Our Executive Team has collectively over 50 years of experience serving various populations of need:
Sister Nancy Downing, CND, Esq.
Sr. Nancy Downing is dedicated to improving the lives of homeless young people and has demonstrated this for over 10 years at Covenant House New York. Sr. Nancy joined Covenant House New York in 2007 as a Senior Staff Attorney and became Director of Advocacy/Legal Services in 2008. In 2016, Sr. Nancy accepted the position of Executive Director with Covenant House New York.
Sr. Nancy has over 25 years of experience in management and as an attorney, working on issues of homelessness, poverty, fair housing, and civil rights. Prior to coming to Covenant House New York in 2007, Sr. Nancy was the Executive Director of the MCIF Center, serving immigrant women in Brooklyn. She also served as Staff Attorney at New York Legal Assistance Group, representing clients with chronic and serious illnesses, Legal Services Coordinator for STEPS to End Family Violence and as Executive Director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
Leslie Abbey, Esq.
Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer
Leslie Abbey joined Covenant House New York in April of 2017 as the Chief Operating Officer and brings with her over 20 years of experience working on issues such as family and youth justice, homelessness, fair housing, and evidence-based initiatives. Prior to coming to Covenant House New York, Leslie was the Chief Program Officer of Lantern Community Services, one of the largest supportive housing organizations in New York City, providing long-term supportive and permanent housing to various populations of need, including people facing chronic homelessness. Prior to this, she was an Associate Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Policy, Planning and Measurement at the Administration for Children’s Services, and a Staff Attorney for the Juvenile Rights Practice at the Legal Aid Society of New York City.
Chief Financial and Administrative Officer
Leigh Fugger-Smith joined Covenant House New York in September 2020, and brings over 25 years of finance, accounting, auditing, consulting, and management experience with specialization in nonprofit organizations. Prior to joining Covenant House New York, Leigh was Director of the New York City Finance and Accounting Outsourcing group of the public accounting firm RSM (and the acquired firm Tate & Tryon) where she worked with many organizations, overseeing the successful delivery of finance, accounting and technology consulting services. Leigh holds a Virginia CPA license, Bachelor Degrees in both Accounting and Music and, in concert with her finance career, has formed and overseen organizations focused on the development of youth through music education.
Theodora Carter, MSILR, PHR, SHRM-CP
Chief Human Resources Officer
Theodora Carter has over 25 years of experience in Human Resources in the nonprofit and health care fields. As Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Theodora leads a team that is responsible for ensuring the effective hiring, onboarding, and management of all staff at Covenant House New York. Theodora received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and her Master’s of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations at Baruch College at the City University of New York.
Cathy Batista, LCSW
Senior Vice President of Residential and Support Services
Cathy Batista has over 10 years of experience in direct delivery of social services as well as program administration. Currently, Cathy oversees our residential and support services, which includes our Youth Shelter, Rights of Passage Transitional Independent Living Programs, Permanent Supportive Housing Programs, CovWorks Employment Program, and our Youth Development programming. Prior to joining Covenant House New York, Cathy oversaw residential programming at Lantern Community Services, one of the largest supportive housing agencies in New York City. Cathy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Le Moyne College, and her Master of Social Work from Fordham University. In 2016, she completed the Post-Graduate Executive Leadership Program at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work.
Vice President of Real Estate & Facilities Administration at Covenant House New York
Sean manages all of CHNY’s facilities, which includes our Public Safety and Facilities departments across multiple buildings. He has also overseen the demolition of CHNY’s old shelter and the construction of the new facility in its place. He has overseen the renovation and opening of our longer term, transitional living facilities in the Bronx and also manages the operations for Covenant House’s iconic Sleep Outs. Sean is also an alumni and graduate of JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction leadership training.
Camden McDaris Black, Esq.
Vice President of Development & Communications
Camden McDaris Black oversees all of CHNY’s fundraising efforts, including foundation, government, and local corporate grant-seeking, as well as fundraising collaborations with CHI. She is also responsible for oversight of all internal and external communications, as well as CHNY’s volunteer program. Camden brings a decade of fundraising experience to her role, as well as an extensive prior professional writing background.
Rev. Dr. Shakeema North
Vice President of Youth Development, Equity & Inclusion
Shakeema North is a Youth Development professional with an exceptional ability to develop holistic and inclusive youth development initiatives that are strength-based, trauma-informed, and geared towards serving inner-city youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. Shakeema is skilled at designing strategic programs, preparing thought-provoking workshops and seminars, facilitating community-based campaigns, and improving overall organizational productivity. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from North Carolina A&T State University and also holds a Certificate in Internet Technologies from New York University and a Certificate in Christian Ministry from New York Theological Seminary; where she also received the Master of Divinity degree. She is a 2014 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary; a 2016 Fellow of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies’ Faith and Justice Initiative; and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. In May 2020, Shakeema received the Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership in the Christian Tradition at Duke Divinity School.
Vice President of Program Compliance and Performance Measurement
Vesna Selmanovic has 15 years of progressive leadership experience with data, compliance, and quality improvement for at-risk youth programs, and she is responsible for ensuring high-quality services and client outcomes for all programs at CHNNY. Prior to her work here, she was the Director of Quality Improvement and Compliance at New Alternatives for Children.
Maria (Rannie) Morota
Vice President of Operational Controllership
Maria “Rannie” Morota joined Covenant House New York in September 2019 as a Controller and assumed the position of VP Operational Controllership in January 2021. She brings over 20 years of experience in finance and accounting in non-profit organizations such as Teach for America, Turnaround for Children and Environmental Defense Fund. She also had IT experience as a Consultant for IBM projects . Rannie is most proud to be involved in organizations that promote children and youth education and well-being.
Jayne Bigelsen, Esq.
Vice President of Advocacy
Jayne Bigelsen’s background is a mixture of law, psychology, communications, non-profit management and public policy. She is a dedicated advocate committed to assisting vulnerable populations, including young people experiencing homelessness and survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, as they find their way to freedom.
Board of Directors
Covenant House New York is governed by a Board of Directors, to whom our Executive Director reports. The Board of Directors plays a critical role in helping transform the lives of runaway and homeless youth. The Board of Directors is Covenant House New York’s governing body, caring for the fiduciary aspects of our organization, and ensuring fulfillment of our mission.
|Douglas M. Blagdon
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Executive Vice President, Chief Accounting Officer & Corporate Controller
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Executive Vice President
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|Maureen A. Henegan
Chair and Chief Executive Officer
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Ernst & Young
Founder and Executive Director
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Chief Administrative Officer
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|Joseph E. Royce
Chairman, CEO and President
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Senior Executive Vice President
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|Rick Van Benschoten