About Us

About Us image of kids

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.

Olga Gonzalez
Sr. Manager of Administration

Olga Gonzalez started her career in the Office of the Manhattan Borough President. When David Dinkins was elected mayor, she transitioned to a position with his newly created Mayor's Office for Children and Families, where she worked until being asked to serve as the mayor's secretary - a position she held through the remainder of his term and into the next administration. Drawing upon her public sector experiences supporting efforts to ever better serve New York's children and families, Olga joined CDF-NY in 1994 as one of the office's first employees. She currently serves as Sr. Manager of Administration. She is responsible for office operations and manages all of CDF-NY's grants, financial accounts, HR and IT responsibilities.

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. Policy Associate for Health, Housing and Income Security

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.

Samantha Levine
Director of Communications

Samantha Levine joined CDF-NY as Communications Director. Samantha, a veteran of Mayor Bloomberg’s press shop, served as the Deputy Press Secretary overseeing New York City’s health and human service agencies. She also served as the Director of the New York City Girls Project: a citywide, multi-agency girls’ self-esteem and body image campaign. She launched a similar successful campaign in Washington, DC. Since leaving city government, Samantha has worked at The Brooklyn Hospital Center and consulted for Tina Brown Live Media/Women in the World. Prior to joining city government she was Director of Marketing and Media Relations at NARAL Pro-Choice New York where she handled communications strategy and media campaigns on women's health and rights. Samantha has an MA in Cinema Studies from NYU and a BA from Tufts University.

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.

Daniel Tejada
Beat the Odds Coordinator

Danny grew up impoverished in East New York, Brooklyn. The momentum started swinging his way when he was awarded the Beat the Odds scholarship. After that, he was accepted to Skidmore College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program. At Skidmore, He founded Hip Hop Alliance to spark discussions on racism, sexism and homophobia. He majored in American Studies while focusing diverse cultures. A few years after college, he co-authored Different Families, Still Brothers which showcase the benefits of mentoring. It contains two years’ worth of email exchanges between him and his mentee while they were in the iMentor program. He started his college access career with Pace University’s Liberty Partnerships Program. While serving as a Site Coordinator in the program, he helped students with their college essay, list, resume and build social skills. He also started a young men’s group in the program to have discussions on what it means to be a man, having productive friendships and relationships. Within the past few years, he has presented at the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling Conference and served on College Access Consortium of New York’s scholarship and communication committees. As he returns to CDF-NY on the other side of the desk, he’ll be using his college access skills and Beat the Odds alumni experience to help Beat the Odds scholars and alumni get to the next level.