Speakers

Rocci Aguirre is the Director of Conservation for the Adirondack Council and is responsible for the design, implementation, and leadership of the Council’s conservation program. Primary duties focus on public land-use planning, natural resource management, and environmental policy within the Adirondack Park. Rocci graduated from SUNY Cortland in 1995 and holds a MS in Resource Management and Conservation from Antioch University New England. His 23 years in conservation work includes years working as a ranger with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, field work with Trout Unlimited, and overseeing land protection efforts in NY and NH before joining the Council in 2013.

Farah Bala integrates her 20+ years of experience in performing arts, arts education and facilitation into her work as a leadership coach and speaker with an emphasis on what she believes are the foundational pillars for effective leadership – communication and equity.

A proud Persian-Indian-Amerian immigrant, Farah has a parallel career in the arts as an actor, producer and educator with a Barrymore Award Nomination for Outstanding Leading Actress (alongside theater veteran Anna Deavere Smith).

Farah is addicted to meaningful travel experiences that challenge and satiate her curiosity for humanity. Most recently, in Greece, she served at a refugee camp, launched a theater program at a local community center, and was part of the mentor team that helped refugee students gain admission for a university scholarship program.

Throughout her career, Farah has found ways to connect art with social change, while consistently facilitating dialogue towards a more inclusive representation across industries. Farah has been featured in Umbrage Edition’s award winning book, Green Card Stories.

Cali Brooks is President & CEO of the Adirondack Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization serving the Adirondack region by way of inspiring donors, building partnerships, and mobilizing resources to strengthen community through philanthropy. After working with nonprofit organizations in Southeast Asia, Central America and the United States, Cali returned to the Adirondacks on the staff of the HKH Foundation where she conducted a survey to assess the economic, social, cultural and environmental strengths of the Adirondack region. She then joined the Public Affairs office of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and co-founded the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Communities and Conservation Program. She has a BA from the Evergreen State College and master’s degree from The School for International Training.

Dr. Donathan Brown, co-founder of the consulting firm, Adirondack Diversity Solutions, is also an Associate Professor, a 2017 U.S. Fulbright Professor, and the inaugural Director of Faculty Diversity and Development for the School of Humanities and Sciences at Ithaca College. A recognized expert in race and public policy, and author of four books, Brown has worked with various Adirondack groups including, the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Foundation, the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, and the Adirondack Nonprofit Network on creating diversity and inclusion initiatives along with strategic planning. His passion and interest in the Adirondacks alongside his experience and expertise are the driving factors behind his efforts. Since his initial visit to the Park as a graduate student at Syracuse University, Brown can be found hiking throughout the Adirondacks, especially the High Peaks.

Jeannette Ceja is a bilingual travel journalist and travel host with over five years of experience on the red carpet. She has interviewed countless celebrities, athletes, politicians and travel experts including: Anthony Bourdain, Samantha Brown, Pauline Frommer and Rick Steves. Her work has appeared in television, magazines and newspapers around the world.

Jeannette was the Official Travel Host for The World Woman Summit. She won the “Travel Host of the Year” award by The World Woman Summit. Angeleno Magazine named Jeannette Ceja a Power Player for Travel. She was an Emcee at The New York Travel Festival and The Impact Travel Immersion Global Conference. Now, she serves on the Board of Advisors for Travel Unity. Lastly, she created a series of sold-out workshops for the modern Female Solo Traveler.

She is a proud Global Ambassador for Synergy of Empowered Women, Kind Traveler and the Free Wheelchair Mission. She graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Journalism from Belmont University and UCLA’s Professional Producing Program for Film & Television. Her passion for travel has taken her to over 50 countries to date.

Michelle Clement, Director of Marketing for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), oversees the destination marketing strategies for Essex, Franklin, and Hamilton counties. Michelle graduated from Plattsburgh State University with a B.S. in Marketing in 2007 and has spent the last decade advocating for sustainability in northern New York. Prior to joining the ROOST team in 2014, Michelle served as the Events Coordinator for the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce. In her spare time, you’ll likely find Michelle out and about making memories with her husband and three children as they hike, ski, and eat their way through the Adirondacks.

