ALF Class XXVI Biographies
Rocio (Rosie) Ayala (Community Activist)
Senior Director of Education Programs
Peace Community Center
Rosie Ayala grew up in the central valley of California. She moved to Portland, Oregon to attend her undergraduate studies (Lewis & Clark College) as a first-generation student. After some deliberation of what graduate work to pursue, Rosie settled on a program that focused on systems change. Rosie moved to Tacoma, Washington after having found a job opening with a TRiO program, which is something she has been wanting for ten years prior. This allowed her to work towards her passion of education access, equity, and systems change.
Currently, Rosie lives with her partner, Joseph, and their two paw children Pookie, a loveable pitbull that enjoys running into large bodies of water, and Freddy, a tabby of sorts that will eat no matter what. Pookie and Freddy are best friends. On a recreational note, Rosie enjoys art forms of any kind, with an affinity to photography and scripted television.
Katherine (Katie) Baird (Education)
Professor of Economics
University of Washington Tacoma
Katie Baird is a Professor of Economics in the Division of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at UW Tacoma. For three years she wrote bi-weekly columns on public affairs for The News Tribune, and in 2015 she was elected to Pierce County’s Charter Review Commission. Katie is married to an attorney, has two grown sons who each were schooled in Tacoma’s public schools, and now is actively involved with raising a spoiled, but adorable Labrador. She enjoys the outdoors and movies and loves traveling abroad. She’s had the luck of living for short spells in Spain and Norway, and in her youth spent three years in Mauritania with the Peace Corps. She can get by in French, Spanish and Pulaar.
Bill Berry (Politics and Government)
Manager of Rates, Planning, and Analysis
Tacoma Power / Tacoma Public Utilities
Bill Berry has served as Tacoma’s Power’s Rates, Planning, and Analysis Manager since 2012. Through most of his professional career, Bill has focused on utility finance, serving in leadership positions at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and New York Power Authority. He also spent eleven years as a utility-focused investment banker at Lehman Brothers. Since 2013, Bill has been a United Way of Pierce County Board Member, currently serving as Board Chair. He also loves listening to and learning more about music, and actively applies his ideas and methods of the jazz combo in his leadership roles. Bill graduated from Williams College with a B.A. in political science. Bill and his wife, Bari, enjoy living in Washington and look forward to deepening relationships through serving their community.
Joseph (Joe) Brady (Politics and Government)
Chief Strategy Officer
Metro Parks Tacoma
A Tacoma resident for 20 years, Joe Brady is proud to work on behalf of citizens in a dedicated effort to make our region the best it can be—for everyone. As the Chief Strategy Officer for Metro Parks Tacoma, Joe is responsible for the agency’s government relations efforts, the development and maintenance of the district’s long term planning framework, its national accreditations, and special project management. As former Peace Corps’ volunteers, and parents to two children, Joe and his wife Brynn (a lifelong Tacoma resident), are passionate leaders whom have dedicated their time and talents to important causes. Joe is a 1996 graduate of Colorado State University and holds B.S. degrees in Range and Forest Management. Lastly, Joe looks forward to establishing deep connections with new colleagues and the ALF alumni network in an effort to make Tacoma and our region the best place in the world to live. Opportunity knocks.
Ameila (Amy) Campbell (Corporate / Military)
Financial Services Professional / Career Coach
New York Life / Insignia Federal Group
Ameila was born and raised in Newark, N.J. She served 22 years in the Army where she had the distinct privilege of working at various levels of leadership to include one tour of duty in a combat zone. As a first-generation college graduate, Ameila is proud to have two of her four children in their 4th year of college.
Ameila is currently working as a Financial Services Professional where she provides one-on-one financial planning as well as financial seminars. Additionally, she travels three to four times a month to military bases located in the Pacific Northwest Region where she facilitates Three-Day Employment Workshops for Service Members transitioning out of the military.
Ameila has been married to her husband Lorenzo, who is also a military veteran, for over 10 years. Lorenzo and Ameila enjoy traveling and spending quality time with friends.
Susan Dobkins (Professional)
The Russell Family Foundation
Susan is a Program Officer at The Russell Family Foundation, where she manages a multi-faceted portfolio including local grassroots leadership development and grantmaking themes of youth homelessness, scholarships for first-generation and underserved students, and the nexus of leadership development and environmental justice. Susan began her career working for a human rights organization in Nicaragua and spent 12 years organizing farmworkers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley before relocating to Tacoma. After several years working in the local social and economic justice movement, she participated in the Foundation’s Jane’s Fellowship Program, eventually joining as a staff member in 2008. Susan has extensive networks in regional and national philanthropy through service on organizational committees and boards and volunteers as a mentor with local college support programs. She enjoys bicycling, traveling, and spending time on the water with her husband Erik. They have a daughter, Clara, who is in college and shares the family’s love of travel.
