Minnesota Alliance with Youth

Board of Directors

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benson_fullJOANNE BENSON
, Alliance Founder and Former Lt. Gov., 
St. Cloud, Minn.

Joanne served Minnesota as its Lieutenant Governor from 1995-1999, during the Gov. Arne Carlson administration. A former state senator, she has also served as the chief education officer of the Minnesota Business Academy, providing fundraising support to the school. Born in Le Seur, Minnesota, she is married Robert R. Benson and has two children and six grandchildren.

, Minnesota Department of Education

Elia Bruggeman is the Special Assistant to the Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education. A professional educator and administrator with more than 30 years of experience in a variety of school settings, Elia served most recently as the Assistant Commissioner of Education at the Minnesota Department of Education. A teacher for 10 years in the St. James Public Schools, she has also been a professor at Minnesota State University-Mankato, Director of Student Services at Northwest Suburban Integration District, Academic Dean at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, MN, and Principal of Sleepy Eye High School.  Elia and her husband Mark have 4 children and 5 grandchildren.


Sue Budd leads the Education Equity team at ISAIAH, a non-profit coalition of 100 congregations working for social justice and racial equity in Minnesota.  In this role she works with several school districts in the metro area to address equity gaps.  Prior to that, Sue served as the Development Director at Global Campuses Foundation, an organization providing advanced education opportunities to adults with differing abilities.  Sue began her career in the for-profit sector, with a degree in business and accounting and has spent more than 15 years balancing a successful career in sales and consulting with a strong passion for helping at-risk youth find success in school.  She spent time traveling globally as a Senior Business Consultant with IBM, and as a Global Account Manager with AT&T.

TIARYN DANIELS, Freshman at the University of St. Thomas and former Minnesota Youth Council member

Tiaryn recently  graduated from Park Center Senior High in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.  She served on the Minnesota Youth Council for five years on the education committee and loved every minute of it.  She loves being a young person and working with both people younger and older than herself. A few things to know about Tiaryn: She plans to major in either International Business or International Relations/Political Science, with a possible minor in a language and she loves learning about combinations of culture, government, language, business, and people in

, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

Brooks Deibele currently serves as Vice President of Group Markets for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.  In this role, Brooks is responsible for Blue Cross’ business in the employer market by directing sales strategies and customer satisfaction.  Prior to joining Blue Cross in 2013, Brooks spent nearly 10 years at UnitedHealthcare, recently as National Vice President of Consultant Relations.  Prior to that, he worked for TCF Bank in Minneapolis and held sales and leadership positions in the Consumer Lending Division.  Brooks received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Management from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, MN.  He also completed the Wharton Executive Education Program in 2013. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Excelsior, MN.


SARAH DIXON, CEO Ex Officio, Minnesota Alliance With Youth

Sarah has 25 years of experience working across all areas of adolescent health and development, including intervention and treatment, counseling, education, and community-wide youth development. She has worked with thousands of young people in developing leadership, public service, advocacy, and positive social change efforts at local, state, and national levels.

A co-founder of Faribault’s Community of Promise Collaborative, she was appointed chair of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee by the Governor, and has served two four-year terms. She also serves on a number of local and statewide boards dedicated to the health and well-being of young people.

As one who loves her work, she quotes Margaret Wheatley:  “What brings us together is our compassion – our dream of how to make a difference for the good.”  She also loves spending time with her family at Leech Lake and traveling.

Sarah Gerdes headshotSARAH GERDES, YouthCARE

Sarah is the Operations Manager at YouthCARE (Cultural Appreciation and Racial Equality) in Minneapolis. An alumna of the AmeriCorps Promise Fellow program, Sarah served at Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE) Inc., coordinating the Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership (GGAL) program. Sarah also worked as a Program Facilitator for the Council on International Educational Exchange Study Abroad Program in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Sarah is a dance instructor with Ragamala Dance and has a B.A. in Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity, and Oral Communications from the College of St. Catherine.

NELL GOEPEL, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

Bio coming soon!




JOHN JURICH, Magellan Health

John is a Senior Sales Professional with over 22 years of sales history, the last 10 of those years in health care, specifically the mental health, health & wellness, transplant, and disease management arenas, as well as, a 12 year sales history in specialty tangible commercial goods products. John has a Production Management (BBA) degree from Loyola University of Chicago and has also taken two years of administration classes from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. John enjoys spending time with his family, going to the beach, spending time in the sun, sports and helping kids. He has a wife and four children and resides just outside of Saint Paul.

