Meet the 2017 Des Moines Fellows
(back to NLC 2017 Fellows)
Johnny Alcivar, Assistant City Planner, City of Des Moines
Johnny Alcivar is a first generation immigrant from Quito, Ecuador. He grew up in New Jersey and moved to Iowa for his post-secondary studies. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Political Science and International Studies in 2010 and a Masters in Community and Regional Planning in 2014, both from Iowa State University. Johnny has been employed in the public sector since the completion of his graduate degree. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he served as the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Civil Rights Commission and also as Development Services Specialist for the Development Services Department. Johnny currently serves as Assistant City Planner in the Community Development Department in Des Moines, Iowa. As an immigrant from a single parent household, he has overcome many obstacles to be able to obtain an education and follow his dreams. Those challenges have shaped his perspectives and as result he constantly seeks opportunities to give back to the community and improve the experience of newcomers. Johnny volunteers with non-profit organizations that provide assistance to the most disadvantaged populations. Also, he participates in committees and councils which seek to fill gaps in service provision. Johnny is an avid supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and social justice. He is passionate about cities and urban issues. In his free time, he likes to spend time with family, read, cook, listen to music and play sports. Johnny recently moved to Des Moines and is looking forward to getting more involved in the community.
A lifelong Iowan, Benjamin has spent most his adult life working in various roles serving his country, state and community. As a graduate of the University of Iowa with a degree in Global Studies focusing on American Foreign Policy and a minor in Political Science, Benjamin gained an appreciation and unique understanding of America’s role in the world and how imperative our leadership is to global security. Benjamin’s interest in foreign policy began as he served with the 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Band-e-Timor River Valley of southern Afghanistan. As a combat veteran, Benjamin’s experiences overseas combined with his formal education in international relations has helped him create a strong resume of public service both as a Veteran and as a civilian. Following his time serving his country, Benjamin returned home to Iowa with his wife, Danielle and son, Thomas to begin his career in state politics. Beginning as a communications intern with the Iowa Senate Democrats, Benjamin quickly showed strong leadership attributes and an ability to work well with our elected officials. This internship translated into a position as a legislative clerk for State Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids and eventually into helping run his campaign for United States Senate in 2016. Following a primary defeat in the US Senate race, Benjamin joined the Hillary Clinton campaign and worked as a Press Assistant on the communications team. In this role, Benjamin was responsible for ensuring campaign messaging was effectively conveyed through the media. Benjamin currently lives in downtown Des Moines with his family and was recently accepted to George Washington University to begin work on his Master’s Degree in Political Management. He aspires to continue to influence Iowa politics as a progressive voice for change around the state by assisting both established politicians and potential candidates with their efforts to make Iowa the best state in the country.
Kalyn Cody, 8th Math Teacher, Des Moines Public Schools
Kalyn Cody is an 8th grade math teacher at Goodrell Middle School. He has been teaching for more than a decade in a variety of locations, ranging from the deserts of California (Blythe) and Arizona (Phoenix) to the Midwest in Wisconsin and Des Moines, where has been since 2010. Kalyn is in his second year serving as Goodrell’s Building Chair/Representative to the Des Moines Area Education Association. In addition, he coaches the school’s boys’ soccer team and has recently established a chess club (which is much more popular than you would expect). In his free time, Kalyn plays in recreational soccer and softball leagues, reads, and plays an obscene amount of extremely time-consuming board games. Born and raised in Caledonia, Minnesota, Kalyn first encountered Iowa when receiving his BA in Elementary Education at Luther College (Decorah) and later returned from the west to receive his MA in Curriculum and Instruction (Education of the Gifted) at the University of Northern Iowa.
