Durgham Alyasiri | Community Schools Zone Leader, Say Yes Buffalo
Durgham is driven by his personal sense of belonging to Buffalo and desire to be an impactful leader that provides opportunities for everyone to grow, prosper, and reach their full potential as contributing citizens in our community and country. As an advocate for marginalized groups, Durgham sees himself as a voice of empowerment to those in his community who seek equal opportunity and transformative support for themselves and their families. Those who are close to Durgham know how many hats he wears on a day-to-day basis as he carries on roles and responsibilities as a community leader, mentor, teacher, and role model for New Americans who come here with nothing but a dream and excellent work ethics. Durgham thrives the most when faced by challenges that test his ability to think outside the box, his flexibility, and his ability to problem solve.
Tia Brown | Community Engagement Coordinator, Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Tia is an educator, a creator, and a Buffalo, NY native. She holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University, has taught English in three countries and seen the sun set in over 70 cities. She is currently the communication engagement coordinator for preservation Buffalo Niagara, a nonprofit that identifies, protects, and promotes Western New York’s unique architecture and historic legacy, and connects people to the places they love. She is also an editor at Qween City – a lifestyle and culture webzine that documents women in the Western New York region. She’s living proof that English majors can find gainful employment and that you can go home again.
Danielle Burruss | Communications Coordinator, Neighborhood Health Center of WNY
Danielle currently serves as communications coordinator for Neighborhood Health Center, a nonprofit healthcare organization that offers primary and integrated healthcare services to more than 27,000 Western New Yorkers. She is a graduate of Buffalo State College where she majored in public relations and advertising. In addition to being the communications coordinator at Neighborhood Health Center, Danielle is the founder and president of G&G Empowerment Group, a Christian-based program for young women, part-owner of The Mahogany Events Venue and a freelance graphic designer. Danielle’s passion for community service and philanthropy is evident through her involvement with Say Yes Buffalo where she served as president for the Ambassador Program in 2018. In recognition of her dedication to the Say Yes Buffalo program and her community, Danielle was awarded the first [BN]spired Athena Award from The Buffalo News in 2017. Danielle is also the recipient of the 2020 Purposeful Women of Faith, “Exceptional Young Christian Woman” award from First Shiloh Baptist Church.
Terrell Chambers | Financial Empowerment Advisor/Housing intake Specialist, Catholic Charities of Western New York
Terrell is the financial empowerment advisor & housing specialist at Catholic Charities of Buffalo. Originally from the Bronx, Terrell earned his Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts from Daemen College. As a new resident of Buffalo, he persistently faced presumptions centering a narrative of adversity and stereotype affiliated with an inner-city upbringing from a notorious area. In reality, attending the first all-male public school in New York City, Eagle Academy for Young Men focused on fostering young male leaders, cultivated his mission to advocate for youth voice and leadership. This opportunity began his path of advocacy with a leadership program to advocate on the behalf of children by the Citizens Committee for Children in New York City and continued through the Men’s Leadership Program at Daemen College, engaging youth through a position with Wraparound Services of Child and Family Services, in addition to a position as intern secretary for the Vice President of the NAACP Buffalo Chapter. He maintains his goal to uplift youth from inner-city communities through volunteer mentoring with the Say Yes Mentoring Program and his current work at Catholic Charities to financially empower the community while addressing income and wealth gaps through a racial equity lens.
Stephanie Drzymala | Staff and Volunteer Coordinator, Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences
Stephanie is a local Buffalonian raised in the upper West Side of Buffalo. She graduated from D’ Youville College with a minor in Spanish for medical professionals. She is a proud Latina, and first runner up in the Miss Borinquen of Buffalo Leadership program in 2008. She is married with no children, but one cat that needs the attention of a child. She serves as the volunteer and staff engagement coordinator for the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, which encompasses the Buffalo Museum of Science and Tifft Nature Preserve. She also is a proud advisory board member of the Retired Senior & Volunteer Program through Erie County. Lastly, she is a proud aunt to an amazing little boy who is deaf and partially blind and currently learning ASL to become trilingual.
Kelly D. Dumas, LCSW | Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, BestSelf Behavioral Health
Kelly is a licensed clinical social worker, and has over 18 years of experience working in human services. Kelly is employed with BestSelf Behavioral Health in Buffalo, NY as the chief strategic initiatives officer. There she oversees the specialty substance use services, community-based treatment services, homeless and housing services, and leads the racial equity and inclusion work across the organization. Kelly enjoys singing- particularly praise and worship, reading, and spending time with her husband, Reggie, and two children, Denise and Dennis.
