Many thanks to our gracious speakers who make time to share their knowledge.


Morning Co-Speaker

Leslie K. Cherry-Knight

Vice President, Market Leader
Bank of America, Pacific Northwest Region

LinkedIn Profile

Leslie K. Cherry-Knight is a Consumer Bank Market Leader for Bank of America and a 2022 Pinnacle Award Winner. Leslie joined Bank of America in March of 2015 and oversees the relationship management of clients in one of the most up and coming areas of Washington State. Leslie currently manages the collective responsibilities of developing and maintaining client relationships and client experience for the market and for the bank.

Born Native Hawaiian / Chinese and with 23 years of financial industry experience, Leslie uses her professional platform and her passion for diversity, equality and inclusion to reach and inspire her community, clients and peers. It is this desire that has lead Leslie to become a Regional Leader for the Native American Professional Network for the Enterprise. The Network helps to aid in the recruitment, retention and career development of Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives and provides a stage for awareness addressing business and cultural concerns . Leslie proudly serves as a Director on the Board of the Washington State Hawaiian Civic Club, Moku’aina A Wakinekona , where she promotes awareness and representation, is a voice to guide legislation, and perpetuates the culture of her people through education and advocacy.

As a veteran, Leslie continues to nurture her three son’s military and post military careers, as they also share in Leslie’s passion to serve. Her desire to support military veterans and their families helps her to drive MSAG support through non profit organizations such as The Mission Continues, Fisher House, and Four Block .

Nicole Sims

Morning Co-Speaker

Nicole Sims

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director, Nisqually Indian Tribe

Nicole Sims serves as Nisqually Indian Tribe’s OMB Director and performs several roles of responsibility in her management position. Overseeing large, complex scopes of work to support the various staff members that help accomplish the department’s mission. Nicole is also responsible for Nisqually’s annual charitable giving; each year Nisqually grants over one hundred nonprofit local organizations that focus on the needs of the community in which they serve and granting over a million dollars to support their efforts. Financial literacy is a passion of the Nisqually Tribe and Nicole is passionate about providing education to the youth and the entire community, it is Nisqually’s mission to provide their community with the tools for success and that starts with understanding one’s finances.

Nicole Sims serves as Vice President of the Medicine Creek Enterprise Corporation Board of Directors. Nicole Joined the board and began her position as Vice President in August 2020. Nicole continues to serve passionately in her role as Vice President supporting the MCEC Mission and Tribal economic sovereignty. Nicole believes in the MCEC’s mission to diligently build sustainable business for future generations. She is committed to serving her community and Tribe, working alongside professionals with the same common goal of growth and sustainability. Nicole champions the board’s efforts with diversifying the Tribes portfolio and is proud of their accomplishments towards continuous economic growth.

George Zeno speaker photo


George Zeno

Principal, New Creole

LinkedIn Profile

George is most interested in diversifying the field of philanthropy and community development while bringing the fields closer to high impact results to create sustainable, community-driven solutions for the world.

He’s executive leader providing resources for education, expanding investments in economic and workforce development programming for low-income college students, and connecting stakeholders to community, corporate, and civic engagement opportunities in learning social and civic responsibility through impact delivery. George specializes in designing community-centered corporate social responsibility programming for corporate leaders and teams willing to put sweat equity and passion for capacity building in advising, mentoring, and connecting with diverse students, communities and regions traditionally underserved.

Lunch Speaker

Alice Fong, MSM

CEO, Center for Ethical Leadership

LinkedIn Profile

An avid connector, Alice is passionate and committed to promoting a healthily engaged community – focused on the common good for all. She’s dedicated to the co-creation of space that will deepen relationships, honor community wisdom, build trust, and promote collective collaboration. Alice believes we all are leaders with unique gifts to share.

Alice has been intimately involved and actively supporting the vision, mission, and operations of the Center for Ethical Leadership (CEL) since the beginning of 2018. She is passionate about the Center’s inclusive, values-based, leadership-development philosophy and principles, and is a champion for doing the heart work it takes to bring people together to co-create positive change.

​Prior to being with the Center, she provided consulting and technical assistance to organizations. She chairs the Pierce County Commission for Refugee and Immigrant Affairs, Co-chairs the Washington State Public Health Advisory Board, and was formerly appointed on the King County Developmental Disability Board. She supports the Prison Scholar Fund and is a member of the Eastside Race and Leadership Coalition.

Birgit Burton Smith

Afternoon Speaker

Birgit Smith Burton

Board Chair, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Global
Founder / Executive Director, AADO (African American Development Officers Network)

Birgit Smith Burton is the Executive Director of AADO, the African American Development Officers Network, which she founded at Georgia Tech in 1999 to provide professional development, education, employment support, mentorship, and networking opportunities for fundraisers of color. She is a well-regarded speaker on the topics of fundraising and diversity and has authored articles on diversity in the fundraising profession. Birgit co-authored the book, The Philanthropic Covenant with Black America, contributed to the book Five Minutes for Fundraising, A Collection of Expert Advice, and tells her personal story in the book Collecting Courage, which shares the lived experiences of Black women and men working in the nonprofit
and charitable space (published fall 2020).

