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.
Jesse is the Manager of Policy, Strategy, & Continuous Improvement. His responsibilities include advancing policy and advocacy work, using systems thinking and improvement science to improve impact, and launching the College & Career Readiness Initiative.
Jesse cares deeply about making a system-level impact to communities that face inequity in Norwalk. He believes that when people with diverse experiences and skills come together to question, analyze, and strategize about complex educational issues, the collaborative experience can produce transformational results.
Jesse taught for five years in urban classrooms and worked as a Policy and Communications Associate for the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). He has taught at three high-performing schools throughout the nation—Chicago, Washington DC, and New Haven—that serve historically underrepresented students. He began his teaching career as a Teach For America Corps member teaching English Language Arts to high school students with special needs, and he most recently piloted an innovative, college-level course called AP Seminar. At the NYCDOE, Jesse worked for the Office of School Quality, which conducts Quality Reviews that support student learning and teacher practice, and he led the design of online professional learning materials that support school improvement planning.
Jesse holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from American University, a Master of Arts in Teaching in Special Education from National Louis University, and a Master of Education in Education Policy & Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He serves as an Associate Board member for the Waterside School in Stamford. Jesse was born and raised in Norwalk, and he currently resides in Stamford with his fiancé.
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.
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 from 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: Priceline.com and Booking.com. 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 Portland, Maine.
Ray’s LinkedIn profile can be seen at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rayleslie44/
Anamilena was born and raised in Norwalk. She was involved in various school activities, choir, and sports throughout her Norwalk Public School education. She graduated from Norwalk High School in 2010 and received her Bachelor’s in Psychology, at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT, in 2014.
She worked as a parent educator for the Parents As Teachers home visiting program at Family and Children’s Agency. Anamilena offered encouragement, helped parents learn about their child’s development and how to support it, and connected families to the local community.
It was with the support of FCA and the experience working directly with families that made her want to pursue an advanced degree. She received her Masters in Social Work from Sacred Heart University, with a concentration in Community Organizing.
Anamilena comes from a large, Colombian family and enjoys learning about different cultures. She believes that the environment in which people are born and raised should not define them, but rather it should protect them. She is honored to be a part of Norwalk’s transformation by working with Norwalk ACTS.
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.
Denique Weidema-Lewis joined Norwalk ACTS in June 2020 as the Manager of Implementation and Collaborative Action. In this role, she facilitates and supports the work of the Norwalk ACTS Initiatives and Working Groups.
Prior to joining Norwalk ACTS, she was the Director of Prevention at Positive Directions- The Center for Prevention and Counseling where she provided oversight and support to Mid-Fairfield coalitions tasked with reducing rates of substance use among young people. Prior to joining Positive Directions, she was the Regional Action Council Director that led project management, coordination, and technical assistance for the six communities comprising of the Greater Bridgeport area at RYASAP.
A self-proclaimed data geek, she’s always ready to uncover the underlined factors which contribute to community conditions. With prior experience working within a youth service bureau, she is a strong believer in encouraging youth voices. She is a dynamic trainer and facilitator who is Dialogue Education-trained and holds multiple training certifications in evidence-based programs. Denique is a national and international workshop presenter, having provided workshops for the National Prevention Network and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA).
Denique received a Bachelor of Science in English from Southern Connecticut State University. She currently lives in Bridgeport, CT with her husband and their five young children. She currently services as Board Chair of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.