Senior Leadership Team

Lisa Bélanger

Chief Executive Officer

Linda Bernicki

Director, Community Development and Indigenous Engagement

Sandra Di Cesare

Director, Finance

Kelly Petraschuk

Director, Human Resources

Jayde Roche

Director, Rural Revitalization and Immigration (on leave)

Sydney Stenekes

Director, Homelessness Initiatives

Marketing & Communications and Operations

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Manager, Marketing & Communications

Adrienne is a communications generalist with several years of experience in the nonprofit sector and 12 years of experience in administration and customer service. She is skilled in strategic communications, digital marketing, public relations, and project management. She is most passionate about creating strategic plans to bolster organizational goals, optimizing client experiences, and using the power of storytelling to connect with audiences.

Adrienne holds a Bachelor of Arts with a major in psychology as well as a diploma with distinction in Public Relations from MacEwan University. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, travelling abroad with her husband, spending time with family and friends, and watching many TV shows and films.

Holly Udall

Specialist, Marketing & Communications

With a background in content management and communications, event coordination, and public relations, Holly is excited to support RDN’s communications team. Her passion and experience advocating on behalf of displaced individuals and those experiencing homelessness, as well as for equal rights and animal welfare has equipped her with the skills and insight to shine in her current role. She excels in creating strong community and media relations, content creation and management, and dynamic campaign execution. Based in Ontario, Holly is devoted to empowering and supporting rural communities to address social issues and create effective solutions for success. When not advocating for those in need you can find her reading, horseback riding, golfing, exercising, and travelling.

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's primary responsibility will be event management, a role she is well-suited for given her experience and skill set.

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.

Sarah Plouffe

Operations Coordinator

As Operations Coordinator, Sarah works with the whole RDN team to develop processes and strategies for effective community-focused operations, organizational growth, tech support for the team, and continued progress towards RDN’s goals. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences from MacEwan University and has a passion for environmental conservation and all things social and environmentally sustainable. Sarah has been with RDN since 2020, transitioning from administrative, part-time roles to a full time member of the team after completing her degree.

Sarah is an animal lover and bird fanatic who can tell you everything you need to know about Canadian bird species! In her spare time she loves to cross-stitch, play video games, and spend time in the river valley with her dog.

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

Project Assistant

Kash Helstrom works with RDN’s Homelessness Initiative team as a Project Assistant. Kash has a formal fine arts/art history background but expanded into museum studies, program management, and strategic operations. In addition, she has worked in the not-for-profit sector for over five years in various capacities. She is excited to apply her passion for mental health, supporting rural communities, and providing assistance to those in need to the initiative.

Kash is active within the arts community in her spare time, exploring Alberta’s beautiful backyard and pursuing further professional development.

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.

Rochelle Whitford

Project Coordinator, First Nations Data Collection

Rochelle, an Indigenous-Cree Woman from Treaty 6 territory, is the Indigenous Project Coordinator for First Nations Data Collection at RDN. With a Bachelor of Arts in English and ongoing studies in Aboriginal Teacher Education, she is dedicated to decolonizing and empowering Indigenous communities. Rochelle prioritizes their voices and needs, utilizing data collection to address systemic challenges and promote community well-being. Her Passion for Indigenous empowerment drives her work, aiming to impact Indigenous data collection and community resilience positively.

Justin Houle

Indigenous Project Coordinator, First Nations Data Collection

Justin is nehiyaw (Cree) from the Saddle Lake and Maskwacis First Nations. He has earned two degrees from the University of Alberta including a Bachelor of Arts in Native Studies as well as a Master of Arts in Digital Humanities. As a research assistant in grad school he wrote and drew an 8-bit browser game on the topic of Eugenics. During the Covid-19 pandemic he recorded and released an album of original songs. Justin has also produced a graphic novel and a children's book. In his spare time, Justin enjoys developing mobile apps with a focus on aboriginal culture and language preservation. He lives in Cold Lake with his wife and young daughter, and their dog Melvin.

Sabah Husain

Policy and Research Analyst, Shelter Pulse

Sabah works with the RDN as a Policy and Research Analyst with the Shelter Pulse project. She holds a Master of Science in Neuroscience from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Science from McMaster University. She has over five years of diverse research experience spanning global maternal/child health, policy research and mental health. She is passionate about health equity research and promoting women's empowerment through inclusion, leadership and education.

She is interested in impactful research that informs evidence-based policy making that improves access to and the quality of essential services provided to vulnerable populations, such as survivors of gender-based violence.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the outdoors through camping, hiking and canoeing!

Individual Projects

Trisha Hampton

Rural Revitalization Coordinator

As Rural Revitalization Coordinator, Trisha supports RDN’s cross-initiative work in communities across Canada ensuring a holistic approach to rural revitalization that addresses all aspects of rural living. Her strengths are in creating collaborative partnerships and strategic connections. Trisha is passionate about rural sustainability as she knows first-hand the challenges of rural life being raised on a farm in Alberta’s Special Areas. Trisha earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Marketing and held various marketing positions in the fast food, advertising, and construction industries.

She returned to her rural roots in the Special Areas and held positions in tourism promotion, marketing, economic development, and health care philanthropy before working with RDN. Trisha volunteers her time with Junior Achievement to teach financial literacy, workplace readiness, and entrepreneurship to rural students as early as elementary. In her spare time, Trisha loves to paint, bake, and share a good conversation with a friend or stranger.

Julia Sieben

Research Assistant

Initially joining RDN as an intern through the Mitacs Accelerate program, Julia worked mainly on a collaborative project between RDN and the University of Alberta addressing rural broadband connectivity. Following the internship, Julia stayed on with RDN and currently works part time as a Research Assistant across various RDN initiatives as she completes her studies at the U of A, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree with a Certificate in International Learning and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Studies. In her free time she enjoys drawing, cooking and baking, and trying to grow houseplants from kitchen scraps.