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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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 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 activist and in addition to the HRC board, her volunteer work, past and present, includes Santa Monica College General Advisory Board, We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board, Police Activities League, Westside Family Health Center and The People Concern (formerly OPCC). Before receiving a bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State, she spent two years in a community college and believes strongly in this higher education. Donna has lived in Santa Monica most of her life and loves our weather, community, the Dodgers and Lakers.

Erika’s commitment to social justice, community well-being, and child mental health began while she was a teacher in her 20s. Motivated by these priorities, she transitioned into the field of counseling, obtaining her License in Professional Counseling and establishing herself as a Child & Family Therapist. As the Project LAUNCH Child Wellness Coordinator in Phoenix, AZ, she spearheaded initiatives that addressed the holistic well-being of children and families, integrating her professional background with her dedication to advocacy. After moving to Santa Monica, Erika soon became involved with the local PTA. She has served as a PTA unit president and Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs President, leveraging community engagement to create positive change within educational settings. She has also served as a PTA unit VP of Diversity & Community Events, promoting inclusivity and equity, while encouraging the school community to celebrate their diversity. Erika is also committed to combating human trafficking and child exploitation. She is involved with iEmpathize, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing human trafficking. In her role as a Los Angeles Coordinator for iEmpathize, Erika works to raise awareness, facilitate collaboration, and contribute to the organization’s mission with a focus on empowering youth and raising awareness among adults in youth-serving spaces.

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.

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.

For over 12 years Maria Rodriguez has served on the board of directors of Community Corporation of Santa Monica. Community Corp. is a non-profit organization that builds and manages affordable housing in Santa Monica and its surrounding communities. Ms. Rodriguez became an advocate for access and inclusion in education and housing after volunteering in her son’s school and experiencing first-hand the inequity that existed in the community. Through the PTA, as school unit president and PTA Council President, she worked not only for students’ success but also, as the city became less affordable, to retain families in Santa Monica. She was a board member of Schools for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) and Human Relation Council, among others, that supported her mission of service to the community. In 2011 Maria Rodriguez was one of the honorees of the LWVSM Women Who Shape Santa Monica. Ms. Rodriguez recently retired from the Santa Monica-Malibu School District where she was an educator supporting students and their families.

Matthew is a local resident of Santa Monica, graduated from Pepperdine University in 2019 with a degree in Business Administration. Currently he is working in the medical device industry as a marketing and product development manager. When he is not working, Matthew is engaged with his local community. He is an elected member of the community, serving on the Santa Monica Baha’i Local Spiritual Assembly. In addition, he’s been a dedicated youth and junior youth leader and coordinator for over 10 years, guiding young individuals in service, leadership, community building activities, and fostering spiritual growth. During his free time Matthew enjoys playing basketball at his local YMCA and community park. He enjoys going on daily morning walks with his family near the Palisades Park. Once a month, Matthew hosts gatherings to promote community well-being. One of Matthew’s goals for the next year is to accompany others to start similar spaces and continue to foster spiritual and physical well-being.

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 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.

As a public interest attorney and Santa Monica resident, I have oriented my career in service of social justice and the empowerment of marginalized communities to safeguard their rights. Through this lens, and in particular successfully representing indigent asylum seekers and other immigrants in deportation proceedings throughout Southern California, I have developed an intimate understanding of the needs and desires of some of our most under- resourced and trauma-inflicted neighbors. I am passionate about using my expertise to serve the community and improve justice and equity and have extensive experience working across cultural and economic barriers not only to protect my own clients, but also build coalitions and raise capacity across age-groups and disciplines for similar purposes. I appreciate the Human Relations Council’s (HRC) mission to foster communication and action that improves the Westside community and am committed to a dual process of self-reflection that challenges internal biases coupled with open dialogue and service in the community in order to achieve wellness for all members of our society. I would be honored to support HRCs mission as part of your Board.

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.

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.

Renee Delos Santos is Head of Communications at Stemuli; long-time Producer and EIR at The Artemis Agency; and a nerd about workforce development and a world where media and tech get along. She served as Ambassador-California for the United State of Women; and currently is Pitch Advisor for both The Yass Prize and GSV and serves on the Board of Directors for the Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council.

Renee’s project management and partnership portfolio spans decades of historic firsts between F50 brands and iconic IP such as The Benefactor, Survivor, American Idol, Family Feud, and Breaking Bad— programming that has reached millions weekly and brands that have endured.

Renee earned her B.A. in International Relations at U.C. Davis, her M.B.A. at Belhaven University, and considers every nonprofit campaign in her portfolio full sprints, each an educational lifetime. She is a proud Filipina-American daughter, third-generation kama‘āina, and a hula dancer till her knees give out.

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.

Tara has worked to create innovative and sustainable affordable housing for 24 years. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a nonprofit that builds and operates affordable housing on the Westside. In this role she oversees the management of over 2,000 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 at several different organizations. Besides the Human Relations Council, she currently serves on the Board of the AIA Los Angeles, Westside Urban Forum, Students4Students, as well as sitting on the UCLA Ziman Affordable Housing Advisory Council. She lives in Playa del Rey with her two sons and her cat Stormy.

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.

Will Burrington lives with his life partner and two rescue dogs on 3rd Street between Ashland & Marine in Ocean Park. He moved to Santa Monica from Washington, DC and is a Wisconsin native, where he went to college and law school. He believes strongly in the importance of informed and connected civic engagement. To that end, he created and now co-hosts with Judy Abdo the weekly OPA Connects Zoom. He loves the history, diversity and down-to-earth feel of Ocean Park with its easy proximity to the beach, the Pacific Ocean, Main Street, Abbott Kinney, Lincoln Blvd and “Silicon Beach. He feels Santa Monica and Ocean Park are the “sweet spots” of Westside LA. Will was elected to the OPA Board in 2019 and has served as OPA Vice President. He is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer and graduated from the Santa Monica Police Department’s Community Police Academy. He has served on the Board of Climate Action Santa Monica, is an Honorary Open Doors Campaign Committee member for the Church in Ocean Park, and a member of the Santa Monica Democratic Club. A lawyer by training and practice, Will is a “peacemaker” and his firm Harmony Partners, LLC focuses on community facilitation, conflict resolution coaching and mediation. Will is currently studying alternative dispute resolution at the world-renowned Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Caruso School of Law at Pepperdine University in Malibu.


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 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.

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 was appointed to the position of Associate Vice President, Health Policy at the University of Southern California in October 2022. In this capacity, she leads the health policy team on federal, state, and local government relations in close collaboration with Keck Medicine of USC, Keck School of Medicine, and other academic and health systems partners. Stephanie joined USC with over a decade of experience in state and local government.  She previously served in the Office of former Assemblymember’s Holly Mitchell and Richard Bloom and as the Health Services Deputy to former LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.  Stephanie is passionate about ensuring access to quality and equitable care in Los Angeles County and fulfills this passion in her work and personal life.  In her free time, Stephanie is a law student at Southwestern Law School pursuing her J.D. and serves as a Federal Appointee to the Veteran Community Oversight and Engagement Board, appointed in 2022 by VA Secretary Dennis McDonough. She grew up in West Los Angeles, attended Santa Monica High School, West Los Angeles Community College, and UCLA where she earned degrees in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.