Board of Directors

OFFICERS 

Chair -  Bridget Phifer has served as Executive Director of Parkside Business and Community in Partnership (PBICP) since 1999. Since joining PBICP, she has grown the organization’s budget tenfold. Staff has increased from one (Ms. Phifer) to half a dozen staff as the housing effort has expanded, and homeownership education, marketing and neighborhood planning programs have been created. Strategic partnerships with foundations, other community development organizations, corporations and government agencies have been critical to this success.  Ms. Phifer has previously served on the Network Board of Directors a Vice Chair.


Vice Chair - Edward Bethea
 serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Gateway Community Action Partnership. He oversees all financial, managerial and revenue-generating departments and activities within the agency. He is the chief negotiator of all contracts and leases and serves as chief developer on all construction projects. He is responsible for the Operations, Finance and Human Resources Departments as well as, Head Start, Health Services, Economic Development, Social Services, Information Technology, Weatherization, Property Management and Facility Maintenance. He brings years of experience in tax consulting, financial planning, cash flow projection and asset management to Gateway, and maintains approval authority on all agency spending. He is also directly responsible for the interactions between Gateway and financial institutions and governmental entities. Mr. Bethea currently serves as President of the Bridgeton City Municipal Council and joined the Network Board of Directors in 2020. 

Treasurer - Dan Antonellis has served as President of Region Nine Housing Corporation (RNHC) since 2012, developing high-quality affordable housing and providing services to families, seniors and disabled individuals. Prior to becoming RNHC President, he served as a Staff Representative for the Communications Workers of America, Local 1038 and spent nearly 25 years at the New Jersey Department of Labor prior to that. He is a former Vice President and Board President of the ARC Mercer and a founding member of the Board of Orphan Sponsorship International (OSI). Mr. Antonellis joined the Network Board of Directors in 2018.

 

At Large Members

Edward Bethea serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Gateway Community Action Partnership. He oversees all financial, managerial and revenue-generating departments and activities within the agency. He is the chief negotiator of all contracts and leases and serves as chief developer on all construction projects. He is responsible for the Operations, Finance and Human Resources Departments as well as, Head Start, Health Services, Economic Development, Social Services, Information Technology, Weatherization, Property Management and Facility Maintenance. He brings years of experience in tax consulting, financial planning, cash flow projection and asset management to Gateway, and maintains approval authority on all agency spending. He is also directly responsible for the interactions between Gateway and financial institutions and governmental entities. Mr. Bethea current serves as President of the Bridgeton City Municipal Council.  

Susanne Byrne, Chief Executive Officer, York Street Project
Susanne Byrne joined the York Street Project in her current role in 2009, but she is no stranger to its programs. With a one year hiatus, serving as the Homeless Planning Coordinator for Hudson County, she spent 10 years prior with The Project. She served as the Caseworker/Advocate for St. Joseph’s Home from 2000 to 2008 and as the Assistant to the Director of The Nurturing Place from 1998-2000. Ms. Byrne holds a Masters in Administrative Science degree from Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, New Jersey and a BA degree with a major in English and a concentration in Political Science from St. Michael’s College in Vermont. She is a member of the Hudson County Human Services Advisory Council, Hudson County Alliance to End Homelessness, the Hudson County Affordable Housing Coalition, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, and the Antipoverty Network of New Jersey. Within these groups, she serves on a variety of Executive Boards and sub-committees advocating for the poor.

Pilar Hogan Closkey, Executive Director, Saint Joseph Carpenter Society
Pilar Hogan Closkey, PE, PP, AICP joined Saint Joseph Carpenter Society in 1998 as the Operations Manager and, in 2004, was named the Executive Director.  Ms. Closkey graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and worked for seven years in the field of consulting engineering.  Ms. Closkey then pursued her Master’s degree in Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and worked for a non-profit tax credit developer.  She is licensed as a Professional Engineer and a Professional Planner in New Jersey and is nationally certified with the American Institute of Certified Planners.  As the Executive Director, Ms. Closkey reports to the Board of Trustees and is responsible for the day-to-day activities of SJCS.She returns to the Network Board of Directors in 2023.

