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New Leaders Council

Capital District NY 2016 Fellows

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Meet the 2016 Capital District NY Fellows

Amir Bassiri, Empire State Fellow, New York State Government Executive Cabinet


Amir Bassiri is a Licensed Master of Social Work currently serving in the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of the Empire State Fellow Program, which trains professionals to be the next generation of State policymakers. Amir works in the Executive Chamber with the Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services on several areas of Health and Human services policy. Prior to being an Empire Fellow, Amir worked as Director of Development at Urban Upbound, a non-profit organization committed to breaking cycles of poverty in New York City. As Director of Development, Amir reported directly to the President & CEO on a variety of financial, strategic and operational matters, as well as oversaw the Development Department, including the Research and Evaluation Team. During his time at Urban Upbound, Amir secured a diverse mix of revenue sources that increased the organizational budget, and developed several public/private partnerships, including one of which resulted in the creation of a worker-owned cooperative. Amir also led and managed the creation of a living financial model, which assesses both program and contract profitability to guide strategic decision-making. A California native, Amir graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Economics and Psychology (Double Major), before earning a Master’s in Social Enterprise Administration (M.S.W), from Columbia University. Amir is also fluent in Farsi.


Kathleen Brady-Stepien, Director of Advocacy, Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies


A native of Buffalo, New York, Kathleen is passionate about child welfare and particularly passionate about working to achieve policy solutions that improve the foster care system. Currently, she is the Director of Advocacy for the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), a statewide organization that represents over 100 child welfare nonprofits; Kathleen works to develop COFCCA's budget and legislative advocacy positions and acts as a liaison between member agencies and state agencies. Kathleen is a graduate of Vassar College, where she earned a BA in English, and SUNY Buffalo, where she earned a Masters in Social Work degree. Her professional experiences have varied from managerial positions to clinical and direct practice roles. After graduating from Vassar, Kathleen managed and led after-school programs in the city of Buffalo for low-income students attending schools in need of improvement. She directed programming and led staff as director of the Southside Boys and Girls Club, where she created and executed programming to prevent summer learning loss. Kathleen supervised parent-child visits as a social worker at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and taught a GED class of domestic violence survivors through the Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Division. Kathleen is a 2014 Center for Women in Government Fellow; during her fellowship, she focused on foster care policy at the NYS Office of Children and Family Services. She currently co-chairs the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society's Fellowship Alumnae Network.

Shannon Cantiello, Director of Finance and Operations, New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence


Shannon Cantiello is the Director of Finance and Operations at the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, a State agency that works to improve New York State’s response to and prevention of domestic violence with the goal of enhancing the safety of all New Yorkers in their intimate and family relationships. In this role, she assists in the direction, development, and implementation of statewide domestic violence policy and program directives and manages all aspects of the agency’s finances. Prior to her time at OPDV, Shannon served as a Legislative Budget Analyst for the New York State Assembly Majority Ways and Means Committee with a portfolio focused on Human Services issues. Throughout her time at the Assembly, she assisted in the development and analysis of policies aimed to improve the lives of children and families. Shannon began her career as an advocate working on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the legal, medical, housing and social services systems at Wellspring (formerly known as Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County). In this work, she gained an understanding of the many barriers to safety and well-being faced individuals experiencing domestic and sexual violence and also, the many weaknesses of the legal and community networks potentially accessed by survivors as they navigate crisis. Shannon holds a Masters degree in History with a concentration in Public Policy from the University at Albany and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History/Political Science and Education from the College of Saint Rose. She is passionate about social and economic justice issues and is focused on building a career that addresses these issues at the structural level and betters the lives of the most vulnerable. In her spare time, she has continued volunteering with domestic and sexual violence service providers and recently, became a Wish Granter with the Make A Wish Foundation of Northeastern New York. She resides in Albany, NY with her husband, Joel, and their adorable dog, Charlie.


