Senior Leadership Team

Lisa Bélanger

Chief Executive Officer

Linda Bernicki

Director, Community Development and Indigenous Engagement

Sandra Di Cesare

Director, Finance

Kelly Petraschuk

Senior Manager, People & Administration

Sydney Stenekes

Director, Homelessness Initiatives

Marketing & Communications and Operations

Joy Vonk

Manager, Operations

As an Operations Manager, Joy has returned to the Rural Development Network (RDN). She initially contributed to the group's founding in 2009, and after joining another not-for-profit organization Joy has come home to RDN, driven by her passion for the organization and her desire to use her organizational and operational expertise to support it.

Joy is driven to make a difference wherever she goes and has over 18 years of experience in the non-profit sector. She has held a variety of roles, Executive Assistant to C-suite, oversight of corporate operations activities and priorities, departmental budgeting and forecasting, data management and event management. Joy created and maintained operational process, policy and procedures and other key activities to ensure effective operational management of the organization. Joy is always looking for ways to improve processes and increase efficiency.

Joy is a passionate advocate of the power of teamwork and is committed to helping others.  In her free time, Joy enjoys spending time with her family, reading, learning new things, and traveling.

Sustainable Housing Initiative

Sean Adams

Planning Specialist

Sean is a Planning Specialist within the Sustainable Housing Initiative. Sean has a background in environmental studies and urban and regional planning with over 3 years of environmental conservation experience. Having joined our team in 2022, he is currently involved in RDN’s Enabling Housing Choice Project, a three-year research and policy project funded by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation aimed at identifying barriers to housing diversity across Alberta. He is also involved in the “The Price of Inclusion”, a research project funded by Community Housing Transformation Centre, which seeks to integrate affordable housing initiatives into the broader community.

Sean holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from The King’s University  as well as a Masters of Science degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Alberta. His research focused on climate adaptation for built heritage resources in coastal communities. Sean is passionate about how the adaptive reuse of buildings can provide diverse housing opportunities for residents living in rural communities. His personal interests include camping, hockey and playing music.

Alyce Wickert

Project Manager, Community Planning and Development

Alyce is a Project Manager in the Sustainable Housing Initiative, managing the Enabling Housing Choice Project. This project is exploring the housing needs of 6 rural communities to provide insights about their housing issues and needs, and then help them work towards meeting these needs. The project will also recommend changes or adjustment to local policy, bylaws and processes to encourage housing diversity in the community. The eventual outcome of this project will be the creation of the “Guidebook for Enabling Housing Choice in Alberta”.

Alyce started in the planning field with a diploma from NAIT in Urban Planning Technology, followed by an undergraduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Saskatchewan, and then a Masters degree from the University of Alberta in Urban and Regional Studies. After a period of being at home to raise 4 children, she became the Development Officer in a rural municipality in Southeast Alberta, and then the Manager of Planning and Development a few years later.

Alyce believes strongly that people should have a choice about where they live, by ensuring that rural communities are a sustainable and viable option for people to make their home. She is passionate about her children, gardening, creating mosaic and stained glass art, volleyball and her cats.

Jordyn Knickle

Analyst, Planning and Research

Jordyn works with the Rural Development Network as a Planning and Research Analyst with the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). Jordyn completed a Bachelor of Community Design, Honours in Urban Design & Planning with a Minor in Sociology and Social Anthropology a Dalhousie University in 2020. Jordyn is passionate about helping community members shape their communities to meet their needs and addressing the need for affordable housing across Canada.

Jordyn currently resides in Toronto, Ontario but grew up in Rural Nova Scotia and has seen first-hand how difficult it can be to find adequate, affordable housing in rural communities.

Kabir Shahani

Manager, Capital Funding

Kabir works with the RDN as the Manager of Capital Funding primarily for the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). Kabir holds a Master of Arts in Global Development Studies from Queen’s University.

Kabir has experience conducting research on affordable housing and energy efficient buildings policy frameworks positioned within and outside of Canada. He is passionate about addressing Canada’s rural housing shortage. He supports pre-development work for affordable rural housing projects through financial data analysis to determine the feasibility of meeting the needs and demands of a community. He works to expand access to sustainable housing initiatives for rural populations in Canada. His personal interests include cooking, exercising, and exploring new places.

