HRC Board of Directors

Meet the individuals that make up the HRC Board of Directors and the community organizations, institutions and businesses that they represent.

CHAIR
Julie Rusk, Founder, Civic Wellbeing Partners

Julie was the City of Santa Monica’s first Chief of Civic Wellbeing. Throughout her career, she has spearheaded responsive government policy and innovations to improve community outcomes through creative partnerships, social impact initiatives and civic engagement. In 2017, she created the City’s first Office of Civic Wellbeing within the City Manager’s Office after leading the City’s winning government innovation proposal to develop a local wellbeing index from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Santa Monica’s 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health prize. Ms. Rusk was a 2016/17 Fellow with Business Alliance for a Local Living Economy (BALLE); was named to the 2017 List of 25 Top Influencers by Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL); and is currently a Senior Fellow with UCLA’s Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.


PAST CHAIR
John Maceri, CEO, The People Concern

John Maceri is the CEO of The People Concern. With more than fifty-nine years of work in the community, The People Concern empowers the most vulnerable among us to rebuild their lives. As a long-time community volunteer, John served on the board of the Business Alliance of Los Angeles as a member, Vice President and two-term President. He is a Past Chair of the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition, and served as a member of the Board of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. John is a past Vice President of the Board of North Valley Caring Services, and a former member of the governing board of the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation. He currently serves as a board member of NoHo Home Alliance, a nonprofit serving people experiencing homelessness in the East San Fernando Valley.


VICE CHAIR
Jody Priselac, Associate Dean, UCLA

Jody Z. Priselac is one of the founding Directors of the HRC in 2004 and has been a member ever since. She has served as Vice Chair and Chair of the HRC Board. Dr. Priselac is the Associate Dean for Community Programs in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. She has over 30 years of experience as a mathematics educator, serving in many roles, including high school teacher, professional development leader, teacher educator, and educational researcher. Her research focuses on how to change teacher practice in mathematics in urban schools and partner with communities to advance equitable education.

VICE CHAIR

Dr. Karen S. Gunn, Community Member/Business Owner

Dr. Karen S. Gunn is a psychologist with over thirty years of experience working as a consultant and educator in the public and private sectors. Her expertise lies in organizational, management and program development, leadership skills, cross-cultural and diversity issues, interpersonal communication and human relations. Dr. Gunn was a tenured faculty member in the Psychology Department at Santa Monica College and served as department chair during that time. Dr. Gunn has served as a board member for national and local organizations as well as non-profit agencies. Dr. Gunn served as the prior Human Relations Council Board Chair.

VICE CHAIR

Claudia Bautista-Nicholas, National Board Certified Teacher, President SMMCTA

Claudia Bautista-Nicholas has been in the district as an immersion teacher at Santa Monica High School since 2002. Originally from El Salvador, she has always valued education and was the first one in her family to attend a four year college. After graduating from UCLA with a BA in History, Claudia went on to Yale University to study Spanish. It is at UCLA where she began teaching back in 1990 as a graduate student and fell in love with the profession. In 2015, she began teaching Social Studies in Spanish at Samohi and in 2020 was honored by Facing History along with her students. Her devotion to social justice led her to working for teachers in the Union. Then in June 2021, she became President of SMMCTA after being an Executive Board member for 6 years. She is honored to serve on the Board of The Santa Monica Bay Human Relations Council as a teacher representative.

VICE CHAIR

Tara Baraukas, Executive Director, Community Corporation of Santa Monica

Tara has worked to create innovative and sustainable affordable housing for 21 years. She serves as the Executive Director of Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a nonprofit affordable housing owner and development organization based in Santa Monica. In this role she oversees the management of 1,800 units of affordable housing, housing development, resident services, maintenance and administration of 100 staff. Previously, Tara developed affordable and permanent supportive housing throughout the state of California. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for SCANPH, a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for effective affordable housing policy throughout Southern California. She also serves on the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center Advisory Council, the UCLA Ziman Affordable Housing Advisory Council, and the Board of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.

TREASURER
Perry Roshan-Zamir, Community Member

Perry Roshan-Zamir is the general counsel for Cabo Cantina and their group of restaurants and practices franchise law. He received his bachelors in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering from USC in 1989, his J.D. From Whittier College School of Law in 1992 and his Masters in Business Taxation from USC in 1996.  Perry is a certified diving instructor, very well-traveled, and serves as the chairman of the board of directors of Reef Check, an international non-profit organization whose mission is to empower people to save our reefs and oceans.  Perry also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Senior Arts Foundation, based in Los Angeles.

