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Ginger F. MlakarAdvancement
SVP, Philanthropic Strategy & Growth and General Counsel
Executive Coordinator: Connie Gilbert, 216.615.7588
Ginger Mlakar serves as in-house legal counsel and manages the Foundation's legal affairs. Additionally, she oversees the teams that works with current donors, individuals, business owners, and their professional advisors to identify their charitable objectives and implement simple to complex strategies to accomplish their philanthropic goals. At the same time, Ginger connects non-profits to partnership opportunities with the Foundation. She came to the Cleveland Foundation in July 2009 after 16 years practicing law in estate, trust and charitable gift planning and administration. Her previous positions include partner in the personal succession and planning practice group at Thompson Hine LLP and of counsel in the estate planning and probate practice group at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP. She is also a certified public accountant.
Ginger has served on the boards of several area organizations, including the Girl Scouts of Lake Erie Council, the Estate Planning Council of Cleveland, the Bay Village Education Foundation, the Bay Village Foundation, the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, the Cleveland Leadership Center, and as treasurer for the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Foundation, and Bay Soccer Club. She was the president for the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Foundation. She is currently on the board for the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils and is an AEP® Accredited Estate Planner. She has been a member of advisory groups for University Hospitals, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Case Western Reserve University. Additionally, she is an active fellow of the American College of Estate and Trust Council, and an Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law Council member for the Ohio State Bar Association. Ginger is a frequent speaker on legal and tax issues surrounding charitable giving.
Ginger has been named among the Best Lawyers in America and the Top 50 Female Ohio Super Lawyers List by Law and Politics magazine. She was a member of the Leadership Cleveland Class of 2014. Ginger has received the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association's Women in Law Making a Difference and President's Awards, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Foundation's Outstanding Leadership Award, the Estate Planning Council of Cleveland’s 2019 Distinguished Estate Planner Award, and the 2022 Women of Professional Excellence from the YWCA of Greater Cleveland. She graduated summa cum laude from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and earned her juris doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
Senior Vice President, Philanthropy
Executive Coordinator: Connie Gilbert, 216.615.7588
Leta Obertacz brings 20 years of fundraising experience to The Cleveland Foundation as the Senior Vice President of Philanthropy. Leading strategy for growth of new donors and stewardship of long-term partners, she has spent her past few months sharing the work of the Foundation in its new storefront location, where philanthropy is accessible to all. Leta most recently served as Director of Advancement for the Cleveland Zoo Society, where she led numerous highly successful fundraising campaigns dedicated to the best quality animal care, education and meaningful guest experiences, including the Daniel Maltz Rhino Reserve; Bear Hollow; and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Auditorium. In 2022 under Leta's leadership, her team launched the Primate Forest campaign, which, when complete, will result in a 140,000-square-foot world-class destination that will transform and significantly expand the zoo’s rainforest.
Prior to her work at the Zoo Society, Leta spent several years as a fundraising and marketing executive at Career Gear, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide the formerly incarcerated, homeless and veterans with the tools and skills they need to successfully achieve reentry and financial independence.
Leta earned a BA in history with honors from Brown University and a MPA, Pi Alpha Alpha, from Baruch College. She is a co-VP of activities and class officer at Brown. She is also a dedicated community volunteer, serving as the co-VP and Advancement Chair for EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute and the founding Board President for Motogo, a nonprofit that teaches students how to solve problems and build confidence through working on motorcycles. She is a new Board Member at The City Club.
Over the course of her career, Leta has participated in several leadership and professional development programs. She completed Cleveland Leadership Center’s Bridge Builders and Civic Leadership Institute programs and recently participated in the Cleveland Foundation’s Foundations for Philanthropy program. In 2022, she was recognized as one of Cleveland Magazine’s Women of Distinction and in 2021 she was a Soul of Philanthropy nominee.
Leta had the unique opportunity to tour the country as a professional performer with a variety of artists and groups, including the NBA for the Nets. In conjunction, she served as a national dance judge and presented on navigating the performer’s life and living in NYC.
Jourdan Blackburn joined the Cleveland Foundation in April 2023 as a Philanthropic Coordinator. In her role, Jourdan provides high level support to donors and Philanthropic Advisors by collaborating with the Philanthropic Services Team. Prior to joining the Foundation, Jourdan worked as a Program Manager for Best Buddies Indiana where she worked closely with Indiana schools to start inclusive programs for students with disabilities. Jourdan holds a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and Event Planning from Anderson University and recently moved to Cleveland from Indiana.