Fatima MenawaFATIMA MENAWA, Junior at Stillwater Area High School

Fatima is a member of the Minnesota Youth Council and a changemaker in her community. Fatima works to to create spaces where youth are listened to, where they feel empowered and safe to be different, because that difference is what builds their voice.  “It’s surreal how being told your voice matters and being given a place at the table can change you.”


CHARLES NEWELL, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow Alumni

Charles Newell has 10 years of experience working with challenging youth and families, building character, teaching and guiding behavior improvements.  Charles hold an Associates in Arts Degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences from Century College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Metro State University.  He has worked with District 622, Northwest Youth and Family Services, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, Children’s Home Society, Como Elementary, Robbinsdale School District, New Vision Faith Center and several other organizations.  Charles is an alum of the AmeriCorps Promise Fellow program, serving at Wilder Foundation in 2010/11.   His philosophy is simple and effective: “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.  Youth do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

jeffJEFF GRIFFIN, Carlson Management Group

Bio coming soon!





MICHELLE ONYEKABA, Co-Chair, Freshman at Harvard University

Michelle has a strong desire to see a genuine change within her community and her world.  Michelle cares greatly about the issues of poverty, homelessness, and unsafe conditions, and believes that every individual deserves a fair chance at prosperity and happiness, and every individual has the right to live a safe and livable life. By improving the current predicament of poverty, homelessness, and unsafe conditions, more people can enjoy these rights and truly live.

ANGELO PEREZ, Junior at Northfield High School and Minnesota Youth Council member

Angelo serves on many boards and committees both local, including several councils at Northfield High School, and state wide. He is very passionate about government and history and joined the Minnesota Youth Council because he is passionate about immigration, equity, justice and education. He admires John F. Kennedy because he was a natural born leader and a national hero who served our country proudly, and lead our country during perhaps one of the darkest times in our history.”

JULIE PLAUT, Ph.D.Minnesota Campus Compact

Julie is the Executive Director of Minnesota Campus Compact, where she was previously the Associate Director, having also been the Director of Academic Initiatives for national Campus Compact and an independent consultant to other state Compacts and nonprofit organizations. Her work is grounded in an asset-based approach to collaboration and change and a commitment to lifelong learning and engagement that contributes to just, democratic, and sustainable communities She received her Ph.D. in History from Indiana University, and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Stanford University.  In addition to serving on the Alliance board, her community engagement includes board membership with the Prairie Oaks Institute, and youthrive.

JACK PRINCE, Freshman at The Blake School and Minnesota Youth Council member

Jack has attended Blake since he was in Pre-K. Next year, he looks forward to writing in the school newspaper and being on the robotics team. While serving on the Minnesota Youth Council this past year, he has represented youth on the Education Committee. Jack’s other interests include playing competitive tennis, studying Latin and singing in the school choir.

Shreya RamSHREYA RAM, Junior at Wayzata High School and Minnesota Youth Council member

Shreya is apart of her school’s speech and debate teams, and enjoys participating in mock trial. Shreya is also a member of the Minnesota Youth Council, serving on the Policy Committee as a co-chair. In her free time, she enjoys playing the piano, spending time with family and friends, and
traveling. Shreya has a strong desire to see the voices of more youth at the table, and frequently advocates for youth participation within communities and the government.

DAMON SHOHOLM, Co-Chair, Director of the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute, 
Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

Damon leads the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute, a program of the Wilder Foundation designed to is to nurture the creativity and vitality of proven leaders of philanthropic, civic, and community-serving organizations.  He has served as Chair of Saint Paul’s Second Shift Commission (2009-12), and as staff in bringing Saint Paul’s Promise Neighborhood initiative to life (2010-12). This involvement grows out of his work as an educator in the Minneapolis School District and as Co-Director of a project-based charter school in Saint Paul.  He has an undergraduate degree from Metropolitan State University, and his teaching license and Master’s degree in Leadership from Augsburg College.

