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New Leaders Council

2017 Institute Faculty

Erin Belitskus

Erin is a director with Changing Our World, Inc., a nonprofit management consulting firm that works with nonprofit organizations on their fundraising and philanthropy efforts. Erin is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Romania, 2000-2002) and has worked with governmental and nonprofit boards and agencies as a high level staffer or senior volunteer that took her from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to some of the best international advocacy humanitarian aid organizations.

Erin was an NLC Boston fellow in 2012 and has served as co-director of NLC Boston and NLC Pittsburgh, which she founded in 2014. She currently serves as a member of the NLC National Programs Committee and is co-chairing the 2017 NLC Retreat committee, to be held in Pittsburgh. In her free time, Erin organizes with local and state Democratic party groups to elect progressives to office. She earned an MScEcon in terrorism and international relations from Aberystwyth University (United Kingdom ) and a BA in behavioral science from Green Mountain College. She enjoys kayaking on the Allegheny and cheering on her Buccos and Steelers!

Rob Houston

Rob Houston is Senior Director of Network Development and Value-Based Payment at New York City Health + Hospitals, the public benefit corporation that oversees the city's public hospitals and health centers. Prior to working with NYC Health + Hospitals, Rob worked to advance value-based payment initiatives in health care for the Center for Health Care Strategies, The Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, and the Robert Wood Johnson Partners Accountable Care Organization. Outside of health care, Rob has worked for Samsung Electronics, the nonprofiit organization Therapy Dogs International, and founded and ran his own marketing and business planning consulting firm, Houston Consulting Partnership. He has received a MPP in Health Policy, MBA in Marketing, and BA in Political Science from Rutgers University.

Rob was an NLC-NJ Fellow in 2013 and served as Director of Innovation for the New Jersey Board of Directors from 2014 - 2016. He has also served as a Life Entrepreneurship Trainer since 2014 and is happy to co-lead the Life Entrepreneurship training for the Capital District for the third straight year.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, NYS Assembly District 113, Saratoga & Washington Counties

Carrie Woerner was elected to the New York State Assembly in November 2014 while serving as vice president and general manager of MeetMax Conference Software, a division of The Wall Street Transcript. She established the software division in Saratoga Springs in 2008, creating new, quality jobs in Saratoga County.

Woerner earned her undergraduate degree from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and her MBA from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. She began her successful 30-year career in software and technical writing working at firms such as Dell/Perot Systems and IBM.

In the Assembly, Woerner has continued to advocate for responsible spending and is focused on improving the business climate for small businesses and farms, strengthening public schools and protecting the traditions, heritage and culture of Saratoga and Washington counties. Woerner is the chair of the Subcommittee on Agricultural Production & Technology and a member of the Assembly’s Agriculture, Local Governments, Racing and Wagering, Small Business and Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development committees, as well as a member of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

During her first year in office, Woerner authored seven pieces of legislation that were passed by both the Senate and the Assembly, including five bills that were signed into law by the Governor. These included a law to allow the Ballston Spa Central School District to establish a semiconductor manufacturing tax stabilization reserve fund (Ch. 506 of 2015), and a law enabling Saratoga Harness Racing to continue receiving regional payments from Capital Region Off-Track Betting (Ch. 300 of 2015).

Prior to her election to the New York State Legislature, she served as Round Lake Village Trustee in 2008, 2010 and 2012. As a local official, she was a champion of fiscal responsibility and worked to control spending and reduce the tax burden on Round Lake residents each year in office. She also served as an appointed member on the Town of Malta Planning Board from 2008-2014.

From 2002-2008, she served as executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation in which she expanded membership and donations, published a walking tour guidebook, raised funds to restore the First Baptist Church and secured a $130,000 state grant to restore historic buildings in the Beekman Street Arts District. She founded the Historic Saratoga Race Track Preservation Coalition and successfully advocated for preservation protection in the 2008 legislation related to racing in New York State.

Carrie Woerner is currently a member of the Malta Sunrise Rotary and the Saratoga Arts Board of Directors.

Stephen Napier - Councilman City of Cohoes 5th Ward

Steve and his husband Jeremy live in the City of Cohoes, where Steve attended Cohoes High School before moving on to Hudson Valley Community College and the University of Tennessee to study Political Science.

Steve's first job in Politics was as an intern in Chattanooga, Tennessee on John Edwards' 2004 Presidential Campaign. From there he worked his way through the ranks from Field Organizer, to Campaign Manager and Consultant on several high profile local and State level campaigns in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley.

In 2015 Steve ran for a seat on the City of Cohoes Common Council. After winning the three way primary with 51% of the vote, he went on to win the General Election with 60% and became the youngest and first openly gay elected official in the history of the City of Cohoes.

Steve is also a co-founder and partner with Southpaw Strategies, a political consulting organization. Southpaw specializes in messaging, direct mail, web design, and communications focused primarily on the political cycle. In 2014, Southpaw received a Pollie Award from the American Association of Political Consultants.

