Leadership Bios

National Office Senior Management

MaryLee Allen  
Director of Policy

MaryLee Allen is Director of Policy at the Children's Defense Fund. Ms. Allen is responsible for defining and advancing CDF's agenda to keep children safe in nurturing families and communities. Her work focuses on improving policies and practices to better support families in order to prevent problems from occurring and family crises from intensifying and to promote permanent families for children. Her work addresses child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, foster care and adoption.

Ms. Allen has played a leadership role in the development, passage and implementation of major child welfare and children's mental health reforms over the past two decades. She co-chairs, with the Child Welfare League of America, a coalition of national child welfare and mental health organizations and works closely with advocates and service providers across the country. She testifies frequently before Congress.

Ms. Allen has authored and co-authored many articles and publications, including:

  • Helping Children by Strengthening Families: A Look at Family Support Programs
  • Healing the Whole Family: A Look at Family Care Programs
  • Healthy Ties: Ensuring Health Coverage for Children Raised by Grandparents and Other Relatives
  • Expanding Permanency Options for Children: A Guide to Subsidized Guardianship Programs
  • Kinship Care Resource Kit for Community and Faith-Based Organizations

Ms. Allen has served on many boards, task forces and advisory committees, including the boards of Generations United, Parents as Teachers National Center, and Family Support America. She also served on the Advisory Committee for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges' publication, Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice. Ms. Allen received her B.A. from Marquette University and her M.S.W. from the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America.

Recent Material

"Safe Haven or Last Resort?" (includes video) CBS Evening News, November 14, 2008

Return to Staff page


Gijs deLeede
Chief Financial Officer

Gijs deLeede is the Chief Financial Officer for Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). With more than 20 years of experience in public, privately held and non-profit organizations, he brings expertise in developing, streamlining and strengthening financial processes to maximize revenue performance, cost savings and profitability. His track record includes improved financial performance, heightened productivity and enhanced internal controls. Previously, Mr. deLeede served as the Controller for Experience Works, Interim CFO for Phi Delta Kappa International, Director of Finance and Accounting for Atlantic media and held similar positions with National Geographic, AOL and Marriott among other companies.

Return to Staff page


Tai Dixon
National Director of State Office and Field Operations

Tai A. Dixon is the National Director of State Office and Field Operations for Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). In this capacity, she manages CDF state office Executive Directors, national community organizing staff, CDF Beat the Odds® scholarship and leadership development program, and CDF Internship Program staff. She has dedicated her career to advocacy, social justice and developing others to become agents of change. Her non-profit management work has centered on managing teams to successful outcomes in fundraising, external relations, talent acquisition/talent strategy and client management. In 2014 Dixon was selected as one of the Network Journal’s 40 Under Forty Honorees in recognition of her leadership and accomplishments in her professional career and commitment to broader community advancement. Previously Ms. Dixon served on staff at Teach For America, as a civil litigator at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, and as a 7th and 8th grade English teacher in Houston, Texas. Ms. Dixon serves on the advisory board and annual fellow selection committee of UNCF Walton Scholars Program, engaging HBCU students in pursuing careers in social justice. She holds a Bachelor degree from Spelman College, a Master of Arts degree in Education from the University of St. Thomas and a Juris Doctorate from the Howard University School of Law.

Return to Staff page


Patti Hassler  
Vice President of Communications and Outreach

Patti Hassler is the Children’s Defense Fund’s Vice President of Communications and Outreach where she manages and coordinates all communications and outreach to advance CDF’s mission. She is an award-winning journalist and a 30-year veteran of CBS News. She served most of that tenure at 60 Minutes, the most watched newsmagazine in the nation. Ms. Hassler co-created the critically acclaimed 60 Minutes II which became the second most watched newsmagazine in the country. While executive editor at 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II, she won 19 Emmys and six Peabody Awards for journalistic excellence. She expanded 60 Minutes online and managed 60 Minutes.com, 60 Minutes on Amazon.com, and 60 Minutes on Yahoo. She is a graduate of Smith College.

