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Aerion Abney, Program Officer, POISE Foundation
Aerion is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2010 he received his undergraduate degree in Communications with a minor in Theatre Arts from the University of Pittsburgh. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, he continued his education and received his Masters of Social Work also from the University of Pittsburgh. He chose social work because he is dedicated to a life of service and making a positive difference in the lives of others and their overall well-being. His ultimate goal as a social leader is to raise the bar of acquired knowledge, while at the same time closing the gap of ignorance.
As a social worker, Aerion believes in using advocacy as a tool to challenge the status quo especially when the status quo falls below expectations. He is motivated by people who are often marginalized and trivialized in our society and wants to work towards changing the realities of their struggle. His passion for people intersects with his affinity for politics through understanding the connection between policy and its impacts on our quality of life. He wants to modernize our systems, infrastructures, and institutions to bring them into the 21st century and reengage a population that has seemingly lost faith and interest in our political systems.
Aerion is the program officer at the POISE Foundation, where he works to support non-profit organizations that strengthen and sustain African American families and communities. Previously, Aerion served as a staff member for the Honorable State Representative Jake Wheatley Jr., where he was partly responsible for locating, addressing, and improving community related issues and relations with respect to the 19th Legislative District of Pennsylvania. His background and interests are in workforce training, community development, and social and economic justice. He intends to apply and infuse his acquired knowledge and understanding of social justice into the philanthropic mission of the Foundation. Aerion is also a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons. He sits on several boards in the Pittsburgh region and participates in multiple mentoring and volunteering opportunities.
In his free time Aerion enjoys playing chess, exercising, and volunteering. He hopes to complete his first full marathon in May 2015.
Jordan Ball, Southwestern Regional Representative, Senator Robert Casey, Jr.
Since an early age, Jordan has been passionate about public service, politics, and progressive values. His enthusiasm for public service is guided by his passion for issues such as poverty alleviation, civil rights, economic development, and education. He's been involved in the political process through political campaigns, leading political organizations, and governmental work. While attending California State University Channel Islands, Jordan served as President of the CI College Democrats where he orchestrated voter registration drives and a large bipartisan marriage equality initiative. He was selected for a prestigious internship on Capitol Hill under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. While on Capitol Hill, he worked in Congressman Mike Honda's office, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
After graduating, Jordan collaborated with the Human Rights Campaign in New Hampshire to garner support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which protects LGBTQ Americans from workplace discrimination. ENDA passed the United States Senate in 2013. Upon moving to Pennsylvania, Jordan worked on Treasurer Rob McCord's gubernatorial campaign and Chuck Hadley's State Representative campaign. While working in Pennsylvania, he fell in love with Pittsburgh, its communities, and its people. He plans to develop a career that will allow him to serve Pittsburgh and Western PA for many years to come. Recently, Jordan accepted a position with the office of Senator Bob Casey, Jr. as a Southwestern PA Regional Representative.
Nicholas Chubb, Policy Intern, Office of Mayor William Peduto
Nicholas has worked as a Policy Intern for the past year and a half. He began his policy work in the non-profit sector through a field placement at Just Harvest, an organization focused on combating hunger through political advocacy. He continued his policy work in the Office of Mayor William Peduto, where he directly assists Policy Manager Matthew Barron by attending meetings, researching policy initiatives, and handling various administrative tasks.
Nicholas holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology degree, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work degree, both from the University of Pittsburgh. Nicholas is also active in various local political campaigns including the Campaign to Re-elect Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and other campaign events through Ampersand Consulting, a leading Pittsburgh-based political consulting firm. Nicholas was continuously involved in leadership and public service in various student organizations through his time at the University of Pittsburgh.
Nicholas was born and raised in the City of Pittsburgh and has lived in Squirrel Hill, Friendship, Spring Hill, Oakland, and now Shadyside. He attended Homewood Montessori, Rogers CAPA Middle School, and City Charter High School and continues to be committed to the Pittsburgh region he has been raised in. In his free time Nicholas likes to play soccer, exercise, try new restaurants, and watch his favorite show "West Wing".
Rhiannon Cook, Client Marketing Coordinator, Valassis Communications
Originally from Northeast Ohio, Rhiannon currently calls Pittsburgh home. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2009 she worked in a range of fields and industries including politics, environmental advocacy, education, and healthcare. Vast and varied experiential learning has directed Rhiannon to her niche as a communications strategist and solution facilitator. It's her mission to aid cross-functional collaboration that bridges variegated roles and industries to produce productive results for social good.