Jasmine Clemons, Student Assistant, NYS Division of the Budget


Currently, Jasmine A. Clemons is a Graduate Assistant to the Deputy Director of the NYS Division of the Budget, while she works to complete her Master of Public Administration at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. Jasmine also has served as a John M. Reilly Legislative Intern for United University Professions, assisting with policy research and member advocacy. Prior to these positions, she was honored to be selected as a 2015 Fellow on Women & Public Policy, spending her fellowship with the NYS Department of Transportation, Public Transportation Bureau, researching and working as a state liaison for issues affecting the transit disadvantaged. A native Southerner, Jasmine was born in Louisiana and grew up in Kentucky and spent over a decade in Florida before moving to the Capital District. While in the Sunshine State, Jasmine had a successful management career within the private sector before ultimately deciding that she could no longer continue neglecting her passion for progressive politics. Some of these private sector roles include Sales & Marketing Manager for Morton's the Steakhouse, Palm Beach and Business Development Manager for two food & beverage outlets within a Tallahassee boutique hotel. Jasmine earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Troy University and has volunteered with many different organizations, including the Junior League and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. In her free time, she most enjoys traveling to visit family and friends, reading non-fiction and watching almost any sporting event.


Desiree Farley, Healthcare Program Specialist, NYS Department of Health


Desiree is a self-defined feminist, advocate, political organizer, and fundraiser for social justice causes. As a young woman, Desiree challenged oppressive forces wherever they existed. She stood up to school officials who suppressed her peers’ rights to self- express in violation of the dictates of social constructs of gender identities. She began advocating for women’s reproductive health and LGBTQ rights as an undergraduate student at the University at Albany. Traveling the country to lobby for progressive legislation, Desiree gained insights into the power that public policy has in shaping everyday lives of the most vulnerable groups. While completing a Master’s degree in Women’s studies focusing specifically on public policy, Desiree worked full time at a non-profit organization to privatize funding for programs and services specific to LGBT people of color communities while also helping to develop an economic stimulus for Albany’s distressed communities. While participating in lobbying and grassroots efforts to push forward progressive policies in New York State, she also participated in political campaigns of progressive candidates. As a 2015 Women in Government & Civil Society Fellow, Desiree identified, tracked and analyzed relevant research and trends regarding reproductive health care with the purpose of advancing policy initiatives that support the legislative and regulatory agenda of Family Planning Advocates of New York State. Desiree is furthering her education at the School of Public Health at the University at Albany and works as a Healthcare Program Specialist with the Office of Quality and Patient Safety at the New York State Department of Health.


John Kelly, Program Coordinator, Empire Justice Center


Jack Kelly currently works for the nonprofit law firm Empire Justice Center as the coordinator of the new York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS-MAP). The MAP program, funded by the Office of the Attorney General, works in New York City with partner groups, and outside of New York City with Empire Justice, to lend money to homeowners in danger of losing their homes due to outstanding debt. Jack coordinates the program on Long Island and all of Upstate New York over to Buffalo. Prior to working for Empire Justice, Jack worked with a housing organization and has a background in government and marketing. Jack graduated from Stetson University with a BA in Political Science and American Studies.



