Our National Team

Otis Hackney

President & CEO

Otis Hackney is the President & CEO of the “I Have A Dream” Foundation and is responsible for leading the national education nonprofit and its vision of college access and opportunity for all. He believes every child deserves to attend great schools within their own communities and is committed to effecting positive, sustainable social change.

In his previous role as Chief Education Officer for the City of Philadelphia, Otis championed crucial collaboration and partnerships with stakeholders to strengthen the local educational landscape and advance key educational policy. He helped the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) return to local control with a mayoral-appointed board and worked to secure free internet access for students to participate in virtual learning at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with the SDP, he launched several important equity-centered initiatives, including a locally funded PreK program called Community Schools. Ever mindful of the importance of access to post-secondary opportunity, Otis is also known for working with the Community College of Philadelphia to secure tuition-free scholarships and basic needs support.

Otis joined the National Board of Directors at the “I Have a Dream” Foundation in 2019. Along with his extensive knowledge and experience in education, his tenure on the board made him a prudent choice for President & CEO. Under his leadership, IHDF is well-poised to continue making equitable education a reality by engaging communities and children (“Dreamers”) through individualized programming and guaranteed post-secondary tuition support.


Lori Canova

Chief Growth Officer

As the Chief Growth Officer, Lori Canova is responsible for the development of a national growth and expansion strategy for the “I Have A Dream” Foundation affiliate Network. In this new role, Lori will work to retain and grow existing affiliates, provide high-touch support to affiliate leadership and boards, and identify and steward new potential “I Have A Dream” affiliate locations.

Before joining the national team in March of 2020, Lori Canova served as the President and CEO for the “I Have A Dream” Foundation of Boulder County Colorado for 23 years. Under her leadership, the organization grew by 300%, from two Dreamer cohorts to 23, serving over 1,100 students, making the Boulder County affiliate one of the largest in the country.

Lori’s nonprofit career has always been focused on empowering youth from marginalized communities. She has held positions at Big Brothers; Mental Health Association of Colorado; Jefferson Center for Mental Health; and Human Services.

She has a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Denver and is a graduate of the 50 for Colorado Leadership Program through the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. In 2010, Lori received the Woman of the Year Award from the Boulder Professional Women’s Group and in 2016 received the Women Who Light the Community Award from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.


Karlisle Honore

Director of Postsecondary Success

In my 15 years at “I Have A Dream”, I have served in several roles, including Program Director for the Ravenswood II Program in Queens, NY for over 10 years and Director of College and Career Success for IHDF-NY for 4 years. In those roles I provided a year-round program of academic and social support to school-aged youth and counseled students and families on the college application process. I also co-created the college-going and persistence program and managed IHDF-NY’s tuition assistance support for Dreamers.

In my current role as Director of Postsecondary Success, I support the postsecondary goals and efforts of the National IHDF Office, including hosting staff collaborative workshops and developing and managing education, employment, and enrichment opportunities for Dreamers across the network. My work is informed by cultural sensitivity, communication, strong sense of identity, community, empathy, and respect.

I am a native New Yorker who has lived and worked here my entire life. I am an avid reader, a plant mom, and a cake/pastry/bread fiend. I also love visiting state and national parks

My Current Theme Song: Electric Lady – Janelle Monae


Melissa Hunte

Social Work Manager

As the Social Work Manager, I oversee Social Work Interns in the NY Affiliate, providing supervision, and implementing/ administering the Social Emotional Learning Curriculum in NY.

I have been dedicated to servicing underserved populations in NYC. Since graduating from Howard University with my MSW in 2015, I have worked with parolees- providing holistic trauma informed case management services. I then moved on to work with individuals who are part of the NYC Shelter system providing advocacy, medication, referrals, and trauma informed care services.

I am passionate about advocating for underserved individuals at all levels and enjoy providing one on one counseling.

My current theme song: I Smile — Kirk Franklin

Jessica Elsaesser

Data Associate

In my role as Data & Reporting Associate, I support affiliates with managing information and sharing knowledge across the network. I received my Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University – Newark with a Certificate on Interpersonal Violence and Trauma (C-IVT). I served with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation – New Jersey for three years prior to joining the national team, and believe strongly in the role of long-term supportive relationships in achieving a healthy and equitable society. I have also provided training consultation and resource development for the Center on Research to End Violence (REV), and received my CIRTification from the New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science (NJacts).

In addition to my passion for intra-and interorganizational collaboration, I’m a poet, a linguistics and food systems nerd, and a volunteer mentor.

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Meghan Huppuch

Admin & Operations Associate

Meghan brings over fifteen years of experience in the nonprofit sector, focused primarily on gender, racial, and economic justice. In her varied roles – from community organizer to grantmaker – she has led youth programming and coalition building, designed curricula and grantmaking guidelines, facilitated training, and managed organizational communications systems. At work, Meghan enjoys creating systems, crafting communications, and tackling organizational development quandaries. Outside of work, Meghan serves on the board of trustees of her local public library and can often be found cooking, gardening, or lifting weights.

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Danny Morris

Managing Director, New York Programs

Danny Morris currently serves as Director of National Programs for the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. In this role he oversees the delivery of supports and services to the network of IDHF affiliates. 

Prior to joining the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Danny served in different capacities at Children’s Aid (formerly The Children’s Aid Society), most recently as Community School Director at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx. There he led a team of youth development specialists who provided academic enrichment, social support, college and career readiness, and health services to students in grades 9 through 12. He was also Assistant Director for Children’s Aid’s Adolescence Division, developing and coordinating teen programming at affiliated community centers and schools. His initial position at Children’s AId was director of Hope Leadership Academy, a community center in East Harlem specifically designed to serve adolescents between the ages of 14 to 21. Using peer education as a programmatic model, Hope helps teens develop skills to succeed in school and beyond the walls of the classroom. Under Danny’s leadership, Hope participants increased their college readiness and earned a record number of scholarships.

