a Community Service Partnership
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Our Team

Rise has been fortunate to assemble such a talented, thoughtful and warm-hearted team that is truly motivated and driven by their clients’ successes. Our team is not complete without the inclusion of our hundreds of partners and volunteers who make such work possible. Their collective generosity ensures that our Vision and Mission is delivered daily in our offices, our stores and our community at-large.

Our Staff

Steadfast in a crisis, yet willing to brave a dunk tank, the Rise staff goes above and beyond as their normal course of business. They speak multiple languages, possess fountains of knowledge, and are quick to laugh and occasionally brought to tears – sometimes of joy, sometimes of sorrow. They are passionate, they are dedicated, and each day they personally weave the strands of connections that bind us to our community.

Leslie Koppel

Leslie Koppel

Executive Director

Many folks leave home after high school and set out for college, for their new job,  for adventure, for a change of scenery.  Leslie Koppel did just that.  She headed to NYC for her university experience, but when it was over, this Jersey Girl came right back to Monroe Township to the exact location where she grew up.  She subdivided her parents’ property, built her own house in the former apple orchard and now lives there happily ever after with her three children.  Luckily for nearby Mercer County communities, this move home positioned her perfectly for a job opportunity that would change her life.

About seven years ago, thanks to her experience in sales and retail, Leslie applied for and landed a job as manager of the Greater Goods Thrift Store. She worked there about six months when the then director of the Rise-A Community Service Partnership decided to leave.  At the urging of co-workers and equipped with her Masters degree in public policy, opportunity knocked and she answered the call.

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Kristen Cere

Kristen Cere

Director of Development

Beginning as a backroom volunteer extraordinaire in 2009 at the thrift store, she quickly became involved in grant writing and is now the Director of Development. Kris graduated Magna cum laude from Rutgers University School of Business and Douglass College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management.

Her prior experience in the non-profit world was as a donor and volunteer. She comes to Rise with an extensive background in the corporate and consulting sectors. One of her favorite aspects of her job is knowing that Rise is able to help the individuals within her own community. She especially enjoys seeing the smiling children at the Rise Summer Camp and the holiday party.

Kris is a lifelong resident of New Jersey who loves to travel and visit places off the beaten path. When she is not ‘in the backroom’ at the office keeping track of deadlines and keeping everyone organized, you can sometimes find her marching in parades as part of the Color Guard for local bagpipe bands.

Julia Badulescu

Julia Badulescu

Rise Food Pantry Director

Throwing caution to the wind after earning her law degree, Julia has been living in the United States from the beginning of the third millennium.  Working for Rise since 2008, Julia is an excellent communicator in four languages, but most eloquently she speaks from the heart.  With a strong religious faith and dedication to helping others, she values people taking responsibility and believes that people can change for the better. 

Julia can be found in the Rise office where she handles managing  donations from all around the community. She has a  a well achieved personality, a character that  manifests easiness and takes the initiative  in adapting to effort and new situations intelligently.  Julia’s open-mindedness and ability to adapt to a multicultural environment proves  useful in terms of meeting the requirements of Rise.   With her mission to serve and educate, Julia involves her children who are often found helping  her distribute food on Wednesday evenings at Rise Food Pantry and volunteering at the summer camp. 

Julia, “the hostess with the mostess” shares her love of museums and music with guests from around the world that frequently stop at her house to visit. 

Juan Cobos

Juan Cobos

Rise Food Pantry Coordinator

Rise Food Pantry Coordinator, Juan Cabos, is the “glue” of the Pantry. Working side-by-side with wonderful and dedicated volunteers, Juan ensures that food packages are prepared and sorted as well manages the pick-up and storage of donations. He helps Rise to recruit families to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables in our community garden.  Juan believes that, “No one should ever be turned away, if they need food.”

 

Juan is a dedicated to building positive community relationships.  He launched the annual Hightstown Festival Latino in 2012 which features a dozen music and dance groups to attract over 750 spectators each summer. He believes in, “Celebrating and respecting our culture to promote the goodness is people.”

