Advocacy Leadership Accelerator – 2022-2023 Cohort

Meet the participants in our first-ever Advocacy Leadership Accelerator (ALA) program! In recruiting for this year’s inaugural Accelerator, we actively sought a regionally diverse cohort from various parts of NY State. We also prioritized participants from BIPOC-led organizations doing community organizing.

We are very excited to have the following individuals and their respective organizations participate in the 2022-2023 Accelerator. Learn more about our ALA participants by reading their bios below!

Bridge Rauch

Environmental Justice Organizer, Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CAC)

Carolyn Headlam

Co-Founder/Organizer, Ithaca Housing Collective (IHC)

Deysi Flores

Supervisor of the Workers’ Health and Safety Program, Make the Road New York

Funmi Akinnawonu

Advocacy & Policy Manager, Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative

Bridge Rauch, Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CAC)

Bridge Rauch (they/them) is an Environmental Justice Organizer for the Clean Air Coalition of WNY in Buffalo NY. Their work focuses on environmental justice campaigns in the Tonawandas and the industrial areas north of the City of Buffalo. Bridge is working on the NYS Brownfield Cleanup campaign, which seeks to shift the Brownsfield Cleanup Program (BCP) to have goals and rules that prioritize environmental justice for communities, to ensure job creation, community input, and accountability for polluters.

They have a master’s of Regional Planning from SUNY Albany and have volunteered and worked extensively in Buffalo’s non-profit sector, including at the Coalition for Economic Justice, where they currently serve as a board member and volunteer for the Buffalo Transit Riders United and Buffalo Mutual Aid Network campaigns. Their two cats, which you will very likely see prowling around during video chats, are named Kurt and Sean.

Deysi Flores, Make the Road New York

Deysi Flores is the Civil Rights and Immigration Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York, where she provides technical knowledge and support to win legislative campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels to advance immigrant justice. She is working on the #Coverage4All campaign, which seeks to expand health care coverage to all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.

Deysi is a psychologist by training and has more than 10 years of experience working on advancing social inclusion. Previously, she worked as supervisor of the Workers’ Health and Safety Program at MRNY, overseeing curriculum development, training, and strengthening partner relations. She has also been a Co-Principal Investigator for the Safe and Just Cleaners project, community-based participatory research documenting cleaning chemicals exposure among Latinx household cleaners in New York. Before moving to NYC, Deysi spent 7 years working on educational and social projects in Peru. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing to Latin music, traveling, and reading about history, foreign policy, and well-being.

Funmi Akinnawonu, Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative

Funmi Akinnawonu is the Advocacy & Policy Manager at the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative where she advocates for access to counsel and access to justice issues for immigrant New Yorkers. She is working on the Access to Representation campaign, which seeks to ensure a right to counsel for all immigrants facing deportation in New York.

She was previously a Legal Fellow at the Mississippi Center for Justice where she worked on humanitarian-based immigration cases. During law school, she worked in the Vanderbilt Immigration Practice Clinic, and externed at the ACLU of Tennessee and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Prior to law school she worked on public information and fundraising campaigns concerning issues such as LGBTQ and reproductive rights. As an immigrant herself, she is passionate about advocating for the rights of immigrants across New York.

She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and New York University where she received her bachelors in history and anthropology.

Gemma Calinda

Lead Hudson Valley Organizer, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network

Julie Dragonetti

Campaign Organizer, Workers Justice Center of New York

Katie Hayden

Campaign Coordinator, ALIGN – The Alliance for a Greater New York

Kayla Kelechian

Manager of Member Engagement, Central NY, New York Immigration Coalition

Gemma Calinda, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network

Gemma currently serves as the Hudson Valley organizer at Hand in Hand in New York. Deeply appreciative of the support she received from her home attendants over the years, she is working on the Fair Pay for Home Care campaign, which seeks to raise home care wages to 150% of the minimum wage.

Gemma Calinda was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a teenager and has used a wheelchair for the last seven years. She received her B.A. in Legal Communications from Howard University and a Master’s of Science Management in healthcare from Kaplan University.

Julie Dragonetti, Worker Justice Center of NY

Julie Dragonetti is a Campaign Organizer with the Worker Justice Center of New York. She is working on the Excluded No More campaign, which seeks to provide unemployment compensation to workers who are excluded from regular unemployment insurance because of their immigration status or because of the kind of work they do.

