Our Team

Laurie Ross, Director of Research & Accountability

Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.
- Cornel West

Laurie Ross is a co-founder of the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice. She is a Professor of Community Development and Planning in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts where she teaches courses in program evaluation, community needs assessment, and youth work. She is also director of Clark’s Youth Work Practice professional certificate program. She received her BA and MA at Clark University (1991; 1995) and her Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

In conjunction with the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice, Ross engages in community-based action research projects in Worcester on topics such as youth and gang violence, early childhood trauma and family resilience, youth and young adult homelessness, youth sexual health, and youth worker professional education. She was the evaluator on the Worcester Impact on Sexual Health (WISH) Taskforce. For the past twelve years, Ross has been the Project Director for Clark’s Local Action Research Partnership grant funded by the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Security. This project has her collaborating with Worcester Police Department, Worcester’s City Manager’s office, Juvenile Probation, Boys and Girls Club, the Worcester Youth Center, Straight Ahead Ministries, and Worcester Community Action Council among others to work on understanding and intervening in the cycle of youth and gang violence in Worcester. She was also the research partner on a Main South-focused federal Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program designed to reduce youth violence and enhance residents’ sense of control over the neighborhood.

Since 2000, Ross has directed the HOPE Coalition, a youth-adult partnership coalition designed to reduce youth violence, substance use, and promote positive adolescent mental health and youth leadership in Worcester. She is on the Board of Directors of the Worcester Youth Center and LIFT (Living in Freedom Together).

Ross believes that when research is intentionally conducted through an equity lens, injustices and disparities are made visible, allowing action to be directed toward root causes of social problems.

Jennifer Safford, Director of Operations & Outreach

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or... some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
- President Barack Obama

Jennifer Safford, Director of Operations & Outreach, is a co-founder of the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice. She currently holds the position of Youth and Gang Violence Initiatives Projects Coordinator for the International Development, Community & Environment Department at Clark University in addition to serving as a Visiting Professor teaching courses in Youth Work. Safford is also a Senior Instructor in the Department of Graduate and Continuing Education, and Adjunct Faculty in the Health Sciences Department at Worcester State University where she teaches classes in Community Health Planning and Promotion, Multiculturalism and Health, and Personal Health.

Safford, who began teaching for Worcester State University in 2003, received a Master’s in Education from Cambridge College earlier that same year, and a B.S. in Sociology, with a minor in Psychology from Worcester State University in 2000. As a professional trainer and consultant on topics of youth justice and racial justice, Safford has been working with non-profit organizations, schools, and youth-serving agencies across the state since 2001. Safford is also a member of the City Manager’s Commission on Youth and a former member of the Board of Trustees for Seven Hills Charter Public School.

Jennifer Safford is Project Manager for Clark’s Local Action Research Partnership grant funded by the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Security as well as Community Resource Liaison for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative funded by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Both projects afford her a position on the Planning Team of Worcester’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative where also serves as the Initiative’s Co-Convener of the Youth Resource Network and the Community Outreach and Engagement workgroup. Since 2003, Safford has managed Worcester’s Youth Worker Training Institute, which provides training and support to youth work professionals in Worcester County.

Amy Ebbeson, Director of Clinical Training & Clinical Support

Amy Ebbeson joined the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice at Clark University after teaching at Wheelock College in their Worcester based Social Work program. Prior to that, she taught Sociology and Public Health to undergraduates and nontraditional students at Worcester State University from 2000- 2017. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Roger Williams in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work from Boston University in 1996. She has worked in health and human services at the Devereux School, the Bridge of Central Massachusetts, City Year Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. She has consulted for agencies throughout Massachusetts including, the NAACP, the Boys and Girls Club, and National Conference for Community and Justice.

She volunteers at LIFT (Living In Freedom Together) with survivors of sexual exploitation, volunteered at the YWCA as Co-chair of the Racial Justice Task Force and serves as the Vice President for the Regional Commission on the Status of Women, and the Clemente Course in the Humanities. She is most passionate about racial justice education, the empowerment of women, and elevating youth voice. In her many years of teaching about mental health topics at the graduate and undergraduate level she emphasizes the importance of intersectional analysis and of eliminating the stigma of addiction and mental illness.

What she offers to this project is an understanding of intersecting oppression and the ways it disproportionately affects people at the margins. She has been involved with Planned Parenthood since her high school years when she participated in a traveling youth education program that used dramatic interpretations to engage young people in conversations about sex, sexuality, dating violence and other relationship and sexual health topics. She has also been trained in “Get Real” and used some of the activities with students at Worcester State. Through the years she has written opinion pieces and given testimony about the importance of choice in reproductive health and has also advocated through her role as a Commissioner for the Status of Women. She identifies as cis gender but has lead support groups for LGBTQI youth at City Year and at the Boys and Girls Club. She believes that all forms of oppression need to be addressed and engages with agencies that share this belief, such as LIFT (Living in Freedom Together) and EPIC (Empowering People for Inclusive Communities). In 2018, she was recognized by the YWCA for her commitment to eliminate racism and empower women with the Katherine F. Erskine Award in Education. She has comprehensive experience doing agency scans, convening focus groups, assessing campus climate and facilitating strategic planning. She has worked in both urban and rural environments and with people of varied socioeconomic statuses. She has decades of experience training on diversity topics and has been involved in efforts to build more comprehensive and inclusive service delivery in mental health. This project brings together her passion and interests in a way that potentially makes a meaningful positive difference in the lives of others.

Lori Dawson, Director of Evalution

There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures.
- bell hooks

Lori Dawson, Director of Evaluations, joined the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice after conducting academic and program evaluations for over a decade.  She is a first generation college student who worked in social services, including a group home for abused children and a shelter for homeless families, before receiving her Ph. D. in Psychology from the University at Albany, State University of New York.  Currently, she is a professor of Psychology at Worcester State University (WSU), where she teaches courses that include Psychology and Public Policy, Psychology of Prejudice and Diversity, Sexuality and Gender Studies, Interpersonal Violence, and Health Psychology. As an applied social psychologist, her passion is applying psychological theory to real world issues. Both her teaching and research have a community-based focus.

Lori has also served as an academic administrator at WSU: as the Interim Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Interim Associate Vice-President for Institutional Assessment and Planning, and as the Inaugural Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.  Her work in institutional assessment led her to become a national Teagle Assessment Scholar and AAC&U Fellow.  In addition to her professional work, Dr. Dawson has served on the Board of Directors of the YWCA of Central Massachusetts, is co-chair of the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Services Committee, and a member of the Gender and Racial Justice Task Force.

She finds it incredibly rewarding to be able to combine her passion for social justice with her professional skills to help non-profit agencies, whose challenges are similar to those cited by the Pew Charitable Trusts’s (2018) report, Using Data To Improve Policy Decisions, “To use data effectively, state governments need staff members with an understanding of public policy, the technical skills to manage and analyze data, and the communication skills to present findings to a wide range of audiences. These workers are in short [supply and the public sector] cannot usually offer salaries competitive with the private sector.”  


Nerissa Harper-Ketter

Nerissa Harper-Ketter, Community Health Resilience Worker

Nerissa Harper-Ketter was born and bred in Worcester, Massachusetts. She loves and lives in her community. She has over 25 years of experience working in the human service field trying to help students and clients cope with substance, trauma, and educational issues. Her work experience in the field include You, Inc., Community Health link, Grafton Job Corps Career Center, Burncoat Family Center, Girls, Inc., Eureka. She enjoys volunteering with agencies that focus on youth, education, social justice, and community outreach. Some of those agencies include but are not limited to the YWCA Board of Directors (since 2014), Torque Foundation, Worcester Food Bank, and Worcester Baptist Church.

She received her Associate in Science from Becker in 1998, Bachelor’s degree of Science from Worcester State University in 2015. Her Master degree of Science from Worcester State University is still pending. While attending Worcester State University she was on the Dean’s List, featured student in continuing education campaign, and worked in three departments during three academic years. These department were career services, next step program, and graduate education department. Her passion lies in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.

Nerissa understands the struggles of the members in her community. She is the mother of a special-needs family. She has three children (one non-verbal), and two grandchildren. She is the youngest of eight children and has the highest level of education in her immediate family. It brings her joy to help others.

DJ, Community Health Resilience Worker

Do Good and Good will Follow.
- Clark Kent

Diogenito Jorge has dedicated himself to serving his community. He was born to a Latina mother from the Dominican Republic and is 1 of 10 children. He started his journey at the age of 14 as a Peer Leader for the Great Brook Valley Health Center where he was working on tobacco prevention and education with youth his age. It was there his passion grew for youth development and social work. His journey has taken him from program coordinator in health education for adolescent youth in high school to working in substance use prevention as a residential counselor, working in the juvenile justice system with predominantly young men of color to assisting families in need as a Resiliency Navigator. He has a passion for assisting others. He currently is working with Worcester Addresses Childhood Trauma where he is helping families and children navigate through traumatic experiences. Diogenito is also part of the Latino Education Institute where he works with middle school boys on civic engagement as lead facilitator and mentor.

Tempe Staples, Special Projects Research Associate

When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.
- Toni Morrison

Tempe serves as the Special Projects Research Associate for CYCJ, working on a wide range of
data and communication projects for the Together for Kids Coalition and
Shannon Safe & Successful Youth Initiative. She is responsible for collecting
quantitative and qualitative data on health and social services, tracking federal
and state-level funding for youth and family initiatives, and engaging key
stakeholders in advocacy efforts for early education and care.

Tempe holds her Master of Health Science in Global & Community Health from Clark University, where she worked on a range of community-based research projects, including community needs assessments and policy solutions for early childhoods education and care. Prior, Tempe earned her Bachelor of the Arts in Global Studies, Geography, and Community Health from Hofstra University. There, she served as a Health Leads Advocate at Nassau University Medical Center for at-risk families. In 2016 her geography thesis Paid Family Leave & Maternal Mental Health earned honors and was presented at the American Association of Geographers. 

Having experience with case management and data-driven research, Tempe brings a combination of interpersonal insight and quantitative analytics to the CYCJ.

Domenica Perrone, Special Projects Research Associate

Even if you are a small forest surviving off of moon alone, your light is extraordinary.
- Nayyirah Waheed

Domenica works as a research assistant for CYCJ where she has collaborated with team members in revising Worcester’s Community Needs Assessment, producing state-wide research reporting briefs, organizing literature reviews, and tracking quantitative and qualitative output data for various projects. As a Latina and proud immigrant, Domenica is passionate about addressing social disparities for Latinx youth. With an interest in quantitative data and qualitative personal narratives, Domenica hopes to use her own lived experience and academic knowledge to continuously address social disparities for communities of color.

Domenica Perrone also works as Program Evaluator and Program Coordinator at the Latino Education Institute (LEI) at Worcester State University. In addition to having coordinated the partnership with Southbridge Public Schools 21st Century Program during the 2018-2019 academic year, Domenica has also coordinated and facilitated LEI’s My Voice, My Community Summer Program in Worcester. This year Domenica is leading one of the LEI’s signature programs, LIDER (Latinos Involved in Discovering Educational Resources). As the Program Evaluator, Domenica is also responsible for program assessments, observations, and for generating various data reports for the organization.

Domenica is also a Dual Degree Graduate Student at Clark University, where she is finishing two M.A. degrees in Business Administration and Community Development and Planning. Prior to this, she worked for three years as a high school educator in The Rio Grande Valley along the southern border of Texas. She is a Teach For America Alumna and in the past has worked with nonprofits in Boston, such as 826 Boston and Let’s Get Ready. She received her B.A. from Emerson College in 2014. These various roles have allowed her to gain insight from different organizations, mentors, and colleagues. In her work for CYCJ, she brings these perspectives to the table for open dialogue and collaboration.

Rachel Eisenberg, Information Management & Database Coordinator

There is an Albanian saying, “Pika pika mbushet pusi” – “Drop by drop we fill the well”

Rachel has been working with children and teenagers for several years. She spent much of her schooling years participating in several volunteering projects serving youth, including construction and beautification of youth spaces. After graduating from The George Washington University, where she studied Geography and Geographic Information Systems, she moved to the Republic of Georgia to work as an English teacher in a rural elementary school. After teaching in Georgia, she moved to Jeju, South Korea to continue her work as an English teacher.

There, she started an after-school program at her school which included the creation of two student films. At this point, she was inspired to join the Peace Corps. She spent the next three years living in a small village in Kosovo. During her tenure as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she helped implement two USAID-funded grant projects in her community towards improving science and technology resources and curriculum at the local school. She also started a Geography Bowl, developed an English school library, designed re-usable English language teaching materials, and coached students to reach the national level English spelling bee. She found project design and implementation rewarding, and decided to pursue a Master’s degree in International Development and Social Change at Clark University. Her focus has been on research design, project monitoring and evaluation, and data analysis. She is also working as a Unit Coordinator in the adolescent unit of an inpatient behavioral health center. She joined the CYCJ team as a Data System Optimization Intern. She has worked to simplify the way data is collected by Worcester ACTs to more easily monitor their efficacy.

I do this work because I see such potential in children and youth everywhere I go. I am optimistic that with the right resources and support, any young person has the power to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Rachel’s belief in a child’s potential has been fortified by three important children in her life. Her youngest host-brother in Kosovo, who was only 8 months old when she moved into his home, has recently begun kindergarten where his love of learning has blossomed. Her oldest niece, who is the same age, has shown tremendous curiosity in art, science, cooking, and dogs. Her youngest niece, age 1, has shown interest in animals, dancing, and making different sounds. These children inspire Rachel to work with organizations which create opportunities for young people, and which encourage working towards a better future.