Our People


Just A Start’s dedicated staff come to the organization from many different backgrounds with expertise in community development, education and training, real estate, housing stabilization, and financial management. Our staff includes teachers, case managers, licensed social workers, attorneys, trained mediators, construction managers, project managers, and finance and philanthropy professionals.

Executive Team

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Robert Brainin

Director of Finance and Administration
Carmen Chan_SiteSize

Carmen Chan

Director of Philanthropy

Carl Nagy-Koechlin

Executive Director

Miriam Ortiz

Director of Education & Training

Michelle Robb

Human Resources Manager

Noah Sawyer

Director of Real Estate

Gerry Zipser

Director of Housing


Sara Cyr

Grant Manager
[email protected]

Monique Doyle

Office Manager
[email protected]

Jeannette Passanisi

Account Payable Clerk
[email protected]

Cindy Silva

[email protected]

Kymira Woodberry

Real Estate Accountant
[email protected]

Kendra Comstock

Office Clerk
[email protected]

Vanessa Buenrostro

Senior Accountant
[email protected]

Resource Development

Maggie Woodward

Communications Manager
[email protected]

Emelia Misail

Philanthropy Manager
[email protected]

Home Improvement Program

Ethan Solomon

Homeownership Programs Director
[email protected]

Anna Cressman

Homeownership Programs Coordinator
[email protected]

Tim Kardatzke

Rehab Specialist
[email protected]


Real Estate Development

Vandana Sareen

Senior Project Manager
[email protected]

Yolanda Gilibert

Real Estate Project Manager
[email protected]

Molly Kaviar

Project Manager
[email protected]

Madeline Lee

Project Manager
[email protected]

Housing Services

Elizabeth Winston

Housing and Mediation Services Director
[email protected]

Ian Davis

Financial Opportunity Program Coordinator
[email protected]

Meg MacDonald Alfoni

Housing Specialist & Mediator
[email protected]

Peter Shapiro

Housing Mediation Manager
[email protected]

Selma DeCastro

Mobility Mentor
[email protected]

Karen Guthrie

[email protected]

Lori Segall

Mobility Mentor
[email protected]

Jamison Rudd

Housing Stabilization Case Manager
[email protected]

Sarah Pasternak

Tax Site Coordinator
[email protected]

Jenny Komatsu

Financial Coach
[email protected]

Resident Services

Pierre Fils-Aime

Senior Resident Services Coordinator
[email protected]

Fenan Samuel

Resident Services Coordinator
[email protected] 

Ishwar Lamichhane

Digital Navigator Fellow
[email protected]

Development Programs

Korynn Stoyanoff

Director of Workforce Development
[email protected]

Ben Jamieson

Academic Services Manager
[email protected]

Mary Jo Kiepper

Alumni Programming Manager
[email protected]

Melissa Liwanag

Manager of Learning and Evaluation
[email protected]

Leora Rifkin Edouard

Operations Manager
[email protected]

Tanya Quintanilla

Data and Program Coordinator
[email protected]

Mayolina Seguy

Career Readiness Instructor
[email protected]

Jude Alfaro

Database Administrator
[email protected]

Kristen Butler

IT Instructor

Amerline Occean

Biology Instructor

Mina Reddy

Business Communications Instructor

Michele Sprengnether

Chemistry Instructor


Philanthropy Associate

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[email protected]

Youth Programs

Nate Bae Kupel

Director of Youth Programs
[email protected]

Tom Rodriguez, CWDP

Assistant Director of Youth Programs and Alumni Success
[email protected].org

Christina Uplinger

Operations Manager, YouthBuild
[email protected]

Kat Baena Garces

Alumni Support Coordinator, AmeriCorps VISTA
[email protected]

Dan Madri

Vocational Instructor, Construction
[email protected]

Derek Wood

Vocational Instructor
[email protected]

Cynthia Prince

Case Management & Counseling Specialist
[email protected]

Nicholas Branigan

Construction and Project Manager
[email protected]

Andrea Chery

Case Manager and Counseling Program Manager
[email protected]

Brian Ristau

Academic Program Services Manager
[email protected]

Milagros De Pasquale

STEM Teacher and Academic Support Specialist
[email protected]

Jessica Maddox 

Youth Employment Specialist
[email protected]

Board of Directors

All members of the Board of Directors serve as active volunteer leaders of Just A Start. Board members are residents of Cambridge and surrounding communities and include current and former participants of Just A Start’s programs, including residents, graduates of our career training programs, YouthBuild alumni, and Home Improvement Program participants. The Board brings diverse expertise in public policy, housing, real estate development, nonprofit and corporate management, community development, financial management, workforce training, youth development, and more.