In her current role as a marketing coordinator at Valassis communications, Rhiannon is focused on making data-driven recommendations and flawlessly executing clients' marketing programs. She enjoys working at the intersection of business and technology, where she takes knowledge of client strategy and translates it into targeted recommendations and analytic findings that improve communication tactics and brand development. It's her goal to connect with new activists from all backgrounds and industries, particularly those interested in working to advocate for more diverse healthcare options and what has come to be termed as "alternative" healthcare. She believes that the largest issues and problems we currently face are not isolated, but inherently connected and by working to fix the root cause of discord and disease we can systemically activate infrastructural change.
Rhiannon has a special place in her heart for extensive travel and new learning opportunities. It's her belief that magic can only happen outside of one's own comfort zone which is where she hopes to live the rest of her life.
Kirk Holbrook, Legislative Assistant, State Representative Jake Wheatley, Jr.
Kirk joined the office of State Representative Jake Wheatley, Jr. as a Legislative Assistant, carrying with him over a decade worth of experience working with and advocating for inner-city communities and at-risk youth. Beginning at the age of 20, Kirk dedicated his life to serving youth in the Pittsburgh area through after-school, mentoring and leadership programs, and later helped groups of parents and community members organize around issues in education.
The product of a mother who worked in PPS for over 30 years and a father who mentored underprivileged youth since the early 70s, one could say working to improve the lives of inner-city children and communities was in his blood. He began working with youth in the Hill District in 2001 and has since served youth and communities from all over the Pittsburgh region. He soon developed a reputation for having the ability to work with, and teach, those students deemed as difficult in schools and who many had dismissed as unable to achieve. It was the success with those students, many of whom Kirk helped make substantial growth academically and become Honor students in their respective schools, that was the catalyst for his expanded interest into the school systems and policies that affect inner-city youth and communities of color.
In 2013, he joined A+ Schools as a Community Organizer and aimed to make a much larger impact through working with communities, parents, and community leaders to help cultivate a shift in how the importance of education in the lives of young people is perceived. For much of his career, Kirk felt he was treating the symptoms of issues within the school, community and home. ÒI now realize that to affect large-scale change, one must begin to implement, and advocate for, policies that reflect the wishes of the communities we represent,Ó he says. A Pittsburgh native, Kirk is extremely excited to join the New Leaders Council fellowship program and further develop the skills and tools necessary to affect change in this region and beyond.
Alix Levy, Adjunct Professor, CCAC
Alix is a lifelong Pittsburgher and one of its biggest fans. She holds a BA in Political Theory and an MPIA in International Political Economy from the University of Pittsburgh.
Between degrees she spent three years as a program associate at World-Class Industrial Network, a Souithside-based community and economic development consulting firm. She has completed internships at the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and for Chelsa Wagner during her tenure as a State Representative.
When not teaching Political Science at CCAC, you can find her reading, running, waiting tables, and winning baking competitions.
Hilary Marcella, Assistant Director, Phone Canvass, Clean Water Action
Hilary currently works for an environmental advocacy organization Clean Water Action, Pittsburgh serving as the Assistant Director of Phone Outreach and Fundraising. She is responsible for member communications, donor development/stewardship, staff recruitment, and office administration.
In 2014, she raised more than $100,000 through direct solicitation, and helped to oversee a department-wide gross of more than $1 million in individual contributions. Additionally, she has participated in the election campaigns of progressive candidates, and provided fundraising consultant services to non-profit/advocacy groups outside of her organization of employment.
Having struggled against poverty as a child and after developing a deep passion for social justice, Hilary focused her undergraduate degree on urban studies, community organizing, and sociology. In particular, she is interested in the systemic causes and potential policy solutions to inequality. She received her B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, graduating magna cum laude in 2010.
In her professional pursuits, Hilary aims to contribute to the progressive movement, impact positive social change, and improve quality of life for under-privileged populations. She is especially concerned with issues related to equal representation, poverty alleviation, reproductive rights, access to quality education, and criminal justice reform.
Megan Neuf, Public Policy Associate, Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children
Megan Neuf is a graduate student at the pursuing a joint masters in Social Work and Masters in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and Pitt Public Health. Megan began her involvement in the nonprofit sector of Pittsburgh in 2006 when she helped to found M-Powerment, a women's social justice organization at Shaler Area High School. This led her to achievements such as becoming a Pittsburgh Community Champion and being awarded the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Public Service.