Assistant Treasurer

Tara Pomposini, CEO, Santa Monica Family YMCA

Tara’s entire career has been with the YMCA and includes the YMCA of Pittsburgh and Burbank before coming to the Santa Monica Family YMCA in 1984. Serving as the CEO for the past 18 years, she believes that each person has unique and special gifts to develop and share, and that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we invest in our children, our community, and our health. Under Tara’s leadership, the Y launched its Community-Based Health Initiative assuring that chronic disease prevention programs, like Livestrong, diabetes prevention, balance, blood pressure monitoring and arthritis are available and accessible to all. During her career she served on the YMCA of the USA National Board, the National Y-USA Safety Task Force developing policies and procedures for local Y’s on child abuse prevention, and the Board of Directors for the California State Alliance of YMCAs whose purpose it is to harness the power of our collective strength to impact our local communities through advocacy, public policy, and program initiatives. Tara earned a BS in Community Development from Penn State University and has a Master’s in Human Services in Organizational Leadership and Non-Profit Management from Springfield College.

SECRETARY
Natalya Zernitskaya, Community Member

Natalya Zernitskaya found her community in Santa Monica when she moved to the Los Angeles area after graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Economics. In addition to her full-time job as a Senior Due Diligence Analyst in the financial services industry, and her role with HRC, Natalya serves on the board of the International Women’s Resource Center (IWRC) and on the Advisory Board for Climate Action Santa Monica (CASM). She has previously served in various other roles including: Committee Member on the City of Santa Monica Audit Subcommittee, President of the LWV of Santa Monica, Treasurer for the LWV of Santa Monica, and Secretary of the Administrative Board of Directors for the Church in Ocean Park.Natalya has also previously worked as a freelance stage manager and props designer for theatrical productions in the Los Angeles area. She is passionate about advocating for positive change in her community, with a particular focus on the issues of housing, social justice, criminal justice reform, and women’s rights.


HRC BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Ana Maria Jara, Former City of Santa Monica Council Member & Community Member

Ana Maria Jara, a native from Guatemala, C. A. is a proud mother of four daughters, has seven grandchildren. Has lived in Santa Monica for almost 40 years and worked at Santa Monica College for over 30 years. In January 2019, Ana was appointed to the Santa Monica City Council and served until December 2020. Throughout her career, she has been a tireless advocate for smart and inclusive solutions to issues of inequality in Santa Monica. Ana has served on numerous boards and organizations playing a vital leadership role to impact the lives of youth and families in Santa Monica. Her first entry into civic engagement was as an advocate with The Quiet Minority. Since then, she has served on PTSA as a member and co-chair, participated as District Advisory Committee member for multiple groups, and co-founded various district-wide committees. Before being appointed to serve on the City Council, she served as Chair on the Commission of the Status of Women and the Social Services Commission. Currently she serves as a Board Member for CLUE Santa Monica/Westside Committee.

Ashley London, Community Member

Ashley London is a local resident, USC graduate, active with Santa Monica Black Agenda and Executive Assistant to Santa Monica Black Lives Association, in the entertainment field, leading creative arts project(s), multi-ethnic background, resident, invested in social justice and change.

Cynthia Rose, Director, Santa Monica Spoke

Cynthia Rose is the Director of Santa Monica Spoke and co-founder of the Santa Monica Safe Streets Alliance working to make Santa Monica a safer and better place to live, walk, bike, work, and play through community engagement, education and encouragement. She is a dedicated community advocate focused on collaborations to establish policy and infrastructure for safer walking and biking as means for creating more environmentally sustainable, equitable and healthy community. In addition to her local advocacy, she is currently Board Chair of the California Bicycle Coalition and previous board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Sustainable Streets. Cynthia is a certified cycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists.

Donna Gentry, Board Member, We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board

Donna is an independent consultant providing marketing communications and special event services for over 25 years to non-profit organizations, business and government. She is an active volunteer and in addition to the HRC, her volunteer efforts present and past include: Board member of the Police Activities League (PAL); OPCC (now The People Concern), Westside Family Health Center, Pico Improvement Organization and the City of Santa Monica’s Buy Local Committee.