Jordan Lesser, Legal Counsel, New York State Assembly


Jordan Lesser currently works as Legal Counsel for the New York State Assembly, where he has been able to lead in environmental and energy policymaking. As a former National Park Ranger in Arizona and Louisiana, and with a background in water law and natural resources law, he has brought this expertise to the state capitol during an exciting time for development of energy and environmental policy. He has a Juris Doctor from Tulane Law School with an Environmental Law Certificate, and a B.A. in Medieval History from Cornell University. He also serves as Co-Chair of the International Law Committee for the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law, as well as Chair of a Water Law Subcommittee. He is also a member of the City of Albany Sustainability Advisory Committee’s Water Subcommittee where he looks at the city’s water resources in the face of climate change. Additionally, Jordan has joined the Coordinating Committee of the World Energy Forum, to focus on international compliance with the Paris climate agreements. Some of Jordan’s legislative work includes drafting numerous laws about hydraulic fracturing in New York to improve the oil and gas leasing practices, codify local zoning control, and more. He wrote and filed amicus briefs at all three court levels in the landmark Town of Dryden lawsuit, which was favorably decided in 2014 by the New York Court of Appeals to uphold local zoning ordinances over oil and gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing was banned statewide in summer 2015. He also drafted and negotiated the Aquatic Invasive Species Transport Law which was enacted in 2014, and the New York State Carbon Tax legislation introduced in 2015, among many other initiatives. Jordan was a panelist at the 2015 Tulane Law School Summit on Environmental Law and Policy, in conjunction with his Tulane Environmental Law Journal article published in Summer 2015. He has also been a guest lecturer in environmental policy at State University of New York at Albany. Jordan is an avid traveler and most recently went to Iceland, and to Guatemala to aid impoverished women and children in remote villages. He is a member of the Albany Curling Club and enjoys cooking, canoeing and astronomy.


Renee Lewis, Member Specialist, State Employees Federal Credit Union


As a Member Specialist at State Employees Federal Credit Union, Renee assist members with basic financial transactions such as answering any banking inquires; on both member account information and SEFCU's products and services. On a daily basis, Renee strives to establish and deepen relationships with prospective and current SEFCU members. Prior to working at SEFCU, she received her B.S in Mathematics at the State University at Albany. During her undergraduate career she participated in the New York State Senate Democratic Conference Internship program, where she conducted research on policies dealing with Minority and Women-Owned Business(MWBE). Also interning with the Office of Minority/Women Owned Businesses where she helped coordinate summer events like Africa American Family Day and Plaza Lites. Along with her extracurricular activities and a rigorous academic course load she also maintained a position as a customer service representative for both the athletic department and the university bookstore. Renee hopes to advance within her current role at SEFCU to help optimize new products, control costs, reduce risk, and build deeper customer relationships through analysis of consumer and marketing data collected. Aside from work, Renee volunteers during her spare time. Recent volunteer efforts include; helping low-income families shop for holiday gifts through CoNSERNS-U non-profit, assisting with Hope Houses annual holiday party, Equinox Thanksgiving Day Community Dinner, and multiple events with Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless. During the summer of 2013, Renee had the opportunity to volunteer on her first political campaign. She assisted First Ward Common Council Dorcey Applyrs, Albany NY, with handing out flyers and talking to constituents throughout the neighborhood. She hopes to increase her volunteer efforts by engaging in financial literacy programs through SEFCU. As a Brooklyn native Renee enjoys traveling, doing yoga, and reading. She looks forward to her experience as a NLC fellow.


Rosa Méndez, Consistency Review Specialist, NYS Department of State Natural Heritage Trust


Rosa Méndez is a Consistency Review Specialist for the New York State Department of State and a dedicated advocate of environmental protection and community engagement. After witnessing the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Rosa decided to marry her passion for sustainability with the field of climate change and sea level rise resiliency. This led her to the Department of State where she ensures that federal, state, and local public agency decisions affecting New York State’s coastal zone and approved inland waterways result in activities that are consistent with the State’s coastal policies and program. Addressing the need for resiliency measures in the management of energy facilities, Rosa’s role focuses on energy projects. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rosa is a graduate of Cornell University and Vermont Law School. She excitedly returned to the upstate region to pursue her career in public service, tackle the Adirondack 46, and connect with the community. Following in the footsteps of her civil rights championing parents Rosa recently got involved with voters rights protection in Albany and is looking forward to participating in the Capital District 2016 New Leaders Council Institute.


