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Meet the MVI Team!



Laura Zinski, Chief Executive Officer

“MVI’s collaborative structure makes a way for incredibly dedicated people to work together to support and improve their communities. I’m honored to work with so many people with deep integrity and the persistent desire to do right and do well.”

- Laura

Laura has been a part of the Mon Valley Initiative since 1994, leaving briefly from 1998-2001 to work with the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development and Mosites Company, then returning in July 2001 to become MVI’s third director.

Originally from Canton, Ohio, Laura first came to Pittsburgh in 1992, after completing her undergraduate studies at Wheaton College in Illinois. While earning her Masters of Science in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, Laura interned with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and Central Northside Neighborhood Council. She accepted her first full-time position as Housing Development Specialist at MVI after completing her graduate degree.

Laura chose to live in the Mon Valley because it’s a great, affordable location where you have access to all the amenities in the region. She recently completed the renovation of her 110-year-old house in Braddock. She loves gardening and spending time with her husband and three-year-old daughter, Veronica.


John Bixler, Chief Operating Officer

“I feel blessed to be part of MVI. The combination of thoughtful, dedicated and hard-working members along with our talented and passionate staff makes MVI a wonderful force for positive change throughout the valley.”

- John Bixler

As MVI’s COO, John works closely with our management team to identify and fix any problem that could potentially keep MVI from reaching our goals – in short, John keeps the office running smoothly. He has been with MVI for 10 years, starting out as the Community Outreach Director in 2004 and transitioning to the role of COO in 2006.

John has a Bachelor’s of Science in Landscape Design from South Dakota State University and a background of working with grassroots community organizations in positions ranging from Community Organizer, to Lobbyist, to Executive Director. He spent 12 years working with Dakota Rural Action in South Dakota, the state that he calls home.

When he’s not in Homestead keeping us in order, John enjoys watching the Pittsburgh Penguins, seeing live music, working in his yard, and hanging out on the back deck with his beautiful wife, Michele.


Steve Taylor, Controller

“Residents of the Mon Valley have tremendous pride in their communities, and this is evident in their commitment to local community development work.”

- Steve

Steve began serving as Controller of Mon Valley Initiative in August 2008. In this capacity he directs the accounting, finance, and internal control functions of the organization. Before making a transition to the nonprofit sector, Steve served in various financial and executive management positions in the banking industry. After progressing through assignments with financial institutions owned by First Security Corporation, USAA, Fidelity Investments, and AT&T, he served for seven years as President and CEO of a subsidiary bank of Citigroup.

Steve has made a significant commitment to the nonprofit sector throughout his career, serving as a member of the Executive Committees of Salt Lake Community Action Program and United Way of Salt Lake, as Chairman of the Utah Community Reinvestment Corporation, and as a Director of several other organizations (including currently Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania). Steve is originally from Pleasant Hills, and he received an MBA from the University of Utah and a BA from the University of Idaho.

In his free time, you will find Steve traveling, reading, running, and gardening when he can.


Sheila White, Executive Assistant

“I love being a part of the Steel Valley and the Mon Valley’s historical heritage.”

- Sheila

Sheila has been the Executive Assistant at MVI for 18 years, where she provides clerical support, performs administrative functions for the Board of Delegates, assists in database management, and fills a host of other roles to keep our organization running!

She was born at Pittsburgh Hospital and grew up here, attending Duff’s Business Institute and CCAC for Business Administration. Sheila loves to travel, but she always comes back to the ‘burgh! She also has an interest in issues related to poverty in third-world nations.

Sheila’s two dogs, Stevie Wonder and Buddy, keep her on her toes at home, so the MVI employees make sure to do the same while she’s in the office – just so she won’t miss them.

Community Outreach Team


Jo Ellen Welsh, Director of Community Outreach

“The people of the Mon Valley, or Pittsburgh in general, are the ones who didn’t give up and go away. They stayed behind and are fighting the fight.”

- Jo Ellen

As our Director of Community Outreach, Jo Ellen oversees the Outreach Team’s daily interaction with our ten member Community Development Corporations (CDCs). She personally provides support to our CDCs in Monessen, Braddock, and West Newton.

Jo Ellen was born and raised in West Mifflin, and she received an Associate’s Degree in Business from Duff’s Business Institute. Her background is in program coordination and development at West Penn and Braddock Hospitals. When Jo Ellen began working at MVI in March 2012, she was already part of the MVI family through her long-time involvement with the Swissvale Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO).

Jo Ellen is a long-time member of Swissvale Rotary and volunteers at her church. In her free time, she enjoys biking, hiking, and gardening.


Bethany Bloise, Community Outreach Specialist

“There’s something special about empowering the people in a community to embrace its past, make something of its present, and take ownership of its future.”

- Bethany

As a Community Outreach Specialist, Bethany spends most of her time at the office completing tasks for the Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh, and North Braddock CDCs and working on the digital promotion of MVI. She is one of the newest additions to our team, hired after having worked on MVI’s website as an Independent Contractor for several months.