Robert F. Guarasci is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) in Paterson. Prior to starting NJCDC, he served for four years as Executive Assistant to New Jersey’s Commissioner of Human Services. Governor Chris Christie has appointed Mr. Guarasci to serve on the Board of Trustees of William Paterson University and the New Jersey Interagency Council on Homelessness. He has also been appointed by US Secretary of the Interior to serve on the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park’s Federal Advisory Commission, which he currently chairs and a Trustee of the Paterson Alliance, a consortium of non-profit agencies serving Paterson residents. Mr. Guarasci joined the Network's Board of Directors in 2015.

SanDonna B. Jones is the Executive Director of Unified Vailsburg Service Organization (UVSO). Having joined the agency in 2019, she shepherds a committed team of leaders who are committed to fulfilling the long-standing mission to “create a stable and compassionate community” in the Vailsburg neighborhood of the City of Newark, New Jersey. Preparing to celebrate 50 years of community development in 2022, UVSO has developed 180+ units of affordable housing, has 55,000 square feet of commercial space, owns and manages 17 buildings on its service campus, and works with an active network of block associations that extends throughout Vailsburg called the Heart of Vailsburg (HOV) Block Club Coalition. SanDonna formerly served as the Executive Director of Administration and Development at the Newark Opportunity Youth Network (YouthBuild Newark),  where she began in 2004 as the Development Coordinator. She has also served as Principal of SBJ Consulting, and as an Entrepreneurial Training Institute (ETI) Facilitator with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) via the Seton Hall University Institute on Work.  She was the inaugural Coordinator of the Newark Community Development Network (NCDN) and was the primary author of the “Neighborhoods” section of the City of Newark’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) in previous years. 

Taiisa Kelly, CEO, Monarch Housing Associates
Taiisa joined Monarch Housing Associates in March of 2006. She has experience in housing development working with federal, state and local funding sources to secure financing for special needs housing projects. In October of 2007, Ms. Kelly joined the Ending Homelessness Team where she works with local governments, nonprofits and community stakeholders to develop coordinated strategies to end homelessness. On January 1, 2019, she was appointed as CEO. She has extensive experience in working with community stakeholders on homeless planning activities. As a member of the Ending Homelessness Team Ms. Kelly guides communities through the process of developing 10 year plans to end homelessness and has completed 3 community plans in the past 2 years. Mrs. Kelly received her B.A. in psychology and anthropology from Rutgers University.

Jessica Padilla-Gonzalez, Executive Director, Housing Partnership NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center
Jessica started her career at the Housing Partnership NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center as the assistant counselor and in 2013, she became the Executive Director. The Housing Partnership NeighborWorks Homeownership Center is a HUD approved nonprofit agency that provides financial education and one-on-one financial coaching for first time homebuyers. The organization also offers post purchase education, foreclosure counseling, and administers the sale of income restricted homes throughout Morris County. Ms. Padilla- Gonzalez is a member of the Affordable Housing Professionals of New Jersey, Housing Alliance for Morris County, North Central Jersey Association of Realtors, and FDU Steering Committee for Women in Non Profit Leadership, and on the Advisory Board of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. She is a graduate of the College of Saint Elizabeth with a Bachelor’s Degree  in Sociology; she also completed her Masters in Administrative Science from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Laura Rodgers, LCSW is Chief Impact Officer for JFS in Atlantic & Cape May Counties, New Jersey. She has over 25 years of experience providing and developing programming in the areas of counseling, mental health outreach, homelessness, older adult services, justice involved services, and supportive housing. Laura is the co-founder of the Garden State Leaders; a leadership and advocacy training program for individuals with lived experiences of poverty. Additional areas of Laura’s professional focus include grief counseling and anti-poverty grass roots organizing. Laura has a BS in Public Health and a Master’s Degree in Social Work

Jaymie Santiago has been working for the progress of New Brunswick’s residents since 2004. He began his work with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension and was instrumental in creating a citywide network of Food Hubs consisting of farmers markets and community gardens. In 2009, he served on the initial planning committee that developed the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance. And in 2011, he was the Co-Director of Rutgers Against Hunger, a university-wide initiative offering temporary relief to families faced with hunger across New Jersey. Mr. Santiago joined New Brunswick Tomorrow as Director of Operations in 2012, becoming President in 2016. He managed the Healthier New Brunswick initiative; designed to improve the overall health of city residents.

