L.A. WORKS STAFF


Sophie Arkusinski, Education Equity Program VISTA
Sophie is a graduate of Southern Methodist University where she earned a B.S. in Mathematics and a B.A. in Human Rights. The human rights community at SMU sparked her passion for strengthening communities and developing leaders through service. While most of her service has focused on directly supporting students in their academic pursuits, she is excited to work on organizing and volunteer efforts at L.A. Works. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, backpacking, and playing the banjo.

Deborah Brutchey, Executive Director
Deborah has proudly led the L.A. Works team since June 2009. Prior to her role at L.A. Works, Deborah fundraised in Santa Barbara for a family service agency and led a program at Stanford University serving children impacted by a parent with cancer. In 2001, Deborah was interim Executive Director of the AT&T Center for Service Leadership at the Pennsylvania State University. Deborah has served on the City of Los Angeles "We Serve LA" Community Service Advisory Cabinet and the Points of Light's Corporate Institute Leadership Faculty. She is a graduate of the Los Angeles Chamber Leadership Los Angeles class of 2014 and was named one of the City's 2020 Impact-Makers to Watch by Stratiscope. Deborah completed her MBA from the USC Marshall School of Business with a focus on social entrepreneurship. As the mother of two young girls, Debbie tries to model a healthy work-life balance to her team by spending her non-work hours at the pool, beach, with friends, traveling, and just enjoying the time with her family.

Nahtahna Cabanes, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships
Responsible for building relationships with Los Angeles change-makers, Nahtahna's appointment as the V.P. of Strategic Partnerships continues her life's work creating opportunity and change through advocacy, education and community outreach. With two masters degrees, she's an experienced educator having worked in high schools and colleges with opportunity youth, incarcerated adults, and returning students. As a Bohnett Fellow, she worked with Mayor Villaraigosa on his education reform agenda. At CASA of L.A., she recruited hundreds of volunteers to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children. She enjoys running and spending time with her morkie, Sia.

Jessica Carrera, Director of RSVP
Jessica is a Stockton native who became an Angeleno while earning her BA at Mount St. Mary’s University. Jessica went on to work at her alma mater for three years post graduation in Student Financing where she served as the Co-Chair of the Committee on Staff Affairs. As an AVID graduate and Dell Scholar Jessica feels very passionate about empowerment through education. During high school, she volunteered as a tutor and looks forward to promoting educational programs through her role in the RSVP program. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, cooking, decorating and traveling - especially to her parent’s hometown ranch in Michoacán, Mexico.

Alisha Cathirell-Tanzer, Volunteer Corps Manager
Alisha is an LA native, and comes from deep roots of activism and community involvement, in particular with education and youth athletics. She is currently enrolled as a full-time student at Arizona State University, where she is working online towards a BS in Public Service and Public Policy. Before resuming her education, Alisha volunteered for years as the Player Agent for Central Altadena Little League, managing players and coordinating between families, coaches, and league administrators. When not driving her future-astronaut daughter to and from cheer practice, Alisha can be found gaming with friends around the world, moderating fan groups, and listening to podcasts.

Stephen Davalos, VP External Affairs
Stephen joined the L.A. Works staff after having worked in the baking industry for 10 years. Growing up in Los Angeles, Stephen always loved the city. In 2016, he realized he felt called to do more to serve his community and began the hard process of changing careers. Since then, Stephen has been working for his church in Pasadena, playing music, and leading the youth group. In 2018, Stephen started working for City Service Mission and began to understand the nonprofit landscape of LA. In 2019, Stephen married the love of his life, Allison. Stephen and Allie live in Pasadena with their stubborn dog, Bosco. In his free time, Stephen enjoys hiking, baking, and throwing pottery.

