Meet the 2023 Lead LA Cohort

We’re thrilled to announce our fifth Lead LA cohort!

Ashley Portillo-Baloy
Associate Director
Ichor Strategies, Los Angeles
As an Associate Director for Ichor Strategies, a New York consulting firm with a presence in Los Angeles, Ashley helps Fortune 500 companies rethink their community engagement strategies so that resources and opportunities are deployed equitably within the neighborhoods they serve. Previously, Ashley served as the Public Policy Specialist for Child360 where she engaged childcare providers and families in legislative and budget advocacy for equitable policies and investments in early childhood education in California. In that role, she also created and facilitated bilingual 2020 U.S. Census, Elections 101, and Advocacy 101 workshops across Los Angeles County’s hardest-to-count neighborhoods. Ashley earned a master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and bachelor’s degrees in Latin American Studies and International Studies from the University of California, San Diego. She enjoys summer road trips with her husband, Ron, and morning walks with her Shar-pei, Lily.

Bhuvan Bajaj
Transportation Engineer
City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation
Bhuvan is a Transportation Engineer for the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (LADOT), with 20 years of professional experience in the Public Sector.  He is the District Traffic Engineer that initiates transportation improvement projects, and manages the day-to-day operations for the Hollywood-Wilshire region of Los Angeles.  This area includes Hollywood, Mid-City, Koreatown, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, West Adams, and Leimert Park.  His professional experience spans from the highly technical side of Intelligent Traffic Management Systems, to establishing collaborative relationships with the Offices of Elected Officials, and Community Stakeholders to address regional Traffic Engineering issues.  Bhuvan has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and an M.S. in Engineering Management, both from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.  He is a licensed Professional Traffic Engineer in the State of California.  Aside from his career, Bhuvan serves on both the Redondo Beach Public Works Commission, and on the Redondo Beach General Plan Advisory Committee.

Caroline Edwards
Podcast Agent
Creative Artists Agency
Caroline Edwards is a Podcast Agent at leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), where she represents many of the most successful podcast properties, creators, and production companies including Morgan Givens’ Flyest Fables, Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers’ Pantsuit Politics, and Danny Pellegrino’s Everything Iconic, among others. She also works on behalf of such artists as Jesse Tyler Ferguson, John Stamos, Alan Cumming, Tig Notaro, and Tori Spelling on their work in the podcast space. Edwards joined CAA in 2022, after serving as ICM Partners’ Director of Podcast Initiatives. She previously served as Creative Director for ICM Politics, utilizing her background as a member of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. Prior to joining ICM, Edwards was a Television Development Executive for Time Inc. and Balasco Productions.

Catherine Coddington
Campaign Consultant
Jesse Gabriel for Assembly
Catherine Coddington is a Consultant for Jesse Gabriel for Assembly. She previously served as Finance Director for Christy Smith for Congress and District Director for California State Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel. She has worked on the campaigns for Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Hilda Solis and former California State Senator Fran Pavley. Catherine has served on the board of ONEgeneration since 2019 and is involved in Democratic politics, currently serving as 2nd Vice Chair for the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley. In 2018, Catherine was selected as an Organizing Leadership Fellow with the Hub Project. She has previously volunteered with Planned Parenthood and Organizing for Action. She is looking forward to working collaboratively with community leaders to address the most challenging issues facing Los Angeles.

Desa Philadelphia
Writer/Editor/Communication Strategist
USC School of Cinematic Arts
Desa Philadelphia is a Writer, Editor and Communication Strategist with the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She began her career in media as a reporter with the PBS NewsHour and Time Magazine, before working in strategic communication roles with U.N. Global Pulse and other non-profits, and as a freelance journalist. She graduated from City College of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature (Journalism minor) and also earned a master’s degree in Public Diplomacy from USC. She is interested in multiculturalism and globalism and explores these themes in her work. She is on LA Metro’s Westside/Central Service Council and the Communication and Policy Committee for Downtown Women’s Center. She is the author of the book 111 Shops in Los Angeles That You Must Not Miss, which offers a journalistic look at the city through its retail culture. She is currently developing a podcast about migration.