NATALIE UHLEMANN, Associate, Fox Rothschild LLP

Natalie is an Associate at Fox Rothschild LLP, focusing her practice on complex commercial litigation. Natalie attended law school at Georgetown University Law Center, where she was a teaching fellow in the Legal Research and Writing Program and the Notes Development Editor for the American Criminal Law Review. Prior to law school, Natalie worked for several years in marketing and recruiting roles, for companies both large and small. In 2014, Natalie was named a “North Star Lawyer” by the Minnesota State Bar Association for providing at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services.

JODY WARDEN, Manager, Target Corporate Social Responsibility

Jody Warden is a Manager on Target’s Corporate Social Responsibility team where she oversees a wide range of partnerships and initiatives. At Target for 15 years, Jody has held various positions within the CSR/Community Relations team, but she also spent several years managing the Corporate GiftCard product team within Target’s Financial Services group. A three year CSR stint in Washington D.C. was focused on developing education partnerships in NYC, Boston, DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore, and allowed her to work closely with America’s Promise Alliance and the US Department of Education. She has served on several youth-focused boards in both a governance and grantmaking role. Prior to Target, Jody spent 8 years working full-time with youth, serving as the Director of Youth Ministries in a United Methodist Church. Jody is a graduate of Dartmouth College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Education.


Lisa serves as the Vice President of External Relations for Serve Minnesota providing strategic counsel to marketing and development efforts, as well as legislative and board relations. She is passionate about building thriving communities and telling the stories that connect individuals and causes. She has more than 20 years of professional experience in both for profit and not-for-profit organizations, and volunteers for several community organizations. She has a B.A. in Journalism from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

ELIZABETH ZALANGA, student at Saint Paul College

Elizabeth is completing an Associate in Arts Degree with an Emphasis in Social Science/Public Affairs at Saint Paul College. She was elected to serve on the Student Senate as the Senate Diversity Officer, in which she will serve on the Programming Board and lead efforts to develop programming with The Office of Student
Life and Student Associations that focuses on diversity.  Elizabeth also works for the City of Minneapolis – City Clerk’s Office in the
Elections and Voter Services Division, assisting in coordinating with Minneapolis public,
private, and charter high-schools and youth-serving organizations in recruiting and
managing high-school students from diverse backgrounds to work in polling places on
Election Day.

In September 2016 she was appointed by the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners to
serve and represent her district on the Food and Nutrition Commission.  After completing her Associate’s degree, she plans to transfer to the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) to pursue a
Bachelor’s in Global Studies and a minor in economics. She hopes to work for a government agency or nonprofit organization that works domestically and/or internationally to address the global issues of advancing women’s rights, environmental pollution, or hunger and malnutrition.


Yvonne Prettner Solon               
Former Lt. Governor
Served: 2011-2015

Carol Molnau                 
Former Lt. Governor
Served: 2003-2011

Mae Shunk 
Former Lt. Governor
Served: 1999-2003


Rebecca Jarvis
CBS News Anchor
Served: 1997-1999

Maya Babu, M.D.
Neurosurgeon, Mayo Clinic
Served: 2000-2002

Michael Radmer, J.D.
Hennepin County Attorney’s Office
Served: 2000-2002

Mike Minks, M.S.
Youth Service America
Served: 2004-2008

Rachelle Jenson
Planned Parenthood of Duluth
Served: 2008-2009

Fayise Abrahim
Amherst College
Served: 2010-2011

Aimee Vue
Brown University
Served: 2012-2014

Essence Blakemore
Anoka High School
Minnesota Youth Council
Served: 2013-2016


Ann Johnson
Delta Dental of Minnesota
Served: 2002-2013

Cammy Lehr, Ph.D
Minnesota Department of Education
Served: 2007-2012

Mundo Garza
AmeriCorps Promise Fellow Alumni
Served: 2012-2013

Zach Pruitt  
Northfield Healthy Community Initiative
Served: 2004-2013

Mary Docken
Served: 2012-2014

Keilembo Ellison 
Ellison Law Office
Served: 2012-2014

Margaret Ann Hennen
Hennen Communications
Served: 2011-2014

Mark Hiemenz 
St. Paul Foundation & MN Community Foundation
Served: 2001-2014

Rogelio Salinas 
St. Paul Highland Park Senior High
Minnesota Youth Council
Served: 2014-2016

Heather Weller
New York Mills High School
Minnesota Youth Council
Served: 2011-2014