The Foundation Team is composed of individuals who have devoted their personal and professional lives to advancing the equity movement.
Innovation is supported by the pursuit of diverse thoughts and ideas, and the Foundation team has been consciously curated to include people from a variety of backgrounds. Staff range in age from 20s-60s, many with deep Pinellas and St. Petersburg roots. The team has experience from public, private, faith and non-profit sectors, and many have achieved the highest certifications possible for their fields. 60% of Staff are BIPOC, and there is representation from colleagues of color throughout all levels of power and decision making.
Years of Combined Experience in Equity Work
Full-time Foundation Staff Members
Hours of Collective Equity Training Completed
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Team
Dr. Keesha Benson is an inclusive and equity-centered community practitioner with over 15 years of experience engaging in community-level work with children and families, nonprofit organizations, and community stakeholders. Her work has crossed multiple disciplines including child welfare, public health, business, and education. Her service in both a programmatic and research capacity on numerous community grant projects has led to an in-depth understanding of community engagement at various levels with culturally diverse populations. She is dedicated to cultural humility and ensuring that community work is completed in an inclusive and culturally relevant manner.
Dr. Benson received both her Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work with a focus in community intervention, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Business Administration from Florida A&M University. As someone trained in community intervention and community participatory practice, she is passionate about ensuring that stakeholders have access to the needed resources and information that leads to long-standing transformative change.
Most recently, Dr. Benson served in a leadership capacity on two Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Transformative Grant Projects. As the Director of Thrive by Five Pinellas she worked with community partners and stakeholders in the establishment of an equitable and responsive early childhood system in Pinellas County. During her tenure as the Manager for the Grow Smarter Initiative, she facilitated the multi-sector work of 90+ organizations towards equitable economic growth for the city of St. Petersburg.
Prior to returning to her hometown (St. Petersburg, FL), Dr. Benson served as an Assistant Professor of Instruction at Temple University School of Social Work, College of Public Health in Philadelphia, PA. As a graduate of the Provost Teaching Institute, and a Faculty Fellow with the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Dr. Benson developed and facilitated the Inaugural Inclusive Teaching Institute for faculty across the university. Her experience as an Associate with the Strong Couples Strong Children project, a federally funded healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood initiative based in Durham (North Carolina), allowed her to engage in a community partner approach to addressing the needs of low-income expectant parents as they navigated the co-parental relationship for improved child outcomes.
Dr. Benson lives in St. Petersburg with her husband and three young children who she credits for much of her self-discovery and refining, she affectionately refers to this season of life as perfect chaos. As a sixth-generation resident of St. Pete she loves and respects the deep history of this city. She understands firsthand the importance of the collective work to ensure equitable, accessible, responsive, and accountable social institutions for the residents of St. Petersburg; and holds reverence for Activist Lilla Watson’s words “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Harold Bryant Jr. is a Community Engagement Coordinator. He brings 15 years of experience in program and events management to daily operation at the Center. He also has expertise in political campaign marketing, program management and logistics, and graphic design and branding.
Harold is a St. Petersburg native. He attended the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School and the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale for Broadcasting and Promotions. He holds an Associates Degree in Business Administration and Management with a focus on Marketing from St. Petersburg College.
Belinda Childs is the Controller at the Foundation where she serves in the leading staff role for financial operations, financial reporting, and HR operations. She also supports the Chief Financial and Administrative Officer in financial analysis, contract execution, and administrative functions.
Belinda has over 20 years of experience in healthcare and nonprofit organizations. Previously, she was the Accounting Manager at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Assistant Controller at Largo Medical Center, Financial Analyst at St. Anthony’s Healthcare, and Financial Analyst and Senior Financial Analyst at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. She also worked at the Foundation for 5 years—from its inception in 2013 through 2018—in the roles of Lead Accountant, Director of Finance, and Consultant before returning in 2021 as the Controller.
Belinda holds a Bachelor of Science and Fifth Year in Accounting from the University of South Florida.
