Above & Beyond

The 2024 Above & Beyond: Women

Recognizing an amazing group of leading women taking center stage in New York.

City & state presents the 2024 Above & Beyond: Women.

City & state presents the 2024 Above & Beyond: Women. Bob Giglione Photography; Family Health, Communications Dep; NBG

They’re Manhattan natives, Midwestern transplants, lifelong upstaters and immigrants from as close as the Dominican Republic and as far as the Philippines. What all of this year’s Above & Beyond: Women honorees have in common is a passion for improving New York, the place they now call home.

They are also role models for the next generation of politicians, nonprofit leaders, attorneys and cultural influencers. That’s because – whether they work in fields that have been dominated by women like nursing or less traditional sectors like trucking – this cohort is breaking old boundaries in the C-suite and racking up myriad firsts. This year’s featured honoree is Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian woman elected to state office in New York – and the only elected official on this year’s list.

Without further ado, City & State is pleased to present this year’s Above & Beyond: Women honorees who are transforming New York.– Profiles by Hilary Danailova

Jenifer Rajkumar

Assembly Member
Jenifer Rajkumar / Amy Lombard

Jenifer Rajkumar’s mother grew up in a mud hut in India, and her parents immigrated with $300 and a suitcase.

So becoming the first South Asian woman elected to state office in New York – she has served in the Assembly since 2021 – was a victory not only for Rajkumar, but for her parents and New York’s burgeoning Asian community. “I represent the district in south Queens where my family started in America,” she says, “the launching pad for so many South Asian immigrant families like mine.”

Mindful of her responsibility, Rajkumar led a successful effort to make Diwali a state school holiday and to establish New York’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Commission. She also sponsored a measure incorporating domestic workers – who are overwhelmingly immigrants of color – into the state’s human rights law.

A politician since middle school, Rajkumar got her start leading a voting rights campaign to enfranchise fifth-graders. When she got her driver’s license at 17, she drove straight to Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign office to volunteer. 

Later, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Rajkumar led a campus women’s group and tutored low-income Philadelphia women. Believing that “lawyers save the world,” she earned a degree from Stanford Law School – then won her first case as an attorney, a workplace discrimination suit on behalf of 5,000 women. “I realized that to really make a difference, you need power,” Rajkumar says. “So I went into politics.”

Her first role was as a lower Manhattan district leader. After three terms, Rajkumar expanded her sphere of influence as then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state director of immigrant affairs, spearheading a first-in-the-nation, $31 million public-private partnership to provide immigrants with legal defense.

Now settled back into her home borough, Rajkumar has taught political science to the next generation at Lehman College. She was also a senior adviser for the transition team of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who remains an influential ally. On weekends, she runs the length of her district, from Glendale to Richmond Hill, stopping only for Indian tea.

Running is a rare escape from the political grind for Rajkumar. After all, this is the woman who secured her first district seat by defeating a three-decade incumbent with 70% of the vote – and then, in 2020, won her Assembly race with record district turnout. “I started by standing on my street corner, greeting my neighbors one by one,” she says. “In my heart, I’ll always be a scrappy, insurgent upstart.”

Lymaris Albors

CEO, Acacia Network
Lymaris Albors / Argenis Apolinario, Acacia Network

Lymaris Albors loves to surprise people. Polite astonishment is the typical reaction when the CEO of one of New York's preeminent Hispanic-led nonprofits, wielding a $500 million budget, turns out to be a young woman. “It happens every single day,” Albors says, “and I use it to my advantage.”

Her youthful vision informs Acacia Network’s novel offerings, like acupuncture and community arts festivals. Since becoming CEO in 2022, Albors has championed a holistic approach, integrating Acacia’s services across health care, housing, economic development and culture.

Yes, culture: “That’s what heals the soul,” says Albors, a salsa devotee. “Celebrating your heritage, your accent, your movement – that’s what really makes you alive.”

Under Albors’ leadership, Acacia absorbed Loisaida, Manhattan’s grassroots Latino cultural organization, and has incorporated art into everything from detox treatment to shelter programming. Albors also recently led Acacia’s expansion into her native Puerto Rico, developing a senior housing complex.

She grew up in a small town on the island, one of six children from a family of ministers. But Albors always dreamed of coming to New York, where her aunt pioneered substance abuse intervention with the nonprofit Promesa. Now, that organization is one of Acacia’s 100-plus affiliates – and Albors’ career has come full circle.

“I fell in love with the city right away,” Albors says. “This is the greatest opportunity, to be a woman at the helm – and to show every single day that I’ve got what it takes to lead.”

Guedy Arniella

Director, Community Health and Outreach, The Institute for Family Health
Guedy Arniella / Family Health, Communications Dep

Guedy Arniella was running the adult psychiatric department at Mount Sinai Medical Center when she had an epiphany: Mental illness – and health disparities – could often be traced directly to the deleterious effects of living in poverty.

Once she realized that, Arniella shifted her social work career to community health, determined to address problems at their roots. “Communities of color really benefit from understanding, from people who nurture without judging,” she says.

Arniella is in an ideal position to do that: Her family emigrated from Cuba when she was 3 and scraped by at first. “I have a personal connection to brown communities, and the struggles that immigrants go through,” says Arniella, who for the past 14 years has directed community health and outreach at The Institute for Family Health in New York City.

Previously, as outreach director at North General Hospital in Harlem, she engaged peer counselors in diabetes and stroke prevention campaigns. More recently, Arniella has worked with populations suffering the effects of prolonged health neglect, including formerly incarcerated people and asylum-seeking families. At the behest of the city health department, Arniella leads outreach in shelters, vaccinating migrant children so they can attend school.

And she takes pride in mentoring the next generation of grassroots health workers. “You don’t just tell people what you’re going to do. You wind up as equal partners, because community members know their own community, so they’re invested in what works,” she says. “And projects will be more successful.”

Besa Bauta

Chief Information Officer, The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
Besa Bauta / NYU Stern School of Business

As she wrangles technology for human services organizations, Besa Bauta has a secret weapon: She’s not just an expert in data, analytics and AI – she’s also a public health scholar with a doctorate and a social work background.

“I’m in a unique position,” says Bauta, noting that few people straddle analytics and human services. “Unlike other techies, I’ve also been on the other side.”

Bauta currently oversees the digital infrastructure for The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, an almost 150-year-old New York City organization with a $236 million budget. She is a founding member of Women Leaders in Data & AI, and she also co-founded the Social Impact AI Lab, an organization that supports digital transformation of the human services sector and has been lauded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Born in Yugoslavia, Bauta immigrated to New York City with her parents, who were political refugees, and started college as a biomedical engineering student. But women were rare in the sciences, and “you felt intimidated after a while,” recalls Bauta. After college, working as a refugee interpreter in Kosovo, she was inspired by a social worker and switched fields.

Bauta still teaches public health and social work at NYU, her alma mater, but her niche is in the satisfyingly concrete world of engineering. “Solving human problems takes a long time, even when the solution is very obvious,” she says. “I just like solving problems immediately.”

Jackie Bray

Commissioner, State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
Jackie Bray / Provided

What do you get when you combine experience with weather, homelessness, mental health and pandemic response?

In New York, you get Jackie Bray, the first female commissioner of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. While her male predecessors were mostly uniformed services veterans, Bray is a public health expert with a passion for social justice – “understanding and delivering what people need, and making sure they’re empowered to take action,” she says.

Bray’s commitment comes from her activist parents. “They were always talking about the need to be part of the solution,” she says, recalling how they took Bray and her twin sister out of school to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s release.

As a public health advocate, Bray worked on safety communications for the National Weather Service. She also advised City Hall on mental health policy, and created the New York City Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants.

Most definitive, however, was her leadership around the city’s COVID-19 response – managing hospital capacity, the Test and Trace Corps, the vaccination campaign and school reopenings. “I have never felt more useful,” Bray says. “It was certainly the most terrifying work I’ve ever done.”

Which brings us to her new role, handling homeland security. Bray points out that New York’s greatest casualty events have not involved war or terrorism, but they have been epidemics – the 1918 influenza, AIDS and now COVID-19 – while emergency management mostly involves weather. “I’m grateful,” she says, “that the current administration sees this position through a really broad lens.”

Ruth Browne

President and CEO, Ronald McDonald House New York
Ruth Browne / Margarita Corporan

A scholar of social determinants of health, Ruth Browne is herself an example of how social factors can help powerful and influential women.

Browne, the CEO of Ronald McDonald House New York and a public health researcher at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, is heir to a public policy matriarchy. Her grandmother was New York’s highest-ranking official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, pioneering anti-poverty programs with then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay. Her mother directed a community development corporation in Brooklyn, where Browne grew up.