Mark Valli is the CEO for Norwescap, a well-established community action agency, providing a wide variety of programs and services to over 30,000 low-income individuals and families in the 5 Northwest counties of the State. Previously, Mr. Valli served as CEO for the Community Charter School of Paterson (CCSP). Prior to his service with CCSP, Mr. Valli was the founding President & CEO of New Jersey After 3 (NJA3) which was the nation’s first statewide public/private partnership created to expand evidence-based afterschool opportunities. NJA3 served over 75,000 students in over 120 schools across the State. Previously Mr. Valli served as Vice President of New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) where he was responsible for corporate and foundation outreach, fundraising, program development, and external relations. Before joining NJCDC, Mark served six years as one of two founding staff people with the New Jersey Commission on National & Community Service and served for 2 years in the Governor’s Office under Governor Jim Florio. Mark spent 2 years working for a management consulting firm that specialized in facilities and energy management. Mr. Valli has served as Board Chair of the New Jersey Center for Nonprofit Corporations and Vice-Chair of Leadership New Jersey Graduate Organization.

Associate Members
Barbara George Johnson, vice president of external affairs and urban policy and research at Kean University, has been nominated by President Joe Biden as a member of the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. With more than 30 years of experience as a public policy professional, Johnson has shaped economic, health and social policy in the Garden State. At the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy, she oversees the work and mission of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, a unique organization of 32 urban mayors engaged in collective policymaking. The Institute focuses on urban environmental policy, public health policy, early childhood policy, and instruction in leadership development and civic engagement. Johnson has an extensive background in health care, public health and public policy. Early in her career, she spearheaded the development of the Newark Kids Initiative for the Newark Health Department, which focused on healthcare and social services for children impacted by domestic violence. She also served on the CDC-funded Newark Prevention Marketing Initiative and other task forces on HIV/AIDS.  

JOHN KELLER, Director of Education and Outreach, coLAB Arts
John was born and raised in the City of New Brunswick and works in NYC and internationally as a freelance actor. Through his work at coLAB Arts, he is committed to creating projects that use the arts as a lens to examine complex issues that affect community. While serving as Director of Education for coLAB Arts, he has produced main-stage productions and initiated educational residencies in several central New Jersey schools. Mr. Keller curates and directs coLAB Arts’ Trueselves oral history and theater project in partnership with the Pride Center of New Jersey and Rutgers Oral History Archive. He is also the Board Chair for New Brunswick’s Town Clock Community Development Corporation. John earned his undergraduate degree at Holy Cross and holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Acting from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has taught theater at all grade levels in a variety of residency programs as well as at Rider University, Westminster Choir College and is currently teaching Theater for Social Development at Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, and Acting at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
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Alle Ries
is the Regional Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Officer for M&T Bank. In this role, she serves as a liason between the bank and community-based organizations throughout NJ to develop and administer creative initiatives that meet the needs of low- to moderate-income individuals and their families. Prior to joining the bank, she served as the Director of Community & Economic Development and Director of Program and Fund Development at La Casa de Don Pedro. She joined the Network's Board of Directors in 2018.


Wanda Saez is the Senior Vice President, Social Impact and Sustainability – Public Affairs for Wells Fargo. She is a Community Relations Professional specializing in CRA, Philanthropy and Community Development.  Wanda joined Wells Fargo in 2000 as Vice President – Government and Community Relations.  In May of 2017 she was promoted to Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Community Relations. In the 24 years that Wanda has been with Wells Fargo she has worked closed with the non-profit community throughout New Jersey. 

Board Member Emeritus

Joseph Della Fave, is the former Executive Director of the Ironbound Community Corporation, retiring from the position in 2019. During his tenure the multi-service nonprofit agency was recognized by local, state and national organizations for the impactful and innovative work they were doing in the Ironbound community. The Network is very appreciative that although retired Mr. Della Fave continues to be an active and valued member of our Board.

 

Helen Steblecki is the former Senior Vice President, State Director of Community Development for Citi in NJ; and Community Development Officer for Manhattan and Staten Island, retiring from the position in 2022. As the State Director of Community Development, she was responsible for developing, implementing and funding innovative solutions to address urban community issues, including programs focused on financial inclusion, asset building, college access, affordable housing and small business development for low- to moderate-income individuals and communities. Ms. Steblecki moved to Emeritus status in January 2020.