|Steve Densmore, President and Founder
Steve Densmore has spent the last 25 years working as a communications professional in the Hudson Valley. An award winning writer and journalist, Steve spent much of that time working in the trenches for several weekly newspapers and magazines, serving as a reporter, editor and publisher (sometimes all at the same time!) Steve’s career path evolved substantially in 2005 when he began working as a communications consultant for several Hudson Valley nonprofit organizations. This grew to include the Dyson Foundation and the Walkway Over the Hudson nonprofit organization, where he has spearheaded public relations and grant writing for the last several years. Steve launched Choice Words in 2010 in response to an increasing call for supportive communications services among Hudson Valley nonprofits. He has served on various boards of directors during his career including the New York Press Association, the Vassar Warner Home of Poughkeepsie, the Barrett Art Center, and the environmental advocacy organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. He lives in Montgomery.
|Briana Maloney, Vice President
Briana Maloney has been grant writing for twelve years and has won nearly $30M for Choice Words’ clients. She is a research and information specialist with experience in social media and web design. She previously worked as an academic librarian at Rockland Community College, Mount Saint Mary College, and at the New York State Library as a public information advocate where she sought funding for various statewide public education programs. She is on the board of the Rondout Valley Education Foundation, serving as chair of the grants committee and is a member of the Music Institute of Sullivan and Ulster Counties’ High Strung Orchestra. She currently resides in Kerhonkson, NY, with her two kids, husband, and adorable mutt.
|Amanda Heidel, Manager of Choice Words Ithaca & Small and Emerging Nonprofit Grants Program
Amanda helped direct the development of Choice Words Small and Emerging Nonprofit grants program, which she now manages. She recently moved to Ithaca, NY and is in the process of spearheading a new branch of the company, Choice Words Ithaca. Her background in marketing dovetails with grant writing to create an innovative framework for guiding emerging nonprofits who often need diversified funding streams to get on their feet. She is also an artist, educator, and founder of the community project, Mushroom Shed, a fiscally sponsored organization dedicated to environmental education.
|Yesenia Morales, Administrator
Yesenia Morales currently resides in Maybrook, NY. She pursued her undergraduate education at Russell Sage College in Upstate New York in Psychology. While at Russell Sage College, She became a writer for the school newsletter and published many articles covering events, social topics and kept students up to date. After finishing her studies, her professional journey has been primarily rooted in the insurance industry. Yesenia actively joins volunteer events of nonprofit organizations that focus on the environment and social well-being. Her passion for volunteerism with nonprofit organizations has flowed into the professional world, and is one of the many reasons she has joined the Choice Words team!
|Emily Vanston, Administrator & Grant Writer
Emily has been grant writing for Choice Words since 2016, and currently manages the company’s administrative activities as she pursues master’s studies at SUNY New Paltz. Prior to joining the Choice Words team Emily spent more than a decade working in publishing and communications in New York City. She is on the board of directors of the Vanaver Caravan Dance & Music Company, and is passionate about education and the arts. Emily is a graduate of the University of Texas, and currently resides in Wappingers Falls with her husband and son.
|Jennifer Gutman, Senior Grant Writer
Jennifer Gutman has been with Choice Words since 2013. In addition to grant writing, she’s worked in publishing and academia. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English and Comparative Media at Vanderbilt University.
|Aaron Fumarola, Grant Writer
Born and raised in the Finger Lakes town of Homer, NY, Aaron is a 2007 graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he studied political science and philosophy. In 2010 he completed a Masters of Professional Studies in Environmental Policy from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. After working for three years as Development Coordinator for Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland, NY, he transitioned to Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining, NY, where he worked for nearly two years as the organization’s sole grant writer. With a lifelong enthusiasm for the arts and humanities, he joined Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in 2015, where he was responsible for cultivating and soliciting donations from new and existing donors in support of arts and education programming. In April of 2017 he transitioned to Choice Words on a part-time basis to research and write proposals on behalf of a number of our clients.
|Teryl Mickens, Grant Writer
Teryl is a seasoned grant writer experienced in both non-profit and for-profit business sectors. Over the last 12 years she has secured federal, state and private sources to fund projects ranging from affordable housing, community development and the arts. In addition to grant writing, Teryl specializes in procuring federal and state historic preservation tax credits. Teryl is a current board member of Ulster County Habitat for Humanity, the Business Alliance of Kingston and has served as a panelist for Arts Mid-Hudson. She is a former Kingston Landmarks Preservation commissioner and was appointed to serve on the Kingston Comprehensive Plan committee. Originally from Manhattan, she now resides in Kingston.
|Alyssa Barrett, Grant Writer
Alyssa Barrett is a grant writer for Choice Words’ Small and Emerging Nonprofit Grants Program. She is originally from Rochester, NY, and holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and a BA in English from Vassar College. Her experience includes a stretch of life in Washington state, where she taught at a local college, farmed, and worked as an independent writing consultant and editor. Since returning to the Hudson Valley in 2018, she has been part of the Development team at the Omega Institute.