Erica Melton
Director of Finance/City Treasurer
City of San Fernando
Erica Melton is the Director of Finance/City Treasurer for the City of San Fernando, CA.  She has over fifteen years of public financial and performance management experience with service in various state, municipal and school administrative roles. Erica holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance (Millikin University – Decatur, IL) and a Master of Public Administration (Pennsylvania State University – Harrisburg, PA), she brings a unique government, fiscal and policy lens. Erica is a native of St Louis, Missouri, where her interest in the CORO Fellows Program was initially piqued. The timing feels most opportune at this juncture following almost ten years as a Los Angeles resident coupled with the current global, economic and public health challenges.  While everyday is a great day to contribute to serving and shaping our community, the need for collective, inclusive strategic policy development is most pressing now than ever before. Erica looks forward to participating as a member of the CORO Southern California Lead LA program to work alongside like minded community leaders who share this sense of urgency.

Estefania Zavala
Recovery Program Manager
City of Long Beach
Estefania Zavala is the Recovery Program Manager for the City of Long Beach. In her role, Estefania coordinates the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the Long Beach Recovery Act programs. Previously, Estefania was the Digital Innovation Program Manager for the Technology and Innovation Department and she started her career in the City as a Management Assistant. She holds a Master’s in Public Policy from UCLA and is focused on the future of cities and the civic challenges they face. By participating in the CORO Lead Program, she hopes to gain a better understanding of regional challenges and a cross-sectoral network.

Hugo Romero
Deputy Political Director
Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
Hugo Romero serves as the Deputy Political Director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO where he focuses on all elements of the Federation’s political department, including electoral and policy work. In 2018 he launched the Civic Leadership Academy, focusing on developing union members to run for public office. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of California 100,  a transformative statewide initiative focused on inspiring a vision and strategy for California’s next century. Hugo is co-editor of Mike Garcia and the Justice for Janitors Movement and co-author of Orange County on the Cusp of Change. Hugo previously served as Project Manager for the UCLA Labor Center, focusing on labor, immigrant, and young worker issues. In his free time Hugo enjoys the outdoors, good food, and LAFC games. He hopes to develop meaningful relationships with other participants of Lead LA collaborate and learn about each other’s best practices.

Jack Richardson
Project Designer
Jack Richardson is a Project Designer at PlantPrefab, a prefabricated components construction company.  He’s responsible for client management, design decisions, coordination with engineers and 3rd party consultants, acquiring building permits and construction administration, among others to bring projects to completion. He enjoys the majority of what you think about when you hear outdoor activities, cooking, reading, drawing, painting, competing, things that require fine detail, dancing when the mood strikes, being and growing as a generally decent human being and any combination of the above. By participating in the Coro program he’s seeking to elevate his professional and personal capacity to lead a team or group, better identify what a team is missing to achieve success and to gain a more well rounded understanding of best practices for both leading initiatives as well as supporting a group as a participant to facilitate ideal outcomes.

Jasper Chew
Marathon Communications
Jasper Chew is an Associate at Marathon Communications, a Los Angeles-based strategic communications and public affairs firm. In this role, Jasper conducts government, community, and media relations outreach, crafts public affairs plans, and builds broad coalitions in support of clients’ land-use development pursuits across Los Angeles County. Learning about community issues, developing relationships with key stakeholders, and making an impact on the built environment in a number of communities grew his passion for public policy and urban development. After growing up in Pasadena, Jasper graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY, where he was a member of the football team. He is eager to join Coro’s Lead LA program to cultivate his leadership skills and better understand how to shape the future of his city through housing and transportation policy.

Jesse Pittman
Director of Public Affairs
Downtown Women’s Center
Jesse is the Director of Public Affairs at the Downtown Women’s Center, overseeing work streams in institutional giving, systems change, volunteer engagement, and community partnerships. She works closely with the leadership team to drive the organization’s policy agenda and improve public understanding of the unique needs of women experiencing homelessness, while developing strategies to ensure the organization’s financial sustainability and advance its programmatic goals. Previously, Jesse was a Fulbright Fellow and held progressively responsible development roles at the University of Southern California. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the USC Price School and is interested in how systems and policies can be improved to better meet the needs of those they are intended to serve. During her time with Coro, she looks forward to developing new leadership skills, connecting with peers, and expanding her knowledge of LA’s civic sector.