Burton Phillips, Counsel and Policy Director, New York State Senator Brad Holman


Burton serves as Counsel & Policy Director for New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, a progressive Democrat representing a district in the heart of Manhattan. Since joining Senator Hoylman’s office in 2013, he has helped guide a policy portfolio focused primarily on government reform, environmental stewardship, and advancing LGBT issues, while managing day-to-day operations in the Senator’s Albany office. His most recent projects include drafting legislation requiring state contractors to disclose their gender wage gaps, a report detailing the inaction of the New York State Senate on LGBT issues post-2011, and a bill to restore eligibility for state benefits for LGBT veterans who were discharged less than honorably from the U.S. military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2015, Burton was named one of City & State’s “Albany Rising Stars: 40 Under 40.” Before joining Senator Hoylman, Burton served from 2011-2013 as the Director of Executive Chamber Operations for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, managing a staff of 16 employees across four units including correspondence, gubernatorial messages, invitations, and constituent affairs. He has also served as Counsel & Policy Director for New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, Associate Counsel to the New York State Senate Policy Group, and got his introduction to Albany as a New York State Senate Legislative Fellow. Prior to coming to the Capital Region, Burton was a student law clerk with the New York State Attorney General’s Office in Syracuse and Buffalo, and an intern with then-U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders in Washington, D.C. A native of upstate New York, Burton earned his J.D. from the University at Buffalo Law School, where he graduated in top quarter of his class, served as the President of the Student Bar Association and held leadership positions with the UB Environmental Law Journal, the Jessup International Moot Court Board, and OUTLAW, an organization for LGBTQA law students. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, where he was awarded the Academic Excellence Scholarship and admitted to the Washington Center’s Congressional Leadership Program.


Jonathan Richardson, Development and Communications Manager, Habitat for Humanity Capital District

cdny-Richardson.jpgJonathan has a passion for helping people and transforming communities. As the Development and Communications Manager at Habitat for Humanity Capital District, he manages the individual giving and donor relations initiatives. He also am the point person for all individual volunteers as well as manages the communications and social media. Prior to Habitat, Jonathan held fundraising and communications roles at several nonprofit agencies in the Capital Region. Most recently, Jonathan completed a fellowship with New Sector Alliance in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. There, Jonathan managed a consulting project for the volunteer department at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Jonathan enjoys working with people who want to give their time, money and skills towards helping their local communities. He is about to finish his Master of Social Work and Master of Public Administration degrees at University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy focusing on nonprofit management and social welfare policy. He received my Bachelor’s degree in Religion, Linguistics and Gender Studies from the University of Rochester. He also serves on the board of the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and tries to stay an active volunteer for many local nonprofits.


Kimberly Segura, Budget Analyst, NYS Division of the Budget


Kimberly Segura currently serves as a Budget Analyst for the New York State Division of the Budget. In this role, Kimberly is as a central contact for Article VII formulation for both the Executive and Enacted budget. Kimberly also functions as the Division’s central liaison with the Governor’s Counsel and the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission. Prior to her position at DOB, Kimberly held numerous internships and research positions throughout her academic career. The organizations Kimberly was affiliated with include: the Nassau County 10th Judicial District, the New York State Assembly, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the New York State Assembly Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, and the New York City Comptroller’s Office. Segura was also the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award, which is the highest honor awarded to any student in the SUNY system, the NYS Assembly Speaker’s Certificate of Recognition, and the Spellman Achievement Award for Leadership. Kimberly recently earned her Master of Public Administration degree from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy – University at Albany with a concentration in Financial Management. Kimberly also graduated from the University at Albany with a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in Public Policy with a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. In her spare time, Kimberly enjoys reading a new biography (particularly on the Kennedy family), traveling to new places, attempting to cook, and watching Parks and Recreation.


Jahnhoy Smith, Special Assistant, New York State Department of Health


Jahnhoy Smith comes to Albany by way of Brooklyn, New York and is currently a Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Health.  Prior to this role, Jahnhoy served as an Empire State Fellow at the New York State Division of Budget. In his current role, Jahnhoy oversees the planning, coordination, and implementation of key health care policy initiatives in the Department's Office of Primary Care and Health Systems Management. 

In previous career roles, Jahnhoy served as an Operations at Metro Plus Health Plan, a subsidiary of New York City Health+Hospitals. In that role, Jahnhoy was responsible for overseeing the operational and policy issues related to Government sponsored health programs, namely Medicare and Medicaid. Jahnhoy managed Medicare Operations and business strategies to meet planned objectives and external business partners to ensure that the Medicare program performance was consistent with the corporations business and regulatory requirements.

