It Takes a Community


Advisory Council

Kara A. Millonzi

Associate Professor of Public Law and Government, University of North Carolina School of Government.

Kara A. Millonzi specializes in local government law, public finance, utilities and public schools. She previously practiced law with Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault, LLP in Boston and clerked for the Honorable Louis F. Oberdorfer, United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Millonzi earned a B.A. in economics, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University at Buffalo and an MA in economics from the University of Maryland at College Park. She earned a J.D., with highest honors, Order of the Coif, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Linda Struyk Millsaps

Research Director, NC Association of County Commissioners

Dr. Linda Struyk Millsaps teaches in the UNC on-line MPA program and is a visiting lecturer at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Dr. Millsaps holds a Ph.D. from West Virginia University, a Master of Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a B.S. from The American University.

Jerry Schafer

Vice President for Worldwide Development, McDonald’s Corporation

Jerry Schafer has led acquisitions for McDonald’s China and the Asia Pacific Division and was the Chief Financial Officer for Chipotle Mexican Grill. Mr. Schafer is a CPA with a wealth of financial knowledge and experience in corporate development and acquisitions.

Joe Waters

Vice President, Institute for Child Success 

Joe Waters leads the Institute’s policy and research programs, including the exploration of using Pay for Success financing for early childhood programs. He holds a B.A. from Furman University and a Master of Divinity from Duke University.

Mark Wells

Economic and Community Development Expert in Rural NC Communities

Mark Wells led the creation of an entrepreneurial and technology-based economic development organization, the Rockingham County Business & Technology Center). In 2011, the RCBTC won the Governor’s Innovative Small Business Community Award for Rockingham County. Most recently, Wells served as Business Development Director for the City of Reidsville, NC. Wells was named to the Triad Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 list in 2009. Wells holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Lisa Finaldi

Community Engagement Leader, NC Early Childhood Foundation

Lisa has over 25 years of experience as a non-profit leader at the state, national and international levels. She leads NCECF’s Family Forward NC initiative and co-leads the NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Prior to NCECF, as National Campaigns Director at Greenpeace US, Lisa directed numerous successful initiatives on environmental and public health policy. She designed and led the first global investigation to test ingredients in children’s toys and products, resulting in consumer protection policy changes in over 20 countries. During her tenure at Greenpeace, Lisa formed Greenpeace Solutions, dedicated to accelerating innovation to address climate change.

Grace Reef

Founder, Early Learning Policy Group

Grace Reef is a veteran political and policy strategist. She worked for 17 years in the U.S. Senate as a senior policy advisor on issues related to families with children and was the Chief of Policy & Evaluation for seven years at the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (Child Care Aware® of America). Her experience ranges from child care, Head Start, and state pre-k to welfare reform and family economic stability. She has worked with a number of state coalitions in partnership with the Alliance for Early Success seeking to strengthen access to quality child care.

Cedric Johnson

Logan Rockefeller Harris

Senior Public Policy Analyst, NC Budget and Tax Center

Logan is committed to using research as a tool for building community power to advance racial and economic justice. She has conducted mixed-methods research and supported advocacy campaigns on a range of policy issues, including economic security, housing, and the criminal legal system, with a focus on how policy change can support public health and well-being. Before coming to the NC Justice Center, Logan worked at the national nonprofit Human Impact Partners, where she managed participatory, policy-focused research projects in collaboration with community organizers, advocates, and local government leaders. Logan holds Master of City Planning, Master of Public Health, and Bachelor’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

Alexandra Sirota

Alexandra Sirota

Director, NC Budget and Tax Center

Alexandra Forter Sirota’s expertise includes human rights, community development, anti-poverty programs and asset building policy. She previously coordinated research on family economic security at Action for Children NC. Sirota worked in the Community Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on a system-wide research effort to document concentrated poverty and at Toynbee Hall in London on an initiative to connect unbanked residents with financial institutions.  Sirota received a B.S. from Haverford College and a joint master’s degree in International Relations and Public Policy from the University of Chicago.


Cedric Johnson

Cedric Johnson

Policy Analyst, NC Budget and Tax Center

Cedric Johnson previously served as a State Policy Fellow at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, sponsored by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. His research focused on the impact of education on economic growth in Georgia from early childhood to higher education. Cedric holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, a master’s in Public Policy from The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a B.S. in economics from Clemson University.


Gia Dehart

Graduate Student at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University; Expected Graduation Date: 2023

Gia commissioned as a Naval Officer in 2012 from the US Naval Academy, where she graduated with distinction as a Chief of Naval Operations Distinguished Graduate and a Bachelor of Science in English. She has spent the majority of her career advising executive leadership on policy implementation in the areas of public affairs, legal, and human resources.

Alicia Cook

2017-2018 Public Allies Apprentice at the North Carolina Justice Center

Sarah Fitzpatrick

Graduate student at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University; Expected Graduation Date: 2022

Sarah graduated from the University of Chicago in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. After college, she briefly worked at a classical music radio station and then as an environmental consultant in the Pacific Northwest region. She is interested in studying applications of behavioral economics to improve and implement environmental policy, especially within climate change policy.

Leah Price

2018 Programs Technician, City of Greensboro Budget & Evaluation Department

Anna Fleming

Graduate student at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University; Expected Graduation Date: 2022

Anna graduated from the College of Wooster in 2015 with a degree in Political Science (with a focus on Political Theory). After graduating, she worked with the Nashville Public Education Foundation as a policy fellow for a year before spending the following four years in the network administration of a Nashville-based charter organization. This experience bolstered her drive to study policy that can most effectively provide widespread support to students impacted by poverty.

Nathalie Santos

Public Administration and Public Policy graduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Yixuan Li

Graduate student at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University; Expected Graduation Date: 2022

Yixuan graduated from Brandeis University in 2020, majored in Economics & International and Global Studies, and minored in philosophy. She has completed several internships in the field of healthcare, from a pharmaceutical company to a healthcare consulting firm. She is currently exploring economic development policies as well as how countries should address the global pandemic.


Seth Saeugling

2016 Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellow

The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation has a bold vision that each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. NCECF builds public will by advancing understanding of birth-through-eight child development and promotes practice and policy solutions that drive aligned action to support each child being on a pathway to grade-level reading. Much of this work happens through our initiatives:

The NC Budget & Tax Center is a non-partisan organization that works to document fiscal and economic conditions in communities to support the work of people, organizations, and government to advance solutions to poverty and pursue racial equity. It offers timely and accessible analysis along with an expanded emphasis on the trusting partnerships and inclusion of community expertise in order to identify issues and solutions to prioritize to secure a better North Carolina.

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