Peter Munkenbeck

Chair Mr. Munkenbeck, who graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Public and International Affairs, earned his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, and was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts. From 1978-81, he was responsible for the redevelopment of several large waterfront industrial and mixed use parcels while employed at MASSPORT, including the planning, permitting, design, architecture, and construction of a 47-acre site for a marine terminal. He then spent 16 years at The Community Builders, where he served as Deputy Director for real estate development, administration, and finance. Since 1997, he has been actively involved in the development and/or financing of multifamily affordable housing on behalf of 15 community development corporations in Boston.

Zoe Weinrobe

Vice Chair Zoe Weinrobe, JCHE’s Director of Real Estate Innovation, has more than 14 years of experience in the field of affordable housing finance and development. Zoe is currently managing a $71 million 4% LIHTC acquisition/rehab project, a $25 million new construction project, and a number of potential prospects for JCHE. Prior to joining JCHE, Zoe was most recently Vice President at Recap Real Estate Advisors working with public housing authorities and private property owners on conversions through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (“RAD”) program. Zoe has also worked at Urban Edge CDC, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and the City of Cambridge. Zoe has a Master’s in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated with honors from Cornell University.

Samuel Gebru

Clerk Samuel M. Gebru is an Ethiopian American social entrepreneur, community organizer, and consultant. Born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents, Samuel moved to the United States at age three in 1995 and was raised by his single mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He discovered his vocation for public service as a 13-year-old bringing attention to maternal health issues and raising funds for women suffering from obstetric fistula in his native Ethiopia. Samuel is currently the Massachusetts Development and Partnerships Manager at Generation Citizen and serves as the Managing Director of Black Lion Strategies and Executive Producer of Boston Ethiopia Week. Samuel founded and led the Ethiopian Global Initiative from 2006-2016, convening change makers in Ethiopia and abroad in support of Ethiopia’s growth and development. He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School Alumni Association, Africans in Boston, Cambridge Community Center, City of Cambridge Prince Hall Memorial Committee, City of Cambridge Family Policy Council, and the Cambridge Public School District’s Superintendent Transition Team. He is currently affiliated with City of Cambridge River Street Infrastructure and Streetscape Working Group, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, and the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Michael Kuhn

Treasurer Michael Kuhn is Senior Vice President in Commercial Lending at Cambridge Savings Bank and helps to continue JAS’s long standing partnership with Cambridge Savings Bank. Michael has been with Cambridge Savings for almost 13 years and previously worked for Rockland Trust Company and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. He received a B.S. in Finance from Rowan University and an Associate’s degree in Computer Science from Camden County College.

Tara Dendy

Ms. Dendy has lived in Cambridge for 10+ years raising her children in a Just A Start community. Although there have been other housing opportunities, Ms. Dendy and her family continue to reside in that community because of the consistency and familiarity of neighbors. Ms. Dendy was previously the Program Director for Community Cooks and was responsible for overseeing 800 volunteers who prepared food to vulnerable neighbors seeking assistance from human service agencies, students working to improve their lives in after school programs and families struggling with food insecurity. Prior to joining Community Cooks, Dendy worked at Elizabeth Stone House as Director of Adult Programming, overseeing three of their programs. Prior to joining Elizabeth Stone House, Dendy worked at the Community Resource for Justice as the Director of the McGrath House, a program that serves female offenders referred by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Massachusetts Parole Board.

Lisa J. Drapkin

Lisa is the Founder of True Home Partners and its Team Leader. After 24 years at Coldwell Banker, she recently became a Managing Director at Compass and she and her team have set up shop at the new 1100 Mass Ave office, just steps to Harvard Square. She is a member of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, is a certified GREEN Realtor, and is a Trained Mediator. One of her proudest accomplishments was being awarded Banker & Tradesman’s Women of Fire award in 2018. Lisa has a well-deserved reputation for her knowledge of real estate and is renowned for her high energy level and enthusiasm. In her spare time, Lisa is a real estate Investor, a small-time real estate Developer, a Board Member for Just A Start, a member of the Federal Club of the Human Rights Campaign, a top Pie Seller for Community Servings, a member of Arlington Street Church and most recently, a member of the Cambridge Solar Access campaign. Lisa lives in the Riverside neighborhood of Cambridge with her wife, Debbie.

Shawn Fitzpatrick

Shawn Fitzpatrick is a Director of Manufacturing at Wuxi Biologics and has worked in the Biotechnology field for over 22 years. He is a former graduate (1997) of Just A Start’s Biomedical Careers Program. He also sits on a number of advisory boards of local schools with Biotechnology programs that advise on course curriculum, guest lectures, etc.

