About Us

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CDF-NY Staff

Erica Ayala
Youth Leadership Development Associate

Erica has been affiliated with the Children’s Defense Fund since 2006, the first year she served as a Servant Leader Intern at the Grace CDF Freedom School, located in Mount Vernon, New York. She has since served as an Ella Baker Trainer for the Freedom Schools program, helped organize the YALT regional delegation for CDF Minnesota’s 10-10-10 Project and served on the YALT Youth Advisory Council. Before taking on her new role managing youth development programs at CDF-New York, she worked on the CDF-New York’s youth justice portfolio in the Bronx and Brooklyn as a project consultant. Erica has also worked with Buffalo Wild Wings as a Training Manager and Community Outreach Coordinator. In 2008, she received a degree in Political Science from Elon University. Erica is now an MPA candidate at New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

Patti Banghart
Sr. Early Childhood Education Policy Associate

Patti joined CDF - New York to promote a coordinated and effective infrastructure for early care and education in New York. Patti brings a strong background in policy research to CDF-NY. Prior to joining CDF-NY, Patti was a Research Associate at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, where she conducted implementation and evaluation studies of early childhood programs; coordinated publications on various topics in early care and education as part of a technical assistance project of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation of the Administration for Children and Families; and examined children’s mental health policies, including for young children in the child welfare system. Patti was also a Research Associate at the Urban Institute where she studied child care subsidy policies, participated in an evaluation of the Enhanced Home Visiting project of Early Head Start, and helped evaluate independent living programs for youth in foster care. She has a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

Joanna Flores
Beat the Odds Program Manager

Joanna came to CDF-NY from CDF-CA where she was a Youth Programs Associate for almost three years. As the Youth Programs Associate at CDF-CA, Joanna created and implemented new programming for the Beat The Odds Scholarship Program. Joanna has a rich background in youth development as well as a range of experiences in non-profit and academic institutions. She served as the Rape Prevention Education Coordinator at Peace Over Violence before joining CDF. There she coordinated and facilitated violence prevention education workshops and events for middle school, high school, college and parent groups. As Beat The Odds Program Manager at CDF-NY, Joanna is responsible for expanding and implementing programming for the Beat The Odds Scholarship Program. She will also serve as mentor and case manager to the Beat The Odds scholars and alumni. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the California State University of Dominguez Hills.

Lorraine Gonzalez-Camastra, LCSW
Director of Health Policy

Lorraine has worked in the arena of public health for the past 11 years, focusing on initiatives to provide access to affordable, quality health care for children and families, while ending racial and ethnic disparities in the health care system. In her role as the Director of Health Policy at CDF-NY, Lorraine leads the office’s policy analysis, advocacy, technical assistance, outreach and education efforts around ensuring access to affordable, quality health care for all children in New York State. Prior to her role at CDF-NY, Lorraine managed public health coalitions, social service programs, and mental health services at The Children’s Aid Society and The Institute for Family Health. Lorraine is a former Board Member of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and an active, current member of the New York State Coalition for School-based Health Centers.

Melanie Hartzog
Executive Director

Melanie leads the Children’s Defense Fund-New York office and brings extensive knowledge and expertise of policy development, analysis and advocacy in the not-for-profit and government sectors to the organization’s efforts to improve outcomes for New York’s children through research, public education, and community organizing and advocacy. Prior to joining CDF-NY, Melanie was appointed the Family Services Coordinator in the New York City Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services where she oversaw several city agencies responsible for the delivery of human services and justice programs. She also served as project director for the Young Men’s Initiative, a bold and innovative public/private partnership aimed at reducing disparities between the economic and social outcomes of young men of color and other demographic groups in New York City. Before joining the Mayor’s Office, Melanie was the deputy commissioner for early childhood services at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services. Melanie also led a social services unit in the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, and was director of policy and advocacy for the Human Services Council of New York City, Inc. She has a Master of Science degree from the New School’s Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy and Bachelor of Arts from Eckerd College.

Andrew Leonard
Sr. Health Policy Associate

Andrew joined CDF as a Senior Health Policy Associate in December 2013. Andrew comes to CDF-NY with a background in health care policy for special populations. Before joining CDF-NY, Andrew worked with Harlem United Community AIDS Center and the New York City Providers of Health Care for the Homeless to improve access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS and those experiencing homelessness. He, additionally, served as an intake and outreach worker for a federally funded Health Care for the Homeless program in Mobile, AL. Andrew earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the NYU Wagner School of Public Service and a BA from Boston College.

Elizabeth Powers, LMSW
Juvenile Justice Policy Associate

Beth comes to CDF-NY by way of The Legal Aid Society where she worked as a forensic social worker alongside attorneys representing children in New York City’s Family Court in both Brooklyn and the Bronx. Most recently, she worked on class action law suits on behalf of children in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice systems as part of The Legal Aid Society’s Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit. Beth earned her Master’s in Social Work degree from Fordham University in 2008, specializing in research. She completed her Master’s Thesis as an intern for the Department of Health, analyzing a pilot mental health treatment modality for inmates held in punitive segregation at Rikers Island. Beth is an active volunteer in her community. For the past 5 years she has volunteered for Right Rides, providing free late night safe rides home to women and members of the LGBT community. She is also an active volunteer and core member of Earth Matter, an environmental non-profit dedicated to reducing the waste stream in New York City.

Dacia Read, JD
Sr. Public Policy Associate

Dacia developed her commitment to children's issues as the Middle School Program Coordinator at Columbia University’s Double Discovery Center, High School Program Manager at Peer Health Exchange; and Teacher and Operations Director at Providence Summerbridge. Dacia holds a B.A. in Urban Studies from Columbia, and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. During law school, Dacia was a student member of the NYC Bar Association's Juvenile Justice Committee and suspension advocate for N.Y.C. public school students through the Suspension Representation Project. She also mentored formerly-incarcerated youth at the Children's Aid Society, and interned at Youth Represent, Legal Action Center and CDF-NY. As a law student, Dacia received Edward V. Sparer, BLSPI Public Interest and Equal Justice America Fellowships, as well as the Platinum Public Service and Pro Bono Leadership Awards, and the Carole Mehlman Gould Prize.