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New Leaders Council

Our Board

Meg Mandy, Chapter Director


Meg Mandy is the Founding Director of New Leaders Council Omaha and has worked on local, state, and federal campaigns across the country. She was part of the team that turned Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District blue in 2008, and then went on to work as the Political Director for the San Diego County Democratic Party, where she helped elect hundreds of Democrats across the state.

Since her return to Nebraska, she has been a senior staff member of a gubernatorial campaign and has managed and consulted on a number of local and municipal campaigns and start-ups. 

In her free time, Meg volunteers in the Omaha community and with NLC nationally, is an advisor for her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, and enjoys theater, cooking, learning, and traveling.


Amanda Ponce, Vice Director

Amanda Ponce is a proud Chicana from Omaha. She is a servant-leader, especially when it comes to her family, students and her community. It is not uncommon to see her behind the scenes making sure everything is running smoothly, putting the needs of others before her own. Amanda is an experienced student advocate, with a proven commitment to uplifting underserved communities.

Amanda received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While at UNL, she became a chapter founder of the Latina-based sorority Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Incorporated. After graduation, Amanda was accepted into the 9-month Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Fellowship in Washington D.C., where she worked with Congresswoman Hilda Solis and the Campaign for Youth Justice. Amanda returned to Nebraska to serve at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Juvenile Services as a juvenile service officer and caseworker. During this time she found a deep passion for working with youth, especially those who have shared similar life experiences.  

The past several years, Amanda has been able to support many first-generation, low-income and underserved students by providing college access. She served as the Assistant Director of Diversity and Community Outreach in the Office of Admissions at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she assisted students and their families. Most recently, she moved into the position of college success navigator at Metropolitan Community College, focusing on the retention of students by providing intrusive academic support to a cohort of students in the Avenue Scholars program.

In addition to breaking down systemic barriers in education, she loves traveling, dancing and digging deeper into her cultural heritage. Amanda’s sense of humor and willingness to trying new things makes it enjoyable to be around her. As a way to give back to those who helped her become the woman she is today, Amanda aspires to help others be the best version of themselves.

Korey Taylor, At-Large

Korey Taylor is an attorney and assistant public defender in Douglas County, Neb., where he practices criminal and parental rights law representing the indigent and others in need of legal assistance. Korey is an experienced legal professional with more than 25 jury trials new to the Omaha area as of August 2015. Prior to joining the office of the Douglas County Public Defender, Korey was an Assistant Public Defender in Orlando, Fla., for five years where he practiced criminal law in misdemeanor and felony divisions. 

Korey relocated to Omaha with his wife, who is tenure-track faculty at Creighton University, his son, who is a high school freshman, and his dog, George, a Cavalier King Charles-Brittany Spaniel mix who the Taylors adopted from an animal humane society. Previously, Korey also worked for Sidley Austin LLP as a Real Estate Associate after his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2008. He is a licensed attorney in Texas, New York, Florida and Nebraska. Prior to attending law school, Korey worked for international health care companies in the accounting and finance fields in Minneapolis, Minn., and Titusville, N.J. Korey is a graduate of Florida A&M University, a historically black college, where he obtained his Bachelor and Master of Business Administration degrees with a concentration in Finance. While attending law school, Korey also earned a Certificate in Business and Public Policy with an emphasis in Real Estate from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Korey, who grew up in Texas, is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, and was initiated into the Beta Nu Chapter of the fraternity while attending Florida A&M. During his educational and professional experiences, Korey has served as treasurer of the Black Law Students Association chapter at his law school, treasurer of his collegiate fraternity chapter and, most recently, was treasurer of the Paul C. Perkins Black Bar Association in Orlando. Korey enjoys playing basketball, working out with his wife, cheering on the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Rockets and traveling when he gets the opportunity. His passion is advocating for others.

Jodi Benenson, At-Large

Jodi Benenson is an assistant professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her research focuses on the intersection between civic engagement, nonprofit organizations, inequality and social policy.

Previously, Jodi was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. At Tufts, she worked on several projects in the areas of youth civic engagement, political learning and engagement in higher education, and national service and employment. Prior to returning to graduate school, Jodi worked in the nonprofit sector in the Twin Cities.

