Operations and Community Engagement

Dee Ann Benard

Executive Director

Zain Abedin

Director, Community Development

Lisa Bélanger

Director, Operations

Kelly Petraschuk

Office Manager & Executive Assistant

Sandra Di Cesare

Director, Finance

Julia Juco

Manager, Communications

Holly Udall

Coordinator, Communications

Sustainable Housing Initiative

Asad Bhatti

Manager, Capital Funding & Strategy

Asad is the Capital Funding Manager at RDN and works mainly with the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). Asad graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Finance.

Asad initially started with the RDN as a Research Analyst in late 2017, writing reports and conducting research, but since then he has taken on the role of Capital Funding Manager, where he procures and manages funding on behalf of SHI clients. At the RDN Asad has made many great contributions over the years, his two key achievements being: the creation and ongoing management of a financial model used to test project feasibility, and co-authoring RDN’s Step-by-Step Guide to Developing Affordable Housing.

His personal interests include reading up on the latest financial news, weightlifting and history.

Azam Khattak

Specialist, Research & Data

Azam Khattak works with the RDN as a Research Analyst. He specializes in research investigation, data analytics and business case development and has assisted with various initiatives such as the Rural Homelessness Estimation project and the Sustainable Housing Initiative. Prior to joining RDN, Azam worked for the Government of Canada as a Capital Assistant in the Indigenous Services department. Azam is motivated and passionate about the affordable housing industry and is interested in making use of his skills and expertise to support the development of healthy communities. His experience working with client needs and objectives in small and focused communities allows Azam to be an important member of the RDN team.

Azam completed a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Finance and a minor in Management Information Systems from the University of Alberta. He was the External Director of the Business Finance Association and president of a mental health club during his time at the University of Alberta.

Daniel Morin

Specialist, Planning & Community Development

Daniel joined the RDN in 2020 as a Research Analyst for the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). He supports the SHI through conducting research and providing support in affordable housing pre-development work. Daniel holds a Master’s of Science in Urban and Regional Planning degree from the University of Alberta, where he specialized in sustainable transport, development, and institutional change. Daniel is an advocate for affordable housing and providing diverse housing and transportation choices in all communities. In his spare time, he enjoys socializing with friends, playing video and board games, and exploring the nooks and crannies of Edmonton on his bike.

Trevor Horne

Coordinator, Community Development

Trevor is the RDN’s Community Development Coordinator, and works in consultation with rural communities to identify issues and develop strategies to provide solutions involving housing. He has experience connecting non-profits with communities, and has worked with Indigenous organizations in outreach and research capacities.

Trevor is passionate about building stronger, resilient communities, and believes in working with organizations to help them realize their goals. He has experience in politics, and is an engaged member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Trevor has completed a degree in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy from MacEwan University.

Jesse Tjepkema

Analyst, Planning and Research

Jesse works with the Rural Development Network as a Planning and Research Analyst with the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). Jesse supports pre-development planning and research work in the SHI at the RDN. Jesse completed a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Alberta in 2021, and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and English in 2013. Thus far, Jesse’s research specialization has been focused on affordable housing, community demographic shifts, public transit, and social equitability. Previously, Jesse has worked as a housing caseworker for people experiencing homelessness in the Edmonton region and all across Canada in the natural resources/construction industry. His hobbies include reading, socializing, and running.

Homelessness Initiatives

Scott Travis

Director, Research & Programs

Scott is the Director of Research and Programs at the RDN. Bringing his expertise in mental health research, he joined the RDN to develop evidence-based methods to improve mental health and quality of life of those living in affordable housing. Scott believes that everyone deserves to be proud of the place they call home, and that improved living conditions will translate not only to improved outcomes in tenants, but also to reduced operator costs and increased community acceptance. He has been a part of the RDN since September 2018, and his role has since expanded to overseeing the work behind SHI's many projects and initiatives. Born in Hanna, AB, and raised in Lethbridge, AB, Scott was lucky enough to spend much of his childhood on the family farm, and exploring the very windy, southwest Alberta.

Scott has a degree in Neuroscience with honours, from the University of Lethbridge, and has done his PhD work at the University of Alberta in Neuroscience and Mental Health. In his spare time, Scott enjoys running, making noise on his piano and drums, and exploring Alberta’s backcountry.

