rise above logo

Meet Rise Above’s Leadership

Sarah Baldiga

Co-founder & Executive Director

Sarah has a Masters degree in Nonprofit Management from Worcester State College and received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Saint Anselm College. She has worked in nonprofit organizations her entire career and has experience with grant writing, marketing, fundraising, and volunteer management. Before being named Rise Above’s first Executive Director, Sarah was the Associate Director of Development at Jumpstart, a Boston-based nonprofit. Sarah lives in Hopkinton and enjoys being outdoors hiking and skiing.

Wade Sulzman

Co-founder & Board President

Wade has worked in the field of social work for 15 years. His experience ranges from working at the Department of Children and Families, where Wade is currently an adolescent social worker, to promoting and mentoring musicians. Since a teenager in New Jersey, Wade has been drawn to helping people succeed and overcome adversity. Wade’s approach to social work is forward-thinking, using music as a conduit for adolescents to experience their emotions and express themselves without losing focus on areas of need. Wade has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern Colorado.

Rebecca Avis-Steinberg

Staff: Program Manager

Rebecca joined Rise Above in 2016 as the Smiles Coordinator. Now our Program Manager, she oversees the programmatic details of the organization including the management of the youth activity request process and special events, community outreach and fundraising support. Before joining Rise Above, she worked with Massachusetts MENTOR in the role of Regional Director of Comprehensive Foster Care Program in Worcester for over 17 years. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and continues to reside in Western Massachusetts. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, cooking and gardening.

Julie Stanwood-Higgins

Staff: Smiles Coordinator

Julie has extensive experience in the nonprofit world, most recently serving as the Executive Director of Friends of Families in Transition, which provided direct care to families facing crisis and homelessness. Previously, she was the Central Massachusetts coordinator for Birthday Wishes. Julie has been a long-time advocate for children in state care and the source of practical, hands-on support for biological and foster families navigating special education, trauma and healthcare. She and her family have been fostering for more than 6 years, and she also serves on the Framingham DCF Area Board and as a Foster Parent Liaison. Julie and her family live in Northboro and enjoy spending time together playing and watching sports being outdoors.

Denise Aleff

Board Member

Denise is a Business Manager at Acosta, a privately held sales and marketing agency, handling food and non-food manufacturers across all channels of trade. She has been with Acosta for 30+ years and recently transferred to a sales role handling the business needs of many manufacturers at one of the largest grocery retailers in New England. For 20 years, she has had the responsibility to plan and execute Acosta’s local golf event to raise money for their national charity the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Denise has been volunteering with Rise Above for the last few years assisting in the planning of Comedy night as well as collecting items for the College Care Packages. She resides in Ashland, MA and in her free time, enjoys spending time with family and friends.

Marcela Blue

Board Member

Marcela has extensive experience working with children and families. She spent ten years with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, where she worked closely with children in foster care and their foster parents. During that time she also worked as a Child-At-Risk Hotline worker, initiating after-hours emergency responses for children at imminent risk of abuse or neglect. Through social work, Marcela has been able to help strengthen families while offering protective services for children. Marcela earned a Masters in Social Work from Salem State University and her undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross.

Adam Brown, MSW, PhD

Board Member

Adam is Assistant Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, CUNY, where he teaches courses in clinical practice and psychopathology. A native of Massachusetts, he received a bachelor’s degree from Colby College, an MSW at Smith College School for Social Work, and a PhD at the University of Chicago School for Social Service Administration. Prior to his doctoral work, Adam was a foster care clinician and case manager in Easthampton, Massachusetts. His research concerning the mental health needs and service use among former foster care youths was featured in Reuters, Yahoo! News, Fox News, and the National Association of Social Workers news bulletin. Adam lives in New York City with his family.

Michelle Cunha

Board Member

Michelle is currently working as a data manager at Cytel, a Boston-based research company specializing in statistical software and drug development. She previously worked as a residential counselor for children diagnosed with Autism or other similar learning and behavioral issues and as a data coordinator for a non-profit working in collaboration with DCF. Michelle is 2007 graduate in psychology from Saint Anselm College. In her spare time she loves cooking, salsa dancing and doing yoga.

Eric Diaz

Board Member

Eric is a Case Manager at Ascentria Care Alliance where he supports youth in the agency’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program. A 2017 graduate of Clark University, he holds a B.A. in sociology. Eric spent time in foster care a youth is an active volunteer with Fosterclub, Inc. as a Foster Care Youth Advocate.

Grant Hamilton

Board Member

Grant is an Assistant Vice President of Human Resources at TJX. Grant has held various human resource roles within TJX over the past 27 years. Over the last two years Grant along with his wife Julie have been foster parents. Grant is the Treasurer of the Monson Youth Lacrosse Association. Grant earned his Masters in Human Resources from Lesley University and his undergraduate degree from Mount Ida College. In Grant’s free time he enjoys gardening, traveling and spending time with his family.

Michael Hanscom, MSW, LCSW

Board Member

Mike has been working with children and families in Western Massachusetts for 15 years. He has worked with the Springfield Juvenile Court and The Children’s Study Home, and is currently a social worker with Hopewell (formerly Dare Family Services). Mike earned his undergraduate degree and Master’s in Social Work at Westfield State University. Mike also been a professional disc jockey for 25 years, owning and operating a mobile business as well as doing club and radio DJ work. In his spare time Mike enjoys attending concerts, sporting events and art shows. He also has to make time for his dog Nino, who’s a social media celebrity of sorts. Together they spend time as volunteers for the French Bulldog Rescue Network, and working with local dog rescues and shelters.

Leo Ferrante

Board Member

Leo works for Facebook as the Head of Global Music Partner Operations. Prior to this, he served as Director of Royalties for SoundCloud Ltd and the Vice President of Copyright for Universal Music Group. He has been consulted on royalties and audits for several independent musicians and bands, and was the Director of Licensing and Royalties for Warner Music Group prior to his role at Universal. A California native and a former resident of New York City as well as Berlin, Germany, Leo currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters (and their puppy). Leo is a graduate of California State University, Northridge.

Ashley Newhall

Board Member

Ashley is the Assistant Store Manager at American Girl in Natick, MA. Ashley has held various roles within American Girl over the past nine years, including opening domestic and international stores for the company. Ashley has experience planning and executing events, budget management and operational excellence. A Graduate of Framingham State University, Alumni of the Metrowest Leadership Academy and recipient of the Massachusetts Hospitality Award allows Ashley to build partnerships though the region, creating retail experiences that incorporate cultural, historical, civic and gastronomic flavors. In her free time, Ashley enjoys the beach, traveling, live music and spending time with friends and family.

Nick Pelletier

Board Member

Nick graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2009 and is currently the President and CEO of Pelletier Properties LLC based in Northern Worcester County. In this role Nick manages a portfolio of real estate investments as well as helping clients buy and sell both residential and commercial properties. Nick strives to improve and revitalize the areas and communities in which he investments. In his free time Nick supports and advises a number of youth and educational based organizations. In addition Nick enjoys the outdoors and spending time on the lake where he lives.

Stephen Sugar

Board Member

Steve is the Senior Vice President Commercial Loan Officer at Main Street Bank, where he brings his expertise to commercial real estate, construction, commercial industrial banking. In banking for over 30 years, he assists with portfolio management, while helping to grow and maintain customer relationships. Steve is the Treasurer of the Devens Historical Museum and also volunteers his time with the Pepperell Affordable Housing and Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs. Steve enjoys cooking, reading, many outdoor activities, and is an avid runner.