Erin Cubit, Advocacy Strategist, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland
Erin was born and raised in Iowa and is thrilled to call it her home. After graduating from high school in Northeast Iowa, she attended the University of Northern Iowa to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Promotion with an emphasis in Women’s Health and a minor in Communication Studies. In 2010 Erin began her career as a Community Health Educator at Together For Youth, a local non-profit housed within Allen Women’s Health in Waterloo, Iowa. In this position, Erin had the opportunity to work with teens throughout a three county service area to provide comprehensive sexual health education as well as provide referrals for reproductive health services. During her tenure there, Erin also began her graduate program back at the University of Northern Iowa and graduated with her Master’s Degree in Public Policy in May of 2015. In addition to finishing her graduate work and providing sexual health education, during the 2015 Iowa Legislative Session, Erin worked part-time as an Advocacy Coordinator for EyesOpenIowa, a state-wide non-profit organization working to support adolescent sexual health in the state. While in this role, she tracked legislation, strengthened relationships among partnering organizations, and alerted EyesOpenIowa supporters to different pieces of legislation that were introduced. In the summer of 2015, Erin and her husband moved to the Des Moines area and was hired as an Advocacy Strategist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa. She has the honor of working with Planned Parenthood supporters and volunteers throughout the state to advocate for reproductive justice issues through grassroots efforts.
Luke Elzinga, Communications Manager, Des Moines Area Religious Council
Luke Elzinga is the Communications Manager at the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), an interfaith organization committed to meeting basic human need in Greater Des Moines. The DMARC Food Pantry Network is the oldest and largest food pantry system in the state of Iowa. As Communications Manager, Luke writes, designs, shoots photos and videos, serves as webmaster and takes on other communications tasks as needed. Upon graduating with a degree in advertising from Iowa State University in December 2013, Luke served a year with the Americorps VISTA program at Montana Legal Services Association in Helena, Montana, before returning to Iowa at the start of 2014. Outside of work, Luke is involved with the Young Nonprofits Professionals Network’s Des Moines chapter, and serves as marketing chair on their board. During the 2016 presidential primaries, he volunteered for Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign and participated in his first caucus as a precinct captain. In his free time, Luke enjoys reading, documentary films, cooking, and spending time with his partner Piper and their two cats, Gladley and Sibyl.
Chloe Gearhart, Program Manager of Vocational Services, Easter Seals Iowa
Chloe is the Program Manager of Vocational Services at Easter Seals Iowa. She recently began developing Career Exploration which is a 90-day program that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to learn about their career interests, and gain hands-on experience so they can make informed decisions regarding their employment. When she isn't working on Career Exploration, Chloe provides program coordination for 4 additional programs to ensure they are meeting all Medicaid standards. Before becoming program manager, Chloe gained experience in disability services as a job coach providing support to interns at Easter Seals' DMACC Project SEARCH. Chloe grew up in Newton, Iowa but has happily made a home with her husband in Des Moines over the last three years. Prior to moving to Des Moines, Chloe attended Central College in Pella where she majored in Political Science. During her senior year, Chloe volunteered as a tutor and volunteer organizer for EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center) in their first year as an organization. Her experience with EMBARC helped Chloe realize her passion for advocacy and non-profit work. In her spare time, Chloe enjoys trying new restaurants around Des Moines with her husband, Brandon, and spending time with her rabbits, Leslie and Ruth.
Elsa Goldman, Ryan White Part B Special Projects Coordinator, Iowa Department of Public Health
Elsa Goldman is originally from Minneapolis, MN and has been living in Des Moines since graduating from Grinnell College in 2015. She is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Ryan White Part B Program at the Iowa Department of Public Health. Ryan White Part B is a federally funded program that improves the quality, availability, and organization of HIV health care and support services with the ultimate goal of reducing the HIV epidemic. In her role, Elsa ensures that low-income Iowans living with HIV have access to life saving medications, increases awareness about HIV through marketing and outreach efforts, and assists in strategic planning initiatives across the state. She is passionate about addressing the social determinants of health and practices trauma-informed care and cultural humility on a daily basis to help all people live their healthiest lives possible. Elsa graduated with a BA in biology and focused her interdisciplinary coursework on environmental and public health. Throughout college she expressed her interest in healthcare by working on a national diabetes prevention program, conducting research on pancreatic cancer, promoting local agriculture efforts in the Grinnell community, and advocating for mental health on the Grinnell College campus. Elsa plans to continue her career promoting health and wellness for all individuals and the community. In her free time, Elsa enjoys cooking, biking, board games, yoga, and exploring Des Moines.
