Norwalk ACTS

Staff and Board of Directors.

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Norwalk ACTS


Jennifer Barahona /

Chief Executive Officer

Jennifer D. Barahona, LCSW

Jennifer joined Norwalk ACTS as Chief Executive Officer in April 2019. Prior to taking the helm at Norwalk ACTS Jennifer served as Executive Director & Chief Financial Officer for the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation. Founded after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Foundation played a critical leadership role in the development of short and long term funding support for the community and those who were most impacted by the tragedy. Jennifer built the Foundation from the ground up and continues to serve as an advisor to the Foundation and Newtown community.

As a licensed clinical social worker, Jennifer has spent her career in the social sector. During her 13 year tenure at Family & Children’s Agency in Norwalk, she served as Director of Youth Services as well as a long-term member of the team assigned to assist with the recovery efforts and follow up work with families in Connecticut who lost loved ones in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Jennifer developed a passion for social justice during her early career as an advocate working with women and children exposed to domestic violence and educating young people about healthy relationships through community education. She credits Columbia professor Richard Cloward, as well as her work as a policy researcher and community organizer for the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, for her lifelong passion for social justice and the engagement of disenfranchised communities. Eager to help grow the macro-level perspective in the field of social work and develop new talent, Jennifer serves as an adjunct professor in the Social Work Department at Sacred Heart University.

Jennifer received a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development and Family Relations from the University of Connecticut and a Master’s of Science in Social Work from Columbia University.  She lives in Fairfield, CT with her husband, a local high school teacher, and their two school-aged children.

Anthony Allison /

Chief Initiatives Officer

Anthony Allison is the Chief Initiative Officer for Norwalk ACTS and served as its first Executive Director from 2014-2019. Prior to his work with Norwalk ACTS, he co-founded the Norwalk Children’s Foundation and served as its executive director and a program officer. Under his leadership, the Foundation developed a funding platform to support early childhood initiatives, after school programming, and mentoring and health opportunities. Additionally, from 2001-2007 Anthony served as the Director for the Norwalk I Have a Dream Program, which supports youth with their academic and social and emotional development and provides funding to pay for college. Earlier in his career (1993-2001), he was the co-director for Hoops 4 Hope, an organization that assists schools, youth organizations, and children’s shelters in Zimbabwe and South Africa by using sports to provide HIV/AIDS awareness and life skills development.  

Beyond his work in leadership roles within organizations, Anthony is the author and photographer of “Hear These Voices: Youth at the Edge of the Millennium,” 1994-1999, published by Dutton Books, and has served on human rights and election observing missions for the United Nations Conference on Human Rights, The Carter Center, and the African American Institute. 

Paula Palermo /

Data Director

Paula Palermo is the Data Director for Norwalk ACTS, a Cradle to Career Collective Impact Organization in Norwalk, CT. Her responsibilities include providing data management and visualization support for Norwalk ACTS’ members and leading the effort to better analyze and use community and student data to improve outcomes for Norwalk’s children. In 2018, Paula completed an 8-month fellowship with Tableau Software with participants from 17 cities around the United States that are members of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network. 

Prior to Norwalk ACTS, Paula was a technology consultant for 20 years, providing support to customers in the education, healthcare, private industry and non-profits sectors in the area. Before that, she held engineering positions at Black & Decker and Perkin Elmer. She is a graduate of RIT with a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

Paula has served on three boards, the Norwalk Education Foundation (2 years as co-chair) and currently the Norwalk River Rowing Association, where she has been an active member of the rowing community since 2007, and InformCT (CT Data Collaborative) since 2018.

Ray Leslie /

Data Assistant

Ray Leslie is a Data Assistant at Norwalk ACTS, supporting many of the data initiative projects for Norwalk ACTS under Data Director, Paula Palermo. His responsibilities include assistance in data collection, manipulation, and visualization projects in collaboration with the Data Director to support Norwalk ACTS’ members and to help lead the effort in using student and community data to improve the outcomes for Norwalk’s children. Ray is one of the newest members of Norwalk ACTS, but he is a long-time member of the Norwalk community. He was born and raised in Norwalk, and also a student who went on to graduate Brien McMahon High School as a member of the Class of 2010.

Prior to joining Norwalk ACTS, Ray graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Business Management Consulting and spent four years gaining valuable experience in a data-driven atmosphere working for two of the largest e-commerce and travel booking platforms in the world: and It was during that time where his passion for data analytics and technology began to grow even further. Since then, Ray has devoted his time, focus, and energy towards pivoting career paths and becoming a student of data. Ray is a self-taught Tableau Software and Python Programming enthusiast and currently lives in Stamford, CT.

Ray’s LinkedIn profile can be seen at 

MJ Chironna /

Social Emotional Community Organizer

M.J. Chironna joined Norwalk ACTS as a Social-Emotional Community Organizer in October 2019. In this role, she is leading a community planning process around social-emotional learning and trauma-informed care. Through her work in the social sector, she has fostered valuable relationships and connected community members to support helping them improve their lives. She has led community outreach efforts to actively engage Norwalk families in decisions made about themselves. As a Parents as Teachers (PAT) Educator, she provided family support, strengthened Norwalk families and promoted positive parent-child interactions. As a Community Organizer focused on the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Bridgeport, she mentored homeless individuals and facilitated the monthly consumer advisory forums. In addition, she co-facilitated an after-school leadership program for middle school girls. Her social work experience began at Family & Children’s Agency in Norwalk as a Coordinator of Volunteer Services and simultaneously as a FEMA Outreach Worker assisting with the recovery efforts and follow up work with families in Connecticut who lost loved one in the September 11th terrorist attacks

Besides her work in the social sector, she oversaw the day to day operations of e-Biz Technologies, Inc., an IT Professional Services Company, provided administrative support to the Naramake Family Resource Center including the preschool program, and worked at investment management firms including a pension investment consultant organization

As a resident of Norwalk for over 25 years, she has been passionate about improving the lives of children and youth in Norwalk. She has actively volunteered at many Norwalk schools and social service organizations. Her three daughters have attended the Norwalk Public Schools for over 20 years. M.J. received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Master of Social Work from the University of Connecticut.

Norwalk ACTS
Board of Directors


Board Chair

Cathy DeCesare, Sr. Vice President Strategic Initiatives, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County

Adam Bovilsky, Executive Director, Norwalk Housing Authority

Harry Carey, Director of External Affairs, AT&T

Robert Cashel, President & CEO, Family & Children’s Agency

Michael Chambers, Executive Director, Per and Astrid Heidenreich Family Foundation

Cheryl De Vonish, Chief Executive Officer, Norwalk Community College

Linda Franciscovich, Executive Director, The Grossman Family Foundation

Brian Griffin, President, Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce

Basil Kolani, Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Ridgefield Academy, Ridgefield Academy

Betsy McNeil, Executive Director, Norwalk Grassroots Tennis & Education

Dr.James Page, Undergraduate Program Director for the School of Business, University of Bridgeport

Diana Revolus, Child and Community Advocate

Kate Ritter, Executive Director, Ritter Family Foundation

Erv Shames, Shames Family Foundation

Nancy Von Euler, Executive Director, Horizons at New Canaan Country School

Richard Wenning, Executive Director, BeFoundation

Dr. Steven Adamowski, Superintendent (ex-officio), Norwalk Public Schools

Mayor Harry Rilling (ex-officio), City of Norwalk