Our main office is in New York City, and we also have an office in Oakland (California) and field staff based in Chicago, Madison, and Cambridge. See full bios at the bottom of the page.


Josh Lerner, Executive Director – New York
staff_josh-lernerJosh is co-founder and executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. He has over 15 years of experience developing, researching, and working with leading community engagement programs across North America, Latin America, and Europe. His work on participatory budgeting has been recognized by The White House as a model for open government, and by the Brown Democracy Medal as the best practical innovation advancing democracy around the world. He completed a PhD in Politics at the New School for Social Research and a Masters in Planning from the University of Toronto. He is the author of Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics (MIT Press, 2014), Everyone Counts: Could Participatory Budgeting Change Democracy? (Cornell University Press, 2014), and over 20 articles.
Jennifer Godzeno, Deputy Director – New York
staff_jenheadshotsept2016Jennifer is a nationally-recognized expert at building interdisciplinary coalitions and initiatives that effect equitable community development. She is a 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. At PBP,  she leads organization-wide strategic planning to ensure our programs and internal operations reflect the qualities that make participatory budgeting uniquely effective: empowerment, transparency, and radical inclusion. Jennifer brings over a decade of experience in nonprofit management, grassroots advocacy, and community-grounded research. As a researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and as Planning Director at Transportation Alternatives, she advanced the field of active design through innovations in community outreach and data-driven infrastructure investment, including engagement with low-income communities of color. She holds Master of Public Health and MS Urban Planning degrees from Columbia University, and double-majored in neuroscience and music at Amherst College. Jennifer resides with her husband and daughter in Stamford, CT, where she serves as an appointed member of the city planning board and is active in her local church.
Shari Davis, Director of Strategic Initiatives – Oakland
staff_shariShari is responsible for the strategic development and management of PBP’s network-building work and for launching new high impact participatory budgeting processes. She joined PBP staff after nearly 15 years of service and leadership in local government. As Director of Youth Engagement and Employment for the City of Boston she launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth participatory budgeting process in the US, which won the US Conference of Mayors’ City Livability Award. Shari first got involved in city government in high school, serving as the Citywide Neighborhood Safety Coordinator on the Boston Mayor’s Youth Council and working at the Mayor’s Youthline. Shari is a graduate of Boston University’s Sargent College for Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and holds a master’s degree in anatomy and physiology.
David Beasley, Communications Director – New York
staff_davidbeasley2014David brings more than eight years experience in telling and sharing stories that change the way we understand the world. He leads PBP’s work to make participatory budgeting easier to understand, easier to implement, and easier share. Story drives, media training, and digital campaigns are tools David uses to make sure that more voices are heard in important conversations. He believes that good design is the foundation for sharing tools and stories that people actually use.Before joining PBP, he was Public Relations Manager at Safe Horizon, and Communications Manager for Scenarios USA. He has also done pro-bono communications work for Hollaback! and the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, among others.When he’s not thinking about stories and strategy, David can probably be found walking around Brooklyn with his partner and baby or strumming songs to the same on his mandolin.
Maria Hadden, Midwest and South Senior Project Manager – Chicago
staff_mhaddenprofile2Maria Hadden is a founding board member of the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP). Maria first became involved in PB as a budget delegate during the very first PB cycle in the US in 2009 and is currently the Senior Project Manager for the Midwest and South. Maria’s expertise in public participation is grounded in grassroots organizing efforts for social change. In both her professional and civic life, she creates space for effective public engagement and the implementation of transformative processes. Maria has years of facilitation and training experience previously working as a mediator and mediation trainer with the Interfaith Center for Peace in Columbus, Ohio. She earned her B.A. in International Peace and Conflict Studies from The Ohio State University before moving to Illinois to serve as an AmeriCorps*VISTA. Maria’s interests in community voice and the role of civil society were the focus on her graduate studies at DePaul University where she earned an M.S. in International Public Service Management. Maria lives with her partner in Chicago, IL and works nationally and abroad.
Ginny Browne, West Coast Project Manager – Oakland
staff_ginny-browneGinny manages PBP’s West Coast projects. She completed her Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning at UCLA, where she did extensive research on participatory budgeting in North America. With PBP, she coordinated the first city-wide PB process in the US, in Vallejo, CA. Prior to joining PBP, Ginny worked as a community organizer with the grassroots New York organization Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), a researcher with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the Bay Area, and an AmericorpsVISTA associate with Fifth Avenue Committee, a community development corporation in Brooklyn. She has collaborated with a wide range of agencies and organizations, from LA’s Strategic Actions for a Just Economy to the Federal Transportation Administration, to engage local communities on issues such as workforce development, affordable housing preservation, and transportation equity. Ginny also has a background in community media and has reported news for National Public Radio and the Pacifica Network.
Melissa Appleton, East Coast Project Manager – New York