Cantor Geoffrey (Geoff) Fine (Religion)
Clergy / Cantor
Temple Beth El
Cantor Geoffrey Fine is an ordained Jewish clergy having gone to undergraduate school at the Eastman School of Music and graduate work at the Reform Jewish Seminary called Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He grew up in Rockville, MD with his mom and dad (z’’l/zichronam livrachah/may their names be for a blessing) and sister.
He was always immersed in music from the age of three! His mother was concertmistress for the Ft. Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra and Geoff got to sit in the hall surrounded by classical music. He went to Yamaha tot music school and his passion for music grew day by day. He also loves connecting and helping people on their journeys through life, whether it be a religious or secular path.
His musical life has been so joyful and eclectic, allowing him to perform at places like Busch Gardens, the Kennedy Center, St. Louis and Boston operal halls, the Smithsonian Institution, and many Jewish temples. His love of people and supporting them wherever they are on their life path steered him towards volunteering at numerous nursing homes, memory wards, retirement centers, and homeless center events. Talking and singing with those that are so overlooked in society really does fill him up. He has also enjoyed teaching physically and mentally unique kids, giving them the joy of having b’nai mitzvah (coming of age ceremonies) along-side their fellow classmates.
Cantor Fine and his husband, Dr. Joel Hencken, have been happily married for 25 years and moved from Boston to the beautiful Pacific Northwest only one and a half years ago. They are blessed to have a true family among their congregants and live in University Place with their dog Yum Yum. As a life-long learner, Cantor Fine looks forward to meeting people from all walks of life who desire to stretch and who appreciate both our unique and common gifts.
Jason Gauthier (Non-Profit)
Director of Operations
Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity
Jason Gauthier grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin and then went to a slightly larger central Wisconsin town for his college education (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point). Jason’s next move was directed by a guiding idea, move somewhere that you don’t know anyone, and here they are in Tacoma, WA. Jason met his wife of 7+ years within three months of moving to Tacoma and, although they returned to Michigan for his girlfriend (now wife) to finish college, they were back in Tacoma less than a month after the wedding. Jason is currently the Director of Operations at Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity. In 2017, he was named a member of the Business Examiner’s 40 Under 40, and though his body has betrayed him, he still would call himself a competitive weightlifter.
Jessica Gavre (Community Activist)
YWCA Pierce County
Jessica Gavre was born and raised in the South Sound. She attended Tacoma Community College and the University of Washington Tacoma where she received BASW and MSW degrees. She began her professional career working in community organizing around social justice issues, particular those impacting women and the LGBTQ community. In 2009, she worked as Campaign Manager for Laurie Jinkins in her first race for Washington State House of Representatives. After Jinkins won, Jessica went to Olympia to work as her Legislative Aide. In 2013, after three legislative sessions, she was hired as the Development Director for YWCA Pierce County where she is currently employed. During her time at YWCA, she has grown their fundraising department and led the creation of an Associate Board, geared towards engaging young leaders ages 21-40. In 2012, while still working in Olympia, Jessica volunteered to lead field campaign efforts in Pierce County for the 2012 Marriage Equality Campaign. In 2016, when the rights of Transgender Washingtonians were threatened by a ballot initiative, she took temporary leave from her job at YWCA to run a voter outreach canvass program in Pierce County. She is currently the Chair of South Sound Women’s Leadership, a Political Action Committee committed to elect progressive women in the Pierce County area and working to end and prevent sexual harassment in politics.
Scott Hamel (Politics and Government)
Communications Center Manager
South Sound 911
Scott Hamel is a life-long resident of Pierce County. He graduated from Puyallup High School in 1991 and earned an Associate of Arts degree from Pierce College. Scott began working as a communications officer with the Law Enforcement Support Agency in 1995. He has worked within the communications center as a call receiver, dispatcher, and supervisor. He currently manages the law enforcement communications center for South Sound 911. Scott and his wife, Chandra, married in 1995. They are the parents of three teenage children. Scott enjoys spending time with family, being outdoors, gardening, reading, and watching sports. Scott has volunteered as a master gardener with the Pierce County Master Gardener program, as a youth soccer coach, a youth volunteer in local churches, and as a treasurer for a non-profit youth sports and services organization.