Molly Hanson, Executive Director, Iowa Rivers Revival
She is a proud Iowa native and and after graduating from Johnston High School, headed off to the University of Iowa to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism with the goal of becoming a sideline reporter for the NFL. That dream lasted about 2 months. Thankfully, every failure is an opportunity for growth and direction change and the direction change took her north to the University of Northern Iowa where she found her home in the Earth Science Department while playing soccer and interning for the Black Hawk County Conservation Board on the side. After graduating with a degree in Earth Science and Geology, she worked odd jobs while at the same time pursuing a full time career in county conservation. Molly was a waitress, a bartender, an intern, a cubical drone and a dog walker before landing her dream job as the full time Naturalist for the Madison County Conservation Board in Winterset, Iowa. As a one-woman environmental education and outreach specialist, she developed experience fundraising, conducting focus groups, teaching science class, running summer camps, putting on public programs, and working with and for a board. She also got more involved and interested in the natural resource side of things and helped with prairie burns, oak savanna and wetland restoration projects and water quality testing. Three years ago, she volunteered to join the Iowa Rivers Revival Board of Directors and the more she learned about issues affecting the 70,000 miles of rivers and streams in Iowa, the more she felt compelled to help. She was applied for and was offered the position of Executive Director of IRR in April of 2016 and the rest, as they say is history. Iowa Rivers Revival is a 501.(c)3 non-profit river advocacy group. Check them out at www.iowarivers.org.
Holly Herbert, Senior Life Insurance Sales Support Consultant, Principal Financial Group
Holly Herbert is an Iowa native, but spent roughly 6 years of her formal education in Tampa Bay, Florida, where she graduated from high school and earned a degree in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida through a full academic scholarship. Ms. Herbert has worked in the financial services and insurance industry since 2006, and holds a variety of industry licenses and certifications. However, he most valued skill is her desire to improve the lives of others. She is well known for being an excellent listener and problem solver, which has lead to 10 plus years of success in various sales positions. Holly has always been a very opinionated and progressive-thinking individual, and found herself motivated to become more involved in political and economic issues in the spring of 2016, when she became a Polk County Democratic Party delegate and began working on the Platform Committee. Since then, she has been elected to the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) State Central Committee and as the Vice Chair of the Action Committee for the IDP Progressive Caucus. Ms. Herbert is known for her willingness to get out into the community and interact with her constituents, and has also worked to by a bridge-builder who focuses on the issues, such as economic inequality and access to affordable education and healthcare. Ms. Herbert became involved in the political world because she felt that she should use her passion and dedication to improving the lives of others in a way that could more immediately affect them in a positive manner. Her goal is to be a leader to strives to include a multitude of voices, with increased attention to communities that have been underrepresented or who have had difficulty advocating for issues that most directly affect their communities. She strongly believes that real change comes from the bottom up and that the most powerful way to affect political and social change is to work with others in one’s community in a direct manner. Holly hopes to use the knowledge she’s gained from New Leaders Council to help educate and mentor others new to the political process and is extremely honored to have been selected for the 2017 program. Her headshot was provided by Danny Carman of Danny Does Pix.