Rev. Eric Shafer, Pastor, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church

The Rev. Eric C. Shafer is Senior Pastor at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica. He has helped open the Bruin Shelter (now called “Students4Students” Shelter) at Mt. Olive, the first shelter for homeless college students on the west coast and has been involved in the relaunch of the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council. His previous positions include Senior Vice President for Odyssey Networks in New York City and Director of Communion for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Chicago. Shafer has taught in South Africa and Madagascar and made multiple trips to Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Janet Gollery McKeithen, Minister, Church In Ocean Park

Janet Gollery McKeithen holds a Bachelors degree from Humboldt State University and a Master’s of Divinity from CST. In her 20’s, she was the Executive Director of SSP, a program where high school students help repair the homes of Native American families. In Inyo County, she worked with mothers who were addicted to Meth and directed the “Healthy Families” program. She is an ordained elder in the UMC, served as the Consultant for Immigration and Refugee Ministries, and has helped create Latch-Key programs, English classes, Spanish classes, a senior citizen center and the Western Methodist Justice Movement. She is a founding member of the Committee for Racial Justice, and the President of the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council. She is an Advisory Committee member for Climate Action Santa Monica, and has recently helped launch Young People Creating Change (YPCC). Janet was a member of the SMMUSD Special Education District Advisory Committee (SEDAC) for 10 years and currently serves on the GoSaMo Transportation Management Organization.

Jessy Morales, Community Member
Jessy Elena Morales has been an early childhood educator for 25 years in Santa Monica. She is also a children’s artist and a folklorico dancer who performs with a local folklorico group. Jessy was born in Guadalajara, Mexico where her love for Mexican culture was born and nurtured. She immigrated to Santa Monica and attended Santa Monica College where she majored in child development and has a MA in child psychology from Antioch University. While studying she was an intern for Open Paths Agency in Culver City. Jessy has three daughters all of whom attended Santa Monica schools. Her eldest daughter recently graduated from college in Japan. Jessy got involved with Familias Latinas Unidas (FLU) after a friend invited her to attend the parent meetings. She enjoys participating in FLU and was appointed to one of the two leadership positions and served the one-year term ending this past August. She represented FLU in various public events and meetings. Participating in FLU and advocating for her community has been an amazing experience for her. She has been very involved with the Pico Wellbeing Plan and is interested in all things that support the wellbeing of her community, especially families and children.

Laura Rosenbaum, Community Member
Laura is an active volunteer in Santa Monica, serving on the boards of the Human Relations Council and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica. Professionally, she is director of retail banking marketing at OneWest Bank. She is the mother of two sons and two grandsons, and enjoys studying the earthworks and culture of the Hopewell Indians of Ohio.

Leila Yousseffi, Visual Artist & Environmentalist

Leila Youssefi is a Persian-American artist and environmentalist. Through public art, illustration, and interactive community spaces, her artistic work focuses on the wellbeing of society through themes of diversity, justice, equity, and sustainability. As an alumna of UC Santa Barbara’s Painting & Environmental Studies programs, she considers interdisciplinary endeavors obligatory to the progression of society. Leila has been based in Santa Monica since 2011, and is currently a 2021-2022 California Arts Council Individual Artist Fellow. She is passionate about continuing the discourse on positive social change and how we can work together to achieve it.

Lindsay Call, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Santa Monica

Lindsay Call serves as the City of Santa Monica’s Chief Resilience Officer, overseeing the City’s Office of Emergency Management. Lindsay focuses on building the City’s “community resilience” program to better prepare the local population to recover from events ranging from acute emergency incidents, like earthquakes, to long-term chronic challenges, such as climate change. Over the past ten years, Lindsay has served various public health and emergency management agencies, specializing in serving vulnerable populations. She has spent much of her life volunteering, including for Kansas City’s ANYTOWN social justice youth program. Lindsay holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies from American University in Washington, DC and a Master’s of Public Health from UCLA.

Michele Wittig, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, CSUN

Michele Wittig has been engaged in community organizing and activism since the 1960’s at the University of Illinois, from which she received the Ph.D. in experimental psychology. During four decades as a CSUN professor, she taught research methods and multivariate statistics; published research on cognitive bias, acculturation, prejudice reduction, procedural and distributive justice and intergroup relations; and conducted program evaluations for governmental and non-governmental organizations. A summary can be found at https://wittig.socialpsychology.org. Her work in Santa Monica, where she has lived for over 50 years, has addressed homelessness, educational opportunity and policing equity. She has been an expert witness on employment discrimination and a consultant to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva) and to the British Red Cross.

Nat Trives, Coalition for Engaged Education

Nat arrived in Santa Monica in 1949 and he attended Lincoln Jr. High School, SAMOHI and SMC. He married Ida Smith on July 3, 1955 and they are the proud parents of Dr. Toni Trives, Chair of the Modern Language Department at SMC. She has two sons, Tristan and Tanner who are the center of the family’s love and affection. Nat has enjoyed a wonderful career in public service as a member of SMPD, Professor Emeritus in Criminal Justice CSULA, former Mayor of Santa Monica, Deputy Superintendent at SMC and a volunteer on more than twenty NPO Boards.