 

Juan is easy to converse with and speaks, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. In addition to pursing a Culinary Arts degree at Mercer County College, Juan is a Medical Line Supervisor at Meadowlakes Springpoint Home Service.  

Cristiana Ciobanu

Cristiana Ciobanu

Youth Programs

Growing up in Romania Cris learned the value of independence. At 10 years old, she mastered two trains and one bus in order to go to the “good” school across town. This early lesson in resilience and independence, supported her when she immigrated to the United States 10 years ago. Since arriving, she graduated with honors from Hightstown High School, earned an Associate’s Degree in Global Studies (she speaks four languages) and is proud to support herself – (with her fluff ball Mia).

Cris originates, innovates and implements Rise youth programs. Her goal is to empower all youth to realize that their actions can lead to impactful changes in their own communities, as well as all around the world. Over the summer, Cris makes summer “fun” for our Rise Summer Academic Enrichment Program with a cohesive team of teachers, counselors and volunteers where she shares her love “to learn anything and everything.”

Cris is happiest in quiet moments and she cares deeply and equally for her family and friends. She dreams to return to Romania one day to run her family’s farm (she needs to learn how to garden first).

Maitiel Jimenez

Maitiel Jimenez

Volunteer Coordinator/Director of Operations

With a sparkle in her eye and smile for everyone, Maitiel touches all aspects of Rise. She bridges communications between our retail stores, volunteers and the community. With a flair for the visual she is often seen with her camera capturing special moments.   She makes Rise look good- creating flyers, brochures, and posters.

Valuing loyalty and friendship, Maitiel fosters connections with people wherever she goes. Moving to Washington DC from Costa Rica in 1986, she studied at the University of the District of Columbia. After working as a graphic designer in NY, she landed in the Hightstown area in 2002 where she fell in love with the community.

Maitiel is a “multitasker” who is eager and happy to create new things- from newsletters to hands-on do-it-yourself projects. She can wield any tool and is as comfortable with a hammer and nails as she is with In-Design and Photoshop.

Karla Gonzalez

Karla Gonzalez

Case Manager

Joining Rise in 2015 and as Salvation Army volunteer, Karla is following her passion to help others. In the time that she has been working with Rise, she has learned the definition of unity in an organization with one objective; to help the community in every way possible. She is currently enrolled at Ashford University to earn a degree in Social and Criminal Justice. Her goal is to continue learning from everyone around her to better serve the community as well as helping Rise reach new Horizons.

Maria Silverio

Maria Silverio

Manager of Greater Goods Thrift Store

Maria is the “heart” of our Greater Goods Thrift Store. She will be the first person to greet you at the door, negotiate a special price (just for you), and serve you a cup of sweet coffee.

Maria started with Rise as a volunteer in 2008, and we quickly hired her as a Store Manager where her big smile always shines. Maria has been an integral part of Rise’s success and looks forward each year to the fashion shows she helps organize.

Maria Silverio was born in the capital city of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.  Maria was a very athletic girl and it was when she was swimming that she was discovered.  The representative of the Miss Tourism Queen World invited her to participate in the pageant to represent the D.R. in Spain where she came in third place.

Maria continues her dream to be a supermodel. She has represented the DR in beauty contests such as  The Black Beauty of the Caribbean, The Island of Guadalupe and Miss Continent in Venezuela. Maria continued her modeling where she worked for different designers including, Xandra Cabrera , Oscar de la Renta, Carlarta Anfaro, Jorge Diep and Carlis Antonio- just to name a few. She also worked in commercials for the Tourist board of DR and small movie roles and video parts.

Perry Sandler

Perry Sandler

Manager of Greater Goods Resale Furniture

We are fortunate to have native New Yorker Perry working with our organization. We were able to persuade him to take a full time job, after seeing how well he did as a volunteer in the Thrift Store.   Deciding to move closer to his mom, he has settled in Monroe Township where he resides with his dog Kasper. We can always count on Perry to bring a bit of edge and humor –but always showing his compassion towards others.