“I was always witness to what could be done from a community groundswell perspective,” Browne says. “I also saw the potential to excel and contribute as a female professional interested in social justice.”

After earning a doctorate from Harvard and serving as founding CEO of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, Browne set about reorienting Ronald McDonald House – which supports families of children in treatment for life-threatening illness – from a hospitality focus to an emphasis on equity-informed health care.

Browne has done this by drawing on her research on health disparities, increasing the services she knows improve outcomes – like family and caregiver respite rooms, and nutrition and education programs so families have “a sense of normalcy.” She has also broadened eligibility and expanded programming from a 50-mile radius to all five boroughs.

“I’ve come to understand the importance of public policy in providing access,” Browne says. “That’s where I’ve built my career – in how we make institutions and communities that have staying power.”

Lisette Camilo

Chief Administrative Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Lisette Camilo / William Campos

As she has climbed the career ladder at New York City agencies, Lisette Camilo has steadfastly championed education – the steppingstone that launched her to professional success.

She’s proud of spearheading partnerships with the City University of New York to recruit the next generation into government career tracks – both at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where she is chief administrative officer and, previously, as commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

“There’s so much opportunity to match smart New York City students with an institution, the MTA, that everybody sees and uses every day,” Camilo says. “These are kids who are working their way through college, trying to live the American dream.”

That observation applies to herself. The Manhattan-born daughter of Dominican immigrants, Camilo discovered in a Columbia University government class “that legislation serves a purpose, that you can really drive change by thinking about underserved people, about service delivery,” she says. “That (has) really appealed to me.”

Camilo was an immigration lawyer and got firsthand policy experience as a legislative attorney with the New York City Council. At the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, she eventually rose to director and chief procurement officer.

A quarter century later, Camilo remains involved with another Columbia institution – the Double Discovery Center, an enrichment program for children who, like Camilo, hail from underprivileged New York families. “I have a very particular bent toward educational opportunities for low-income, first-generation, college-bound students,” says Camilo, a former employee and now a board member. “Their story is my story.”

Natasha Caputo

Director, Westchester County Tourism & Film
Natasha Caputo / Stefan Radtke

Born to promote her home county, Natasha Caputo feels like she’s always been a backyard tourist. “I’m amazed by the way that New York is constantly reinventing itself,” she says.

Caputo has presided over a decisive post-pandemic recovery in her corner of New York at Westchester County Tourism & Film, where she guides the county’s $2 billion tourism industry. As the agency’s director, she’s especially jazzed about her role in cultivating a film sector that generates $1.1 billion in economic activity – much of it through so-called screen tourism, which lures visitors to ogle, say, the houses featured in “The Gilded Age.”

Caputo grew up in Inwood, a northern Manhattan neighborhood not so far from Westchester. She headed strategic marketing and partnerships for NYC & Company, the city’s promotional agency, and was a publicist for Channel 13, working on the travel shows that deepened her interest in cultural tourism. 

And she’s genuinely wild about the region. “We have urban and suburbia, and so much diversity in the experiences you can have here,” she says. Add that to events like the Westchester Kennel Club’s annual dog show and historic sites like the Revolutionary Trail – a cornerstone of promotions around America’s 2026 sesquicentennial celebration – and you can see why Caputo’s marketing campaigns have rebounded tourism to 99% of pre-coronavirus levels.

“If I go somewhere and I have a fantastic meal, I want to share it, I want to tell everyone,” Caputo says. “I always say that tourism is the best form of diplomacy.”

Elizabeth Crowley

President and CEO, Building Trades Employers’ Association
Elizabeth Crowley / NYC Council

Elizabeth Crowley was the first woman to represent her Queens district in the New York City Council. Now she’s the first woman to lead the Building Trades Employers’ Association, an industry group representing 1,200 members of 24 contractor associations.

Crashing through glass ceilings comes naturally to Crowley, “the 11th of 12 daughters to an unstoppable mother,” as she describes herself. Growing up, Crowley fought for her fair share of everything from TV time to dessert. She also watched her widowed mother raise a family, serve on the school board and even finish out her late father’s term on the City Council. “She showed me by example how much of a difference you can make,” Crowley says.

Over two terms in the City Council, Crowley left her own mark. She co-chaired the Women’s Caucus, and she co-founded and led a nonpartisan organization dedicated to gender parity – and the effort was wildly successful, establishing the council’s first female majority.

Crowley also secured record funding for school construction and supported programs championing women in the building trades – so she was a natural choice to lead the BTEA into a more inclusive era. She has worked hands-on with buildings herself, as a decorative painter for landmark restorations of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Radio City Music Hall. (She holds degrees in art restoration, architecture and planning.)

“I’m passionate about what makes a place a place, and the impact buildings have on the people who occupy them,” Crowley says. “I love just watching the city move.”

Katie Devine

Principal, Rockabill Consulting
Katie Devine / David White Photography

Katie Devine will never forget the day she helped change 100 lives.

As a consultant specializing in affordable housing, Devine was awed to watch local shelter residents move into the 40-unit Indiana project that she had facilitated for people with disabilities.

“It’s a great privilege to be in a position to do work with impact,” Devine says.

Her efforts have bigger impacts now that she’s based in New York – “the city in the United States with both the greatest amount of need and the greatest amount of opportunity,” she says. A principal with Hoboken-based Rockabill Consulting, Devine works with both nonprofit and for-profit developers, shepherding stakeholders through financing and development.

Most of Devine’s work involves supportive and transitional housing for people who are homeless, elderly, in substance abuse recovery or suffering from mental illness. A recent highlight, she says, was partnering with St. Francis Friends of the Poor on a $22 million renovation of three residences for homeless adults with mental illness.

A Cornell hospitality graduate, Devine started her career in operations management for large cultural institutions, working at Lincoln Center and The Art Institute of Chicago. But when a Midwestern affordable housing developer reached out for a project, Devine was ready for a change.

Growing up in Minneapolis in a family that struggled economically, “I had the opportunity to see inequities,” she says. “I wanted to do something that had a little bit more meaning to it. For me, it feels as though I’ve come full circle.”

Sheila Duke

CEO, Roads to Success
Sheila Duke / Jonathan Ortiz, Created Focused Designs Inc.

At Roads to Success, the New York City youth services provider that she leads, Sheila Duke takes her young charges to visit the Statue of Liberty, on tours of out-of-state colleges and to spend the summer in swimming classes.

“These are things that more privileged kids might do,” Duke says. “I try to show them all different types of paths, give them something to aspire to. And allow kids to realize that your ZIP code doesn’t dictate what success looks like.”

It certainly didn’t limit Duke, who overcame shaky foundations – she was adopted by an aunt, a single parent who died when Duke was 20 – to become a role model for New York underprivileged children of color.

Her career in youth development nonprofits started when, at age 14, Duke became a tutor at the MLK Community Center on her native Long Island. After earning degrees in psychology and counseling, Duke ran children’s programs at The Fresh Air Fund and launched 110 summer camps with New York Edge.

Now as CEO of Roads to Success, she oversees a $6.4 million budget and services ranging from after-school enrichment to college prep and workforce development. But just as important as the programming is the message they – and she – send to youths trying to change their trajectories. “When kids look at me, I want them to see themselves. I want them to see a strong Black woman,” Duke says. “My philosophy is, I lift as I climb.”

Laura Evangelista

Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig
Laura Evangelista / Greenberg Traurig

In the 1990s, when Laura Evangelista was starting out as a litigator, she was frequently the only female attorney in the room. So she was pleased to realize, during a recent detour into the public sector, how much had changed in her profession.

At the state Department of Financial Services, “a female superintendent hired me as head of insurance. And her head of banking, chief of staff and chief compliance officer were all women,” says Evangelista, who supervised regulation for 1,700 insurers. “Thirty years later, it’s a really different environment.”

That’s also true at Greenberg Traurig, where she is a shareholder in the New York office and global co-chair of the firm’s insurance regulatory and transactions practice group. Evangelista herself can take some credit for the advancement of women in New York state: At DFS, she worked on a historic family leave bill that guarantees women the same paid time off she had enjoyed when her children were born.

The Queens native was drawn to policy early, interning in the Connecticut legislature while studying political science at Trinity College. “I joke that it took me 25 years to get back to public service,” she says.

Her fresh government insights are invaluable to clients seeking advice on new insurance products. Having served as both outside and in-house counsel as well as an insurance broker “is sort of a unique tripod,” Evangelista says. “I’m able to bring those three pieces together to assist clients navigating their regulatory obligations.”