David is a Digital Strategist that has spent the majority of his career developing digital marketing and product strategies for numerous Fortune 500 companies. However, his personal passion is travel, and after spending 17 years in an agency environment, his career is now focused on the Travel and Tourism industry, where he helps clients implement effective digital marketing and content tactics that build engagement among travelers. 

David’s focus is on sustainable tourism, where his goal is to bring his skills more proactively to organizations that effect some positive change in the world. David is a member of Impact Travel Alliance’s global team and co-lead of the group’s Media Network, which connects sustainable travel brands with a team of travel influencers, and which provides that media community with a business and marketing educational platform. In addition to his time in the nonprofit sector, David is a Digital Strategy Director at The Culture Collective, ITA’s sister boutique creative agency, which provides marketing and social media services to sustainable tourism and social impact clients.

 

Laura DiBetta is Director of Outdoor Recreation at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, overseeing the agency’s Adventure NY initiative launched by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2017. Through Adventure NY, DEC is expanding access to healthy, active outdoor recreation; connecting people with nature and the outdoors; protecting NY’s natural resources; and boosting local economies. Laura has 20 years of experience working for nonprofit organizations on environmental issues, program development, and communications. Laura has an undergraduate degree in Public Affairs and a Graduate Certificate in Urban Policy from the University at Albany.

David Fadden was born in Lake Placid, NY in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. He was raised in Onchiota, NY and graduated from the Saranac Lake Central School where he received recognition for his art. He attended North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, New York. In conjunction with formal art training experienced within the educational system, he has learned technical skills, artistic insight, and other appropriate knowledge from his parents: John Fadden, educator, illustrator and painter; and Elizabeth Eva Fadden, wood sculptor and potter. His particular area of expertise, in respect to creating images of Native Americans, has been nurtured by learning from his paternal grandfather, Ray Fadden, designer, author, and founder of the Six Nations Indian Museum of Onchiota, New York. His work has been exhibited in Albany, New York, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, Centre Strathearn in Montreal, Quebec, the Unison Arts & Learning Center in New Paltz, NY, the Cornwall Regional Art Gallery, the National Museum of American Indian and the Aboriginal Art Centre in Gatineau, Quebec.

Diane Fish joined the Council staff in 2001 and works with Executive Director Willie Janeway to manage staff and Board activities of the Council to effectively implement the Council strategic of the Board and Staff to expand the number of advocates engaging in conversations about the Park’s future, participating in advocacy actions and supporting the Council’s work to protect the Adirondacks. Diane shares other Council supporters’ love of the Adirondacks, enjoys the Park’s many outdoor recreation activities, and appreciates the astounding beauty of the Park every day.

Since the late 1980s, Ethan Gelber has patrolled all corners of the travel industry, most recently as a freelance writer, editor, communications strategist, content marketer and translator focused on travel and culture. He specializes in family travel, responsible and sustainable travel practices, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing.

His written work, including as a Lonely Planet author, AFAR Ambassador and Huffington Post blogger, has appeared (credited and uncredited) in dozens of print and digital outlets. Other recent entrepreneurial undertakings include his work as the first travel editor of Green Matters; the founding editorial director of the Family Travel Association; co-founding Outbounding; and editing The Travel Word, a website he founded in 2009 that showcases responsible, sustainable and local travel.

He is also on the Board of Travel Unity and a media team member of two groups working to further awareness of responsible and sustainable travel — the Impact Travel Alliance and Green Travel Media.

Paul Hai is the Associate Director of the Adirondack Ecological Center and leads the Northern Forest Institute for Conservation Education and Leadership Training (NFI) at SUNY ESF, Newcomb Campus. Hai is also the co-founder of Children in Nature, New York, and serve on the Grassroots Leadership Team of the national Children and Nature Network. Hai also co-founded, in partnership with NYS DEC, the Hudson River Environmental Opportunities Network and is also a founding member of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.

David M. Kahn is Executive Director of the Adirondack Experience, located in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. Prior to joining the organization he led the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Louisiana State Museum, and the San Diego History Center. He has served on peer review panels for NEH, IMLS, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Council on the Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. He received a BA magna cum laude and a MA, both in Art History, from Columbia. He is currently on the editorial boards of Exhibition Magazine and the Pride Center of the Capital Region.