Collin Gehl | Talent Acquisition and Development Manager, Child and Family Services of Erie County
Collin has been with Child & Family Services since 2016 and is the talent acquisition and development manager. In that role, Collin recruits new staff, conducts orientations, and other staff development related training in the agency. In addition, he provides onsite HR support for Say Yes Buffalo. He also sits on the organization’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Collin has a background in non-profits, being a part of the original staff of the King Center Charter School, but also holds positions at the Buffalo History Museum, the Buffalo Museum of Science and Housing Opportunities Made Equal. Collin has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University at Buffalo and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Medaille College. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Buffalo Niagara Human Resources Association, Tapestry Charter School, and Just Buffalo Literary Center. He is also a member of the Emerging Philanthropists of Color (under the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo) and is an alumnus of Leadership Buffalo (RL ’04).
Jillian Hanesworth | Director of Leadership Development, Open Buffalo
Born and raised on the East side of Buffalo, NY, Jillian is a community activist, and the director of leadership development at Open Buffalo- a grassroots social justice organization that seeks to advance racial, economic, and ecological justice through skill building, network-connecting, and activating leadership opportunities. Jillian is also a professional spoken word artist and poetry writing and performance instructor who has always understood the importance of uplifting community voices, as well as the role art plays in social and political movements. Jillian’s dedication to social change through art has provided her the opportunity to become the inaugural Poet Laureate of Juneteenth in Buffalo, and the soon-to-be inaugural Poet Laureate of Buffalo, NY.
Jalonda Hill | Paralegal/Community Organizer, Western New York Law Center
At the age of 10 years old, Jalonda received the “Do the Right Thing Award” for donating food to a homeless couple in the city of Rochester. Since that time, Jalonda has gone on to do many more great things in her community. Currently, she is a paralegal at the Western New York Law Center (WNYLC), where she spearheads a coalition called the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition, which aims to end discriminatory traffic enforcement practices in Buffalo, NY, abolish fees in the criminal justice system, and to ensure that traffic fines are imposed equitably. Separate from those professional roles, she is the founder of Colored Girls Bike Too; which strives to empower all those who identify as Black women and Black GNC people to use biking commuting as an alternative/affordable mode of transport, a tool of empowerment, visibility, activism, and a tool for mental health. Originally from Rochester, New York, Jalonda holds a BA in psychology and a minor in sociology from the University at Buffalo, and an AS in communications from Monroe Community College. More recently, Jalonda was appointed to the city of Buffalo’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Board (BPB). Prior to this, Jalonda was a community researcher and community outreach specialist at the Partnership for the Public Good. As a study abroad student at the University at Ghana, she also worked as a community outreach specialist at Hopeline Institute in Accra, Ghana; assisting marginalized communities with small business loans, budgeting, and saving. Passionate about criminal justice reform and racial justice, in 2014, Jalonda became a researcher in the SBI legal research program at University at Buffalo and wrote a research paper on police brutality in the city of Buffalo.
Pete Hill | All Our Relations Special Initiatives Coordinator, Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties (NACS)
Pete is a citizen of the Cayuga Nation, Heron Clan and currently the “All Our Relations” special initiatives coordinator at Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, Inc. (NACS). Pete has worked at NACS for nearly 28 years, having developed several successful programs and services in many areas of health and wellness promotion, staff and organizational capacity, and integration of Native American cultural perspectives into program design and evaluation. He has been recognized several times for his efforts and contributions to help the community move beyond the impact of historical traumas and related factors that have negatively impacted the inter-generational health and vitality of Native Americans. Because of his understanding of cultural perspectives, diversity, inclusion, trauma-informed care, residual impacts of historical trauma, and community healing efforts, Pete has also been invited to join several coalitions and advisory groups at local, regional, and national levels.
Pamela Jackson | HUD Certified Housing Counselor and Financial Coach, Belmont Housing Resources for WNY
Pamela provides housing and financial coaching services through the Family Stability Program. The Family Stability Program is a partnership between the Siemer Institute, the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, and Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York. Pamela provides a variety of case management, coaching, and linkage services focused on helping low-income families improve their housing, financial, and educational stability and prevent homelessness and student mobility. Through a partnership with Buffalo Public Schools, Pamela is able to reach participants in innovative ways and utilize a holistic and two-generation approach. Pamela has her bachelor’s degree in social work from Buffalo State College and a background in community involvement, cultural responsiveness and diversity, and work with low-income children and families. Additionally, she is a HUD certified housing counselor and working on her master’s in real estate development from the University at Buffalo.
