Senior Leadership Team

Dee Ann Benard

Chief Executive Officer

Lisa Bélanger

Director, Operations

Linda Bernicki

Director, Community Development and Indigenous Engagement

Asad Bhatti

Director, Housing

Sandra Di Cesare

Director, Finance

Kelly Petraschuk

Director, Human Resources

Jayde Roche

Director, Rural Revitalization and Immigration

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.

Emilee Ubels

Coordinator, Marketing & Communications

Emilee initially joined RDN’s team as a Communications Assistant in 2022 as a co-op student from Mount Royal University in Calgary. Supporting the Marketing and Communications team, Emilee focuses on writing and editing communications materials, including website content, social media posts, news releases, and newsletters. She also assists with other Marketing initiatives such as raising brand awareness across Canada about RDN’s work and resources; in addition to supporting RDN’s other initiatives - including sustainable housing, and reaching home.

Emilee completed her Bachelor's degree in Business Administration with a major in Marketing, and minor in International Business from Mount Royal University in 2022. From her volunteer and community work is where she realized her passion for doing purposeful, impactful work. Growing up in a small rural town, she was actively involved in her community and understood the importance of rural development, and how meaningful this work truly is. 

In her spare time, Emilee enjoys reading, watching movies, socializing with friends and family, trying out new coffee shops, and taking her 2 dogs on adventures.

Jessica Pena

Assistant, Human Resources

Jessica joined RDN as a Human Resources Assistant in 2022, working directly with the Director of Operations, supporting recruitment needs and HR policy development. Jessica grew up in Mexico and earned her Bachelor in Psychology. She moved to Canada in 2011 and lives in Ontario. Jessica is currently completing her Human Resources Management Diploma at McMaster University. In her free time, you can find Jessica ice skating or spending time with family and friends.

Bryn Taylor

Executive Assistant

Bryn joined RDN in 2022 as an Executive Assistant for the Housing, Operations, Rural Immigration and Finance Directors. 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.

Kateryna Levanenko

Event Coordinator

Kateryna works with the Rural Development Network as an Event Coordinator.

Kateryna grew up in Ukraine where she earned her Bachelor's in Event Management. She moved to Canada in 2021 to get a Post Graduate Certificate in Project Management at St. Lawrence College. From her volunteer work at various events and membership at Ukrainian non-for-profit organizations for active youth, she realized her passion for organizing various events. In her free time, you can find Kateryna doing yoga, reading, watching TV shows or spending time with her friends.

Joy Vonk

Senior Manager

As a Senior 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 Sereda

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.

Kieran Frame

Analyst, Research and Finance

Kieran is a Research and Financial Analyst within the Sustainable Housing Initiative. Kieran has a background in economics research and quantitative analysis. He completed a Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Toronto in 2022, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Alberta in 2019. Kieran is passionate about housing’s large, intersectional impact. His ambition is to help others overcome barriers to finding affordable and appropriate housing. In his spare time, Kieran enjoys playing video games and spending time with friends and family.

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

Joleen Chivas

Financial Claims Analyst

Joleen brings to RDN a passion for developing new plans and strategies to ensure smooth operations and transitions within her position as a Financial Claims Analyst. Her inspiration for working within communities in the non-profit sector comes from her young son who has behavior challenges, which continues to push Joleen to create awareness of the limitations of certain programs and streams of funding, including the advocacy potential that exists in these areas. Here at RDN, her aim is to continue to make a difference, and to be a part of a lasting impact.

In her spare time, Joleen volunteers with Infinite Woofs, a local animal rescue, is the chair of her son’s school council, and treasurer of the fundraising committee in her community to build a new playground this summer! She also adores anything Disney!

Diahann Polege-Aulotte

Program Manager, Homelessness Initiatives

Diahann is the Program Manager for Homelessness Initiatives. She graduated from Grant MacEwan University with a Bachelor of Applied Human Services Administration and more recently obtained a Master of Leadership from the University of Guelph. Diahann has 30 years’ experience in the Human Services field which has ignited a passion for advocating and supporting those in need. Her previous experiences have given her the knowledge to create safe spaces, use a trauma informed lens and acknowledge that one’s success is an individual’s choice.

Diahann lives on Fishing Lake Metis Settlement with her family. She thrives being with her friends and family and is learning to have free time.

Susan Reay

Project Assistant

Susan was hired as an Executive Assistant for RDN in 2022 and a couple months later transitioned to the role of Project Assistant for Reaching Home. She received an Associate's Degree from Ricks College in Business Management and has had many years of experience working in the finance industry. Susan has a love and passion for helping people and welcomes any opportunity to serve others within her community and church organization.