Melissa Headshot

Melissa manages the implementation of PB projects and innovations on the East Coast. With over eight years of experience supporting group and inter-personal dialogue as a facilitator, mediator, and trainer at the largest community mediation organization in the US (New York Peace Institute), she brings a passion for collective decision-making to participatory budgeting. Melissa is happy to be supporting group deliberation with diverse communities more locally after doing conflict resolution work internationally in Timor-Leste, Kosovo, and Israel. She received a graduate degree in Peace Education from Columbia University and, though a proud Vancouver native, has called New York City home for over 11 years

Francesco Tena, West Coast Project Manager – Oakland
Francesco guides and grows PB on the West Coast. He started his career as a teenager in City Hall, surrounded by adults who actually listened. Since then, Francesco has been dedicated to addressing youth employment disparities, developing meaningful civic engagement in local government, and empowering people to take control of their future (and their budgets). Prior to joining PBP, Francesco worked in youth development for 10 years. At the Boston Public Health Commission, he supported programming designed to diversify the pool of health professionals in Boston. Francesco then went on to lead youth civic engagement for the City of Boston as the Manager of the Mayor’s Youth Council. In this capacity, he oversaw the first three cycles of Youth Lead the Change, the nation’s first youth exclusive PB process and winner of the 2016 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation. Francesco is also a tech enthusiast and wannabe chess master.
Lize Mogel, Development Manager – New York
staff_lizemogel_smLize manages PBP’s grants and institutional giving. She is a grantwriter and development consultant who has been fundraising for cultural and social justice organizations for more than a decade, including for organizations such as the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES). Lize is also an artist and counter-cartographer who works with the intersection of art, geography, and popular education. She is co-editor of the book/map collection “An Atlas of Radical Cartography” and has presented her work internationally.

