Meet The Team

The Ecology Center’s programs and services are run by passionate, knowledgable New Yorkers. Get to know our staff who help keep New York City sustainable!

Staff

Sashti Balasundaram

compost project coordinator
Sashti is an environmental educator developing novel approaches for compost efficiency and waste prevention.  He is excited to participate in the growth of urban agriculture and community gardens with passion to promote healthier environments in urban landscapes.  He is a certified Master Composter receiving accreditation from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and is a graduate of Columbia University and SUNY Buffalo.

Melinda Billings

stewardship coordinator
Melinda is a long time resident of the Lower East Side and deeply committed to educating her fellow community members and the general public about the ecology of East River Park. She started in 2009 by leading stewardship activities in East River Park with community residents as well as corporate volunteer groups, has developed educational workshops, such as weed walks and guided tours of the native plants in East River Park, and coordinated citizens science projects, for instance the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Melinda holds a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and also has professional gardening experience spanning three states, and years of volunteer work in community gardens and at Great Gull Island, which has the largest concentration of nesting Common Terns in the world. Additionally, Melinda has a background as a textile designer, photographer and artist and her work is inspired by the appreciation of the natural world in an urban setting. Recent work involved a series of hand painted and hand printed scarves that focus on street trees as well as an ongoing photographic documentation of East River Park, the Lower East Side and the birds and habitat of Great Gull Island.

Renee Crowley

compost project manager
Renee is a community planner with a passion for urban sustainability and social equity. She has been committed to reducing waste and building strong communities through composting for over a decade; her experiences run the gamut from backyard composting, participating in food scrap drop-off sites and managing the composting efforts at her local community garden. She holds an MS in City & Regional Planning from the Pratt Institute and a BA in Environmental & Urban Studies from Hamline University. When not composting, Renee can be found making pottery or tending to her garden.

LeRoy Daly

program associate
LeRoy joined the Lower East Side Ecology Center in 2012 and is equally at home processing food waste at the East River Compost Yard as he is handling e-waste at one of our collection events. A native New Yorker, LeRoy attended Frederick Douglas and Thurgood Marshall Academy and enrolled in the AmeriCorps Program of Green City Force in 2010 where he join the Cool Roof team, painting over 500,000 square feet of roof and learning about environmental challenges facing NYC. This experience motivated LeRoy to join the Ecology Center’s team.

Christine Datz-Romero

co-founder and executive director
Christine Datz-Romero is the co-founder and executive director of the Lower East Side Ecology Center and a long time resident of the neighborhood. Christine has shown her environmental activism by developing innovative, community based recycling programs over the last two decades. She is a true compost pioneer, inspiring people to compost in their own homes and communities as well as creating a Compost Collection program in 1990, which has introduced the idea of composting to countless New Yorkers. Additionally, Christine has been at the forefront of the Ecology Center’s innovative Electronics Waste Recycling program. Her passion for green space makes her an advocate for community involvement in public open space. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Queens College and has done graduate work at the New School/Milano School for Nonprofit Management. As a member of NYC’s environmental community for more than two decades, Christine currently serves on the board of the 6th Street & Avenue B Garden, is a public member of the Waterfront Committee of Community Board 3, and member and past chair of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board.

Angel Gonzalez

organics outreach coordinator
Angel has been a resident of the Lower East Side Jacob Riis houses in Manhattan his entire life. His interest in the environment came from serving an AmeriCorps program Green City Force where they changed and revamped neighborhoods and communities. He saw how this brought residents together and made it a better neighborhood. Green City Force gave him the knowledge and training he needed to move forward in this field. He aims to continue to beautifying neighborhoods, make the world greener, and bring people together. Its in his interest to do this because when there is unity there is always victory.

Kevin Gonzalez

organics outreach associate
Kevin is a NYC City Service Corps member currently serving at the Lower East Side Ecology Center. He was born in Harlem and raised in Lower East Manhattan and developed an interest in the environment and sustainability after interning at the Red Hook Community Farm. Before joining LESEC, Kevin has served as an AmeriCorps member for a green training program, Green City Force, and aspires to pursue a degree in environmental studies and engineering.

Troy Hanna

reuse technician
Troy started in the electrical field in 1991 when he studied basic AC/DC repair at Transit Tech H.S. and has been in the IT field for over six years, developing his craft and acquiring a knowledge base around PC equipment. With his passion for technology and to make it accessible to people, Troy is ready to put his knowledge to good use at the Gowanus E-waste warehouse.