Lori Forte Harnick (Non-Profit)
President and CEO
Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region
As President and Chief Executive Officer of Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region, Lori oversees an $80 million job training, thrift retail and recycling nonprofit covering 15 counties in western and southwest Washington. Through this unique social enterprise, Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region is able to provide free education, job placement and career pathway services to thousands of people each year. Lori is proud and humbled to serve as the leader of an amazingly dedicated 1,500-person Goodwill team.
Lori came to Goodwill from the Microsoft Corporation where she served as Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft Philanthropies, a $1 billion+ annual giving program dedicated to increasing digital inclusion and empowerment. Prior to joining Microsoft, Lori led brand marketing and public affairs programs on a national and global scale across a number of industries, including automotive, health care, professional services and information technology.
Lori holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Business Administration from George Washington University. She has served in a number of nonprofit capacities, including the Board of Directors of City Year Seattle/King County and the Advisory Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center. She will soon join the Board of Directors of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and is a member of the International Women’s Federation.
Lori and her husband, Blake, have lived in the Pacific Northwest for 11 years, where they enjoy following the passions of their teenage children, Cara (19, athletics), and Bryce (16, theater).
David Hirschberg (Entrepreneur / Military)
Founder and Catalyst / Affiliate Professor / Senior Scientist / IPA
RAIN Incubator / University of Washington Tacoma / Urban Waters / US Army RDECOM
David plays a real-life version of trivial pursuit. He tends to collect a lot of facts (hopefully real) that may seemingly have little application. However, these pieces of information eventually come together to tell a story, or develop a system, or solve a problem. David moves through life noting the objects and processes and getting to know the people. When faced with a problem at a later time, he is able to go back and assemble the tools and people needed to create the conditions where a solution could arise. David loves solving problems and connecting ideas and people in ways that would have had a low probability of occurring otherwise. Lately, David has been working on ways to better engage people in science-based critical thinking.
Dr. Blair Billings Irwin, MD/MBA (Healthcare)
MultiCare Regional Cancer Center
Blair Irwin, MD, MBA currently works as a practicing general medical oncologist and Medical Director of the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center (MRCC). In her current role as Medical Director, Dr. Irwin oversees the operations and strategic direction of MRCC, a five-site multispecialty, COC-accredited hospital-based oncology practice located in the Puget Sound region. She is chair of the Cancer Committee for MRCC and serves as chair of the quality board for the Carol Milgard Breast Center. She also serves on the board of the Washington State Medical Oncology Society. Prior to coming to MultiCare in 2015, she served on the oncology faculty of the Duke Cancer Network in Durham, NC. She completed her internal medicine training and hematology-oncology fellowship at Duke University Medical Center (DUMC). While at DUMC, she also completed a fellowship in healthcare administration, the Management and Leadership Pathway Residency. Prior to going into medicine, Dr. Irwin worked in healthcare investment banking at JP Morgan Chase and in healthcare private equity at Aisling Capital. She obtained her MBA at Harvard Business School and her BA from Princeton University.
In her free time, Blair spends time with her three little kids, Alex (3), Max (3), Ben (5) and husband Andre. Together they like to travel, hike, and chase balls around.
Hermenia (Jackson) Butler (Education)
Field Instructor – Teaching Associate, Child Welfare Training and Advancement Program (CWTAP)
University of Washington Tacoma
Hermenia Jackson is a Seattle native who graduated with her master’s from the University of Washington Seattle in Social Work. She has devoted the last 20+ years of her life as a social worker and administrator in public child welfare. Hermenia has been dedicated to issues of racial equity and social justice in Tacoma and is involved in the community through boards and committees. Her job focuses on preparing Social Work students for the field of public child welfare. As an instructor and a mother of two, Hermenia is very passionate about teaching those around her about the importance of community, healthy families, and social justice. She aspires to share her experiences as a social worker and as a woman of color to teach students and faculty the importance of compassion, empathy, and engagement—all important factors in the social work field. Hermenia’s passion is to teach and challenge her students to the best of her ability and guide them through their journey to becoming a social worker by providing an educational climate that challenges her students to expand their professional skills and knowledge.
Genie Jefferson (Politics and Government)
Seattle City Light
Genie is a 45-year resident of the Pacific Northwest and has lived in Tacoma the past 21 years. She is a division administrator for Seattle City Light’s Energy Delivery Engineering group, a role she has held for 12 years. Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Genie attended Jackson State University, City University, and Seattle Pacific University.