Jodi is actively involved with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) and currently serves on the organization’s national Board of Directors. Jodi received a B.S. and M.P.A. from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Melissa Breazile, At-Large

Melissa Breazile is a Nebraska native and has called Omaha home for over a decade. She received her Master’s Degree in public administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and she holds a Bachelor’s Degree in digital media from Northwest Missouri State University.

Melissa is currently the Marketing Director at Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. Melissa’s work in the political and nonprofit sectors has spanned communications, research, volunteer management, and other roles. Prior to this work, she was a community health educator for Peace Corps Armenia. In a past life, she sharpened her pencil as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Her community involvement includes past membership in Women’s Fund Circles and volunteerism with many other organizations and political campaigns. She also serves on the board of Friends of Armenia. In her free time, Melissa enjoys traveling, reading, and exploring the forest.

Val Vilott, Finance Chair

Val Vilott is a recent transplant to Omaha from Washington, D.C. Currently serving as a Program Officer for the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, Val has held communications, organizing, and policy roles at a variety of national organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, and the Feminist Majority Foundation. Most recently, she worked as a communications and campaign strategy consultant at M+R, helping nonprofits and foundations develop winning advocacy and public engagement campaigns. Val also served in a volunteer capacity for 4 years as the Board President of the D.C. Abortion Fund (DCAF), a direct service organization working to connect low-income women to financial resources. During Val’s tenure, DCAF grew from a shoestring organization run by a handful of volunteers into an organizational powerhouse with a budget of over $250,000 and a volunteer corps of 100+ people. Val has been honored for her leadership in the abortion rights movement multiple times, including receiving the 2016 Young Woman of Achievement Award from the Women’s Information Network, the 2014 Washington Women of Excellence Award in Public Health from D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, and the 2012 Champion of Choice Award from NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

Val graduated with honors in 2008 from The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and a minor in Women’s Studies. She completed a semester of her studies at Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico, where she conducted field research on public and private social services for women and families.

In her spare time, Val enjoys starting DIY projects (and rarely finishing them), hosting theme parties for special occasions, and is an amateur calligrapher.

Julia Tse, Curriculum Chair

Julia Tse is a policy associate at Voices for Children in Nebraska, a nonprofit with a 30-year history of being an independent voice and building pathways to opportunity for all children in the state. In her current role, she is responsible for identifying data-driven policies to improve public systems impacting the lives of Nebraska’s children and families. Julia works and coordinates with stakeholders to ensure that the best interests of kids are kept at the forefront in policy decisions and public discourse when it comes to issues of economic stability, health, child welfare and juvenile justice. She is especially passionate about using research, mapping software and data to fight for social justice and race equity.  

Julia first joined Voices for Children through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, a national volunteer service program. For a year, she lived with 10 other recent graduates working in social justice nonprofits across Omaha in intentional community. As a proud second-generation immigrant to the United States, Julia is dedicated to building strong, inclusive communities that offer equality of opportunity to all people.

A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, she graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology and East Asian Studies from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. In her spare time, Julia enjoys cooking, reading the news and training for her next powerlifting competition.

Alex Garrison, Curriculum Co-Chair 

Alex Garrison is an I.T. professional who specializes in documentation and knowledge management.

Alex grew up in Wyandotte County, Kan., and graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2011. She worked as a newspaper reporter in Lawrence, Kan., before moving to Omaha in 2013. Shortly after moving to Omaha, she began working at Metropolitan Community College and has worked as a staff member and part-time instructor at MCC’s Elkhorn, South, Fort Omaha and online campuses. She also has also worked for Election Systems & Software, where she grew her knowledge and interest in voter registration and the confluence of civic engagement and technology. She joined Nelnet Diversified Solutions in August 2017.

Outside of work, Alex is an active volunteer. After leading an Omaha tech meetup for two years, she transitioned her focus to grassroots activism and work to increase voter registration and turnout. In early 2017, she was one of the core organizers of the Women’s March on Omaha and also began volunteering with the League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha. She currently serves on the board of LWVGO, where she works on diversifying and modernizing membership and member engagement. She also spends free time doing door-to-door canvassing for progressive candidates.

Alex lives in downtown Omaha with her fiance, Jeff, and their cat, Buddy. She enjoys reading, travel, standup comedy and asking folks if they’d like help getting registered to vote.