Samantha Kemp Carlin, Mental Health Counselor, YSS
Samantha Kemp Carlin is a mental health counselor working for YSS where she began as a clinical intern providing co-occurring mental health and substance abuse counseling to adolescents in the residential treatment houses. Since graduating from Walden University with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Heath Counseling, she now splits her time between the Family Counseling Clinic in Ames, IA and Iowa Homeless Youth Centers in Des Moines. At the Ames outpatient clinic location, she provides individual and family counseling to youth and families in Story County. She is a member of the both the Clinical Training Committee-- aimed at identifying and promoting professional development opportunities for staff agency-wide--and the LGBTQ Youth Best Practices Committee working to ensure that YSS is welcoming and inclusive of all sexual and gender minorities. In Des Moines, she is developing and implementing the mental health component of IHYC in cooperation with a VOCA grant. She provides individual, couples, and group counseling to youth ages 16-24 who access IHYC services as well as offering education and consultation to IHYC staff with regard to mental health supports and trauma-informed care. Samantha is a Nationally Certified Counselor and is a member of the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association, the American Counseling Association, and Chi Sigma Iota, the international honor society of professional counseling. She is currently pursuing certification to become an LGBTQ Affirmative counselor. Originally from Delavan, WI, Samantha first came to Iowa to attend Luther College in Decorah where she majored in Sociology and minored in Russian Language and Literature. While at Luther, she became involved with the Upward Bound program and discovered her passion for working with at-risk youth. She was also a member of the Russian Folk Music Ensemble playing balalaika as well as the campus LGBTQ group of which she was co-chair. After graduating in 2007, Samantha spent nearly a decade coordinating and implementing home and community based services for individuals experiencing intellectual/developmental disabilities, chronic mental illness, and autism. She now lives in Des Moines with her husband, Paul, and their cats. In her free time, she can be found crocheting, reading, bingeing a series on Netflix, or enjoying board games with friends. She loves podcasts, trivia, NPR, and Wonder Woman.
Phouthasack Keopraseuth, Office Specialist, Polk County Sheriff
Phouthasack Keopraseuth is a Des Moines, Iowa resident and 2nd generation Lao-American. Keopraseuth is a member of several community organizations who fight for progressive values such as living wages, better funding for education, and the fight for clean water. He hopes to one day be able to travel to various countries and learn about different cultures and societies. Only by learning can we get closer to better understanding one another and strive for more ways to help the world in addressing national issues such as universal human rights, income inequality, and the dangers of global climate change, to name a few. When Keopraseuth isn’t at work or out being involved in community activism, he is in the kitchen testing out new recipes, flipping through new books at the public library, or browsing shelves in the aisles of ethnic supermarkets. By becoming a part of NLC, he hopes to become a better activist to help bring forth policies to support the working class citizens of America. He believes it’s imperative for young people to become actively involved in both local and national issues to create a movement where Americans can regain confidence in having an economy that works for all people, not just the 1%, and to sustain an environmentally safe planet for future generations.
Chelsea Lepley, Senior Strategic Writer, Accenture
Chelsea Lepley has been an activist since she started taking petitions door to door in middle school. Since then, she has been a door-to-door canvasser, field director, bartender, volunteer coordinator, campaign manager, student teacher, legislative assistant, project manager, lobbyist, fundraiser, and consultant. Somewhere in there, she also earned a Master of Public Administration with an emphasis on public policy. She is always seeking opportunities to put more of these skills to work in the public sector. Chelsea grew up in Des Moines and returned to the area after living in Minneapolis, Ames, and Madison. She is active in the Capitol Park Neighborhood Association, Viva East Bank, the Des Moines Parks & Recreation Board, and the Polk County Housing Trust fund, and also participates in other activities and organizations promoting community development, social equity, and civic engagement. At Accenture, Chelsea works on proposals, whitepapers, assessment findings, and other deliverables for the healthcare IT group Sagacious Consultants. Working from home, Chelsea takes a lot of cat photos, loves to write, and is an aspiring runner.