Return to Staff page


Richard A. Hooks Wayman 
National Executive Director

Rich Hooks Wayman serves as the National Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund. In this capacity he leads the organization’s national advocacy, policy, program and organizing efforts to end child poverty, ensure access to quality affordable health and mental health coverage, expand opportunities for child care for low-income families, promote educational equity and improve the well-being of children in our child welfare and juvenile justice system. Prior to joining CDF, Mr. Hooks Wayman served as the CEO of LUK, Inc., a regional social service nonprofit offering behavioral health, child welfare and family support services in Central Massachusetts.

Prior to his work in Massachusetts, Mr. Hooks Wayman was the Executive Director of Hearth Connection, an intermediary organization offering supportive housing to persons experiencing chronic homelessness in Minnesota. Previously he served as Senior Youth Policy Analyst for the Washington D.C. based National Alliance to End Homelessness focusing on federal policy for homeless youths, juvenile justice and child welfare reform and as Director of the StreetWorks Collaborative where he managed outreach workers and authored the Minnesota Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

After graduating with a Juris Doctor from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1992, Mr. Hooks Wayman conducted litigation and represented homeless and low-income persons for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis for eight years. He currently serves as an advisor to the America Bar Association’s Commission on Youth-At-Risk and the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty. Mr. Hooks Wayman and his husband have six adoptive children.

Return to Staff page


Mark Publow
Chief Development Officer

Mark Publow is the Chief Development Officer for Children’s Defense Fund. With over thirty years of experience in helping nonprofits to achieve sustainable revenue growth and diversifying funding sources, Mr. Publow brings valuable experience and a collaborative leadership style to his role at CDF. Mr. Publow has been involved extensively in developing private funding support through individual giving, major gifts and planned giving, as well as with private and public grants. He brings a personal passion around the needs of at-risk children to his work at CDF, as well as an understanding both of the art and the science of fundraising and organizational management. Mr. Publow’s career includes 17 years with World Vision, where he served in a variety of leadership roles, as well as leadership positions and consulting roles with a variety national and community-based nonprofits. His professional work has included travel throughout more than 40 states and 36 countries. Mr. Publow has a B.A. degree from Bethel University (MN) and an MBA from the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University (CA).

Return to Staff page


The Rev. Janet Wolf  
Director of Children’s Defense Fund Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing

The Rev. Janet Wolf is the Director of Children’s Defense Fund Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing. She previously served as faculty chair and professor at American Baptist College in Nashville, a historically Black college and home to many of the national civil rights leaders. For the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Wolf served as pastor of rural and urban congregations for 12 years. As director of public policy and community outreach with Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy, she worked with a national interfaith coalition on harm reduction, alternatives to incarceration and restorative justice. She is the author of “To See and To Be Seen,” a chapter in I Was in Prison: United Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry. For 12 years she also served as a community organizer around poverty rights. Wolf graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Return to Staff page


CDF Regional Contacts

Patrick Bresette 
Executive Director, CDF-TX

A leader in policy and advocacy for more than 23 years, frequent public speaker and national advisor, Patrick Bresette brings a broad understanding of how to work with and within the public sector to create positive social change for children and families. He joined Children's Defense Fund as Texas Executive Director in 2014.

Mr. Bresette was previously the Executive Director of Public Works, where from 2004-2014 he helped to transform and build public will for the common good by engaging more Americans in an active pursuit of a government that works for all. He has traveled to dozens of states to train advocates, nonprofits, community leaders, public officials and organizers on how to defend public programs and the role they play in the lives of children, families and communities. From 1991-2004, Mr. Bresette was Associate Director of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities where he was responsible for launching the Texas Kids Count Initiative and spearheading the Center’s child advocacy work. He has led statewide coalitions in the development of shared legislative priorities and has testified frequently before House and Senate committees and administrative hearings on behalf of low-income Texans, especially children. He is a frequent consultant to the Kids Count network and presenter to funder affinity groups like Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families.

