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Yona Isaacs (she/hers) is an Early Childhood Data Analyst for the Kids Count project. After earning her Bachelor of Science in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, she began her career as a research coordinator in pediatric psychiatry using data to understand the impacts of brain activity and genetics on children’s behavior and mental health symptoms. This work prompted an interest in exploring social determinants of health and the role of policy in promoting equitable opportunities for all children, families, and communities. She returned to the University of Michigan to complete her Masters in Social Work focused on Social Policy and Evaluation, during which she interned with the ACLU of Michigan’s policy and legislative team and assisted local nonprofit organizations in creating data and evaluation metrics. She currently serves as a coordinator for the Michigan Center for Youth Justice on a project aiming to increase placement options and enhance cultural competency within the juvenile justice system for LGBTQIA+ youth. Yona is eager to put her data skills to work at the League in support of data-driven policies that advocate for equitable access to healthcare, education, economic security, and opportunity for 0-5 year old children. In her free time, she enjoys tackling DIY house projects and trying new outdoor activities with her dog.
Laura Ross is a former educator who is committed to social justice issues. She values the connection of research and data with lived experiences and personal stories in order to improve well-being in Michigan. She taught English and journalism in the Lansing area from 2005 to 2018 and prior to that worked in community development in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood.
Laura has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Michigan State University with minors in journalism and history, as well as a Master of Arts in secondary education from Grand Valley State University. She loves to read, listen to podcasts and walk the trails with her husband, son and Moose (the dog).
Emily Jorgensen joined the Michigan League for Public Policy as Digital Communications Specialist in July 2019. She deeply cares about the well-being of individuals and families and has a great love for Michigan. She is grateful that her position at the League enables her to combine these passions and work to help promote policies that will lead to better opportunities and security for all Michiganders.
Emily graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Integrative Public Relations and a double minor in Journalism and Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts. She loves being an aunt and enjoys reading, writing, music, general nerdery and spending time with friends who are family and family who are friends. She may or may not be obsessed with her dog. (She is.)
Tillie Kucharek is the League’s graphic designer. She is responsible for design and layout of graphics and formatting publications, reports, creating charts and tables, and posting web content. She joined the League staff in 1989. She attended Kendall School of Design and received an associates degree from Lansing Community College in 1988.
Christina Stone joined the League in February 2019 as the League’s Bookkeeper and loves to streamline all aspects of the accounting system.
She previously worked for CPA accounting firms in the Jackson, MI area (her hometown) and is excited to be a part of the League’s vision.
Her bookkeeping and accounting experience began when she started recording the receipts for her mother’s business at the age of 13. She also has extensive knowledge in the preparation of payroll and payroll compliance issues and is a Certified Payroll Professional.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting with a minor in Auditing and Forensic Accounting from Kaplan University.
She is an empty nester who enjoys bowling (she’s on a league!) and camping in the summer.
Direct line: 517.275.1022
Renell Weathers, Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) Community Engagement Director. As community engagement director, Renell works with organizations throughout the state in connecting the impact of budget and tax policies to their communities. She is motivated by the belief that all children and adults deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or economic class.
Renell has recently participated in the Leadership Institute for State-Based Advocates Project with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Prior to coming to the League, she worked as Senior District Representative for U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer where she collaborated with a diverse array of community leaders, agencies, grassroots organizations and local units of government. She also served as Constituent Relations Director and District Representative for the Office of Michigan Senate Minority Leader, has managed a nonprofit that provided programs for youth and families and operated a child care program.
In 2011, in recognition of her community service, Jackson College awarded Renell the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Service Award. The King Medal of Service Award recognizes individuals in Jackson for their community service and who believe in the basic tenets of cultural and ethnic diversity, recognize the richness and strength that comes from valuing others of different groups and encourage minority group members to participate fully in our society.
Renell’s career has been devoted to improving the results for families by promoting access to economic opportunities. She attended Wayne State University and holds a bachelor of arts in management and organizational development from Spring Arbor University.
Amber Bellazaire joined the Michigan League for Public Policy as a policy analyst in June of 2019. Her work primarily focuses on state policy and budgets affecting Michigan’s Medicaid programs. Previously, Amber worked at the National Conference of State Legislatures tracking legislation and research related to injury and violence prevention, adolescent health, and maternal and child health. She also brings with her two years of Americorps service. As a full time volunteer, Amber had the opportunity to tutor high school students in Chelsea, Massachusetts and address issues of healthcare access and food insecurity through in-person outreach in Seattle, Washington.
Amber holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and psychology and a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan.
Parker James joined the Michigan League for Public Policy in August 2018 as the Kids Count Policy Analyst. He is responsible for the collection and management of data related to the Kids Count project. Prior to joining the League, Parker used data for advocacy in various positions, including as project coordinator of a health program in Southwest Michigan, graduate research assistant at The Hilltop Institute, and housing policy intern with the National League of Cities.