Perry’s corporate background has helped the Greater Goods Thrift Stores thrive. He received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Binghamton, his MBA from Hofstra University and just recently while working at Rise, his certificate in paralegal studies from MCC.   His prior experience in the corporate world include Citibank, Chase and American Express as a marketing executive.

With a great passion for the arts, Perry enjoys his DIY projects, helping customers with design options, and searching for those “hidden treasures”. Very often you can find a magnificent table setting, a gallery of wall art, or hand picked cool items in “Perry’s Corner”. The one thing that never changes is having fun while shopping. You never know what one might find.

Jean Desravines

Jean Desravines

Book Keeper

Have you ever heard Confuscius’ saying “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life?” Well, Jean Emmanuel Huc Desravines has. In fact, he could have written it.  He chose a job he loves and he’s lovin’ every minute of doing it.

When Jean was a young man growing up in Haiti, he was good with numbers so when he had a chance to go to the State University of Haiti, he chose accounting and management as his courses of study. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree, his dream was to put his skills to use for the betterment of his country.  After working in a CPA firm and later as Chief Accountant and Finance Manager for two construction companies, he realized, sadly, due to the political climate, it would be impossible to realize this dream.  In fact, because of this difficulty, he created his next dream, to come to America and find a job.  In 2005, Plan B became a reality.  Jean relocated to New York where he landed a job with an accounting firm in Brooklyn.  He worked at several other jobs in New York and over the years, he became a US citizen, earned a certification with Intuit and became a QuickBooks Pro Advisor.  While doing all of this he began his own accounting business named after his sons, Olivier, Owen and Olsen (about whom he beams with pride), his wife, Lovely (He guarantees she is “lovely” not only in name!) and his nickname or middle name, Huc yielding OLH Accounting Solutions LLC.

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Vera Castillo

Vera Castillo

Case Manager

Meet Vera Castillo Martinez. She’s the new kid on the block at Rise and she’s THRILLED to be here.  We’re talkin’ thrilled!!  When she talks about landing her new position as case manager at Rise, her eyes open wide and she grins from ear to ear.  It is her “dream come true.”

As a case manager, she will genuinely listen to clients’ needs and concerns because she has had first-hand experience with much of what they are going through. Her bilingual, Spanish/English listening ear is tuned in to hardship.  She and her family have personally lived through and overcome difficulties of unemployment and the serious depression that comes as a result of it.  While times were tough for Vera all throughout her high school years, she finished school and pitched in with various jobs to literally help the family survive.  Such stresses can make or break a person.  In Vera’s case, it made her stronger.  Now, at the age of 19, she has had many varied work experiences including having worked at Target,  then elsewhere as a dental receptionist, then a finance clerk and finally a medical assistant. She barely hoped or imagined when looking for her next job that she would be contacted by Rise for an interview.

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Our Board

In order to effectively develop a strategic plan to serve our community, our self-mandated tripartite board ensures diverse representation from the local government and business sectors, as well as consumers. The common denominator of our Board’s diversity is their singular determination to affect change in the local community. We find that their collective, worldly knowledge and expertise fits nicely into our own backyard.

Nancy Laudenberger

Nancy Laudenberger

Board President

Nancy Walker Laudenberger, Acting Board President- Nancy joined the Rise Board when she served as Councilwoman in Hightstown Borough, and continues to work to connect the Borough with Rise. Under her watch, Rise has become an established part of the community providing services to those in need and Greater Goods Thrift Store has become a focal point for our downtown. She also serves the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown as an elder and Chair of Finance. She is proud that her Church supports Rise generously through grants and by hosting Monday night community dinners.

Elizabeth Morley

Elizabeth Morley

MSW, Board Vice President

Elizabeth Morley, Board Vice-President, is a Hightstown resident who joined the board in 2013. With a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and an MSW, she has spent the past 23 years working with older adults, refugees and immigrants in local, state and federal social service programs. She currently serves as a care coordinator for Friends Life Care, a Quaker-based community long-term care program serving older adults. She joined Rise out of a desire to be more involved in her local community because Rise is providing vital services integral to the well-being of Hightstown and East Windsor residents and families.