Retha Fernandez

Strategic Engagement Manager, National Grid Ventures
Retha Fernandez / Provided

Tech enthusiast Retha Fernandez believes everyone should study engineering. “It teaches you problem-solving and critical thinking,” she says, “and the technical skills enable you to put your ideas into action.”

Fernandez’s own technical studies have led to a career actively promoting inclusive workforce development – specifically, extending promising technical jobs to underserved communities. That’s what she does as strategic engagement manager for National Grid Ventures, where she manages a 10-year, $41 million effort to employ disadvantaged New Yorkers in offshore wind projects.

Investments in career-supportive services like child care and transportation facilitate “a pathway to good-paying union jobs, so that individuals can build financial security,” Fernandez says.

Fernandez knows what it’s like to be underrepresented: She has often been the only woman of color on tech teams she has worked in. Determined to change that, she inaugurated the inclusion and diversity employee research groups at the Estee Lauder Companies, where she worked for nearly a decade and managed global IT services.

Fernandez also served as Suffolk County’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, and she has advanced DEI initiatives at the Urban League of Long Island. Concerned by what she views as lingering disparities, Fernandez chooses to volunteer her time encouraging girls to pursue STEM.

“Technology enables innovation and creativity to help solve the problems in the world,” she says. “I’m showing young women that you can look the way I look, dress fabulously – and still work in tech.”

Jaime Franchi

Director of Communications and Government Relations, Long Island Contractors’ Association
Jaime Franchi / Long Island Contractors’ Association

From her decadelong tenure at the Long Island Press to her current post as spokesperson for the Long Island Contractors’ Association, Jaime Franchi has been a consistent voice for the concerns and interests of her home isle.

Regardless of role, Franchi has always identified first as a communicator. Putting out LICA’s quarterly magazine “brings together the two loves of my life, politics and writing,” on behalf of 170 union contractor members, she says.

Franchi originally thought she would be an English professor, but was drawn to the rhetorical language of politics. Her mentor in both was novelist and then-Rep. Steve Israel, for whom she worked at his Long Island University institute after leaving the Press.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed Franchi further into policy. “It sounds corny, but I wanted to make a difference,” she says. Seeing hunger on Long Island skyrocket along with unemployment, she felt the need to “use what I’d learned and the relationships I’d built and put it into advocacy.”

She started by securing a $1 million appropriation for Island Harvest food bank, where she headed government relations. More recently, Franchi celebrated a successful campaign for New York’s clean water initiative, including an $8 billion investment in Long Island’s sewers and other infrastructure.

Amid the uncertainty of recent years, “the only way to assuage that was to get out and do what I could,” says Franchi of her latest chapter. “It (has) felt great to jump in with both feet.”

Elizabeth Garcia

Chief Program Officer, Community-Based Programs, Good Shepherd Services
Elizabeth Garcia / shalaphotography

Elizabeth Garcia has devoted her career to helping New York City’s vulnerable young people secure housing.

“When I think about where we were at 16, we had family,” Garcia says. “These young people have been left to fend for themselves, in a situation that was not their causing.”

After two decades focusing on youth homelessness, Garcia recently expanded her oversight to a $13 million annual portfolio of 20 community-based programs across all five boroughs. She now coordinates Good Shepherd Service’s anti-violence programming, community centers, family mentoring and youth justice initiatives, which involve alternatives to incarceration.

“It’s been interesting seeing how these issues all intersect,” Garcia says. A longtime fixture on youth housing task forces, she continues to advocate with the Coalition for Homeless Youth: “It’s something I’ll always be involved with, one way or another.”

The Colombia native was 5 years old when her mother moved the family to New Jersey. Feeling the pressure to achieve, Garcia was pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania before a post-college job at Covenant House convinced her that “there’s so many more ways of helping people,” she says. She excelled in the organization’s leadership development program, earned a master’s at NYU and has since lobbied for vulnerable youth on city task forces.

“Because I was an immigrant, because English wasn’t my first language, because I was a woman, I’ve always felt I had to work harder,” she says. “The opportunity that I’ve gotten here means I have to give back.”

Carrie Harring

Director of Government Affairs, Statewide Public Affairs
Carrie Harring / Hannah Hutter

As she lobbies through yet another Albany budget season, Carrie Harring thinks back to the experience that first drove home the impact of state funding.

She was a young drummer in Columbia County when budget cuts threatened to eliminate middle school band. The compromise – band practice during recess – proved unpopular. So Harring and her classmates successfully protested, restoring both band and recess.

“That definitely planted a seed” for her political consciousness, Harring says. “You see things you want changed. You have to find people who agree with you, and make your case. Because nothing happens in a vacuum.”

Harring now uses those strategies daily as director of government affairs for Statewide Public Affairs, an Albany firm. Her specialties include energy, corporate and business policy (she holds an MBA) and health care, the field she originally thought she would go into.

While studying physical therapy, Harring realized her true interest was health policy. As a lobbyist, she is proud of helping to secure measures to expand insurance coverage, make co-pays fairer and reduce barriers to access.

Harring is also a volunteer advocate, committed to increasing opportunities for upstate young people. She is active with the Junior League of Albany and with Girls Inc., where she currently mentors eighth-graders.

“We expose them to different things, whether my job or how you survive middle and high school,” she says. “With the challenges kids face today, I learn just as much from those girls as they do from me – maybe more.”

Kathryn Haslanger

Kathryn Haslanger / JASA

Some people who grow up steeped in social justice, as Kathryn Haslanger did, become counselors or clergy leaders. But Haslanger’s early experiences in New York City government convinced her that policy was her route to making a difference.

A post-college role with the city’s human resources department “gave me the opportunity to really spread my wings, work hard, learn and grow,” she says.

That turned out to be the perfect launching pad for a social impact career that propelled Haslanger to the helm of JASA, a human services nonprofit devoted to keeping older New Yorkers safe and healthy in their own homes.

Since Haslanger became CEO in 2012, the organization has grown to $135 million in annual revenue, with housing, nutrition and home care services for 40,000 clients across the city and Long Island.

The Ohio native has long been an effective problem-solver. When the 9/11 attacks shut down city computer systems, Haslanger, then head of the United Hospital Fund of New York, rallied a public-private coalition to streamline Medicaid signup for 340,000 residents. In response to rising demand, she opened community primary care centers.

Haslanger brought that effectiveness to JASA, where she has expanded meal delivery and senior housing. “The crisis has worsened, but we now have the capacity to develop the response,” she says.

After 30 years solving New Yorkers’ problems, Haslanger remains as motivated as ever, she says, “by my commitment to providing choices to people who haven’t had a choice.”

Kendra Hems

President, Trucking Association of New York
Kendra Hems / Brian Jones, Brian L. Jones Photography

As America’s trucking industry modernizes, one of its contemporary faces is Kendra Hems, who heads the Trucking Association of New York.

Especially for women, trucking often isn’t often a first-choice profession. “But once you get into it, you love it,” Hems says. She grew up around her stepfather’s Oswego trucking outfit, got to know truckers as a young dispatcher – and, after finding accounting too impersonal, changed her college major to management and went into the family business.

At the industry organization, which she joined in 1999, Hems has partnered with public safety advocates and environmental groups, “showing that the trucking industry is part of the solution,” she says. She also co-founded the association’s Women in Motion Advisory Committee, which pairs women mentors with female recruits.

The association’s president since 2008, Hems recently championed the successful effort to lower the interstate commercial driving age to 21, enabling her constituency to recruit high school graduates and ease the driver shortage.

Hems has also served as national chair of her association’s executive council, and on transportation advisory committees for then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s transition team and then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during the COVID-19 emergency.

It took the pandemic, she says, to open America’s eyes to what she has known all along – that her industry is vital to our supply chain. “Truckers support everything that we need on a daily basis, and they do it every day,” Hems says. “They truly love this country – and they’re underappreciated.”

Jen Hensley

Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Con Edison
Jen Hensley / Intersection Inc.

Growing up in Fresno, a city in California’s Central Valley, Jen Hensley always wanted “to be in a place where I could do big things,” she says.

New York City has been that place. In college at Barnard, Hensley “got to understand New York at its most fundamental level – the neighborhood,” in a series of roles with the Alliance for Downtown New York, lower Manhattan’s business improvement district. 

In the two decades since then, Hensley has played a significant role in shaping neighborhoods across the city – including a lengthy tenure at the helm of the Association for a Better New York, and now at Con Edison, where she is helping shape the city’s clean energy transition.