Matthew Kohut 

Matthew Kohut is the managing partner of KNP Communications and co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential. He has prepared speakers for events ranging from live television appearances to TED talks to the Democratic National Convention. In addition to training leaders in the government, private, and nonprofit sectors, he has served as a communications consultant to organizations including NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dustin Robinson

Dustin Robinson is the Communications Director for New Leaders Council.

Prior to his role with NLC, Dustin was deputy communication and digital director for former Attorney General Jack Conway’s gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky. Dustin spearheaded the digital organizing operation, overseeing aggressive engagement and fundraising programs through social media and e-mail campaigns.

He also served as Executive Advisor to Attorney General Conway and was a field organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign in Colorado.

A native of Kentucky, Dustin is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University.

Lissa D’Aquanni 

Lissa D’Aquanni is the Director of Community Relations at the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region. Lissa also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the University at Albany where she teaches Public Relations and Communications. Lissa is also a small business owner with her firm “Out on a Limb Consulting” where she specializes in public relations, marketing, program, and campaign assistance to micro-businesses and non-profits. Lissa has been honored to receive the Albany - Colonie Chamber’s Woman of Excellence Award and  was also a recipient of the Capital District Business Review 40 Under 40 Award. Lissa holds a BS in Engineering from RPI and an MPA from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Administration.  

Libby Post

Libby Post is the President of Communication Services, a boutique political communications firm that specializes in libraries, health care, advocacy and electoral politics. She has a long history as an advocate and activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She is the founder of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

Post works extensively with public libraries on their financial stability and sustainability issues. She also works with statewide health care organizations and local political candidates. Post also runs the New York State Animal Protection Federation, the voice of the State’s humane societies, SPCAs, animal shelters and animal welfare organizations. She is a commentator and regular panelist on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s The Roundtable. She holds a Masters in Political Communications from the University at Albany, SUNY and began her activist career at the Student Association of the State University (SASU) in 1978.

Joe Bonilla 

Joe Bonilla is the managing partner, senior media director, and co-founder of Relentless Awareness LLC, an Albany-based public relations, digital outreach, events management, and public affairs agency. Joe is directly responsible for day-to-day agency operations in Albany, in addition to lead on the agency’s Content Creation and Policy & Regulatory Affairs teams and executive producer for agency-executed events.

Recognized as one of New York’s leading dynamic communicators, brands, companies, organizations, and public figures rely on Joe's counsel and insight in moving their message forward with impressive results on the local, regional, and national stage.

A graduate of the University at Albany (B.A., Public Policy), Joe has directly managed high profile events in New York’s Capital Region, including President Clinton’s visit to the University at Albany campus in 2011 and the City of Albany’s 2014 Inaugural Ceremonies.

Active within the community, Joe also serves as board president of Capital CarShare, managing director of the Knickerbocker Film Festival, and is a board member for the University at Albany Alumni Association and Troy Preparatory Charter School. Joe previously served as chairman of the City of Albany’s Public, Educational, and Government Access Oversight Board and board member for Classic Theater Guild, Inc.

Kate Ollier - President, Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce

As President, Kate is responsible for developing event and professional development programs and working with the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and community businesses and organizations. She oversees the Chamber membership, marketing, member benefits, finance, strategic planning and government relations.
Kate is responsible for the development and implementation of the Chamber’s economic development strategy, and for providing professional direction and resources to members to assist with business planning, financing, workforce development, expansion and regulatory issues.

Kate joined the Chamber team in 2009, and has served our members in a variety of capacities – most recently as the Director of Member Engagement & Business Development. Kate has overseen the promotion of the Chamber’s brand and marketing efforts as well as the creation and production of the Chamber’s robust series of member programs and special events, including the Annual Dinner {with a twist} and Expo, Van Rensselaer Awards Dinner, Annual Golf Classic and Troy Victorian Stroll. In addition, she manages the Chamber’s award-wining Leadership Institute, a skills-based leadership program that utilizes a “learning from leaders” approach to strengthen and develop participants’ skillsets as they advance professionally within their organizations.

A proud alum of Siena College, Kate holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in writing and philosophy. She is the 2013 recipient of the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region Resourceful Women’s Emerging Professional Award and a member of the Albany Business Review’s “40 Under 40” Class of 2017. Kate is an active member of the Community Hospice Associate Board and Troy Business Improvement District Board.

Michelle Mahon

Michelle Mahon is a fundraising professional currently working as a Development Officer at The University at Albany.   Before joining UAlbany, she was Director of Development for the local affiliate of a nationwide nonprofit.  She has worked in development research, leadership annual giving, special events and donor relations throughout her career.   Michelle received her BS in Management with concentrations in Finance and Human Resources Management from Boston College and an MBA from The University at Albany.  She lives in Albany with her husband and rescue dog.   