Rachel Lunsford, Application Portfolio Manager, State of Iowa - Department of Public Health
Rachel Lunsford is a health IT professional dedicated to improving healthcare delivery by implementing modern IT solutions. She currently works at the Iowa Department of Public Health. In this role, she advises Department staff on replacing legacy health IT systems with modern, web-based systems. Rachel additionally advises on the technology aspects of implementing health policies, including potential solutions, costs, and other factors. Rachel is especially proud of her service to Veterans during the first Obama Administration where she served as a Special Assistant to the Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was a member of the Blue Button team that delivered the personal health record download capability for Veterans which is now used by over a million Veterans and several other Federal agencies. Additionally, she led the development and implementation of VA’s Open Government Plan. Recently, Rachel began using her extensive experience within government to get engaged in politics and policy development through the Democratic Caucus and Convention process. She was elected to represent her precinct in the Polk County Democrats Central Committee and the 3rd Congressional District Central Committee. She was elected as the Communications Chair for Polk County and assisted her committee members in implementing a new mass email system. Rachel is focused on improving communication efforts and enabling more people to be engaged in the Party. Rachel completed a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Art in Public Policy Studies from Chatham College. She currently resides in West Des Moines, IA with her husband, Chris, and dogs, Rosie and Beauregard. When she isn’t solving health IT problems or advocating for more people to be involved in the political process, she can be found crafting at home while enjoying a good craft beer or perhaps out at a local brewery with her husband.
Lindsey Mabe, Office Manager, Trinity Las Americas
Lindsey is from Des Moines, Iowa, and studied Spanish at the University of Iowa and La Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica. She is currently the office manager/administrative assistant at Trinity Las Americas, a long-standing bilingual church with services and nonprofit programs in the building for the community, including meal programs, English classes, prison ministries, and citizenship classes. She is also a mental health and intellectual disability instructor working on daily skills and goals with adult clients of Candeo, a nonprofit in the Des Moines area. She has volunteered with and worked at various nonprofit organizations, primarily as a bilingual program specialist assisting families and individuals from minority populations to access services like health care, medical coverage, and legal assistance. She worked on The Wallace Centers of Iowa’s small sustainable farm as an apprentice and has helped develop several community gardens. Lindsey also worked as a counselor for SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) with the Iowa Insurance Division, giving unbiased assistance and education about Medicare for Spanish speakers throughout the state of Iowa. She loves working with people and has had many formative experiences working and volunteering with immigrants, homeless individuals, and mental health advocacy groups. During her free time, Lindsey loves traveling adventures, gardening and plants, food, music, and learning about almost anything. She is not an avid sports fan but does enjoy swinging, renting bikes downtown, and cooking with friends.
William Oppermann, Digital Marketing Assistant, GPS Impact
Will Oppermann is a Digital Marketing Assistant at GPS Impact, a political communications firm in downtown Des Moines. GPS Impact provides targeted communications through a full suite of online advertising platforms. In his roll on the digital marketing team, Will brings his experiences from the State Legislature and the campaign world to contextualize the digital work done for clients. Will grew up on the East Coast, but came to Iowa when he attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon. During breaks between campaign cycles, Will has taken the time to visit all 99 Counties in Iowa in order to learn more about the State. In his free time, Will volunteers for local progressive candidates for office, and stays involved in the community through local political gatherings.
Naomi Ramsay, Coordinator of the Post Secondary Education Program, Iowa Homeless Youth Centers
Born in San Francisco, Naomi grew up in the Chicago area, and was very involved in the Jewish community there. She attended Grinnell College because of its social justice focus where she majored in Sociology and Education, graduating in 2014 as class Valedictorian. After graduation, Naomi student taught at South Tama County High School, teaching Sociology, U.S. History, and Modern World History. At South Tama, Naomi helped her students plan a school-wide Unity Festival to celebrate the cultural diversity of the student-body. Naomi then spent ten months in South Africa as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. In South Africa she developed a mobile library program, worked with local mothers to create a sustainable after-school program, and designed a local high school’s gap year social justice curriculum. Naomi returned from South Africa in November 2015, and moved to Des Moines as the Coordinator of Goodwill’s Career Connection Center in Johnston. As Coordinator, Naomi focused on community outreach efforts, teaching classes, and worked directly with job seekers. Naomi recently started at Iowa Homeless Youth Centers as the Post Secondary Education and Retention Program Coordinator. In this role Naomi supports low-income and first generation college students to help them graduate with a certificate, two year, or four year degree. Outside of work, Naomi is on the planning committee for the Des Moines Human Rights Symposium and volunteers weekly to help run an elementary school Girl’s Club working to empower girls to become leaders in their communities.
