Staff

Melissa Carrera

New York Downstate Coordinator (she/ella)

Melissa Carrera is the New York Downstate Coordinator. In this position, she drives Local Progress’ work in New York City and Long Island – including growing and strengthening our members and leadership, cultivating relationships and buy-in from key organizational and labor partners, identifying and implementing NYC and Long Island specific campaigns. Melissa will also support the statewide work of the New York State Chapter along with contributing to the Local Progress network.

Prior to joining the Local Progress team, Melissa worked for the Center for Popular Democracy, focusing on building relationships and increasing engagement with organizational affiliates across the country. Melissa also worked at Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH) serving as the Special Projects Coordinator, building their network of churches fighting for affordable housing in New York City. 

Melissa is a Bushwick, Brooklyn native who serves on her community board. She is an active member fighting for affordable housing and a more livable city. 

Silvia Fabela

Program Director (she/her)

Silvia is the Program Director for Local Progress. She oversees the organization’s overall program agenda and is primarily responsible for conceiving of and designing member engagement strategy and plan that includes member education, federal advocacy, and identifying new opportunities for member engagement/collective action in collaboration with LP members/team, cross-CPD campaigns teams, and policy partners. Silvia joined the Local Progress team after leading the AFL-CIO’s young worker program, NextUp. Prior to that, Silvia was senior staff on the OUR Walmart campaign at the United Food & Commercial Workers Union for eight years where she led an alliance of Walmart associates, union members, and community partners in changing Walmart around solidarity actions. In addition to her community and labor organizing background, she has also done electoral work on multiple presidential and congressional races.

Silvia graduated from Monmouth College in Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Spanish. She lives in Washington, DC where she takes advantage of the free museums and tries diligently to keep her fish and plants alive with mixed success.

LiJia Gong

Policy and Legal Director (she/they)

LiJia is the Policy and Legal Director at Local Progress. She leads the development of Local Progress’ policy and research capacity to support members and drives the development and growth of national program areas.

LiJia is an attorney with over a decade of experience in policy, litigation, and political strategy. Prior to joining Local Progress, she served as Counsel at Public Rights Project, an organization that empowers local and state governments to advance civil rights, worker and consumer rights, and environmental justice. At Public Rights Project, she launched a partnership with Local Solutions Support Center to fight abusive state preemption of local policymaking. LiJia has worked on the 2018 campaign to re-elect Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and served as a law clerk for Judge Kiyo Matsumoto of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Prior to becoming a lawyer, LiJia worked as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

LiJia earned her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and her B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University. She immigrated to the United States from China at age 5, grew up in Maryland, and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband (Andrew) and cat (Wilma).

Reynold Graham

Campaigns Organizer (he/him)

As Campaigns Organizer, Reynold develops strategies and programs to transform public safety in deep collaboration with Local Progress members.

Previously, Reynold served in various roles within New York City government. He co-managed the nation’s largest municipal-run free tax preparation program, creating communications tools to help 70,000 New Yorkers claim valuable tax credits and COVID stimulus checks. In addition, Reynold developed strategies to direct public money to the city’s cooperative economy in an effort to narrow the racial wealth gap, implemented state and federal workforce policy and programs, and coordinated supply delivery at emergency shelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Reynold has also supported efforts to create the equitable implementation of water infrastructure in California and to oppose oil and gas projects on indigenous land in Texas.

Reynold grew up in New Jersey on the land of the Lenni Lenape people. He now lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner.

Iimay Ho

Director of Organizational Development (they/them)

As the Director of Organizational Development, Iimay leads the work to build Local Progress’ organizational infrastructure, administration, and operations. In their last role, Iimay was the Executive Director of Resource Generation for over four years, and established systems to help the organization scale as it transitioned from being a fiscally sponsored project to an independent 501(c)3, doubled its staff, and tripled its budget. Iimay also led the launch of Resource Generation’s 501(c)4 sibling organizing, RG Action, in 2020.

Iimay is dedicated to organizing across class for racial and economic justice. They have been organizing at the intersection of LGBTQ, racial justice, and youth movements for over 10 years, starting with their first political home at Southerners on New Ground.

Iimay graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Sociology.

Sarah Johnson

Executive Director (she/her)

Sarah is the Executive Director of Local Progress. Prior to joining Local Progress, Sarah served as the Managing Director at the Working Families Organization where she helped develop a senior management team to guide organizational strategy and as the Elections Director for the New York Working Families Party where she helped recruit, train and elect progressive elected officials at all levels of government and contributed to doubling the size of the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council. Sarah got her start as a political organizer for SEIU 32BJ where she managed member-to-member political programs and supported the union’s equitable development advocacy work including the passage of the a prevailing wage bill for New York City building service workers.

Sarah is a graduate of Williams College and Pratt Institute, where she received a Masters in Urban Planning.