"Patrick made an immeasurable and enduring contribution to Public Works’ mission, having inspired and equipped thousands of leaders and activists around the country to make a compelling case for public systems and structures at the local, state and federal levels…I am delighted that he will be in a position to resume work he has cherished throughout his career—bettering the lives of children." - Public Works President and CEO Diane Stewart.

Mr. Bresette is a devoted husband, father of four, and grandfather to three young grandchildren in a vibrant bi-racial household in central Texas. He holds an MPA from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and a BFA in Sculpture from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He works from both our CDF Austin and Houston offices.

Return to Staff page

Oleta Fitzgerald

Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald
Southern Regional Director

Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald is Director of the Children's Defense Fund's Southern Regional Office (CDF-SRO), and also serves as the Regional Administrator for the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Economic & Social Justice (SRBWI). SRBWI operates in 77 counties across the Black Belts of Alabama, Southwest Georgia and Delta Mississippi. CDF-SRO also serves as the lead for the W.K. Kellogg funded Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) Initiative.

In 1970 she was employed by the Atlanta-based Southeastern Public Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee. In this position she participated in the Children's Defense Fund's Children Out of School in America, a national study of exclusion of children from public elementary and secondary schools; and monitored Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In 1976, she was hired as southern director for the Children's Foundation, which educated citizens and members of Congress about the need for expanded access to federal food programs.

In 1982 Ms. Fitzgerald became a project director for the Southern Regional Council working with rural electric power customers in 12 southern states to increase minority representation on rural electric cooperative boards. Moving back to her native Mississippi, she served as former Congressman Mike Espy's District Director from the beginning of his first term in 1987 until she joined the Clinton for President Campaign in 1992.

Before joining the Children's Defense Fund, Ms. Fitzgerald was appointed White House Liaison and Executive Assistant to then Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy by President Bill Clinton in January 1993. Shortly thereafter, she was named the Department’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she worked with local, state and tribal governments; coordinated the Administration’s long-term recovery of midwestern states affected by The Great Flood of 1993; and was a member of USDA's executive review panel selecting rural Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities.

Ms. Fitzgerald serves as a board member for the Mississippi Head Start Association, the Mississippi Children's Museum, the advisory committee for the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, and is a member of the State Children's Welfare Coalition and the Global Women's Action Network for Children. She also received honorary membership to Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for Public Affairs & Administration from Mississippi State University in 1999. Ms. Fitzgerald holds a B.A. in sociology from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the proud mother of four children, Rashida, Yusef, Layla and Joi.

Return to Staff page


Alex Johnson  
Executive Director, CDF-CA

Alex Johnson is the Executive Director for the Children's Defense Fund-California. In this capacity he leads the organizations statewide advocacy, policy, program and organizing efforts to ensure access to quality affordable health coverage and care for children and low income families, reforming the juvenile justice system, promoting educational equity, and ending child poverty.

Prior to assuming this position, Mr. Johnson served as Assistant Senior Deputy for Education and Public Safety to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Born, raised and educated in Los Angeles, he is the product of Los Angeles public schools and the son of a retired LAUSD teacher and a retired truck driver. Mr. Johnson has worked collaboratively with education advocates to increase access to quality early childhood education programs. His work has focused on altering the social dynamic that begins with a student's poor education in childhood, progresses to a high dropout rate during high school and ends with a young person's future irrevocably altered by crime, conviction and incarceration. To change that social dynamic, particularly for young men of color, he led the effort to create the first-ever Children Defense Fund Freedom Schools in a California youth probation camp.

Prior to his work in Los Angeles County, Mr. Johnson worked with school instructional leaders in the New York City Department of Education. He assessed teachers' instructional strengths and provided professional support to teachers to aid their classroom effectiveness. In addition, he provided counsel to school leaders and departmental executives as well as managed complex civil litigation, policy matters and special disciplinary proceedings as part of a teacher quality initiative. He earned a substitute teacher's license and taught constitutional law and civics to high school students as a Fellow with the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. Additionally, he served as an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College, one of 23-colleges in the City University of New York (CUNY) system.

As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, he advocated on behalf of indigent defendants at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Mr. Johnson began his public service experience as an intern in the offices of U.S. Representatives Julian Dixon and Juanita Millender-McDonald. He served as an aide to Georgia State Representative Douglas C. Dean and as a project manager for the 2000 Democratic National Convention Committee in Los Angeles.

Mr. Johnson worked for the late noted attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., a tireless advocate for justice on behalf of people in underserved and underrepresented communities. He continued in the tradition of Johnnie Cochran as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx, New York where he advocated for victims of domestic violence and sought to protect them by helping them secure safe housing and mental health services.

Mr. Johnson is a graduate of Morehouse College where he earned his Bachelor's degree in Political Science (cum laude). He earned his Juris Doctor from American University, Washington College of Law.

Mr. Johnson is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the California Alliance for Arts Education and the Wiley Center for Speech and Language Development. He formerly served on the Board of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he sits on the selection committee for the Children's Defense Fund's 'Beat the Odds' scholarship program.

Alex is the author of Beyond Higher Education: The Need for African-Americans to be "Knowledge Producers."

Return to Staff page


Naomi Post 
Executive Director, CDF-NY

Naomi Post serves as the Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund – New York office, and brings nearly 30 years of professional experience in advocacy and community organizing; executive level policy work; budget development and fiscal oversight; program design, development and implementation; data analysis and evaluation; organizational assessments, strategic plan development, and executive coaching. Prior to joining CDF-NY, Ms. Post served as a Senior Fellow at the United Way of New York City supporting its partnership with the Department of Education Office of Community Schools to expand community schools throughout the school district. Previously, she was the Head of Community Based Programmer at The Atlantic Philanthropies where she managed a portfolio of over $100 million in grants supporting community schools and school-based health centers in four diverse jurisdictions, and also developed and managed strategic investments in a high school reform effort which created health and technology career pathways for students. For more than a decade before joining Atlantic, she led a consulting business providing project management and strategic planning services to a variety of nonprofit agencies and several national and local foundations. Ms. Post has held executive level positions in both government and community based organizations, including Managing Attorney, East Central Legal Services; Deputy Chief, Philadelphia Juvenile Probation; Executive Director, Support Center for Child Advocates; and Chief Executive Officer, Philadelphia Safe and Sound. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from SUNY Binghamton and a Juris Doctorate from Cornell University Law School.

Return to Staff page


Renuka Mayadev  
Executive Director, CDF-Ohio

Renuka Mayadev is the Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio office. Ms. Mayadev is an experienced leader with a passion for making a difference in the lives of Ohio's children. She has led the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio office since July 2011.  Prior to joining CDF, she served as Deputy Director for Constituent Affairs and Policy at the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Mayadev also worked in the Ohio Governor's office focused on juvenile justice, public safety, rehabilitation and corrections, and workers' compensation policy. Her early experience included analyzing financial transactions for Coopers & Lybrand and working at the U.S. Department of Justice before earning her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center. After working at a large Los Angeles law firm, she returned to her native Columbus, Ohio to assume leadership roles in the public arena. Ms. Mayadev is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she majored in Economics with a concentration in Spanish.

Return to Staff page


Bharti Wahi 
Executive Director, CDF-MN

As the Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund–Minnesota office Bharti Wahi brings 20 years of professional experience as an advocate in the nonprofit world and more than a decade of experience in education. Prior to joining Children’s Defense Fund, Ms. Wahi spent three years with Greater Twin Cities United Way where she oversaw several grant portfolios related to early childhood education, two-generation interventions and literacy. Previously, she led the Children and Family Program for the Minnesota Literacy Council for five years, building the home visiting program and overseeing two early learning centers.

As an active community member Ms. Wahi serves on the Board of Directors of the Hale-Field Schools Foundation and Women Organizing Women. In addition she sits on the McKnight Foundation’s PreK-Third Grade Design Team and is currently serving on the Minnesota Department of Education’s ESSA Accountability Advisory Committee and the Department of Human Services Parent Aware Advisory Council.

Ms. Wahi holds a Bachelor of Arts from the Saint Catherine University and a Master of Arts in public policy and nonprofit management from the University of Chicago.

Return to Staff page