Leanne Lawson, Executive Director
Leanne has 15 years of experience working with families throughout Dutchess County and has been with the Center since 2014. She has completed trainings in Transformative Mediation, Custody/Visitation, Surrogate’s Court, and other specialized trainings at the Center. Prior to becoming the Executive Director in 2019, Leanne was the Family & Divorce Program Coordinator where she helped hundreds of families work through conflict. Her previous experience in our community includes supervising an evidence-based perinatal home visiting program, running a comprehensive case management program for pregnant/parenting teenagers, facilitating bystander education workshops at local colleges, and working with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
In May 2020 Leanne completed her Masters in Social Work degree at Adelphi University, including a clinical placement at the Palliative Care program at the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System (Castle Point Campus). Leanne received her Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY New Paltz in 2003. She is certified in the Northeastern University Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) training along with the Cornell University Family Development Credential (FDC).
Family & Divorce Program Coordinator
Claudia Abbott-Barish, Restorative Justice Coordinator
Claudia has been a natural mediator since childhood and is a community organizer at heart. Her preoccupation with systemically unheard voices in society began while organizing around issues of environmental justice as an undergraduate student of natural resource management. In graduate school, Claudia studied sustainable development through an anthropological lens – examining who is represented, what perspectives and which voices are heard as humans examine our collective existence and impact on each other and the natural world. To her, systemic inequality equates with inequitable access to voice and choice. Claudia became a mediator through a desire to support community voices and a Restorative Justice practitioner to transform social relationships in society.
In 2013, Claudia returned to the Hudson Valley and began pursuing a certificate in Restorative Practices through the International Institute for Restorative Practices, which she completed in 2014. She was trained in Transformative Mediation at the Mediation Center of Dutchess County in 2014 and certified as a volunteer mediator in 2015. Since then she has participated in multiple advanced trainings at the Center and through other institutions, and has volunteered many hours in civil, workplace and family disputes. She became a meditator apprentice mentor in 2016 and began coordinating the Restorative Justice Initiative at the Center in 2017.
Her current focus is on social disciplinary practices and how to shift from punitive and isolating to restorative and collective. She believes in the power of people and the transformative impact of sharing stories and being heard. She is driven by a desire to help create effective alternatives to punishment and incarceration that focus on community healing and understanding, over policies that separate people from their families and support systems.
Justin Strock, Restorative Justice Specialist
Justin is a Restorative Justice Specialist for the Mediation Center of Dutchess County (MCDC) and collaborates on a wide range of MCDC's services and trainings. Prior to arriving at MCDC, Justin was a Manager of Mediation and Restorative Programs at New York Center for Interpersonal Development, the CDRC for Richmond County, where he oversaw their Civil and Criminal Court Programs, and a host of other programs in schools, the Department of Probation, and local high schools.
Justin is certified in mastery mediation and mastery of peacemaking circles with Planning Change, and has completed advanced mediation trainings with the NY State and City Bar Associations, the New York Unified Court System, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the New York Center for Interpersonal Development, and worked with the Southern District’s Mediation Office in US District Court. He is currently a member of the the Office of Court Administration's Restorative Practices Fellowship in collaboration with the New York State Education Department, and will be conducting regional trainings with NY teachers this summer.
Justin serves as board member and treasurer on two not-for-profit organizations: the Association for Conflict Resolution - Greater New York Chapter and Hidden Water. He also is a circle keeper for Hidden Water.
Justin received his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2010 and B.F.A. from California College of Arts & Crafts in 2003.
Ellie Limpert, Community Coordinator and Restorative Justice Specialist
Ellie Limpert is a community activist specializing in positive youth development and social emotional learning. For the past six years she exercised her commitment to intersectional advocacy, racial equity, and community empowerment as Education Manager at Poughkeepsie Farm Project. In this role, Ellie prioritized both cultivating safe spaces to center marginalized voices, and holding trainings to support educators in building culturally responsive and trauma informed learning environments.
Ellie's introduction to the Mediation Center's work was enough to inspire her to promptly become a trained Transformative Mediator and Restorative Justice Practitioner. She has supported many parties in resolving disputes peacefully using the transformative mediation framework and continues to volunteer her time to do so. Ellie has fostered relationships with local youth shelters, probation offices, and young adult resource centers to lead groups in both community and harm Restorative circles, building participants sense of belonging and capacity to respond to conflict. She is captivated by the power of these practices as comprehensive approaches to building safe, supportive, resilient communities and committed to supporting the education and judicial systems in integrating them fully.
Ellie graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Nutritional Sciences and Public Health.
Ezra Weissman, Restorative Justice Specialist and Administrative Assistant (Photo Coming Soon)
Ezra Weissman came to Restorative Practices through his passion for understanding how to create resilient communities as a means of resisting systematic oppression. His fascination with this topic deepened during his time at Vassar College, where he studied alternative economic models from indigenous cultures in the Global South that emphasize living in harmony with nature and one another.
After being introduced to Restorative Practices, Ezra began volunteering for the Restorative Justice Initiative in Summer 2020. Later that year he was brought up as a staff member, where he hopes to help others access the transformative power of storytelling.
In his free time you can find Ezra cooking vegan Indian food or skating through the streets of Poughkeepsie.
Denise Martin, Finance Manager (Consultant)
Denise has over 25 years of experience in Finance, of which almost 20 years were with Grants Management. She began her career working in banking for many years, then began her work with the City of Yonkers and was subsequently promoted through various government finance and accounting positions. It was during this time that Denise finished her college studies and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, with a major in Finance, from Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, Lubin School of Business. In 2011, Denise began working for Hunger Solutions New York, a statewide nonprofit organization that administers the SNAP program throughout New York State, as well as numerous Child Nutrition Programs in communities statewide. Serving as their Senior Accountant & Compliance Manager and Director of Finance & Administration,
Denise learned the most intricate details of nonprofit finance. She and her fellow Finance staff led the organization to receive 7 years of unmodified annual audits, successfully operating in accordance with GAAP, NPRA, and Circular A-133 compliance, with no management letters/issues. As her knowledge and family grew, she established her own finance, accounting, grant-writing, and grant-seeking business, Denise A. Martin Expert Nonprofit Solutions, LLC, focusing on assisting nonprofits and the extraordinary budgetary challenges they face. Denise has worked with many area nonprofits, small businesses, and educational institutions. She began her contracted work with the Mediation Center in January of 2016, departed in October of 2017, then returned to the Center in December of 2019, and is happy to work among people she feels "are like family” on a regular basis. She resides in Dutchess County with her husband and 3 active daughters who vary significantly in age, always keeping her on her toes!