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.


Cedric Johnson

Cedric Johnson

Policy Analyst, NC Budget and Tax Cetnter

Cedric Johnson previously he 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.

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.

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.



Alicia Cook

Public Allies Apprentice at the North Carolina Justice Center

A political science student at North Carolina A&T State University, Alicia Cook joined the North Carolina Justice Center as a Public Ally in December 2016. Prior to working with the Justice Center, Alicia was a Field Organizer for the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Alicia is an advocate for Social Justice and Legislative Reform that benefits all people.

Leah Price

Programs Technician, City of Greensboro Budget & Evaluation Department

Leah Price is the Programs Technician in the City of Greensboro’s Budget and Evaluation Department. She believes that all children deserve to start life with an even playing field. As a graduate student, her research focused on the effects of public policy on racial/ethnic integration in public schools nationwide. She also reported on the local network of non-profit organizations that are working together with Guilford County Schools to combat food insecurity. Leah holds a MPA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government and a B.A. in Sociology from North Carolina State University.

Seth Saeugling

Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation 2016 Fellow

Seth currently works at T Lab, the Research & Design arm of Tipping Point Community, an anti­-poverty grant­ making organization in the Bay Area. At T Lab, Seth is part of the Kindergarten Readiness Team working to build and test new programs to support Oakland parents of kids 0­-5. Prior to T Lab, Seth taught high school special education at Leadership Public School Hayward, a top 200 public school nationally, where he participated in the New Leaders Instructional Leader Fellowship. He entered the teaching profession in North Carolina at Warren County High School through Teach For America. Seth earned a joint B.S. in Business Management and Sustainability Studies from the University of Minnesota where he co-­founded and led the Youth Music Education Foundation.

Nathalie Santos

Student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As an undergraduate at Temple University, Nathalie studied Early Childhood and Elementary Education where she learned the importance of utilizing a holistic approach to serving communities. Nathalie currently studies Public Administration and Public Policy in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She hopes to work with local organizations to improve educational programs and create a system to improve community outcomes.


Tracy Zimmerman

Executive Director, North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation 

Tracy has more than 20 years of experience working on behalf of nonprofit, public interest organizations.  Prior to joining NCECF, she led The North Carolina Partnership for Children’s (NCPC) and served as part of a four-member team, led by NCPC’s President, that provided strategic direction for the organization. As part of her engagement efforts, Tracy crafted and obtained funding for the First 2,000 Days campaign. Prior to joining NCPC, Tracy served as the Public Relations Director at FPG Child Development Institute at UNC. She previously served as Senior Vice President at The Hauser Group, a Washington DC-based public relations firm working on behalf of nonprofit organizations and public interest causes.


Linda Finaldi

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 the First 2000 Days initiative and the 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.

NCECF is the state lead for the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaborative effort to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. 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.
To inform North Carolinians, the Budget and Tax Center analyzes pressing budget, tax and economic decisions facing the state and local communities with an eye to ensuring that economic opportunity is expanded for all.

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