Max Katz

compost facilitator
Max collects food waste from the Union Square farmers markets. He is committed to helping NYC become more environmentally resilient. In summer 2013, Max got involved with the Lower East Side Ecology Center through his New School Environment Studies college internship program. He received a BA in Environmental Studies from the New School. When not working at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, Max works as a landscaper. Max also participates in composting programs in several community gardens in the Lower East Side. He is a longtime member of El Sol Brillante Community Garden, and is on the board of Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens.

Lia Lucero

organics recovery coordinator
Lia developed an interest in environmental education as a youth volunteer at the NY Aquarium, where she worked on coastal habitat restoration projects. She holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry and is certified as a NYC Master Composter and Citizen Pruner. Lia’s commitment to creating a greener, more sustainable New York City, has led her to take on unique community engagement roles in urban forestry, citizen philanthropy, and composting. As an AmeriCorps at the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), she helped distribute trees to New Yorkers through the MillionTreesNYC Tree Giveaway Program. She also worked as an outreach associate for the NYC Organics Collection Program and interned at ioby (In Our Backyards,Inc.), a crowd-resourcing platform that connects leaders with funding and support for neighborhood projects. She is excited to be contributing to NYC’s Zero Waste initiative, as an Organics Recovery Coordinator.

Terry Sta. Maria

informations technology support
Terry is a software developer and native New Yorker. With knowledge of computer hardware, he has turned his career and personal time towards environmental sustainability. He joined the team to perform electronics refurbishment, and to train others in the same work. Terry also volunteers to get organic waste recycled (composted) in his home community in Brooklyn. He enjoys doing outreach and education for anyone interested in the environmental challenges of NYC.

Kaitlyn Parkins

education director
Originally from Baltimore and now a Brooklyn resident, Kaitlyn joined the Ecology Center with a background in biology, conservation, and education. She worked as an environmental educator, wildlife rehabilitator, and field technician studying plants and butterflies before moving to New York. While completing her M.S. in Ecology at Fordham University she studied the role of urban green spaces in supporting bird and bat populations in NYC, and became interested in the relationships between people and nature in human-dominated ecosystems. She is passionate about developing engaging educational programs that promote respect for the environment, and providing science education to underserved communities. In her spare time Kaitlyn can often be found birding, taking pictures, and drinking bat-friendly coffee.

Anastasia Plavnicky

volunteer coordinator
Anastasia is an NYC Civic Corps member currently serving at the Gowanus E-waste Warehouse. A Long Island local, her interest in recycling and reducing waste stem from her summers surfing. She holds a degree in Anthropology and Gender Studies from SUNY Plattsburgh. Anastasia is passionate about reducing her footprint on the Earth and hopes to pass this passion along to others.

Kathryn Robling

organic recovery coordinator
Kathryn is a native New Yorker who began volunteering with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy in 2013 and has been composting ever since! Kathryn was an Organics Collection Intern at DSNY and recently served as an AmeriCorps at the New York Restoration Project, where she tended community gardens in under-represented neighborhoods. She participated in several Gardens for the City builds, transitioning open space to gardens. As NYC Master Composter, Kathryn has experience with various composting systems and has designed and built systems for community gardens. Kathryn is committed to reducing waste and bringing communities together through composting. When she is not composting, you can find Kathryn riding her bike, tending her urban garden, or making pottery.

Sinyee Tan

development director
As native New Yorker, Sinyee Tan attended Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated from Boston University with a degree in Environmental Analysis & Policy. Her enthusiasm as an environmentalist and passion for sustainability led her to take part in environmental projects across the Northeast, cooperating with entities from businesses, nonprofits, and utilities. The Ecology Center’s mission to remove and reduce New York’s waste and increase the city’s scope in environmental awareness brought her to join Lower East Side’s team.

Board of Directors

Sarah Brennan

As a Brooklyn native, Sarah has been following the progress of NYC recycling since the late 80s and fondly remembers the rollout of the city’s blue bins because her neighborhood was one of the city’s first pilot projects. Currently, Sarah works for the Robertson Foundation where she manages a portfolio of environmental grants with a focus on climate change. Previously, she worked at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, served as an economic consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and was a case-writer at the Harvard Business School. Sarah holds an MPP from the Kennedy School at Harvard University, an MBA from Columbia University, and a BA in History and Public Policy from Brown University.

