Meg loves bringing change makers together to make our world a better place. She currently focuses her work on social impact networks and building capacity to advance sustainability initiatives among local governments across the United States. Meg is the Director of the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) where she has worked since 2015.
Meg has extensive experience in network building and network direction. In 2016 she supported the Regional Partner Networks Program for the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), and served as interim director of the Green Cities California network from 2017 to 2018. With a background in city planning, Meg provides expertise in community engagement, sustainable development, and smart growth planning practices.
She has consulted with the internationally recognized urban economics firm, Urban3, and is experienced in rural economic development and local food system economies. Her food systems work includes coordinating the City of Austin’s first Urban Agriculture Program, consulting with SCALE, Inc. to complete food hub feasibility studies. Meg’s experience in local economic development spans from coordinating small town revitalization programs with HandMade in America to directing the northern Arizona office of Local First Arizona, the largest local business coalition in the country.
The sum of this experience results in optimistic thinking and determined problem solving that helps connect people, move projects forward, and develop place-based solutions.
Riyza leads SSDN's peer network and learning efforts, connecting communities at varying stages of success in implementing their diverse sustainability programming. Since joining SSDN in 2021, she has been a key resource for accelerating relationships between our members and strengthening their capacity to achieve their goals.
Authenticity, justice, and intersectionality are core elements of Riyza’s personal code. Her background includes supporting LGBTQIA+ policy goals alongside local stakeholders in Florida, engaging the public as volunteers and donors with a Feeding America food bank, advocating for safer and smarter transit and streets, and even gaining support for her own 501(c)3 which worked to empower underserved refugee students and families in her hometown of Tampa, Florida.
She holds a B.A. International Studies, M.A. Global Sustainability Policy, and Graduate Certificate in Community Development via the University of South Florida. Equipped with an intensive profile in community engagement and equity, Riyza champions inclusive and participatory methods for building trust between governments and residents. She is personally passionate about equitable political representation, developing culturally relevant and community-led solutions for resilience, as well as disaster risk reduction.
On any given day, you can count on Riyza to be savoring a bowl of spicy noodle soup and re-watching her favorite episodes of Star Trek and early 2000's reality shows.
Ann has consistently taken an entrepreneurial approach to developing and implementing leading edge solutions to sustainability issues facing communities, regions, and states since earning both a Juris Doctorate and an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Environment, Policy and Society from the University of Colorado in 2000. She has served as the Land Use Attorney for Environment Colorado; Director, Center for Communities by Design at the AIA National Chapter; Boulder County Sustainability Coordinator; Program Manager for State and Local Engagement at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), Principal Planner in Sustainability for Fort Lauderdale; and as a Climate Advisor for the City of St. Petersburg, FL prior to joining the SSDN team as Policy Director. Ann has worked collaboratively with multiple levels of government, utilities, the private sector (including technology firms, trade allies, and financial institutions), advocacy groups, Federal Laboratories, the US Department of Energy, and state energy offices among others.
She has served on the City of Boulder and Xcel Energy Task Force (focused on municipalization and alternative partnership options), as President of the Colorado Green Building Guild, as Vice-President of the Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center Board of Directors, and on numerous other advisory boards and work groups. Ann was named as a Person of the Year by the Boulder Weekly (2009), Sustainability Champion (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2010), and Forty Under Forty by the Boulder County Business Report (2010).
Ann is a 5th generation native Floridian—her love of natural Florida inspired her to pursue a career in sustainability and remains a source of motivation today.
In August 2021, SSDN welcomed Michael to serve as the Southeast Sustainable Recovery Center Manager. In his role, he works with communities across the Southeast to ensure local governments and the communities they represent have the opportunity and support to access and be awarded funding to advance sustainability and resilience efforts. He serves as a liaison between members and federal opportunities, and key partners who provide additional support under the Center’s umbrella.
Michael joins SSDN after a career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. While with the EPA, he served within the Administrator’s Office to oversee a $1.2 billion annual grant program, coordinate agency-wide climate change adaptation efforts, and support disaster preparedness and emergency response efforts. He has also worked as a federal grantee through his role as a Finance and Grants Manager for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, an independent special district of the State of Florida focused on local water quality protection. He is located in Sarasota, Florida and holds a Master’s of Public Administration from Columbia University in New York City. As both a former federal government grantor and a local government grantee, he looks forward to using this insight to help communities across the Southeast become more competitive in accessing and attaining funding to pursue their sustainability priorities.
Director, Federal Resources | SSDN Local Infrastructure Hub Cohort Program
Nick joined the SSDN team in August 2023 and leads SSDN’s Local Infrastructure Hub program. He is passionate about supporting the development of equitable, resilient and thriving communities. He loves helping bridge gaps and make linkages across disciplines and sectors to create innovative, equitable solutions to our stickiest challenges.
Nick has extensive experience in community sustainability and resilience, serving for nine years as the first sustainability director for the City of Savannah, Georgia. In that role, he partnered with regional, municipal and community representatives to address topics of environmental justice, racial equity, economic development, social determinants of health, energy burden, clean energy, environmental contamination, and coastal climate resilience. He has experience developing and managing workforce training programs through Step Up Savannah and incorporating green workforce training into municipal projects.
Nick’s experience includes built-environment work at the University of Minnesota, where he supported development of the University of Minnesota’s first sustainable building standards and programs to lift the participation and capacity of DBE design and construction firms.
In his day to day life in Savannah, Nick continues to serve and work closely on topics of health advocacy and environmental justice with local community organizations like Healthy Savannah and Harambee House. While equipped with a formal education in public policy, environmental studies, political science and communication, but most of what he has learned (and continues to learn) is from nature, neighbors, and kids.