Joe Mills
Senior Director of Financial Planning & Analysis
Children’s Institute
Joe Mills joined CII in February 2018 and leads the Financial Planning & Analysis team at CII. As the Sr. Director of Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A), Joe leads the contract management and financial oversight of program and administrative divisions. Joe also works on developing alternative pay business lines with private payers to diversify CII’s business portfolio.  Prior to joining CII, Joe worked for a school-based travel company, WorldStrides as a Financial Analyst after earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Economics and Masters in Business Administration. Originally from Brighton, England Joe moved to the states on a Tennis scholarship. Through the Coro Lead program, Joe is looking to increase his diverse network within L.A. while also gaining the tools to lead effectively.

Jose Figueroa
Director of IT & Security
The California Endowment
Jose is the Director, Information Technology & Security who provides the vision and leadership for designing, developing and implementing IT initiatives that create organizational value. Responsibilities include influencing and directing TCE’s IT infrastructure and applications evolution to ensure key business strategies and processes are driven by systems that enable change, growth, and flexibility. Jose enjoys playing baseball in his free time and coaching his kids. Jose really hopes to get the knowledge to navigate the politics at work and our executive team.

Joshua Torres
Senior Policy Advisor
Southern California Edison
Joshua Torres is a Senior Policy Advisor with Southern California Edison’s Local Public Affairs department. He is responsible for leading SCE’s external engagement with local governments and community stakeholders around clean energy-related policies. These policy areas include cleaning and modernizing the grid, electric vehicles, and building decarbonization, among others. He works with SCE’s LPA team to educate local government and community stakeholders about SCE’s plan for building a clean energy future and to develop the partnerships necessary to achieve these goals. Joshua sits on the board for the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters. He is participating in the Lead LA program to help him become a more effective leader to help build the clean energy future.

Kevin Bryant
Associate Partner
Edgility Consulting
As an Associate Partner for Edgility Consulting, Kevin leads nonprofit executive searches for organizations doing impactful work in low-income communities and communities of color. In three years, Kevin and his team have placed over 40 executives across the country, including 78% who identify as leaders of color. In 2020, Kevin was selected to Leadership Austin’s, Essential 42 chorot, where he and other leaders built their leadership skills and reimagined systems to expand their local impact. Previously, Kevin was the Director of Recruitment for Uncommon Schools, a network of 53 public charter schools in the Northeast US. During this time, Kevin was selected as an “Emerging Human Capital Leader” in education: a national fellowship led by Education Pioneers and the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy. Kevin holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing from Winston-Salem State University.

Loren Vevaina
Director of Regional Engagement
UCLA Alumni Association
Loren Vevaina is the Director of Regional Engagement at the UCLA Alumni Association. In this role, she builds and strengthens UCLA’s network of 500,000 alumni globally. She manages 20 alumni networks and, as part of this, takes an active role in the recruitment, training, and managing of volunteer leaders to create meaningful and impactful programing in various regions nationwide. Loren received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in sociology and minor in education studies. She has a passion for educational equity. Through the Coro Lead LA program, she hopes to better understand and address public policy challenges that face the Los Angeles community, while working alongside her peers to become more civically engaged.

Louis Spanias
Senior Consultant, Cities
Buro Happold
Louis is a climate action specialist and Senior Consultant at Buro Happold in Los Angeles. Louis works with local governments, public agencies, and universities to develop climate policy frameworks and programs that mitigate climate change and advance community-wide adaptation and resilience to its impacts. Louis currently leads the development of multiple sustainability and climate action plans, including the City of Tucson’s forthcoming Resilient Together plan, that are driven by equity-centered community engagement and partnership. With a background in environmental policy and climate science, Louis is interested in equitable, transparent, and just policy development and outcomes for communities that are most vulnerable to climate change. From participating in the Lead LA program and Coro, Louis hopes to learn from his cohort and grow into a community leader that uplifts others and effects lasting and positive change for the underserved and marginalized – in Los Angeles and beyond.

Louis Tse
Student Movement of Justice and Opportunity
Louis Tse is the founder of the Student Movement of Justice and Opportunity (Student MOJO), which provides food, housing, and community to college students experiencing homelessness. He is also a Spacecraft Thermal Engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, building spacecraft to study Earth’s climate and how to better protect our environment and society. He received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at UCLA in 2016.