Shanette Buford-Brazzell joined the Cleveland Foundation in December 2022 as a Philanthropic Advisor. In her current role, Shanette focuses on fostering and strengthening relationships with individuals, families, organizations, and corporations by advising and engaging them to achieve their philanthropic goals. Prior to joining the foundation, Shanette served in various roles focused on fundraising and event management in nonprofit and higher education/college athletics. Most recently, she worked as Director, Annual Campaign for the YMCA of Greater Cleveland. Other organizations she worked for include Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, United Way of Greater Cleveland, and The Jerome Schottenstein Center/The Ohio State University.
Throughout her career, Shanette has been committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, philanthropy and giving back her professional and personal time to the community. She is currently a board member for WISE Cleveland (Women in Sports and Events), member of Junior League of Cleveland, AFP Cleveland and advisory board member of TJ Carrie Foundation. Shanette has participated in several leadership and professional development programs. Currently, she’s a member of the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio’s LeadDIVERSITY. She completed Cleveland Leadership Center’s Civic Leadership Institute program and YWCA Women’s Leadership Institute Bootcamp.
Shanette earned a BA in Journalism and Promotional Communications from Cleveland State University, certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace from University of South Florida and certificate in Sports Philanthropy from George Washington University’s School of Business.
Philanthropic Advisor, Partnerships
As a Philanthropic Advisor, Nichole Collins is responsible for fostering and strengthening relationships with individuals, families and nonprofit organizations seeking to turn their passion into purpose through philanthropy.
Nichole brings more than 15 years of experience to the Cleveland Foundation. Most recently, Nichole was a fundraising consultant with FundTaskIt LLC and Inbloom Consulting. Through this work, she helped organizations build fundraising capacity and increase revenue. She’s also held positions with the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation, Cleveland Zoological Society, the national office of the United Church of Christ, and the Intergenerational Schools. Nichole is a fundraising strategist with a strong track record of exceeding fundraising goals. She’s implemented several fundraising initiatives, worked on multi-million-dollar campaigns, developed data management systems, and led cross-functional teams to launch national initiatives.
Nichole believes in using her gifts in service to the community. She is on the board of Enlightened Solutions, chairs the FutureLand Community Builders Sub-Committee, serves on the Association of Fundraising Professionals IDEA Committee, and is a CollegeNow Mentor.
Alongside a Bachelor of Arts from Case Western Reserve University and a Masters in Nonprofit Administration from John Carroll University, Nichole is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).
Director, Philanthropic Services
Brenda Cummins joined the foundation in 2015 and works with donors and organizations to help them plan and achieve their philanthropic objectives.
Brenda brings senior level development experience from her previous role as director of Foundation Administration and Community Engagement at Summa Health System. In her role, she advanced Summa’s priorities through philanthropy and connected the greater community to the work of the organization. Prior work includes her position as a development officer at the Akron Civic Theatre, where she was responsible for all aspects of fundraising for the 1920’s atmospheric theatre.
Through her first career path as an Audiologist and her community volunteer work in social services, healthcare and the arts, her strength is connecting people to organizations that make an impact in the lives of our greater community.
Brenda is a certified trainer in Family Philanthropy through 21/64. She is a Stokes Fellow through the Advanced Leadership Institute of the Cleveland Leadership Center and a graduate of Leadership Akron. She has served on the boards of several area non-profits, including Friends of 91.3 The Summit , Summit ArtSpace, Greenleaf Family Center and the Peninsula Foundation. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Northeast Ohio Planned Giving Council.
Senior Director, Philanthropy Equity Initiatives
Terri Bradford Eason is responsible for developing and overseeing the equity initiatives aligned with the foundation’s strategic priorities, as a member of the Advancement Department. Terri is also focused on developing and executing cultivation and fundraising activities that help individuals establish current and deferred philanthropic funds, legacy gifts and charitable giving strategic plans. Additionally, Terri works closely with internal and external partners to identify, create and provide charitable planning options tailored to achieve specific philanthropic goals.
Terri joined the Foundation in October 2008 after gaining two decades of experience in the financial services industry. She had several positions with National City (now PNC) and supported several functions including wealth management, relationship management, new business development, and both private and corporate banking. As director of nonprofit business services, she was responsible for new business development and relationship management of nonprofit and higher education organizations. Throughout her tenure, Terri was dedicated to quality service for which she received the company’s NCC Excel Award for extraordinary client and community service. She also was the recipient of the YWCA Women of Professional Excellence Award, TLOD Status of Women Award, the NCNW Phenomenal Women of Extraordinary Leadership and Service Award and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc.’s Woman of Vision award.
