Management Team

Raymond Ocasio

Executive Director

Since 1998 and under Mr. Ocasio’s stewardship La Casa has experienced tremendous growth and consolidation of its programs and advocacy activities while adding vigor to its economic development work by employing a focused, targeted, comprehensive and integrated strategy. La Casa has also moved solidly into the realm of social entrepreneurial

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Since 1998 and under Mr. Ocasio’s stewardship La Casa has experienced tremendous growth and consolidation of its programs and advocacy activities while adding vigor to its economic development work by employing a focused, targeted, comprehensive and integrated strategy. La Casa has also moved solidly into the realm of social entrepreneurial initiatives with affiliate ventures in development, construction and food preparation while reaffirming its community organizing and advocacy roots at the neighborhood, city and state levels.  Under this organizational model, La Casa has achieved significant success and impact. It is considered among the leading comprehensive multipurpose community based social services and development organization in New Jersey.

Mr. Ocasio is involved in local, citywide and state initiatives and works with local, regional and state committees, task forces coalitions and associations. He represents La Casa in local, state, regional and national collaborations, alliances, coalitions, committees and institutions as a member and officer.  These include Leadership Newark, Housing & Community Development Network of NJ, Early Childhood Coalition of Newark, the Committee of Advocates for Newark Children, Newark Local Education Fund, St. Michael’s Medical Center, the Coalition for Our Children’s Schools, the Cornwall Institute of Rutgers University and the University Height Charter School, New Jersey Hispanic Directors Association, NJ Citizen Action, and the NJ Superior Court’s Disciplinary Advisory Committee, the Big Brother Big Sister National Hispanic Advisory Committee and the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development.

Mr. Ocasio has over thirty years of experience in housing development, organizational development and community building activities both domestically and internationally.

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Raquel D. Merlino

Chief Financial Officer

Raquel D. Merlino has been working in finance for more than 20 years, and has held a variety of positions in both the for profit and not for profit sector.  As La Casa’s Chief Financial Officer, Ms. Merlino formulates strategies and policies for the Agency’s fiscal operations, sets goals, monitors

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Raquel D. Merlino has been working in finance for more than 20 years, and has held a variety of positions in both the for profit and not for profit sector.  As La Casa’s Chief Financial Officer, Ms. Merlino formulates strategies and policies for the Agency’s fiscal operations, sets goals, monitors results, and manages financial resources to ensure high standards of performance.  She develops, maintains and enforces compliance with fiscal policies and procedures as well as sets up, updates and ensures compliance with internal control policies and procedures.

Ms. Merlino has completed graduate business courses at Babson College and has a B.S. in Accounting & Business Administration from St. Mary’s University and the Institute of Banking in Caracas, Venezuela.

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Edward Hernandez

Division Director, Youth, Family, & Health Services

Mr. Hernandez has more than 20 years of experience working with youth and families, from both a clinical counseling and management perspective.  His career spans work in the public and not-for-profit sector and is especially proficient in the field of juvenile justice.  As Division Director of La Casa’s Youth, Family

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Mr. Hernandez has more than 20 years of experience working with youth and families, from both a clinical counseling and management perspective.  His career spans work in the public and not-for-profit sector and is especially proficient in the field of juvenile justice.  As Division Director of La Casa’s Youth, Family & Health Services division, he oversees a staff of more than 30 employees located across three sites, and is responsible for managing all social, prevention, family, and health services.  Mr. Hernandez manages the division’s business development functions, including program design and implementation, contract negotiation and budget management, and relationship development.

Mr. Hernandez has a B.A in Child Psychology from Lehman College.  He is also trained in Martial Arts and is an Emergency Medical Technician.

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Rosalina (Wendy) Melendez

Division Director, Personal Development

Ms. Melendez has been the director of La Casa’s Personal Development Division and the Hispanic Women’s Resource Center since 1998. Under her stewardship, she is responsible for overseeing program delivery, fund development, budget management and for creating collaborations and partnerships. Ms. Melendez is an active member of the Essex County

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Ms. Melendez has been the director of La Casa’s Personal Development Division and the Hispanic Women’s Resource Center since 1998. Under her stewardship, she is responsible for overseeing program delivery, fund development, budget management and for creating collaborations and partnerships.

Ms. Melendez is an active member of the Essex County Workforce Investment Board (WIB), President of the Urban and Hispanic Women Centers Alliance of New Jersey and a member of the New Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning (NJALL).

Ms. Melendez is a graduate of Rutgers University where she earned a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Sociology and Puerto Rican Studies.

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Alle Ries

Division Director, Community & Economic Development

Alle Ries is director of La Casa’s Community & Economic Development Division, which is charged with revitalizing the community’s physical and social environment.  She oversees affordable housing & commercial revitalization, community planning & organizing, and housing counseling programs. Formerly, she was La Casa’s Director of Program and Fund Development where

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Alle Ries is director of La Casa’s Community & Economic Development Division, which is charged with revitalizing the community’s physical and social environment.  She oversees affordable housing & commercial revitalization, community planning & organizing, and housing counseling programs.

Formerly, she was La Casa’s Director of Program and Fund Development where she contributed to the organization’s growth through program development, fundraising, and strategic direction.

Alle was principal or contributing architect to four community planning processes in Minneapolis and Newark. She served on staff for Cory Booker’s 2002 Mayoral run and sits on the board of NJ Community Capital and the Advisory Committee for the NJ Chapter of Women in Housing and Finance.  Alle began her career as an organizer and has a Masters in Planning from Rutgers University.

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Norma Sessa

Division Director, Community Improvement

Norma Sessa is Director of the Community Improvement division and has held that position for more than ten years.   The division provides energy conservation and energy assistance programs to thousands of Essex County residents each year.  In her position, Ms. Sessa manages State and Federal ARRA Weatherization, Low Income Energy

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Norma Sessa is Director of the Community Improvement division and has held that position for more than ten years.   The division provides energy conservation and energy assistance programs to thousands of Essex County residents each year.  In her position, Ms. Sessa manages State and Federal ARRA Weatherization, Low Income Energy Assistance, and other contracts totaling more than $5 million and oversees a staff of 37.

Ms. Sessa has a Certificate in Non-Profit Management and Financial Management from New York University.

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Martha Villegas

Division Director, Early Childhood Education

Martha Villegas has been serving La Casa de Don Pedro’s early childhood education program for more than 15 years, first as a Center Director, and since 2001 as the Division Director.  In this position she oversees the operations of three early childhood centers serving 255 children ages three and four,

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Martha Villegas has been serving La Casa de Don Pedro’s early childhood education program for more than 15 years, first as a Center Director, and since 2001 as the Division Director.  In this position she oversees the operations of three early childhood centers serving 255 children ages three and four, including personnel and budget management.

Ms. Villegas sits on Newark’s Early Childhood Advisory Committee and has Bachelors and Masters degrees in Educational Psychology and Vocational Education from Central University, Quito, Ecuador.

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