Genie’s husband, Harold Moss, is the former Mayor of Tacoma and the first African-American to serve on the Tacoma City Council, County Council, and as Mayor. She also has a daughter, Tiffany, and a granddaughter, Gianna, who she enjoys spending time with.
Genie has made it a priority to be involved in the community because she wants to be active where she lives and make a difference. She is a second-term Board Trustee with the Tacoma Arts Live and a second-term Board Member for the Tacoma Historical Society. She is also an active member of the Tacoma Black Collective, the NAACP and the Tacoma Urban League Guild. For ten years, she served as a planning committee member of Tacoma’s Dr. M.L. King, Jr. Celebration.
Genie looks forward to broadening her leadership skills, meeting new friends and continuing to make a difference in her community.
Lee Law (Politics and Government)
Tacoma Fire Department
At a very young age, Lee knew that he wanted to serve. As life would have it, he would start his years of service by being a single parent to Amir and Victoria, his two wonderful children. In retrospect, it appears that these two taught him a great deal about life, his love for family, and himself.
Lee eventually found what he considers his true call to service two years after receiving custody of his children. He has been in the fire service for 24 years and is still in love with what he does. Lee spent the first half of his career directly serving the citizens of Tacoma. Now he finds himself serving his brothers and sisters in his department through providing training, ensuring for their safety, and investing in their professional development.
Outside of work, Lee spends most of his time with his new bride and their blended family. Together they have six children and two grandchildren. Their life can be quite hectic at times, but there is no more peaceful place for Lee than with his family.
Personally, he finds pleasure in staying fit through daily exercise, playing basketball, and even a little hiking. Likes and loves include Husky basketball and football, travel, listening to favorite podcasts, and spending time with family.
Renée Meschi (Environmental)
Harvest Pierce County Program Coordinator
Pierce Conservation District
Science says that it takes seven years for the body to completely replace itself, cell by cell. Following that logic, 2019 is Renée Meschi’s 8th year in Tacoma, making it her first year as a Pacific Northwesterner through and through. Currently, Renée works at the Pierce Conservation District as a Harvest Pierce County Program Coordinator. Over the past four years, her focus has become coordinating multilingual programming and cultural ambassadorship for Pierce County’s diverse array of community gardens. Renée is passionate about this work because she believes in the healing power of connection between people and place. Renée’s own favorite placemaking activities are foraging for edible medicinal herbs and mushrooms, learning what to do with them from community elders, and documenting these recipes and stories with photos and videos. When she’s not working or studying, you’ll most likely find Renée volunteering at her local Buddhist Temple.
T’wina Nobles (Non-Profit)
President and CEO
Tacoma Urban League
T’wina Nobles, formerly T’wina Franklin, moved to Tacoma 17 years ago as a military spouse and mother of one daughter. T’wina moved to Tacoma from Phenix City, Alabama where she graduated from Central High School. At Central, She enjoyed competitive sports and maintained above average grades even while she was in foster care. T’wina emancipated from foster care when she married at 19 years old, prior to moving to Tacoma. Since moving to Tacoma, T’wina has strived to be the woman she needed as a young girl. She engaged right away as a student at Tacoma Community College and University of Puget Sound. She also coached local youth basketball, cheerleading, and volleyball. Her family grew from three to six over the years and as her children became school-age she got more involved in education and PTA.
T’wina loves community and truly believes we are all better together. She also believes that she can always do her part to improve or make an impact in our community. Her personal experiences have rewarded her with the understanding of the role of community and togetherness in making our world a better place.
Errin Richardson (Corporate)
Senior Vice President, Asset Based Lending Department Manager
Errin Richardson is a Senior Vice President and Manager of the Asset Based Lending Department for Columbia Bank, located and headquartered in Tacoma, WA. She began her banking career with Puget Sound Bank (now Key Bank) located in Tacoma, WA in 1989. After she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting through Central Washington University, she began what has become a long tenure within the asset based lending industry through Key Bank, Washington Mutual Bank, and presently Columbia Bank. Errin has been with Columbia Bank collectively for 17 years; helping build the asset based lending framework, processes, and procedures in place today. She manages a department of analysts, examiners and support staff that provides services integral to the commercial lending process.
In addition to her career, she believes strongly in giving back to the communities where she works and resides. She has been active in non-profit volunteerism engagements through Columbia Bank, as well as various other local non-profits that have a meaningful impact on her. When she is not engaged in work and volunteer activities, she can be found enjoying the outdoors by kayaking, hiking, skiing, and biking; or traversing after her three children as they enter their busy adult lives.