Terri has served the nonprofit community as a director on several area nonprofit boards, including Recovery Resources, Junior Achievement, the Women’s City Club Foundation and the Legacy Village Lyndhurst Community Fund Committee. In addition, she is the Former President of the Alpha Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated ®, and Former Chairman of the Alpha Omega Foundation, Incorporated and Former At-Large Director of the AKA Educational Advancement Foundation, Inc. Currently, she serves on the Board of Trustees at Notre Dame College (Board Chair), Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center (Past-Board President), Milestone Autism Resources, Inc., and member of the Board of Trustees for Ohio North First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Former Board Chairman).
Terri is a member of the National Black MBA Association, Inc., NAACP, Estate Planning Council, National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, Northern Ohio Charitable Gift Planners Association, Beta Gamma Sigma National Honor Society, Cleveland Chapter of Links, Inc., Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. (Treasurer). She earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Cleveland State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Penn State University.
Connie Gilbert (she/hers) joined the Cleveland Foundation in August 2023 as the Executive Coordinator, Philanthropy. In her role, Connie supports the SVP for Philanthropy and the General Counsel/VP for Philanthropy for scheduling, office management, and other support of the Philanthropy team. Prior to joining the foundation, Connie has served in a variety of roles at the Cleveland Institute of Art including administrative support, coordinating key events, and supporting the Board of Directors. She also has experience in higher education areas of Student Affairs, Intercultural Affairs, Wellness & Prevention and Athletics at Grinnell College, and job skills training with the Career Solutions division of Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee. She holds a Master of Business Administration from John Carroll University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and sociology from Ursuline College.
Philanthropic Services Advisor
As a Philanthropic Services Advisor, Kristen Grabenstein is responsible for cultivating strong relationships with individuals, families and organizations to help them realize their full impact through philanthropy. A 21/64 Certified Advisor and Facilitator with expertise on next generation philanthropy, Kristen co-created and leads the foundation’s Next Gen program, Foundations for Philanthropy, to help emerging leaders explore strategies to make our region stronger for all. She also speaks on topics related to Next Gen giving and engaging younger donors in philanthropy.
Prior to joining the Cleveland Foundation, Kristen was Community Relations Manager at Forest City Realty Trust, where she served as a vital liaison between the company and the community, overseeing grantmaking, employee volunteering and community engagement initiatives.
Kristen graduated magna cum laude from Miami University with a B.S. in business. She has an M.A. in nonprofit arts administration from New York University and an M.S. in accounting from the University of Virginia. She is an alumna of the Cleveland Bridge Builders, helped to launch the Cleveland Orchestra young professionals program, The Circle, and has served on the board of Dobama Theatre, as a College Now mentor and co-chair of a corporate chapter of the United Way Young Leaders.
Associate, Legal Affairs
Katherine Hall joined the Cleveland Foundation in September 2022. In her role as Legal Affairs Associate, she provides legal support to the Advancement team. Prior to joining the foundation, Katherine held diverse roles that leveraged her background in law and journalism, including working as a corporate and employment law attorney in Chicago and serving as communications manager at one of Cleveland’s largest law firms. Katherine has volunteered with several organizations, including The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and iMentor, a group that matches high school students with committed college-educated mentors to guide them on their journey to college graduation. She is a member of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and is admitted to practice law in Ohio and Illinois. She graduated with highest distinction from Indiana University Bloomington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and earned her J.D. from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where she served as Executive Editor of the Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality.
Bridget Hawes joined the Cleveland Foundation in January 2023 as a Philanthropic Advisor, primarily focusing on fostering and strengthening relationships with individuals, families, organizations and corporations to help them fulfill their charitable giving goals.
Bridget brings nearly 20 years of fundraising and nonprofit experience to the Cleveland Foundation, most recently serving as Development Director at Cuyahoga County Public Library with a primary focus on major gifts and capital development.
From 2011-2018, Bridget served as a major gift consultant with Cuyahoga County Public Library, leading CCPL’s first major capital campaign. Of the $110 million capital development program, Bridget reached the fundraising goal of raising $10 million from Cleveland area individual donors, foundations and corporations, resulting in the renovation/new construction of 18 of CCPL’s 27 branches.
In 2019, Bridget was hired as Senior Development Specialist at CCPL and within six months was promoted to Development Director. During that time, Bridget expanded the development department to a team of five, responsible for fundraising in support of the CCPL Foundation, Library operations and programs through donations, grants, events, planned giving and capital donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and government supporters.
