New England Summit Bios


Betty Medina Lichtenstein

Betty Medina Lichtenstein was born and raised in lower east side of Manhattan, New York. She lived in Ponce Puerto Rico for a very short time, where she graduated from high School. She returned to live in Brooklyn New York, where she continued her studies and married her late husband. They later moved to Massachusetts where Betty worked as a community organizer around public health issues and later in the legal arena assisting mostly Puerto Rican tenants living in substandard conditions.

In 1985, Betty ran a successful campaign for a school committee seat in Holyoke, making her the first Puerto Rican woman elected to public office in the state of Massachusetts. She continued to realize her passion and commitment to public education when she became a founding member of the Holyoke Community Charter School opened in September 2005.

She has been the Executive Director of Enlace de Familias de Holyoke Inc. for the past 21 years. Enlace is a non-profit community based organization known for its commitment to community organizing with the Puerto Rican community regarding issues that impact their daily lives.

Edwin Meléndez

Edwin Meléndez is a Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College and the Director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. He has conducted considerable research in the areas of Latino studies, economic development, labor markets, and poverty.

In addition to numerous scientific papers and other publications, he is the co-editor of the recently published Latinos in a Changing Society (Praeger, 2007), and the author or editor of ten books including Communities and Workforce Development (Upjohn Institute: 2004), Working on Jobs: The Center for Employment Training (Boston: Mauricio Gastón Institute,1996), and Hispanics in the Labor Force (Plenum Press,1991).

For over more than twenty years as principal investigator, he has managed over 40 research, outreach or demonstration projects and supervised or collaborated with over 60 researchers in projects that resulted in several edited books, special issues of academic journals, and other publications.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Dr. Meléndez came to the United States in 1978 after receiving a bachelor's degree from the University of Puerto Rico. He earned a master's degree in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and in 1985 received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He began his teaching career at Fordham University in 1984, teaching economics and Puerto Rican studies.

Dennis Rivera

Dennis Rivera is president of RC Consulting, LLC which provides strategic consulting in the areas of health care policy, quality care initiatives and labor/management partnerships. He is the Senior Advisor to the President of SEIU, the largest labor union in the United States representing more than 2.2 million members.

Mr. Rivera is the Secretary of the Partnership for Quality Care (PQC) a national joint labor- management coalition committed to ensuring quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans. It includes public, private, religious, teaching, and not- for-profit hospitals and integrated health systems in the United States. The PQC members care for more than 60 million patients each year.

Mr. Rivera held many other important posts in the national and New York labor movements, and has served on the executive boards of the Children’s Defense Fund, Riverkeeper, the environmental organization, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, the Board of AposTherapy, The Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, The University of Puerto Rico, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission for a Healthy America, and Co-Chaired the New York State Medicaid Redesign Commission. Currently he is an Advisor to the President of Hunter College of the City University of New York on general policy matters.

Joe Rodriguez

Joe Rodriguez is currently the Deputy State Director for the Office of United States Senator Richard Blumenthal. Joe began his political career as a Member of the City of New Haven's Board of Aldermen from 2008-2011.The two-term Democrat was a member of the city's Community Development Committee, City Service Committee, Youth Council, and Secretary of the Board of Aldermen’s Black and Hispanic Caucus.

In April of 2013, Joe was elected to the position of chairman of the CHDC. A position in which he held until April of 2016. From 2011 to 2014, Joe also served as a Connecticut Outreach Organizer for United States Senator Richard Blumenthal where he was a liaison between the Senator's constituency and his Hartford and Washington DC Offices. During this time, he played a key role in decisions around immigration, housing, and minority small business. In 2015, Joe was appointed to the position of Legislative Liaison for New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp where he played a key role in developing policy and managing government affairs for the City of New Haven.

After a one- year absence from the US Senate, Joe returned to the Office of United States Senator Richard Blumenthal to serve as Deputy State Director where he oversees operations for the Senator’s Connecticut offices. He currently sits on the board for Hartford Job Corps, Puerto Ricans United Inc., International Festival of Arts & Ideas and, CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus.

Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Ph.D.

Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Ph.D., is the CEO of IBA-Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, an organization dedicated to empower individuals through education, workforce development and arts programs, and to create vibrant affordable housing communities. During her tenure, IBA has completed a dramatic turnaround that is now largest Latino-led nonprofit in Greater Boston.

Dr. Calderón-Rosado has served as advisor to various task forces, boards, commissions and high-profile searches, including Boston’s Police Department and Public Health Commission. In 2009, she was selected for the prestigious Barr Foundation Fellowship granted to the most gifted non-profit leaders in Greater Boston. In 2010, Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the first Latina in the Commonwealth’s history. She is a Founding Board member of the Margarita Muñiz Academy, the first dual-language innovation high school in Massachusetts.

In November 2013, Mayor-elect Martin Walsh appointed Dr. Calderón-Rosado to co-lead his housing transition team. In April 2014, Mayor Walsh appointed her as a member of his newly formed Housing Task Force. In December 2014, Governor-elect Charlie Baker appointed Dr. Calderón-Rosado to the Safe, Stronger Communities Transition Committee. Dr. Calderón-Rosado is a Puerto Rican-born civic leader who received her doctorate from the UMASS Boston.

Nilda Iris Ruiz

Nilda Iris Ruiz is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. (APM). Since Ms. Ruiz’s arrival in March 2005, APM has embarked on a dynamic, new course which includes a full agency restructuring that maximizes the full potential of the agency’s human and capital resources while building on its nearly 40 years of service to the City’s Eastern North Philadelphia community.

Ms. Ruiz is a Mayoral Appointee to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and in 2008 served as Co-Chair of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s Transition Team. From October 1999 to March 2005, Ms. Ruiz was the Senior Community Development Director for the East Coast at National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national constituency-based Hispanic organization. She managed NCLR’s community development activities from Maine to Puerto Rico; provided training and technical assistance in real estate development finance and organizational management; and originated and underwrote revolving loans for the Raza Development Fund (NCLR’s subsidiary CDFI).

In November 2009, Ms. Ruiz was appointed to the NCLR Board of Directors. She has also been honored with a number of distinguished awards, including the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2009 Women of Distinction Award, Girls Inc. 2008 Strong, Smart and Bold Award, El Sol Latino Newspaper’s 2008 Crystal Award, the 2008 Hispanic Choice Award for Favorite Community Advocate, the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress and Impacto Latin Newspaper’s 2008 and 2009 Most Influential Latinos Award.

Ms. Ruiz has an undergraduate degree from Temple University and a Masters in Business Administration from Eastern College. She and her husband Sasha, a distinguished Iraq war veteran, live with their two children.

Natascha Otero-Santiago

Natascha Otero-Santiago is a Public Relations professional with over 20 years experience in the US Hispanic market. In her role as principal of NOS-Communications, she helps small businesses and Forbes 500 companies create public relations and social media campaigns, as well as community events. Natascha is the founder of Parranda Puerto Rico, an organization whose mission is to unite and help the Puerto Rican diaspora in the US and create links with the population in Puerto Rico.

Among her achievements are being chosen by LATISM in 2015 as a Top Digital Influencer; named by the Huffington Post as one of the world's leading Social Media & Inspirational Leadership; and to have been featured in Forbes as A Puerto Rican Citizen Goes to Washington - for her work with the Puerto Rican vote during the 2012 elections.

Most recently she was honored as a 2016 “Mujer Legendaria” by Ford Motor Company. Natascha is also a member of the steering committee of the National Puerto Rican Agenda, part of the Board of Directors of the Social Media Club and Director of LATISM in South Florida. She has coordinated nationally recognized events such as Mashable Social Media Day, TedxMiami, and Social Media Week in Miami. She has been invited on numerous occasions to speak at conferences about the Hispanic community, the Millennials generation, the Latino vote, and the diaspora Puerto Rican community.

Natascha holds a bachelor's and master’s degrees from Tufts University and is the proud mother of two boys - a Millennial and a GenZ. In social media she can be found as @NataschaOS.

Ruth Santiago, Esq.