Mala is a Research and Communications Associate at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg where she serves on both the Learning and Communications teams. She supports both teams with research, evaluation, data analysis, literature reviews, content creation, and copywriting. In addition, she is responsible for the translation of research for both internal and external audiences using a Race Equity Framework.
Native to Pinellas County, Mala has lived and worked abroad extensively in England, Denmark, Spain, and Tanzania. Her work includes research on human rights violations in the Commonwealth, refugee integration in Denmark, development activities in Tanzania, and racial injustice in the U.S. Mala is passionate about transcending disciplinary boundaries in her research to identify concrete solutions that increase social mobility.
Mala’s previous experience includes being the Research and Publications Assistant at the Commonwealth Lawyers Association in London, England, and working as a freelance writer for over 5 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of South Florida Honors College and a Master of Science in Global Development from the University of Copenhagen.
In her role as Community Engagement Advocate, Kyandra Darling works collaboratively across the Foundation team to deepen connections to South Pinellas County leadership and residents and engage new audiences who are not yet connected to the health equity movement. She is most excited about the opportunity to effectively communicate the Foundation’s initiatives while directly influencing change for our most vulnerable residents.
Kyandra’s previous positions include Legislative Aide in the Office of City Council, Assistant to Outreach Director at Florida’s 13th District Congressional Office, and Marketing Team Member for Red Bull North America. She is a St. Petersburg native from a family actively engaged in community service. She is a proud graduate of Gibbs High School and holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of South Florida. She enjoys spending time outside of work exploring our city’s best parks and green spaces with her young son and her dog.
Gaylynn joined the Foundation in 2012 with her current position as the Executive’s Assistant supporting our President/CEO and Directors with scheduling, logistical support and extensive administrative responsibilities and projects.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Gaylynn worked in various fields as an Executive Assistant providing high-level administrative support, as well as starting her own organizing business.
Gaylynn resides on the water with her husband enjoying a beautiful, blessed life.
Nathan Gil is responsible for data management and maintenance across platforms for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. He also assists in streamlining processes and maximizing the potential for technology solutions which is imperative in advancing the mission of the Foundation.
In addition to his core responsibilities, Nathan assists with planning events at the Center for Health Equity and advancing the Latinx Engagement Strategy. He has been trained in the Courageous Conversation About Race Protocol 1 and 2 and attended the Pacific Education Group LatinX Summit in 2019. Nate also attended the 2019 Foundation staff tour of civil rights museums and historical sites to advance his understanding of the history of race equity and social change.
He has been a member of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee of Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG), a philanthropy sector support organization.
Nathan holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Florida with a focus in Cultural and Public Health and is currently enrolled in the MBA Healthcare Management program at St. Leo University and hopes to complete in 2021.
He enjoys being a part of the St. Petersburg community and loves the diversity of people, the history, and being a part of shaping history.
Shannon Kalahar is the Senior Manager of Strategic Communications for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.
She has accrued 10 years of marketing and communications experience within the fine arts and higher education industries. Most recently, she led marketing and communications for the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at the University of South Florida, and concurrently served as Interim Associate Director of Undergraduate Programs, supporting the professional and academic success of 1,000 students annually. Shannon has served on marketing advisory groups for the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation, the Grow Smarter initiative, and was staff director for the LEADForward Roundtables program designed to narrow the executive gender gap in Tampa Bay. Currently she serves on the Advisory Board for the USF Certificate in Digital Marketing Program, and is an active member of Young Equity Advocates.
Shannon has expertise in strategy, multi-channel communications, art direction, creative development, events, process improvement and data analysis.
She received a Bachelor of Science in Fine Arts from the University of Florida and an MBA with a focus track in Information Systems from the University of South Florida.
In his role as Chief Equity Officer, Carl R. Lavender, Jr. guides community investments including grants, partnerships and program design, in alignment with the Foundation’s mission of racial and health equity. Lavender works with President and CEO Randall H. Russell to plan, assess, and direct Foundation strategy and resources to advance race equity to achieve health equity in Pinellas County. He will serve as a resource and sounding board for staff and community partners seeking the most effective and impactful ways to build a race equity movement in the region.