Bridget graduated from Ohio University with a B.S. in Health Services Administration and a minor in Business Administration. In addition, she is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, board of trustees for the Bay Village Foundation, and member of the Bay Village Anti-Racism Network.
Katherine M. LeParAdvancement
Manager, Legal Affairs
Kathy LePar is part of the Advancement team of the Cleveland Foundation and is responsible for processing new gifts, supporting the setup of new funds, preparing fund agreements and charitable gift documents, and serving as a liaison with the Finance team and other cross-disciplinary teams.
Kathy has more than 30 years of experience in the legal profession with specific expertise in the areas of estate planning, probate administrations, and asset liquidation. Before joining the foundation in September 2012, Kathy spent 13 years as a paralegal with the firm of Behm & Henry, LLC. Prior to that, Kathy spent nine years as a legal assistant/paralegal with Bowlus & Bowlus, Ltd. During her employment with Bowlus & Bowlus, Kathy also provided paralegal support for a number of years to Sara J. Sherick, Esq., and Roger W. Hafford, Esq., in the area of probate administrations.
Kathy is currently working toward obtaining her certified paralegal designation from the National Association of Legal Assistants.
Danielle Mihalcea joined the Cleveland Foundation in May 2022 as a Research Associate. In her role, Danielle serves as the main research resource for the Advancement team and across various departments to ensure relationships with donors and cultivate potential prospects. Prior to joining the foundation, Danielle worked as a background investigator at Scherzer International where she gained research skills investigating individual’s criminal and financial history, both nationally and internationally. Danielle holds both a Master of Arts in Global Interactions and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Political Science from Cleveland State University.
Brittany Schultz joined the Foundation in 2017 and focuses on cultivating and strengthening relationships with individuals, families, and organizations to help them achieve their philanthropic goals.
Prior to joining the Cleveland Foundation, Brittany worked at JumpStart Inc. as a Traffic and Events Specialist where she managed marketing projects as well as event planning initiatives including their annual meeting, Startup Scaleup. Brittany served as the Assistant Director, Cleveland Project with Horizon Education Centers where she developed and managed five after-school programs and site coordinators of programs. Brittany has been actively involved with the Cleveland International Film Festival since 2012 and works as an Operations Assistant Manager during the festival.
Brittany holds a Master of Arts from Carnegie Mellon University in Literary and Cultural Studies and received her Bachelor of Arts from The Ohio State University in English with a concentration on Film Studies and Professional Writing. In addition to her work in the nonprofit sector, Brittany is actively involved in the community, volunteering her time and talent to support initiatives around Cleveland. She serves as an employee member of the Engage! Cleveland Board and is volunteering with Plexus LGBT & Allied Chamber of Commerce on their Summer Soiree Committee.
Jason Weiner joined the foundation’s Advancement Team in October 2017 where he works to foster and strengthen relationships with individuals, families and organizations seeking to impact the causes and issues they care most about through philanthropy. Jason was introduced to a career in the nonprofit sector as one of the first Cleveland Foundation Summer Interns in 2001.
Jason brings more than eleven years of senior level fundraising experience in arts and human services organizations to the foundation. In his most recent position as Director of Development for Beck Center for the Arts, he was responsible for developing and implementing the fundraising strategy for the organization as well as building and maintaining individual and institutional relationships.
He currently serves as a board member with Ohio Citizens for the Arts and a member of the Cleveland Foundation’s Summer Internship Program Advisory Council. He earned a bachelor of arts in sociology and a master of arts in sociology both from Cleveland State University.
As a Philanthropic Advisor, Alicia Wray focuses primarily on building and cultivating new donor relationships and attracting new audiences to the foundation who seek to fulfill their charitable giving goals.
Alicia joined the Cleveland Foundation’s Advancement Team in November 2016 bringing fifteen years of experience in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Prior to joining the foundation, she served as Conference and Event Management Coordinator at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, where she was responsible for planning programs for Federal Reserve System employees and community guests to the Bank. In this role, Alicia played a key role in planning and managing a yearly international conference with the US Treasury in Washington DC. Prior to her role at the Federal Reserve, Alicia was the Event and Donor Relations Coordinator at YWCA Greater Cleveland.
Alicia earned a Bachelor of Arts in public relations from Baldwin Wallace University. Alicia serves as a member of the Communications Committee for the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Advancement Committee at the West Side Catholic Center. She has completed additional training through the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Disney Institute and Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management.