“For me, it’s been a homecoming,” Hensley says of her current role handling corporate affairs. “Focusing on what’s going to make the city work – and what’s going to make us sustainable in the future.”

Hensley’s dedication to grassroots change was galvanized early on, during the urgent post-9/11 conversations about how to revitalize a wounded city. At ABNY, where she increased membership significantly, Hensley impressed upon the de Blasio administration the need for policies supporting New York’s burgeoning technology ecosystem: “Every company is a tech company nowadays,” she says.

To that end, Hensley chairs the board of Pursuit, a nonprofit that trains low-income residents and immigrants for technology careers. “Pursuit emphasizes persistence, which I think is at the very heart of New Yorkers,” she says. “Our grit is what makes us successful in the long run.”

Jasminka Husic

Chief Financial Officer, New York State Technology Enterprise Corp.
Jasminka Husic / NYHeadshots

Since her youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jasminka Husic has always kept her eyes on the proverbial prize.

She parlayed a postwar interpreter role with U.N. peacekeeping forces into a chance to study in America, eventually earning a business and computer science degree from Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

She enjoyed software development, but chose a master’s in accounting as a step toward her eventual goal: to become a chief financial officer.

Today, Husic is indeed a CFO, directing finance and business intelligence for the New York State Technology Enterprise Corp. It’s her ninth year at the nonprofit consultancy, which provides technical support for state and federal agencies and local economies both upstate and downstate.

“I love being an expert in finance, and also keeping current with the technological advances that are happening all around us,” Husic says.

That approach has yielded explosive growth for the consultancy – which has seen its revenue quintuple to $100 million since she joined as controller. Husic also helps nurture the next generation of upstate workers – mentoring female first-year STEM students at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, her graduate alma mater, and advising the Utica school district’s technical education program.

As her own career illustrates, there are few limits on what someone with determination can achieve. “Even though it wasn’t always easy, I never gave up,” Husic says. “And if I’m the only voice in the room representing a woman’s perspective, it has to be a strong one.”

Linda Johnson

President and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library
Linda Johnson / Gregg Richards

When Linda Johnson pivoted from a corporate career to libraries, her MBA came in handy. 

“I’m really running a business,” says Johnson, who for the past dozen years has managed a $170 million budget as CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library. “We move merchandise around 62 branches. We have a flagship, a union staff … all the components of a midsize business, except sales.”

Johnson knows her mission goes far beyond logistics. Taking a stand against the tide of censorship sweeping American libraries, she recently launched Books Unbanned, a national program giving teens digital access to materials censored elsewhere.

As part of that effort to expand the library’s reach, Johnson curated a 2023 exhibition honoring the 50th anniversary of hip-hop by spotlighting the books that inspired Brooklyn native Jay-Z. Membership skyrocketed, with special edition library cards becoming collectors’ items.

The show “drove home that Jay-Z’s success was grounded in the written word,” Johnson says. As is hers: After studying English and running an information services firm, Johnson visited a library in her native Philadelphia “and realized how cool it was – this institution that was totally free and provided access to the world’s information to anybody who walked through the door,” she says.

She became a volunteer, then CEO of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation – and two decades later, she remains awed ­by the power of libraries. “The way we read has changed, but the mission over 125 years hasn’t,” she says. “We still make an enormous difference in people’s lives.”

Sakina Jordan

Peer Specialist Team Lead, MetroPlusHealth
Sakina Jordan / Melody Cao, MetroPlusHealth

Growing up during Harlem’s crack epidemic, Sakina Jordan got an up-close look at the ravages of substance abuse and mental illness.

“I saw individuals passed out, ambulances taking them away,” she recalls. “I thought: How can we make this better?”

Jordan comes from a family of strong, nurturing women: Her mother was a home health aide, and her sister is a nurse with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For her part, Jordan earned a social work degree and returned to the neighborhood, helping struggling residents turn their lives around.

After a decade working in group homes and transitional housing, Jordan in 2021 joined the new in-house behavioral health unit at MetroPlusHealth. Since last year, she has served as a peer specialist team lead, supervising a dozen field workers who use their lived experiences overcoming substance abuse and mental illness to help others do the same.

“Nothing is more satisfying than seeing someone overcome obstacles, reintegrate into the community and have a new chance at life,” Jordan says.

But new challenges confront her team’s Medicaid clients, who receive services in a combination of inpatient, home and community settings. There are superpotent drugs like fentanyl and a severe housing crisis, which threatens to destabilize fragile patients in recovery.

Jordan sees more and more needy people as she commutes daily through Penn Station from New Jersey – and she can’t resist stopping to help if she can. “My social worker self never shuts off,” she says.

Rhoda Kalema

Underwriting Manager, Ponce Bank
Rhoda Kalema / Urbnevents

Not everybody sees the artistry in commercial underwriting. But Rhoda Kalema does, and that’s why she’s so good at it.

“After a while, it might seem redundant,” she says of the myriad real estate loans she handles. “But there is something unique about each property. Looking at different ways to structure a deal, from different angles – that’s the art.”

At Ponce Bank in New York City, Kalema manages an underwriting team whose portfolio has grown from $800 million in 2015, when she joined, to nearly $3 billion. These include loans for purchases and refinancing as well as construction projects.

Kalema’s early example was her father, a real estate appraiser and surveyor who got her interested in the construction industry. But an internship at Sterling National Bank turned into an underwriting job – and she discovered her niche in credit.

For Kalema, success involves not only numbers, but human instinct – “remembering that the ‘five C’s of credit’ include character,” she says. Once, when her supervisor was ready to approve a loan, Kalema was unnerved by the customer’s fidgeting. She double-checked – and discovered that a crucial document had been forged.

“That was a lesson: Just because you have a lot of money or experience, that should never blind you in the transaction that you’re working on,” Kalema says. The individuality of each customer keeps her job interesting: “Each deal is like a painting. You start with their needs, see it to fruition, and something beautiful finally comes out of it.”

Samara Karasyk

President and CEO, Hudson Square Business Improvement District
Samara Karasyk / Sasha Gitin

Samara Karasyk’s urbanist vision is evident in the details of a revitalized Hudson Square: wider sidewalks, pocket parks, pedestrian and bike lanes, shady new trees. Near the Holland Tunnel exit, colorful public art brightens a defunct toll structure.

“We’re incorporating our businesses, bringing their creativity from their offices into our public spaces,” Karasyk says. “It really does feel more welcoming in the neighborhood.”

Welcoming is at the core of Karasyk’s mission at the Hudson Square Business Improvement District, which she has helmed since 2021. With an annual budget of $3.2 million, Karasyk leads the ongoing renewal of a once-neglected corner of downtown Manhattan, rebuilding its signature thoroughfares and planting greenery to combat climate change.

Inspired partly by her upbringing in nearby Norwalk, Connecticut – an economically diverse city then undergoing its own renaissance – Karasyk has devoted her career to bolstering New York City neighborhoods. Previously, at the New York City Small Business Resources Network, a $2.8 million public-private partnership, she was the liaison to the five chambers of commerce in the city.

Before that, she had boosted her home borough’s small businesses as chief policy officer for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. To all her roles, she brings a passion for policy honed over years at city agencies, working on everything from property taxes to public parks. 

“I’m a huge policy geek, and I just love New York City – working with such amazing people and communities,” Karasyk says. “I feel lucky to be in a position where we have such hyperlocal impact.”

Rebecca Karp

Founding Principal and CEO, Karp Strategies
Rebecca Karp / Ricardo Quinones

For an urban planner, New York City is a kind of professional smorgasbord. “We have every challenge possible here,” says Rebecca Karp, the founding principal and CEO of Karp Strategies. “In New York, we can really make an impact at scale.”

Karp got an early education in the power of urban ecosystems from her parents, who were active in labor and civic organizations, as well as the contrasting landscapes where she spent her formative years. A high school stint in the vibrant urban density of Tokyo threw the challenges of Karp’s native Hudson Valley – which had been devastated by the collapse of manufacturing – into sharp relief.

“My whole life, I’ve been thinking about the responsibility of an employer or government toward its community,” Karp says.

After college, Karp landed in New York City at a moment when economic development was kicking into high gear. She learned the inner workings of government at several city agencies before launching her own urban planning firm in 2015.

Now Karp oversees a staff of 30, with a national clientele and projects ranging from renewable energy to lower Manhattan’s flood infrastructure. She’s still thrilled over her role advising a former employer, the Port Authority, on a plan to replace the deteriorating wharfs that receive most of the region’s incoming goods.