Maria Morfin
Elementary Literacy Coordinator
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
Maria is an Elementary Literacy Coordinator with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. In her role as literacy coordinator she supports elementary school leaders and teachers in South Los Angeles, Watts, and Boyle Heights by building capacity around literacy instruction. Prior to joining Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Maria was a Teacher For America corp member, taught 5th-7th grade English, and served as an Assistant Principal of KIPP Sol Academy. Maria earned her Master’s of Science in Literacy and Reading Education from Cal State Fullerton and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Occidental College.

Michael Shilstone
Director of Economic Development
Central City Association of Los Angeles
Michael is the Director of Economic Development for the Central City Association of Los Angeles (CCA). He manages CCA’s research and advocacy on economic development, housing and land use policies and issues, and aims to foster economic development capacity by serving as a bridge between the public and private sectors. Previously, Michael worked as a real estate and economic development consultant for HR&A Advisors and in the communications office of the New York City Department of City Planning. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Manhattan College and a Master of Urban Planning with a concentration in Economic Development from the University of Southern California. Michael is excited to join Lead LA to develop his leadership and management skills to positively impact communities, and to learn from a driven and diverse group of peers and leaders.

Milena Acosta
Senior Manager of Community Engagement
Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
Milena Acosta is a marine biologist, science communicator, and the Senior Manager of Community Engagement for the Natural History Museum, La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, and the William S. Hart Museum. In her role, she fosters relationships with community-based organizations and implements a comprehensive community engagement strategy for creating community partnerships and programs in L.A. County. She oversees several collaborative programs and works with community stakeholders to ensure inclusive and authentic partnerships are aligned with the community’s aspirational goals. Milena holds a B.S. in Biology from Loyola Marymount University and a Masters in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University. She is a California Association of Museums board member and serves on the Advisory Council for ExpandLA and LA STEM Collective. Milena joined Coro Lead LA to develop her leadership skills further and work with others to build a better community in L.A.

Minna Carreon
Program Manager
Minna Carreon is a Program Manager currently living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Her areas of focus are to model and support staff in delivering high quality employment services to the Chrysalis community. As an integral piece of the Client Services team, she has assisted hundreds of clients learn job readiness skills, find employment and become self-sufficient. Minna is an alumna from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) with a Major in Criminal Justice and Minor in Classics: Greek Civilization, after Founding The CSULB Clothesline Project and becoming a member of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. where she currently serves on their National Board as the Vice President of Finance. When she isn’t changing lives, Minna loves spending time with her family exploring any and all food locations in Southern California with her husband, their two sons, and new puppy Snow! She is hoping to expand her leadership skills and get out of her comfort zone.

Nick Efron
Policy & Partnerships Manager
Nick is the Policy & Partnerships Manager for Veo, one of micromobility’s fastest growing and most innovative companies with partners across dozens of cities and universities nationwide including here in Los Angeles County. Based out of Veo’s Santa Monica headquarters, Nick is responsible for overseeing government relations, policy affairs, and community engagement and partnerships throughout Southern California and adjacent geographies. Before joining Veo, Nick worked across public-private partnerships in Los Angeles including as the Director of Public Space and Operations for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. and as a Project Manager for West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. Nick received his undergraduate education from the University of Michigan, his master’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning from UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, and is LEED AP ND accredited. Nick joined Coro to continue to build cross-sectoral relationships and gain additional perspectives in an effort to help solve issues most pressing to Los Angeles.

Rachel Sherrell
Field Deputy
Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kuehl, SD-3
Rachel Sherrell serves as County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s East-Area, West/Metro LA Field Deputy, covering the communities between the City of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Rachel has the distinct privilege of advocating for Supervisor Kuehl’s most vulnerable constituents in some of the densest areas of the Third District and connects them to County resources. Originally from the Eastern Coachella Valley, Rachel is passionate about income inequality and the relationship between economic security and civic engagement.  In addition to working for Supervisor Kuehl, Rachel has years of experience working within State and Federal offices. Rachel led all work on A.B. 2537 on behalf of Assemblymember V Manuel Perez, which took the first steps towards repealing Zero Tolerance in public schools and was signed into law by Governor Brown. Rachel is excited for the opportunity to join Lead LA to further learn and grow as an advocate for the people of LA.