In March 2022, Caitlin Rose joined SSDN's team as the North Carolina and Virginia Policy Program Manager. In this role, Caitlin helps to advance members' policy priorities through SSDN's State Policy Program, strengthens communications and resources about policy initiatives with members, and fosters sustained regional partnerships across the Southeast. Bolstered by a background in environmental science, atmospheric chemistry, and public health, Caitlin brings an interdisciplinary perspective to sustainability and local climate action.
Prior to joining SSDN, Caitlin gained valuable experience in state and local government in North Carolina through roles at Triangle J Council of Governments and the NC Department of Environmental Quality. She served as the Clean Cities Coordinator for the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition at TJCOG, where she managed federal grant funding, conducted outreach and education, and worked with fleet partners to support the deployment of sustainable transportations on a regional scale. During her time with NCDEQ, she worked in the State Energy Office, where she was part of the NC Clean Energy Plan development process and related initiatives. The sum of her professional experience has enabled Caitlin to form lasting relationships with state government officials, sustainability managers, advocacy groups, electric utilities, and municipalities around North Carolina while effectively communicating about complex climate and energy issues to a variety of stakeholders.
Caitlin holds a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, both from UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health. She looks forward to providing assistance related to state clean energy policy and building lasting relationships with SSDN's members.
In January 2023, Rachel Usher joined SSDN as the Georgia and Florida Policy Manager. Rachel works with members via SSDN’s State Policy Program to disseminate information and foster connectivity on climate and energy policy initiatives in the southeast. Rachel has built her career in Georgia with a focus on epidemiology, freshwater science, ecology, and climate action.
Previously Rachel worked as a Program Manager for the Georgia Climate Project, supporting a team of academics, students, and community partners to advance the understanding of climate change impacts and solutions in Georgia.
She has also served as a co-instructor for the Advanced Climate and Health Seminar in the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health. In 2020, she graduated with a Master’s in Public Health in the Department of Epidemiology at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health. She was awarded University of New Hampshire Sustainability Fellowship in 2019 to examine health benefits of climate change mitigation activities with the Vermont Department of Health. Previously, Rachel received her Bachelor of Science in Ecology from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia in 2016. When she is out of office, you can find this life-long Southerner shredding the trails on her bike, leading outdoor education, and sailing in coastal Georgia.
Drew joined USDN and SSDN as Development Director in April 2022. In this role, Drew is responsible for building relationships with key supporters, supporting the long-term sustainability of each organization, and identifying opportunities for new partnerships to advance USDN's and SSDN's missions. Prior to joining USDN, Drew worked at SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association as the organization's Foundations and Grants Manager. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia where he worked on a community health project and received his MPA from University of Colorado, Denver with a concentration in environmental policy, management, and law. He resides in Oakland, CA.
Chris first joined SSDN as an intern in June 2022 and became full-time in 2023. As an intern, he developed geospatial resources visualizing the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 program among other projects. In his current role, he works to facilitate federal resources and connections to underserved and historically disadvantaged communities throughout the Southeast as the network’s Environmental Finance Center (EFC) Coordinator.
Growing up on a rural Tennessee farm fostered a lifelong passion for conservation and environmental justice which continues to inform his professional efforts. Prior to joining SSDN, Chris worked in community organizing and political management focusing on voter empowerment & enfranchisement, coalition building, and electoral change at the local level. He also volunteers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as an international election observer focusing on election integrity and transparency.
Chris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning from the University of Virginia. His academic interests include harnessing data for social good, green infrastructure, and land use patterns. These interests motivate continued involvement with the University of Virginia’s Equity Center where he contributes to projects such as the Regional Equity Atlas.
In his spare time, Chris enjoys attending music festivals, DIY furniture restoration projects, and exploring Appalachia with his partner and dog.
SSDN Steering Committee
Ashlee Painter (Oldsmar, FL), Co-Chair 2021-2024
Casi Callaway (Mobile, AL), Co-Chair 2022-2025
Catherine Mercier-Baggett (Sandy Springs, GA) 2022-2025
David Ingram (Wilmington, NC) 2022-2025
Lori Forsman (Orange County, FL) 2022-2025
Natalie Frendberg (Palm Beach County, FL) 2022-2024
Chandra Farley (Atlanta, GA) 2023-2026
Jeanette Johnson (Wake Forest, NC) 2023-2026
Jennifer Westerholm (Nashville, TN) 2023-2026
Laura Thomas (Richmond, VA) 2023-2026
Whit Remer (Tampa, FL) 2023-2026
Welcome to our 2023-2026 Steering Committee members!
SSDN is a project of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). In collaboration with SSDN, USDN provides the foundation upon which SSDN can effectively serve its membership.
Vanessa King (formerly with SSDN) is responsible for the development of regional networks across the United States and Canada. For information related to regional networks or USDN, please reach Vanessa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In her previous role as the Sustainability Manager for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, Vanessa assisted in developing, coordinating, and implementing all activities related to environmental sustainability. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Travel and Tourism Development from Western Carolina University and a Masters of Science Degree in Sustainability Studies from Lenoir-Rhyne University. Vanessa currently serves as the co-chair and secretary for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Board of Advisors.
Spending the majority of her early years living across the world in Indonesia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Trinidad and Tobago, Vanessa brings a global perspective to sustainability. Today, she likes to spend her free time hiking with her dog Otis, traveling, and visiting with family on their North Georgia farm.