Susan enjoys travelling with her family to anywhere warm. She loves exercising, especially running and loves to bake cakes. Susan's passion is helping others and she is excited to work for Rural Development Network in this role.

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.

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

Project Manager, Rural Immigration

Soheila Homayed is a Project 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, ABCD

Mary is the project manager of the Awareness Builds Connection in Dementia Friendly Communities (ABCD) project and the Olds Alberta Age-Friendly You Know Me campaign. 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.

Emily Merklinger

Coordinator, National Coordinated Access

Emily is the Coordinator for the National Coordinated Access project within the Health and Wellness Initiative. Born in Alberta and based in Ontario, she holds an MA in Gender Studies (Queen’s University), Bachelor of Arts in English Literature (University of Alberta), and a Certificate in Scottish Criminal Law and Procedure (City of Glasgow College). She’s committed to exploring symptoms of systemic inequities, including homelessness, as public health issues and reducing barriers to accessing social services. In her spare time, Emily enjoys hanging out with her partner and rambunctious cat, reading mystery novels, and visiting family across Canada and Scotland.

Tegan Nelson

Project Coordinator, Indigenous Data Collection

Tegan joined RDN in September 2022 as the Project Coordinator for the Indigenous Data Collection initiative. She is Métis and resides in Southern Alberta. Tegan holds a Bachelor in Social Work from the University of Calgary and is committed to furthering her education in this area. She is passionate about research and policy development, as well as community development.

In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, beading/jewelry making, embroidering, playing D&D, and painting min-figurines. Tegan also enjoys spending time with her husband and their cat.

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.

Emika Peterson

Evaluation and Project Assistant, ABCD Initiative

Emika works as an Evaluation and Project Assistant for the Awareness Builds Connection In Dementia Friendly Communities project with RDN. She is excited to be a part of this project in addressing the stigma and raising awareness of dementia in rural communities. Emika recently moved to Edmonton from Vancouver, and she is currently completing her Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy at the University of Alberta. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Sciences from Simon Fraser University, where she became passionate about addressing health inequities, taking a holistic approach to health, and exploring health policies and their impacts. In her spare time, Emika enjoys hiking, camping, going to the gym, and skiing/snowboarding.

Taylor Sparklingeyes

Project Manager, Indigenous Data Collection

Taylor works with the Rural Development Network as a Project Manager for the Indigenous Data Collection. Taylor holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Concordia University of Edmonton. She is a Indigenous-Cree woman from Treaty 6 territory. Taylor is very passionate about working with Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous communities, and youth.

In her spare time, Taylor enjoys spending time with her family, and taking spontaneous road trips to explore new places. During her time with RDN, she hopes to decolonize and transform Indigenous Homelessness.

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.

Daniela Seiferling

Program Manager, Work-Integrated Learning

Daniela is the Program 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.

Robin Kyler

Employer Engagement Coordinator, Work-Integrated Learning

Robin joined the Rural Development Network in 2021 and she has worked in the non-profit sector since 2009 in a variety of different administrative and coordinating positions. Her role within the Work Integrated Learning project allows her to engage with employers across rural Alberta and Canada, assisting them to connect with skilled post secondary students in order to meet their capacity needs. Working alongside the WIL team to generate awareness of the program and improve its accessibility and impact.

Robin is passionate about connecting people to the information and support they need in order to achieve individual and collaborative success. She volunteers with her local community league and enjoys advocating for positive change through engagement with local organizations and government. She believes strongly in community lead initiatives to be the key to creating long term positive impact. She lives in Edmonton with her family and enjoys hiking in the mountains, reading, collecting and drinking different teas, and foraging for wild mushrooms in the fall.

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.

Deborah Movoria

Communications and Event Planning Specialist

Deborah works with the Rural Development Network as a Communications and Event Planning specialist with the Work-Integrated Learning Initiative. She comes to RDN as an experienced journalist, television and documentary producer, and corporate communications strategist.

Deborah has a Master's in Journalism from the University of Regina in 2022, a Master's in Media and Communication from Pan-Atlantic University in 2017, and a double degree Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Education from the University of Benin in 2014.

Having a long background in the media industry merged with a pedagogy history, Deborah’s past research focused on the connection between the quality of post-secondary education and the quality of the labour force in African countries. As well as the role of the media in calling attention to the gaps identified.

Thus far, Deborah is focused on supporting the short to long-term goals of the WIL initiative. Her hobbies include networking, researching and cultural exploration.