Evelyn Chen

Evelyn Chen has more than a decade of experience in major gifts fundraising for non-profits, developing and implementing donor engagement programs, and building and managing teams. She served most recently as Senior Director of Development at Panthera, overseeing all development efforts with a particular focus on designing and implementing a global fundraising infrastructure to support the organization as it transitioned into its second decade and more actively sought to develop a broader base of support. Prior to Panthera, Evelyn served as Director of Development at New Yorkers for Parks and in a variety of fundraising roles at The Nature Conservancy. She received a BA from Dartmouth College.

Atom Cianfarani

vice chairperson
Atom Cianfarani is a recycled-commodities designer, sculptor, green roof specialist and board member of the Lower East Side Ecology Center. Everything Atom creates has an integral commitment to preservation. She has designed acclaimed runway fashion with her signature material: recycled inner tubes merged with vintage fabrics, developed the most sustainable restaurant in North America, founded the first young designers co-operative in the New York’s East Village, and produced commissioned public sculptures with found materials. Re-use and re-design is her solution to our disposable society; always expanding the boundaries between her love of garbage and good design.

Christine Datz-Romero

executive director
Christine Datz-Romero is the co-founder and executive director of the Lower East Side Ecology Center and a long time resident of the neighborhood. Christine has shown her environmental activism by developing innovative, community based recycling programs over the last two decades. She is a true compost pioneer, inspiring people to compost in their own homes and communities as well as creating a Compost Collection program in 1990, which has introduced the idea of composting to countless New Yorkers. Additionally, Christine has been at the forefront of the Ecology Center’s innovative Electronics Waste Recycling program. Her passion for green space makes her an advocate for community involvement in public open space. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Queens College and has done graduate work at the New School/Milano School for Nonprofit Management. As a member of NYC’s environmental community for more than two decades, Christine currently serves on the board of the 6th Street & Avenue B Garden, is a public member of the Waterfront Committee of Community Board 3, and member and past chair of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board.

Helena Durst

chairperson
Helena Durst is the vice president and a fourth generation member, The Durst Organization. Helena is a member of the Voices Unbroken’s Board of Directors, a community-based non profit organization dedicated to providing under-heard members of the community with the tools and opportunity for self-expression, through creative writing workshops in jails, prisons, group homes, residential treatment facilities, and various other transitional and alternative settings. She also sits on the Citizens Union Board, a nonpartisan force for good government for more than 100 years that works to inform and engage New Yorkers in its civic and political life. Helena is the Real Estate advisor for her sister’s non-profit arts organization, Chashama. Helena studied real estate at Baruch College and is the great granddaughter of Joseph and Rose Durst. She strives to continue her family’s legacy of leaving places better than when they found them.

Jane Soonyoung Hong

Jane Hong is an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley, where she is the Global Program lead for the Technology training program. Jane grew up in upper Manhattan, and holds a BA in Computer Science from Barnard College, a BS from Columbia University School of Engineering and a MS in Information Systems from NYU.

Samantha Magistro

treasurer
Samantha Magistro began her professional career as an intern at Bronx Pro Real Estate Management Inc. After four years of working on tax credit compliance and tenant income certifications, Samantha joined Bronx Pro as an Assistant Project Manager to work on an renovation project – University Macombs Apartments. While pursuing post-graduate studies at Columbia University, she remained active in her field, interning at the Manhattan’s Borough President’s Office and holding a part-time position as a Project Manager at Enterprise Community Partners. Samantha also spent a semester studying economic and workforce development in post-Katrina New Orleans. Samantha returned to Bronx Pro full time in August 2008 to spearhead larger scale development projects and new business development. Samantha has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Urban Studies from Barnard College and a Masters of Science in Urban Planning from Columbia University. Samantha is a board member of Enterprise Gotham Society, a member of the New York Housing Conference’s Young Leadership Council as well as an active alumna of Barnard College.

Carol MacKinnon Fox

Carol leads the Automotive Practice Group at Thomson Reuters and also leads the company’s relationships with its largest accounting firm customers. She has been at the company since 1998 and has held a variety of roles in marketing, sales, and corporate strategy. Prior to her current role she served as Vice President in the Office of the CEO. Carol received a BA from Yale University and an MBA from the Darden School at the University of Virginia. Prior to joining Thomson Reuters, Carol worked at The Advisory Board Company.