Kim Howe, Capstone ChairHowe.jpg

Kim Howe is a partner at CoCreative Labs, providing group facilitation and consulting in collaborative decision-making and authentic stakeholder engagement. Clients include public, private, and non-profit organizations, as well as neighborhood and community groups. She is passionate about walking alongside individuals, organizations, and communities to collaboratively and creatively investigate needs, develop strategy, and activate their unique assets and strengths to take action.

Kim has over 15 years experience in adult education and community development efforts in diverse multilingual, multicultural, and economically varied contexts. She has previously worked as an English teacher and community organizer in immigrant and refugee communities in Chicago, doing small business development with victims of sex trafficking in Romania, and documenting stories of indigenous leaders in central Australia. She also previously worked in non-profit human resources, concentrating on training and development, team building, and employee engagement.

Kim holds a BA in Applied Linguistics and Teaching of English as a Second Language and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Creighton University. She teaches intercultural communication courses and participatory methods for language instructors within UNO’s International Studies Department and previously taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago City Colleges. She currently serves on the board of inCOMMON Community Development. Kim also loves treasure hunts, living room dance parties, and playing dress up, and tries to maneuver those into her work as often as possible.

Shams Al-Badry, Mentorship/Alumni Chair

Shams Al-Badry is a passionate advocate for educational equity and early childhood education. Shams was born in Iraq, a few days after her birth her family fled Iraq to a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. Her family won a lottery that provided them the opportunity to leave the refugee camp and relocate to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Shams has always valued education, because of the values her parents instilled in her and the opportunities that were granted to her while attending a public school system. Soon after graduating from Lincoln High, Shams attended the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL), where she studied Political Science and International Human Rights. While at UNL, she discovered her passion for social activism and educational equity. She was actively involved as a campus leader through various student organizations, interned with Appleseed Nebraska and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. After graduating from UNL in 2014, Shams joined Teach for America, spending two years teaching at a bilingual Early Childhood Education Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Through her time in Teach for America she became involved in community organizing and advocacy. In 2016 Shams was awarded the Kansas City Teach for America Community Service Award for her work in the local community. She has lobbied on Capitol Hill on behalf of millions of Americans living in poverty asking Members of Congress to support a proposal that will lift families out of poverty as a Real Change Fellow with Results.

Currently, Shams serves as an Academic Advisor. In addition to her role as an advisor, she is a board member for the YWCA, a graduate student studying Community Development and the Alumni Advisor for Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Incorporated. She continues to stay active in the Lincoln community and hopes to bridge the education gap between low-income communities and the education system.

Sarah Hanify, Selections Chair


Sarah Hanify is a Medical Social Worker with Children's Physicians - Clinics, where she gets to connect children and families to mental health services and community resources. She previously worked in various areas of the child welfare system, including training and advocacy as well as direct case management.

Sarah is originally from South Dakota, but spent many years living in Iowa. She received bachelor’s degrees in psychology and public relations in 2007 from Drake University, in Des Moines, Iowa. After graduation, Sarah worked for the AmeriCorps VISTA program at Black Hills State University before enrolling the University of Nebraska at Omaha Grace Abbott School of Social Work in 2008. Sarah graduated in 2011 with master’s degrees in social work and in public administration.

Sarah enjoys volunteering, and is a member of a variety of community organizations in addition to the New Leaders Council Board, including Junior League of Omaha, the 1877 Society, the Moving Company, the Friends of Nebraska Children, Sigma Alpha Iota Women’s Music Fraternity Alumni Group, and as an adviser to the Alpha Phi Omega chapter at Creighton University. She feels lucky to have moved to Omaha and enjoys continuing to search for the best patio in town. 

Tanishia Jacobs, Selections Co-Chair

Born in Omaha, Nebraska and raised in Okinawa, Japan, Tanishia has always had a love of helping people. After teaching first grade and volunteering for her local and state unions for fourteen years, she transitioned to the UniServ Director for the Lincoln Education Association. In her position, she provides member rights services, is the association lobbyist, and advocates for educators. Tanishia is passionate about social justice issues in education, empowering teachers, staying informed on educational trends, the recruitment and retention of teachers of color, and supporting public schools in Nebraska.

As a life-long learner, Tanishia holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, a second master’s degree in Educational Administration, and will graduate from the Creighton Doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Leadership in December 2017. Tanishia enjoys spending time with her fiancé and puppy, shopping, running, and cheering on the Huskers! 