Danny’s tenure at United Way of New York City (UWNYC) included serving as an Account Supervisor for the organization’s Attendance Improvement Dropout Prevention partnership with the NYC Department of Education. He provided program resources and technical assistance to CBO’s that were responsible for implementing in-school and after-school activities. Danny eventually became the Director of Educational Initiatives at UWNYC and was responsible for creating an arts initiative that included a citywide essay contest and annual talent showcase at the Public Theatre and world famous Apollo Theatre.

Danny began his career as an elementary school teacher in Inglewood, California. He was also a founding teacher and collaborative team member for Soaring Heights Charter School in Jersey City, New Jersey. The school is currently preparing to celebrate its 25th year of operation.

Danny is a graduate of Yale University, and holds an M.P.A. from the Baruch School of Public Affairs.

Krystal Padilla

HR Generalist

I’m a born and raised New Yorker with a passion for making workplaces inclusive and
collaborative. Growing up in the hustle and bustle of NYC, I’ve learned the value of
building trust and positive relationships at every level of an organization.
I’ve spent years honing my skills in HR, from implementing HRIS systems to conducting
performance evaluations and ensuring regulatory compliance. I thrive on identifying
organizational needs and crafting strategic solutions that drive success.
Outside of work, you’ll find me with my two furry companions, Omi the dog and Sushi
the cat, exploring the city streets or cozying up at home. With a background in Urban
and Community Studies from CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, I’m passionate
about both the professional and personal aspects of community building.
New York City runs through my veins, and I’m proud to bring that energy and dedication
to everything I do, whether it’s in the office or out in the world.

Richard Rivera

Chief Program Officer

As the Chief Program Officer, I am responsible for developing national initiatives and building strategic partnerships that support our 10 Affiliates, their staff and the thousands of Dreamers across the country. With over 30 years of education, I have spent half of my career creating and leading college access and retention programs founded on Excellence and Academic Development for our black and brown youth in New York City.

As a founding member at Bronx-based nonprofit HERE TO HERE, I created a platform that unites employers, educators, and community-based organizations to connect young people to family-sustaining careers and create a thriving and inclusive economy. Placing over 1,100 Bronx high school students in summer career exploration programs and internships. I am eager and thrilled to bring my expertise to a National initiative and expand our reach.


Stephanie Rupay

Mentor Training & Technical Assistance Manager

As the Mentor Training and Technical Assistance Manager, I support Affiliates in the development and implementation of our Inspire The Dream Mentoring Program. Before joining the National “I Have A Dream” Foundation in January 2022, I provided COVID-19 related assistance to Domestic Violence coalitions in the state of Utah. I learned to love grant work while working on federal grants for the State of Georgia and recognized the power of partnerships, social justice, and program development. I hold a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master of Social Work degree from Southern Adventist University, where I specialized in Trauma and Emergency Management.

When I am not learning about mentoring, I enjoy going on hikes with my partner, our four dogs, and then coming home to cuddle with our cat.

My Current Theme Song: Juicy – The Notorious B.I.G.

Nadira Saunders

Chief Operating Officer

As the Chief Operating Officer, I oversee the HR, Finance, IT and Evaluation functions and work with the leadership team to create and refine effective organization strategies and enrich office policies and procedures. I am driven to deliver results.

My partner, son, plants and bread bring me extreme joy.

My current theme song: Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield



Will Suarez

Development Manager

Will Suarez was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Public service was ingrained in him with his mother and father working for public institutions and unions his whole life. Will brings 5 years of fundraising experience to IHDF, having worked in youth development and community building before starting here. He is excited to dig into the stewardship and infrastructure work here and lay a great foundation for future fundraising efforts. When he isn’t behind an excel sheet or at a donor meeting you can find Will playing music, cycling or hanging out with his partner and their two cats (Jerry and Beatrice) in their apartment.

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Julie Watson

Growth and Development Manager

In my role as Growth and Development Manager, I support existing and emerging affiliates and assist with the organization’s overall expansion plans. I have more than fifteen years of experience in nonprofit communications and development, with a special focus on education and media. I’ve held positions in fundraising and corporate sponsorship development for public radio, helped launch an online tutoring service for high school students, and coordinated a number of successful cause marketing partnerships for a broadcast cable company. Most recently, I served as the Director of Communications for an independent elementary school.

I have a degree in English with an emphasis in secondary education from Iowa State University. I hold a certificate in editing and spend much of my free time reading and writing. My work has appeared in The Saturday Evening PostWriter’s Digest, and elsewhere.

My current theme song: We Can Work It Out — Stevie Wonder


Matthew Wright

Director of Alumni and Community Relations

In the role of Director of Alumni and Community Relations, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to connect with a diverse range of wonderful people who are part of the “I Have A Dream” family.  The heart of my experience with the “I Have A Dream” Foundation was serving as a Program Director from 2005 through 2016 for the Ravenswood II Program in Queens, NY.  After a stint filling in as Interim Executive Director for the New York affiliate in 2017 and 2018, I returned to “I Have A Dream” in 2020 and am excited to be a part of such an experienced, dedicated, and fun team!

I always feel like I want to be in 25 places all at the same time but I do my best to appreciate every moment wherever I end up.

My Current Theme Song: Power of Love – Huey Lewis