During her 26-year career at Georgia Tech she led her team in raising over $700M from private philanthropic foundations to support programs,  scholarships, and capital projects. Birgit was selected to participate in the first cohort of Leading Women @ Tech and was a recipient of the
team award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Program Development for the Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing.

For nearly a decade, she has served on the global board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and has the distinction of being the first African American woman in AFP’s 62- year history to be voted chair of the AFP Global Board. Birgit received the Opportunity and
Inclusion Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education which recognized her leadership in fostering inclusion and diversity within the fundraising profession. In 2020 the R.I.S.E. Fund was established in Birgit’s honor with a mission to advance women of
color in fundraising by providing Resources, Inspiration, Support, and Education. In addition to serving as chair of the A.E. Lowe Grice Scholarship Fund, which honors her grandmother, Birgit serves on the advisory council for Somos El Poder (A National Latinx Fundraising Institute) and the advisory committee for Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WOC). She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in media communications from Medaille University in Buffalo, New York – Birgit also serves on its board of Trustees.

Sherri Jensen speaker headshot smiling woman with long brown hair


Sherri Jensen

CEO, Valeo Vocation

LinkedIn Profile

Sherri Jensen has worked in the field of workforce development for more than a decade and believes meaningful employment not only provides a wage, but also a sense of self-worth. Sherri began her staffing career in 2009, working as a staffing specialist, business developer and branch sales manager at a for-profit staffing company before leaving the private market to follow her passion into a helping position. In 2015 Sherri launched her non-profit career, beginning as a case manager and leading into program management of a SNAP E&T Pilot program, RISE (Resources to Initiate Successful Employment). Sherri’s for-profit staffing experience gave her the opportunity to learn sales, management and business development, which were invaluable tools when she launched Valeo Vocation. Sherri’s infallible business acumen learned in the for-profit world has allowed her to build an organization primed to scale and led by the compassion learned in her direct service roles.


Stacey Crnich

CEO, Bonney Lake Food Bank

LinkedIn Profile

Starting her role at the foodbank just days prior to the onset of the pandemic, she leaned into her skills derived from a 15-year career at Nordstrom Inc. where she was a buyer and financial manager. Stacey is a dynamic leader who is passionate about customer experience, health equity and community vitality. Through the use of technology and human focused innovation, she as worked side by side with her incredible board of directors in leader her team in rethinking food security through a project known as “The Market”. This elevated model offers dignity of choice with curated locally grown food and fresh ingredients. In fall 2022, her organization launched a revolutionary refrigerated smart locker distribution model that will become a network of support hubs for food and resources throughout Pierce County. Her ultimate vision is to design a sustainable future for the organization through growing food while support the efforts of local food producers.


Tamar Jackson


Tamar Jackson

Senior Director of Community Engagement, Workforce Central

LinkedIn Profile

Tamar Jackson, Senior Director of Community Engagement for WorkForce Central, is the leader of the Pierce County Community Engagement Task Force, an initiative powered by WorkForce Central. He was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, which spurs his passion to make Tacoma the best place to live. Tamar focuses on highlighting community voices to achieve common goals and addressing challenges that may arise from workplace diversity, conflicting viewpoints, and workplace fairness. Tamar is the winner of the 2023 City of Destiny awards, and is a member of the Pierce County Community Engagement Task Force and supporter of Collaboration for a Cause.


Yesenia Gonzalez

Yesenia Gonzalez, Development Organizer, Latino Community Fund

LinkedIn Profile

Yesenia Gonzalez is the Development Organizer of the Latino Community Fund of WA State, where she focused on fundraising, grant writing, capacity building and supporting organizational collective goals. Yesenia is also a community organizer with over 10 years of experience, an advocate for social justice and is committed to elevate, transform and build a better future for all underinvested communities. Yesenia studied International Relations and Affairs at the National University of El Salvador, earned an Associate in Childcare Development certificate(CDA) La Escuelita, a bilingual school in Seattle. She continued her college education at University of Washington earning a Fundraising Management Certification.

Panel Moderator:

Megan Sukys

Chief Strategy & Communications Officer, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation

LinkedIn Profile

Working with her teammates, the communication team develop stories, strategy, content, tools, and implementation to connect Pierce County community voice to GTCF’s philanthropic investments and supports. Megan cites the most exciting part of her job as the creative collaboration with the people, ideas, and creative approaches that truly bring people’s positive vision into reality. Prior to GTCF, she produced and shared stories of life in the Pacific Northwest as an Executive Producer and Host on KUOW-NPR Seattle for 12 years. She also works as an independent story consultant helping individuals and organizations tell their stories to motivate and inspire community building. Megan shares her own stories on-stage and online as a writer, performer, MC, and co-founder of the stage show, Drunken Telegraph.

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