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Dare to Run Virtual Women's Leadership Program

Cohort #2: 2020-2021

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Marissa Caro

Marissa Benton Caro is a recent transplant to Greenwich, CT by way of New York City. In addition to being a mother and perpetual student, Marissa is as a K- 8 School Administrator, Democratic Political Commentator on Fox News, and the CEO and Founder of, a digital media firm that gives women the skills and education to start and grow their businesses through mentorship, education, and services. She has wanted to venture into public service her entire life and is a champion and advocate of social justice, equality, inclusivity, access to education, and women's rights. 

Karinna Carrillo is from Santa Barbara, California. She is the eldest of four and was raised by her mom and dad, both first generation immigrants from Mexico. 


She earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention from the University of Southern California. Following her undergraduate degree, she worked in healthcare consulting assisting clients in the coordination of their employee health care plans. Here, she learned firsthand about the inadequacies of the American healthcare system and the power of legislation and how it nearly always left out the stories of communities just like her own.  


Karinna left the corporate world to attend Columbia University in New York City and help change the multitude of human rights violations she saw everyday. Karinna is earning her Master of Public Health with a focus in environmental health sciences and policy as she believes that all policy should be driven by protecting the health and wellbeing  of communities. Karinna currently works on the Constituent Services team for State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (Bronx/Westchester). 

Karinna Carrillo

Essential Workers Scholarship Recipient

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Kayla Cato

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Kayla Cato is a native of Queens, New York who was born to parents who hail from Jamaica. She earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Early Childhood Elementary Education with a dual degree in Special Education from East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Shortly after receiving her Bachelors she worked in the intensive Special Education field. Eager to continue and advance her career she pursued her Masters of Science Degree in Literacy Education at Queens College in Queens, New York. While studying for her Masters she entered into the administrative side of education where she was able to sit and make decisions amongst administrative boards, development teams, and trustee boards. On these teams she witnessed the strategies and plans of education and how the students of the respective institutions were affected. 


Kayla is on the Board of the 4 Real Women International Inc (4RWI). On this board, she serves as the Donor Relations Coordinator. In this role she organizes fundraising campaigns and fosters donor relations that will contribute to the exemplary work of 4RWI and their mission to empower women and girls across the country and around the world.


She is a proud advocate for students and the quality of education that they receive. She aspires to further her career in Education Policy so that she can be a representative, advocate, and voice for underserved school districts, communities and families.

Dania Darwish

Dania Darwish is the co-founder of the Asiyah Women's Center, which is the first emergency temporary housing facility in NYC that shelters Muslim domestic violence survivors and/or victims of eviction. Under her leadership, Dania oversees all operations at the center including but not limited to fundraising, grant writing, partnership, and strategic planning, outreach and volunteer development, and case intake. 


Previously, Dania has held roles and leadership positions at Saving Syria, Amnesty International, UN Women, the Muslim American Society, the Office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and the New York Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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Harriet Hines

In 1972, Harriet Hines was born to Harry Hines, a Real Estate Broker; and Violet R. Hines, a Community Activist in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.  While growing up in the shadow of her father’s profession of Real Estate, Harriet witnessed a very different Brooklyn than what is seen today.  She witnessed a Brooklyn that was budding with small business, and a climate that prided itself on the “American Dream” of residential home ownership. Harriet also grew up in a time where she witnessed the struggles of racial inequality in her community, and in our nation.  The importance of fighting for those injustices were highlighted and brought to significant relevance, by her mother Violet R. Hines, a Community Activist.

In summation, all of what has preceded Harriet, serves as her passion and constitutes as her being today in this life.  Harriet follows in her parent’s footsteps with:

  • Her love and passion for community service and businesses entrepreneurship.

  • Being a Licensed Real Estate Agent for the State of New York.

  • Being a Licensed Notary Public for the State of New York.

  • Former Chairman of St. Mark’s Head Start UPK in Flatbush, Brooklyn (2018).

  • Former Community Liaison and Vice President of Community Partnership Charter School in Clinton Hills, Brooklyn  

  • The Secretary of Caribbean American Steel Pan Education Center (CASPEC) in East New York, Brooklyn (2018-Present).

  • Master of Science in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Purdue University Global.

  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Brooklyn College.

  • A 25-year veteran of the music industry working for administrations and managing talent.

  • Former Secretary/Bookkeeper of the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, a Horticultural/Educational Center in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (1990-1996).

  • Published poet in the 25th publication of Dance Upon the Shore.

  • A Grant Writer

  • Former Vice President of Brite Leadership Coalition, Brooklyn, NY (2016-2019).

  • Published Author of Fiction Novel entitled "On a Bed of Marigolds."  (Amazon, April 2020)

  • Democratic County Committee Official (June 2020)

  • Licensed NYC Food Handler (2019)

The opportunity to serve the South Shore Staten Island community as a Dare to Run Leader is an amazing next step in Monica Angelena Johnson’s life of service. She was born and raised in El Cajon, CA, which has one of the USA’s largest refugee populations while simultaneously being located in one of California’s most conservative congressional districts (CA-50). In this environment, Monica was instilled with strong union values by divorced parents, neither of whom graduated college: a single truck-driving Teamster Mom with the help of Monica’s Dad, an active NATCA (National Air Traffic Controllers Association) member.