Parker attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) as a Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in health administration and policy. He went on to receive a master’s degree in public policy from UMBC in 2017.
Kelsey Perdue joined the League in 2019 as the Kids Count Project Director. She oversees data and advocacy work to increase economic security and racial equity for children across Michigan.
Kelsey is dedicated to building better communities for everyone and is an avid giver of her “time, treasure, and talent”. A dedicated volunteer, she gives back through grassroots, local government, nonprofit and professional organizations and committees.
Prior to joining the League, Kelsey managed and delivered direct service programming in the education, health and technology sectors in West Michigan, Washington, D.C. and abroad. Her diverse experiences inform her systems level thinking and equity lens.
Kelsey is a recipient of the 2019 Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 Under 40 Business Leader Award, 2017 LINC UP Community Spirit Award and her work has been highlighted in online and print publications.
A native of Grand Rapids, MI, Kelsey is an alumna of Howard University, the Michigan Political Leadership Program, and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
Brandon Betz joined the Michigan League for Public Policy in September 2019. He is the League’s tax policy analyst. In his work, Brandon analyzes and researches tax and other revenue generating policies to actively advocate for an equitable and progressive tax system that supports communities of color and people with low and moderate incomes.
Brandon is formally trained as a tax economist and has worked in the economics field for over three years. After graduating from Syracuse University, Brandon worked as an economic analyst for the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives at the State of Michigan. There, he analyzed and reported state labor market information and interfaced with strategic partners to disseminate economic outlooks and forecasts. He also led a team that conducted a robust program evaluation of Michigan’s workforce training programs. Prior to joining the League, Brandon worked for a small consulting firm, where he evaluated the economic and fiscal impacts of legislation for a diverse set of clients, including lobbying groups, government agencies, nonprofits, and industry associations.
Brandon’s passion lies in policy and politics. He is actively engaged in Lansing’s progressive political movement. In 2019 he ran for city council to represent his district in the city and has worked on a number of political campaigns in the past.
Simon Marshall-Shah joined the Michigan League for Public Policy as a State Policy Fellow in August 2019. His work focuses on state policy as it relates to the budget, immigration, health care and other League policy priorities. Before joining the League, he worked in Washington, D.C. at the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), providing federal policy and advocacy support to nonprofit, Medicaid health plans (Safety Net Health Plans) related to the ACA Marketplaces as well as Quality & Operations.
Prior to moving to Michigan, Simon lived in Baltimore, Maryland where he gained experience at various community-oriented nonprofits, including a health care co-op, an organization analyzing outcomes and barriers to care in a local medication-assisted treatment program and a fiscal sponsor providing operational support to over 80 grassroots programs. Simon holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Health Studies and Cognitive Science, as well as a Master of Science in Public Health in Health Policy with a certificate in Community-Based Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.
Dwayne Barnes is a self-described “Scholar, gentleman and musician.” He is the founder of Social Tech, a think tank that focuses on the issues related to technology creation, consumption and its impact in urban communities.
Prior to joining the League, Dwayne was the engagement strategy and urban outreach for the Center for Michigan and Bridge magazine a nonprofit and nonpartisan think and do tank.
In 2013, Dwayne was the recipient of the Spirit of Detroit Award for his work with Project: Better Man, Inc. a prostate cancer awareness, education, and prevention organization in Detroit. Mr. Barnes’ professional work is based on empowering communities to save themselves through education, entrepreneurship, the arts, and policy.
In 2017, Dwayne earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Oakland University and a BS in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University. Dwayne is married to Doria Barnes and has two children Dwayne Barnes III and Dylan Barnes.
In addition to his educational and professional accomplishments, Dwayne is the Chair of Recruitment for New Leaders Council Detroit Chapter.
Contact: email@example.com 517.487.5436
Jayme Vosovic joined the Michigan League for Public Policy in January of 2019 as the West Michigan Community Engagement Specialist. In her role with the league, Jayme works with organizations throughout the region to connect the impact of budget and tax policies to their communities. She is committed to partnering with stakeholders to amplify constituent voices so that all Michiganders have the opportunity to thrive.
Prior to joining the League, Jayme served as the West Michigan Regional Coordinator for U.S. Senator Gary Peters and interned with Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. Jayme has worked with survivors of sexual assault, families experiencing homelessness, the Mayor’s Greening Initiative, affordable housing, and sits on the board of directors for Girls on the Run of Kent and Muskegon Counties. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Grand Valley State University and a Master in Social Work—with a macro focus—from Michigan State University.