Kyrstin Shelley, Teacher-Librarian, Ankeny Community Schools - Northview Middle School
Kyrstin Shelley has spent nearly her entire life in schools as either student or teacher, firmly believing in the power of education and the strength of public schools. She currently is a middle school teacher-librarian. A teacher-librarian is a teacher first, and Kyrstin helps all teachers, regardless of content, instruct students in information literacy and twenty-first century skills. She supports research and assists teachers by curating resources necessary for learning. Additionally, she manages the library collection and helps administer technology, serving as a member of the district’s Tech Cadre, a team dedicated to technology integration in the classroom. She also is a member of her building’s Instructional Leadership Team, a group serving to shape the building’s vision and goals, communicating those to staff members, and engaging in research and study to help staff best meet that vision and goals. Kyrstin, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, will finish her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science in August. She is a member of her district’s chapter of the American Education Association and has previously served as the chair for governmental affairs and political action in West Delaware School District. Kyrstin belongs to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the American Library Association (ALA), as well as their state chapters (ILA and IASL). She is a member of the Des Moines Young Professionals Connection (YPC) and the Des Moines chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She has also been involved in judging 4-H projects at the Story County Fair for the past several years. She is a 4-H alumni of Clinton County. A graduate of Maquoketa High School and Grand View University, Kyrstin currently lives in Des Moines with her husband. She enjoys tackling her never-ending to-be-read pile, binging whole seasons of television shows, karaoke, and exploring local spots on the weekends.
Kerri Sorrell, Communications Specialist, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
Kerri Sorrell is the Communications Specialist for Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a private nonprofit working statewide to protect and restore Iowa's land, water and wildlife. In her role, Kerri connects new audiences to conservation and informs Iowans about the important natural resource and quality of life benefits of public land. Kerri is a founding board member of dsmHack, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that aims to break down technological barriers for Iowa nonprofits so that they may better carry out their missions. An avid biker, Kerri is a board member with the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, working to end fatal bicycle crashes in Iowa. She is also a volunteer with the Des Moines Bicycle Collective, working to make biking a more accessible and enjoyable transportation option for central Iowa women and families. Kerri was born and raised in Iowa City and has bachelor degrees in Magazine Journalism and Graphic Design from Drake University. You can usually find her in a prairie.
Luke Stadtler, Web Developer, Rocket Referrals
Luke Stadtler is originally from the Twin Cities metro area. He found a great love for Iowa while attending college at The University of Iowa where he received a degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. He now lives in Des Moines and works at a small technology startup in Des Moines called Rocket Referrals. There, he performs a myriad of tasks helping grow and expand the business. His primary role as a Web Developer means he spends most of his day programming and tackling complex technical challenges. He enjoys the close knit atmosphere that working in a small local company offers. He also really appreciates the freedom to tackle difficult problems outside his traditional areas of expertise, e.g. helping with marketing, sales or data analytics. When not working Luke loves spending time outdoors biking whenever possible. He also enjoys rock climbing and camping. Luke makes sure to take advantage of all the great culture opportunities Des Moines has to offer as well. The one thing Luke is most proud of participating in is his volunteer work at the non-profit Pursuit of Innovation. He offers time there to help promote the importance of STEM education to low-income and minority youth in Des Moines. He believes very deeply in the importance of providing every child with access to a quality education, and is endlessly passionate about the importance of teaching all children the value and power of education.
Jaime Yowler, Political Consultant
Jaime Yowler grew up in nearby Cedar Rapids, IA and attended the University of Northern Iowa receiving a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations. At UNI, Jaime proudly served as Director of Governmental Relations for the student body and is a proud member of the University of Northern Iowa Varsity Men's Glee Club and Camerata. He recently graduated from Drake University in December of 2016 with a Master's Degree in public administration and public policy. Jaime has in depth experience on local and state campaigns, state and federal policy-making, and advocacy. He continues to help nonprofit and political organizations to attain their goals and through advocacy, analysis, and coalition building. Jaime hopes to continue to build a network to better enter into public service by utilizing his experiences and building on new ones to help the people in his community and state.