RJ Sakai
Director of Social Innovation and Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
Sequoyah School
As Director of Social Innovation at Sequoyah School, RJ oversees the development of the Social Innovation Program, a co-curricular changemaking curriculum for high school students. Additionally, as Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, RJ helps those around him design systems that keep the school community responsive to the lived experiences of their community members. After graduating from Hampshire College studying design and anthropology, RJ earned his MFA in Media Design Practices at ArtCenter College of Design where he used pinball to communicate between city governments and residents. In 2016, he served as Designmatters Fellow in Mayor Garcetti’s Innovation Team. As a member of the Lead LA cohort, RJ hopes to gain skills that he can pass on to students that will help them better wield and yield their power for sustainable change. He has 12 more U.S. state capitals to visit and is recently hooked on bike touring.

Robin Lindsley
Bilingual MTSS and Social Emotional Learning Services Manager

Robin is a Bilingual MTSS and SEL Professional Services Manager for RethinkEd working across LAUSD. In this role, she collaborates with teachers and administrators to develop cohesive multi-tiered systems of support that increase the individualization of each student’s path to behavioral and academic success. She facilitates this school-wide change by pairing systems thinking with the implementation of social-emotional learning for teachers and students in equal parts. Robin’s passions outside of work include making dinner for friends, backpacking, and practicing yoga. Robin is committed to developing a depth of self-awareness that leads to a full expression of her ability to enact large-scale change. Robin hopes to complete the Coro Lead LA Program with an understanding of how to use her power and a deeper connection to a network of change-makers in Los Angeles.

Rosie Torres
Program Officer
ECMC Foundation
Rosario Torres is a Program Officer at ECMC Foundation in Los Angeles, CA. In this role, she manages a portfolio of grants focused on improving persistence and completion rates of students, particularly historically underserved students enrolled in Career and Technical Education programs at our nation’s engines of economic prosperity, community colleges. Rosario has more than nine years of combined K-12 and higher education experience. As a former financial aid and college admissions counselor, she’s committed to helping students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds access and graduate from college. Rosario received her BA in English Education and Chicano and Latino studies from California State University, Long Beach and her MA in Higher Education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Rosario is a first-generation college graduate. Outside of work, Rosario enjoys cooking, running, practicing yoga, finding good local eats and spending time with family and friends. She looks forward to making lifelong connections with other CORO fellows.

Samir Alvarez
Program Manager
Samir Alvarez is Program Manager for Chrysalis. Samir’s professional responsibility is to ensure that his team has the tools and motivation to help clients attain self-sufficiency through employment and resources. When he is not  in the office, Samir likes to hike and watch movies. He hopes to collaborate with other individuals in leadership roles as to see how they can better motivate our teams and maximize our efforts to help the people they serve.

Steph Silver
Store Manager
Hatch Collection
Steph is a native Angeleno with a decade of retail management experience. She leads a small but mighty sales team at Hatch Collection, a luxury maternity store and community builder for new and expectant moms in Brentwood. She hosts C-level networking events for tech professionals with British Marketing agency Chief Nation. Prior to that she was an avant garde theater actress in NYC with a focus on devising immersive experiences for audiences that question social norms and bring forth ideas of liberation. She’s been a Mentor at Young Storytellers and part of the Host Committee for LA’s Best. As a new mama of 2 boys, her concern for the next generations is more prescient than ever, especially concerning gun violence, water resources, big data and women’s rights. She hopes to find new opportunities to become an activist, build networks and learn how to become a better leader.

Tim Sarell
Senior Visual Services Advisor, Strategic Communications and Engagement
Tim is a Senior Visual Services Advisor for SoCalGas. In this role, he and his team work collaboratively to produce hundreds of photo and video projects for his entire company. These projects vary from executive headshots to social videos and magazine ads. Tim is part of a small team but is trusted by thousands of employees to tell their story and even go to the frontlines and capture various projects in the field. Photography is something that he has been passionate about, both personally and professionally, for the last 12 years. Outside of work, Tim’s weekends are usually filled with photographing cars at car events and even freelance projects that he engages in. He hopes that by joining LEAD LA he can learn from like minded people who share the same goals and implement it into his everyday life both within the workplace and beyond.