Meet the Team
Laura Heckman, Executive Director
Laura Heckman is the new Executive Director of Mill River Park Collaborative. Laura comes to us with 20 years of experience leading non-profits and a personal passion for urban parks and public program initiatives. Prior to joining the MRPC team Laura was the Director of Public Programs for Central Park Conservancy in NYC and the Executive Director of the New Canaan Nature Center, where she spearheaded fundraising campaigns, managed strategic planning processes, and facilitated the development and implementation of new programs. Laura grew up on a farm in rural Ohio where she spent hours every summer riding her horse and working in a very large garden. It was the norm to harvest the vegetables for dinner every afternoon. She then moved to Chicago, Boston, and finally New York City, where she grew her urban skin. She loves living in New York, but believes it is important to stay connected to the earth, especially for her children. When she is not leading non-profit organizations, Laura enjoys spending her free time practicing yoga and cooking, especially baking.
Nia Rhodes Jackson, Director of Programs and Visitor Services
Nia is the Collaborative's programming and event guru, producing our festivals, events and public programming. With a background in environmental studies and youth development, MRPC offers her the unique ability to integrate her passion with her work. Prior to joining the Collaborative, she was the Executive Director of the Friends of the High School for Environmental Studies (FoHSES), an environmental education non-profit in support of the nation's first environmental high school. During her time at FoHSES, she oversaw efforts to engage students in nature-based activities and infuse environmental themes into the high school curriculum. At FoHSES, she led the development of a year-long Introduction to the Urban Environment curriculum for 9th graders, a Summer Institute on Food Justice, and a Teacher Professional Development Institute on Infusing Environmental Themes into Humanities and Arts. Previously, she served as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Community Director for the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment. She received an B.A. in Environmental Studies from Brown University and is a New England Senior Fellow for the Environmental Leadership Program. Nia and her husband Tunde live near the Park with their three children - Lula, Yamila & Wallace, who can't wait to ride the carousel. Nia's favorite part of the Park is the west overlook where the sounds of water drown out the street noise.
Vincent Piselli, Land Care Manager
Vinny creates the vision and leads our dedicated land care staff in the maintenance and upgrade of all Park landscape features. He is one of our founding staff members and is passionate about involving the community in Mill River Park’s habitat restoration efforts. Vinny is a lifelong naturalist – inspired by caring for Fairfield County estates since childhood. Before joining Mill River Park in 2008 he spent 15 years as the Land Manager for the New Canaan Nature Center and nearly a decade as a community environmental stewardship leader in his hometown of Milford, CT. He is a graduate of the University of CT, an Eagle Scout, and holds many professional certificates, including Accredited Organic Land Care Professional from the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association and Certified Coastal Master Gardener from UConn.
Alyson Redner, Development Director
Alyson has built a career partnering with both grantors and grantees to help carry out various philanthropic activities. Prior to joining Mill River Collaborative, Alyson was an Associate Director of Philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, engaging with major donors to support initiatives across the state and globe, including conservation easements, climate resilience, marine planning and freeing river flows. Previously, Alyson was a Director of Client Services at Foundation Source, providing daily support and advisory services to family and corporate foundations across the country. And, before Foundation Source, Alyson was a member of Save the Children US’s Foundations and Trusts team, raising significant funds that allowed the organization to implement and maintain development and relief programs domestically and around the world. Alyson earned a B.A. in Communications from the University of Connecticut and has studied in France and Switzerland. Throughout her professional and personal lives, she has volunteered with several local organizations and has long been an active visitor and admirer of the Park.
Mike Stake, Construction & Capital Planning Manager
Stay tuned to find out more about Mike and his role at MRPC!
Brittany Spezzano, Supervisor of Horticulture
Brittany grew up in Connecticut helping work for her father's landscaping company. There she gained skills and an appreciation for creating beautiful landscapes and the rewards they can bring. She then went on to receive her Bachelor's of Science degree in Sustainable Landscape Horticulture from the University of Vermont while working for city of Burlington, Vermont's Parks Department. Brittany is also a Certified Arborist through the Society of Arboriculture. In her spare time, Brittany enjoys being outdoors, gardening, hiking, and climbing trees.
Jamela Sullivan, Horticultural Assistant
Stay tuned to find out more about Jamela and her role at MRPC!
Kevin Cuevas, Land Care & Maintenance Technician
If you spend a lot of time in the Park you have probably seen Kevin out and about, perfecting our lawns and fixing everything in sight. Stay tuned to find out more about Kevin and his role at MRPC!
Brian Sachs, Park Arborist
Stay tuned to find out more about Brian and his role at MRPC!
Amanda Keith, Membership Manager
Amanda grew up exploring the wilds of Connecticut with her family. Her favorite activities included frog catching, camping, and playing in the backyard tree house. It was not until attending the University of Connecticut that she got the opportunity to study outdoor education and the importance nature has in our lives as children and adults. After attaining her Bachelor's of Science degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources, with an emphasis on Environmental Education, Amanda went on to join the New Canaan Nature Center as the Visitors Center Naturalist and member of the EE team. Now, as a member of the Mill River Park Collaborative team she hopes to make her mark on the citizens of Stamford, helping them to better understand the importance of nature in an urban lifestyle and inviting them to join the Park and all that it has to offer!
Trent McCann, Programs & Outreach Coordinator
Trent has always enjoyed the outdoors, but it was during a six-month AmeriCorps term with Montana State Parks that he figured out how to turn this interest into a career. Here at Mill River, he oversees coordination of our volunteer and education programs. Trent earned his B.S. in Sustainability Science from Furman University in Greenville, SC where he did research on the community impacts of urban green spaces, before joining the Collaborative in March of 2015. Trent is originally from northern New Jersey, but now resides here in Fairfield County. He is pursuing his Master's Degree in Environmental Education from New York University part-time while working with the Collaborative. Trent's favorite spot in the Park is the West River Path.
Kevin Kelly, Director of Business and Operations
Stay tuned to find out more about Kevin and his role at MRPC!