Meghan Francis, Communications Chair

Meghan Francis is proud to work at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland as Education Operations Manager where she assists in managing a federal grant to implement evidence-based sex education in five counties in Nebraska and Iowa. After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Communication Studies.

In January of 2016, she transitioned into non-profit administration. Meghan had always admired Planned Parenthood’s commitment to providing nonjudgemental care to everyone who walked through their doors. When Omaha Public Schools decided to update their sex education standards after 30 years in 2015, Meghan became an advocate for change through the platforms available to her and the group CHEER (Comprehensive Health Education & Equal Responsibility). 

Since the summer of 2014, Meghan has volunteered at Omaha Girls Rock where she enjoys empowering young performers as a Band Coach. The band Snot, who she helped coach in 2014, had the honor of playing the song they composed at camp entitled ‘Snot (Believe in Yourself)’ at the Maha Music Festival in front of thousands of adoring fans - including their biggest fan, Meghan.

Ensuring access to reliable education is significant to Meghan because she believes it is essential to growing and thriving as a human being. Whether it be learning about female-driven music during a Herstory/Ourstory workshop at Omaha Girls Rock camp, or how the Reproductive Justice framework can (and should) be applied to just about every facet of our lives, Meghan believes in the intrinsic value education offers.

Larissa Sannon, Recruitment Chair 

Larissa Sanon moved to the United States at eleven years old from Port au Prince, Haiti. She lived on the East coast for most of her life until moving to Omaha, NE in 2010, to attend the College of Saint Mary.

With a background in Applied Psychology, Human Services and Business Leadership, Larissa gracefully leads a life of passion and fortitude. She is a mother of a beautiful daughter and currently serves as the Health Sciences Post-Baccalaureate Program Coordinator at Creighton University. For the past 2 years she has also served as the Professional and Personal Development chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young professionals.

The motto that Larissa lives by: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” - Maya Angelou.

Krystal Fox, Community Engagement Chair

Krystal Fox graduated from Truman State University in 2007 with a degree in Political Science and minors in African-American Studies and Economics, where her research about voter efficacy in African countries was published in the Politics and Policy Journal (2006), as an example of a lifelong belief in the power of voting for underserved communities. Krystal’s family has been a catalyst for her belief in social justice and serving our community from the very beginning. As the oldest child with 3 younger brothers, Krystal has learned to lead in many different ways. She believes it is important to meet people where they are and provide support for communities affected disproportionately by poverty, systemic racism, and sexism. Krystal has served her community in many ways through the past as a member of Leadership Sarpy, a volunteer at the FoodBank of the Heartland, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, League of Women Voters – Sarpy, and National Council of Negro Women.

After 10 years in various customer service roles, Krystal Fox prides herself on being a champion for collaborative problem-solving. This experience has taught her to be understanding of differences and to work with people from all walks of life. Currently, Krystal is a Client Service Analyst at First Data, helping clients problem solve issues they have with applications and processes. She believes the best solutions to all problems are developed through groups coming together to discuss resolutions. She brings this attitude to her volunteer work as a volunteer with Big Brother Big Sisters, the Women’s Center for Advancement, and as Social Action Chair for the Omaha Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.

For fun, Krystal enjoys travelling and trying new things in her quest to mark things off her bucket list. So far she’s completed cooking classes, acting classes, and skydiving. Up next is parasailing, horseback riding, and ice skating.

Yvonne Sosa, Operations Chair

Yvonne Sosa is an attorney at the Douglas County Public Defender’s office, where she has held various positions since 1999, fostering her dedication for indigent defense. As a South Omaha native and graduate of Omaha South High School, class of 2001, Yvonne has dedicated much of her time to improving the lives of those in the South Omaha community.

As a single mother, Yvonne graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, cum laude, with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice. While at Creighton Law School, where she received her Juris Doctor with a concentration in Criminal Law and Procedure, Yvonne was president of the Latino Law Students Association. Currently she is admitted to the practice of law in the States of Iowa and Nebraska.

As a member of the Board of Directors at the Latino Center of the Midlands, Yvonne has served as president and is now acting secretary. She is the chair of the Hispanic Lawyers Section of the Nebraska State Bar Association and is active with the Barrister’s Ball Auction Committee. Yvonne also serves on the Scholarship Committee of the Bennett Hornstein Endowment Fund, a scholarship she received as a student. Outside of her professional life, Yvonne is the mother of three daughters, one of whom she adopted after serving as a foster parent.  


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