Juan Manuel (Manny) Santiago Rodriguez (Non-Profit)
Manny Santiago was born and raised on a coffee farm in the small town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. Manny’s parents are Luis Manuel Santiago, a school janitor, and Marianita Rodríguez, a farmer and housewife. He has a younger sister, Verónica Santiago Rodríguez. Manny studied Sociology at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, and Theology at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. After ordination with the American Baptist Churches, he served congregations and campus ministries throughout the United States. He has traveled extensively throughout Latin América where he has engaged in LGBTQ advocacy work. Manny married Ferneli A. Hernández, a member of the Mayan Yucatec indigenous community in México in 2013 after marriage equality became a reality in Washington. They live in Tacoma with their cat, Susa. Manny enjoys reading work by Latina women writers, traveling, cooking, and being the guncle to his and Ferneli’s two nieces and seven nephews.
Christopher (Chris) Williams (Education)
Chief Operating Officer
Tacoma Public Schools
Christopher Williams is the Chief Operating Officer at Tacoma Public Schools where he is responsible for general support services that include facilities, planning and construction, nutrition services, and community inclusion. Chris joined the TPS in 2017 after serving three years as Executive Director of Facilities and Operations at Chicago Public Schools, where he managed over 800 buildings and the largest Integrated Facilities Management contract for K-12 in the United States. His responsibilities included budgeting and project delivery, sustainability, facilities, and many districtwide initiatives.
Prior to joining the CPS, he held a management position with New South Construction and played several years of professional basketball in Europe. Chris holds a Master of Business Administration from Roosevelt University and a Bachelor’s in Marketing from Ball State University.
Jeff Williams (Entrepreneur)
Windermere Real Estate
Originally from Kansas City Missouri, Jeff has lived all over the United States since graduating from the University of Kansas (Texas, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Kansas, California, and Washington). With an MBA and twelve years of consumer marketing experience with companies such as Colgate Palmolive, Nestle, and Warner Brothers, Jeff transitioned into real estate investing full time in 1999 applying his marketing expertise to his work as a Realtor. He enjoyed real estate sales in excess of $18 million annually during his tenure with Sotheby’s International Realty in Pasadena, California (2001-2010), and he’s quickly duplicated that success in Tacoma, becoming a top producing broker with Windermere since moving to Tacoma in 2010.
Jeff has been buying, renovating, and selling historic homes since 1993 (more than 655 and counting), and he’s passionate about the restoration of classic architecture. Jeff is a past board secretary for Historic Tacoma, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Tacoma’s architectural treasures, and he currently serves as a City Commissioner for Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. Jeff also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Tacoma Art Museum as well as the Board of Trustees for the Pierce College Foundation. Jeff has owned and shown American quarter horses since childhood. His show horses are in training at Summit View Ranch south of Roy, Washington. Jeff is consistently ranked among the top riders in the nation in his specialty event, Amateur Western Pleasure, and he currently serves as Past President of the Washington State Quarter Horse Association Board of Directors. Jeff and his partner, Mark Pinto, split time between homes on Vashon Island and in the historic Stadium District of Tacoma.
Tong Zhu (Politics and Government)
Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer
Port of Tacoma
Tong Zhu is the Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Strategy Officer at the Northwest Seaport Alliance. Tong oversees the organization’s commercial team, including the alliance’s cargo and real estate businesses, marketing and research. Tong is a cum laude graduate of the University of Washington Tacoma with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Washington State China Relations Council, and the Board of Directors of the Japan America Society of the State of Washington. She resides in the Tacoma area with her husband and beloved cat, Coco. When not at work, Tong can be found in her garden or out on the golf course.
Joel Zylstra (Media)
Public Information Officer
Franklin Pierce Schools
Having spent most of his childhood near water (Michigan) and falling in love with mountains (Colorado), moving to the Puget Sound region 18 years ago felt like a perfect fit. The natural environment offered the initial draw, but the 253 community that has helped him develop a sense of connection and rootedness in this place. Joel appreciates our size in that it is small enough to engage, yet large enough to leverage creative opportunities. He has been involved with community engagement work throughout Pierce County through previous positions with nonprofit agencies and with PLU. Joel now serves as the Public information Officer with Franklin Pierce Schools, where he leads communication efforts, public outreach and engagement, and community partnerships that support students and families in the Parkland, Summit, Waller, and Midland area. His partner, Mandy, is a middle school teacher at Stewart Middle School in Tacoma and they have two young boys (Xander-1 and Isaiah-4).