Sydney Stenekes

Manager, Homelessness Initiatives

Sydney joined RDN as the Manager of Homelessness Initiatives in 2020. Her job includes coordinating and administering funding for the Reaching Home program’s rural & remote stream in Alberta.

Sydney grew up in Hamilton, Ontario and earned her Bachelor of Social Science with a specialization in International Economics and Development from the University of Ottawa in 2017. Sydney is currently completing her MSc. at the University of Alberta, where she engaged in a collaborative research project with Kátł’odeeche First Nation. The project highlights the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in understanding environmental change. Overall, Sydney’s research interests continue to evolve, but encompass social, environmental and economic policy in the areas of community well-being and natural resource management.

Sydney draws on her previous experience with the federal government and community-based research to help advocate and build strong relationships with rural communities in Alberta. In Sydney’s free time, she enjoys studying Spanish and tutoring high school students. You can also find her hiking, biking and playing volleyball or softball.


Linda Bernicki

Project Consultant

Linda has been leading community change and developing coordinated community responses in the areas of homelessness, the housing spectrum, poverty reduction, domestic violence, and Indigenous engagement for several years.

Linda’s certifications in Community Development, Economics of Social Change, Anti-Racism and Conflict Resolution have supported her ability to identify approaches and design community engagement processes for difficult conversations.  Linda has found these conversations essential to building a solid foundation for improving quality of life and overall wellness for the most vulnerable.

Linda has been honored to learn from many Elders and Knowledge Keepers along with the opportunity to participate in the Indigenous Canada Certificate.  These leanings have inspired her commitment and ability to lead stakeholder engagement though the understanding and importance of Reconciliation. Linda utilizes system integration that is based on the TRC recommendations, the rights-based approach, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

During her spare time, Linda enjoys spending time with her young adult children, walking her dog, and cooking new dishes.


Rural Immigration

Jayde Roche

Program Manager

Jayde Roche is the Program Manager for Rural Immigration with RDN and uses her experience in community-based research to manage projects focused on supporting newcomers in rural areas. Jayde has co-faciliated intercultural competency and anti-discrimination trainings. Most recently she worked on delivering a number of anti-racism webinars to viewers from across Canada.  

She first joined the RDN as the Project Manager for Network Development and successfully launched the CARRHH National Network prior to starting the Rural Immigration Initiative.

Jayde holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta with a double major in Anthropology and Latin American Studies. She also holds a certificate in community engagement and service learning as well as international learning. Currently she is pursuing her Master of Arts in Community Engagement. In her spare time, Jayde enjoys visiting new restaurants, listening to audiobooks and walks with her dog.


Elnaz Aliasl

Policy Researcher & Project Manager

Elnaz works as a Policy Researcher & Project Manager for Rural Immigration with RDN. Her keen knowledge in Design, Social Issues, and Research helps her to develop design guidelines to enhance mental health in affordable housing. Her focus has been on creating socially sustainable communities by understanding user groups' expectations and needs.

Elnaz holds a Master of Design from the University of Alberta, and a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Tabriz. She also has a certificate in Innovation in the Social Sector. During her time at the university, she volunteered as VP with Health and Wellness Movement Student Group, and as a Judge in the Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities(FUCRA).

During her spare time, Elnaz enjoys photography, watching movies, and trying new recipes.

Elaine Flores

Program Assistant

Elaine works as a Program Assistant for RDN’s Rural Immigration initiative. Her previous experience in microfinance, microentrepreneurship, and improving financial literacy for the Philippines’ rural and urban poor is an invaluable addition to the Rural Immigration team.

Elaine holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Development Studies from the Ateneo de Manila University. She received the best undergraduate thesis award for her study on the impacts of micro lending to clients of a microfinance institution in Quezon City: Metro Manila’s largest city (2.1 million in 2000).

In her spare time, Elaine enjoys spending time with her family, watching shows on Netflix, and looking for new recipes to cook or bake.