Ivan Luevanos-Elms

Organizing Director (he/el)

As Organizing Director, Ivan works closely with our state and regional coordinators to help build our organizing, membership, and chapter models. Ivan also works with Center for Popular Democracy partners and allies to advance new organizing projects and partnerships. In addition, Ivan is part of the Executive Committee of the Progressive Governance Academy, a joint project of Local Progress, State Innovation Exchange and re:power to build and develop the leadership and governance skills of progressive state and local elected officials across the country.

Prior to joining CPD, Ivan served as Director of the Community Engagement Division of the New York City Council. In his 4 years at the Council, Ivan directly worked on numerous initiatives including the creation of IDNYC, NYC’s municipal ID card, as well as expanding the Participatory Budgeting Process. He previously worked at Make the Road NY as their LGBTQ Justice Organizer, working at the intersections of immigrant and LGBTQ rights. In between, he’s run and worked on electoral campaigns at the Working Families Party.

Ivan graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish and from New York University with a M.A. in Politics.

Francesca Menes

Deputy Organizing Director (she/her)

Francesca Menes is the Deputy Organizing Director for Local Progress. She supports building and organizing a membership and collaborative space in Florida alongside Local Progress members and allied organizations towards policy solutions. Francesca is also working to advance the development of our network caucuses, supporting the expansion of the Progressive Governance Academy and organizing with network members, national partners and allied organizations to protect local democracy from ever-growing threat of state interference and preemption.

Prior to joining Local Progress, for over a decade, Francesca led the development and implementation of strategic legislative, policy, and voter engagement campaigns locally and statewide. Her work led to the passage of resolutions and ordinances in several counties throughout Florida as well as passage of laws in Tallahassee to benefit immigrants, New Americans, youth, and communities of color. Francesca is also the former Treasurer for the Florida Democratic Party, former State Committeewoman for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. She currently serves on board of the Miami-Dade County N.W. 79th Street Corridor Community Redevelopment Agency and The Black Collective.

Francesca graduated from Florida International University, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Women’s Studies with a minor in Philosophy, a certificate in National Security Studies, and her Master’s in Public Administration with a certificate in Community Development. Francesca is a first generation Haitian-Dominican-American and was raised in Miami’s Little Haiti community.

Deandrea Newsome

North Carolina State Coordinator (she/her)

Deandrea Newsome is the North Carolina State Coordinator. Deandrea is responsible for driving all of Local Progress’s work in NC including: growing and strengthening our membership and leadership, creating and implementing an organizing strategy, identifying and implementing NC specific campaigns and supporting the work of NC members to participate in LP’s broader work. She works closely with partner organizations throughout the Tarheel State to support and collaborate with our local elected officials.

Prior to joining CPD, she served as the Organizing Director of Advance Carolina, where she managed political and community campaigns in majority black counties across the state. She has worked in the North Carolina General Assembly and organized for the North Carolina Democratic Party and Common Cause. In the Durham community she spearheaded an initiative she co-founded called 2020 StartsNow and registered students on the campus of North Carolina Central University in 2018. 

Deandrea graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a B.A. in Political Science and minor in Philosophy and will be receiving her Master’s of Public Policy from Duke University in May 2020.

Jonathan Peebles

Development Manager (he/him)

As the Development Manager, Jonathan is focused on building and maintaining Local Progress’ fundraising systems and strategies. For the last three years, he worked as the Development & Operations Director of the Latin American Coalition, a regional nonprofit serving the Latino and immigrant community. In that role, he amplified fundraising strategy which led to the organization’s best fundraising year in its thirty-year history. Additionally, he modernized program processes, implemented new data collection systems, and implemented new organizational operating procedures.

Jonathan graduated from Old Dominion University and received his Masters in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He currently resides in Charlotte, where he serves on community boards and actively fights for economic and racial justice.

D’Ana Pennington

Program Manager (she/her)

D’Ana is the Housing Program Manager. In this role, she advances long-term solutions to our nation’s housing crisis by developing and executing Local Progress’ organizational strategies, including direct member support and collective action coordination. 

Prior to joining Local Progress, D’Ana served as Senior Policy Aide to the Minneapolis City Council President, where she advanced policies and programs like Inclusionary Zoning, Rent Stabilization and Right to Counsel to generate and preserve affordable housing, protect renters, and prevent evictions. As Senior Policy Aide, she also advised and worked on a range of local issues including public safety, emergency response, transportation and public health.

D’Ana has a public health background, with experience in research, evaluation and program administration at the Minneapolis Health Department and as a Public Health Associate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. D’Ana graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in History and lives in Los Angeles.

Jillia Pessenda

Minnesota State Coordinator (she/her)

Jillia is the the Minnesota State Coordinator. In this position, she drives Local Progress’ work in Minnesota — helping to grow and strengthen Local Progress’ membership and leadership, cultivate relationships and build coalitions with organizational and labor partners, create and implement an organizing strategy alongside members, and implement Minnesota campaigns rooted in racial and economic justice.