Ruth Santiago, Esq., is a resident of Salinas in Southeastern Puerto Rico where she has provided legal representation to community, environmental, fishers and other groups and organizations for thirty years, some of which is documented in a book entitled, “Kicking Off The Bootstraps: Environment, Development, and Community Power in Puerto Rico”. Ruth has taught on a part-time basis at the University of Puerto Rico.

Ms. Santiago earned degrees from Lehigh University and Columbia Law School and published an article entitled, Imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment from use of coal ash as fill material at construction sites in Puerto Rico: A case study, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 37 (2012) 389 – 396, 1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd., doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.03.304.

For the past year Ruth has been working with the Latino Climate Action Network (LCAN) project of El Puente de Williamsburg, Inc. on the administrative proceeding related to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's Integrated Resource Plan. (RUTH PHOTO CREDIT

 Gretchen Sierra-Zorita

Gretchen Sierra-Zorita is an activist, speaker and writer advocating for public policy solutions in Washington, DC with a focus on Hispanic and Puerto Rican issues. She is a respected thought leader, sought for her non-partisan insight and knowledge of the fiscal and social crisis affecting the island of Puerto Rico.

Ms. Sierra-Zorita works tirelessly to bring attention to issues affecting Puerto Ricans on both the island and the mainland. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the National Puerto Rican Agenda - a national coalition of Puerto Rican leaders and organizations focusing on the economic crisis; a member of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda Puerto Rico Working Group; creator of Puerto Rico en Serio - a non-partisan social media page which focuses on issues relevant to Puerto Rico and the diaspora; and one of the founders of Parranda Puerto Rico - a platform which unifies the diaspora and the Puerto Rico people.

In addition to her Puerto Rico advocacy work, Ms. Sierra-Zorita handles media diversity issues for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. She has extensive Federal government experience having worked at the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ms. Sierra-Zorita holds a B.A. from Princeton University and a M.P.A. from Columbia University.

Yanil Terón

Yanil Terón has been at the helm of the Center for Latino Progress – CPRF as its Executive Director since 2007, and has served in various capacities with The Center since 2000. Under her leadership, The Center has expanded its workforce contextualized programming and presented its models at national conferences. The Center has also increased its comprehensive support services (youth, college, career and civics programs) and its adult civic and educational activities while maintaining the organization’s competent services and cultural enrichment programs that foster individual and community growth.

Ms. Terón has been integral in building the agency’s capacity, making it the first Latino agency in the State of Connecticut to provide legal immigration services with the recognition of the Board of Immigration Appeals. She increased the agency’s capacity to offer HUD approved homeownership and financial counseling services. Ms. Terón spearheads The Center’s social enterprise program, BiCi Co. (Bicicleta y Comunidad), the first bike community space, bike shop, and training center in the City of Hartford.

During Ms. Terón’s tenure, The Center has increased its visibility by strategically engaging, collaborating, and expanding its relationships with local, state, and national organizations. Ms. Teron is a member of the Connecticut Civic Health Advisory Group, which is dedicated to increasing participation in a variety of spheres, from civic engagement to political participation to social interactions. Under her direction, The Center has worked in conjunction with the Connecticut Secretary of State, Hispanic Federation, and NALEO Educational Fund to register new voters and GOTV campaigns like Tú Voto Si Cuenta, Movimiento Hispano, and Our Time To Vote.

Locally, she is the co-chair of the Leadership Team of Move Up! This initiative brings together key stakeholders from the adult education community to realize our shared vision of a fully literate Greater Hartford. In her role, she strives to raise the visibility, voice, and issues of the Latino community before a system previously working in silos. She believes that by linking the silos, building on strengths, and affecting policy it will generate a stronger community for all.

Ms. Terón served two terms as the elected Northeast Council Representative to the National Council of La Raza acting as a voice for organizations serving Latinos from Pennsylvania to Maine. In her role as an advocate, Ms. Terón was appointed to the Connecticut State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Advisory Committee is charged with evaluating and reporting on civil rights concerns in the State.

Ms. Terón has an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Public Communication from the University of Puerto Rico, holds a certificate in Nonprofit Management from Baruch College, and is an accredited Board of Immigration Appeals representative.

Ms. Terón was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has been a resident of Connecticut for over three decades and resides in South Windsor.

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