Sarah Johnson | People and Operations Manager, City Year Buffalo
Sarah (she/her/hers pronouns) is a Buffalo NY native. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work, with a minor in philosophy, from Buffalo State College. After college, she moved to Milwaukee, WI for two years to serve as a program director with Cathedral Squared Enterprises, and guest support specialist with the cathedral, through the Tau Volunteer Program. Through these positions, she primarily served unhoused people. Now back in Buffalo, she is currently the people and operations manager at City Year Buffalo, where she is also serving on the Equity Council. She is also a board member for Ten Thousand Villages Buffalo, and is serving on the operations committee for Big Big Table, a soon to open pay what you can cafe.
Erika Kastel | Director of Development, Literacy Buffalo Niagara
Erika is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, award winning, public relations, community development, event planning and non for-profit professional who has worked with a diverse group of high-profile individuals to develop extraordinary community based projects establishing collaborative relationships and partnerships. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in May of 2019. Fluent in four languages, Erika has worked in diverse and fast paced top organizations between Mexico and the U.S. Erika holds an MBA from Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) and is also an alumni of Leadership Niagara ’18. She is currently enrolled in the Class Experience of Leadership Buffalo ‘20 and in the Fund Development Boot Camp Class of 2020 with the re-known fundraising guru, Linda Ray.
Brandy Loveland, LMSW | Director of Community Engagement, Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition
Brandy is the director of community engagement at Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition. In this position, she has worked to promote and advocate for justice, empowerment, and equity. She has been a proponent of restorative practices in the Buffalo School District and has led holistic afterschool programming in community schools and community centers. She has also built strong partnerships with local, police, non-profits, agencies, colleges, and block clubs to promote restorative practices to strengthen communities and offer community conferencing. Through these partnerships, and community need, Brandy had also developed community programs, such as the, YK716, the H.O.P.E. Leadership Academy and Summit, and Buffalo’s Children’s Business Fair. Prior to her position at ECRJC, Brandy worked as a social worker with Baker Victory Services, where she worked closely with families connected with the Erie County Department of Social Services, the DDSO, and DJJOY. Brandy also worked was a case manager at the YWCA for homeless families and families looking to escape domestic violence, and the Salvation Army, working with PINS and runaway youth.
Robin Mann, LMSW | Executive Director, Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Robin is the executive director of the Prevention Council of Erie County, a non-profit, providing substance abuse education, prevention programs and early interventions. Robin received her undergraduate degree in psychology from SUNY Brockport and continued her education at the University of Buffalo in the School of Social Work with a concentration in chemical dependency. As an experienced LMSW, Robin has both provided direct services to school-aged children and families and helped to facilitate macro-level change through policy to create healthier communities. A God-fearing woman, Robin is blessed to have a wonderful husband and two amazing children. Robin is a member of the Antioch Baptist Church and The Links Inc., volunteer and former president of her children school’s PTO. In her spare time, Robin enjoys traveling, crafting, listening to music and uplifting others.
Sherrell McLean | Care Coordinator, Buffalo Prenatal Perinatal Network
Sherrell is the care coordinator and breastfeeding specialist at Buffalo Prenatal Perinatal Network, working with women who are pregnant, parenting, or of childbearing age in need of reproductive health plans. Through supervision and training of community health workers and engaging in home visits, Sherrell aids to address health, psycho-social, and socioeconomic needs related to accessibility, adequacy, and acceptability of services and resources for minority women. Aside from work as a licensed social worker, Sherrell is a member of the Buffalo Urban League Young Professionals, serving as the current health and wellness committee chair. Sherrell is also active in the WNY Volleyball community, previously as the assistant women’s volleyball coach at D’Youville College for three years and over the past eight years, volunteering as a head and assistant coach for Nickel City Volleyball Club, local camps and clinics, and the Varsity/JV programs at City Honors School.
Seeta Persaud | Director of Development and Communications, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo
Seeta became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1980s after emigrating from Guyana in 1979 to Queens, NY. The eldest child of an immigrant, working class, Indo-Caribbean family, Seeta is a first generation high school and college graduate. She is a licensed attorney with a background in human rights law, policy advocacy, and new media messaging. She serves as the development and communications director for a nonprofit that provides legal advocacy for indigent Western New Yorkers. Her key responsibilities include communications, multimedia messaging, website development and graphic design, and social justice advocacy. As a workers’ and consumers’ rights attorney, she’s handled employment discrimination claims, discrimination in educational contexts, unpaid wage claims, union-related matters, and consumer protection claims. In her spare time she dabbles in portrait and wildlife photography, as well as astrophotography. She is also a certified RYT0200 Hatha Yoga Teacher and certified 240-Hr Qigong Instructor.