|Brenna Robinson, Grant Writer
Brenna grew up in and continues to live in the Kingston, NY, area. She has appreciated the beauty and diversity of this region her entire life and is delighted to join the Choice Words team in supporting Hudson Valley communities through its work. As the former Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Kingston, NY, Brenna honed excellent communication skills and acquired extensive experience in economic and community development activities. She has supported a wide array of businesses and non-profit organizations over the last thirteen years and possesses a broad knowledge of local, state, and federal grants regulations and requirements. Prior to that, Brenna earned her B.A. in Environmental and Organismal Biology from the State University of New York College at New Paltz and was a small-business owner herself, and these experiences have served her well in identifying the needs of those organizations she has assisted. In her spare time, she enjoys long-distance running, spending time with her family and two rescue dogs, and boating on the Hudson River.
|Cyndi Guy, Grant Writer
Cyndi Guy worked for the leading international non-profit literacy organization, ProLiteracy, for 18 years, serving as Marketing Coordinator in its publishing division, New Readers Press, and then as Membership and Marketing Director for their US Program Division. Following that, she worked as a Hospitality brand manager with Marietta Corporation managing projects between Premier Beauty companies and fine hotel chains. She then worked for her alma mater SUNY Cortland as a Community Outreach Coordinator. For the last ten years, she has also worked as a freelance consultant doing content writing, campaign management, fundraising, and PR. Her greatest joy has been working for CNY Film studio, American High, since 2017, evaluating and reviewing movie scripts. Cyndi lives in Homer with her three dogs and partner Richard Burke, and volunteers and serves on several boards in her local community. She also loves and supports artistic expression in all forms.
|Elizabeth Gabriel, Grant Writer
Elizabeth has decades of experience in nonprofit leadership, grant writing and administration, justice, and sustainable farming. As Executive Director for six years, her collaborative approach led an all-white farmer training organization to dismantle internal supremacist structures, increase its diversity and make concrete steps toward equity and accountability. She also doubled the organization’s annual budget during her tenure. She is passionate about food production, equitable food access, land sovereignty, and working together. Elizabeth has navigated dozens of public and private grants, led project development and evaluation teams and is a graduate of multiple anti-racism trainings, she is a Soul Fire Farm Speakers Collective member, facilitates Talking Circles on Race & Racism, and holds a dual MA from American University. She runs Wellspring Forest Farm, an agroforestry farm, with her family in the Finger Lakes, on land originally stewarded by the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Indigenous people who still reside here today south of and surrounding Cayuga Lake.
|Jennifer Leao, Grant Writer
Jennifer Leao has over 12 years of experience as a non-profit administrator and capacity builder. She specializes in post-award management and governmental grant proposals at all levels. Jennifer has worked in supportive housing and homeless services, legal services, and university community-based initiatives and research projects. Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, She has lived in New York, NY for over 15 years.
|Rebecca Morgan, Grant Writer
Rebecca Morgan has spent her career between international human rights projects and farm and food system development work. Her international work included consulting with Human Rights Watch in Kosovo and with the United Nations Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Guatemala. In food system work she led the National Immigrant and Refugee Farmer Initiative for Heifer International’s USA Country Program prior to being the executive director for the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship in New York State. Rebecca has been growing food her whole life and currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband and their four children.
|Cynthia Pacia, Grant Writer
Cynthia has over 25 years of experience in philanthropy, community engagement, and marketing at some of Rochester’s top nonprofit organizations like The Hochstein School, Bivona Child Advocacy Center, Lollypop Farm (the Humane Society of Greater Rochester), and Rochester Area Community Foundation. Throughout her career, she has had a unique 360-degree view of grants from the perspective of a grantseeker, funder, and as a regional association of grantmakers staff member. While at the Community Foundation, Cynthia helped create NextGen Rochester, a giving circle for young professionals, introducing individuals to philanthropy and establishing a process to review and select organizations to fund. She is a 2017 alumna of the YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County Person2Person diversity program, a 2015 ATHENA Young Professional Finalist, and a 2011 Leadership Rochester alumna. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Binghamton University and a Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from Roberts Wesleyan College. Cynthia resides with her family in Rochester, NY.
|John Barry, Grant Writer
John W. Barry is an award-winning journalist who worked as a staff writer for the USA Today Network for 25 years and freelanced for RollingStone.com. A graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, John began his journalism career as a municipal reporter and wrote on a range of topics, including the Northern Ireland peace process and the Sept. 11 attacks. More recently, John has written extensively about the arts and the music industry. He has interviewed such musical luminaries as Ringo Starr, Pete Seeger, and Carly Rae Jepsen, and analyzed the many ways in which culture impacts the economy. In 2022, John published his first book, Levon Helm: Rock, Roll & Ramble—The Inside Story of the Man, the Music and the Midnight Ramble, about the late drummer for The Band. John lives in New York’s majestic Hudson Valley with his wife, Amy, and their two cockapoos, Guthrie and Sam.
|The Chazen Companies
Founded in the historic Hudson Valley region of New York in 1947, The Chazen Companies provides engineering, land surveying, planning, environmental and safety services, landscape architecture and construction services to clients throughout the Northeast and beyond.