Hadassah Damien, Manager of Engagement Technology – New York
staff_hdamienHadassah Damien develops and designs digital and analog technologies that are human-centered, accessible, and grow communities. As a technologist with nine years experience building within grassroots movements, and a community organizer for over a dozen years, she intersects functionality with agility, practicality, and the democratic politics of open-source cultures in her work. At PBP, Hadassah manages Participation Lab projects, works with other civic technologists to better the ecosystem of digital PB tools, and develops interfaces to deliver data to humans. Hadassah Damien is also a multimedia artist, LGBTQ community art curator, and builds digital archives. Before joining PBP, she was a worker-owner at Openflows Community Technology. She holds a MA in American Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center, and a HBA in English & Semiotics from the University of Toronto. She blogs at, tweets @hadassahdamien, and absolutely wants to hear about your relevant ideas and tech projects, so email her! When not hacking for a more equitable world, she can be found on her bicycle.
Naiyma Holmes, Operations Manager – New York
staff_naiymaNaiyma is responsible for managing PBP’s operations and financial protocols. Prior to PBP, Naiyma worked for Red Hook Initiative, a community-based nonprofit serving public housing residents, for eight years in a number roles, most recently as the Finance Manager. In that position, she developed and ensured compliance with financial protocols, as well as helped manage a $3M budget. As a life-long resident of Brooklyn, Naiyma knows first hand how it feels to be disconnected from decisions that are made in communities. She was drawn to PBP because of its ability to build stronger communities by drawing on the experience of those who live there.
Rossanna Mercedes, Volunteer Coordinator – New York
staff_rossanna-headshot-e1464987808325Rossanna coordinates volunteer recruitment, training, and support for PBP. Prior to PBP, Rossanna was the District Director for the office of New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, where she implemented one of the most successful PB processes in the country. In 2015, she coordinated the office’s get out the vote campaign, turning out over 6,000 voters, far exceeding any other district’s voter turnout. Two-thirds of these votes were cast on Chinese and Spanish language ballots – a testament to an effective organizing strategy and multi-cultural perspective. When there’s time, Rossanna also enjoys acting and performing. She deeply believes in the power of art to reflect, challenge, and transform political life – much like PB!
Harvir Kaur, Individual Giving Coordinator – New York
staff_harvir-kaur-headshot-1Harvir leads the growth of an individual donor base that can support PBP’s work to empower thousands of people and reinvent democracy. Previously, Harvir worked with Brandworkers as their Development Coordinator leading their fundraising efforts and helping key allies engage with local food-making workers to escalate the effort for a just food system. Before Brandworkers, Harvir worked with the Brooklyn Movement Center as their food sovereignty organizer where she partnered closely with local residents to challenge racial inequity in the food system. She has also worked on several other social justice projects, including an analysis of the barriers to low income people’s access to dental health care services, and interviews with detainees in the Baltimore City Detention Center to evaluate health care services inside the jail. In 2011-2012, Harvir worked as a Bill Emerson Fellow through the Congressional Hunger Center in Jackson, Mississippi, where she analyzed food insecurity issues faced by senior citizens, and in Washington, D.C., where she analyzed the racial wealth gap in the United States. Harvir got her undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University and completed her Masters of Public Administration from NYU’s Wagner School.
Valerie Warren, Greensboro Community Engagement Coordinator – Greensboro
Valerie supports the development of participatory budgeting processes in the South. As a community organizer, facilitator, and strategist with more than two decades of experience, she has been involved in a variety of campaigns and projects to address issues of racial, economic, gender and environmental justice while building community power. For the past four years she has worked with the Organize 2020, the social justice caucus of the North Carolina Association of Educators, working on campaign planning, strategic communications, and parent organizing. In her professional life she has acted as a project manager in a variety of settings including refugee resettlement, supply chain management, purchasing, sales, marketing, and publishing. She has never met a project she wasn’t curious about or an issue she didn’t want to understand and explore. She is extremely excited about the potential of participatory budgeting as a tool to organize the south. When she is not plotting and scheming for how to make a better world, she loves to spend time with her partner, two kids and magnificent cat, go for a run, or engage in the fine art of porch sitting with friends.
Solaire Spellen, Program Associate – Oakland
Solaire supports PBP’s West Coast projects and operations at our Oakland office. Since 2014, Solaire has assisted in developing numerous materials for PB processes in California and across the organization. In 2016, she spearheaded PBP’s Outreach Toolkit, a guide to engaging underrepresented communities in participatory budgeting. Solaire is currently working closely on PB Long Beach and PB Oakland and is in the process of obtaining a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health from UC Berkeley. She is deeply interested in how participatory budgeting plays a role in the improvement of communities and population health.
Ashley Brennan, Program Associate – Oakland
staff_brennanAshley supports the North American PB Network, PBP’s Participation Lab, and local PB processes and campaigns—all with an emphasis on youth involvement in PB. As an Arizona native, Ashley coordinates the Phoenix Union High School District PB process—the first school district wide PB process in the U.S. She is a graduate of Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, where she synthesized the first formal evaluation of youth PB in Romania as her honors thesis using interdisciplinary academic training in psychology and human rights—and with a focus on social science research in social change.
Lila Barrett, Development and Operations Associate – New York
staff_lilaLila supports development and operations at PBP’s East Coast office. As a Brooklyn native, Lila has grown up around rapid urban transformation and displacement, leading to her interest in urban social justice. She first heard of PB while researching ways to address resident engagement in NYC public housing. Lila received her BA in Urban Studies from the New School, where her focus was racial justice and spatial politics.
Giselle Blanco-Santana, Executive Assistant – New York
staff_giselleGiselle is supports the East Cost office as executive assistant. Her interest in PB began after taking a course in Latin American social movements, where she learned about the origins of the process and the aftermath of its Brazilian birth. Believing that democracy in the United States has the potential to give the voiceless a voice, she is excited to join the efforts of the organization. She holds a BA in International Relations and Latin American Studies with a minor in Arts Leadership from Boston University. In her free time she likes to paint and go for nature walks.
Jake Carlson, Research Fellow – Madison
staff_jakeJake supports PBP’s efforts to build shared research and evaluation tools across North America. He is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has already completed his Master’s Degree. Previously, he was the transportation equity coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and the New York State Transportation Equity Alliance. He helps coordinate the Research Committee for the Right to the City Alliance, and is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 3220. His research is on urban transformation, and how communities can pursue development without displacement. Jake’s work has been focused on what happens when people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.