Shawn Landres, Jumpstart Lab, SSC

Connecting people, ideas, and resources, Shawn Landres, Ph.D., has earned international recognition for his leadership in social innovation and interreligious engagement. A widely published essayist and editor whose work has been featured by the Obama White House and covered by TIME, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, Shawn is the co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, an active partner in early-stage ventures and social enterprises, and Senior Fellow at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He is a Chair Emeritus of the Los Angeles County Quality & Productivity Commission and a member and past chair of the City of Santa Monica Planning Commission. A Los Angeles native who grew up in Santa Monica, where he and his wife are now being raised by their two young daughters, Shawn holds degrees in Religious Studies and Social Anthropology from Columbia University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Oxford. He has co-edited four books and published award-winning articles and essays that advance intergroup understanding. Shawn and his family live in Santa Monica, where he also serves on the SMMUSD Financial Oversight Committee and the Airport2Park Foundation advisory board.

Sheila Banani, Baha’i Community Member

Sheila Banani has been a homeowner in Santa Monica since 1966. She is a graduate of UCLA, with a B.A. in Sociology and an M.A. in Urban Planning: Public Policy & Social Development. She was an elected member and Chair of Santa Monica Baha’i Assembly from 1966-2016. She taught Sociology at Santa Monica College from 1974-1979. Sheila was also a Santa Monica Recreation & Parks Commission member from 1976-1980. She worked in the Santa Monica City Hall Advanced Planning Department as a Planner in 1981. Sheila is a published poet and writer, with a poem featured in the anthology “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.” Sheila currently serves on the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council Board of Directors, as she has since 2004 and served as its Chair from 2005 to 2007.

Stephanie Cohen, Health Services Director, LA County Supervisor Kuehl’s Office

Stephanie serves as Health Services Deputy to Supervisor Kuehl. As part of the health policy team, Stephanie is responsible for the Department of Health Services, Emergency Medical Services Agency and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Stephanie previously served Supervisor Kuehl as her District Director in West/Metropolitan Los Angeles overseeing community engagement, events, programming and constituent services. Prior to joining the Office of Supervisor Kuehl in 2017, Stephanie served as Deputy District Director to California State Assemblymember Richard Bloom where she was instrumental in creating educational opportunities for stakeholders related to homelessness, the Affordable Care Act/ healthcare, veterans affairs and education. She served as Assemblymember Bloom’s liaison to religious communities and played a key role in staffing the Assemblymember during the creation of the nation’s first Legislative Jewish Caucus. Stephanie grew up in West Los Angeles, attended Santa Monica High School and has dedicated her career to serving these communities. Stephanie graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with degrees in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. In her free time, she loves to explore new hiking trails in the Southern California region and relax on the beach.

Timothy Conley, President, 67 Entertainment

Timothy Lee Conley is an LA-based Filmmaker, Professor and Administrator. He currently serves as the Executive Producer and Owner of 67 Entertainment. Timothy also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Santa Monica College, teaching courses in Media and Film Studies. Timothy is the Director of Media and Communications for the USC Office of Religious Life. A retired professional athlete, Timothy had the privilege to play in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. He has a true passion for grassroots community organizing. Timothy currently serves as a board member with the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council and is very active with the Baha’i Faith Community of Los Angeles.

Thomas McLaughlin, Captain, Santa Monica Police Department 

Captain Thomas McLaughlin has been a member of the Santa Monica Police Department since 2001. Capt. McLaughlin currently serves as the Officer-in-Charge of the Operations Division, where he is responsible for the Uniformed Patrol Division, Community Service Officers, and Pier and Harbor Service Officers. During his time as a police officer, he spent time working in patrol, detectives, narcotics, field training officer program, internal affairs, and was on loan to a federal task force. For the last nine years, Tom has been the Legal Officer Liaison to the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office, where he assists with civil rights inquiries. Capt. McLaughlin has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Long Beach and a Master’s degree in criminal justice from Chapman University.