Prior to joining Local Progress, Jillia was the Senior Political Director at Women Winning where she led a statewide Political and Training Program to recruit, train and elect pro-choice women to all levels of office who support reproductive health and access. She has also worked to pass state and local policy, including on the legislative campaign to pass marriage equality in Minnesota and the Safe & Supportive Schools Act. She served as Finance Director for Ilhan Omar’s historic 2016 campaign and senior advisor to her 2018 Congressional Campaign. Jillia graduated with her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis with her partner Monica and their husky mutt Luna.

Chad Radock

New York Chapter Manager (he/him)

Chad is the NY Chapter Manager, the first state chapter in the Local Progress network. He works closely with partner organizations throughout New York State to bring progressive policy solutions to our local elected officials. For the past two years, Chad has worked closely with members and partners to take collective action.

Throughout his time with Local Progress, Chad has helped to lead Local Progress NY’s participation in coalitions that have protected renters, modernized election laws, and secured driver’s licenses for all New York residents. Chad also coordinates the sharing of best practices and legislation among chapter members, builds network programming, and organizes our annual New York state convening.

A former elected official himself, Chad worked as a high school teacher, as a member of numerous local, state, and federal electoral campaigns, and he has worked as an organizer within the progressive movement in New York State for over a decade.

Aparna Raj

Communications Manager (she/her)

As the Communications Manager for Local Progress, Aparna develops and executes media and digital strategy to amplify Local Progress members and local policy wins, advance federal advocacy, and build the communications capacity of Local Progress members. 

Prior to joining Local Progress, Aparna worked at DC Greens, a local food justice nonprofit, where she built their communications department. There, she developed and maintained the organization’s media and digital strategy, collaborated with other grassroots organizations on advocacy communications, and structured the communications program to center racial equity and people impacted by food insecurity. Aparna has also worked as a political researcher and as a consultant for pro bono nonprofit clients.

Aparna grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and went to school at Vanderbilt University, where she studied Political Science and Economics. She lives in Washington D.C. with her dog Frank and is a community organizer around labor issues, immigration justice, and tenants rights.

Elizabeth Roberts

Operations Manager (they/them)

Elizabeth is the Operations Manager. In this position, they are responsible for supporting and implementing a wide range of administration, operations, and events efforts at Local Progress.

Based in DC, Elizabeth was most recently the operations manager at a rapidly growing public affairs and communications firm where they brought their passion for systems and processes to supporting business development, compliance, and more. Prior to that, they worked in fundraising and database management at the LGBTQ Victory Fund & Institute. 

Ari Schwartz

Associate Program Director (he/him)

As the Associate Program Director for Local Progress, Ari develops campaigns and strategies in which Local Progress members take collective action together across localities on a wide range of issues including economic justice, immigrant rights, policing and public safety, and affordable housing.

Before joining Local Progress, Ari was lead organizer at DC Jobs With Justice, where he steered a community-labor coalition and led strategic campaigns. In that role, Ari developed and coordinated campaigns to win fair workweek protections for service workers, to strengthen D.C.’s minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, to pass wage theft and student loan fraud oversight laws, and to help workers recover tens of thousands of dollars in stolen wages. Ari grew up in Maryland, graduated from Vanderbilt University, and lives in Washington, D.C.

Kara Sheehan

Texas State Coordinator (she/her)

Kara serves as the Texas State Coordinator with responsibilities including growing and strengthening our members and leaders, cultivating relationships with organizational and labor partners, creating and implementing strategy across the state, and implementing Texas-specific campaigns. Kara supports Local Progress’ overall work in Texas, helping to move our members and community partners to build out and implement our longterm vision.

Prior to joining the Local Progress team, Kara worked for the North Texas Jobs With Justice chapter, focusing on building community and labor coalitions and implementing campaigns that made broader demands in the workplace and in other areas, such as housing. Kara has years of experience in the Texas labor movement working for the Texas AFL-CIO and Workers Defense Project. She continues to help in building a cadre of young workers and union members across the state.

Kara grew up in Missouri and received her undergraduate degree from Saint Louis University. She has lived in Texas since 2013.

Trisa Taro

Communications Director (she/her)

As the Communications Director for Local Progress, Trisa leads our network’s media relations and digital strategy. She works closely with members and movement allies to elevate legislative wins and models of co-governance, helping to build public will needed to advance our work. 

Prior to joining Local Progress, she was part of the Center for Popular Democracy’s Public Affairs and Strategic Communications team, helping to build CPD’s thought leadership and amplify the voices of CPD affiliates across the country. She came to CPD from the global health sector, where she supported advocacy for universal HIV treatment access.

Trisa graduated from the University of California, San Diego, and received her Masters in Public Health from the University of Southern California. A proud second-generation immigrant, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently resides in New York City.