition, she was a graduate student intern in the business operations department with the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, a CMS center responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions related to private health insurance and Health Insurance Exchanges. Along with her healthcare management experience, Deanna worked for three years in the Financial Services industry in several sales and operation roles.A Philadelphia native, Deanna graduated magna cum laude from Spelman College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and earned her M.S. in Health Systems Administration from Georgetown University in 2012. While at Georgetown, she was selected to a case competition team which competed against nearly 30 Masters-level health care programs to win 1st place at the 2010 NAHSE Everett V. Fox Case Competition, becoming the first team in the school’s history to earn that title. Deanna serves on boards and committees of several non-profits, including The Junior League of Philadelphia, The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, SeniorLAW Center, and the Philadelphia Orchard Project. In her free time Deanna enjoys cooking, spending time with her family and friends, exploring restaurants throughout the Philadelphia area, reading, and watching sports.
Samar Jha received his Master in Laws (LL.M.) from the University Pennsylvania Law School in 2015. He is a graduate of the elite Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad, India where he received his Bachelor of Arts and Laws (B.A.LL.B.) in 2008. He is a foreign qualified attorney (India) with over six years of work experience in the field of corporate law, banking and finance, aircraft leasing, acquisitions, joint ventures, intellectual property and general corporate advisory. He has worked in two of the biggest law firms in India, Luthra & Luthra Law Offices, and Amarchand Mangaldas (now known as Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas). At Penn Law Samar also worked as a Law Student Counselor at the Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Legal Clinic at the Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies. At the Clinic he provided legal assistance to non-profits, small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. Samar is currently a graduate public policy fellow for Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. He has researched best practices concerning real estate taxes, job creation in Philadelphia, diversion programs for returning citizens, providing affordable day care facilities for low-income parents, and expungement programs. He also works with the Digital Media Director of the City Council in relation to digital media initiatives of the City Council. Samar wants to research and work on business, tax, and trade policies effecting small businesses, non-profits, start-ups, and entrepreneurs in Philadelphia to generate more revenue and jobs.Samar is also an avid photographer and has done professional photography. He has also played cricket at the district level in India, and currently plays cricket for the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
Gina Lavery currently serves as Associate Director for Government and Community Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania. She is focused on building the university's strategic communications plan to better engage with local government officials and finding new ways in which the Penn community can connect with the City. In this role, she has also served on the Steering Committee for the Philadelphia Science Festival and is involved in organizing on-campus voter registration drives, GOTV activities, and serving as a Judge of Elections each Election Day. In addition, Gina has been a leader of Nerd Nite Philadelphia for nearly five years. She is responsible for recruiting local speakers and musicians to participate in this monthly program, as well as coordinating the marketing and outreach strategies for each event.A Philadelphia native, Gina grew up in the Far Northeast and earned her B.A. in Political Science and History from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently completing her Masters in City Planning from Penn. During her time at Penn Planning, she participated in various design competitions and was recently named a Graduate Fellow of the Urban Land Institute. She is also a member of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's Young Professionals Network, the American Planning Association, and the Community Design Collaborative. In her spare time, Gina enjoys reading, running, brushing up on her Italian, and taking her dog for long walks around the city.
Jillian Lenson is a Presidential Management Fellow with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this role she works in the Department’s Regional Civil Rights Office to enforce the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights authorities. As part of her fellowship, Jillian also completed a detail in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, litigating on behalf of the United States to enforce federal civil rights laws.Prior to her fellowship, Jillian attended Boston College Law School where she was a McCleary Law Fellow at the Human Rights Campaign, a public service fellow at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and a community advocate for low-income persons at the law school’s Legal Assistance Bureau. Jillian was also selected as a national team member for BC’s Civil Rights Moot Court team. Due to her commitment to civil rights, her community, and advocacy writing throughout law school, Jillian earned honors including the law school’s Dean’s Award for Diversity, the Stonewall Community Foundation Academic Scholarship, and first place in the National LGBT Bar Association’s Michael Greenberg Student Writing Contest.Following her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, Jillian volunteered in Cape Town, South Africa as a girls’ soccer coach and youth educator. A former collegiate athlete, her desire to provide positive female role models for young girls in athletics has inspired her to continue to pursue youth coaching opportunities in her free time. Jillian is originally from Boston and has enjoyed LGBTQ community building, recreational sports, and geeking out at the National Constitution Center since moving to Philly.