Throughout her undergraduate and graduate education, Megan has continued her commitment to social causes and the community with her involvement in organizations such as Strong Women, Strong Girls; Pittsburgh Party for a Purpose; and the New Pittsburgh Collaborative. Megan continues to seek out new knowledge through programs like the Jonas Salk Fellowship and the QIT Health Innovators Fellowship.
Recently, she's had the opportunity to serve two summers as the Graduate Fellow for the Heinz Endowments Summer Youth Philanthropy Internship Program and as a Public Policy Associate at the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. In years to come, Megan aspires to continue to work in issue based advocacy and policy development.
Charlotte Reed, Assistant Director, Office of Global Engagment, La Roche College
Charlotte Reed is the Assistant Director of Global Engagement at La Roche College, where she develops international programming and works to build relationships between the domestic and international student body. She is also currently finishing her PhD from Scuola Superiore Sant'anna (Pisa, Italy) in Politics, Human Rights and Sustainability. Her dissertation is on the reintegration of female child soldiers in Colombia.
Charlotte is originally from Pittsburgh and after years living abroad she is happy to be back in her hometown and excited about the emerging opportunities that it has to offer. Charlotte has her BA from Colgate University in Peace and Conflict and an MPP from Georgetown University.
Erick Rigby, Partner, CamsonRigby, LLC
I grew up in Upstate New York on the north-eastern corner of the Adirondack Mountains. I attended a local university studying political science and french. After a brief internship in the United States Senate I attended Law School in Akron, Ohio and was the first graduate of that University's fledgling joint JD/Masters of Applied Politics program.
Following a year long clerkship, I opened a small general practice law firm in Washington, Pennsylvania. Since then, I have also partnered with two friends creating a company that purchases residential properties with a focus on renting to low-income section 8 tenants. In my free time I play recreational hockey and soccer.
Kathryn Vargas, Manager, Programs for Children & Youth, United Way of Allegheny County
Kathryn Vargas is currently Manager of Programs for Children and Youth at the United Way of Allegheny County. In this position she works with a team to ensure that United Way's investments in the community are best positioned to have a significant impact on Allegheny County youth.
Prior to working at the United Way, Kathryn served as an Advocacy Coordinator at Neighborhood Learning Alliance, an agency that provides out of school time programming and educational opportunities for Pittsburgh youth and as a Community Organizer and Assistant to the Deputy Director at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, a community based organization focused on comprehensive community revitalization. Both experiences provided a unique opportunity to work as an advocate on important community issues around economic justice, volunteerism, food security, and education.
Guided by the belief that access to quality education for all children is a human right, Kathryn dedicates time as a School Works volunteer with local education policy organization A+ Schools and as a member of the Sprout Fund Advisory Committee for their Spark grants to support innovative early learning opportunities. She received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010 and her Bachelors in Sociology and International Studies from Mount St. MaryÕs University in 2008. Originally from Sterling Virginia, Kathryn is proud to call the City of Pittsburgh home. She enjoys spending time with friends, traveling, and getting involved in Pittsburgh's rich arts community as a volunteer usher for the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Megan Zirkel , Mental Health Clinician , Holy Family Institute
Megan is a lifelong resident of the city Pittsburgh. In 2014 she was elected to represent the 19th Ward, 30th District of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. She is also volunteer with the South Pittsburgh Development Corporation where she is active in neighborhood beautification efforts and local causes. Megan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science degree from Robert Morris University in Nonprofit Management. She currently works as a Mental Health Clinician at Holy Family Institute providing counseling to at-risk families.
In recent years Megan has completed a fellowship with Organizing for America and is a graduate of "NEXT Neighborhood Leaders: South Pittsburgh" program within Coro Pittsburgh's Center for Civic Leadership. She is also a proud alumna of AmeriCorps where she served two terms promoting early childhood literacy with Jumpstart. Megan has strong interests in quality public education, women's rights, and accessible health care.
Stephen Zumbrun, Attorney, Thomas H. Ayoob III & Associates, LLC
I grew up in Pittsburgh and played football for Central Catholic High School. I then went on to play football in college for The College of Wooster in Wooster, OH, graduating with a B.A. in Psychology.
I returned to Pittsburgh and worked for the Mayor's Office, in the Youth Policy Department. There I worked with Pittsburgh Public Schools and nonprofits in the city to address high school dropout rates.
After working for two years in the Mayor's Office, I went to law school at the University of Pittsburgh and now I am practicing law, focusing on real estate, for Thomas H. Ayoob III & Associates in downtown Pittsburgh.