Lavender’s previous roles with the Foundation include Senior Director of Programs and Chief Engagement Advocate Officer. He has made a notable career leading nonprofit organizations in Pinellas County for the past 20 years and served in high level community advancement and fundraising positions in Chicago and Cleveland nonprofits prior to that.
Lavender holds a bachelor’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from The Ohio State University and a master’s in Human Services – Non-Profit Organizational Management (cum laude) from Springfield College in Massachusetts.
Carol Martin Brown will serve in the leading finance staff role at the Foundation, handling all day-to-day revenue and expenses related to operations. Carol is a senior financial leader with experience in both the financial services industry and the social sector. She previously served in Chief Financial Officer (CFO) roles at the following organizations: Transamerica Fund Advisors, Inc., in St. Petersburg, Innovation Education at the University of South Florida, and The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit based in Brooklyn, New York. Early in her career, Carol worked in New York at Ernst & Young as a senior auditor and in financial management roles at Morgan Stanley Trust Company and J.P. Morgan Chase Investor Services.
She is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a B.S. degree in Business Administration – Accounting and Finance from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an MBA from Columbia Business School.
Julie A. Rocco is engaged in a portfolio of initiatives that includes food systems, housing and homelessness, behavioral health, microtargeted LGBTQAA efforts, environmental quality, economic development, and the arts. Julie helps to facilitate projects, connects funded partners to resources, and identifies opportunities and partners. She describes her work as a balance of community engagement and challenging the traditional status quo.
Julie is trained in Courageous Conversation About Race Protocol (sessions 1 and 2) and Facilitation for Social Change Masterclass. She also attended the 2019 Foundation staff tour of civil rights museums and historical sites to advance his understanding of the history of race equity and social change.
Julie is a seasoned grants writer, special project manager and administrator with an extensive record of service in the Tampa Bay area. Her prior roles include grant writer and STEAM Manager for the Tampa Housing Authority and Vice President of Resource Development and Special Projects at the Corporation to Develop Communities (CDC) of Tampa, Inc. She also worked for the sheriff’s office for ten years.
Julie holds a B.A. in Criminology from the University of South Florida and a Master’s in Public Administration from Hodges University in Fort Myers.
Julie’s service to the community also includes membership on the Homeless Funders Council and the Pinellas County Health and Human Services Grant Review Committee. Julie is a 2019 graduate of Leadership St. Pete.
Randall H. Russell joined the Foundation for a St. Petersburg in March 2015 as the founding President and CEO. He brings to the philanthropy sector a 30-year dossier of social innovation, creative partnerships and effective advocacy and policy work.
Russell began his career in the social sector in the early 1990s as an AIDS volunteer and activist in his native South. He founded/co-founded Healthcare Responses, Collaborative Solutions, the Southern AIDS Coalition, the National AIDS Housing Coalition and the Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV/AIDS. He served as the Chief Executive Officer of Lifelong, a $30 million nonprofit based in Seattle that provides home-delivered meals, housing, care coordination, and policy/advocacy efforts for those with chronic illness including HIV/AIDS. Russell has raised more than $100 million in grants and private gifts throughout his career and leveraged those dollars at least three-fold in various ways for communities.
A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Russell worked as a professional bassoonist and spent many years as a marketing, public relations and development employee for orchestras across the United States.
In her role as Senior Administrator at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Kewa will provide high level executive support to the President/CEO, leadership team, and serve as secretary/parliamentarian to the Board of Trustees.
Kewa previously worked as a Legislative Aide for the City of St. Petersburg City Council’s Office, where she served over 30 Council Members in her 22.5-year career.
She comes from a family who is very active in the community and shares a passion for social change. Kewa has dedicated many hours of her personal time with community and local nonprofits, including Advantage Village Academy, Matters of the Heart Radio Ministry, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Feeding Tampa Bay. She is an alumni of Gibbs High School and holds a B.A. in Criminology.