Elhanna Phillips Porter | Employment and Training Manager, Visually Impaired Advancement
Elhanna is the training and employment manager at Visually Impaired Advancement (formerly the Olmsted Center for Sight). Having been with the agency since 2011, she has worked with clients in a variety of roles, most recently as an assistive technology trainer and the head of job placement services. As a member of VIA’s workforce development department, Elhanna spearheaded the development of a fully accessible learning management system and online vocational training programs and, in the process, discovered a passion for exploring the use of distance learning in non-traditional environments. Elhanna holds a BA in history from Bryn Mawr College and a certificate in Assistive Technology Applications from California State University, Northridge. In her free time, she enjoys baking, reading, and embroidery.
Yanush Sanmugaraja | Economic Development Director, Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Inc.
Yanush has always enjoyed learning about how businesses are put together to operate and finding ways to support these businesses in their growth. When Yanush was 12, he had built and managed a self-operating online radio and community for teenagers, which still operates on its own to this day. During this time, he also worked with micro web hosting companies that provided affordable hosting solutions for bloggers and small online communities. Yanush did this up until he went off to college to study economics and sociology, and graduated from State University of New York Geneseo. Immediately after graduating in 2016, Yanush became an economic development specialist at Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) where he provided business counseling services to businesses seeking startup support or help with scaling. After serving in this position, Yanush became the economic development director and now oversees the lending and technical assistance provided to entrepreneurs and business owners through the program. Yanush is dedicated to the mission of WEDI and is excited to assist blossoming businesses that are creating jobs and contributing to the region’s economy.
Renata R. Toney | Communications Manager, Burchfield Penny Art Center
Renata is a communications manager at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. Her responsibilities include implementing marketing and communications campaigns promoting exhibitions, programs, resources, acquisitions, and special events to local, national, and international media and favorably branding the museum to facilitate audience and visitor growth. Born in Albany, NY, Renata is also the owner of On Message Communication, a New York State Certified MWBE results-oriented marketing communications consultancy. A graduate of City Honors School, she holds a bachelor’s degree in public communication from SUNY Buffalo State. Her significant donation of time and talent after hours to community service throughout her career is far-reaching. She currently serves on the board of directors of Assembly House 150, Pappy Martin Legacy Society Jazz Collective, The Service Collaborative of WNY and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.
India Walton | Executive Director, Fruit Belt Community Land Trust
India was born raised and educated in Buffalo, NY. India fought with her mother against mandatory minimums as an adolescent in the mid- and late 1990’s. After becoming a registered nurse, she fought for workers and women’s reproductive rights as a union member leader. As a resident of the Fruit Belt neighborhood, and after graduating Open Buffalo’s inaugural class of Emerging Leaders in 2015, she worked with her Fruit Belt family to win the first residential parking permit system and incorporate the first community-controlled land trust in the city of Buffalo. India joined Open Buffalo in 2017 as a community organizer for its Justice and Opportunity campaigns, focusing on criminal justice and police reform. Currently, India is the founding executive director of FB Community Land Trust assuring that housing in Buffalo’s historic Fruit Belt neighborhood will be affordable for generations to come.
Richie Wills | Program Assistant and Teaching Artist, Just Buffalo Literary Center
Richie holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The State University of New York at Buffalo. Richie is a program assistant and teaching artist who works with the team at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Richie has worked as a writing center and BABEL volunteer and as an outreach coordinator for Words on the Street and The Mocha Center. He is currently a program assistant and teacher at the Just Buffalo Literary Center, as well as a contributing writer for The Galactic Tribe and continues to work as a community organizer. Richie believes in the power of the written word and storytelling to help envision alternate futures and create new possibilities.
Travis Wood | Administrative Coordinator, Safety Net Association of Primary Care Affiliated Providers
Travis grew up in rural upstate New York as one of extremely few people of color in the entire town. He was blessed to have an amazing family, and fortunate to grow up in athletics, so it wasn’t until later in high school when he started to realize the effects of not being a part of the majority. It really sunk in when he was the first person in his direct family to attend a four-year university at SUNY Buffalo, which was his first true exposure on his own to see life outside of where he grew up. At first it was very confounding, but as he grew more secure, gained knowledge in and outside the classroom and found direction in his life, he began to excel, ending his university career being President of SUNY Buffalo’s School of Business study abroad class in Singapore. He works at SNAPCAP Inc., a non-profit collective of community health centers who’s mission it is to serve the most vulnerable people in our WNY community, the traditionally underserved, impoverished, minorities, LGBTQ+ and many others. He is happily married to his wife, Nikki Wood, who immigrated from Vietnam as a young girl, and they have two wonderful children, Camden and Naomi.