Based in Rochester, NY, Julie’s work focuses on organizing statewide campaigns for immigrants’ and workers’ rights. Julie has previously organized with the Syracuse Immigrant and Refugee Defense Network and volunteered with the Workers’ Center of Central New York. Julie graduated from the University of Scranton with a Bachelor of Science in Counseling & Human Services and Hispanic Studies.

Katie Hayden, ALIGN

Katie Hayden is a Campaign Coordinator with ALIGN. She is working on the New Yorkers for Fair Economy (NYFE) campaign, which seeks to pass the 21st Century Anti-Trust Act, which would update New York’s primary antitrust law, to provide workers, consumers, and local businesses with significant new protections, and put New York at the forefront of the national fight against the corporate control of our economy and democracy.

Katie started her organizing career in Massachusetts with the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, creating a state-wide political and legislative education program for union members and working on a successful ballot initiative to keep the cap on charter schools. Since then she has organized in various labor, community, and electoral spaces, most recently as the Deputy Director of Distributed Campaigning for Senator Ed Markey’s reelection campaign. Katie received her MPA from the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Kayla Kelechian, New York Immigration Coalition

Kayla is a Tejana living in Syracuse for the past decade and she is the Manager of Organizing and Strategy, CNY, with the New York Immigration Coalition. She is working on the Access to Representation campaign, which seeks to ensure a right to counsel for all immigrants facing deportation in New York. She also focuses on leadership development, and coalition building in the region by supporting NYIC Members on their local campaigns, like farmworker Organizing.

Kayla got her start in advocacy working abroad with Karen refugees on the Thai-Myanmar border to support a number of community development projects. In 2008, She relocated to Central New York at the height of refugee resettlement and worked as a community problem solver and participated in multiple bilingual literacy projects for adult learners. Kayla was an organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York, whose members took part in the historic passing of the Greenlight law, and the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. Currently she is the statewide lead for the Access to Representation Act with the NYIC.

Kim Belizaire

Director of Advocacy, Good Call

Lauren Galloway

Advocacy Coordinator, Coalition for Homeless Youth

Lloyd Feng

Special Projects Policy Coordinator, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families

Lukee Forbes

Civil Rights Coordinator, Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition

Kim Belizaire, Good Call

Kim is the Director of Advocacy leading the design and management of overall policy and advocacy strategies for Good Call’s criminal justice priorities. She is working on the Early Legal Intervention campaign, which seeks to increase access to justice and police accountability through Early Legal Intervention, so that any arrested individual has immediate access to legal representation at the precinct before the arraignment process and before any police interrogation.

Prior to joining Good Call, she worked at Airbnb as a Community Affairs Manager overseeing policy and advocacy engagement with local hosts, organizations, small businesses, and nonprofits. Kim co-founded NYC Black@Airbnb, an Employee Resource Group providing opportunities for black employees to join together around shared life experiences and have their voices elevated within the company and the community. Kim has a background in community organizing and politics, serving as Deputy Field Director for the Bill Owens for Congress Campaign.

Kim was born in Port-au-prince Haiti, attended HS in Ballston Spa, NY, and holds a BA in Criminal Justice from SUNY Plattsburgh. Her work was recognized by the Nonprofit New York Advocacy and Strategic Alliances and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award.

Lauren Galloway, Coalition for Homeless Youth

Lauren Galloway (she/they), Advocacy Coordinator for the Coalition for Homeless Youth, brings to this role her passion for housing as a human right with a mix of direct service, empathetic mindfulness, and continued advocacy. She is working on the Youth Access to Health Care campaign, which seeks to permit young people under the age of 18 who are capable of making decisions about their care to consent to their own health care. She wants to use her voice and actions to help create a ripple of transformative justice throughout NY state that will lead to systems being more inclusive, anti-oppressive, and pro-unity for all people.

Lloyd Feng, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF)

Lloyd Feng (he/him) serves as the Special Projects Policy Coordinator at the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF). In his current role, he develops and organizes support for CACF’s policy and legislative agenda, focusing on policy implementation and oversight of data disaggregation of AAPI in New York State.

Lloyd is working on the Invisible No More campaign, which seeks to ensure accurate data on our diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. He is working closely with key stakeholders including community leaders and partners, government agencies, elected officials, and researchers to ensure that data disaggregation is administered responsibly and effectively on behalf of our community. In addition to leading CACF’s data disaggregation policy advocacy, Lloyd advocates for fair and effective representation of AAPI communities in NYC and NYS redistricting efforts, representing CACF in the APA VOICE Redistricting Task Force.

Lloyd is a native New Yorker, having grown up in Washington Heights (but not a Yankees fan), and now lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where he is a member of Brooklyn Community Board 1. Let’s Go Mets!