Karen Holcomb-Merrill currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer with the League. In that capacity, Karen oversees the League’s public policy and advocacy work. Karen is an experienced coalition-builder and advocate. Prior to coming to the League, Karen was the Public Policy Consultant for Tobacco-Free Michigan, working for smoke-free laws. Before her tenure at Tobacco-Free Michigan, Karen served as the Executive Director of Common Cause in Michigan for 14 years.
Karen is a graduate of Albion College, with a degree in Political Science and an emphasis in Public Policy.
The League is proud to be partners in the following national projects:
State Priorities Partnership
Economic Analysis and Research Network
The Working Poor Families Project
Alicia Guevara Warren joined the Michigan League for Public Policy in 2014 as the Tax Policy Analyst, and became the Kids Count in Michigan Project Director in June 2015. She oversees the project, which includes the collection and analysis of data to make informed policy recommendations to improve child well-being. Alicia has an extensive background advocating for improved outcomes for children and families through her work in the nonprofit sector with Michigan’s Children, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, and School-Community Health Alliance of Michigan. Additionally, as Democratic Central Staff for the Michigan House of Representatives, she served as the lead analyst on issues affecting children, families, and seniors, along with immigration, women’s health, and regulatory reform. Prior to joining the League, Alicia was with the Office of Economic Development at the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Alicia holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology with a specialization in law, criminology, and deviance from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and a master’s of public affairs with a specialization in social and economic policy from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Alex Rossman joined the League staff in 2015 as communications director. He handles writing, editing and messaging, media relations and social media for the League to help ensure our work gets the attention it deserves. Prior to joining the League, Alex worked for Democratic Central Staff for the Michigan Senate for almost ten years, serving as the deputy communications director and, previously, as press secretary and communications advisor, helping draw attention to the important legislative issues facing our state. He previously worked in communications for the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy as well.
Alex holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration and sports management from Aquinas College, where he also ran cross country and track. Alex grew up in Lansing, and used to ride his bike through Old Town where he now works.
Julie Cassidy joined the League as a policy analyst in 2017. Before that, she spent 14 years working as a legislative analyst for the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency, where she specialized in health, energy and environmental issues. Julie also has an extensive volunteer history of strategic planning and building community partnerships related to local environmental stewardship efforts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in social relations from Michigan State University’s James Madison College and a Master of Arts in public policy, also from MSU.
Pat Sorenson rejoined the League staff in September 2012 as a senior policy analyst working on state budget and tax policies. Prior to returning to the League, Pat was the senior director for policy and advocacy at the Early Childhood Investment Corporation; the vice president for policy at Michigan’s Children; and a senior planning and research associate at the League, serving as the organization’s first Kids Count director.
Pat has more than 30 years of experience in monitoring and analyzing state budgets and policies affecting low income families and children, including the founding and management of Michigan’s Children’s Budget Watch project. Pat received her law degree in 1986 from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and her master’s in social work from the University of Michigan in 1978. She is a member of the State Bar of Michigan.
Peter Ruark has worked at the League since 2001 and currently serves as a Senior Policy Analyst. He specializes in public policy related to adult skill enhancement, college financial aid, job quality, public assistance and corrections. He is active in national groups including the Working Poor Families Project and the Economic Analysis Research Network, and served on the board of the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Peter was awarded the President’s Award from the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education for his advocacy on behalf of adult education funding, and was recently featured on NPR’s Marketplace, where he discussed at length Michigan’s use of federal public assistance funds for various state programs.
Prior to joining the League in 2001, Peter directed an after-school tutoring program for at-risk children in Grand Rapids, taught English at the university and high school levels in China and worked in the mental health field. Peter holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and psychology from Calvin College and a Master of Social Work with a concentration in policy, planning and administration from Western Michigan University.
Phyllis Killips is the administrative assistant to the president & CEO. She has worked at the League since her graduation from Lansing’s Eastern High School in 1977. Among other duties, Phyllis tracks fund-raising for the organization, takes minutes at board meetings, distributes Kids Count reports and organizes the calendar of the president & CEO.
Gilda Z. Jacobs has served as president & CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy since 2011, following a 30-year career in public service at the local, county and state levels. Gilda has won numerous awards for her work, including being named as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan by Crain’s Detroit Business in 2016 and receiving the Michigan Food Bank Council’s Hunger-Free Award in 2015. In 2012, she participated in the Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in the Nonprofit Leadership Program. Gilda served in the state Senate for eight years after serving two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives where she made history as the first woman floor leader in either chamber of the Legislature. Prior to serving in the Legislature, she served as an Oakland County Commissioner and a Huntington Woods City Commissioner.
In addition to her civic leadership, Jacobs served as Development Director for JARC, a Jewish association providing residential care for persons with developmental disabilities. She also worked as a special education teacher in the Madison School District. Jacobs received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan.