Spring 2022 Executive Fellows On Impacting Underserved Communities

We ask our executive fellows: what inspired you about the FUSE fellowship and what do you hope to achieve through your project?

Azita Wolff Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The FUSE fellowship is a great opportunity to give back through time-bound, values-driven work. I’m also finding it is a great opportunity to reevaluate my own soft and hard skills for public sector impact. My aim is to help the Office of Equity and Inclusion accelerate citywide use of equity-driven tools and practices. The long run hope is to begin chipping away at Milwaukee’s longstanding racial inequity challenges and to make Milwaukee a more livable and prosperous city for all, especially communities of color.

Don Purser – New Orleans, Louisiana

My motivation is to make a direct impact to the people in the community instead of singularly serving the interest of a large profit-driven international corporation as I have done for most of my career. At this point in my working life, my incentive is to embolden the success of others. FUSE has provided the opportunity for me to directly impact the entrepreneurs in the City of New Orleans who have been underserved and ignored in the past.

Alice OkaliLos Angeles County, California

The opportunity to get first hand experience working with communities facing social and economic challenges inspired me to be a FUSE fellow. I hope to make an impact in my community by building relationships and to be the “voice” for communities that feel they are not being heard.

L’eon Romanazzi Kansas City, Missouri

I was intrigued by the opportunity to put my skills to the test helping limited/low-income families have access to the same opportunities as those with access to greater income. During this year, I hope to create a space where industry experts can work together to form a continuum (from financial capability through homeownership) for those looking to improve their lives and gain wealth. Additionally, I hope to build a bond with the community in-need to ensure we are meeting their needs rather than planning and not including their point of view.

Michael SaundersSan Jose, California

I was really interested in how to effectively harness government, private sector and nonprofit resources to spur community innovation. I hope to develop a framework through which these sectors can more effectively work together to enable all residents of West San Jose to more fully participate in the innovation economy.

Kelsy YeargainNew Orleans, Louisiana

I have worked in Affordable Housing in New Orleans for over eight years and I am excited work with FUSE and the City of New Orleans to conduct an Affordable Housing Study. I am inspired by the City’s commitment to take strategic action to combat our Affordable Housing Crisis.


Amanda DeFisher – King County, Seattle Area, Washington

I have only lived in Seattle for a short period of time and was seeking a way to connect with my community. The FUSE fellowship is helping me do this in a meaningful way behind the scenes. Through this work, I hope to be a catalyst for thoughtful conversation and quick action around the expansion of capacity of service providers working with neighbors experiencing homelessness in King County.

Christa Leonard Birmingham, Alabama

FUSE Corps inspired me through its innovative model and equity-centered approach to moving the needle in local government. It has provided me with the opportunity to bring my expertise to the table to provide insight about Birmingham food system development. My project is focused on building a sovereign food system framework that uplifts equitable community initiatives, increases access to healthy and affordable foods, builds an economically viable food value chain, and provides accessible information to those looking to join the local food movement. In addition, I hope to be a liaison and translator between city processes and the community’s needs. I am working to build a bridge that promotes and supports each entity in meeting each other where they are. Lastly, my project will provide insight to where Birmingham has been in the past, where it is currently, and where it can go to achieve the greatest impact.