Clyde Romero

Clyde Romero is an artist and co-founder of the Lower East Side Ecology Center. Clyde is a longtime resident of the community and has worked to better the lives of people in the Lower East Side by being involved in various community programs. Clyde founded the East 5th Street Community Garden, and was one of the founders of 309 E 4th Street All People’s Homestead. Clyde is also well know for his public art projects in Washington Square Park, re-using dead trees and turning them into public sculptures. At the Ecology Center, Clyde has helped to nurture the organization from its beginnings and is currently the Director of the Arts Exposure Program.

Hilary Semel

secretary
Hilary Semel, JD, has been chair of the board of directors of Sustainable South Bronx since 2007. For the past five years, she has been an associate in environmental and construction law at Tannenbaum, Helpern, Syracuse & Hirschtritt, LLP, during which time she oversaw a four-year Brownfield remediation project (Mt. Vernon) that was recognized as a model by the state of New York, and played a key role on a team that negotiated an agreement with a major utility and a multi-state public agency to launch a renewable energy project. In addition, she is adjunct faculty at Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy for the new Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management Master’s program. She has also served as pro bono advisor to the US Green Building Council, NY Chapter and is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP). She earned a BA at Barnard College, Columbia University, and an MA in Marine Affairs & Policy at the University of Miami, where she was a Rosenstiel Fellow.

Dani Simons

Dani Simons is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an NGO that promotes sustainable and equitable transportation worldwide. Prior to joining ITDP, Ms. Simons served as Director of Strategic Communications for the New York City Department of Transportation where she managed the agency’s online communications, social media, large-scale marketing campaigns to promote safe and sustainable transportation and started New York City’s Summer Streets program. Prior to that Ms. Simons was the Director of Development and Communications at Transportation Alternatives. For the past decade, she has worked on urban environmental issues on the city, state, national and international levels and coordinated a myriad of special events that bring community and media attention to the relationships between social equity, transportation and public space. She is a daily bike commuter.

Advisory Board

Ed Campbell

Ed Campbell is a recycling expert with more than 20 years experience working in the public, non-profit and private sectors. The Ecology Center developed its in-vessel compost system with Ed’s assistance when he was working for the Empire State Development Corporation’s Recycling Investment Program. While serving as the Director of Recycling for Per Scholas, a non-profit organization in the South Bronx, he worked closely with the Ecology Center in establishing New York City’s first electronic waste collection events. He currently is an independent consultant working on several projects in the Hudson Valley. He lives in Mt. Kisco, NY with his family where he volunteers as the Chair of the local Conservation Advisory Council and is an active member of the Bedford Central School District’s Sustainability Committee. He is an avid backyard composter and the worms that he purchased from the Ecology Center 10 years ago are still working hard all year long.

MaryEllen Etienne

MaryEllen is the Executive Director of Reuse Alliance, a national association that increases the public’s awareness of reuse and strengthens the reuse sector by connecting, supporting and promoting its members. She has worked in the reuse and recycling sectors for over 13 years with several notable organizations, including the NY WasteMatch, NYC Materials Exchange Development Program, London Community Recycling Network and Materials for the Arts. MaryEllen is passionate about reuse and works to strengthen the reuse sector by developing and implementing a wide range of capacity-building services. She provides ongoing input into the sector’s growth and development, and is highly knowledgeable in reuse operations and service delivery programs. MaryEllen received her degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz, is a member of the Social Venture Network, and is on the Board of Directors of three reuse organizations.

Venetia Lannon

Venetia Lannon is the Regional Director for Region 2 (New York City) for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Prior to this, she was Senior Vice President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, where she led the Maritime group, overseeing the City’s efforts to develop its marine terminals, port facilities, private ferry landings, heliports and freight rail assets. In her previous work at EDC, she was an active participant in the development and negotiation of the City’s 20-year Solid Waste Management Plan, including developing a materials recovery facility at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, overseeing the evaluation and potential piloting of new waste management technologies, as well as an evaluation of the current rate cap on commercial waste hauling. Before joining NYCEDC in 2003, Ms. Lannon was a Deputy Director at the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Recycling Bureau where she oversaw the composting program. Ms. Lannon holds a Bachelors degree from Vassar College and a Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University.

Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman is co-founder and president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Since 1974, ILSR has been providing technical assistance to community development organizations, government agencies and industry in sustainable economic development. Seldman focuses on starting or expanding recycling and composting enterprises as joint ventures between community organizations and private firms or government programs. Major US cities and counties have changed their solid waste management systems based on Seldman’s efforts, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Hawaii County, HI, St. Lucie County, FL, Alachua County, FL and King County, WA. He has also assisted the World Bank, National Science Foundation, US EPA and US EDA. Prior to co-founding ILSR, Seldman was a manufacturer in NYC and a lecturer in political science at The George Washington University.