Lukee Forbes, Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition

Lukee Forbes is the Civil Rights Coordinator for the Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition. He is working on the Clean Slate campaign, which seeks to automatically clear a New Yorker’s conviction record once they have completed their jail/prison/parole time and had no further convictions. After serving seven years in prison for a charge that was ultimately overturned on appeal, Lukee has consistently pursued his passion for mentoring and reaching out to the youth.

Mayra Aldás-Deckert

Lead Organizer, Riders Alliance

Nishat Tabassum

Fund Excluded Worker Coalition Manager, Make the Road New York

Prarthana Gurung

Director of Campaigns & Communications, Adhikaar

Quadira Coles

Deputy Director of Policy, Girls for Gender Equity

Mayra Aldás-Deckert, Riders Alliance

Mayra is the Lead Organizer at Riders Alliance where she mobilizes the organization’s grassroots base of transit riders and leads the organization’s campaigns. She is working on the #6MinuteService campaign, which seeks to ensure 6-minute service all day, every day to give riders their time back and build a more sustainable public transit system.

Mayra has been a strong advocate for immigrant communities for years. Before joining Riders Alliance, she was the Director of Community Engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition where she managed a number of initiatives, implemented outreach strategies to engage New York City’s diverse communities, and served as the main coordinator of the NYIC’s Key to the City Initiative. Mayra is a graduate of Brooklyn College with a B.S. in Business Management and Finance. In Ambato, she completed three years of Commercial Engineering with a focus in Management and Business Planning at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. A native of Ecuador, Mayra moved to New York City with her family in 2005. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

Nishat Tabassum, Make the Road New York

Nishat is leading and supporting the efforts of the Fund Excluded Workers coalition, a campaign that was launched at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to secure access to emergency relief for excluded essential and cash-economy workers in New York State as a response to mass unemployment. In April 2021, the statewide coalition won $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund – the largest cash assistance program for undocumented and informal workers in the history of this country. As program coordinator, she has overseen the implementation of the Excluded Workers Fund program for thousands of community members, securing millions in relief as a result. She also coordinates statewide organizing efforts with other organizations engaged in the coalition, including mass mobilizations, direct actions and advocacy efforts to pass Excluded No More (S8165 / A9037), a first of its kind permanent Excluded Worker Unemployment Program.

Nishat’s professional career spans various issue-based sectors within public service, government and non-profit. She began her career designing and implementing youth and community development programs both nationally and internationally, first with the All Stars Project and, later, as a Peace Corps Youth Development specialist in Morocco. Since returning from Morocco in 2018, Nishat has focused more on government and public policy efforts. She has worked with New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, primarily in direct service and securing social benefits for constituents of her district. She was also selected as a National Urban Fellow, participating in a rigorous 14-month fellowship program for mid-career professionals who are committed to public service and completed her Masters in Policy Management from Georgetown University. As part of her fellowship, she also completed a mentorship assignment at New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation in improving access to HIV prevention tools for patients in the South Bronx. Over the last several years, Nishat has worked on national and statewide advocacy campaigns. During the presidential election, she oversaw all of the logistical coordination for Election Defenders, a campaign sponsored by the Working Families Party, United We Dream Action, and Black Lives Matter Electoral Justice Project. It was a non-partisan initiative that supported pro-democracy efforts by organizing thousands of volunteers nationally during the 2020 presidential election and the January 2021 Georgia run-off election to fight voter suppression.

Nishat holds a M.A. in Policy Management from Georgetown University and a B.A. in International Studies from CUNY City College of New York. She is also an alumni of Peace Corps, National Urban Fellows, and the Colin Powell Fellowship for Leadership and Public Service.

Prarthana Gurung, Adhikaar

Prarthana Gurung is the first-generation daughter of Nepali immigrants, born and raised in the South. She is currently the Director of Campaigns & Communications at Adhikaar, a Queens-based community and worker center that organizes the Nepali-speaking immigrant and refugee community. As one of her many roles, Prarthana leads Adhikaar’s nail salon organizing, with her small but mighty team, backed by a 1,400-strong worker base. She is working on the All Hands In campaign, which seeks to achieve the long-term sustainability of the nail salon industry where workers’ rights are respected, consumer health is protected, and salon owners no longer feel that they have to engage in illegal and exploitative practices to stay in business, by convening key stakeholders to develop new minimum workplace standards and a new minimum pricing model for nail services in New York State.