EMERITUS BOARD MEMBERS

Angel Villaseñor, Community Member

Angel Villaseñor has 18-years of professional experience working with vulnerable and disenfranchised communities to cultivate meaningful change using grassroots methodologies. Inspired by his lived experience, he pursued an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. Later, his graduate research was primarily centered around how critical pedagogical frameworks rooted in social justice can and does change the relationship disenfranchised students of color have with education and schooling overall. Angel completed his graduate degree from Syracuse University’s School of Education in Cultural Foundations of Education- a macro education program with an emphasis on Critical Race Theory. As a male of color with a nontraditional upbringing, he has dedicated his personal, educational, and professional career to understanding what equity means and exploring ways to operationalize it to improve outcomes for disenfranchised communities. He is fortunate to have extensive experience in various capacities developing programs, policies and initiatives in Santa Monica, Boyle Heights and Syracuse, New York. From administering Cradle to Career collective impact initiatives, to reforming student support services within the K-12 system, to monitoring a portfolio of grants working within school and community-based settings; equity has been fundamental in his approach to transforming schools and communities. Angel recently left the City of Santa Monica where he was an Administrative Analyst for the Youth and Families Unit within the Human Services Division. He is now a consultant supporting schools and organizations in developing models of change rooted in empowerment. As a sociologist for the past 10 years, he has recently pivoted and pursued his passion for exploring human potential in my spare time. From examining social systems to learning how to cultivate individual purpose; He is now deeply fascinated by the mind, body connection and the science that supports concepts related to consciousness and quantum theory. Angel is still learning and is deeply motivated to continue to explore this field and understand methods to help others cultivate their higher selves. As a lifelong Santa Monica resident, he inspired by this community and hope to continue to be of service for many years to come.

Cecilia Tovar, Principal Librarian, Santa Monica Public Library

Cecilia Tovar, Principal Librarian at the Santa Monica Public Library, oversees the Community Engagement & Program Division that includes both youth and adult services. Cecilia graduated from the University of Arizona’s School of Information as Knowledge River Scholar, and she has a second Master’s in Education. Prior to her current position, she worked five years as a Branch Manager with the Yuma County Library District in Arizona, and also as a Branch Manager for the new Pico Branch in Santa Monica. Cecilia is an active American Library Association and REFORMA member and she understands the importance of building successful relationships to promote lifelong learning and advocate for access and equity. Cecilia is highly regarded for her dedicated service to diverse clientele, and in 2015 she was selected as a Mover & Shaker by the Library Journal.

Debra A. Farmer, President/CEO, Westside Family Health Center
Debra A. Farmer has been President/CEO of Westside Family Health Center (WFHC) since 1999. Ms. Farmer has been a tireless health advocate at the local, state and national levels for women’s health care and health care for the safety net. She is a board member of the California Primary Care Association (past board chair), the Westside Coalition – Hunger. Housing. Health and Clinic Mutual Insurance Company (current board president) and was formerly board chair of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County. Ms. Farmer’s previous professional experiences include stints at The Ahmanson Foundation and Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

Donald J. Zelaya, Administrative Assistant, City of Santa Monica Information Services

Donald has been with the City of Santa Monica since 2015 in various departments and currently woks for Information Services. Donald is a member of the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) network whose mission is to promote and institute equity in local government. He has long been involved in social justice efforts beginning from when he worked in an access and retention community center for historically underrepresented students. Donald is passionate about community empowerment and being an active community member. He currently serves on the City of Los Angeles, Sylmar Neighborhood Council where he chairs the outreach and community engagement committee. Donald holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from University of California, San Diego with a minors in Political Science and Urban Studies and Planning.

Gary Avrech, Community Member/Business Owner

Gary Avrech was born and raised in Southern California. He owns and operates Go Graphics & Printing Company, which he founded in 1982. He is the founder and Executive Director of Community Productions Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that assists other organizations that help those in immediate distress. He graduated from SMC and served as President of the Associated Students and Student Member of the SMC Board of Trustees. He has also served in many volunteer roles, including President and Member of the SMC General Advisory Board; Chair and Board Member of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Westside Coalition; Vice President and Board Member of the Santa Monica-Venice Branch of the NAACP; Chair and Member of the SMMUSD Intercultural Equity & Excellence District Advisory Committee.

Misti Kerns, President & CEO, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism

Misti Kerns, President/CEO of Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT), joined SMTT in 1997 and has served in her current role for 22 years and is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and a Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME). Kerns founded the ‘I AM Santa Monica’ program, which has certified over 3,000 local employees and community members as official Santa Monica ambassadors. She is an active member of the Santa Monica Human Relations Council, Santa Monica Pier Corporation Board of Directors and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and serves on local, state, and national tourism boards. Kerns has been a resident of Santa Monica for over 25 years and resides in the city by the sea with her husband and daughter.