Jo Lin is new to Philadelphia, having been placed here as a National Urban Fellow to work with the City of Philadelphia. She is learning the ins and outs of local government in her post at the Managing Director's Office. The experience is meant to inform her studies through the fellowship, which culminates in a Master’s in Public Administration.
Prior to this, Jo's career has been in the nonprofit sector. She has worked with community-based organizations in disaster relief, housing, hunger, and volunteer management. Her challenge is leverage these grassroots experiences into broader systemic change – likely through collaborative efforts between nonprofits, businesses and government. Additionally, she is interested in becoming a leader and builder of effective teams. While having had the fortune of being part of effective, mission-driven teams, she recognizes that teams don’t necessarily evolve that way organically and would like to approach the process intentionally.
Akil is currently an Equity Research Associate in the Equities group at Janney Montgomery Scott. He works on the Energy Infrastructure team researching companies in the sector while advising client’s on the team’s stock recommendations. Previously, he held similar equity research roles covering stocks in the Renewable Energy/Utilities sector for Atlantic Equities and at Thomas Weisel (now part of Stifel Nicholas). In addition to his financial industry experience, Mr. Marsh worked at a solar development startup based in Philadelphia called Solar States. During his tenure he led efforts to create the first solar workforce development program in Philadelphia focused on training youth.
In his spare time, he volunteers with a local environmental non-profit who now coordinates the youth solar workforce development program. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a major in Finance and minor in African American Studies. He obtained his CFA Charter in 2011.
Tommy currently works for The Campaign Group, a national political consulting firm. His body of work involves the creation of messaging and advertisements for candidates and causes, including political campaigns at the mayoral, congressional, senatorial, gubernatorial and international levels as well as national advocacy organizations. One area in which he specializes is the targeting, creation and distribution of ads to audiences online. Prior to joining The Campaign Group, Tommy served clients across the political and nonprofit realm. He has held a variety of positions in eight different states on political campaigns, including campaign manager, finance director, communications director and digital director. Tommy’s work has been featured in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and NBC Nightly News. He has been interviewed about his work by CNN, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News and was featured in an MTV documentary.
Joseph Pierce is a political director at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). His territory covers Eastern Pennsylvania and the state of Delaware. Originally from Lake Wales, Florida, he is a proud graduate of the Florida A&M University’s School of Business & Industry. He also attained his master’s from the same university in public administration.
Mr. Pierce first started his journey as a catalyst for political and social change in the Florida Senate. His matriculation included being an analyst on the Appropriations Committee where he got a chance to see and experience the budget process first-hand. Afterwards, he worked on campaigns on all levels of government in both Florida and Pennsylvania as a fundraiser and an organizer. Joseph came to the Philadelphia area five years ago to work for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Throughout his five years here, he has been a legislative advocate, a consultant and now a political director at 32BJ SEIU, a progressive, hard-working union that represents cleaners, security and maintenance workers in the majority of all the commercial buildings along the eastern seaboard.
Outside of his job, Joseph maintains an extremely active schedule in endeavors he deems important to improving the lives of others. He currently serves on the executive board as Director of Marketing for the 100 Black Men of New Jersey. The organization’s goal is to mentor youths in an attempt to steer them in the right direction by providing living examples and giving them real time. He is also president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Florida A&M University National Alumni Association. This organization seeks to encourage young people of Philadelphia to go to college by offering scholarships to students attending the university. Additionally, a major goal is to simply serve the city of Philadelphia by engaging in community service projects, partnering with other organizations doing similar work and mentoring.
