ACNJ Staff

Who we are

Cecilia Zalkind
President & Chief Executive Officer

Cecilia ZalkindCecilia Zalkind has an extensive background in public policy advocacy for children. Her 25 years in leadership roles at ACNJ have helped produce key policy advances in child welfare, early care and education and health care in New Jersey.

She has led important coalitions such as the Early Care and Education Coalition and the New Jersey BUILD initiative that have advanced high-quality early care and education in the state. Cecilia has argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court on preschool standards in Abbott v. Burke, the landmark educational equity case, and on the issue of permanency for foster children in several child welfare cases.

Cecilia serves on various national leadership committees, including the national Children’s Leadership Council. Cecilia Zalkind joined ACNJ in 1984 as public policy director and became executive director in 2001. While at ACNJ, she served as an adjunct professor of family and adoption law at Seton Hall Law School. She holds a B.A. and M.A. from New York University and a J.D. from Rutgers Law School.

Mary Coogan
Vice President

StaffMaryMary Coogan is an attorney and head of ACNJ’s KidLaw Legal Resource Center. The center serves as an information clearinghouse on laws and legal processes affecting New Jersey children. It provides consultations to more than 500 parents and professionals each year on laws and policies in child protection, special education and family law. The center produces publications on a variety of topics and provides trainings around the state geared to each audience’s particular needs.

Mary’s primary policy areas are foster care, kinship care and children’s health. She has authored several guides and articles on child welfare-related topics and has represented ACNJ as amicus curiae before the NJ Supreme Court in several cases. Prior to joining ACNJ in 1993, Mary practiced family law in New Jersey. She received both her J.D. and B.A. from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Antoinette Abdelmalek
Administrative Assistant

Antoinette Abdelmalek is an administrative assistant for ACNJ, assisting staff in various administrative duties. She is a native of Lebanon and is fluent in English, French and Arabic. Prior to joining ACNJ in 1982, she worked for the City of Newark in its Compensation, Rating and Inspection Bureau and for Societe Orientale de Publicite in Lebanon. She is a graduate of the Franciscan Sisters of Egypt School in Beirut.

Beatriz Alcaraz
Administrative Assistant

Beatriz Alcaraz is an administrative assistant for ACNJ and is a key part of the organization, assisting staff in a myriad of duties, in addition to producing annual directories of Newark after-school and summer programs. She joined ACNJ in 2000. Beatriz is bilingual in English and Spanish. She is a graduate of Perth Amboy High School.

Patricia Canning
Right From the Start Campaign Coordinator

Patricia Canning is a former management consultant who has built a career in project management in the civic, non-profit and corporate areas. Through civic engagement, Patricia has spent the last 10 years advocating for equity in education for all children and addressing the achievement/opportunity gap for children. She brings her advocacy experience and her project management skills to ACNJ to focus on children ages 0 -3 years in the Right from the Start Campaign.

Patricia is committed to health and wellness for women and children and as a result, founded a women’s triathlon group specifically to inspire women to live their best lives through group fitness. Patricia received an MBA from the Simon School at the University of Rochester and a BS, Industrial Engineering from Lehigh University.

Peter Chen
Policy Counsel

Peter Chen is a policy counsel and 2014-16 Skadden Fellow. His work focuses on expanding access to early intervention services for at-risk infants and toddlers ages 0-3. Peter is responsible for policy analysis and advocacy at the state and local level, as well as assisting families in advocating for their children in early intervention. Prior to joining ACNJ in 2014, Peter clerked for Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and taught high school English in Chicago. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School, and his B.A. from Indiana University-Bloomington.

Diane Dellanno
Policy Analyst

Diane Dellanno is a member of the early childhood team at ACNJ.  Her primary focus is to develop an infant/toddler advocacy campaign to improve early learning policies and programs for infants and toddlers in New Jersey. Diane is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years of experience in developing and implementing parenting education programs. Prior to joining ACNJ in 2012, Diane served as a director of Early Childhood and Education Programs for Prevent Child Abuse – NJ.

Reginald Dorsey
State Outreach Coordinator

Reggie Dorsey coordinates ACNJ’s statewide community outreach efforts, organizing forums and events around the state to help inform our elected officials, key leaders and other advocates about the needs of New Jersey children. Reggie helps to lead the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign, which has resulted in tens of thousands more children receiving a healthy breakfast at school, giving them the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn. He joined ACNJ in 1987 and earned his M.S.W. from Rutgers University and his B.A. in Sociology from North Carolina State University.