Christine Gonzalez, Associate Director of RSVP
Christine was born and raised in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Growing up, she participated in the leadership mentoring program, which led her to become a devoted volunteer since the age of 13. Having volunteered at several nonprofits, Christine’s passion grew in helping others. Christine worked in expanded learning for 10 years with LA’s BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program. As Program Coordinator in LA’s BEST, she launched the intergenerational partnership with AARP Foundation Experience Corps program, which brings together older adults to mentor and tutor students in need. In 2018, Christine graduated from Pacific Oaks College with her B.A. in Human Development with a concentration in Social Change. In 2020, she earned her M.A. in Nonprofit Management at Antioch University Los Angeles and her credential as a Certified Nonprofit Professional. When Christine isn’t at Dodger games with her husband, she enjoys swimming with & baking cakes for her 3 rescues, Dodger, Honey & Daisy.

Meredith Lancaster, RSVP Pro Bono Coordinator
Meredith joined the L.A. Works team after working for various museums and art galleries since 2010. Growing up with roots in both Los Angeles and Chicago, Meredith is a California girl with a Midwestern sensibility. Meredith earned her B.A. in the History of Art and Architecture from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, and her M.A. in Art History from the University of Oregon. She is currently in her last semester at San José State University where she will earn her MLIS with a focus on archives and digital preservation. When she does not have her nose in a schoolbook, Meredith loves spending time with her dad, getting cuddles from her rescue cat Toulouse (Yes, he is named after Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), watching movies, gardening, or laughing at TikTok videos.

Johnathan Lopez, Corporate Events Manager
Johnathan was born and raised in the Los Angeles County. He went to Cal Poly Pomona where he received a Bachelor's in Music and has worked in several fields both during and after his studies. Johnathan has worked in the food service industry, as a music tutor for lower and upper division music students, as a legal assistant for a personal injury lawyer and even as a dialogue editor for animation. When Johnathan isn't working, he enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, maintaining his character in the FFXIV MMO, or exploring new cities with his boyfriend.

Raymond McAnally, RSVP Outreach Coordinator
Raymond came to L.A. Works through a personal search for volunteer opportunities and a desire to get involved in the greater Los Angeles community. An actor by profession, Raymond received his MFA in Acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Raymond has been an arts educator and advocate since 2004, working with nonprofits and grant organizations while teaching acting at Universities and professional studio programs. A native of Tennessee and a resident of NY/NJ for ten years, Raymond still can't get over the sunshine, beaches, deserts, and mountains. So, when he's not organizing volunteers, acting, teaching, or writing, Raymond can be found in the outdoors or "fiddlin" around with a carpentry project.

Stephen Melsheimer, Event Production Coordinator
Stephen was born and raised in Southern California. Earned a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration in Human Resources and Management from Cal Poly Pomona. He developed his sense for community service from his time in BoyScouts that continued into working local community events around Los Angeles including community outreach and volunteer coordination. Stephen has worked in a wide variety of fields including food service industry, sales, Disney, and election services. When Stephen isn’t working, he spends his time cooking, playing Dungeons and Dragons, or hiking.

Kelsey McRae, Corporate Event Manager
Kelsey grew up in the mountains of Colorado. After graduating from Colorado State University with a BA in Communications & Media Studies and a Minor in Ethnic Studies, she moved to Los Angeles in 2013. She started her life in a very- LA fashion, writing challenges for a cooking show and eating everything she could get her hands on. After a few years of eating professionally, Kelsey started working in programming at a non-profit that raises funds for the 73 Los Angeles Public Library Branches. She continues to be the person at the party telling everyone of all the benefits of being a library card holder. In her free time Kelsey spends time with her friends and (light of her life) cat, Franklin, watches too much TV, reads books, embroiders – and does every other perceivable craft known to mankind.

Jessica Monnette, Director of Corporate Engagement
Jessica moved to Los Angeles in March 2021 from her hometown of Wellington, FL. After graduating from the University of Florida with a BA in Business Administration (with a focus on the European Union and Innovation), she jumped right into the nonprofit world as a Team Leader for AmeriCorps NCCC, and then continued her nonprofit career as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader in Flint, Michigan. Her passion for nonprofit events was formed during her time working for Girl Scouts as a Girl Experience Manager, designing and implementing programs and events for girls across South Florida. She is passionate about connecting volunteers to meaningful projects in the LA community and inspiring others to be a force of good. In her free time, she loves to travel to new destinations, hike in the wilderness, go to live music shows, and read just about anything.

Rachel Niesen, Programs Support VISTA
Rachel was born and (mostly) raised in Portland, Oregon. On the very long list of things she enjoys, here are just a few: traveling, running, working with the community, gardening, and sewing. She attended Northern Arizona University where she studied Anthropology, Biology and Spanish. While in University, she was apart of multiple volunteer organization including a personal favorite, Global Medical Brigades which combined travel and medical volunteering. After university she served as an AmeriCorps member at the Clark County Food Bank where she taught gardening classes to the community. The adventure didn’t stop there, at the end of her service, she moved to China in the Fall of 2019 to teach English. This past September she moved home after two years in China, and with AmeriCorps in mind. Eventually the road led her to L.A. Works and L.A. Some of her biggest passions are traveling and volunteering, so any way to combine these often determines where she goes hence, the relocation to L.A.

Kelechi Onwudiwe, Capacity Building Volunteer VISTA
Kelechi is from Washington, DC and a graduate of Delaware State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Psychology. She has been practicing as a Post Anesthesia Care Registered Traveling Nurse and just recently relocated to the Los Angeles, California area where she is serving as a VISTA Volunteer Member. While outside of work, Kelechi loves cooking, traveling, and hiking.

Sarah-Jane Oska, Director of Community Impact
Sarah-Jane was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, and moved to LA in 2017. She has a diverse history in the education sector including: teaching in remote Aboriginal communities; classroom teaching in London, UK; tutoring; as a camp and education specialist at the Los Angeles Zoo; and most recently as the Education Programs Coordinator at Community Nature Connection, a non-profit that aims to increase access to the outdoors. In her free time, Sarah-Jane likes spending time outdoors, seeing live music, cooking, and dog watching at cafes.

Gyasi Parker-Ross, Vice President of Programs
Gyasi (Jah-C) got his start in volunteerism with HandsOn Bay Area our San Francisco affiliate back in 2009 where he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA and Corporate Project Leader. After his term of service as a VISTA, he spent two and half years with The Mosaic Project as their Youth Leadership Project Director. When he’s not promoting volunteerism here at L.A. Works, Gyasi enjoys songwriting and performing music around Los Angeles. He’s an LA native and San Francisco State University graduate with a deep passion for giving back and creating opportunities for others.

Jacey Pulusani, Operations Manager
Jacey is a Kansas native but has proudly spent nearly half her life living in California. An alumna of Occidental College, she has always been interested in the intersection of people and place and is most energized in a buzzing urban environment. After earning a degree in Urban and Environmental Policy, she has worked with children & families as well as in the hospitality space specializing in wine and stellar customer service. A caretaker at heart, in her spare time she enjoys cooking, hiking, and giggling with her husband and young son.

Elisa Rodriguez, Social Media Associate
Elisa is a first-generation college graduate, born and raised in Los Angeles County. She received her B.A. in Film, Television and Media with a minor in Theatre Performance from California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her social media experience includes freelance work for small businesses and content creators. While outside of work, Elisa loves to travel, hike, go to the movies and cook with loved ones.

Jenevieve Rodriguez, Volunteer Corps VISTA Leader
Jenevieve was born and raised in San Francisco. Growing up in a mixed Chinese/Mexican household, Jenevieve developed a passion for supporting her community, especially for youth from underserved populations. She has had various jobs in the different social worlds of children from an after school teacher, a behavior technician for children with autism, to working at nonprofits for youth experiencing homelessness. After graduating from the University of San Francisco with a B.S. in Biology and minors in Biochemistry and Child & Youth Studies, she moved to Los Angeles to serve as a VISTA at a nonprofit focused on helping youth experiencing homelessness to learn more about the nonprofit sector. During her free time, Jenevieve enjoys playing games with friends, binge-watching shows, volunteering, and hiking.

Steve Schaeffer, Grant Manager
Steve Schaeffer is a writer and event producer whose work has been featured by many of America’s top not-for-profits and corporations across the country. As an event producer, he has created gala fundraising events and meetings for some of New York City’s top not-for-profit companies, including Roundabout Theatre Company, The College Board, Atlantic Theater Company, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and MCC Theater. Steve is a graduate of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television and also studied at the University of Hull in England. Outside of work, Steve is usually ingesting pop culture of all kinds: movies, tv, theatre, books and podcasts…oh, so many podcasts! He also manages to go outside frequently, too.

Chelsea Valdez-Gutierrez, RSVP Telesocial Program Manager
Chelsea is a first-gen daughter of Mexican immigrants who was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. She has a passion for community-based solutions and her previous work has focused on connecting disenfranchised populations, especially marginalized youth, with resources and support to empower and create opportunities for them across Minnesota, New York, and Chile. She also completed a public health fellowship in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. While on the island, she worked with a grassroots organization to create a community center for surrounding low-income neighborhoods. There she found a passion for disaster management, specifically the empowerment of vulnerable populations and accessibility of communal services for mental health. She has received a Master of Social Work and is currently completing her MS in Disaster Resilience from Tulane University. Chelsea is also a consultant currently working with state and local governments across the country to administer federal funds (FEMA, COVID relief, etc) in an equitable manner. When she isn’t doing homework, working, or taking naps with her dog, she is likely on another food adventure, hiking, traveling, or eating a gallon of ice cream.

Samantha Wheeler, Communications Manager
Born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, Samantha grew up with a passion for community engagement. Her volunteer work with nonprofit organizations such as Black Women for Wellness, Little Miss African American and The K.I.S. Foundation allowed her to focus on the causes important to her – health, youth, and education. Upon earning her Master of Arts in Strategic Public Relations from the University of Southern California, Samantha served in various communications roles serving the nonprofit, corporate and consumer sectors. She has garnered coverage for her clients in a variety of local and national media outlets, including KABC-TV, Essence and 94.7 The Wave. When she’s not working, you’ll find her baking, at spin class, watching reality television or leading her team to victory at pub trivia.

SUPPORTING ROLES


P.J. Schumacher, Schumacher Financial Consulting
PJ has been serving as a notary, business management consultant, controller, and tax accountant since 1985. He formed Schumacher Financial Consulting in 1991 to provide full-charge bookkeeping services to a wide variety of clients, as well as serving in the capacities of controller and tax accountant. P.J. joined the L.A. Works team in 1993.

Synjin Mrkvicka, Digital Marketing Consultant
Synjin’s background as a formally trained painter/printmaker led her translating old school branding into digital identity for a range of small businesses-from a local butcher in Wisconsin to OWSLA/Skrillex in Los Angeles. She has built websites and stores for brands to widen their reach for ten years, when she's not behind her laptop, she DJs at festivals on the weekends and restores discarded furniture.

VOLUNTEER ASSOCIATES


Enis Öcal, Corporate Event Logistics Associate
Enis worked in Fortune 500 companies in pricing, revenue management, and analytics roles. He has graduate degrees from Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri), The University of Manchester (United Kingdom) and Bogazici University (Turkey). He also has a bachelor's in industrial engineering from Bogazici University (Turkey). He became interested in social entrepreneurship and volunteering mainly after TA-ing a course on social entrepreneurship in graduate school, and has volunteering experience with children, adults, and animals.

Celia Tom, RSVP General Associate
Celia retired in 2014 as Director of Clinical Laboratories at the USC Health Science Campus after 30+ years. The responsibilities included laboratory oversight and management of the USC Norris Cancer Hospital and Keck Medical Center. This included Quality Assurance, budgets, personnel (hiring, firing, training), compliance with State, Federal, City regulations and national hospital and laboratory accreditations, etc. Her parents are from China, and she was born in Central California and raised in San Francisco Chinatown. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a BS in Microbiology and a MS from CSU Dominguez Hills. Celia has 3 children, 5 grandchildren, 1 great grandson and a Standard Poodle.