Griffith Ridgway serves as the Special Projects Manager at ACHIEVEability - a West Philly-based nonprofit best known for building self-sufficiency in low income families through safe housing, higher education, and a focus on personal development. Prior to this, Griffith worked with P.H.E.N.N.D. and the School District of Philadelphia to coordinate school-community partnerships at an elementary school in Mt. Airy. As a native resident of Southwestern Virginia, he continues to marvel at the gems and urban wonders of Philadelphia. Griffith graduated from James Madison University with degrees in Philosophy and Biology before relocating to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
He loves milkshakes from Good Stuff Eatery and is always inviting to a thoughtful discussion. Beyond work, Griffith is typically found reading literature, coercing friends into playing miscellaneous games, or doing something vaguely tennis related.
Antonio Romero is the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) Coordinator for Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM). After moving into the APM target area in 2014, his passion for community development propelled him to accept the position as the SCI Coordinator for APM. Throughout his time at APM, Antonio has been a partner and leader through various initiatives that address quality of life issues in the Eastern North Philadelphia Community. Some projects include: Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) programs at two recreation centers, collaboration with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia to ensure that over fifty homes in the neighborhood could benefit from basic systems home repairs, and the development and operation of the APM Food Buying Club. Antonio believes that the keys to sustaining impact are strong collaboration and integrity. He aspires to further develop himself as a leader within Eastern North Philadelphia and the Philadelphia community as a whole.
Jasmine Sadat is the Planner for Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in 2nd Council District portion of the City of Philadelphia. She also serves as the Community Engagement Liaison for the constituents in 2nd Council District. She eagerly helps local communities engage in the planning and zoning process as a method to alleviate displacement. Jasmine has a strong passion for exploring and researching issues pertaining to socio-spatial segregation, economic development, and urban policy and planning.
Anna moved to Philadelphia in December of 2011, to pursue her Masters Degree at Chestnut Hill College. Upon graduation, she has dedicated her personal and professional life to advancing the nonprofit community. She proudly resides in Manayunk with her fiancee Zach and an ever expanding menagerie of animals.
Denesha Thompson, a native of Atlanta, GA is an educator at KIPP Elementary Academy. While completing her undergraduate degree at Howard University in Washington D.C., she had the opportunity to work as a Congressional Black Caucus intern with Maryland representative Albert Wynn. This experience aided her in garnering knowledge about education policy and social justice. After the passing of her grandmother, an educator for over fifty years, Denesha realized the importance of being at the frontline of education in order to truly see change. Her personal mission is to create and foster opportunities for social and education equality. As a teacher, she has been able to translate her mission into the classroom by holding high expectations for each of her students, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Within her school, she also has had the opportunity to foster opportunities for social equality by being a member of the Cultural Competency Committee. Through the committee, she has aided in creating whole staff discussions surrounding race and tolerance. As a Philadelphia resident, she also has been able to create and foster opportunities for social and education equality through the Know Your Rights Presentations she has presented to the Philadelphia Youth Commission and area high schools. Additionally she partnered with several organizations to create, “Speak Up, Lace em’ Up: Basketball & Conversations.” Both created to establish relationships between police and community, through education. She is excited to bring her experiences to The New Leaders Council and knows her time with the Institute will enlarge her platform through knowledge, mentorship and collaboration.
Oscar Wang is the Founder and Executive Director of Mentor for Philly, the local college success nonprofit. With MFP, disadvantaged high schoolers, with the mentorship of those who have succeeded in college, become successful college students themselves—and graduate with a debt-free degree. Oscar was an editorial intern at the Philadelphia Public School Notebook in the spring of 2012 before becoming a 2012 Samuel S. Fels Fellow for the School Reform Commission. From 2013 to 2014, he founded and taught E.M. Stanton Elementary School’s Civics and Rhetoric Program, which equipped students from fifth to eighth grade with critical writing, thinking, and public speaking skills. In 2013, Oscar served as an intern for the Chief Financial Officer of the School District of Philadelphia. In early 2014, he returned to the district as an intern for the Superintendent’s Strategy Delivery Unit. Oscar is a proud graduate of Haverford College with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Education Studies. His senior thesis was "Quality for All: The Rise of Independent Authorizing and the Two Promises of the Charter Movement."He is incredibly excited to learn from and work with his fellow 2016 fellows!
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