Angie Casciano, CAP-OM

Angie Casciano, CAP-OM

Board Secretary

Angelina Casciano is a resident of East Windsor and has been a volunteer with the Rise Food Pantry since 2014. She was recently appointed Secretary of the Board.

Mrs. Casciano became an International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) Member at Large in 2005. She held leadership positions for IAAP’s Mercer Chapter from 2008 – 2011 and received her IAAP CAP and OM certifications in 2008. She has also been a New Jersey Notary Public since 2005.

Mrs. Casciano works as an Executive Assistant to the Regional President for Southern New Jersey at Wells Fargo Company located in Princeton, NJ.

Mike Bekas CPA

Mike Bekas CPA

Board Treasurer

Mike Bekas CPA, a Senior Consultant at Marks Paneth & Shron LLP. has more than 30 years of experience in the public accounting field. In addition to broad general tax knowledge, he brings specialized expertise in high net worth individuals, trust and estate planning, and charitable giving. Mr. Bekas is a member of the Board of Directors on the National Kidney Foundation of Greater New York. Having received a kidney transplant in 2002, he has become an active fundraiser and advocate for organ donation. Recognizing the need for local hunger relief, as President of the Renaissance Men’s Club, he has galvanized volunteers for the Rise Food Pantry to help to meet the growing demands on the Rise Food Pantry.

Alan Rosenberg

Alan Rosenberg

Board Member

Alan Rosenberg, Councilman and Deputy Mayor of East Windsor- Al is a writer and principal performer on several radio and television shows, including the Howard Stern Show, Fitz and Rosenberg, and the Imus in the Morning Show. Al has performed in films as well as national commercials and he has been inducted in the NYC Improv Hall of Fame. Al was appointed to Rise Board by the Mayor of East Windsor in 2012. He has become an enthusiastic believer and supporter of Rise programming. He feels the work that Rise does is necessary and wonderful, a perfect combination. He is proud to be a part of the Rise organization.

Carlos Fernandez Ph.D

Carlos Fernandez Ph.D

Board Member

Dr. Carlos Fernandez has been a resident of Hightstown since 2009 and began to serve on the board of RISE in 2011. He is Director of the Center for Latino Arts and Culture at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where he teaches courses in Latin American and Caribbean song, music, dance and festival. Originally from Costa Rica, he is a musician performing vocal and instrumental music from the Latin American renaissance and contemporary folk and popular music. His scholarly research has focused on popular religious devotions, music and food traditions of Central America and the Caribbean.

Jenna Drake

Jenna Drake

Board Member

Jenna Drake is a lifelong resident of the Hightstown/East Windsor area.  She has been a member of the RISE Board for two years and has never felt more a part of the community. Jenna is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Masters Degree from Temple University. She works for a program that provides services for people who have substance use and other mental health disorders throughout New Jersey.  Jenna has been energized by the enthusiasm and commitment that the RISE staff bring to the events and programs. She is excited to be able to be part of an organization that is specifically focused on helping her neighbors. 

Paula Roncancio

Paula Roncancio

Board Member and Client

Paula lives in Hightstown with her two young daughters, where she works as a Dental Assistant. She first came to Rise as a Client, and couldn’t believe that one group could help that much! Now, 10 years on, Paula enjoys giving back to the community as the only Board Member of Rise who is also a Client. This unique position provides her with a voice and an avenue through which to advocate for other Clients. She and her girls visit the Food Pantry regularly, which is a great help, and enjoy the Rise Summer Camp each year. Paula eagerly looks forward to the future – for Rise to become bigger and better with all of the help that they provide — and for her family, the hope and dream of owning their own house someday.

Diane Hawk

Diane Hawk

Board Member

Diane Hawk, Board Secretary-Diane joined the Rise Board in 2014. She graduated with a B.S.B.A. Marketing concentration from the University of Delaware and is currently employed as a Personal Banker II/Licensed Financial Specialist with Wells Fargo Bank. Diane has a Series 7 and Series 63 license. She is a former member of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce and a current member of Habitat for Humanity-Millstone Basin. Diane is involved with the expansion of our Social Enterprise, The Greater Goods Thrift Store.

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