“Being part of a project that examines the infrastructure underpinning our region’s economic success,” Karp says, “I don’t know how it gets much better than that.”

Nashanta Lamont

Associate Director of Governmental and Political Affairs, Council of School Supervisors & Administrators
Nashanta Lamont / Chuck Wilbanks

Nashanta Lamont insists she’s really very shy. “But when it comes to dancing, I come alive,” she says. “I come alive like that in my work too!”

That energy is evident when Lamont lobbies in Albany and Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, the New York City chapter of a national educators union. It’s on view as she rallies in support of fair contracts and education-friendly candidates, and when she builds coalitions to promote school safety, reduce teacher turnover and increase equity through initiatives like free school lunch.

“A big part of my job is educating school workers about why it’s important to fight for funding, and to build relationships with elected officials,” Lamont says.

The daughter of union corrections officers, Lamont grew up in Queens and began her career at the city Department of Education. Her proudest achievement there was co-launching the Affinity Schools Student Advisory Council on Equity, a pilot platform for student activism.

“We represent 1.1 million students, and a lot of them look like me,” Lamont says. “Advocating on their behalf is really powerful. It shows them that representation is important.”

Recently, as associate director of governmental and political affairs, Lamont secured record state funding for CSA’s Executive Leadership Institute – enabling the union to expand mentoring and develop culturally responsive curricula.

“School is where I thrive the most,” Lamont says. “There are always opportunities for learning, teaching and growing all at once. That’s the beauty of it.”

Neela Lockel

President and CEO, EAC Network

Working at a homeless shelter during college, Neela Lockel had an “aha” moment: “I realized that was the kind of work I’d always been attracted to – working with vulnerable individuals.”

Her parents took more convincing. “I'm the daughter of Indian immigrants!” Lockel says. “So when I went from going to law school to going to social work school, they were like, ‘What?’”

But Lockel persisted in advocacy that was, as she puts it, “hyperlocal and rooted in communities.” She’s done that ever since – and now she’s CEO of the EAC Network, a nonprofit human services organization reaching 60,000 people across New York City, Rockland County and Long Island.

Inclusion is a priority: At EAC, Lockel has dramatically increased diversity on the organization’s board. The organization focuses on seniors and nutrition, children and youth, families and communities, vocational services and criminal
justice and behavioral health.

Lockel has a long history of working with vulnerable populations with critical needs and serving as a voice for those who are often unheard or unseen. She counts her experiences on the ground during major disasters as among her proudest moments as a social worker. As CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Long Island chapter, she assisted after devastating hurricanes and floods in the Carolinas and wildfires in California.

“I’m in a community of people who love this work and share a vision,” Lockel says. “I have seen and felt the impact of what we’re able to do as part of these systems that move people forward.”

Vivian Louie

Chief Housing Officer, Community Housing Innovations
Vivian Louie / Bob Giglione

While her University of Michigan classmates were on the beach for spring break, Vivian Louie was, in her own words, “freezing my butt off” in Kalamazoo, building a house with Habitat for Humanity.

But who needs a tan when you can come back from vacation with a lifetime mission? Since that first volunteer experience, Louie has devoted her career to securing housing for people in need – especially those suffering the trauma of a home lost to disaster.

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never felt I was at risk, and I can’t imagine the idea of not having a place to call home,” says the New York City native, who grew up in the stability of a Mitchell-Lama project.

For those less fortunate, Louie coordinates short and long-term lodging and services across eight New York counties as chief housing officer for the nonprofit Community Housing Innovations. She also still volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.

A social worker by training, Louie previously served as an assistant commissioner in New York City’s homeless services and housing departments. The most meaningful aspect of both roles, she says, involved providing emergency housing for people displaced by hurricanes, Superstorm Sandy, fires and construction accidents.

“In a second, people lose it all. You’re running out of your home in pajamas, or you come home and nothing’s there. You’re never prepared for that,” Louie says. “I love being part of a team that brings people from a place of trauma – and finds them a home again.”

Dulande Louis

Director, Trauma Recovery Center, Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island
Dulande Louis / Serengeti Design Studio, NBG

When Haitian migrants or gun violence survivors show up at Brooklyn’s Trauma Recovery Center, they find an empathetic welcome from Dulande Louis.

Louis, the center’s director through the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, champions the unseen strength of marginalized people, especially women. She saw that strength in the mother and grandmother who raised her in Haiti.

“They were illiterate, but they had a great deal of agency, grace and wisdom,” Louis says. “My mother made it clear that the way to escape poverty was education. Now I’m honored by the opportunity to provide services to people who look like me.”

As a young migrant in New York, Louis was advised that nursing was the fastest route to security for Haitian immigrants – but she was drawn to community health. She earned social work degrees from Adelphi University, returning to Haiti for doctoral research on the poor but resilient women she had grown up with – and winning the 2022 Outstanding Doctoral Student Award from the National Association of Social Workers’ New York chapter. 

Louis now teaches at her alma mater and at Touro College. Her career has spanned crisis intervention and substance abuse, serving prisoners at Rikers Island and foster mothers. Having grown up without regular meals or decent footwear, Louis isn’t easily fazed.

“I always wanted a better life, even when I wasn’t sure what that meant,” she says. “The desire to go as far as I could was the underpinning of everything that I’ve done.”

Natalie Lozada

Associate Executive Director of Programs, East Side House Settlement

Why should a community center in the South Bronx look any different than one on East 86th Street? “It shouldn’t,” says Natalie Lozada, who oversees programs for East Side House Settlement, a $30 million Bronx social services nonprofit serving 10,000 families.

That the borough lags in city funding and health metrics “doesn't mean we can’t show up for our young people and families – and give them what they deserve.”

What they deserve, Lozada emphasizes, are programs catering to residents of all ages, with a focus on education and workforce development. At ESHS, she spearheaded a training program featuring the kind of long-haul mentorship that produces better outcomes.

Growing up in the South Bronx herself, Lozada saw the poverty and lack of resources that have long plagued her neighbors. “I always wanted to fight for the people who couldn’t fight for themselves,” Lozada says. 

Her first job after City College crystallized her vision. It was at one of East Side’s partnerships, a transfer school that supports overaged students around the same age Lozada was when she interned at the nonprofit. “Coming back felt like the perfect opportunity,” she says.

After all, Lozada knows she could just as easily have ended up on the other side of the equation. “I’m proud to sit at this table, not only as a woman but as a Latina,” Lozada says. “I am exactly one of these statistics. I could have been everything I saw growing up.”

Manon Manavit

Community Arts Manager, Goddard Riverside Community Center
Manon Manavit / Bronwen Sharp

Some might see Manon Manavit’s job at a Manhattan human services organization as a departure from her career as a theater director. Manavit disagrees.

“My background is interdisciplinary work,” she explains. “That identity as a director has been with me since I was 15, but I never thought of it as being limited to theater only. If you’re a director, you direct energy, attention, resources.”

The daughter of a puppeteer and a cartoonist and clown, Manavit began her career in Montreal, staging productions with Cirque du Soleil. She saw a play she wrote debut in Philadelphia. She had a French-English poetry translation shortlisted for the 2017 PEN Translation Prize (she is a dual citizen of France) and the next year she produced the Deep Water Literary Festival, which brings the likes of Joyce Carol Oates and Mark Ruffalo to New York City and the Catskills each summer.

Manavit arrived at Goddard Riverside Community Center in 2022 and was immediately taken with the Upper West Side institution’s mission. “Goddard is known for seeing the arts as a crucial part of quality of life that strengthens families and communities,” says Manavit, who has curated exhibitions featuring neighborhood artists and this year is spotlighting Black, Indigenous and other people of color women’s health through cultural events.

“We reach across the aisle, finding ways that social justice and the arts can exist simultaneously,” Manavit says. As both artist and administrator, she adds, “I have both skill sets, creativity and clarity. I make things happen from the ground up.”

Maria Massei-Rosato

Co-Founder, LiveFireAI
Maria Massei-Rosato / Peter Smejkal

Maria Massei-Rosato has a lot of insights to share.

Over the past four decades, she has had a 35-year technology career at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, authored a screenplay that won a prize at the Milan International Filmmaker Festival, developed writing workshops for European business schools and launched a startup, LiveFireAI.

Fittingly, her latest project is a career guide for new graduates. “I want to share whatever I’ve learned with my son’s generation, as they enter the workforce and navigate challenges,” she says.

With a provisional title incorporating the tagline “Lost in Control” – also the title of her memoir and her screenplay – Massei-Rosato summons up the lessons she has learned from various projects, as well as from the cross-country bicycle adventure she undertook while coping with her mother's descent into Alzheimer’s disease.