Continuing her family’s legacy of serving the country (with family members from Dad to Grandpas serving in every branch of the American military), Monica joined the Peace Corps in 2008 and was stationed in Târgu Ocna, Romania. Over the three years of her Peace Corps service teaching English as a foreign language to middle schoolers, Monica not only empowered her students to design, implement, and lead their own girl-empowerment day camp from the ground up, but she built a bond with her community so strong that she proudly calls it her second home.

Monica Johnson

Full Scholarship Recipient

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After returning to the USA in 2011, Monica ended her year-long exhaustive job hunt during the first major economic recession of her 35-year-old life by joining AmeriCorps. The highlight of her service was the multiple group-volunteer events she coordinated that provided mock job interviews to empower refugees entering her home community’s job market. Helping immigrants get jobs is Monica’s passion because her Great Grandpa’s memory and legacy were engrained into her thanks to regular visits with him until he passed when she was eight years old. After working as a child laborer in a sulfur mine in Sicily, he came through Ellis Island as a boy to settle in Buffalo, NY, become an electrician and IBEW member, and start a family.


Monica has called New York City home for over five years after being the first in her family graduate from an Ivy League school and over the past three years has utilized her Master’s in Public Administration from Columbia University to work for the City of New York as an analyst. She continues to follow her passion for workers’ rights and honor her family’s pro-union heritage by being an active member of the largest municipal union in the city, DC37, and serving as the events coordinator on the founding organizing committee of the up-and-coming DC37 Progressives Caucus. Her Great Grandpa may have moved the family to San Diego because of how much the climate reminded him of Sicily, but now Monica is bringing her family’s story and tenacity full circle by running for office in the state that welcomed her family into the USA over 100 years ago.


Nicole Lee

Nicole Lee, owner of Wink Beauty Parlour. Nicole’s mission is to help  women with their inner and outer beauty. Focusing on self confidence, self awareness and  beauty over all.  Additionally we provide  helpful beauty   tips for the hair, makeup, eyelashes, skin care etc. Wink  Beauty  Parlour received community grants to help expand their cause. 


Nicole lee is also the Founder of Journey Through Seth’s Eyes . The mission of this organization is to help special needs families (parents & children ) internationally with education, resources, workshops, community outreach, consultation, housing, advocacy & other wrap around services.

Lisa J. Pino is Governor Cuomo’s Executive Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Health. As the agency’s second most leading official, she directs a $160B budget, 5600 staff, three regional offices, 14 direct reports, and programs, policies, grants, and operations. Her oversight includes the states’ COVID-19 response, Medicaid, Hospitals, Public Health, Wadsworth Laboratory, Center for Environmental Health, AIDS Institute, WIC, and Bureau of Immunization.


Pino is a former executive service member of the Obama administration, where she served as the USDA SNAP Deputy Administrator and USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights under Secretary Tom Vilsack, and as Senior Counselor to DHS Secretary Jeh C. Johnson. An attorney, she has practiced immigration law for Mayer Brown, Littler Global, and Bacon & Dear for global Fortune 100 clients.


A former Americorps member, community organizer, AFL-CIO and SEIU staff member, and legal aid attorney for farmworkers and detainees, she is the proud first-generation daughter of immigrant parents. She is a dedicated mentor to minority students and young professionals, and has served on non-profit boards for the American Heart Association and Hispanic Scholarship Fund.


Pino completed her B.A, M.A., and J.D. at Arizona State University with honors and distinction, and a National Hispanic Leadership Institute Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Her awards include induction into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Hall of Fame and Arizona State University’s Gold & Gavel and Horquilla awards for her public service. She lives in her native state of New York.

Lisa J. Pino, J.D.  


Dorian Rojas, J.D.  

Dorian Rojas is a native New Yorker of Dominican descent. She is an immigration attorney working for Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest and leading crime victim assistance organization. She has legal experience in both the private and public sector but currently specializes in immigration cases. Dorian specializes in U-Visa/VAWA cases involving domestic abuse and other violent crimes. She also has experience with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for children who have been abused, abandoned, and/or neglected, asylum, removal defense cases, and family based petitions. Dorian is an advocate for woman and the most vulnerable members of our community. She engages in community outreach to raise awareness of and resolve social justice issues. She also mentors young woman on career paths and professional development. Dorian graduated St. John’s University School of Law in 2015 and is license to practice law in New York, Washington D.C., and Nebraska. 

Stephanie Rosas-Garcia

Stephanie is a first generation Mexican American, and a second-year MPA student at NYU Wagner specializing in Advocacy and Political Action. She currently serves as Alumni Relations Manager for Wagner City Gov., and Vice Chair for the Association of Latinx Students and Allies in Public Service. She is passionate about helping the Latinx Community specifically in addressing health equity and access. Stephanie volunteers with mutual aids in her community and immigrant rights justice groups to help address food insecurity in the community.  She holds a bachelor's degree in Public Health from Rutgers University.  