Soheila Homayed

Project Manager

Soheila is a recent addition to the Rural Immigration team. As an experienced settlement worker, Soheila has helped families from around the world integrate into their new community and workplaces, while promoting diversity and inclusion across Northern Ontario. She is a Certified Intercultural Competency Trainer and holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Development and Globalization from the University of Ottawa, with a minor in Social Sciences of Health.

Rural Health & Wellness

Cassandra Rasko

Program Manager

Every person should thrive in their community. Rural and remote communities know the present issues and gaps when it comes to health and wellness and often the missing piece of the puzzle is time and capacity. That’s where RDN’s Rural Health & Wellness Initiative comes in. Led by Program Manager Cassandra Rasko, we work with communities on issues affecting young to older people. Cassandra is currently working on projects related to age-friendly communities, ageism, reducing social isolation, and substance use awareness. We aren’t limited to these activities as health and wellness intersect with housing, immigration, transportation, access to broadband, and so much more. Connect with Cassandra if you want to talk about potential projects or learn more about the initiative.

Cassandra has worked in the not-for-profit sector for five years and excels in community engagement, building relationships, grant and report writing, and program management. She enjoys working with changemakers in communities and loves engaging in conversation to create stronger communities. An alumni of the University of Alberta, Cassandra is proud to be working in her home province at RDN. Her favourite activities include swimming, cycling, listening to podcasts and spending time with her partner Bryan and cat Penny.


Mary McGuire

Project Manager

Mary is the Project Manager of the Dementia Friendly Communities project with RDN. She graduated from MacEwan University’s Social Work program (Distinction) and has been recently accepted into Athabasca University’s Bachelor of Professional Arts (Human Services) program. Mary looks forward to overseeing this project, alongside stakeholders and rural community members, in hopes to further develop sustainable, dementia friendly communities.

Mary has worked in the not-for-profit sector for over ten years and is experienced in gender-based violence issues, crisis intervention, community engagement and program development. Guided by a strength-based, anti-oppressive perspective, she strives to analyze societal issues through the lens of how social identities and systems intersect. Mary volunteers with the local diversity committee and with a national organization focused on supporting those who have experienced domestic and economic abuse. Her spare time is mostly focussed on spending time with her spouse, three dogs, and ten fish.

Ag-Food

Conner Platten

Program Manager, Agri-Foods Initiative

Conner is the Project Manager of the Agri-Food Initiative with RDN. She began her studies in Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Alberta and switched lanes to Agricultural Business Management after realizing that food starts from the ground up. She is passionate about empowering food producers and entrepreneurs to strengthen the Agri-Food Sector in Canada.

Conner is originally from Edmonton, Alberta and is currently living in Revelstoke, BC. She is passionate about community involvement and volunteers for the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative, the community gardens, and a number of arts and culture events. In her spare time, Conner enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and gardening in her mountain town.

Stand-Alone Projects

Daniela Seiferling

Project Manager, Work Integrated Learning

Daniela is the Project Manager of the Work Integrated Learning Initiative with RDN. She graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Arts (Distinction) in Anthropology and is passionate about human history and culture. Daniela is a champion of volunteerism and how it enhances community. She’s excited to lead this new project, raise awareness of the benefits for work integrated learning, and connect post-secondary students to opportunities across Canada.  

Daniela volunteers as an online anthropology tutor and historical document transcriber.  Her volunteer and professional interests allow her to continue a love of life-long learning and community engagement. In her personal life, Daniela enjoys sorting people into their Hogwarts houses, writing short stories, and experimenting with recipes.


Interns

Sarah Sereda

Operations Assistant

Sarah is currently working toward a Bachelor of Science in Biology at MacEwan University. She has a passion for sustainability, animals, and the conservation of nature. In my spare time, she loves to play video games, soccer, and spend time with her corgi puppy and two cats.

Maude Ouellet

Program Assistant

Maude works with the RDN as a Community Development Coordinator. She is currently studying for her bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. Working remotely, Maude joined the RDN team in 2020. She contributes to the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI) team in their desire to share their expertise nationally, for example in the Quebec affordable housing market thanks to her knowledge of French and her economic perspective of the market. She is also involved in the Reaching Home project from the Homelessness Initiatives. In her spare time, she can be found reading, cooking or doing yoga.