Meet our Fellows! Kicking off our Phase 0 in the South

In August, we looked under the ioby hood to share our Phase 0 process with you. It’s a powerful listening and trusting tool, and we’ve found that it is one of the best ways to see how ioby can best serve residents, including the possibility of opening new city offices.

This month we’re excited to announce our latest Phase 0 research project! It’s designed to help us take the next step in our journey, and understand how ioby can best support grassroots leaders as they bring their great ideas to life in towns, neighborhoods, and whole cities across the South.

This work is possible through the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. 

We know that the Southern United States isn’t monolithic; there are key differences, from geography to culture. So we felt it was important not to brush over those differences and conduct our Phase 0 research over the singular “South,” but instead to zero in on unique civic environments where the effects of national social, economic, and public health trends have been felt differently. To arrive at these regions, we looked at things like economic development, climate, population growth and migration, regional history, race and income, and we were able to identify eight subregions for our study with distinct features: Central Appalachia, Border Region, Delta Region, Black Belt, Western Gulf, Northwest Arkansas, Eastern Gulf, and Carolina Region. 

To help us better understand the local context in each of these regions we’ve hired eight local research fellows. They come from incredibly rich backgrounds, and bring deep knowledge of their respective communities to our work. This is our biggest Phase 0 research project yet, and they’re the perfect folks to help us lead it. We’re so excited to introduce you to them. 

Get to know our South Phase 0 fellows!

1. Alea Tveit – Central Appalachia

Alea is originally from Nashville, TN and currently lives and works as a student and community activist in Chattanooga. With a passion for environmental and social justice, anti-racism work, gender studies, and community led grassroots work, she received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Sociology with a minor in Women’s Studies at the University of Tennessee. She spent the last 5 years working in local Chattanooga nonprofits with focuses on community grassroots organizing, social and racial justice, equity, public education advocacy, and research. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Macro Social Work at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

2. Cemelli de Aztlan – Border Region

Cemelli, a native El Pasoan, has been engaged in community organizing, social justice advocacy and cultural education throughout her career. She holds a Masters in Divinity from Harvard University and received her Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University at Austin.

Presently, de Aztlan serves as the Network Weaver for the El Paso Equal Voice Network, a coalition of community organizations rooted in social justice, human rights, environmental justice & women’s rights, as an adjunct lecturer at The University of Texas at El Paso, and serves on the board of La Mujer Obrera. 

3. Jackson Alexander – The Delta Region

Jackson is currently a PhD student at Mississippi State University (MSU) studying public policy and administration with a focus on rural community development. In addition to Jackson’s new role with ioby, he also serves as a graduate assistant for MSU’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration and a part-time Community Sustainability Facilitator with the Arkansas-based rural development non-profit, Communities Unlimited. In that role, Jackson brings his years of experience in higher education and community-oriented programming to focus on local-level community and economic development in the Arkansas Delta. Jackson lives in Little Rock with his wife Amie, who is a healthcare attorney, and his Goldendoodle, Theodore, who enjoys a hard day at doggie daycare.

4. Lauren Taylor – Black Belt

Lauren is originally from Detroit, Michigan and received her Bachelor in Sociology and a Masters in Public Administration from Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black university. In addition to her fellowship with ioby, Lauren is the secretary of the International City Managers Association, Partnerships Chair for her University’s Student Government Association as well as a member of multiple social justice and professional organizations such as the NAACP. She has a passion for advancing community and educational systems and policies, interacting with children, and being a constant voice for student affairs. 

5. Melissa Lee – Western Gulf

Melissa S. Lee is the Senior Manager for Planning and Community Engagement at Concordia, a New Orleans based architect and planning firm, and is an experienced urban redevelopment professional and solutions-focused administrator with a comprehensive background in neighborhood economic development, community organizing, and urban planning. Her previous work experience includes serving as Senior Advisor for Commercial Revitalization at the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA),  Managing Director of the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant (CIBS), and much more. Melissa envisions equitable planning and development beyond buzzwords, working to make sure that planning is more responsive to all populations, and developing new tools for understanding how social and economic conditions affect access across racial and socioeconomic disparities. Melissa received a B.S in International Relations from the University of Redlands and a M.P.A with a concentration in Urban Community and Economic Development from the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.

6. Melissa Terry – Northwest Arkansas

Melissa is a mother, urban farmer, 5th generation Arkansan, and academic food systems/policy researcher. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Arkansas focused on articulating and accelerating the nexus of public policy, community engagement, and equitable food systems in a way that develops healthy, regional food systems & climate resiliency. As part of her work, she’s conducted research with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the World Wildlife Fund, and been an educator and collaborator with Fayetteville Public Schools and Fayetteville Public Library. She enjoys exploring, pattern thinking, grant writing, and community engagement. Melissa’s family farm is solar powered with a grid-tied pv array where she and her partner are raising two daughters, 15 hens, a one-acre house garden, organic cascade hops, and a town rooster named Hey-Hey.

7. Rachael Reichenbach – Eastern Gulf

Rachael holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from The George Washington University with concentrations in sustainable development, anthropology, and human services. A connector and facilitator at heart, Rachael’s work primarily focuses on community food systems and group processes for change makers. Since 2015 Rachael has held various roles in the Florida food system, including farmers market manager, value chain coordinator, and coordinator of Fresh Access Bucks, Florida’s statewide nutrition incentive program.  In 2018 Rachael served as the co-chair of the Florida Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and is currently an active participant in the Wallace Center’s Food Systems Leadership Network. When she is not engaging in food systems transformation or supporting groups to live into their highest potential, Rachael can be found adding tools to her facilitation toolkit, playing outside, practicing any number of mindfulness modalities, and reimagining how the various communities she belongs to can be more resilient and equitable.

8. Raymundo Garcia – Carolina Region

Raymundo graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Public Policy and minors in History and Social and Economic Justice. Raised in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, Raymundo grew up in a predominantly black and brown community characterized by significant disinvestment. During his undergraduate career, Raymundo served as the Co-President of the Carolina Hispanic Association where his activism efforts contributed to the creation of an on campus Latinx Center. Prior to ioby, Raymundo served as the Chief Financial Officer for So Good Pupusas, a social justice food truck and catering company.

Raymundo also worked at the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust where he worked to bolster community-driven solutions through asset-mapping, particularly in North Carolina. Currently, Raymundo works with Lead for America as the Director of State & Local Development in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Our fellows are busy in each of their communities, reaching out to neighbors and various institutions to take the pulse of their regions and find out: What’s happening in our towns and cities? What needs to happen? How can ioby support? They’ll conduct their research through the end of this year, and we’re excited to share more of ioby’s journey with you along the way.