 

 

Shaun is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has appeared in almost every publication in the region. His interests have heavily influenced his writing, producing stories that run the gamut from first-person adventures and arts coverage to in-depth series on scientific research and elected officials. These days, his skillset is put to use as the Senior Content Developer for ROOST, a role that affords him the opportunity to promote the Adirondacks, a place he’s loved since his first visit more than 20 years ago.

When he isn’t writing, editing, or taking photos Shaun can be found playing drums, exploring the mountains, or pounding nails into the fixer-upper he bought with his wife in Saranac Lake.

Romey Louangvilay is the Communications Director at ELMNTL (Elemental), where he leverages more than a decade of experience in social media strategy and PR to establish relationships with brands and their target audiences. His primary role is ensuring that there is a seamless integration of all marketing disciplines within campaigns, as well as provide overall strategic guidance and account management for the agency’s marquee accounts, such as Tourism Authority of Thailand, Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands, and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). His accomplishments earned him a spot as a finalist in Forbes’ 2016 Top 30 Under 30 in Marketing & Advertising.

Romey has also previously spoken at PR News Digital PR Conference in 2011 about social media and he continues to serve as a marketing industry expert for LuxuryDaily.com.

Kelly Leigh Metzgar is co-founder and Executive Director of Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, based in Saranac Lake, NY, serving the Adirondack North Country of upstate New York. She is a co-founding board member of Gender Equality NY (GENY) and past Adirondack Diversity Initiative core-team member.

Kelly is involved in Transgender, Gender Non-Binary, Lesbian, Gay, Bi/Pansexual and Intersex advocacy for several years, speaking and training at regional colleges and universities, to regional religious, civic and business groups. She presents at Transgender and LGBTQ conferences on both the New York State and National levels. She actively participates in events focusing on Transgender rights and legislation including the passage of Gender Equality Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) in New York State.

Pete Nelson is a proud Adirondack resident and co-founder of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. He has been involved in diversity issues as an activist and teacher since the 1970’s, including social justice programs in his home town of Cleveland, Ohio, tenants’ rights and inner city housing in Chicago and equity in education in Madison, Wisconsin. Pete is a mathematics teacher and member of the college Diversity Task Force at North Country Community College. He is also an avid writer, lecturer and Adirondack history buff whose articles appear regularly in numerous regional publications. In 2016 Pete co-founded Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving the wild heritage of the Adirondack park.

An acknowledged new business incubator and change agent, Bob Provost thrives on helping people and organizations identify and achieve their goals. His 30+ years as CMO/Marketing Director with two major media properties and as a non-profit CEO were marked by innovation, revenue development, problem solving and process improvement. While leading strategic marketing efforts for his media employer(s), Bob also served as pro bono consultant to hundreds of media advertising clients and community non-profits. His work in marketing, sales, branding, economic development and community engagement has consistently earned professional and civic recognition. His economic development work in both New York and New Jersey involved him in working with south and east Asian populations as well as diverse religious, cultural, lifestyle and ethnic groups.

Throughout his career, Bob has engaged with youth and education. He has taught at Siena College and Rutgers University Business Schools, mentored scores of interns, managed youth enrichment programs involving tens of thousands of young people and partnered in career readiness programs.

Stephanie Ratcliffe is Executive Director of The Wild Center, a placed-based interactive science museum and 81 acre campus interpreting the extraordinary six million acre Adirondack Park. As an active participant and catalyst in the community, the museum has been a leader in driving climate change awareness and acting as a convener of climate change and green building conferences targeting regional and youth audiences. Stephanie was a key member of the start-up team that developed the new museum now entering its 10th year. Most recently she led the construction of The Wild Center’s is new outdoor treetop experience called Wild Walk which opened July 2015 and tripled museum attendance. Active in the science museum field for over 30 years, Stephanie serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of Science Technology Centers.