Jahnhoy has a keen interest in youth mentorship and community development and hopes to use skills learned from NLC to advance these causes.

Jahnhoy received his Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration from the CUNY Brooklyn College and his Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management from Baruch College & Ichan School of Medicine.


Kaciem Swain, CEO & Founder, Creative Director of Idea Engineering, Spark+Thrive, FlagshipUltra


Kaciem Swain is the Founder & CEO of SPARK+THRIVE - an 850 sq ft boutique coworking space and real estate startup located in historic Arbor Hill - a space for entrepreneurship, designed and created by entrepreneurs to foster creativity, cultivate talent and accelerate ideas. SPARK + THRIVE is the first brick and mortar brand to come from the labs at FlagshipUltra, a creative think-tank agency and idea lab producing brands, events, products where Swain serves as the Creative Director for Idea Engineering. FlagshipUltra provides clarity, development & execution for creators at heart. Internally, they're creators first. Swain joins New Leaders Council as a 2016 Fellow looking to align himself with the entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow. He's committed to promoting entrepreneurship within the Capital District and will remain a resident of Albany to do so. In his spare time he is a freelance business consultant and coach as "Train With Swain" where he helps creatives, freelancers, small businesses, big brands & startups start, run & grow or pivot + rebrand. He will start a 5 year MBA at The Sage Colleges in January 2016.


Bailey Van Deest, Senior Worker, St. Anne's Institute


Bailey Van Deest is currently working as a Senior Worker for St. Anne's Institute, where she supervises the day to day operations of the Albany Evening Reporting Center for girls aged 13-16.  Bailey began her career at GE Global Research working in purchasing, and most recently worked for Atlas Copco before transitioning to a career in human services. Bailey is also a volunteer with the Pride Center of the Capital Region, where she works as a facilitator with the Pride Center's youth programs. Originally from Wichita, KS, Bailey received a BA in Political Science from SUNY Albany, where she was also Division 1 softball player. In her spare time,

Bailey is an avid hiker, backpacker, and member of the Albany Curling Club.



Liska Wilson, Marketing Assistant, Pioneer Bank


Liska is the middle child and eldest girl of five children. She was born in Jamaica, but grew up in Albany New York. Growing up, her parents frequently preached to her and her siblings about the importance of education and making the most of opportunities. The mindset they instilled in her led her through the public school system to Siena College where she obtained her B.S. in Marketing and Management. She remembers being taught what most parents teach their children, “go to school and study hard so you can get a good job.” So that’s what she did, but as a young woman (especially a young black woman), she quickly realized that that was easier said than done. This realization is what continues to drive her. After graduating Siena, Liska started She’s a Boss, a group for career-minded women who wanted guidance and support as they built their careers. Through She’s a Boss, Liska and her network of mentors help to inspire, encourage, and guide young women through the process of building a career or business that excites them. She’s a Boss offers a dynamic mentor program and produces events throughout the year that educate, inspire, and connect women in the Capital Region. Liska is proud that she is able to inspire and help women do more than just “get a good job.” By trade, Liska is a marketeer specializing in branding, communications, and content marketing. She works in the Innovations department of Pioneer Bank and also has freelance clients in various industries. She is an Advisory Board member for Capital Region Women@Work and often volunteers her time to speak with college students about the importance of networking and strategic career planning. Her goal in being an NLC Fellow is to get acquainted with and better understand how to learn about and get involved with the local government relative to how it affects career and business development. In her free time, you can find Liska entertaining her 4-year-old daughter, sharing laughs with her siblings, and traveling the world.


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New Leaders Council is a 501 (c) (3) public charity dedicated to educating a new generation of leaders and to providing those leaders with the tools they need to succeed. NLC does not engage in political or legislative activities of any kind, does not support or oppose any candidate for public office, and serves only as an educational leadership training ground.