Catherine Felegi
Staff Writer

Catherine Felegi joined ACNJ as a staff writer in 2018 and takes part in the development of external communications for the organization, hoping to create a unified voice in the materials ACNJ produces with the overall goal of furthering ACNJ’s mission of identifying children’s needs and raising awareness among decision-makers to enact effective responses. Prior to joining ACNJ, she worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb in their Commercial and Regulatory Affairs department as a Promotional Review Editor, where she would edit internal- and external-facing documents for spelling and grammar. She is a graduate of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where she received her B.A. in English and a double minor in Political Science and Religion.

Eloisa Hernandez-Ramos
Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Eloisa Hernandez is part of ACNJ’s communications and outreach team, focusing primarily on the organization’s electronic communications, including its website and e-communications. Fluent in English and Spanish, she also assists with outreach tasks and other critical pieces, communicating ACNJ’s goals to key decision-makers, other advocates and the general public. Eloisa joined ACNJ in 1994 and holds a B.A. from Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey.

Hannah Korn-Heilner
Outreach Coordinator

Hannah Korn-Heilner is the Outreach Coordinator at Advocates for Children of New Jersey. She recently obtained her Master of Social Work with a concentration in Management and Policy from Rutgers University. Prior to graduate school, she worked at the New Jersey Community Development Corporation in Paterson, serving as the Assistant Director of a 21st Century Community Learning Center afterschool program at John F. Kennedy High School. She also completed a year of AmeriCorps service with the same organization. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from Ithaca College.

Lana Lee
Media Relations Manager

Lana Lee manages ACNJ’s strategic communications, with the goal of expanding awareness and support for ACNJ’s policy agenda. She handles press inquiries and media events for ACNJ and uses video and social media to increase awareness of ACNJ’s activities and policy goals. In addition to tracking analytics of ACNJ’s website and social media presence, her work also involves graphic design and website development. Prior to joining ACNJ, Lana worked at the Office of the Public Advocate. She holds a B.A. from Douglass College, Rutgers University.

Nina Peckman
Staff Attorney

Nina Peckman works for ACNJ’s KidLaw Resource Center as a staff attorney specializing in education and special education law and policy. Fluent in Spanish and English, she primarily assists parents by explaining the law and helping them advocate for their children in school. When necessary, Nina negotiates with school district staff and attends school meetings with parents.

Nina also gives trainings in special education and education law to parents and professionals, including school staff, psychologists, social workers and government agency staff members. Prior to joining ACNJ in 2006, Nina worked for the Community Health Law Project in New Jersey, providing legal representation to persons suffering from mental disabilities. She was also general counsel for the nonprofit agency, Engender Health, which works to improve women’s and children’s health in developing countries. Nina earned her J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 1985 and B.A. from Rutgers College.

Sheldon Presser
Senior Policy Analyst

Sheldon Presser is responsible for research, writing and policy analysis on issues around the state and federal budgets, taxes and supports to low-income families. His policy work includes analyzing and advocating for programs that benefit children and families. Prior to joining ACNJ in 2003, Sheldon served as Assistant Director for Fiscal and Management Operations in the New Jersey Department of Human Services and Chief Fiscal Officer of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, the state’s child welfare agency. He received his M.P.A. from Rutgers University, Newark, and his B.A. from Lehman College in New York City.

Cynthia Rice
Senior Policy Analyst

Cynthia Rice is an attorney and senior policy analyst on ACNJ’s early childhood team. Her responsibilities include identifying, monitoring, writing about and advocating for critical early childhood education issues, especially around preschool, child care and linking preschool to the early elementary years.

Cynthia works closely with state leaders and legislators to help make children a top priority and often showcases New Jersey’s success in presentations around the country on these topics. Prior to joining ACNJ in 2002, Cynthia spent three years as an assistant district attorney in Bronx County, New York.  She earned a J.D. from Pace University School of Law and a B.S. from Georgetown University.

Alana Vega
Kids Count Coordinator

As Kids Count Coordinator, Alana is responsible for collecting, analyzing and organizing state, county, and city level data relating to the well-being of New Jersey’s children. Alana is responsible for the production and presentation of ACNJ’s various Kids Count publications.

Prior to joining ACNJ, Alana interned for the Sandy Homeowner/Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP) where she assisted Superstorm Sandy victims to obtain financial resources to aid in the repair or rebuilding of their homes. Alana received a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and earned her M.P.P. from Rutgers University.

Prudence Walters
Operations Manager
As operations manager, Prudence is responsible for providing administrative support to the executive director, supervising the administrative staff, managing employee benefits and overseeing organizational insurance policies. She also oversees the maintenance and purchase of office equipment and technology and the general operations of ACNJ’s office and its four-story building in Newark, which also includes handling leasing of offices to other nonprofit groups.