“Life requires courage in the face of adversity,” is how Massei-Rosato sums up those lessons, referring not only to mental illness but also to the lightning storms, cougars and mad dogs she encountered on the road.

Massei-Rosato fell in love with computer science precisely because it avoided those variables. “I love the logic of being able to solve a problem by writing commands, and the computer doing exactly what you want,” she says.

Now she combines her literary and technological insights teaching data and storytelling at Parsons School of Design. Whether writing a book or launching a startup, Massei-Rosato has common advice: “You have to engage people at the level that they care.”

Marie Mirville-Shahzada

Founder and Executive Director, Alfadila Community Services
Marie Mirville-Shahzada / NBG

When her first child was diagnosed with autism, Marie Mirville-Shahzada discovered the myriad disability services offered in New York state. Meanwhile, at her job managing food services at four Brooklyn public schools, she counseled her staff about their own social service needs – recalling that “I always ended up filling out the forms.”

So it was only logical that, in 2020, Mirville-Shahzada combined all this know-how to launch Alfadila Community Services, the organizational equivalent of a very helpful neighbor. Beginning with hot meal distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alfadila has expanded its offerings to include after-school activities and, this summer, a disability-inclusive camp – as well as referrals to various local support services.

“So many people don’t know about the resources that are available,” says Mirville-Shahzada, citing examples like city and community programs that assist with developmental disabilities, senior transportation, job training and small-business education.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Mirville-Shahzada grew up in Brooklyn watching her mother cook for their church community and demonstrate on behalf of the Haitian diaspora, adding that she was inspired by her “always wanting to help, always wanting to be there for the next person.”

Now it’s her turn. She serves on Brooklyn Community Board 10, and last year was named one of “Brooklyn’s Heroes” by the borough president. As ever, Mirville-Shahzada both buoys and is buoyed by the community, staffing Alfadila with neighbors “who all also have their own day jobs,” she says. “Everyone has their role – and everyone’s committed.”

Madison Mounty

Associate Vice President, Nonprofits, Kasirer
Madison Mounty / Katie Wilson

Madison Mounty knows lobbyists are not always seen as the good guys. “You hear about the bad conduct in D.C., whether the gun lobby or the tobacco lobby,” Mounty says. “But every day, I work with nonprofits whose sole mission is to make the city a better place.”

At Kasirer, a woman-owned public affairs and government relations firm, Mounty manages efforts to support vital New York City nonprofits such as Symphony Space, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City.

Both Mounty and Kasirer have a strong affinity for women-focused organizations like Hot Bread Kitchen, a workforce development organization for whom Mounty helped facilitate a historic partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Food Policy. Indeed, a large part of her work is devoted to positioning nonprofits like Family Legal Care for new and impactful partnerships with the city.

“They may not have the bandwidth to make key partners aware of the critical services they’re providing,” Mounty says. Recently, she was part of the team that helped secure $41 million in city funding for The Public Theater to renovate Central Park’s historic Delacorte Theater.

Raised in a politically active New York family, Mounty was an avid volunteer by middle school. Now she enjoys her impact as “the middleman,” as she puts it. “I love helping to elevate the work that nonprofits do and the people they serve daily – and ensuring they can continue providing those services.”

Denise Murphy McGraw

Partner, Hill, Gosdeck, McGraw & Nemeth
Denise Murphy McGraw / Dave Felden

Denise Murphy McGraw is in her element when she’s behind the scenes.

That's true of her career as a government relations specialist: On behalf of many clients, she has secured nearly $1 billion in state and federal funds and helped pass more than 25 pieces of legislation.

And it’s even more true of her side gig as a background actor, appearing in shows like “Billions” and “Succession,” where she is often cast as a legislator – “the lady who walks and nods,” she says – and hangs out with the likes of Kieran Culkin.

The common thread, Murphy McGraw explains, is that she “enjoys the sausage-making – and working with the people who are very good at it.”

It’s the type of role she has played since grade school on Long Island, when Murphy McGraw ran her friends’ student government campaigns. More recently – as a partner at Hill, Gosdeck, McGraw & Nemeth in Albany – she has championed mental health, bolstering policies to expand access and insurance coverage. She is also known for facilitating union construction projects like hospital and school renovations, and for securing a tax credit for the Broadway roadshows that invigorate upstate theaters.

Recently, Murphy McGraw dipped a toe into the spotlight, serving three terms as a member of her suburban town board. “I love public service. Advocating for my community is how I always saw my role,” she says. But, she adds, she left “because I have a big day job – and it’s only gotten bigger over the years.”

Julia Oliver

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Volunteers of America-Greater New York
Julia Oliver / Rochelle Heinrichs, Volunteers of America

Julia Oliver has been a person of faith since her Catholic school days. At the parish rectory where she worked in high school, lunchtime conversations with the priests “really left a mark on me,” she says.

Years later, Oliver felt grateful to God for her decision not to go into her World Trade Center office on Sept. 11, 2001. The near-miss made Oliver – an investment banking veteran and a mother of two – “stop and reflect,” she says. “I decided I wanted to serve people.”

That decision pivoted Oliver to a nonprofit career and her current role with Volunteers of America-Greater New York, where she is chief operating officer and executive vice president. She leads not only finance, but also technology, real estate and day-to-day operations for a human services organization whose revenue has grown from $95 million to $160 million in less than a decade.

The longtime audit and finance specialist has found new purpose in adding housing to her portfolio, drawing on skills honed at previous nonprofit roles with the American Bible Society and the United Church of Christ’s pension investing division. At VOA-GNY, Oliver has personally overseen new residences for hundreds of vulnerable people since 2020.

It’s an impact that, unlike an accounting ledger, she can personally see. And it draws Oliver closer to the mission inspired decades ago by her hometown priests: “The need to be like God’s arms here on Earth,” she says. “I’ve always tried to live up to that.”

Ariel Palitz

Managing Director of Hospitality and Intergovernmental Affairs, Oaktree Solutions
Ariel Palitz / Sean Turi

Ariel Palitz came of age in a Manhattan nightlife scene that was glamorous yet underappreciated – viewed as “a liability, and not an asset,” she says, a perspective formed by her decade running New York’s most-cited bar for noise complaints.

The pandemic prompted New Yorkers to realize how vital entertainment and hospitality are to the city’s economy and sense of self. It’s a case Palitz had already been making for years – most recently as the founding director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Nightlife, a role she held from 2018 to 2023.

A decade fending off multiagency scrutiny at her East Village lounge “activated and politicized me,” she says, “to defend not only myself, but also the industry.”

After joining her community board, then the liquor licensing committee, Palitz co-founded the New York City Hospitality Alliance. But her crowning achievement is establishing the Office of Nightlife, “a dedicated nonenforcement liaison with the city that reframes this industry.”

Now a global ambassador for the industry, Palitz draws on her experience to propose solutions – like the city law that puts overdose-reversal medication behind every bar, or the replacement of New York’s punitive approach to nightlife complaints with mediation. She’s currently an adviser with the International Nightlife Association and the hospitality director at Oaktree Solutions, a growing public affairs firm.

And she still goes out every night. “I love good food, good music and talking to cool people,” Palitz says. “If you’re not going out in New York, why are you here?”

Charito Patel

Senior Clinical Director for Infection Control, Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation
Charito Patel / Parker Jewish Institute

Nursing was the dream of Charito Patel’s mother, who never finished high school and insisted that Patel go as far as she could – from her native Philippines to New York, where Patel earned two master’s degrees and became a senior-level nurse.

At one point during her studies, when her beloved grandmother was ailing, Patel realized nursing was her own calling too. “I was so fond of older people,” Patel says. “If they can’t talk, I will be their voice. I will be their eyes if they can’t see.” She would cry when she moved to a new job.

Graduate school tested her confidence, as Patel struggled with English. “Being able to achieve my first master’s, and with distinction, made me think I could be in leadership roles,” she says. She went on to earn a second master’s, in gerontology nursing, by which time her children were begging her to stop going to school.

As director of nursing at Mount Sinai South Nassau, Patel opened a new transitional nursing unit – creating policies, hiring and training staff and achieving a top rating for the facility. She is now a senior clinical director, overseeing infection control, at the Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation on Long Island.

What motivates her, besides her patients, are the dreams Patel inherited from her mother. “An immigrant is shaped by the hardship you had back home,” she says. “You will always have that in your mind – that you’ve got to be something better.”

Janet Peguero

Bronx Deputy Borough President
Janet Peguero / Finalis Valdez

As a teenage immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Janet Peguero used to walk around the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory, “wondering what was inside of this massive, beautiful castle,” she says.