Prarthana returned to Adhikaar in early 2017 after four years in Washington, DC where she scaled up campaign communications for local grassroots groups working on anti-fracking and indigenous land rights in several states. During her time there, Prarthana also supported communications for DCFerguson, a broad coalition of groups that called on the DC Council to repurpose $2.9 million in funds for new police officers to support community-led peacekeeping initiatives. Prarthana currently resides in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Quadira Coles, Girls for Gender Equity

Quadira is the Director of Policy at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) and the President of the New Jersey Abortion Access Fund. She is working on GGE’s campaigns in three issue areas: Ending Youth Criminalization, Ending Gender-Based Violence and Ending School Pushout/Education Justice.

Quadira Coles is a Penn State and John Jay College alumni with a BS in Criminal Justice and a MPA in Public Policy. Her undergrad work as a domestic violence advocate at Blair County Courthouse and Youth Counselor at a child welfare agency fueled her passion for policy, politics, and a desire to be a catalyst for change. Quadira has served as a Policy Advocacy Fellow at the Legal Action Center, working on policies that intersect Health and Criminal Justice. She has worked on a winning Town Council grassroots campaign for the town’s first Latina Councilmember as the Millennial/GenZ Outreach Coordinator and served as IGNITE National’s New York Region Fellow, where she worked with a large number of young women to organize and engage them to become politically active leaders in their communities.

Steffany Cielo

Program Coordinator, Street Vendor Project

Tanvier Peart

Director of Policy Advancement, Partnership for the Public Good

Tela Troge

Director, Shinnecock Kelp Farmers

Steffany Cielo, Street Vendor Project

Steffany Cielo is the Program Coordinator at the Street Vendor Project (SVP). She is a first-generation college graduate and daughter to immigrant parents, born and raised in the world’s borough Queens, NY where she still resides. At SVP, her goal is to enhance accessibility to basic resources and give back to communities that were severely impacted by COVID-19. She is working on the Excluded No More campaign, which seeks to provide unemployment compensation to workers who are excluded from regular unemployment insurance because of their immigration status or because of the kind of work they do. She has been leading SVP’s Excluded Worker Fund Program where she and her team have assisted over 1,000 applicants with their Excluded Worker Fund Applications. She also works closely with the vending community to enhance their businesses and build upon their entrepreneurial ventures.

Tanvier Peart, Partnership for the Public Good

Tanvier Peart is a Buffalo-area resident by way of Baltimore who first joined Partnership for Public Good as coordinator for the Buffalo Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) working group. She is working on the Communities Not Cages campaign, which seeks to overhaul New York’s racist and draconian sentencing laws that funnel thousands of New Yorkers into cages and fail to deliver safety, healing, or justice.

As the Director of Policy Advancement, she guides advocacy strategies to advance the Community Agenda and other related policy goals. She will serve as a lead communicator with PPG partners on policy issues and government relations. Tanvier was previously the Just Recovery Coordinator when she joined PPG in 2020, leading the new initiative to implement policies that contend with long-standing inequities magnified during the pandemic.

Tanvier continues to work alongside communities, advocates, and legislators to address the impact of our current crises—and its effects on divested and historically excluded communities—creating short- and long-term strategies to counter structural inequalities throughout the region and state.

A graduate of the University of Baltimore and chosen recipient of the College of Public Affairs’ 2021 Dean’s Advisory Council Award for Academic Excellence, Tanvier has a Master’s in Public Administration focusing on public policy. She leads the Free the People WNY state working group, represents PPG on the Communities Not Cages and People’s Campaign for Parole Justice steering committees, and is a member of various coalitions and networks—including Justice Roadmap, Clean Slate NY, Daniel’s Law Coalition, NY Renews, WNY Digital Equity Coalition, and more. Tanvier is a board member on the WNED/WBFO Educational Services Committee and served on the Homeless Alliance of Western New York’s task force for the Youth Homelessness Demonstration.

Tela Troge, Shinnecock Kelp Farmers

Tela Troge, Esq. is a member of the Shinnecock Nation and a member of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Tribe. She is working on a campaign to pass a statewide graves protection law, which would protect all unmarked burials in the state of New York from developers. She recently organized the Warriors of the Sunrise Sovereignty Camp 2020 in an attempt to raise awareness about the plight of the Shinnecock people.

Tela graduated from Michigan State University College of Law with a Juris Doctor and certification in Indigenous Law and Policy from the Indigenous Law Program. She has been fighting for tribal sovereignty for the past 5 years as the attorney with the Law Offices of Tela L. Troge, PLLC.