A native Pittsburgh-er, Bethany has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism of Public Relations from West Virginia University and a background in marketing and agency work. She has been involved in volunteer initiatives and community organizations her whole life and, realizing that was her real passion, made the career change in January of 2014.

When she gets time to herself, Bethany takes on personal projects including painting, crocheting, and learning songs on the piano. She also enjoys international service trips and making frequent visits to her family in Pitcairn.


Stephanie Eson, Community Outreach Specialist

“The people are so welcoming and have such pride in their history. It’s truly inspiring and an incredible motivator for creating positive change in Mon Valley communities.”

- Stephanie

In her role as a Community Outreach Specialist, Stephanie provides support to MVI staff and to the Rankin, Swissvale, Greater Charleroi, and Homestead CDCs. She is also responsible for assisting in the planning and promotion of annual MVI events, as well as programs and events coordinated by the Real Estate, Housing Counseling, and Workforce Development teams.

Stephanie graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in April 2014 with her Master’s of Social Work and was hired as one of the newest additions to the MVI team. She grew up in Aurora, Indiana and received her Bachelor’s of Political Science from Miami University in Ohio in 2011.

When she is away from the office, you will find Stephanie traveling, learning, reading, or improving her gluten-free cooking skills. She loves reading about the Cold War, refugee populations, and cultural practices. Now that she is finished with school, she hopes to get back into her hobbies such as making handmade greeting cards and sewing children’s quilts.

Housing Counseling Team


Dana Hodge II, HUD Intermediary Manager

“The Mon Valley has always been ‘home’ to me. Even though they may seem different at first, the communities are really all the same overall, with the same strong values.”

- Dana H.

Dana has been our HUD Intermediary Manager for the past 10 years. Housing Opportunities, Inc. (HOI) merged with MVI in 2004, and Dana then joined our staff, having been their Assistant Vice President.

During his time at MVI, Dana has occupied a different office on all three levels of our office building. As HUD Intermediary Manager, he assists agencies with acquiring and maintaining HUD grant funding. He has a background in accounting, the degree he received from ICM, and experience as a Bookkeeper and Systems Technician for Housing Opportunties, Inc.

When he is not at work, Dana is doing whatever his 6-year-old and 8-month-old daughters want to do. He is a Steelers fan and enjoys getting the chance to watch sports on television instead of the Disney channel.


Jonathan Weaver, Housing Counselor

“I am convinced I have the best job here at MVI. I get to meet people who have expressed interest in becoming homeowners and help them work toward that goal.”

- Jonathan

We are thrilled to celebrate Jonathan’s one-year anniversary with MVI this June! As our certified Housing Counselor, he provides valuable information and guidance to potential homeowners and Mon Valley residents in one-on-one and group training sessions.

After growing up in Venetia, PA and attending IUP for a Bachelor’s of Arts in Liberal Arts degree, Jonathan settled in the Southside of Pittsburgh, where he has now lived for 16 years. He loves the diversity and strong work ethic of the people in the Mon Valley.

Jonathan likes to spend his free time with his family,  golfing, riding his bicycle, or being outside.


Housing & Real Estate Development Team


Patrick Shattuck, Real Estate Director

“Each community in the Mon Valley is unique in its proud local heritage, customs, and commitment to place and history. As an architecture buff, I also love the great inventory of buildings and possibilities that each possesses.”

- Patrick

Patrick is our Real Estate Director, bringing to the position over 20 years of historic preservation, grassroots community redevelopment, and federal housing experience. Since joining our staff in 2007, he has directed our team of real estate experts and construction managers as they work to revitalize emerging communities in the Mon Valley through affordable housing efforts and service to the volunteers of our member CDCs.

From as early as he can recall, Patrick has educated and immersed himself in real estate. In elementary school, he spent recess sketching floorplans and reviewing new listings provided to him by his grandfather, a Realtor. Patrick bought his first house while obtaining a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation and a minor in Art History from the Savannah College of Art and Design and by 19 was the Vice-President of his neighborhood association, working to address blight and encouraging others to invest in his neighborhood.

In 2004, while also serving as the Director of Federal Housing Programs for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Patrick fulfilled a lifelong dream – purchasing a restaurant and serving as its chef. With his wife, Tamara and son, Cosmo, they transformed a dilapidated building into Brown’s Market Bistro and made it a destination in the middle of rural Vermont. Patrick relocated to Wilkinsburg in 2007.

Along with Tamara and daughters, Violet and Poppy, he volunteers in his community: serving on Council, the Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Board and with Girl Scout Troop 51058. And, he still compulsively tracks real estate and sketches floorplans.


Rick Dunn, Senior Construction Manager

“The people are the highlight of the Mon Valley. I find them to be very friendly.”

- Rick

Rick has been a part of our Housing & Real Estate Development Team for 20 years. As a manager of the construction crews who work on MVI development projects, he carries our team through the process of evaluating housing and other structures for renovation, estimating costs, and writing specifications needed for construction.

A Philadelphia native, Rick sought out classes at Temple, Drexel, community colleges, and trade schools throughout the state for a total of over 40 years of education in his area of expertise.