Peguero never dreamed she would someday try to rescue that castle. Since being appointed the Bronx’s deputy borough president in 2022, she helped coordinate a $200 million grant from the city and state to restore the aging landmark. It now symbolizes what Peguero calls “the Bronx Renaissance,” a flowering of possibility in the city’s poorest borough.

Her ambitions were shaped by a childhood translating documents and navigating social services for her Spanish-speaking parents. “I wondered why they had to work three jobs to survive,” she says, “and committed myself to bridging that gap – to providing the folks in my community with access to resources.”

After a post-college stint as a paralegal, Peguero landed at the New York City Department of Small Business Services, where she developed a first-of-its-kind commercial lease assistance program. Knocking on doors in the Bronx to promote her initiative in Spanish, “it clicked for me that there really is power in representation – having Latinos design, design and deliver these programs,” Peguero says.

More recently, Peguero deployed $20 million in untapped loans to spur empowerment zones throughout the historically underfunded borough. She also helped rebuild the Bronx Economic Development Corp.

“We are developing, but it’s not just skyscrapers. Community has really been at the forefront, and it will continue to be that way,” Peguero says. “With this new wave, we’re taking back our narrative.”

Nichole Renadette

Senior Program Administrator, New York Psychotherapy and Counseling Center
Nichole Renadette / NYPCC

Nichole Renadette brings a flexible mindset to her work at the New York Psychotherapy and Counseling Center.

As a senior program administrator, Renadette has prioritized diverse hiring, understanding that different clients may click “with different personalities and therapists who have different things that they feel passionate about,” she says.

She also embraces the many ways her field has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth, observes the Plattsburgh native, has facilitated once-inaccessible mental health services for vast rural swaths of New York state. “And with so many struggling with anxiety and depression during COVID,” Renadette says, “that opened up the door for people to ask for help.”

Renadette’s openmindedness was evident when, as a student, she realized her vision – “saving the world” – was better suited to social work than to becoming a defense attorney, her original plan. “I wanted to fight for people on death row,” she says. “Then I realized I could make an impact on people’s lives in a different way.”

Now based at the Bronx Child and Family Mental Health Center, Renadette previously oversaw NYPCC’s Brooklyn clinics. There, in the mid-2010s, she worked on a grant project for the federal government’s mental health initiative, integrating behavior and physical care.

But even this devoted counselor recognizes the limits of psychotherapy. At home, she turns to junk TV and her trusty vacuum cleaner to decompress. “Vacuuming is one of my main stress relievers,” Renadette says. “I feel better and organized when I vacuum.”

Nicole Richards

Senior Vice President of Single Adult Services, HELP USA
Nicole Richards / Nkosi Hamilton, NBG

During two decades at HELP USA, the national homeless assistance organization, social worker Nicole Richards has built up the confidence of countless Americans through stable housing.

But her particular legacy also includes fortifying the careers of colleagues – through mentorship, thoughtful team building and, currently, a focus on recruitment and retention.

“I started here as a case manager, and I’ve been promoted 11 times,” says Richards, a senior vice president for single adult services. “So I recognize the challenges from the ground level up. And now I’m in a position where I can effect change.”

The Brooklyn native discovered social work in high school, after accompanying a suicidal friend to a therapy session. “That experience opened me up to the world of helping others,” Richards says. She followed up with that therapist – and was inspired to pursue degrees in psychology and counseling.

Richards now supervises HELP USA’s largest shelter portfolio, including city-regulated transitional housing programs and 11 shelters – totaling 1,600 beds for single adults – in New York and Las Vegas. Under her leadership, social workers now coordinate across sites to share insights and experiences, improving best practices as a team.

Richards also co-leads the organization’s Women in Leadership affinity group. “It doesn’t matter what position you’re in, supervisor or director – we’re trying to bring out that leadership style so that women can continue to be promoted and to flourish,” Richards says. “We want you to be the best at whatever you’re doing now.”

Jennifer Salgado

Lead Organizer, Street Vendor Project, Urban Justice Center
Jennifer Salgado / Francely Flores

There’s one Valentine’s Day that Jennifer Salgado will never forget: When she was in high school, her single mother got arrested for illegally selling flowers out of a van on Fordham Road in the Bronx.

“It scared the crap out of me,” says Salgado, who had two younger sisters, one with disabilities and the other a baby. “From that time, I knew that the system was messed up. In New York, your political consciousness forms at a young age.”

Today, Salgado is the lead organizer for the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, mobilizing on behalf of people like her mother – poor, vulnerable immigrants in the South Bronx. Her parents, artisans from Mexico, separated early on, and Salgado grew up as her mother’s advocate and interpreter.

After earning a political science degree from Lehman College, Salgado started out as an education advocate for her largely Hispanic Bronx neighbors, where she recalls “elevating parent voices, and bringing their issues to the forefront in otherwise exclusive spaces,” such as the Department of Education. Many of those voices, Salgado says, belong to Indigenous people.

In her current role, Salgado is proud of having mobilized a City Council proposal to reform street vending legislation. “In a lot of spaces that I’ve been in, I’m the youngest one, and I’m a pretty small woman, so I have to be more assertive,” Salgado says. “But I come into this with a perspective that a man does not. This job is personal to me.”

Juanita Scarlett

Partner, Bolton-St. Johns
Juanita Scarlett / Roger Archer, NGB

From politics to consulting, Juanita Scarlett has always been guided by a sense of responsibility – to her adopted city of New York, to the organizations she helps to thrive and, perhaps most importantly, to her fellow women of color striving to make an impact.

“Having worked in government for years, it’s a natural progression to be on the other side, helping small nonprofits,” says Scarlett, a partner at the government relations and public affairs firm Bolton-St. Johns. “There are so many organizations that do incredible work – and it’s rewarding to get them the critical funding they need to do that.”

One of those is the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, a 130-year-old early childhood organization for whom Scarlett secured its first government funding.

Scarlett started her career as a press officer to then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, one of her early mentors. The Florida native has also managed communications for former Govs. Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo and for numerous campaigns.

Along the way, she was mentored by Elizabeth Moore, the first Black female general counsel to a New York governor (Mario Cuomo). “She helped me to understand the importance of working hard and giving back,” says Scarlett, a mentor to Selvena Brooks-Powers, a City Council member from Queens whom she calls a “rock star.”

“I truly believe and embrace the idea of being a sounding board,” Scarlett says, “for the incredible women who come up, run for office and step forward.”

Helen Schaub

Interim Political Director, 1199SEIU
Helen Schaub / Mindy Berman

During her 20 years of advocating for the health care workers of 1199SEIU, Helen Schaub has achieved significant and measurable gains for a historically marginalized workforce.

“This is one of the fastest-growing parts of the industry, yet there’s been a lot of discrimination,” observed Schaub, who has served as interim political director of the New York-based union since 2021. Her constituency comprises nearly a half million caregivers in hospitals, nursing homes and community settings across five states.

Under Schaub’s leadership, standards have risen appreciably with the creation of a state Medicaid minimum wage, which doubled pay at its inception; it now tops $21 an hour and is permanently tied to the inflation rate. Her efforts also led to successful recent legislation setting minimum staffing standards for nursing home employees.

Schaub’s social consciousness was formed during overseas travel as a child with her father, an archaeology and religion professor who conducted research in the Middle East, and during a post-high school internship in the Philippines. “From a very young age, I was interested in social justice,” she says. “I saw dramatic disparities in people’s access to resources.”

Before joining 1199SEIU, Schaub spent a decade as a community organizer in the Bronx. What continues to inspire her, she says, “are the union members and their commitment – to their work, and to building a workers’ movement – and to speaking out, not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of the people they’re taking care of.”

Veronica Smith

Senior Director of Health Policy and Community Affairs, Public Health Solutions
Veronica Smith / Joe Jenkins

Veronica Smith is a dyed-in-the wool, born-and-bred, any-other-cliché-you-can-think-of New Yorker. “There is no greater city. The culture, the people – there’s no other place like it,” she says.

So Smith was taken aback when she realized that before going to work for Public Health Solutions, she had lived her whole New York life without knowing the city’s largest public health nonprofit existed.

Now senior director of health policy and community affairs at PHS, Smith has made it her mission to see that other New Yorkers know about it too. “I’m proud to work in an organization that’s been around for 60 years, that’s a critical piece of the city’s infrastructure,” she says.