Cordell Reaves serves as a Historic Preservation Program Analyst with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, developing educational programming and events that enable sites to tell complete and inclusive stories. He has a Master’s degree from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies and a background in African American History with over 20 years of experience working with historic sites and museums. His research interests cover a broad swath of New York State history: from early Dutch settlement in New York, colonial slavery, the Underground Railroad, anti-slavery movement and the Great Migration. He has also spoken extensively on the relationship between tourism and historic sites, and has worked with tourism professionals to share NYS history with a broader audience. Cordell currently sits on the advisory board for the Historic House Trust of New York City and the Albany Cultural Heritage Advisory Team. In 2017 Cordell was the recipient of the Outstanding Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion award from the State University of NY at Oneonta. Cordell was also recently awarded the Herbert H. Lehman Prize for Distinguished Service in New York history from The New York Academy of History. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Cordell now resides in Troy NY.

Melanie Reding is the Administrative & Outreach Coordinator for John Brown Lives! a human rights organization based out of Westport, NY. She also serves as Communications Specialist for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, which works to make the Adirondack Park more welcoming and inclusive to all New Yorkers. Ms. Reding holds a degree in Outdoor/Education and Native American Studies from Northland College in WI and a certificate in Community Based Social Marketing from the University of Florida. Over the last several years she has focused on using research-based communication tools known as Strategic Framing, to help elevate social issues by creating public understanding, unique partnerships, and building public will for social good.

Laurel Remus is Special Assistant for Recreation Diversity and Public-Private Partnerships in the Office of Outdoor Recreation at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, working with the agency’s Adventure NY initiative. Laurel has been involved with promoting diversity in Conservation throughout her 36 years at DEC. She was previously the Director of the division of Public Affairs and Education and served in several positions in the Division of Lands and Forests as a Forester in both NYC and the Southern Tier. Laurel has an undergraduate degree in Resources Management from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a Masters of Business Administration from NY Institute of Technology.


Ellen Rocco was born and raised in Manhattan, attended CCNY, moved to a farm in far northern NYS in early ‘70s, and started working at North Country Public Radio in 1980. On the farm, she raised sheep and Percheron horses – at NCPR, she helped build a public media entity serving 1/3 of NYS.

Ellen’s experience in media has extended to producing documentaries and literary programs, as well as hosting call-ins and music shows through the years. She has served on the NPR Board for two terms and has been on a variety of public media and arts & humanities panels and boards.

Ellen is co-creator and current Project Director for North Country at Work.

Cindy Rodriguez, co-founder & human resources consultant, has over nine years of experience in human resources, policy review and implementation, along with business process improvement solutions. Most recently, Rodriguez was a Human Resources and Business Analyst for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. With experience and expertise spanning higher education, human resources, business administration, social policy, as well as environmental policy and energy, Rodriguez brings a unique lens to ADS. Rodriguez has worked to provide innovative human resources solutions promoting transparency, improving communication, and streamlining workflows, all while encompassing the essence of each organization’s values. With a firm belief that the beauty of the Adirondacks should be accessible to all regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, and ability, Rodriguez seeks to dismantle such barriers with forward thinking innovations.

Ben Strader is the Executive Director of the Blue Mountain Center, a residency program for writers and artists located in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. He a founding board member of the Indian Lake Theater, a new life as a community stage and screen for a defunct movie house in central Hamilton County. Ben serves as the Secretary of the Blue Mountain Lake Volunteer Fire Department and was on the Indian Lake Planning Board for 10 years. He helped with the creation of the Adirondack Nonprofit Network, a group dedicated to supporting Adirondack communities and the non-profit organizations that serve them.

Martha Swan is the founder and Executive Director of John Brown Lives! (JBL!), a freedom education and human rights organization and the official NYS Parks “Friends Group” of the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid where the famed abolitionist is buried. After a decade in New York City, Martha moved to the Adirondacks from Brooklyn in 1997 to be the Development Director at the Adirondack Council. She lives in the Champlain Valley and teaches Spanish fulltime in a small public school at the headwaters of the Hudson River while also directing JBL!’s varied programs and initiatives designed to unite communities in conversation, celebration, and commemoration to learn from our history and address critical concerns of our time, from social justice and climate justice to human trafficking and mass incarceration.

Brenda Valentine retired from Orange and Rockland Utilities/Consolidated Edison of NY in 2004. After numerous and successful corporate and community/public relations programs and activities and local and national awards, she became a full time resident in the Town of Indian Lake. During her professional career, she was honored with company’s highest employee award, “Living Our Values” for her 30 plus years as an outstanding employee.