Keeping his skills sharp, Rick enjoys hands-on carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing in his free time. He also loves spending time with his family and friends.


John Bachetti, Senior Construction Manager

“The river and bike trails in the Mon Valley are second to none.”

- John Bachetti

As a Senior Construction Manager for MVI, John verifies the building feasibility of all potential development sites, estimates cost and construction specifications, and monitors the bidding process and ongoing work of general contractors.

John received a degree in Building Construction Technology from the Greensburg Institute of Technology in 1986. He has been with MVI since 2000, where he met his wife, a previous MVI Real Estate Developer.

If ever you can’t find John, he is probably biking on the trail that runs along the river, just behind the office. His favorite hobbies include kayaking, fishing and going to a camp near Bedford.


Zinat Naderi, Real Estate Developer

“Each home that we acquire has a different story to tell, and rehabilitating that structure allows that story to continue. It’s exciting to incorporate historical aspects into the new design of the structure, respecting what it previously was while improving the property for a new generation to enjoy.”

- Zinat

Zinat joined the MVI Housing & Real Estate Development Team in October 2012 as our Real Estate Developer. She is a key part of the search, acquisition, and rehabilitation process of single and multi-family dwellings, and she also performs various asset management duties for the MVI rental portfolio, including energy upgrades and budget analysis.

Hailing from the East End of Pittsburgh, Zinat enjoys getting involved in local initiatives in and around the area and has a very strong interest in understanding the rich history of the communities we serve, which allows her to effortlessly incorporate community engagement into her work with MVI. She is involved with everything from house tours and solar tours, to urban farms, to night markets that bring individuals together and get people interested in the places in which they live, work, and play.

Zinat obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Political Science from La Roche College and her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Workforce & Business Development Team


Jefferson Brooks, Workforce Development Co-Director

“Kennywood and the Grandview Golf Course are two of my favorite places in the Mon Valley.”

- Jeff

As Director of our Workforce Team, Jeff plans, implements, and coordinates activities and efforts to place job seekers in training or employment and to encourage retention of job placements for at least six months. A 22-year member of our staff, he also convened the Southwestern PA Re-entry Coalition (SPARC) to better serve people working to overcome criminal background issues.

Jeff is native to Pittsburgh and a graduate of Allegheny High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh. In his free time, Jeff enjoys sports-related activities, more specifically, the Steelers, Pirates, and Panthers.


Tracey Reaves, Workforce Development Co-Director

“My favorite thing about the Mon Valley is it’s huge potential for community growth and economic development.”

- Tracey

We are so excited that Tracey celebrates one year with MVI in July, 2014! As Co-Director of the Workforce & Business Development Team, she aids in the facilitation of the intake, orientation, and enrollment process of the workforce program, helping to provide information and resources to under and unemployed Mon Valley residents with significant barriers to employment.

Tracey returned to Pittsburgh, the city of her birth, after she was raised in New York City. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh and has a background in Corporate Sales, Marketing, Management, and Professional Development.

When she’s not working to assist her clients at MVI, you’ll find Tracey spending time with her family, reading, or going to church.


Samson Murage, Senior Workforce Development Specialist

“As a resident of Mon Valley I like the fact that I’m part of a community that is dedicated to revitalization.”

- Samson

Samson joined our team in August 2013 after working for approximately five years with the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (3RWIB). His experience in policy analysis, information system management, government funding sources, and his direct experience serving job seekers with barriers to employment is a valuable asset to the Workforce Program.

Samson received his BA in Community Development from Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya, the country he calls home. He then earned an MA in International Development and Social Change from Clark University in Massachusetts and another MA in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh in 2006. He has previously worked with Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services, offering direct workforce support to clients.

In addition to spending time with his family, Samson also enjoys working in his yard, reading non-fiction, and watching soccer games.


Dana Friez, Job Developer

“I love the people of the Mon Valley, who are dedicated and passionate about their communities.”

- Dana F.

Dana has been working with MVI’s Workforce Development Team for two and a half years. As our job developer, she’s out in the field engaging employers in and around the Mon Valley community to help them meet their hiring needs while also providing employment opportunities for our job seekers.

Originally from New York City, Dana is now in Pittsburgh working on a degree at Carlow University. She is a double major in Political Science and Sociology, with a Women’s Studies minor.

When she gets some time to herself (and after she’s finished her studying!), Dana has a penchant for knitting, writing, and reading.


Joan Axelson, Intake Coordinator

“As the first point of contact at MVI, I have the opportunity to meet people that I would not otherwise meet, many who are not affiliated with MVI. People walk in to see what we are about and the next thing you know, I have a new friend!”

- Joan

As our Intake Coordinator for the past three years, Joan is the first face you see when you walk through the front doors of 305 East Eighth Avenue.

Not only does she serve as our valuable front door watch-woman; Joan also makes sure the paperwork for each program gets where it needs to go. She is the primary point of contact for initial Workforce Program participants, and makes sure each client is assigned properly to an MVI Workforce Development Specialist.

Joan grew up in Munhall, and she enjoys reading, walking, and spending time with her children.