As the person responsible for the organization’s public policy agenda, Smith cultivates long-term partnerships with key stakeholders. (PHS supports some 200 community-based organizations.) She also generates support for the nonprofit’s direct services, which include sexual health, nutrition, health insurance and clinics serving thousands of patients annually. 

The daughter of immigrants from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, Smith recalls that she grew up determined “to be in the room where decisions are made.” She earned political science and urban policy degrees from NYU, then worked at the Port Authority, where she directed major public outreach campaigns. Smith feels pride every time she visits the redeveloped George Washington Bridge bus station, for which she helped facilitate a $2 million community space.

“I fundamentally believe in government,” Smith says. “And I also believe in public-private partnerships – and relying on our nonprofits to fill the gaps.”

Mary Vaccaro

Vice President for Education, United Federation of Teachers
Mary Vaccaro / Jonathan Fickies, NBG

She hasn’t been a full-time teacher for years, but Mary Vaccaro still regularly conducts demonstration lessons in New York City classrooms. “It’s important, in a role of leadership, that we walk the walk,” says Vaccaro, who oversees education as a vice president of the United Federation of Teachers. “That we support teachers side by side. Because otherwise, there’s no credibility there.”

Vaccaro is busier than ever as schools adjust to a post-pandemic reality – complete with novel technologies and high-profile shifts in literacy methods. She oversees the UFT Teacher Center, a training hub that partners with the city and state education departments and a small army of field staff on professional development.

Not long ago, the Queens resident absorbed the lessons that made her an effective elementary reading specialist. Vaccaro was recruited into union activity at her Oceanside nail salon, where a fellow educator had the same weekly appointment. 

That woman, who became a state and national delegate, as well as a fixture on UFT’s executive board, also became Vaccaro’s mentor. “I learned a lot about the system, but I was also partnered with more senior teachers, doing lesson planning,” Vaccaro says.

After 16 years representing her district, Vaccaro retains her enthusiasm for sharing authors like Eric Carle and Arnold Lobel with the children who remain her touchstone. “Meeting families in their communities,” Vaccaro says, “and being able to have a voice for teachers here in New York City has just been great.”

Emily Whalen

Cannabis Practice Chair, Brown & Weinraub
Emily Whalen / Timothy H. Raab, Albany, NY

If you had told attorney Emily Whalen years ago that she would spend her work days talking about marijuana, she wouldn’t have believed you. But New York’s latest legalized vice has indeed become her calling card: Whalen built and now chairs the cannabis practice at the Albany firm of Brown & Weinraub.

“I’ll have friends who read headlines and ask me, ‘Is this true?’” says Whalen, a lobbyist and senior adviser at the firm. “It’s been cool to take what I do on a daily basis and talk about it after work. People are genuinely interested in my field.”

Originally a matrimonial lawyer, Whalen was approached about lobbying by a political operative – and found herself serving as associate counsel to the newly in charge state Senate Democrats following the 2008 elections. Working on insurance issues during the early days of Obamacare was excellent preparation for navigating the nascent field of cannabis law a few years later, which Whalen compares to “building the plane as we go.”

She has worked in government relations ever since leaving the public sector – and still considers her Senate tenure to be a professional touchstone. “That institutional knowledge informs everything you do for a client,” she says.

Along with a new practice area, Whalen is proud of helping establish Albany’s female lobbyist network. “Because we’ve experienced many of the same things, as women, we try to support each other and build up the community of female lobbyists, so that it isn’t just the old boys’ clubs anymore,” she says. “And that’s been really empowering.”

Odette Wilkens

Founder, President and General Counsel, Wired Broadband
Odette Wilkens / C. King Photography

You might think fighting the proliferation of 5G wireless towers is a daunting task. Attorney and public health crusader Odette Wilkens doesn’t – and for good reason.

With the advocacy group she founded, Wired Broadband, Wilkens has convinced 16 New York City community boards to vote down or call for moratoria on 5G expansion. “This is what change looks like,” says Wilkens, who serves as the organization’s general counsel.

The Manhattan native is hardly a Luddite. Her front-row view of the 1980s cable and fiber optic revolution at HBO, where she worked as a paralegal after college, drew her to technology: “I believed it was an area that would make people’s lives better and easier,” she says – and as the daughter of European refugees, “I wanted to be an agent of social change.”

As an attorney, Wilkens worked for financial, media and technology companies, including Barclays and IBM. Encountering people injured by wireless radiation, she gradually became convinced of its dangers.

Wilkens co-founded and currently chairs the National Call for Safe Technology, a 100-organization coalition lobbying for federal mandates on informed consent around the effects of cell tower radiation.

Her role model is her mother, an Italian flight attendant who mobilized the first strike in Alitalia history. Wilkens remembers, as a teen, watching her mother picket in front of the airline’s Fifth Avenue office. “That’s what caring about people looks like,” Wilkens says. “When you have to do something in order to effectuate social change.”

Darlene Williams

Vice President, New York State Public Employees Federation
Darlene Williams / Provided

There were so many moments when New York State Public Employees Federation Vice President Darlene Williams could have kept her mouth shut, but didn’t.

There was the time when, as a council leader at the Bronx Psychiatric Center, she spoke out against workplace violence, getting the hospital fined – and herself fired.

“I felt defeated,” says Williams – a feeling that proved only temporary. Despite telling herself to “lay low, do your job and get out” in her next role – at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where she is currently on union leave – Williams couldn’t stay quiet when private vehicles illegally occupied the Manhattan parking spot her seniority afforded her.

“My mother instilled in me the importance of standing up for what’s right,” says Williams, an occupational therapist like her mother was. That conviction led Williams to overcome her misgivings and accept the challenge when the union president asked her to run for her current role.

And her voice was resolute a year ago when she overcame the grief of her son’s recent murder to serve as chief negotiator for the union’s contract. Vowing to continue “the fight that he was so proud of,” Williams, a 43-year state employee, secured what she calls “the best contract I’ve ever seen,” with paid parental leave and a higher education bonus.

“I get up every single day because, besides my family,” she says, “it’s the members of this union who’ve given me a reason to get up, and to fight, and to live.”

Carolyn Wolf

Executive Partner, Abrams Fensterman
Carolyn Wolf / Provided

When Carolyn Wolf proposed starting a female employee mentoring group at her law firm, the managing partner was a little nervous. “I reassured him we were not going to be on the front steps of the building burning our bras,” says Wolf, an executive partner at Abrams Fensterman.

Wolf was used to broaching uncomfortable subjects. After all, she had pioneered the field of mental health law – long before celebrities were opening up about bipolar disorder on Instagram.

Drawing on her experience as a hospital administrator – she holds an MBA from Hofstra, as well as a master’s from the Harvard School of Public Health –­ Wolf created and directs her firm’s mental health law practice. “My law practice is intertwined with medicine, and clients appreciate that,” Wolf says.

After years overseeing risk management at Elmhurst Hospital, Wolf fulfilled her dream of going to law school in her 30s, parlaying her experience working with psychiatric units into a legal practice centered around hospital commitment hearings. When families or hospitals need legal help with mental health issues, they call on Wolf, who outlines their rights and options within the legal system, collaborating with a team of case workers and psychiatric specialists.

And once a month, she still trades insights with the women’s mentoring group she started. “We talk about our cases, about work-life balance,” Wolf says. “You know – being a woman in a man’s world.”

Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky

Co-Executive Director, State Board of Elections
Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky / New York State Office of General Services Digital and Media Support

Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky was thrilled to become New York’s first female chief election official, co-leading the state Board of Elections. She’s proud of having spent a decade chairing the Democratic Committee and holding leadership roles with the party’s state committee.

“As much as I love politics, my real passion is ensuring that every eligible voter has access to the polls,” says Zebrowski Stavisky, the former longtime Democratic elections commissioner in her native Rockland County. “Being able to help first-time voters or people who don’t think they have a voice – nothing compares to that.”

She recalls one first-time high school voter who came to her in 2016, distraught over his misplaced registration. At Zebrowski Stavisky’s urging, he marshaled 30 classmates to go before a judge for an Election Day court order. “Seeing those students really fight for their voice ­was incredible,” she recalls.

Zebrowski Stavisky grew up fighting for others: As the daughter of a prominent Rockland County politician, she thought all children spent their weekends stuffing political mailings. “The lessons I learned are that government exists to make life better,” she says, “and that voting is your chance to shape your community. You don’t want other people making your decisions.”

Having grown up around mostly male politicians – she met her husband when he worked on her father’s campaign – Zebrowski Stavisky says she relishes the chance to mentor other women as “a smart, emotional female leader – one in a long line. We’re still trying to break through that final glass ceiling” – the presidency – “but I’ve done my part.”