Alumni

Staff

Caroline Kruse

development director 2008-2014
Before coming to the Ecology Center, Caroline conducted field research measuring the effects of global warming on coral reefs in Bermuda and obtained her undergraduate degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. At the Ecology Center, Caroline gained experience in such diverse subjects as green roofs, materials reuse, and compost bin trouble-shooting.

Carey Pulverman

project manager 2007-2011
Carey Pulverman, often known as the “worm lady” by her students, worked as an educator at the Lower East Side Ecology Center since 2007 and then became the Project Manager of the New York City Compost Project. In summer 2011, Carey left the Lower East Side and moved to Austin, Texas to pursue her Ph. D. in psychology.

Kate Zidar

program director 2004-2007
Kate Zidar is an environmental planner with a focus on urban watersheds, stormwater management, and solid waste management. She is a founding member of S.W.I.M., the Stormwater Infrastructure Matters Coalition, and a past faculty member at Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, where she taught courses ranging from Solid Waste Management to Verbal and Visual Representation. Kate worked as Program Director at the Ecology Center from 2004 – 2007 and subsequently served on the Center’s board until 2013.

Andrew Hoyles

compost project manager 2009-2015
Andrew Hoyles hails from the Great Lake State of Michigan were his love for the natural environment blossomed. Andrew joined the Ecology Center team in 2009 as the Compost Instructor for the New York City Compost Project hosted at the Ecology Center and left in 2015 to join the Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability, rolling out organic waste collection city-wide.

Daniel Tainow

education director
Daniel Tainow, a lifelong environmentalist and outdoors enthusiast, has been living and teaching the New York/ New Jersey waterways since childhood. As the Education Director until 2015, Dan led fishing clinics, kayaking clinics, watershed activities and stewardship and green infrastructure projects on the Lower East Side. Dan now works for the Department of Education, connecting students with community opportunities at organizations like the Ecology Center.

Vanessa Ventola

organics recovery coordinator
Vanessa Ventola joined the Ecology Center in November 2015 with a background in urban agriculture, environmental education, and organics recovery. She holds a B.Sc. in Agricultural and Environmental Science from McGill University in Montréal, where her interest in farming, soils, and sustainability led her to the compost world. Since then, Vanessa has become a Master Composter and worked with a variety of compost systems, from windrows and piles to an industrial, self-turning composter.  Vanessa enjoys helping both the novice and seasoned composter further explore their compost potential.

Board

Antonia Bryson

esq. Antonia Bryson is an environmental and land use attorney with broad experience in New York City issues. She has been the chief of the environmental section of the Law Department of the City of New York and the Deputy Commissioner in charge of New York City’s air and noise pollution control and hazardous materials programs at the City’s Department of Environmental Protection. Most recently she has been providing low-cost legal assistance to groups and individuals fighting local environmental problems and advocating for improvement of the environment in New York City, through her non-profit, the Urban Environmental Law Center. She has been a member and chair of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board, co-chair of Subcommittee on Climate Change of the Environmental Law Section of the New York State Bar Association, and a member of the Law Committee of the Municipal Art Society. She graduated from Brown University and received her law degree from New York University. Antonia served on the board of the Lower East Side Ecology Center as Chairperson as well as general member.

Family

Ciyalana

Ciyalana acquired the official title of “Ecology Center Mascot” since his abandonment and subsequent discovery in the tall grasses of East River Park. Upon his arrival in August of 2006, this African Spurred Tortoise showed children how tasty dandelions can be, reorganized office furniture, and entertained park-goers. In late 2009, Ciyalana took a one-way trip to the warmer (and greener, year-round) pastures of Florida, which is closer to his natural desert habitat than seasonal New York City. When we last saw his mischievous grin, he weighed a whopping 30 pounds and was strong enough to dent Caroline’s fridge. Of course, we miss him but we look forward to his monthly letters.

Lucky

Arriving at the Ecology Center’s in 1998 and enjoying her life as the Queen of East River Park until 2013, Lucky was the first mascot of the Ecology Center. Lucky was fished out of the East River in a milk crate and repaid the favor by faithfully sitting on important documents, walking on keyboards, and basking on sunny windowsills.