She is extremely active within the Indian Lake community and currently serves as president of the Indian Lake Community Development Corporation, Main Street Revitalization Committee and Christmas Country Tour, Chairperson and Chamber of Commerce director. Brenda was named 2018 Town of Indian Lake ‘Citizen of the Year’ for her years of service in the Town.

Since joining the ANCA team, Jacob Vennie-Vollrath has honed his community spirit and extensive technical skills into tackling multiple initiatives and strategic projects advocating for the Adirondack North Country region including: assisting in the planning and execution of Common Ground Alliance Forum, managing ten scenic byways programs, finalizing and launching ANCA’s new people-powered website highlighting the off the beaten path traditions, foods and cultures of the region as well as serving on several regional planning committees.

Jacob grew up in rural northern Wisconsin and earned a degree in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When not strengthening ties between our rural communities and deploying his prodigious skills in website development and software support he enjoys coaching basketball and football, serving on multiple community and regional boards & committees, gardening, brewing, and taking long walks (sometimes on the beach) with his dogs and partner, Erin.

Jan Vink is an Extension Associate at the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics. His academic background is in Econometrics. Jan represents New York State in the Federal-State Cooperatives on Population Estimates and Projections and fulfills a coordinating role within the New York State Data Center. These are all networks with the U.S. Census Bureau. His publications include a collection of County data profiles and annual analyses of the population estimates from the Census Bureau. He developed and maintains the Program’s website where users can find a wealth of county and school district data.

Roni Weiss is the Executive Director of Travel Unity, a 501(c)(3) focused on increasing diversity in the world of travel.

On the for-profit side, Roni’s company, RW Social, provides event management and social media/marketing management/consulting services, including management of the New York Travel Festival, which will complete its 7th annual event in 2019.

He lives in Westchester County, NY with his partner, Lauren, and their four children.

Naj Wikoff, a columnist for the Lake Placid News and the East Coast representative of Aesthetics, Inc., is the founder of Creative Healing Connections, former director of the Healing Arts program of the C. Everett Koop Institute at the Dartmouth Medical School, and director of Arts and Productions at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Wikoff serves as a Vice President of the National Organization for the Arts in Healthcare, President of Arts on Call, adjunct faculty at Lesley University, and is a founding member of the National Initiative for the Arts in Health in the Military.

A two-time Fulbright Senior Scholar, Wikoff regularly consults on arts and health, healing spaces, and arts and trauma issues to health and arts institutions, and has worked with victims of terror and war in Palestine and Israel. In addition, Wikoff develop arts initiatives for Connecting Youth and Community of Lake Placid and Wilmington.

Markly Wilson, Director, International Marketing for New York State’s Division of Tourism, is responsible for generating increased international travel to the State of New York. Apart from overseeing tourism promotion from Canada he manages ILNY offices in England, Germany, Australia and China. He was previously President of The Wilson Company, a consultancy specializing in empowering communities to assess, plan, and market their tourism resources. This company generated strategic plans and results-oriented regional tourism promotional programs. Clients with whom plans were developed have ranged from the Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, to Harlem in New York, the Government of Belize, Clinton and Warren Counties in New York, and a 14 city region of Massachusetts.

He was Director of Marketing for the Caribbean Tourism Organization for three years, after serving as United States Manager for the Tourist Board of Barbados for nine years.

Wilson has managed the New York Watchable Wildlife Program, a collaborative project between federal and state agencies, not for profit organizations and businesses. This group published the first Wildlife Viewing Guide of New York State in 1998.

Ernest White II is a storyteller, explorer, and proponent of reasonable recklessness who has circumnavigated the globe five times. He is the producer and host of global reality-travel television series Fly Brother, host of the travel- and culture-focused Fly Brother Radio Show, and publisher of multicultural travel portal FlyBrother.net. Ernest’s writing includes fiction, literary essay, and travel narrative, having been featured in Time Out LondonUSA TodayGetawayEbonyThe Manifest-StationSinking CityLakeview Journal, Matador Network, National Geographic Traveler’s Brazil and Bradt’s Tajikistan guidebooks, and at TravelChannel.com.

He is also nonfiction editor at literary travel journal Panorama, former assistant editor at Time Out São Paulo, and founding editor of digital men’s magazine Abernathy.