Senator Gustavo Rivera

Gustavo Rivera was elected to represent District 33 in the New York State Senate in November of 2010. The 33rd Senate District extends from the Northwest Bronx to areas of the East Bronx and includes the following neighborhoods: Kingsbridge Heights, East Tremont, Crotona Park, Fordham, Belmont, Van Nest, Claremont, High Bridge and Morris Park.

Senator Gustavo is dedicated to changing the way business is done in the legislature for the better and is committed to making sure that the families of the 33rd Senate District have a voice in Albany. The first bill Senator Rivera introduced in the New York State Senate, S.382 addressed the need for greater government transparency and financial disclosure. This bill, which proposed making it mandatory for public officials to disclose all sources of income they receive apart from their government salary, was included in Governor Cuomo’s ethics package that passed the legislature and was signed into law in 2011.

Previously, Senator Rivera served as the ranking member of the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee. During that time, he introduced and passed legislation to allow charitable organizations throughout the state to post bail bonds for individuals who cannot afford to do so themselves. Additionally, during the 2013 budget negotiations Senator Rivera was able to secure the transfer of the Fulton Correction Facility to the Osborne Association to be converted into a comprehensive reentry center that will provide thousands of New Yorkers transitioning back into society with the necessary resources and skills to be productive members of the community.

In addition to serving as a State Senator, Gustavo continues to serve as an adjunct professor at Pace University, where he teaches courses in political science. Prior to becoming a State Senator, Gustavo worked as a community organizer for several local and state candidates including Jose Marco Serrano’s and Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ campaign for State Senate, as well as Fernando Ferrer’s 2001 campaign for Mayor of New York City. In early 2008, SEIU hired Gustavo to manage their activities on behalf of Barack Obama in several crucial primary states. In this role, Gustavo traveled to Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas – even to his home of Puerto Rico – on behalf of Senator Obama. Gustavo was then tapped by Senator Obama to serve as his Constituency Director in the crucial swing state of Florida. After the election, Gustavo returned home to New York State to serve as the Director of Outreach for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Since 2000, Rivera has also served as a faculty member and mentor for “Somos el Futuro", the annual Model State Senate program sponsored by CUNY, SUNY, the NY State Assembly, and the Puerto Rican Hispanic Task Force. For more than a decade, serving as a mentor to the participants of the Model State Senate program has been both a great pleasure and a source of inspiration for Gustavo and he looks forward to continuing his to work with “Somos el Futuro,”.

Gustavo was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. In 1998, Gustavo graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and moved to New York to begin a doctoral program in political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A proud Bronxite, he has lived in Kingsbridge Heights for more than ten years.

Luana Y. Ferreira

Luana Y. Ferreira began her career as a New York City Teaching Fellow, working with school districts as a teacher, staff developer, and data specialist. An advocate for closing the achievement gap, Luana has also worked for Summer on the Hill, I Have a Dream Foundation and Alianza Dominicana’s Summer Youth Employment program, all non-profit entities that support student success focusing on disenfranchised and bilingual populations. As a graduate student, Luana was a research assistant for the Research Institute for the Study of Languages in Urban Settings (RISLUS) in New York, where she helped develop and administer diagnostic tools to assess English proficiency levels of Spanish speaking immigrant Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE). Additionally, she served as a lead for strategic planning and implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives, presenting at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the National Dominican Student Conference at Wharton. Luana received her B.A. from SUNY New Paltz and her M.S. Ed. from the City College of New York. She obtained her Doctorate in Hispanic Linguistics from the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation entitled Lexical Density in Spanish Print Journalism: A Comparative Study Between the United States and Latin America has been quoted by the Royal Spanish Academy as insightful research that underscores the significance of lexical compatibility among Spanish speakers. She has presented at Wharton, Harvard, Universidad de la Habana, and in the near future, Universidad Nacionalde Bogotá. Currently, she is an appointed Empire Fellow under the Cuomo administration serving as the Chief of Staff for the Deputy Secretary for Licensing and Corporations. Included in her portfolio of responsibilities is enlisting stakeholders and Hispanic leaders to plan, develop and execute outreach and community development, focusing on the Hispanic/Latino community. Plausible strategies consist of creating and editing Spanish materials for the Governor’s Joint Task Force for Exploited and Misclassified workers as well working in conjunction with social media strategists on branding and marketing. In addition, she has become a community liaison between the New York Department of State and entities servicing Spanish bilingual and Latinoconstituencies. Luana also taught as an adjunct professor at CUNY Lehman and Teacher’s College. She is Dominican, born and raised in Washington Heights, New York and speaks Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

Assemblywoman Pat Fahy - NYS Assembly Higher Education Committee

Don Applyrs - Kipp Tech Valley Charter School

Dr. Paul Miller - Green Tech High School Charter

Jasmine Gripper Legislative Director & Statewide Education Advocate Alliance for Quality Education NY

Kelly Kimbrough - retired Albany Police Officer and current Common Council Member
Roslyn Jefferson - Albany Community Policing Advisory Committee
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