Richard Harding

Richard Harding is a lifelong Cambridge resident whose career has always been focused on public service and community engagement. He began as an intern at Joe Kennedy’s Citizen’s Energy, then served as Director of Constituent Services for Senator Seven Tolman and is the past Chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee. He has served on the board of the Young People’s Project and of the Community Arts Center. Richard is the President of the Port Life Foundation and a founder of the Port Action Group, a neighborhood group focused on violence prevention. Richard is the proud recipient of the NAACP Education Excellence Award and the Cambridge Peace and Justice Award. As a School Committee member, Richard has served as Vice-Chair and co-chair of the Budget Committee and Contract Negotiations, co-chaired the Kids Council, and served on the Neighborhood Safety Task Force’s Employment Sub-Committee. Richard currently runs the Men of Color Health Initiative and is a program consultant to the job training program CambridgeWorks. He attended the Kennedy Elementary School and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School (CRLS) and Fitchburg State College. His daughter is a 2015 graduate of the Cambridge public schools.

Junardy Jean-Charles

Junardy Jean-Charles is the Program Development Administrator for the Job Connector by MIT. She began her career with a focus on mental health and social work after completing a degree at Lesley University in counseling psychology. She went on to work and volunteer for various human services based nonprofit organizations, specially adhering to the needs of youth and families. The recurring theme that stood out for her when working with individuals was the need for economic stability in order to live a life that was physically, mentally and financially healthy, amongst other variables. She eventually ventured into career counseling working for a government-based career center, which blossomed into a steady career in workforce development. Her career in workforce development has allowed her to provide individuals with tangible outcomes for their overall wellbeing, which translates into their family system, and bears fruit for the larger community system. Junardy has a master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Salem State University.

Jesse Kanson-Benanav

Jesse Kanson-Benanav moved to the Boston area after graduating from Oberlin College and started working as a community organizer on housing issues with Somerville Community Corporation. He went on to get a Master of City Planning at MIT with a concentration in housing, community, and economic development. After completing his Masters, Jesse went on to work for several organizations focused on public housing, affordable housing, and real estate development, before returning to Somerville Community Corporation as a Senior Project Manager. Jesse also founded and served for seven years as the Chairman for A Better Cambridge, a community group dedicated to smart growth development to preserve and expand diverse, affordable, livable and sustainable neighborhoods.

Joel Miranda

Joel Miranda is the Senior Director of Leadership Development and Graduate Leadership at YouthBuild USA. As the first YouthBuild graduate to serve in a Director’s role at YouthBuild USA, Joel leads efforts to deepen the practice of Leadership Development at YouthBuild programs, oversees the development of YouthBuild’s graduate leadership work, and to move the impact of Youthbuild’s leadership work deeper into the wider world. Prior to joining YouthBuild USA, Joel worked at the grassroots level as a Mentor, Case Manager, and lastly Deputy Director at the YouthBuild Just A Start Chelsea/Cambridge program. Joel was a 2012-2013 Community Fellow at Boston University School of Management’s Institute for Non-Profit Management and Leadership and a graduate of the 2014 American Express Leadership Academy for emerging non-profit leaders.

Jeff Myers

Jeff Myers, a Cambridge resident since 2007, is employed as the real estate Deputy Director of Portfolio & Asset Management at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport). Jeff has expertise in market dynamics of metros across the country and spent more than a decade as a consultant to institutional commercial real estate investors. He has also served as a public-sector planning professional and has provided consulting services to non-profit organizations. Jeff holds a Master of Science in Real Estate from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Urban Planning & Development from Ball State University.

Paul Parravano

Paul Parravano has been part of the MIT community since 1991. His role in the Office of Government and Community Relations involves fostering communication and understanding between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and all levels of government, major constituency groups, and MIT’s surrounding community. Mr. Parravano serves as MIT’s campus federal relations officer, accompanying MIT’s President on regular visits to Washington and hosting campus visits by elected officials and other dignitaries. In Cambridge, Paul works to strengthen MIT’s involvement in science education for K- 12 teachers and students through a growing list of partnerships, especially with the Cambridge Public Schools. In all of his work and travel, both in Washington and locally, Paul’s most critical task is to represent the Institute in a personal way as a resource for knowledge, neighborly support, and the advancement of MIT’s mission of scientific education and research. Prior to his employment at MIT, Paul worked as a staff attorney in a civil rights consulting firm in the Boston area, providing advice and consultation for corporations on the implementation of civil rights regulations. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.

Susan Stockard

Susan Stockard retired from Maloney Properties, Inc., where she was a partner in the property management company. Her specialty was elderly housing and resident services. In addition to serving on the Board of Just A Start, Susan is the President of the Board of FOCUS – a non-profit that oversees supportive services in housing and owns [email protected], a home in Somerville for 15 young women aging out of foster care. She is involved in Partakers prisoner education, Sanctuary, racial justice, and building management through Old Cambridge Baptist Church. Susan is a founding member of a housing cooperative in Cambridge formed in 1973.

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