Operations and Community Engagement

Dee Ann Benard

Executive Director

Dee Ann is the RDN's inaugural executive director. After earning her B.Sc. (Biology) and M.Sc. (Plant Pathology) from Simon Fraser University, Dee Ann moved to Edmonton in 1994 to work with Alberta Agriculture.  Eventually, she joined private industry to manage the Alberta operation of Integrated Crop Management Services (ICMS), Inc. Later, she moved to the Alberta Research Council (now called Alberta Innovates) in Vegreville where she worked first as a plant pathologist, and later in business development. In 2004, she joined the newly formed Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) as executive director, a position she held for over five years.

Dee Ann served as a member of the Agriculture and Food Council for several years, where she held roles such as Chair of Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food and Treasurer. She is an active volunteer in her community and in her professional life. Dee Ann enjoys skiing, kayaking and hiking.

Zain Abedin

Director, Community Development

Zain is RDN's Director of Community Development, a unique position that works in consultation with rural communities to identify issues and develop strategies to provide solutions across all RDN's initiatives, especially housing and homelessness. Zain has been working at RDN for a few years, specializing in managing research, developing financial strategies and creating business cases in an effort to raise funding for projects in rural communities. He has authored the “Step-by-Step Guide to Estimate Rural Homelessness”; an award winning guide to estimate rural homelessness in rural communities across Canada. The guide is being successfully applied across Canada and is gaining traction on an international scale.

Zain is passionate about “making things happen for the greater good” and has an excellent track record of securing funds in the social entrepreneurship space. He has international sales and account management experience in the Oil & Gas industry and runs a boutique consulting firm that fuels his interest in design and technology. Zain has completed a degree in Finance/Management with a minor in Actuarial Math from the American University of Sharjah and an MBA in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from the University of Alberta.

Lisa Bélanger

Director, Operations

Before being promoted to Operations Manager, Lisa was Program Manager of RDN’s Sustainable Housing Initiative. Prior to joining RDN, she worked with PCL Construction and Kleinfelder Hood Engineering, as well as on the development of international emergency and transitional shelters. Lisa earned her Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where she was on the Dean’s List, and received several scholarships and awards for her excellence in academics. Whether working on issues that affect rural Canada, volunteering at orphanages in Africa, or dirt biking and rock climbing, Lisa brings a high level of organization, energy and skill to everything she does.

Kelly Petraschuk

Office Manager & Executive Assistant

Kelly joined the RDN team in 2018 as the Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the Executive Director. Born and raised in Edmonton, she has spent the majority of her work life in the Floral Industry owning, operating and building a prominent flower shop from the ground up. She is an organizer and planner at heart and loves to work in the RDN team environment. Her diverse range of knowledge and know-how allows for the staff’s day to day lives to flow a bit more smoothly.  

During her spare time, Kelly enjoys doing anything creative, critiquing blockbuster films, reading the latest bestsellers and cheering on the Edmonton Oilers!

Sandra Di Cesare

Finance Manager

Sandra was born and raised in the rural community of High Prairie, AB. She completed High School in Brooks, AB and upon graduation relocated to Edmonton to study Accounting at MacEwan University. Sandra is committed to ensuring the financial well being of the RDN and brings an abundance of Accounting knowledge to her role. Sandra has many years of professional experience in various management positions. She has acquired a diverse skill set working in different industries including construction, education and non-profit. Sandra is highly skilled in all aspects of finance and has proudly earned a reputation as a team player.

Julia Juco

Manager, Communications

Julia is the RDN’s Project turned Communications’ Manager whose work spans a wide range of sectors. Julia has overseen projects that 1) address data gaps on rural homelessness, 2) raise awareness on substance use in rural communities, and 3) modernize communications’ strategies to improve brand recognition and perception for the organization. Julia is passionate about placing meaningful engagement, facilitation, and direct consultation at the forefront of any project she takes on.

Julia holds a Bachelor of Arts’ degree in Political Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in immigration, ethnicity, and social policy. In her spare time, Julia enjoys gardening, working out, and frolicking in and around the Rockies’.

Sustainable Housing Initiative

Asad Bhatti

Manager, Capital Funding

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. Most recently, he is pursuing a CFA designation and is scheduled to take the final of 3 exams in December of 2020.

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

Analyst, Research & Programs

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

Research Analyst

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.

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, Homelessness Initiatives

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.

Daniel Waring

Research Assistant

Daniel Waring is a Research Assistant for Rural Immigration with RDN. He brings a wide range of interests and rich experience in research and writing to the RDN team. Originally from High River, Alberta, he uses his own rural experience to inform his work.

Daniel holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Alberta, a Masters of Arts in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from the University of Guelph, and a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish with a minor in Political Science from the University of Alberta. Through these experiences, Daniel has developed a passion for progressive change that he is excited to put to use with RDN. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys watching movies and TV, going on long walks in the Edmonton River Valley, and looking for Edmonton’s best burger.

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.

Other Initiatives

Cassandra Rasko

Project Manager, Substance Use and Awareness

Cassandra is the Project Manager for the Substance Use Awareness Program and Olds Age Friendly Initiative. Having worked for the Agriculture & Food Council previously, Cassandra has managed many projects around mentoring, senior volunteers and food safety. She is very excited to work with rural youth and create a mobile cannabis awareness exhibit. In addition, Cassandra manages the ARCH2 and CARRHH National Network and enjoys connecting and learning from members in the networks.

Cassandra holds two B.Sc. degrees in biological sciences and agriculture. Being creative, working with changemakers, and seeing positive change motivates her. If you have a great idea, she wants to hear it and work with you to make it a reality. A lifelong learner, Cassandra enjoys podcasts, discovering different fibre arts and cycling on her road bike.

Shelby Rowein

Project Manager, Agri-food Initiatives

Shelby joined RDN as a practicum student from the University of Alberta School of Public Health. She is currently working as a Registered Dietitian and completing her Master’s in Public Health with a specialization in health promotion. Previously, she completed her BSc. degree in Human Nutrition at St. Francis Xavier University.

Shelby is working remotely in her hometown of Macklin, SK where she grew up on a farm. She has a keen interest in addressing local food security levels through a capacity building approach. In her spare time, she can be found gardening, baking, bird watching, and coaching local softball.


Sarah Sereda

Community Development Coordinator

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

Community Development Coordinator

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.