Homelessness Initiatives

Emma Wallace

Project Manager, Community Development & Homelessness Estimations

Emma is the Project Manager of Community Development and Homelessness Estimations. She graduated from Acadia University with a Bachelor of Community Development and from the University of Alberta with a Master of Arts in Community Engagement. Emma’s research and work experience have focused on poverty reduction and community wellness. She is passionate about supporting rural communities in their efforts to reduce poverty and homelessness and advocate for community health and wellness. Emma is committed to applying an equity lens to her work (and life) and is always looking to meet people where they are at. In her spare time, Emma can be seen enjoying the outdoors with her dog Odie. They enjoy biking, hiking, kayaking, and backpacking together all year long!

Kasheen Helstrom

Lead Data Analyst, Homelessness Estimations

Kash is the Lead Data Analyst for the Homelessness Estimations initiative. She has a formal background in fine arts/art history. She then expanded into museum management, senior program development, and strategic operations. Kash has worked in the not-for-profit sector for over seven years in various capacities, always with a focus on rural communities. In recent years, Kash has found her passion in supporting rural communities' continued growth and well-being through working with data to drive positive change for communities.

Kash’s goal is to ensure that the voices of those living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities are heard through the data, helping to bridge the gap between those with lived/living experience and those working to address community needs such as housing and services. She believes that everyone has a story and that each one deserves to be heard.

Bryn Taylor

Program Coordinator, Homelessness Initiatives

Bryn first joined RDN in 2022 as an Executive Assistant for the Housing, Operations, Rural Immigration and Finance Directors and joined the Homelessness Initiatives team in 2023. She was born and raised in rural Saskatchewan before moving West to pursue her post-secondary education. Bryn received her Bachelor of Commerce in Supply Chain Management from MacEwan University and her Fashion Business and Creative Arts Diploma from John Casablanca Institute in Vancouver. Her analytical and creative mindset work together perfectly to help keep the senior leaders’ schedules on track and to simplify their hectic work lives. In her free time, you can find her at the golf course or working on her latest fashion creation.

Rural Immigration

Elaine Flores

Project Manager & Evaluations Coordinator

Elaine works as a Project Manager & Evaluations Coordinator for RDN’s Rural Immigration initiative. Her previous experience in micro-finance, micro-entrepreneurship, 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 with a minor in Development Management 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 micro-finance institution in Quezon City: Metro Manila’s largest city.

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

Program Manager, Rural Immigration

Soheila Homayed is a Program Manager for the Rural Immigration Initiative. Soheila has experience working directly with the settlement and integration of newcomers into urban and rural areas. Soheila is a certified Intercultural Competency Trainer and has worked with employers and municipalities across Northern Ontario and rural Alberta to support the successful attraction, retention and settlement of newcomers into the community and workplace.

Soheila holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Development and Globalization from the University of Ottawa with a minor in Social Sciences of Health and has received her Immigration Policies Certificate from Memorial University.

Rural Health & Wellness

Mary McGuire

Project Manager

Mary was the project manager of the Awareness Builds Connection in Dementia Friendly Communities (ABCD) project and the Olds Alberta Age-Friendly You Know Me campaign, and now focuses her efforts as project manager for Shelter Pulse. She graduated from MacEwan University’s Social Work program and is currently working toward her Bachelor of Professional Arts (Human Services) at Athabasca University. Mary is passionate about supporting rural communities in becoming dementia-inclusive and age-friendly.  

Mary has worked in the not-for-profit sector for over ten years and is experienced in program development, community engagement, dementia inclusivity, gender-based violence issues, crisis intervention, and 2SLGBTQIA+ advocacy. 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 a local diversity committee and with a national organization focused on supporting those who have experienced domestic and economic abuse. Her spare time is mostly focused on spending time with her spouse, three dogs, and ten fish.

Emele Neufeld

Indigenous Liaison

Champion male traditional dancer hailing from the east coast, Emele is a member of the Mi'kMaq peoples of Chapel Island Potlotek. He comes from the Moose clan of Marshall’s that gave him his love of the Mowi’omi or pow-wow that shaped his culture and world views. Emele has been an Indigenous ambassador since the age 7- knowing his mission at the age of 5 - making him the ultimate fit for his role as Indigenous Liaison where he will be informing RDN on the history and narrative of Indigenous peoples, and relating this to our work.

With his degree in Child & Youth Care from Grant Macewan University, Emele developed his strength based developmental approach to people. The theoretical developmental knowledge gained, informed a more in depth understanding of barriers inhibiting Indiginous peoples through intergenerational trauma. Emele aspires to connect the stories of Indigenous peoples to the actions we take, and hopes to create healing within communities, and to share this narrative.

Emele enjoys narrative based role playing games such as D&D for their therapeutic benefits, and cooking for friends & family with his 10+ years experience as a professional cook. His favorite meals to cook include: pasta, homemade ravioli and focaccia bread with jalapeno.