Carmella Seslar, J.D.


Carmella Seslar, known by friends as “Carmi,” is an associate in the Environmental group at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A., focused on state and federal site remediation, brownfield and landfill redevelopment, environmental regulatory compliance, land use permitting, and environmental litigation. She works closely with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Environmental Protection Agency to help her clients clean up properties and comply with environmental regulations. One of her most impactful projects involves the conversion of a contaminated site into a public waterfront park in New Jersey, utilizing state grant funding.

Before joining Wilentz in 2019, Carmi handled environmental and land use matters throughout New Jersey and New York. She has extensive experience with environmental remediation, including CERCLA/Superfund litigation and allocations. Carmi has represented Fortune 500 companies in massive site remediation cases, like the Berry’s Creek Study Area and the Gowanus Canal. She also has ample experience with environmental permitting and regulatory compliance involving wetlands, coastal/CAFRA areas, riparian/tidelands law, and flood hazard areas.

Actively involved in the professional legal community, Carmi is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Environmental Law Section; and a member of the Professional Women of Building in the Garden State.


She is also a member of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, Environmental Business Council. In 2019, she wrote “Protections Extended to Townhouse Owners Seeking to Rebuild After Sandy,” published by the New Jersey Law Journal, about the Flood Hazard Area Control Act amendments and the Gross v. Iannuzzi precedent-setting court ruling that allows reconstruction of Superstorm Sandy-damaged properties to flood-safety standards without municipal approval. She is appearing as a panelist on September 22, 2020 to present “Legal Trends in Environmental Law” on behalf of the New Jersey Builders’ Association.

Carmi earned her law degree at St. John's University School of Law. During her tenure at St. John’s, Carmi served as a Senior Staff member on the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, publishing an article relating to the discharge of student loan debt in bankruptcy. She also served as a judicial intern for Judge Gropper at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. Subsequently, Carmi worked at Chanel, Inc. where her primary focus was Trademark Law and Internet Enforcement. Carmi is admitted to practice law in New Jersey and New York. 


Prior to law school, Carmi attended King’s College, near her hometown of Pittston, Pennsylvania – a.k.a. the “Tomato Capital of the World.” At King’s, she served as President of Circle K, a collegiate service organization, associated with Kiwanis International. In 2019, Carmi became member of Holmdel Kiwanis, an organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the lives of children.

Now residing in Central Jersey, Carmi spends her free time wake-surfing, winemaking, hiking, and singing Broadway tunes. She is the proud dog-mom of two rescue puppies, Mufasa and Coco.

Nadzeya Shutava

Full Scholarship Recipient

Nadzeya Shutava is originally from Belarus, but has studied and worked in Japan, Thailand, China, South Korea, and Singapore in the past. She holds a Master's degree in Foreign Affairs from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and a Ph.D. in Social Sciences (with a focus on political science and social anthropology) from the University of Tsukuba in Japan. She is a native Russian speaker and is fluent in Belarusian, French, and Japanese in addition to English. 


She moved to New York City this year and is currently looking for her next adventure in the USA. 


Nadzeya is passionate about the freedom of expression in all forms, and about training her two cats to do tricks (they know how to fist bump now!) 

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Sharon Smith

Originally from Texas, Sharon is a graduate of the University of Texas – San Antonio. She relocated to Arizona in 2005 where she continued a career in technology sales. Despite receiving several awards and accolades for her performance, she found the work unfulfilling. With her health and spirit waning, she left the corporate world to learn more about herself. 


Sharon quickly found that she was most passionate when giving back to the community and began serving as the Board President of a non-profit where she directed an amazing team that raised over $20,000 for several children’s charities through various events. Sharon is a community activist and is a founding member of the Handmaids’ Resistance Phoenix and currently serves as the Secretary of the Board. She joined the Board of the Pro-Choice Arizona Foundation in 2019. She has long had a passion for civics and is exploring the option of running for political office in the next two years. 


When she is not protesting outside the State Capitol or meeting with members of the State House and Senate, Sharon enjoys spending time with her dogs and cooking. She also loves to travel and looks forward to filling her passport with many more stamps as soon as it is safe to do so.

Soma Syed is the principal of her law firm Soma Syed & Associates, a community activist and advocate, and the President of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association.  In her private practice, she has been extremely deliberate in allocating and setting aside time to matters of public importance.  While running a law practice focused on civil and criminal defense, she has donated thousands of hours in pro bono legal work, community and political issues, and contributions that make people more informed and active voters.  As the Senior VP of Community Alliance Group, she works on bringing communities together on important issues of our time such as voter registration and Census 2020.  As the Chairperson of the NYS Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS), she focuses on connecting competent attorneys with clients in upstate NY. 


She has been awarded numerous awards and certificates for her legal, community and charitable work.  NYS Governor Cuomo recognized her contributions with a Certificate of Recognition.  She is excited to be part of this amazing group and planning for public office in the future.  She obtained her BA from the City College of the City University of N.Y. and her juris doctorate from the Albany Law School of the Union University.  She lives in NYC with her family.  

Soma Syed, J.D.

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Congratulations to Cohort 2!

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